Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Communicating Nuclear Energy: You Don't Have to Do It Alone

Elizabeth Fako
The following is a guest post by Elizabeth Fako, a communications specialist at Entergy's River Bend Nuclear Station.

When people ask what my favorite part of my job is, the answer is easy: I get to spend every day working with people who think in a completely opposite way than me and I love that.

The operators, engineers and other “technically-minded” people I work closely with constantly challenge me to be a better communicator, nuclear professional and communications coach. As much as I love that aspect of my job, there’s something to be said for spending time with like-minded people. That’s one reason I found NEI’s Fundamentals of Nuclear Communication workshop so valuable; I not only got to spend three days working with other communications professionals, but also with other communicators from the nuclear industry – a career as unique as it sounds.

Our presenters included NEI representatives and industry experts, sharing a wealth of knowledge ranging from the nuts and bolts of reactor basics and Radiation 101 to practical on-camera media training and event response. As if nuclear technology isn’t complicated enough for someone with a public relations degree, we even bordered on the edge of brain surgery…okay, maybe just basic anatomy. Either way I was channeling all my neuro-knowledge from many seasons of Grey’s Anatomy to follow along with the diagram of how the brain processes fear to better manage risk communications. Although we only had time to skim the surface on tactical topics like employee communications, public opinion and social media, there was plenty of time to litter my notebook with asterisks to follow-up questions, items to look into further, ideas to bring back to my plant site and more.

The most valuable thing I took away from the course is an appreciation for the resources available, both information and people, to help us as communicators not only do our jobs better, but to help the nuclear industry as a whole.

Being a communications staff of one at a station with more than 600 employees can sometimes feel daunting. I left D.C. last week with a stack of business cards and new LinkedIn connections with individuals who not only understand my position, but have either lived it before or are living it now - and are more than willing to help. Each of us is in a position to represent our sites and companies, as well as to advocate for the nuclear industry as a whole. It’s comforting to know we don’t have to do it alone.

For that I say thank you to the entire NEI staff for this workshop and for all the resources you make available to us; to each of the presenters for sharing their insights and advice; and to my colleagues in the class for echoing my enthusiasm for this industry.

I truly believe nuclear is the future of energy and look forward to working alongside my colleagues to create that future.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Nuclear Costs are Down and Performance is Up … Again

Michael Purdie
The following is a guest post by NEI's Michael Purdie.

In 2015, total generating costs for U.S. nuclear generation declined to $35.50/MWh from $36.35/MWh, a two percent decrease (2015 dollars).  Total generating costs are the “all-in” costs that include fuel, capital, and operating expenses.

As the table below shows, the costs decreased roughly evenly between fuel ($0.31/MWh), capital ($0.22/MWh), and operations ($0.33/MWh).   While the costs declined in 2015, performance improved.  The nuclear industry operated at 92.2% capacity factor, which was an increase from 2014 (91.7%) and 2013 (89.9%).

The nuclear industry is fighting to be valued properly in the electricity markets.  Not only do nuclear plants provide electricity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, they provide clean energy, grid reliability, price stability, and fuel diversity.  Each of these attributes provides value that is not always priced into the market.  In a challenging economic environment, the industry is working to lower its cost profile while maintaining safe and efficient performance.

Recently, the nuclear industry and NEI has undertaken a program called Delivering the Nuclear Promise.  The goal is to reduce total generating costs across the industry by 30%.  In taking a holistic look at costs through Delivering the Nuclear Promise, the nuclear industry is building upon improvements shown over the last three years to accelerate nuclear energy’s competitiveness in electricity markets.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Conversation the Director of Meltdown Doesn’t Want to Have About Nuclear Energy

Tom Kauffman
The following is a guest blog post by Tom Kauffman, NEI's Director of Media Relations.

Over more than three decades since the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear accident, claims that radioactivity from the plant caused negative health effects have been refuted time and time again. In over twelve studies, not one found any detectable impacts. Any claim that cancer or other diseases have been caused by the accident doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.

That holds for the industry as a whole too. In research conducted for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Dr. James Hansen concluded that the use of nuclear energy has saved 1.8 million lives that otherwise would have been lost due to burning of fossil fuels.

Despite this compelling scientific evidence, a former resident of the area, Jill Murphy Long, is trying to distort the truth with a new film, Meltdown. In her conversations with the press, Long has said, "I think this conversation needs to happen. I'm not a lawyer; I'm not a scientist. We'll introduce people who need to talk. That's what I am, a facilitator of conversation."

If Long really wants to have a conversation, I’m ready for it. I’ve been a resident of south-central Pennsylvania my entire life. For 39 years I have lived in one of the counties adjacent to the facility, and from 1977 to 2000 I worked at TMI. During the accident I lived in Dauphin County where the plant is located. Today I live in a house in York County that is adjacent to TMI and can see the plumes of water vapor rising from its cooling towers.

I was at TMI Reactor Unit 2 the day of the accident on March 28, 1979. That morning, for hours, I was within a hundred feet of the reactor. I worked at the plant throughout the ten-year accident recovery. After 12 years in operations, I shifted to site communications working from a building right beside the plant.

My total radiation exposure over the 23 years I worked at TMI (including the accident) was less than a person would get from three CAT scans. The risk of cancer associated with that low level of exposure is next to nothing. And if you compare risk factors, traveling to and from work is by far the most dangerous thing I’ve done associated with more than 30 years working in the nuclear industry.

After more than a half-century of radiological monitoring and medical research, there is no evidence linking any U.S. nuclear energy facilities to negative effects on the health of the public or workers. Claims that radioactivity from TMI caused negative health effects have been debunked by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which concluded that no deaths or long-term health effects were connected to it.

More than a dozen independent studies came to the same conclusion including: the National Cancer Institute; a commission appointed by President Jimmy Carter; a commission established by Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh; the National Institute of Health; the Columbia University School of Public Health; the Committee on Federal Research into the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation; the Pennsylvania Department of Health; and others supported by various state and federal agencies.

Cancer is a horrible disease, one that has taken the lives of many millions of people. I know others who are struggling against it, and they deserve not only our sympathy, but our help. But that help needs to start with medical and scientific research, research that has already shown that radiation from nuclear power plants has had nothing to do with the development of the disease.

I’m sure that Ms. Long feels she’s doing the right thing in making Meltdown. But the fact is, she’s not going to help anyone. If she convinces the public of this untruth, she will harm the expansion of a source of energy that has already proven to have saved many lives, and has the potential to save millions more here and around the world.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How Advocacy Helped Repeal Wisconsin’s Nuclear Moratorium

Jon Breed
The following guest post is from Jon Breed, manager of state and federal advocacy at NEI.

On April 1st, 2016, Governor Scott Walker signed a bipartisan bill ending Wisconsin’s 33-year moratorium against building new nuclear energy facilities. After signing the bill, Walker said that “nuclear energy sustains Wisconsin’s economy two ways, both in employing a skilled, well-paid workforce to run a nuclear plant, and in providing the affordable, reliable source of emission-neutral power on which all businesses and employers rely.”

The passage of the bill is a testament to the power of coalitions and grassroots advocacy and will serve as a model for how pro-nuclear advocates drive policy outcomes in the future.

A lot has changed in American politics in the past fifteen years. The age of shoe-leather lobbying has been supplemented by a new kind political influence: the power of coalition advocacy. This shift began with the rise of the internet and was refined by groups like Organizing for America and Heritage Action.

Understanding this change in political winds, NEI saw an opportunity to activate nuclear energy advocates when Wisconsin State Representative Kevin Petersen introduced a bill to repeal his state’s nuclear energy ban last October. This set off a chain of events that ultimately led to the bill’s passage.
Before getting involved, however, we asked ourselves three very basic questions:

  • Does it advance NEI’s policy priorities?
  • Is there a path to success?
  • Who are our allies on the ground and how do we get them engaged?

The first question was easy. The initial ban on new nuclear energy was put into place in the 1980s and NEI has worked for years to repeal the moratorium.

Next we looked for a path to success. Our initial analysis revealed a state political system that was deeply divided. Despite the fact Wisconsin has a Republican Governor and Republican-controlled legislature, the volatile political landscape has created bitter partisan divide.

However, the industry views nuclear energy as a bipartisan issue capable of bringing people together. As a result, we set out to build a coalition of Wisconsin advocates dedicated to communicating nuclear energy’s value proposition.

In October, NEI’s State Outreach and Advocacy Team came together to formulate a deliberate and comprehensive plan that would best leverage the power of grassroots advocacy. After taking an inventory of potential allies, we executed a broad outreach initiative that included local politicians, policymakers, unions, business coalitions, student groups, academics, small businesses, environmentalists and electric industry experts. What resulted was a sizable coalition that effectively engaged both sides of the aisle.

Despite this precarious political landscape, the strategy worked. After countless phone calls, emails, letters, social media engagements and office visits, we saw an issue, that has historically failed, gain real traction.

So much traction, in fact, that the Wisconsin Assembly passed the bill unanimously and the Wisconsin Senate passed it with a large bipartisan majority: 23-9. Shortly thereafter, Governor Walker signed the bill into law before a large audience of nuclear advocates at the University of Wisconsin.
Signed, sealed and delivered.
As NEI continues to explore the future of advocacy, we will study this victory. What a coalition of nuclear advocates accomplished in Wisconsin in just six months demonstrates the power of grassroots activity and underscores just how much the American political landscape has shifted. As NEI moves forward – there are 12 more states with moratoriums on nuclear energy – we will continue to develop our strategies , and work hard to keep pace with the ever-changing nature of politics.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

On Bernie Sanders, Nuclear Energy & Carbon-Free Electricity

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Senator Bernie Sanders, who doesn’t like nuclear power anywhere, now also doesn’t like it at Indian Point Energy Center. This shouldn’t surprise anybody, but Mr. Sanders is also against climate change, and against fossil fuels. The positions are impossible to reconcile.

We’re not the only ones who have noticed.
A persistent idea is that energy from wind and sun will replace fossil and everything else. And for years, New York has had an aggressive plan to use more renewable energy.

But it is just a plan. According to a national survey by the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, released earlier this month, New York aimed to have about 9.5 million megawatt-hours of renewable electricity by the end of 2014. But actual production was only around half that. (That’s the “main tier,” produced at utility scale. There’s a “customer-sited tier,” basically rooftop solar, and that was at 96 percent compliance, but the target for that was far smaller, less than 1 million megawatt-hours. )

When it comes to NY & renewables, the numbers don't add up.
More renewables would be good for New York. But there are good reasons why it’s hard to build them there. The wind is strong in the western part of the state, but the load is in the southeast, and the transmission grid that links them isn’t up to big electricity transfers.

So sometimes western New York is flooded with more electricity than it can use, and prices fall to zero or below, limiting the enthusiasm of builders to pick that area. Meanwhile, prices are much higher in the New York City region, where Indian Point is located, but it’s not a good place for huge wind farms.

And even if New York were on target to achieve its renewable goal, the goal is about 33% less carbon-free electricity than Indian Point produces. And besides being better located, Indian Point’s 24/7 production includes peak hours, including summer afternoons and evenings when there is not much wind, and the sun is low in the sky, or down.

When the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor, in Senator Sanders’ home state, closed at the end of 2014, New England replaced it with natural gas. That is the likely replacement if any of New York’s reactors close. More broadly, the question isn’t whether New York can meet its goals for renewables, or the longer-term goal of an 80 percent cut in carbon emissions by mid-century.

Recent history makes clear this will be very tough. For the near term, at least, the question is whether New York wants to miss its goals by a little or a lot. A state that closes a reactor now is like a ship captain who, at the first sign of rough weather, decides to jettison the lifeboats.

And if the threat of climate change seems distant or abstract (which is not the case in New York, at least not since Sandy) losing Indian Point would have a more immediate impact on electricity bills. Electricity sales in New York are competitive, and when you remove a competitor, prices will rise. That’s bad for households, businesses, and government agencies.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Fox and Friends and Nuclear Plant Security

Both the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have concluded that U.S. nuclear plants are among the most secure of all industrial facilities. But for some reason, that fact wasn't reported on Fox and Friends this morning when Tucker Carlson interviewed Alan Kuperman of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project on nuclear power plant security.


When it comes to the threat of terrorism, American nuclear plants responded quickly in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, spending more than $2 billion to upgrade security.

The independent U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has said that nuclear power plants are "among the best-protected private sector facilities in the nation." The NRC holds nuclear power plants to the highest security standards of any American industry. These security measures get more robust the closer you get to the plant, using defenses such as vehicles, barriers/concrete walls, sophisticated intrusion detection and weaponry. There also are measures to protect against insider threats.

We're always surprised that Carlson neglects to mention these facts when he reports on the topic. After all, Carlson edits The Daily Caller, a website that ran an op-ed in 2011 by NEI's Marv Fertel on how the nuclear industry supplemented security after the 9-11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Overall, the U.S. nuclear energy industry alone employs about 9,000 heavily armed security personnel. That compares pretty favorably with the entire Belgian Army, which only has about 12,000 soldiers in uniform.

Does Tucker Carlson read The Daily Caller?
Just like the last time Fox reported about this issue, they neglected to contact anyone in the nuclear energy industry for comment, opting instead to let Kuperman speak over archival footage of another Fox and Friends/Daily Caller report we debunked back in 2014.

Whatever this is, it isn't fair and balanced journalism. People have a right to know what we're doing to secure our plant sites, but journalists also have a responsibility to give us an opportunity to answer those questions in the first place. According to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, reporters should "Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing." That same code of ethics also says, " Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources." As we reported back in 2013, Kuperman has previously worked for the rabid anti-nuclear group, Greenpeace, so it isn't as if he doesn't have an ax to grind with us.

For an example of what actual reporting looks like, watch this video that was shot by The Day when they talked to security personnel at Dominion's Millstone Nuclear Power Plant.


Please keep up with us on Twitter, as we engage in a what's sure to be a day-long conversation about this story. Be sure to watch NEI's video on nuclear plant security, while also reviewing the information on our website on nuclear power plant security.

From the NEI Nuclear Notes archive:

DYK Alan Kuperman worked for Greenpeace?
A Fresh Perspective on Nuclear Plant Security
NEI Responds to NPPP Report on Security at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants
Why the Daily Caller is Wrong About Nuclear Power Plant Security
NRC Rebuts Daily Caller on Nuclear Power Plant Security

POSTSCRIPT:  After The Daily Caller ran their piece on nuclear plant security in 2014, the nuclear industry reached out to the reporter in question to see if he would be interested in touring Calvert Cliffs. He declined the invitation. This morning, NEI's media team contacted Fox News in an attempt to speak with Carlson. We were told he was unavailable.

Public Opinion on Nuclear Energy: Where is it Headed?

Ann Bisconti
The following is a guest post by Ann S. Bisconti, PhD, President, Bisconti Research, Inc.

As we await the results of the ongoing NEI Spring 2016 Public Opinion Survey on Nuclear Energy, two other surveys have raised the question: Where is public opinion about nuclear energy headed? Scientific American Plugged In, March 23, pondered the dramatically different results from questions about nuclear energy asked in polls by Gallup and the University of Texas (UT) and essentially ended puzzled, concluding that polls are faulty. But wait a minute. Both polls are accurate, and we can learn lessons about public opinion by studying them.

Gallup’s Annual Environmental Poll includes one question about nuclear energy, an NEI tracking question: “Overall, do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity in the United States.” Gallup found 44 percent in favor and 54 percent opposed in 2016, a big drop in favorability from 2015, and headlined that, for the first time, a majority of Americans oppose nuclear energy.

The UT Energy Poll asks: “Based on what you know, to what extent do you support or oppose the use of nuclear energy? (Strongly oppose, somewhat oppose, neither support nor oppose, somewhat support, or strongly support, not sure).” In contrast to Gallup, UT found that support increased from 2015 to 2016. Currently, the poll shows, 39 percent strongly or somewhat support nuclear energy, 26 percent strongly or somewhat oppose nuclear energy, and 35 percent neither support nor oppose.


Here are some lessons from these polls that are consistent with what we know from 33 years of comprehensive NEI research on public attitudes:
  • Public opinion about nuclear energy is, for the most part, not strongly held. The UT poll shows many people in the middle, and so do NEI surveys.
  • Public opinion is highly changeable and reflects a trade off people make—consciously or unconsciously—between perceptions of need and safety concerns, and the two polls illustrate how this happens. In the Gallup poll, the question about support for nuclear energy is asked after questions about hazards, triggering focus on safety concerns. In the context of questions about energy, as in the UT Energy Poll, a question about support for nuclear energy may trigger thoughts of how nuclear energy fits into the energy picture.
  • Energy concerns drive up support for nuclear energy. Gallup’s explanation for the downturn on the favorability question is primarily that energy is not currently on the public agenda. That is true. When energy is perceived to be abundant, as it is today, the perceived urgency for nuclear energy diminishes. Historically, resurgent strong support for nuclear energy coincides with periods characterized not only by electricity shortages but also by situations not especially relevant to nuclear energy such as high gasoline prices or conflict in the Middle East.
NEI’s surveys assess and track the many dimensions of attitudes toward nuclear energy, as well as the influences on these attitudes. As of 2015, U.S. public support for nuclear energy continued to be broad but not deep, and highly changeable; 68 percent in March and 64 percent in September said they favored the use of nuclear energy. A majority held middle positions, as 26 percent strongly favored nuclear energy while 15 percent strongly opposed (September).

Energy is likely to remain abundant for years, so continued support for nuclear energy will depend on a better public understanding of the urgent need not just for energy sources but for nuclear energy in particular. Our research shows that Americans want both reliable electricity and clean air. Most do not know that nuclear energy is the only source that provides both. Only nuclear energy is both a 24/7 baseload energy source like coal and natural gas and also a carbon-free energy source like solar and wind.

Challenges to building that awareness are considerable, NEI surveys showed:
  • In an open-ended question, only 10 percent of those favoring nuclear energy mentioned clean air, no pollution, or climate change as one of the reasons for their opinion (Spring 2015).
  • 67 percent of the public believed that nuclear energy releases greenhouse gases (Spring 2014)
  • 70 percent did not know that nuclear energy is the largest source of low-carbon electricity today—when, in fact, it is the largest source by far (Fall 2015).
After learning the real magnitude of nuclear energy’s contribution to the low-carbon mix, 84 percent said that nuclear energy should be important, and 50 percent said it should be very important (Fall 2015). Among those who said nuclear energy should be important after learning that information were 62 percent of those initially opposed to nuclear energy and 43 percent of those initially strongly opposed.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The American Hero Behind Plant Vogtle

clip_image001
Steve McQueen
On this day in 1944, 76 Allied prisoners of war broke out of a Nazi POW camp. It was a daring operation that later became known as "The Great Escape" thanks to a book and film adaptation of the same name. What in the world does this have to do with nuclear energy?

One of the main characters in the film is U.S. Army Air Force pilot Virgil Hilts. He was played by Hollywood legend Steve McQueen. Virgil Hilts was just a fictional character. But Alvin Vogtle was the real deal.

I'll let NEI's Mark Flanagan pick it up from here in an excerpt from a 2010 blog post about the federal loan guarantees for the construction of two AP-1000 reactors at Plant Vogtle in Georgia.

* * *
Who was Alvin Ward Vogtle, Jr., after whom the plant is named? According to his 1994 New York Time obituary, he was:
A former president and chairman of the Atlanta-based Southern Company.
Vogtle (3rd from right) & his POW bunk mates.
Well, that makes sense. But here’s what really caught our eye in the obituary:
Captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Germany, he made four unsuccessful escape attempts. On his fifth try, in 1943, he reached safety by scaling a 14-foot barbed-wire border fence and crossing the Rhine to Switzerland.
That’s dramatic, not to mention heroic. Might make a good movie, no?

* * * 
As Mark later mentioned, the screenwriters, as is their wont, took some liberties with the exact details about Vogtle's escape attempts, but the real story leaves no doubt: Vogtle was a true American hero, and our industry is proud that the plant bears his name.