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Want to minimize radiation from power generation – build more nuclear

By Milt Caplan
President
MZConsulting Inc.

Originally posted at http://mzconsultinginc.com/.

Yes, you read that right.  For years, there have been efforts to demonstrate that people who live near nuclear plants or work at nuclear plants are getting sick from all that darn radiation they are receiving.  Over the years these stories have been debunked as study after study has shown that there is no impact from radiation from living near or working at a nuclear plant.

But now a study has been done that shows that of most of the options to generate electricity, nuclear actually releases the least amount of radiation.  This is documented in UNSCEAR’s, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, most recent report to the United Nations General Assembly, on its study to consider the amount of radiation released from the life cycle of different types of electricity generation.

The Committee conducted the comparative study by investigating sources of exposure related to radiation discharges from electricity-generating technologies based on nuclear power; the combustion of coal, natural gas, oil and biofuels; and geothermal, wind and solar power. The results may surprise some, especially those that strongly believe that nuclear pollutes the earth with radiation, coal with a range of air pollutants and carbon, and that solar and wind are environmentally wonderful.solar-panels-and-wind-turbines

Coal generation resulted in the highest collective doses to the public, both in total and per unit energy.  Coal radiation emissions result from coal mining, combustion of coal at power plants and coal ash deposits.  The study also considered occupational doses to workers.  Here is the biggest surprise.  As stated “With regard to the construction phase of the electricity-generating technologies, by far the largest collective dose to workers per unit of electricity generated was found in the solar power cycle, followed by the wind power cycle. The reason for this is that these technologies require large amounts of rare earth metals, and the mining of low-grade ore exposes workers to natural radionuclides during mining.”  It is important to note that in all cases these levels of exposure are relatively low and have little impact to public health.

This study only addresses normal discharges during the lifecycle of the station.  Possible larger releases as a result of nuclear accidents are not considered and we recognize that many will argue it is accidents and their consequences that create the largest fear of nuclear power.

So why talk about this?  The reality is that this information is not likely to change even one single mind on whether someone supports nuclear power or fears it.  We live in a world where facts no longer matter – the only truth is the one that any one person believes.  Well, we believe that scientific study remains the best way forward to establish truth and that studies such as these are part of the path forward.  No one electricity generation technology is perfect.  Coal is cost effective and technically strong, but is also a strong emitter of a range of pollutants (including radiation); renewables such as solar and wind are clean but their resource is intermittent and they have issues with both their front end (mining of rare earths) and disposal at the end of their life cycle.

Nuclear power continues to have a good story to tell, with respect to its economics, reliability, environmental attributes and the many good jobs it creates for local economies.  Concerns about nuclear relate mostly to one major issue – fear of radiation.  And fear is a strong emotion that is not easily changed.  But at least what we have here is another study to show that radiation emissions from normal operations of the nuclear fuel cycle is not something to fear – and in fact if you really want to minimize the collective dose to the public, nuclear power remains the option of choice.

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2017 Canadian Nuclear Achievement Awards – Call for Nominations

We are announcing the Call for Nominations for the 2017 Canadian Nuclear Achievement Awards, jointly sponsored by the Canadian Nuclear Society (CNS) and the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA). These Awards represent an opportunity to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions, technical and non-technical, to various aspects of nuclear science and technology in Canada.

Nominations may be submitted for any of the following Awards:

  • B. Lewis Medal
  • Ian McRae Award
  • Harold A. Smith Outstanding Contribution Award
  • Innovative Achievement Award
  • John S. Hewitt Team Achievement Award
  • Education and Communication Award
  • George C. Laurence Award for Nuclear Safety
  • Fellow of the Canadian Nuclear Society
  • E. Jervis Award

The deadline to submit nominations is January 14, 2017The Awards will be officially presented during the CNS Annual Conference held June 4-7, 2017 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

For detailed information on the nomination package, Awards criteria, and how to submit the nomination please visit: http://cns-snc.ca/cns/awards.

If you have any questions, please contact Ruxandra Dranga, Chair – CNS/CNA Honours and Awards Committee by email at awards@cns-snc.ca, or by phone at 613-717-2338.

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Ontario Got Rid of Coal, But Who’s to Thank?

There’s a lot of talk about what actually contributed to the successful elimination of coal-fired electricity in Ontario. Was it oil and gas? Wind and solar? Restructuring and conservation? Additional nuclear? Advocates for each group would have you believe that their guys did the heavy lifting, but in reality, everyone played an important part.

One of the most accurate (though not necessarily simplest) ways to look at the data is to consider coal’s lost output from the time Ontario started actively phasing it out in 2006 until it was completely eliminated in 2014, and what energy sources (or conservation efforts) replaced it.

Coal plants produced 34.5 TWh in 2005, and a total of 159.4 TWh between 2006 and 2014. That means that approximately 151.1 TWh had to be made up over the course of 9 years.

(34.5 x 9) – 159.4 = 151.1

The chart below shows what energy sources increased as a function of lost coal output – as well as lost output from other sources (since it’s impossible to separate them at this level).

For example, coal production decreased from 34.5 TWh in 2005 to 28.7 in 2006. That’s a 5.7 TWh decrease in coal, which was met with increases of 5.5 TWh of nuclear, 2.5 of diesel, 0.4 of hydro and 0.1 of wind. It was also met with a 1.9 TWh decrease in natural gas and a 0.9 decline in demand.

5.5 + 2.5 + 0.4 + 0.1 – 1.9 – 0.9 = 5.7

coal-graph1

As you can see, diesel played a small part early on, but was quickly eliminated. In 2009, the global financial crisis caused a decline in energy consumption, however usage increased as the economy recovered. Natural gas made up for the largest share of lost coal between 2010 and 2012, but nuclear was clearly the main reason that Ontario was able to meet its goal in the end.

Nuclear’s strong support in the final years of coal was due mainly to the fact that Bruce Power Units 1 and 2 came back online in 2012, providing about 11 additional TWh annually to the grid.

If you look at the results in terms of total output replaced from 2006 to 2014, nuclear made up 69.6 TWh, which represents about 44% of the whole. Natural gas made up 27%, wind made up 13%, lost demand (or conservation, depending on how you look at it) made up 7%, hydro made up 6%, diesel made up 2% and solar made up less than 1%.

coal-graph2

Getting rid of coal has had enormous health and environmental benefits for Ontario. It also serves as an example to other provinces and countries of what can be realized given sufficient public support, methodical planning, and a truly diversified supply mix.

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Memories from the CNA’s 2016 Fall Energy Seminar

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Safety Versus Security: How the Nuclear Industry Balances Both

Nuclear safety and nuclear security are often paired together. Indeed, they almost seem synonymous. On the CNA website, “Safety & Security” is a single section. And in some ways, it makes perfect sense.

safety-firstNuclear safety and security have in common the aim of protecting people, property, and the environment. Safety and security measures have to be designed and implemented in an integrated manner to ensure synergy, and also in such a way that security measures do not compromise safety, and safety measures do not compromise security. However, there are some important differences that, at times, pit one against the other.

Safety is enhanced through transparency. Greater openness and awareness of procedures, measures and facilities designed to strengthen safety serve to reinforce public confidence in the industry and increase the public’s understanding and acceptance of nuclear technology..

Security, conversely, relies on confidentiality in order to be effective. The best security measures are the ones that limit access to sensitive facilities, procedures and sources so as to reduce possible interference or attack by criminal or terrorist entities. In short, security is dependent on the extent to which information is kept from wider exposure.

Though discussions typically group these two terms together, the reality is that there is a constant balance that must be struck between the openness of safety and the assurance of security. Some measures must remain confidential and protected in order to be effective in enhancing nuclear security. Yet, certain details must nevertheless be communicated so as to provide public assurance.

Each part of the industry has a different balance to strike between safety and security. It depends on the range of threats, risks and potential impacts of the nuclear technology in question. There is also the recognition that transgressions can occur internally, as well as externally.

Thankfully, the industry never rests on its laurels and is continuously working on finding new and better ways ensure safety AND strengthen overall security.

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Young People with Passion – That is the Future of Nuclear Power

By Milt Caplan
President
MZConsulting Inc.

Originally posted at http://mzconsultinginc.com/.

We talk a lot about the merits of nuclear power in this blog. From economics and reliability to environment, we focus on why nuclear is now and should be an essential part of our future energy mix. But how do we get there? Again, we often talk about the challenges associated with public acceptance and how we can better position nuclear as the energy solution we all know it is.

But today we want to focus on something different. People. We have been privileged to work in this industry for more than 35 years. Often it’s hard to believe that this much time has passed since we were so excited to start our first jobs as a young engineers working on nuclear safety. Over the years there have been many challenges as the industry slowed, in part due to the accident at Chernobyl, in part due to the slowdown in energy demand growth in many industrialized countries, to the challenges of building capital intensive large projects into deregulated markets. But one thing has not changed; our passion for the industry – our passion for making the world a better place with clean reliable economic nuclear power. And we are not alone.

At a recent industry event, I spoke to many of our colleagues, many of whom have come out of retirement again and again simply because their passion for nuclear power as a solution to meeting our ever growing energy needs is simply impossible to extinguish. Some are well into their 70s and their enthusiasm is as strong as when they were in their 30s.

With nuclear power growing once again, it is time to ensure its continuity by instilling this passion into a new generation of young people. It is the fuel that will ensure the industry continues to be innovative and reaches its full potential going forward. That being said it is important to focus on what is important to this new generation of engineers and scientists; what will keep them enthused and committed. It is hard to imagine millennials thinking of utilities or large industrial companies as the growth companies of the future. Rather they think of companies like Google, Facebook and Uber when it comes to large innovative exciting companies – or they believe in being entrepreneurs and starting their own tech start-up. This ad campaign by GE (one example below) is a brilliant one as it tries to show young people that it can indeed be exciting to be in this large industrial company – that not everyone has to be coding and developing the next app that puts hats on cats – but that to truly change the world, it is the future of things like transportation and energy that really matters.

I love it (There are a series of these ads, just go to YouTube and you can see more).

In the nuclear industry we have the problem of a gap in age. There are many people in their 50s through to retirement age that have been in the industry for decades, and then there is a new cohort of young people who have joined the industry in the last 10 years or less. This new young cohort has different work expectations than the older group. They expect to be able to find a place and make a meaningful contribution in a relatively short time. They are impatient and expect to change jobs many times in their career. They do not expect to join one company and stay there until they retire.

Yet we are an industry that believes that it takes years to learn and become an expert. We need people with 10 years plus experience and we need experts who continue to grow as they gain the experience needed to make a difference.

Therefore, as industry leaders we need to understand and address the desires and concerns of those just starting out. We need to remember that 30 years ago when we were younger we quickly developed into experts as new techniques were established and we did not have the benefit of people like us to show us the ropes. We were at the leading edge and we loved working in this exciting young industry. We learned on the job. We were excited with every opportunity and put our best into developing a product that we strongly believed in. These are the conditions we need to replicate for this next generation. We need to ensure they are actively engaged, play a strong role in new projects and in innovating as the industry moves forward. We need to provide them with the opportunities they crave to develop their passion for this exciting industry. Competition for these people will be fierce and we need to show that the nuclear industry is where they can truly make a difference in the world.

Sometimes as conservative engineers, or as some of the anti-nuclear activists may state – that it is not fair to leave problems for future generations to solve; we need to push back. As one quite learned colleague once said, why solve every issue – we need to leave some things for the bright young people following us to solve – because they will be smarter than we are and bring new thinking to old issues.

While many think the future of nuclear power depends on public acceptance, or solving the waste issue, or improving nuclear safety; it actually depends on building a passionate next generation of young people to take it in directions that none of us has even thought of yet. Life is about passion – so let’s all work to bring out the passion in a new generation of nuclear people. The future is open to us – but only if we can attract the best and brightest people needed to make it happen.

If you are under 40 and have read this post – please comment explaining why you are passionate about working in the nuclear industry.