Progress Against Fear

Fear is an emotion. It is more primal than reason. Engineers and scientists have been writing for decades to persuade the masses (OK, maybe the masses don’t really read what scientists and engineers generally write, but I think you get my point.) that nuclear is good and safe for all these technical reasons. That isn’t working.

The anti-nuclear crowd has been very effective at fear mongering and using it to delay and add costs to nuclear power plants. Us, pro-nuclear types need to do more to address those fears head on.

One way to do that is to call out those whose actions cause nuclear fear. Recently US CENTCOM admitted to using depleted uranium (DU) shells in Syria after it had promised not to. So, I am calling out the actions of US CENTCOM over using DU and lying about it.

There is significant controversy on the health issues surrounding the use of DU, but its use certainly increases fear of all things nuclear. I believe that ultimately hurts all of us on this planet.


Take This (Carbon) Tax and Shove It.

I just wanted my readers to understand very clearly UTE’s position on proposed carbon taxes, cap and trade schemes, and other sort of mental gymnastics leading to global control of energy sources.

Let’s start with carbon – an element – a substance that cannot be chemically interconverted or broken down into simpler substances and are the primary constituents of matter.

All life on earth; plant, animal, and HUMAN is carbon based. That carbon comes ultimately from CO2 in the atmosphere. That CO2 is increasing in the atmosphere means that life is increasing. To curtail CO2 is to curtail life itself. (I’ll let the proponents of such carbon reduction schemes answer for themselves whether or not the reduction of life on earth is their ultimate objective or not.)

(Note: CO2 has been added to the atmosphere by human activity, but not all of the increase in the Keeling curve is due to human activity.)

So, to be clear to UTE’s readers, (drum roll, please, maestro) – Take your carbon tax and shove it!

PS. I am also unwilling to jump on the whole bandwagon of global warming/cooling/change etc. for the expediency of promoting nuclear power. If nuclear power, in general and molten salt thorium reactors in particular, succeed in the market/real world, they need to do so on their own merits, which I believe they ultimately will.



Ultimate Safe Reactor

A big part of overcoming fear of all things nuclear is to design and build reactors that have certain characteristics. One of these characteristics is “continuous on-line fission product removal”, which means that the split atoms are removed from the reactor and the remaining fuel as they are created by the fissioning of the fuel.

Molten Salt Reactors have been (and are being designed) with this in mind.  Without getting all technical, this means that there is no reason to require an evacuation plan for the public surrounding the plant, ever.  The waste in not concentrated in the fuel or at the plant during operation. Because the fuel is liquid, the fission products can be removed continuously and dealt with, either as eventual industrial materials or long term storage, which has many technical and practical solutions.

Of course, the NRC would have to change its rules. But without the source term in the reactor (fission products) there is nothing to disperse in the even of an accident, Thus, no evacuation plan should be required. This does a lot to alleviate the public’s fears about the plant.

Some other characteristics are:

Safety is absolute, inherent, and passive, cannot be tampered with

After heat is reduced to benign level

Criticality is inherently controlled

Technology, basics are developed and have been demonstrated

Proliferation and Diversion Resistant

Size, expected to have great size flexibility

Economy, potential for being economic due to advantages

Future variations are possible to adjust to future needs

BTW, this type of reactor and some of these design considerations were exercised half a century ago (yes, 50 years!) with the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) at Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL).

Uri Gat of ONRL called this the Ultimate Safe (US) Reactor. (I guess he was very patriotic in the naming.) Here is the abstract of one of his papers that discuss the concept:

The Ultimate Safe (U.S.) Reactor is based on a novel safety concept. Fission products in the reactor are allowed to accumulate only to a level at which they would constitute a harmless source term. Removal of the fission products also removes the decay hears – the driving force for the source term. The reactors has to excess criticality and is controlled by the reactivity temperature coefficient. Safety is inherent and passive. Waste is removed from the site promptly.

These are worthy design goals!


Thinking Outside the Fence

In my previous article, I discussed the idea that the nuclear industry needs to up its game and “think outside the box”. I have an idea. Here it is.

A number of years ago, I visited Palo Verde NPP (nuclear power plant) just outside of Phoenix, Arizona. It is the closest NPP to my home in Northern Utah. I had planned on visiting my sister in Mesa, Arizona for Christmas and wanted to take advantage of the trip to see the  museum at the plant.

I called ahead multiple times to ensure that the museum would be open when I was going to be in Mesa and I asked for specific directions on how to get to the museum. I was assured that it was open and welcomed visitors.

Long story short, to get to the museum (which is inside the fence), you have to go through security, which consisted of driving through a building where body armor wearing security guards with automatic weapons rip open your car doors before you even know what’s going on.

Then, they demand to know what you are doing there. “We just came to see the museum.” Next, they demand ID from all the adults. All this just to get to the “open to the public” museum.

This was very unnerving. If I was not obsessed with seeing the museum, I would have turned around right there.

So, my idea is to locate the museum across the street, outside of the fence, so you don’t scare people to death who have traveled a long distance and spent a lot of time to get there. This is simple public relations, so simple, in fact that it makes me think that the NPP wants to scare people and have them leave with the idea that a bunch a Navy Seals protect the place. (Probably not far from the truth. I suspect that the guards were ex-military.)

If the industry wants succeed in reducing fear of all things nuclear, try not scaring visitors!


HPIM2845Me and my dad at Palo Verde NPP


Fear of all Things Nuclear

I have written a lot about the technical advantages of peaceful, abundant, clean nuclear power. However, the facts I emphasize really do nothing to persuade people who are paralyzed by fear of all things nuclear, and the even more dreadful threat, RADIATION.

Steve Kidd has written an excellent op-ed addressing this subject, “Achieving progress in nuclear – throw out the establishment?” You can read the entire article here.

It has been consistently argued in these columns, however, that the industry is failing to address the key negative issue which dominates it, namely the fact that most people are fearful of nuclear technology. Unless the “paradigm of fear” is overcome, the industry essentially has no future, despite the space in the world energy market which is very much open to it, combined with the technical developments underway in the sector today.
I plead guilty as charged (though I am not in the nuclear industry). I also confess that I have no idea how to overcome that widespread fear.
What comes out, loud and clear, from these three examples is that the industry’s attempts to rebrand nuclear in over five years since the Fukushima accident have got essentially nowhere. Indeed, one may (politely) accuse it of engaging in a range of displacement activities (definition: an unnecessary activity that you undertake because you are trying to delay doing a more difficult or unpleasant activity).
I think his assessment is correct. Fukushima continues to generate fear worldwide and builds on already existing seemingly primal fear of all things nuclear.
Continuing to believe the public acceptance problem will be solved by more facts and figures from improved websites and news services is just burying one’s head in the sand. And, as has frequently been pointed out in these columns, relying on the climate change argument to advance nuclear’s prospects will almost certainly get nowhere. Industry bodies such as the World Nuclear Association (WNA) can point out that some of the countries with the best records on carbon emissions use a combination of nuclear and renewables (but mainly hydro, not wind or solar), while claiming that nuclear plants have avoided so many million tons of carbon since commissioning. But this is, at best and in my view, disingenuous. None of the 400 or so nuclear reactors around the world were built to abate carbon. They were built for other reasons, such as energy security and economics. Admittedly, it was believed that their environmental impact would mainly be benign, but investments are essentially made for what a technology does, rather than what it doesn’t.
Again, guilty as charged (except for the part about climate change, since I am what is called colloquially in US flyover country, a denier).
A new campaign needs to focus more on images and feelings, rather than facts, and must be particularly addressed at the understanding of the nature of radiation, its sources and proven impacts. At the same time, the international radiological protection (RP) regime must be reformed, as its basis in the Linear No Threshold (LNT) theory effectively gives regulatory backing to public fears and has caused most of the problems stemming from Fukushima. All of this may take 20-30 years, but a proper start needs making today, rather than the continued recourse to easier options.
I agree violently with his assessment. I have written against LNT before.
For those interested in a successful nuclear industry, the question has to be: “Is what we’re currently doing going to work?” My conclusion, based on the majority of what we’re seeing in the news today is: “No it won’t.” It is therefore necessary to try much harder, think a little outside the box, then come up with something new that will.
I am interested in a successful nuclear industry. I think it will benefit millions, if not billions of people. Though I am not in the nuclear industry, I just write on this site on my own dime, I will take the challenge to think “outside the box”.

End the EPA

About a week ago, I tweeted, ” Nixon created the EPA by diktat, Trump should now uncreate the EPA by diktat.” Little did I know that someone close to the creation of the EPA in 1970 would post a comment about the EPA on a paywalled chat room ( that I belong to. Here is the entire post:

EPA political? Always … Enough time has passed that I think it is safe to share this story …

During the summer of 1971, I worked as a young economist, an intern really, for the US Treasury, Office of Tax Analysis. My office had a nice view of the White House. One of my assignments that summer was to gather data on air pollution attributed to power plants. Air quality was much in the news during the first Nixon administration. Dr. Larry Ruff wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post explaining his theory that air quality could be improved through tax policy. His idea was to tax polluters on measurable levels of sulfur and carbon particulates emitted. This would include a sliding scale that incorporated the ambient air quality where the polluter was located.

He believed that pollution was relative and should be regulated with an eye toward cleaning up the worst abusers in the most polluted areas. He wanted to encourage polluters to locate in places where the environment could more readily absorb pollutants and discourage polluters from congregating in areas already heavily polluted. His plan incorporated a system of tax credits for cutting stack gas emissions and allowed polluters to seek their own solutions to clean up their emissions retaining some element of the free market to preserve efficiency. The idea was to capture the cost of externalities and present them to the polluter.

There was a good deal more to the policy Ruff had in mind and I think it would have worked well, at least much better than the final solution. His approach was well received at Treasury and Dr. Ruff engaged in several meetings with White House staff to present the case. He reported that there was not much enthusiasm in the administration for the approach.

One day Dr. Ruff called me into his office and told me I was being reassigned to another project since his had been canceled. I asked why. He answered me by suggesting I watch the evening news and talk to him in the morning. That night I learned that the Environmental Protection Agency had been created and William Ruckelshouse was to head it up. The next day I naively asked Ruff if we were going to be involved. I must paraphrase what he said as it’s been a long time. And, Larry if you should read this, I hope I’m not out of line.

No, the administration has plans to take another approach. They prefer to take an approach where Bill Ruckelshouse rides in on a white horse and confronts some miscreant polluter and threatens him on national television. Then, I guess, they plan to tell him what he must do to comply with new regulations while looking stern for the cameras.

I asked him how that could have as positive an impact on environmental quality as our plan. He replied that it probably wouldn’t. He told me that the White House had never seriously considered our plan. But this wasn’t about cleaning up the environment, it was about politics and politics in Washington would always prevail. This way the administration could get the message across that they were serious about cleaning up the environment while proving they were firmly in control. There would be abundant opportunities for television time, something our plan would not include.

Though the creation of the EPA was considered a positive measure on both sides of the aisle and is still considered a bright spot in an otherwise tattered administration, I have watched the organization grow through mission creep to become just another officious, bullying agency with far more power than it deserves. I have no idea how many binders are filled with EPA regulations. It doesn’t surprise me that the organization would be used by another president to shut down coal plants, whose pollution profile is pretty benign, for emitting, of all things, inert and environmentally beneficial carbon dioxide. People can argue all they want about the agency’s effectiveness but it has always been and was from the beginning a political tool.

We have so many “tools” in Washington now, that it looks like a big box home improvement store.

I say end the EPA. Every state has one, so would the world end if there were only 50 instead of 51?


A Way Forward

I have been studying nuclear power and nuclear history as an avocation for about 3 decades, mostly because I am a nerdy engineer and am fascinated by machines. There is still a lot that I don’t know and need to learn, but I feel confident in proposing the following as a path forward for clean, peaceful, abundant nuclear power.

1. The linear, no threshold (LNT) theory of radiation exposure is wrong. It has been scientifically proven to be wrong. We just need to put a wooden stake through its heart.

2. LNT is the basis for radiation control regulations that gave us ALARA, (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) that has been used to impose ridiculous and crippling regulations on the nuclear industry. AHARS not ALARA.

3. AHARS, As High As Reasonably Safe. There is no legitimate reason to regulate human exposure of radiation to levels less than those that occur naturally around the world. Everything comes with a cost. The cost of ALARA has been crippling fear and nuclear enemies preying on that fear.

4. The Department of Energy (sbka – should be know as –  the Department of Nuclear Weapons, DONW) should have stewardship of nuclear materials, that are not strictly bomb grade, withdrawn from its control. The US government has been a slothful steward of nuclear materials (commercially speaking) for 70+ years. There is no reason to continue doing what doesn’t work. Unless it is 90%+ highly enriched uranium 235 or strictly bomb grade plutonium purposely made in a bomb plutonium production reactor, I propose that it no longer be controlled by the Feds. (Please notice that I have excluded U233 from DONW control, regardless of the purity.) Rod Adams has done an excellent job of debunking the myth that nuclear bombs can be made with commercial nuclear fuel.

5. No grid priority for wind and solar or renewable mandates/portfolios. This is probably the silver bullet that has led to the closure of nuclear power plants in the US. This is how grid priority works (or really doesn’t work in this case). The wind suddenly starts blowing and the sun breaks through the clouds and just as suddenly, the electric grid is mandated by law to take all this power and pay retail for it.

It’s like buying a new 50″ flat screen TV on sale at Walmart for the Superbowl and then taking the TV back the next day when the sale is ended and demanding to return the TV at the non-sale price.

6. No subsidies for wind and solar. Or, if Uncle gives my neighbor a large tax break for installing solar panels on top of his house, I should get the same tax break for investing in nuclear power. After all, don’t we believe in equal protection under the law? Let start doing what we pretend to believe in.

7. Get rid of FERC. Do we really want the post office types running energy markets that we depend on? They are not smarter than actual markets. Didn’t 70 years of Soviet planning teach the world this lesson?

8. Reform the NRC – please see my previous post.

Why am I doing this? What do I see as the benefits of nuclear power? – Electricity for everyone on the planet at very affordable rates.