Thursday, January 16, 2014

Television News And The Need to Know

Today HuffPost ran an article This Is How Little Time Television News Devotes to Climate Change - in a nutshell it is down from 2009 and up in 2013 over 2012, another low year. The article's source is Media Matters For America.

My curiosity was piqued and I thought I would wander over to Media Matters to see if they had anything interesting to read on nuclear matters, especially relating to news time on television. I didn't find what I was looking for but I did find a few tidbits I will share with you. If you want the full story you can go to and read it all.

I may be a bit like news media, in that I put out the story I would like you to read, not necessarily the full story. But it wouldn't be fair to relieve you of all the fun, now would it.

FACT: Expanding Nuclear Not Economical After Decades Of Subsidies

New Wind Generation Is Cheaper Than New Nuclear Generation. The chart below was created using data from the nonpartisan Energy Information Administration (EIA) on estimated total system levelized cost, which EIA states is a "convenient summary measure of the overall competiveness of different generating technologies," of new generation from solar photovoltaics (PV), advanced nuclear, conventional coal, hydropower, onshore wind, and conventional combined cycle natural gas-fired power in 2018. Wind is much cheaper than nuclear, while solar is expected to be more expensive in the near-future. However, solar costs are dropping rapidly, while analyses suggest that nuclear has actually been getting more expensive.
[Energy Information Administration, 1/28/13] [Climate Progress, 4/6/11]

MYTH: Nuclear Power Is Harmless

  • In a Fox News op-ed, Alex Epstein of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights claimed the "one danger of running a nuclear plant is a large release of radiation," which is "extremely unlikely." [,7/23/11]
  • Then-Fox Business host Eric Bolling said that "not a death" came from Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster while "dozens" have died from wind turbines. [Fox Business, Follow The Money with Eric Bolling,3/11/11]
  • The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed suggesting that "low radiation doses may immunize the body against cancer and birth defects by stimulating these repair mechanisms into greater responsiveness, just as vaccines stimulate the immune system." However, the National Research Council states that the "weight of the evidence" does not support a positive impact from low doses of radiation. [Wall Street Journal3/6/12] [National Research Council, 2006]

FACT: Regulations Needed To Prevent Accidents, Attacks

Scientists: Fukushima Showed Need To Reevaluate Regulations On Nuclear Energy. Discussing Japan's nuclear crisis in the New York Times' Room for Debate blog, Frank N. von Hippel, a nuclear physicist and professor of public and international affairs at Princeton, wrote that the accident at Japan's Fukushima reactor suggests that "rejected suggestions like the filtered vent system should be considered again." Other scientists and experts suggested similar reevaluations of public safety regulations. From von Hippel's piece:
In 1982, a colleague and I pointed out that not all U.S. reactor containments would have survived the T.M.I. [Three Mile Island] accident, and we suggested that all U.S. reactors be retrofitted with a robust filter system made of sand and charcoal that could filter the gases that would have to be released if a containment was approaching its failure pressure. The nuclear utilities resisted, however, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as usual, did not press for change.
The Fukushima accident suggests once more that the "defense in depth" design of current nuclear reactors may not be deep enough and that previously rejected suggestions like the filtered vent system should be considered again. [New York Times3/13/11] [Media Matters,3/14/11]
AP: Poor Handling Of Expanding Nuclear Waste Poses Threat In Case Of Accident Or Attack. The Associated Press reported that current storage of an expanding amount of nuclear waste puts the U.S. at risk of a release of radiation, as occurred in Fukushima, while alternatives such as storing the waste in Yucca Mountain or reprocessing the spent fuel pose their own risks and political backlash:
The U.S. has 71,862 tons of the waste, according to state-by-state numbers obtained by The Associated Press. But the nation has no place to permanently store the material, which stays dangerous for tens of thousands of years.
Plans to store nuclear waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain have been abandoned, but even if a facility had been built there, America already has more waste than it could have handled.
Three-quarters of the waste sits in water-filled cooling pools like those at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in Japan, outside the thick concrete-and-steel barriers meant to guard against a radioactive release from a nuclear reactor.
Spent fuel at Dai-ichi overheated, possibly melting fuel-rod casings and spewing radiation into the air, after Japan's tsunami knocked out power to cooling systems at the plant.
The rest of the spent fuel from commercial U.S. reactors has been put into dry cask storage, but regulators only envision those as a solution for about a century and the waste would eventually have to be deposited into a Yucca-like facility.
The U.S. nuclear industry says the waste is being stored safely at power-plant sites, though it has long pushed for a long-term storage facility. Meanwhile, the industry's collective pile of waste is growing by about 2,200 tons a year; experts say some of the pools in the United States contain four times the amount of spent fuel that they were designed to handle.
Safety advocates have long urged the NRC to force utility operators to reduce the amount of spent fuel in their pools. The more tightly packed they are, the more quickly they can overheat and spew radiation into the environment in case of an accident, a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.
Some countries -- such as France, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom -- reprocess their spent fuel into new nuclear fuel to help reduce the amount of waste.
The remaining waste is solidified into a glass. It needs to be stored in a long-term waste repository, but reprocessing reduces the volume of waste by three-quarters.
Because reprocessing isolates plutonium, which can be used to make a nuclear weapon, Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter put a stop to it in the U.S. The ban was later overturned, but the country still does not reprocess. [Associated Press, 3/22/11]
GAO: Nuclear Waste Fire Could Lead To "Widespread Contamination." The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that if a fire were to occur in a spent fuel pool (containing nuclear waste), the probability of which is "difficult to quantify" but may be "low," there could be "widespread contamination":
Studies show that the key risk posed by spent nuclear fuel involves a release of radiation that could harm human health or the environment. The highest consequence event posing such a risk would be a self-sustaining fire in a drained or partially drained spent fuel pool, resulting in a severe widespread release of radiation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which regulates the nation's spent nuclear fuel, considers the probability of such an event to be low. According to studies GAO reviewed, the probability of such a fire is difficult to quantify because of the variables affecting whether a fire starts and spreads. Studies show that this low-probability scenario could have high consequences, however, depending on the severity of the radiation release. These consequences include widespread contamination, a significant increase in the probability of fatal cancer in the affected population, and the possibility of early fatalities. According to studies and NRC officials, mitigating procedures, such as replacement water to respond to a loss of pool water from an accident or attack, could help prevent a fire. Because a decision on a permanent means of disposing of spent fuel may not be made for years, NRC officials and others may need to make interim decisions, which could be informed by past studies on stored spent fuel. [Government Accountability Office, 8/15/12]
Study: More Protections Needed To Protect Against Terrorist Attacks On Nuclear Plants. Reuters reported that none of the U.S.'s 104 nuclear reactors is protected against at 9/11-style attack:
U.S. nuclear power plants are not adequately protected from threats, including the theft of bomb-grade material that could be used to make weapons and attacks intended to cause a reactor meltdown, a University of Texas report said on Thursday.

Not one of the country's 104 commercial nuclear reactors or three research reactors is protected against an attack involving multiple players such as the ones carried out by 19 airplane hijackers on 9/11, said the report by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project, or NPPP, at the University of Texas, Austin.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) only requires power plants to protect against attacks carried out by five or six people, according to the report, entitled Protecting U.S. Nuclear Facilities from Terrorist Attack. In addition, the NRC does not require plants to protect themselves against attacks from high-powered sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. [Reuters, 8/15/13]

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