NRC allows nuclear plants to propose alternatives to its new seismic safety assessment

Vermont Yankee cooling tower collapse, 2007

On Friday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) wrapped up a two-week long inspection of Vermont Yankee’s emergency systems.The biennial inspection is meant to target any holes in the nuclear plant’s emergency preparedness program. Regulators looked at how the facility has responded to emergencies in the past, analyzed staffing levels and tested alarm systems.

While federal inspectors have 45 days to issue a report of their findings, NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said that a preliminary review of their inspection did not unearth “any significant issues.”

This inspection comes after the NRC issued a new guidance on Sept. 4 for assessing seismic hazards in nuclear facilities across the country. The “supplemental guidance,” as the NRC puts it, is based on recommendations made by a high-level federal task force, which was formed in the wake of the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi disaster to review NRC regulations and processes to identify areas of improvement.

The new guidance is not mandatory, and a leading nuclear expert doesn’t think it goes far enough to protect the public.

Earlier this summer, NRC regulators began inspections with nuclear plant personnel, called “walkdowns,” where personnel and inspectors looked for readily identifiable flood and seismic hazards. But the new guidance, said Entergy spokesman Rob Williams, would require a further-reaching scientific analysis of a nuclear plant’s ability to stand up to an earthquake.

“The seismic evaluation is about the math involved and how the plants are analyzed,” said Williams.

NRC is allowing nuclear facilities to weigh in on the new regulatory measure until Oct. 10, and facilities can propose their own methodologies for how their plants should be inspected for failures.

When Sheehan was asked about nuclear operators preparing their own guidelines, he said NRC could veto their proposals.

“We could deem that methodology and the result unacceptable,” he said. “There is that risk on the part of a company.”

But, he said, most plants appear to be in favor of the assessment process. “Most of the plants have indicated that they plan to adhere to this guidance,” he said.

Williams, however, did not indicate whether Vermont Yankee would conform to the federally proposed guidance.

“We’re going to be reviewing that guidance with the rest of the industry and responding as a group within the timeframe they expect,” he said.

Not enough?

Burlington’s Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer and one of the world’s leading authorities on nuclear safety, said the new guidance doesn’t go far enough to ensure citizen well-being.

“They nibble at the edges of the problem,” Gundersen about NRC’s new guidance. “You’re not going to find the significant changes that really need to be implemented because the plants can’t afford to implement them. You can’t make the changes in an (old) operating plant, and the NRC knows that, so they’re going to try to go around the margin.”

One of the central issues with the U.S. nuclear industry, as Gundersen views it, is that low-probability, high-consequence natural events have threatened and, in the case of Fukushima, caused nuclear disaster. As examples of close calls, he pointed to the earthquake in Virginia near the North Anna Power Station and the floods near the Fort Calhoun Power Plant in Nebraska that pushed but didn’t exceed the boundaries of those plants.

He said the guidance, as proposed, might lead to slight structural improvements but wouldn’t bring about the replacement of 30- to 40-year-old plants, which he considers necessary to prevent nuclear disasters.

One of the central issues with the U.S. nuclear industry, as Gundersen views it, is that low-probability, high-consequence natural events have threatened and, in the case of Fukushima, caused nuclear disaster. As examples of close calls, he pointed to the earthquake in Virginia near the North Anna Power Station and the floods near the Fort Calhoun Power Plant in Nebraska that pushed but didn’t exceed the boundaries of those plants.

“If you look at what we’ve learned in the past five years, we’ve learned that Mother Nature is unpredictable and our predictions have been wrong four times,” said Gundersen.

John Ebel, director of Boston College’s geophysics laboratory Weston Observatory, said it’s very difficult to predict earthquakes in New England because of the short historical record that is available. The largest quake on record in New England hit Cape Ann, Mass., in 1755 and came in at around 6.0 on the Richter scale.

Weston Observatory records show that in 2002 there was a magnitude 5.1 earthquake in New York across Lake Champlain from Addison County, and in 2010 there was a magnitude 5.0 quake just northwest of Montreal.

Despite the seismic unknown of New England’s future, Ebel maintained, “Engineers can design and build structures that can survive even the strongest earthquake shakes.”

But, said Gundersen, the finances aren’t in favor of replacing the country’s aging nuclear plants.

“It does boil down to money,” he said. “A nuclear plant can be safe or it can be competitively priced, but it can’t be competitively priced and safe from these low-probability events.”

The fiscal element of the nuclear equation, said Gundersen, is the reason the industry has so much sway over regulatory policy, as it does over the guidance just issued by the NRC.

“That’s typical,” said Gundersen of the non-mandatory guidance. “That’s the industry influence, where if (federal policy) gets too expensive we won’t hold you to it.”

“Look at each one in a vacuum”

In March, Vermont Department of Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Miller wrote to William Dean, NRC regional administrator, to ask why a string of human performance errors at Vermont Yankee didn’t require additional oversight from the NRC. Such errors led to the loss of shutdown cooling and some malfunctioning equipment.

Dean responded to Miller, writing that all of these errors were labeled “green,” which means they have ”very low safety significance.” Since none of the findings exceeded the NRC’s “green” threshold, Dean found no reason for additional oversight.

Miller wrote to Dean again in August about similar human performance-related errors, pointing to eight other issues that arose since her March letter. Such incidents included an absent risk analysis, a missing flood seal and a poorly installed condenser.

“My concern is that such incidents, while perhaps unremarkable in isolation, together may raise questions regarding the training and oversight exercised by the operator of the plant,” wrote Miller.

Gundersen has similar concerns.

“These incidents lead me to believe that either the procedures suck, the staff is too young or there’s inadequate training — none of which does the NRC want to address,” he said. “They prefer to look at each incident in a vacuum.”

“It’s not for me to say whether their oversight should be more holistic or less holistic … It’s the NRC’s jurisdiction and oversight to exercise, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask questions. In fact, I think we should ask even more questions.

Elizabeth Miller, Public Service Department commissioner

When Miller was asked about the NRC’s method of analyzing isolated instances, she was frank.

“That’s just how NRC does everything,” she said. “It’s not for me to say whether their oversight should be more holistic or less holistic … It’s the NRC’s jurisdiction and oversight to exercise, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask questions. In fact, I think we should ask even more questions. That’s the spirit behind the first letter way back in March and the spirit behind the second letter.”

On Sept. 14, Dean wrote back to Miller. While he said that the incidents didn’t warrant increased NRC oversight, he did say that he welcomed a state engineer to join NRC inspectors during an upcoming inspection.

“We plan to conduct a PI&R (Problem Identification and Resolution) follow-up inspection in October 2012 focused on corrective actions to prevent human errors when taking equipment out of service in response to the loss of shutdown cooling in October 2011, and the trip of the ‘A’ emergency diesel generator fuel rack in November 2011.”

When Sheehan was asked about the frequency of the PI&R inspections, he said they should be conducted biennially. The last inspection of this nature, which he referenced, occurred in 2009.

“At that time, we found (Entergy’s) corrective actions addressed the identified causes of problems and were typically implemented in a timely manner,” wrote Sheehan in an email about the last PI&R.

Miller said she welcomes the October inspection, and appreciates Dean’s more thorough response to her concerns.

“I thought that the letter they sent this time, as opposed to last time, was more specific,” she said. “But, overall, my message to Bill Dean was that we do view (our) Department’s role, in part, to review these documents, raise questions when they come up and ask NRC for a response. So he should anticipate that.

“If there are further incidents with the plant, we’ll have further questions.”

 


Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewcstein

Comments

  1. Birgit Johanson :

    On the West Coast in particular, tsunami is a threat. There are many articles and websites describing the risks. There is a new study showing that 23 nuclear plants worldwide are at substantial risk from tsunamis.

    NOAA has a page about East Coast Tsunami Threat at http://www.erh.noaa.gov/ilm/stormready/tsunami/player.html

    Earthquakes alone are almost never a sole cause or event. Flooding, isolation due to weather and other events, etc. lead to increased risk of meltdown. A study or request that asks the wrong questions is not going to prevent a disaster.

    We need a policy that includes public input and an enlightened approach to worldwide climate changes. An intelligent, informed population will be able to distinguish between industry bluster, old school politics, and a sensible approach to energy policy that includes safety as a priority. We can build enough renewable sources, quickly, and decommission these dangerous old plants before it is too late.

  2. Howard Shaffer :

    When Congress chose nuclear power for electric power generation, it had been made perfectly clear that there was the possibility of a very rare, but severe accident – a meltdown with significant release. All practical measures would be taken to prevent such an accident, and if it happened, to deal with the consequences.

    Congress made this choice because they wanted a replacement for coal. They knew how bad coal was, in environmental impact, and health consequences. Mining and pollution control have improved in the past 50 years, so that the EPA now estimates ONLY 30,000 people die early each year from the fine particulates released by burning.

    So Congress chose between a rare accident with “large” consequences, and an accident that is shortening lives every day. (i.e. killing in terms the press uses)

    So the “expert” is right about a rare event with large effect. Unfortunately, some people, including him, focus only on the rare event and ignore the far greater harm done in total, by everyday accidents.

    The terrible accident at Fukushima-Daiichi is the first example of a meltdown with large release in power-only reactors (Chernobyl-type reactors are different). The results: no immediate deaths due to radiation. Increased exposure to many, but the vast majority will only have their lives shortened a few years by cancer after many years, under the current regulatory theory. This in the context that one quarter of people die from cancer now, because they live so long. Contaminated land is being cleaned up, and will be used again. For perspective, look up “Hiroshima Today” on Google Images for before and after pictures.

    A real nuclear safety expert wouldn’t say on CNN, on the first or second day of the accident, that it could be “Chernobyl on steroids.” Nor would he say that there had been an uncontrolled chain reaction in the Unit 4 Fuel Pool.
    If he did, he might be found wrong a year later when the measurements show that the release was one tenth of Chernobyl’s. He might be proved wrong when they started removing fuel from the Unit 4 Fuel Pool last month. He might have to say that the Fukushima accident has put more radioactivity in the water than Chernobyl did; which is a no-brainer, since Chernobyl blew practically everything up into the air.

    The scientific and engineering communities will continue following Madame Curie’s guidance that “Nothing is to be feared, everything is to be understood.”

    It has always been possible for plants to propose alternate methods of meeting regulations, so this is nothing new. As Mr. Sheehan said, it’s the plant’s responsibility to prove they are right.

  3. John Greenberg :

    It always fascinates me that Howard Shaffer loves to quote Marie Curie and to deny that radiation causes cancer. Madame Curie died of cancer.

  4. Bob Stannard :

    Knowing that Mr. Shaffer is a good Christian, it’s practically unfathomable to hear him say that one’s life would only be shortened by a few years by cancer.

    Pardon me if that sounds a little cold.

  5. Howard Shaffer :

    Marie Curie lived long enough to get cancer some way, since it is a disease of old age, in the main. One quarter of us will die from it, now. ( I’ve already been operated on for it, in 2002.) A hundred years ago most people didn’t live long enough to die from it. Opponents love to cite Madme Curie’s death from cancer without giving her age. Based on what we know now, if she had given herself a very high dose of radiation in her research, she would have died from cancer sooner. The comment is of the group, “If it’s cancer it must be from radiation.”

    I don’t claim to be a “good” Christian, just one who is a Lutheran. Martin Luther said that the church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. He also said that we are all saints and sinners at the same time-we do good things, and bad. We expect humans to sin, to make mistakes. That is why every Sunday we begin with a Confession of sins: things we have done, and things we have failed to do. Our pastor turns and faces the cross too, since she is confessing along with the assembly. Then she turns and pronounces Christ’s forgiveness.

    Facing up to the fact that some people will have their lives shortened a few years, after living for forty or more after exposure, is dealing with reality, under the CURRENT regulatory model. In reality, if I die of cancer many years after exposure, how can I tell the cause? Was it the radiation of something else?

  6. Bob Stannard :

    And therein, Howard, lies the beauty of radiation leaks from nuclear power. One can never really pinpoint how the patient died, thus clearing the way to make more.

    Of course, that same logic was used by the cigarette companies. Just because someone smokes and dies of lung cancer doesn’t necessarily mean that they died from smoking. They might’ve died from radiation from nuclear power.

    Tell it to the children.

  7. Howard Shaffer :

    Mr Stannard et al,
    It’s all in the science. Proper studies with control groups proved the causitive link between smoking and lung cancer. Not surprising that this is the case, since lungs were not made to inhale smoke.

    Studies with control groups prove which levels of radiation are safe, which provide a “vaccination effec.t”, and which are harmful This is not surprising since radiation is a part of the natural environment, and always has been. The sun’s energy is transmitted by radiation from a complex nuclear reaction. Those who say you can’t see radiaton are wrong, because we can see radiation in the correct frequency range-visible light. We can also detect some radiation that we can’t see with our skin-we feel the heat from the sun. Other frequencies and other kinds of radiation are detected with the sensitive instruments that exist. I took one to the Vermont State house and checked in the corners of committee rooms. The radiation level from the uranium in the granite was enough to make the level above the 24/7/365 level allowed by the state at the Vermont Yankee fence line. This is a very safe level.

    Laboratory studies published in the summer of 2011 by the Berkley Lab used newly developed techniques of marking DNA with dye and taking time-lapse photos of the inner workings of individual cells. These studies examined the effect of increasing levels of radiation on cells. They found that DNA damage does happen from radiation, just as it does from disease, chemicals and other things. At low levels of radiation,the repair mechanism completely restores the cell to its pre-exposure condition. At high enough levels, there is a different repair mechanism, and DNA is repaired but scrambled. This is obviously where cancer and mutations come from. At a mid range of exposure, the stress from radiation, exercise, disease, and chemicals makes cells more resistant to stress. On a whole body level, we know that if a person excercises and is strong, they will be more resistant to colds. If we expose people to a mild dose of smallpox and other diseases, they become resistant to stronger doses. Even more, the research shows that building up tolerance to one kind of stres, raises resistance to other kinds of stress. These results were reported in the New York Times last December (I am told). It will take many years for this good news to make it into regulations.

    Why do I and others believe these studies? Because they are consistent with decades of evidence. One surprising bit of evidence came from the Canadian public health program, which provided mamagrams to all in a susceptible age range. The surprising result was that breast cancer decreased! The vaccination effect!!

    The current regulations are based on the BEIR 7 report which was meant to guide regulators. The conclusions contain the phrase “any amount of radiation is dangerous” which is taken out of context and made into a mantra by nuclear power opponents. The report meant “Regulations should be based on the assumption that any amount of radiation is dangersous, and regulations should not allow exposure without a corresponding benefit.” Medical x-rays are one example of intentional exposure with benefit.

  8. Bob Stannard :

    OK, Howard, so radiation is cumulative. it’s in the environment. It comes from the sun. There is no safe level of radiation, because it’s cumulative.

    So since there appears to be plenty of radiation occurring naturally to cause some damage to humans then the answer to reducing cancer rates from radiation is to promote an unecessiary technology that creates more radiation?

    Help to understand that.

  9. John Greenberg :

    Howard Shaffer and I have had this discussion before, and Bob Stannard has done a good job of calling him out on his misleading statements about radiation. Still, for the benefit of readers who have less experience considering these matters, I think it’s important to state in some detail just how preposterous his claim is, beyond my rather snarky (and slightly incorrect as it turns out) comment from a few days ago. These comments concern the first set of exchanges between Shaffer and Bob.
    First, it should be noted that virtually no one believes that the best or only alternative to nuclear power now comes from coal. What Shaffer suggests about the 1950s may or may not have been true at the time, but it’s clearly false today. There are many adequate alternatives to nuclear power which do not involve anything like the risks of coal plants.
    Second, radiation releases happen on an ongoing basis in the nuclear power industry, from exposure to miners and enrichment works, to planned and accidental releases from reactors, to releases at nuclear waste dumps around the country and the world. While it’s true that the radiation from these ongoing releases pales in comparison to the damage done by the coal industry, it’s false to suggest that these releases do not exist or that they have no impact.
    Third, Shaffer’s merely parroting industry propaganda when he claims that the results of Fukushima were “no immediate deaths due to radiation.” There HAVE been a handful of worker deaths as a result of the accident, some from diseases associated with radiation. TEPCO – a remarkably unreliable source – has claimed these deaths were not radiation related, but I haven’t seen any third party validation of that claim.
    The real point, however, is in Shaffer’s innocent-sounding use of the word “immediate.” Readers should not be misled by Shaffer’s glibness. Massive amounts of radiation were released by the Fukushima accident into the atmosphere and especially into the Pacific Ocean. From these releases, we can expect major health consequences. Most of these effects would not be expected to be immediate: smokers do not inhale a cigarette and then drop dead of cancer either. (If they did, I suspect there would be far fewer smokers than there are!) Many cancers “incubate” for 20 years and more. The real health effects of TMI should be starting to become visible NOW (30 years later), and those from Fukushima a few decades from now.
    Our best understanding of radiation and human health says that any dose of radiation is harmful to humans and that the probability and magnitude of harm increase with exposure. There is, according to this theory, no safe (threshold) dose of radiation. Readers should understand that this theory represents the scientific consensus, repeatedly promulgated by the National Academy of Sciences over a period of decades, and used by most regulatory agencies around the world. Shaffer can, if he wants, dissent from this consensus, but he should do so overtly, and justify his claim.

    Since the early 1960s, scientists understood that smoking caused cancer and other diseases, but in a string of court cases, the tobacco industry succeeded in making the claim that no PARTICULAR case of cancer could be PROVEN to be linked to cigarettes. The same is certainly true of radiation. That’s Bob Stannard’s point above.
    In fact, this is the nature of any probabilistic theory such as the ones in question here: we can “prove” a statistical probability, but not absolute causation. The suggestion that this means that the link is uncertain is no more true of radiation than it is of cigarette use.
    It’s also worth noting that Shaffer’s suggestion that “the vast majority will only have their lives shortened a few years by cancer after many years” is predicated on the notion that the majority of those exposed were middle aged adults. In fact, there is no basis for that assumption, since tens of thousands of children and young adults were exposed as well, and there lives will be shortened by many more than “a few” years.
    Finally, I should note that slightly contrary to what I indicated above, according to Wikipedia, Marie Curie died “from aplastic anemia contracted from her long-term exposure to radiation.” She was 66 +, which from my current vantage point, doesn’t look as “old” as Shaffer suggests (though I’m pretty sure he’s older than I am!).
    In his latest comment, dated “September 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm,” Howard Shaffer moves from generalized innuendo to a full-blown defense of the hormesis theory of radiation: namely, small doses are actually good for you.
    First, let’s get our terms straight. We’re not talking about “radiation” per se; we’re talking about IONIZING radiation. The radiation from visible light, the heat from the sun (and other sources), cell phones, smart meters, electromagnetic pulses, etc. are all forms of NON-IONIZING radiation. The consensus theory cited above (and in Shaffer’s remark – BEIR 7 is a product of the National Academy) concern IONIZING radiation only and have NOTHING to do with non-ionizing forms of radiation.
    Second, the “vaccination effect” or hormesis theory has been around for decades, and is pushed by folks like Shaffer because it allows nuclear power proponents to minimize the impacts from nuclear power plant releases, whether ongoing or accidental. The simplest answer – since I’m not a radiation scientist – is that the medical community clearly
    Indeed, the opposite is true as can be seen from newspapers, TV programs, etc on a regular basis. There is a raging controversy among doctors about medical tests involving radiation, precisely because many now believe that the benefits of exposing patients to medical radiation do NOT offset the risks of harm the tests themselves create. Hence, many doctors now question whether mammography should be recommended for the general population (of women, obviously). Similarly, concerns about the overuse of CAT scans (which involve many times as much exposure) now mean that far fewer patients, including cancer patients, now receive scans as a matter of course. That’s not to suggest that radiation no longer has medical applications: clearly, it does. Rather, it’s to suggest that like other damaging medical concoctions, it’s application is being more and more limited thanks to a growing recognition of the harms caused by overuse.
    Don’t take my word for it. Go to any doctor of your choosing, and ask for to be exposed to any form of medical radiation you’d like on the basis that you want to “vaccinate” yourself against the damage from higher doses of radiation. Judge the results for yourself. Any doctor taking you up on your invitation would be inviting a malpractice suit.

  10. Howard Shaffer :

    What I apparently didn’t get through is that the Berkley findings prove that the effects of low level ionizing radiation are NOT cumulative. This is similar to my saying that my arm has been punctured many times for blood samples, vaccinations, and transfusions, but is 100% healed. There is no trace of the punctures.

    These findings undermine one of the main arguments against using nuclear power, so its not surprising that they are not welcomed.

    I’ll be happy to give up on nuclear power when there is a risk free, environmental impact free, electric power source that can keep our economy going and growing, while we transition to 100% sustainability. We need to of course convince those protesting the Lowell mountain wind farm, and consider a dark night with no wind. The costs of this new source will take time to be integrated into the economy.

  11. John Greenberg :

    I’m not a health physicist, so I’m willing to be corrected, but I think Howard Shaffer is a bit off in his remarks on the new Berkeley study. I’m make 2 points on this theme:

    First, the Berkeley study, at least according to the write-up I read from the lab — http://newscenter.lbl.gov/news-releases/2011/12/20/low-dose-radiation/ — doesn’t PROVE much of anything. Rather, it SUGGESTS that by creating fewer but more intense radiation induced foci (RIF), the DNA repairs itself better than the linear hypothesis would have suggested, and the authors “hypothesize” that “multiple repair activity increases the risks of broken DNA strands being incorrectly rejoined and that can lead to cancer.” Moreover, the study is based on “an immortalized human breast cell line known as MCF10A, which has a much higher background of RIF than fibroblasts,” and the authors are now planning to replicate their results “to determine if our results are repeated beyond just a single cell line and under more realistic physiological conditions….”

    As is often the case in the early stages scientific investigation, we’re a pretty long way from “proof.”

    2) Shaffer also suggests that the more conventional interpretation – namely the linear, non-threshold hypothesis – suggests that low-dose radiation is cumulative.

    I can’t speak for other interpretations of the linear hypothesis, but I’ve NEVER assumed that radiation damage was cumulative. To the contrary, I’ve always thought that it involved ONE portion of ONE cell being bombarded by some form of radiation and repairing itself badly. The reason the curve would be linear and proportional to dose is simply that the odds of that happening would be proportional to the number of events: the more bombardments, the greater the odds that the cell DNA will repair itself badly (rather than repairing itself correctly OR dying) in one of them.

    My own guess would have been that lower doses actually cause MORE cancers, because the bombardments are less likely to kill cells outright, and more likely to damage them, but this new study certainly suggests that my hypothesis may be wrong.

    Finally, Shaffer’s last paragraph makes an entirely different point:

    3) I think Mr. Shaffer fails to appreciate the role of an interconnected grid in energy supply. In modern developed countries, electricity demand is met not on a one-to-one basis by any single power plant, but by an interconnected grid into which all power plants operating at any given moment (in a region) are fed. This allows the grid operator to compensate in the background as it were for all kinds of intermittency, which otherwise would shut power down far more frequently than is the case now.

    For example, Vermont Yankee is by far the largest generator in Vermont. If we relied SOLELY on VY for power, users would be blacked out whenever VY goes down for any reason, be it planned repairs or some accident or mischance. Instead, power is dispatched from other sources when VY is not available and users are none the wiser as to when that happens. The same thing happens when electrical demand spikes, as it does on a daily basis as well as, at unplanned times.

    The importance of this is that wind and solar are CLEARLY intermittent sources which require EITHER batteries or another storage method (in off-grid use) OR require that the grid itself function effectively as a battery. The point Mr. Shaffer is missing – and he has plenty of company – is that this happens ALL THE TIME on an electric grid. Indeed, that’s the primary FUNCTION of the grid: namely, to adjust for the constant disequilibrium between electrical supply and electrical demand.

    With or without renewables, electrical supply in our complex, developed world is not constant: it varies minute by minute and hour by hour as plants are ramped up and shut down. But similarly, electrical demand is never constant either: demand is almost always higher during the day and early evening, for example, than it is late at night, and it’s considerably higher on the hottest summer days and coldest winter nights than at other times. Even within these relatively predictable parameters, users make on-the-spot decisions which can cumulatively have major impact: if a number of large machines come on simultaneously and unpredictably, the system would either go down or require FAR larger quantities of reserve power than is currently maintained.

    Lowell Mountain and other renewable sources of power are small, intermittent generators, but they are not alone in either characteristic. The New England grid has many small plants as well as the large nuclear and fossil fuel plants.

    ISO-NE, the grid operator in our area, tells us that they are currently prepared to incorporate power from intermittent sources up to 20% of the power supply, and working diligently to increase that number. Since current numbers, while climbing, are quite a bit lower than that threshold, there’s plenty of time for the grid operators to prepare.

  12. Howard Shaffer :

    I hope those who are saying Vermont does not get any power from Vermont Yankee read you description. As long as an entity is taking power from the grid, they are being supported by all those supplying it. Paying is different. See my guest post. http://yesvy.blogspot.com/2012/08/wheres-magic-switch-guest-post-by.html#.UEZ9h5hfWec

    I learned about grid operations as Startup Engineer on the then worlds largest pumped storage project.

    So ISO is preparing for 20% of the grid to be renewables-wind and solar. With what aare they preapring? If its like every place else, its quidk start natural gas turbines (jet engines with a generator) Ask bill McKibben what he thinks about the CO2.

  13. John Greenberg :

    Two replies to Howard Shaffer:
    1) “I hope those who are saying Vermont does not get any power from Vermont Yankee read you[sic] description.” Do you? Really? Then tell that to Entergy’s lawyers, who just filed a lawsuit claiming that Vermont’s new tax violates the commerce clause because it imposes the cost on out-of-state ratepayers, while Vermonters are not buying any VY power.

    Vermont utilities no longer buy power from VY under contract, that is, directly, but they DO buy market power, so they purchase small amounts of VY power through the ISO-NE grid, just like out-of-state utilities. (VY is roughly 2% of the ISO-NE grid’s total capacity, including reserves).

    2) ISO-NE has said that they are prepared (i.e. now, not in the future) for 20% renewables, and that they are working on raising the figure in future years. I’m sure some of that preparation involves already available natural gas peaking power plants, since there are a number of them already in place. Quite possibly, some involves hydro plants (Allow water to build up when other sources are available; open the sluices when power is needed). All of the material I’ve seen from ISO on this point is unspecific.

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