Go 4 Nuclear
An engineering student's observations on nuclear power and policy

Mar
17

Dear Friends,

For five days now, I have watched the series of events unfold in Japan with all of you. I have been asked to comment on the situation with the nuclear reactors, and invited to attend countless discussions. Given that this is a nuclear observations blog, I’m sure you expect another description of the reactor situation, and honestly I have been trying to think of something to say on that matter for several days. But I just can’t.

I can’t bring myself to focus on the future of the nuclear industry. I want to, but I can’t. I wish I could give you an in-depth analysis of the effect this will have on nuclear growth. I wish I could provide insight on the future of current reactors and what lessons we are learning from the failures. I really want to refute the horribly erroneous statements regarding radiation releases and I promise that in a few weeks I’ll do just that; but right now, I can’t do it.

Life as we know it is still intact. We’re alive; we have homes and families and loved ones. As I write this, so many people are experiencing devastation beyond what I could have ever imagined. While trying to think of nuclear topics to write about I came across this video:

And I had to take a moment, put my head in my hands, and just be thankful that I’m here. So for all of you who are desperately trying to save the future of nuclear power, I commend you, and I thank you for your phenomenal summaries and insights. I do hope, however, that you’ve taken a moment to reflect on just how lucky you are. In the words of His Holiness, the XIVth Dalai Lama:

“Every day,

think as you wake up

Today I am fortunate

to have woken up.

I am alive,

I have a precious human life.

I am not going to waste it.

I am going to use

all my energies to develop myself,

to expand my heart out to others,

to achieve enlightenment for

the benefit of all beings.

I am going to have

kind thoughts toward others.

I am not going to get angry,

or think badly about others.

I am going to benefit others

as much as I can.”

The nuclear industry will still be here tomorrow, and we will learn great lessons from the events that have transpired. For now, my hope is that we can keep our friends in Japan in our hearts, and be thankful for all that we have.

Aug
03

For the past several months, my blogging has taken a backseat to my education and internship.  I’m sure no one would argue that this is a poor decision–I am a student, after all. But if one organization can inspire me to blog,  it’s Greenpeace.

Greenpeace consistently points fingers at those who they feel are destroying this planet by leaving a mess. In particular, they like to gang up on nuclear energy saying that it is by no means a clean energy source and anyone who believes otherwise simply must be under the influence of  “nuclear industry PR(opaganda)”. Am I the only one who finds this disturbing? That the cleanest method of  meeting the world’s energy needs is being hindered by Greenpeace, an organization that claims to protect our planet? The scariest part of all is that people read this “information”, and believe it. So really, the biggest mess being created is the lies spread around the world by these anti-nuclear organizations.

Ok, so maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. But the fact remains that nuclear is the cleanest and safest large-scale energy source, and the more we hinder its progression, the more damage we do to the earth. How many lives are lost each year as a direct result of the coal industry? How many tons of carbon dioxide are emitted? How many natural gas explosions and coal mining accidents have to occur before we see the solution? I fully support the development and implementation of solar and wind technologies, but I also acknowledge that the world’s energy needs have exceeded what renewable resources can provide. We simply can’t run on renewables alone. To suggest that we can is misleading and untruthful.

For those who doubt whether nuclear is truly our cleanest option, I can’t say I blame you. With so many different energy views permeating all aspects of media, why should you believe me over anyone else with a blog and an opinion? In short, you shouldn’t. Instead, you should look for the numbers and use them as your guide. Here are a couple of links, just to get you started:

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf02.html

http://nextbigfuture.com/2008/07/per-peterson-information-on-steel-and.html

http://www.ourenergyworld.com/CA_PER.htm

Compare the numbers on cleanliness of renewables versus nuclear. Check out the capacity factors. See for yourself why more countries are looking to nuclear power all the time. Don’t let the filth spread  by anti-nuclear organizations hide the truth about our energy needs as a planet.

Greenpeace asserts that their mission is to “address the number one threat facing our planet: climate change”. Yet they have the audacity to smear the media with lies surrounding our greatest opportunity for a cleaner future. So who is going to clean  up after Greenpeace?

Apr
15

Public Forum panel and moderator, Dr. Tom Sanders

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the ANS National Student Conference at the University of Michigan. To give you an idea of the sheer volume of this conference, let’s start with some numbers:

Total Attendance: 665

Total Student Attendance: 500

Number of Sponsors: 57

Number of Technical Papers Submitted: 157

Cups of Coffee Consumed: 3000 (Ok, so this one is just an approximation… but based on my own experience, I’d be willing to bet that it’s close)

Considering last year’s attendance of 528 and the predicted attendance of 550, you can imagine the terror on the faces of the co-chairs as the numbers continued to climb throughout the days leading up to the conference. But thanks to immaculate planning and a dedicated committee, the event went off practically without a hitch, despite the surprising turnout.

The program centered on the 123 podium presentations and 34 poster presentations given by the students. In addition, students enjoyed a hefty career fair with 44 booths, outstanding meals throughout the day, a public forum, and even a riverboat cruise. Each event was thoroughly thought-through and I think I can safely say that everyone left feeling like they got one heck of a bang for their buck (the riverboat alone was more than worth the $25 student registration fee!)

What really struck me about this conference was the overwhelming enthusiasm on all ends. The students took time out of their studies to present their work and learn about new projects, which is not always easy to do. They attended workshops, met with recruiters, and really demonstrated their enthusiasm for the industry. It was particularly inspiring to see that almost every student went to the public forum to hear a panel speak about current topics in nuclear power. We are acknowledging that public opinion is not only a vital factor in the future of this industry, but it is also important to us as engineers. Students could easily just spend their time confined to their respective university bubbles, but instead they are choosing to blog, tweet, or do whatever they can to communicate with a world outside their own. This is big. I’m probably biased, but I like to think that people tend to enjoy talking with students about topics such as nuclear power. We’re young, we’re not getting paid to push some big company’s agenda, and we tend to give it to you straight. I just hope that meetings like this continue to inspire more students to talk about this industry we love so much. So far, so good.

Feb
09

Early in my involvement with the nuclear side of social media, I came across a rather outspoken anti-nuclear website called “Nuclear Reaction”. As someone who speaks her mind perhaps a little too often, I understand and fully support the need to express one’s opinions. However when one is expressing their opinions and presenting them as facts, I grow a little concerned. The site is a weblog hosted by Greenpeace, and there is hearty disclaimer on the site making it clear that the opinions expressed there are those of the writers alone, not of Greenpeace as an organization. But all the same, (and this is my opinion here), I think that if you have a website with your logo up in the corner and your name in the domain, you’re making it pretty clear where you stand on those opinions. Therefore I’m disappointed that such an influential and environmentally friendly group chooses to tear down the one clean energy source which has a chance at providing for the world’s growing energy needs.

Now I would love to go through each post on the site and refute it point by point, but frankly, I’m a Cal student and don’t have that kind of time. So I’ll start with one entry that had me particularly riled. Here’s a copy of the posting.

—————————————-

Hello, and welcome to Nuclear Reaction’s Nuclear Glossary. In this occasional series we’ll be bringing you a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to what the nuclear industry says and what the nuclear industry actually means. Never again will you be confused, fooled or otherwise misled by nuclear industry propaganda, greenwash and false promises.

What they say: ‘Safe’
What they mean: ‘Produces vast amounts of dangerous waste that will be a burden for the next 240,000 years to while dispersing dangerous radionuclides into the environment.’

What they say: ‘Cheap’
What they mean: ‘Hardly affordable even with government subsidies and loan guarantees’

What they say: ‘We believe nuclear is competitive’
What they mean: ‘New nuclear power stations will not be built in Britain unless the government provides financial support for the industry’

What they say: ‘Learning Curve’
What they mean: ‘Massive cost and schedule overruns, safety violations, design concerns, and thousands of construction defects’

What they say: ‘Reliable’
What they mean: ‘Unreliable

—————————————

Oh boy. Where to begin.

‘Safe’

So they have these handy links on the blog to let you see where they’re getting their information from. Curious as to where they got their “scientific facts”, I clicked on the “What they mean” link for this one, and they sent me to another Greenpeace blog. I figured there had to be more, so I clicked a link from that one and they sent me to yet another Greenpeace blog. I finally gave up and decided that the information was in fact not based on any science at all. Therefore I don’t have much to refute, but I’ll give you some facts on safety in the nuclear industry.

If you read my last blog post, you will find all the resources pointing you to the studies done on safety in the nuclear industry, so I won’t repeat the details. But in a nutshell, nuclear power is so incredibly well-regulated that plants around the world have impeccable safety records, and you’re safer working there than almost anywhere else.

As for the waste, I understand that there is concern. However I find that some statistics and comparisons help put things into perspective. Some of these statistics can be found in my “Arm Yourself” posting. You can find many others here: http://www.whatisnuclear.com/articles/waste.html. It’s important to know that over 90% of radioactive waste is capable of being reprocessed, and several countries around the world are already taking advantage of this option. Since the longest lived isotopes can be recycled through this process, the remains are only radioactive for a couple hundred years, not a couple hundred thousand. This would be an obvious solution if it weren’t for the fear of proliferation. However there are recycling methods without the risk of proliferation, and more research is going into these methods all the time.

‘Cheap’

While expensive initially because of construction and myriad permits and regulations, nuclear power plants become profitable in just a few years of running and provide some of the cheapest energy out there. If you don’t believe me, here are the production costs of electricity in 2008 in cents per kWh:

Coal:  2.75    Gas:   8.09    Petroleum:   17.26   Nuclear:   1.87

This information via Rod Adams and the Nuclear Energy Institute: http://www.nei.org/resourcesandstats/documentlibrary/reliableandaffordableenergy/graphicsandcharts/uselectricityproductioncosts/

‘We believe nuclear is competitive’

In this section, they seem to be referring to the politics of nuclear power in Britain, which I do not claim to know much about. Therefore, I will not address the British nuclear industry in particular. I will however speak for a moment to the competitiveness of nuclear power on a global scale. As of January 2010, there are 56 nuclear power plants in construction worldwide, and many, many more in the earlier planning stages. Despite hefty construction and permit costs, nuclear plants continue to spring up and be profitable, providing cheap, clean energy. So In my opinion, nuclear is a highly competitive energy source and is in fact the only clean energy source capable of being competitive on the greater energy scale at all.

‘Learning Curve’

Now this one really got me. I again clicked on the link they provided and this time it didn’t even send me to a particular article, it sent me to a google search of “olkiluoto”. Guess what came up on the search? 10 different blog posts about how terrible things are going over in Finland, all written by (you guessed it) Greenpeace bloggers. So frankly I find no evidence of what they claim and therefore am only going to refute it by recommending that you check out the “What they say” link (http://us.arevablog.com/2009/05/29/nuclear-renaissance-is-just-fine-thank-you/) which is actually a quite informative blog piece from Areva.

‘Reliable’

Despite the well-articulated “what they mean” response for this one, I see no truth behind the statement that nuclear power is unreliable. Again, this is where the raw data speaks for itself. In 2009, 13 American units generated more than 10 billion kWh of electricity, and 14 units had capacity factors of over 100%, which means that the amount of  power put out was greater than what was expected of a plant operating at full capacity the entire year. And the greatest part is, the technology is only improving. Units in nuclear plants in 2009 broke world records, one of which is the longest run between refueling outages  for pressurized water reactors. Calvert Cliffs 2 in Maryland ran for almost 2 years without needing refueling. Pretty tough to call that unreliable.

All of this simply goes to show that the nuclear industry’s biggest obstacle is ignorance. When so much false information is presented as scientific fact, what are we supposed to believe? But with a little more research, I think that you’ll always find that nuclear is the safer, cleaner, and more reliable choice. The truth lies in the physical facts, and that’s where we need to turn when in doubt. All it takes is few misguided people passing on misinformation, and the fear continues to spread. Nuclear reaction, indeed.

Jan
24

If you talk to anyone in the nuclear industry about what’s standing in the way of the progression of nuclear power in America, you’ll surely end up on the topic of public fear. Those who are afraid of all-things-nuclear seem to be the most overzealous when it comes to exaggerating figures and presenting opinions as facts. So as someone who believes that nuclear power is a fantastic solution to energy problems around the world, I like to arm myself with facts about nuclear power that I can whip out at a moment’s notice, when needed. It’s amazing what just a couple of well articulated facts can do to change someone’s mind about nuclear power. If you’re one of those people who likes to go out and dispel the myths about nuclear power, (and I hope you are!), then you may find this list helpful in a future spur-of-the-moment debate.

-A coal-burning plant releases more radiation than a nuclear power plant

-Due to the level of enrichment of fuel used in nuclear power plants, it is PHYSICALLY impossible for a plant to explode like a nuclear weapon.

-The average American absorbs 360 millirems of radiation per year. Neighbors of Yucca Mountain would be expected to receive less than 1 extra millirem per year from the facility–less than half the dose received on a cross-country flight.

-Coal mining accidents alone have claimed 171 American lives since 2003. Nuclear plants have claimed 0 American lives in the history of nuclear power.

-The extra radiation per year received from nuclear power plants is equivalent to what you get from eating one banana.

-Studies have shown that it is safer to work in a nuclear power plant than in an office.

-All of the used nuclear fuel generated in the U.S. in the history of nuclear power would fill a football field less than 10 yards high.

-In only one year, a 1000 MW coal-burning plant may emit 100,000 tons of sulphur dioxide, 75,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 5,000 tons of fly ash.

-The use of nuclear power to generate electricity in the U.S. avoids the emission of roughly 150 million tons of CO2 per year.

And this is only the beginning–many more to come! So arm yourself with the facts and spread the word.

RESOURCES:

http://www.ans.org/pi/resources/myths/

http://www.rd.com/your-america-inspiring-people-and-stories/nuclear-energy-facts/article81880.html

http://wins.engr.wisc.edu/VillainOrVictim/facts/main.html

Jan
22

When talking about my major with family and friends, I am most often met with a look of confusion and the inevitable question: Why Nuclear Engineering?

As a junior at the University of California Berkeley, I’m confronted daily by the, shall we say, “unique” culture that this city has. On occasion, I like to stroll through Sproul Plaza and listen to spiels about what’s wrong with society and today’s youth. Admittedly, most of what I hear just rolls off my back as I move on to whatever class I’m late for, but I always have to stop and soak it in when I find someone ranting about the nuclear engineering research that is taking place at UC Berkeley.

Now you might be thinking that this would dissuade me from a career in nuclear, especially given my unyielding love for the quirky, liberal atmosphere that is Berkeley. On the contrary, I have more opportunities than most to talk about what I want to do and defend my chosen branch of engineering, and who doesn’t like talking about their passions?

To many, passion would seem an unusual word to associate with a topic such as nuclear engineering. Most people hear  the words “nuclear power” and a mental lead shield goes up faster than you can say Greenpeace. To me, however, nuclear engineering isn’t something to be afraid of; it’s something that has more possibilities than I’m even capable of realizing yet.  I’m a young woman, one of only three in the American Nuclear Society Student division. I’m at one of the greatest universities in the world, and I’m taking on a major that has the potential to change the way we live, and the earth that we live on. What ISN’T there for me to be passionate about?

I love that I have the opportunity to tell people about my passion. I love seeing their intrigue when I dispel common myths about nuclear power. I love talking about radiation and energy and even the faux-pas topic: nuclear waste. That’s one of the great things about living in a nuclear free zone– I’m free to engage in lively debates about nuclear as much as I please.

So I’m sure it’s easy to see that asking me why I picked nuclear engineering is a risky question, as my passion for the topic will allow no short response. I admit that I am occasionally discouraged by the immensely difficult classes at Cal and the highly competitive atmosphere. But that’s what being a student today in America is all about: passion for knowledge, and a fiery desire to take what we learn and change the world.

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