My question to “Ask Al”

Senator Al Franken, a progressive supporter of nuclear power, is soliciting questions at this link. Here’s mine:

Dear Senator Franken,

I understand that you are a supporter of advanced nuclear power. So am I! As we (well, some of us) work toward carbon reduction and mitigation of climate change, nuclear will become an even more important part of our low-carbon energy mix. We cannot afford to leave it off the table.

My question is this: as a supporter of nuclear power, are you willing to take a larger leadership role in bringing more progressives on board? The left in general seems to have come down against this technology, but there are many of us who, if not currently supportive, are at least willing to listen to reasonable arguments from “one of our own” on the issue.
Thank you for your service, and for showing that progressives who stand up for our values and principles can win even in an unfriendly year like this one has been.

-Eric Schmitz
Bloomington, Indiana

Comment submitted to the EPA regarding the proposed carbon emissions rules

As an engineer (BSEE, University of Kansas, 1988), I generally support the proposed new EPA regulations on carbon pollution for electrical power generation, with the exception of the rules concerning the contribution of nuclear-powered generation. In particular, the accounting of nuclear power in the calculations of CO2 output, as proposed, makes no sense to me, from a scientific, engineering, or mathematical standpoint.

The contribution of existing nuclear-powered electricity to our supply should be treated equally, by including 100% of its output in baseline CO2 generation calculations — no more, no less.

States in which new nuclear plants are being constructed should not have those plants included in existing production calculations, but rather those plants should be included in calculations of CO2 reduction targets. Those calculations should include 100% of that new production — no more, no less.

A production facility that generates electrical power with a low carbon footprint by using nuclear power should be treated the same as a facility that does the same via solar, wind, hydro, efficiency programs, or any other means.

Low-carbon is low-carbon. The objective of the EPA carbon-reduction rules should not be to favor one technology over another for any other reason than their comparative abilities to accomplish the specific goal of reducing such emissions.

-Eric Schmitz
Bloomington, Indiana

Why we should support nuclear power – Comment – The Ecologist

Technology tribalism – my technology is better than yours, so I will oppose yours – should be abandoned.

via Why we should support nuclear power – Comment – The Ecologist.

My support for nuclear does not mean I have a problem with your solar panels.

Germany Energy Transition Evaluation | The Energy Collective

Luke Currin does not want us to write off Energiewende as a failure. Okay, I’ll refrain, but I think he would agree that it could use some improvements. The irony is in the solution proposed: “IHS estimates Germany could meet 30 percent of its gas demand if it fracked.” Yup, we’ll make up the shortfall from shutting down a huge low-carbon source by… fracking and burning natural gas.

This, however, really jumped out:

Those who consider climate change a top priority praise Germany for their leadership in taking action to address it. Those who downplay the implications of climate change, as well as those who value short-term economic prosperity over long-term environmental stewardship, condemn the effort as yet another example of failed government policy.

False dichotomy. There’s a third option: Some who consider climate change a top priority see clearly that Germany could 1) drop their utility rates to a more affordable level, and 2) go a long way to achieving the low-emission goals of Energiewende by turning all those shuttered reactors back on as soon as possible.

Senator Warren Seeks Input on Climate Change

Today I received an email from Senator Elizabeth Warren, whom I admire deeply, asking for my input on climate change, particularly what I think the planet will look like in 25 years. The message is as follows:

There are a lot of people in Washington — a lot of lobbyists and a lot of politicians — who are determined to block any new laws that might reduce pollution.

Year after year, evidence grows about the damage we suffer from carbon pollution, and yet, the science deniers stay locked in place. It’s so bad that we can’t even have a serious conversation about the growing evidence that the earth is in real trouble.

So I have a question for you.

If we don’t do anything at all to stop climate change, what do you think the world will look like 25 years from now?

Monday night, several other senators and I are pulling an all-nighter on the floor of the Senate to talk about the importance of pollution and climate change. We are going to do our best to bring attention to a topic that a lot of people in Washington don’t want to talk about.

I’ve been assigned a block of time to talk, and I want to spend a chunk of it talking about as many stories as I can from people like you.

Here is my response:

Climate change is only part of the larger problem that we will need to solve if our planet is not to become a very unpleasant place to live over the next 25 years. We dismiss the growing middle class populations of nations like China, India, and Brazil, and their increasing need for abundant and affordable energy, at our deep peril. And to insist that these people should simply learn to make do with considerably less energy than we in America have taken for granted is nothing short than hubris. Energy austerity is just as odious and wrong-headed a policy as is economic austerity. They are evil twins to each other. Climate change and emerging populations make it absolutely imperative that we begin working fervently and relentlessly on developing more and better ways to generate abundant and affordable energy, and to do so in the cleanest and safest ways. This includes deployment of new “Generation III and III+” nuclear technology, and rapid development of Generation IV designs that will be capable of recycling our existing stock of used fuel. Such designs have the added benefit of being able to reduce the amount of final waste products to a tiny fraction of what we now call “spent fuel.”

A future with no or very limited use of fossil fuels is simply imperative, and one way or another, we will eventually have exactly that. Such a future without nuclear power as part of the energy mix, however, will not look like the “solartopia” promoted by many dogmatic environmental purists. Instead, that future will look a lot more like Mad Max — and we will never find Tomorrow Morrow Land.


If you care to share your own thoughts with Senator Warren, whether or not you also received the invitation, I am sure she would welcome your input.

Yellow Journalism from a “Green” Source

A link to this article turned up in my Facebook newsfeed this morning:

51 Sailors from USS Ronald Reagan Suffering Thyroid Cancer, Leukemia, Brain Tumors After Participating in Fukushima Nuclear Rescue Efforts

Something made me leery of the source, so with some help from people far more knowledgeable than myself, I tracked down some more information on this issue. The writer (name not given) referred to an article in Stars & Stripes, but I did not see any link. I later found the link at the very bottom of the TRN piece, but meanwhile Les Corrice (Hiroshima Syndrome) had pointed me directly to it:

In growing lawsuit, servicemembers fault TEPCO for radiation-related illnesses

About halfway through the S&S article, I started getting a feeling of deja vu, as if I had already read it. Looking back at the Turner one, I realized that although the unnamed writer had said “according to Stars & Stripes…”, they had then proceeded to lift nearly an entire section and present it as their own, with no indication that they were quoting or excerpting directly. They were also very selective in which portions they lifted and which they ignored. I’m afraid this has left me rather unimpressed by the Turner piece and the level of journalistic integrity displayed.

The S&S article was more balanced, in my opinion, and less conclusive. Not saying that the truth is “always in the middle” (the truth is where it is), but it gave a broader range of perspective and I thought it was much more responsible coverage.

There was an enormous amount of debris, much of it extremely toxic, washed out to sea by the backflow from the tsunami. At least one coastal oil refinery burned for days, releasing unfathomable amounts of pollution into both air and water. Possible ill effects from that contamination should be investigated as thoroughly as those that may be due to radiotoxicity. Not that TEPCO didn’t make mistakes or were entirely forthcoming with information, but in this case they are the easy target. That is no way to get to the truth of what really happened.

Addendum: Les covered this lawsuit last year in the entry for 28 December 2012. (About halfway down the page.)

Lib Dems’ nuclear U-turn shows they realise we can’t say ‘no’ to everything | Mark Lynas | Environment |

Excellent move, UK Lib Dems! Now, could you come over and explain your good reasoning to our “liberal” Democrats here in the USA?

As my recent ebook Nuclear 2.0 showed, if we try to eliminate nuclear power globally at the same time as rapidly growing energy consumption, we head straight into the territory of catastrophic global warming with mathematical inevitability.

On the other hand, if we deploy a new generation of safer, cheaper nuclear plants on a worldwide scale – combined with an ever greater rollout of solar and wind generation – the world still has the option of keeping global temperature rise within 2C this century.

via Lib Dems’ nuclear U-turn shows they realise we can’t say ‘no’ to everything | Mark Lynas | Environment |

When Should Nuclear Power Plants Die? – Forbes

Shutting down a nuclear power plant with twenty good years left in its bones is not progressive. I would even suggest that it’s regressive.

And why go into decommissioning status when they could sell electricity at about 5-cents a kWhr and fuel costs less than a cent of that?

For short-term profits, of course. It’s not like these companies would lose money, it’s just they wouldn’t make as much. And that is so much more important to America than energy security or reducing CO2 emissions, or keeping jobs.

When Should Nuclear Power Plants Die? – Forbes.

On Slow Progress and Trust

After a couple weeks that brought some very discouraging news, as well as a lot of “pseudo-news” that had nuclear supporters in full-on FUD-busting* mode, this was a refreshing article to find in my Inbox on Thursday.

Nuclear progress is usually a slow-moving process, and often doesn’t seem to go anywhere at all. This is partly because of the public environment, but it also comes from a very necessary aspect of the industry. You don’t cut corners or use the cheap parts in this field. This meticulous attention to detail and improvement may slow things down, but it also forms the basis of trust:

It is our duty to make sure that we never lose ground, that we document things to this level, that we perform beyond what we think our limit is. It is our duty to always be better. Every document that we sign, every peer or family member that finally comes around, every congressman we persuade, every argument in which we triumph, that is an inch that does not slip

How do we ensure that? Through our culture. Our nuclear safety culture is the only thing that can breed the trust that we deserve to be a viable energy solution for the future.

via Fighting for the Next Inch | ANS Nuclear Cafe.

With that, I am going to make an assertion that may seem rather bold, but it needs to be said: Nobody — no person or group of people — cares more about the safety of nuclear power generation than the scientists and engineers and plant operators that make it all work. Nobody. Not the politicians, not the pundits, not the media, not even the inspectors and regulators, and certainly not the anti-nuclear activists, much as they may claim the contrary. Not even me.

This is why I choose to get my news not from the “mainstream” media, or the activists (even though I myself could be called an activist), but from the educated professionals, the scientists and engineers. I, too, am an engineer, though in a different field, and when I see my fellow engineers disparaged as being untrustworthy because they are “industry insiders,” or worse, “paid shills,” it makes my blood boil. Those are my fellows, and if you attack them, you attack me.

I’ll say it again, with complete confidence: These “industry insiders” care far more — and understand far more — about the safety and integrity of their industry, and its benefit to our environment and humanity, than any anti-nuclear activist or purveyor of fear and doubt ever could or will. And I will not again hesitate to say so.

(*FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt)

Future May Be Bright For Modular Nuclear Reactors – Forbes

Small modular reactors: an excellent example of nuclear progress.

“This solves one of the problems experienced by the US nuclear industry, where most reactors were custom-designed and built, reducing the impact of the learning curve and increasing the likelihood of design and construction errors.  Additionally, nearly a half-century of technological advance, in materials and electronics as well as nuclear engineering, means that the designs should be much simpler and more reliable.”

Future May Be Bright For Modular Nuclear Reactors – Forbes.

I also appreciate Mr. Lynch’s opening phrase: “The planned shutdown of the Vermont Yankee in the face of cheap, natural-gas fueled power….” Pleased to see that he gives not a speck of undeserved credit to the “Hired Gundersons” who seem to think that the shuttering of Vermont Yankee is all because of their efforts.