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March 15, 2011

As Goes Japan, So Goes Vermont Yankee?

BoilingWaterReactorDesign_3 As people remain tuned into the evolving story of a possible post-tsunami meltdown at multiple nuclear power plants in Japan, some are turning their attention toward Vermont's lone nuclear power plant.

It was just last week that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) gave Vermont Yankee a new, 20-year license to operate.VY's boiling-water reactor design is identical to those in Japan.

Could Vermont Yankee withstand an 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami?

Well, it's unlikely either event would occur in Vermont. The fault line that runs underneath Vermont Yankee isn't nearly as active. The last quake that shook Vermont Yankee was last June. It measured 5.0 on the Richter Scale. VY is designed to survive a 6.5 quake, according to plant officials.

A tsnunami is also unlikely — but a major flood or hurricane isn't. In 1938 a major hurricane struck New England. It was strong enough to topple power lines and block roads in and around Brattleboro, which is just a few miles from the Vernon reactor.

The event at Fukushima Daiichi is called a station blackout (SBO), which means no power onsite or coming from offsite. According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the ability of reactors in the United States to sustain an SBO varies. Most reactors can last only four hours. Vermont Yankee, however, is designed to last eight hours on its batteries. So were the reactors at Fukushami Daiichi.

The national radio and TV program "Democracy Now" today featured interviews with Gov. Peter Shumlin and nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen, among others, who talked about the impact that the possible meltdown at Japan's Fukushima nuclear reactors might have on the U.S. attitude toward nuclear power.

Shumlin has been a consistent critic of Vermont Yankee and a skeptic of fellow Democrat, Pres. Barack Obama's support for construction of new nuclear power plants as part of a so-called "Nuclear Renaissance."

Shumlin told "Democracy Now" that, despite last week's ruling by the NRC that Vermont Yankee deserves to run for another 20 years, the state's decision last year to shut down the plant as scheduled in 2012 would stand. Oddly enough, the reactor in Japan were built around the same time as Vermont Yankee. In fact, one of the failing reactors was slated to go offline later this month — for good.

Vermont's governor said his heart goes out to all the Japanese people who are suffering from the effects of these multiple disasters. But, when it comes to pushing for more nuclear power in the United States, Shumlin thinks the unfolding events in Japan present a lesson in caution.

"I think it asks all of us to reexamine our policy of irrational exuberance when it comes to extending the lives of aging nuclear plants that were designed to shut down after 40 years," said Shumlin.

Asked if he opposes Pres. Obama's effort to build new nuclear power plants, Shumlin said he spoke to the president about the topic just a few weeks ago during a meeting with the nation's governors.

"I said, mister president if you want to convince us that new nuclear has a future in America you have to help us deal with old nuclear in a rational way," said Shumlin, noting there is no federal repository for high-level nuclear waste as had been promised decades ago.

The long-term, onsite storage of nuclear waste is also raising concern in Japan. Damage to reactor spent fuel pools, and onsite dry cask storage, could trigger additional radioactive releases.

For now, the focus remains on how much radiation will be released into the environment and its impact on Japan and the world. Gundersen said if the Japanese reactors trigger multiple meltdowns, the resulting event would be like "Chernobyl on steroids."

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission continues to try to allay fears that a similar event could happen in the United States at one of the country's 104 nuclear reactors.

Gundersen said people should take the NRC's lack of concern with a grain of salt. That's because 23 of those 104 reactors have the same containment system as the ones in Japan — they are Mark 1 design built by General Electric.

According to a report posted on CorpWatch, documents obtained by Public Citizen under the Freedom of Information Act found that GE-designed nuclear reactors around the world "have a design flaw that make it virtually certain (90 percent) that in the event of a meltdown, radiation would be released directly into the environment and into surrounding communities, leaving the public without any protection. The NRC acknowledges that the reactor containment structure in GE-built nuclear power plants does not work, but they licensed the reactors anyway."

"If you still trust the NRC you're the kind of person who's giving Bernie Madoff money while he's in prison," quipped Gundersen.

Entergy, meanwhile, downplayed the news of the Japanese catastrophe — noting that the nuclear power industry could learn some important lessons on improving safety as a result.

In a statement to the media, Entergy said it was "closely monitoring the situation in coordination with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and industry peers." The company, working through NEI, has offered support and assistance to the Japanese nuclear industry.

Entergy’s nuclear plants were designed and built to withstand the effects of natural disasters, including earthquakes and catastrophic flooding, the company said in a statement. "The NRC requires that safety-significant structures, systems and components be designed to take into account the most severe natural phenomena historically reported for each site and surrounding area."

""There will be lessons learned from this tragic event. Incorporating those lessons into operating experience is a hallmark of the global nuclear industry. It is worth noting that the natural environment surrounding the nuclear plants in Japan is very different from the environment surrounding Entergy’s nuclear plants," said Entergy in a release. "The company understands and appreciates that these forces, natural and man-made, require constant vigilance and preparation for the unexpected."

BB ??? What is your point?? I don't speak Greeberg language.

I'm not denying that it came from, do you need to me to say that for you? Why I'm not sure because it is kind of irrelevant don't you think.... You and Greenberg sure do like to argue semantics and meaningless drivel. I mean for Pete's sake, I figured this would indicate the lack of seriousness I put into the odds.

"John, you had a better shot at becomign a pro athlete, getting a hole in one, marrying a supermodel and the fatally slipping in the shower then VY has of failing due to a catastrophic event such as happened in Japan."

But then again I suppose I should expect that both of you will make a mountain out of a molehill... after all look at the hysterics playing out over VY. The sky is falling !! The sky is falling...

BTW that is a funny joke. But actually it should be replaced as the funniest joke by Jimmy's.

My point is this: in response to this particular story, a number of folks (yourself included) have said that reacting to the Japan disaster with concern for VY's safety is an overreaction and akin to a "the sky is falling" panic. I disagree. When dealing with any type of man-made energy (wind turbines included, Jimmy), I'd rather be safe than sorry. (The NY turbine that recently collapsed was a reminder of this.) In the wake of disasters and even in the absence of them, I'd rather the government revisit previously thought-to-be safe forms of energy, than not. With regards to nuclear energy, and especially in response to the Japan disaster, the NRC agrees with me. I'm curious why you don't agree with the NRC and wanted your response to that.

My other point is that I'm tired of you citing the 123,457:1 odds and passing it off as a definitive conclusion to this discussion. That probability does not account for any other natural disasters and it has risen 252 percent in the last two decades. It's reasonable to assume that if it had accounted for other natural disasters, it would have risen more than 252 percent. I'd like to know how much so. When dealing with nuclear power (or any other power), it's the least we can do to make sure we're safe and not sorry. That's my point.

I'm ordering my new underground shelter today !!!

"My other point is that I'm tired of you citing the 123,457:1 odds and passing it off as a definitive conclusion to this discussion."

OK, For the love of God...

a.) ANY AND ALL odds are anything but definitive conclusions. If you don't realize that you shouldn't even be in the discussion. Odds are theoretical guesses based on the past. If the odds are 1 in a million you win the powerball, if you buy a million tickets you may or may not win the powerball because ODDS AREN'T REAL.

b.) the fact the NRC increased the odds are for precisely the reason I just stated above. Odds are theoretical guesses based on past events. Since we are infinitely better at recording and distributing observations and events it is only logical that as we are able to collect better data, and better able to report those data that it would mean we detect MORE rumblings in the earth....and consequentially update (increase) these odds (read guesses) to reflect that.

c.) Those odds do not take into account other natural disasters, however the simple fact is in VT we don't see to many natural disasters. We have an occassional hurricane remanent but nothing of the scope to cause nuclear meltdown. It's pretty much impossible to get a tsunami here. Don't see many tornado's... If the odds (read guesses) are 1:100,000+ and the odds of a tsunami are zero... then you are still at 1:100,000. When you add in the odds of 1: 1,000,000 of a tornado of the magnitude necessary for cataclysmic failure you are still practically speaking at 1:100,000..... couple in a huricane of the necessary scope and you are still, practically speaking, at a GUESS of 1:100,000 as being more or less legit.

d.) your point was that somehow because I used some ridiculous odds (read guesses) from that the point and meaning were invalid. Which is just crazy.

Gee, JCarter, I didn't think my points were so difficult, but I'll try again, in the light of your new comments.

1) You can only calculate the odds of an accident which you can imagine. Since virtually every accident which has happened so far in the history of nuclear power was either deemed "non-credible" or simply never thought of before it occurred, that turns out to be a pretty key point.

So, at the risk of "verbosity," I'll expand it a bit. When designing a nuclear plant, engineers DO try to consider possible accidents and design for them. This is laudable. But just like you, they then decide that some accidents are so unlikely that "they won't happen," and those are, in NRC speak, "beyond design basis" accidents. In plain English, since it's not likely to happen, it WON'T happen, and we don't have to design for it. The history of nuclear power has been mostly about PRECISELY THOSE accidents: not the ones foreseen, but the ones that were either unforeseen or ruled out as far-fetched.

2) Risk calculations multiply probability times magnitude. If the probability calculations are wrong -- as I just suggested they often are -- then the risk calculation will also be wrong.

3) That leaves us with the magnitude calculus. The actual calculations of magnitude will usually also be wrong, since fortunately, there isn't a tremendous amount of experience of catastrophic accidents, and each one is different.

What we know by definition -- what we are witnessing in Japan right now -- is that when these accidents DO occur, their consequences are enormous: significant tracts of uninhabitable land, tremendous devastation to ordinary life, measurable to some extent economically and unmeasurable emotionally, and health consequences which will vary depending on circumstances, but could be measured in the thousands.

In another column today, a writer pointed out that all sources of energy can cause accidents: "dams burst in quakes also, windmills topple, and solar panels shatter." Unless the dams are huge, the consequences will be NOTHING like what we've already seen at Fukushima. He apparently was unconscious of the obvious irony in the rest of the statement: the world would not be holding its breath if a solar panel were to crack or even if a wind blade were thrown off a turbine, or the whole thing toppled. I should add that the accident risks of energy efficiency measures are pretty clearly significantly smaller than those of ANY energy source.

4) My last point was that there is a difference between risks that I take because of MY decision, and risks which are imposed on me. This difference does not enter into the risk calculations just discussed, but it DOES matter in a public policy debate. In a nutshell, what gives anyone the right to decide that it's ok to get electricity at the potential cost of the destruction of my property, or even worse, my illness or death?

I will close with a point I made much earlier in this discussion:

5) The nub of this question is whether the magnitude of the public benefits from something like nuclear power plants exceeds the risks the public is being asked to undertake or not.

That's not as straightforward a question as it first appears. If you look through the literature on nuclear power, you'll find that the AEC (NRC's predecessor) attempted to calculate the overall risk from nuclear plants roughly 35 years ago, then had to retract their calculations. The very issues discussed above came into play: what accident scenarios do you include?

Similarly, the State of Vermont Department of Public Service did a shutdown study of VY several decades ago (sometime in the late 1980s, in my memory serves me), which attempted to tote up risks and benefits. In a footnote, they noted (without irony) that since the risk of catastrophic accident was incalculable, they had simply excluded it.

As a final example, I've noted (in op-ed columns and elsewhere) that a non-catastrophic, but well publicized, accident at VY would do significant damage to the "Vermont brand." Measuring that damage would be extraordinarily difficult,- probably impossible. But that doesn't make it go away.


You can be more concise then that. I'll paraphrase for you.

Due to the known and unknown events that could lead to a nuclear power plant disaster, the risks of something terrible happening, albeit small outweigh the potential rewards.

The crux of the argument then comes back to light. That is your opinion, mine is the opposite.

There are inherent risks in everything, and if we reject anything with an associated risk we would still be living by candlelight under British Rule.

I find the Japan situation to be a bit of fear mongering. As has been the case with the tritium leak. Regardless, I didn't believe the risks were so great as to shut down VY before Japan, and personally my mind hasn't changed. More practically speaking, the world and especially VT needs to change the way they generate energy from a practical instead of political perspective if people wish to do away with Nuclear power.

Wind, Solar, and ESPECIALLY ETHANOL are all red herrings. They are not practical, cost efficent or capable of replacing fossil fuel and nuclear power. Until someone figures out how to harness and store lighting we are going to have to continue with these minimal risks associated with nuclear power because RIGHT NOW, the reward does outweigh the risks.

Three quick replies to JCarter.

1) "I find the Japan situation to be a bit of fear mongering. As has been the case with the tritium leak." I don't know who is being accused of "fear mongering," but if you're attempting to equate what's happening to Fukushima (or what's already leaked out of the site) to the tritium leak at VY, you are, to be tactless, either totally misinformed or completely ignorant.

2) Corn-based ethanol certainly doesn't belong on any lists of serious energy programs; it's a boondoggle, which politicians use to buy votes in the Corn Belt.

However, the largest replacement source for nuclear is currently readily available and not represented on your list. It costs multiples less than nuclear, and involves close to zero risk of any kind. I speak of energy efficiency, defined simply as doing those things we currently do, but with less energy input. (As opposed to conservation, which is foregoing some of those things).

Nationwide, McKinsey -- an internationally recognized business consulting firm -- concluded that, in the United States, a "holistic" efficiency program could save "reduce end-use energy consumption in 2020 by ... roughly 23 percent of projected demand, potentially abating up to 1.1 gigatons of greenhouse gases annually," and AT A CONSIDERABLE RETURN on investment ($520 billion in; $1.2 trillion our). (McKinsey Global Energy and Materials, "Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the US Economy," p. iii)

An entirely unrelated report commissioned by Jim Douglas's Department of Public Service by GDS Associates, published in January 2007, reached a very similar figure for Vermont (19% by 2016). Their figure for total savings comes, again coincidentally, very close to the figure for what Vermont utilities are currently buying from Vermont Yankee, and the report explicitly excludes, by the way, a number of available areas of efficiency, such as "smart grid" technology, improved distribution and transmission systems, and all improvements which ratepayers would purchase on their own without government assistance or prodding.

Meanwhile, and yet again completely coincidentally, nuclear power in the United States currently provides about 20% of electric demand.

So in round terms, we could replace the energy output of the entire existing US nuclear fleet by 2020, while saving hundreds of billions of dollars, taking the possibility of nuclear accidents large or small to zero, and at a huge annual savings in greenhouse gases.

I cannot resist one further comment before moving on. Using 2003 figures from the IAEA and World Bank, the World Resources Institute calculated energy usage per unit of GDP for the major countries in the world. They found, for example, that Japan uses about 30% less than the US. Listening to C-Span yesterday, I heard their energy expert say that when TEPCO asked the Japanese to conserve energy to prevent rolling blackouts, usage declined IMMEDIATELY by 25%. The same thing happened in California during the Enron crisis. Some of this will return as demand which was simply deferred. But figures such as these suggest (to me at least), that energy demand is considerably less fixed and more elastic, even without energy efficiency measures, than we so readily assume. And I, for one, would NOT want to rule out energy conservation in a country which wastes a disproportionate share of resources.

3) At the same time, the US should not be sitting on our hands in terms of wind or solar technology. While we're bickering over practicality and aesthetics in the United States, the rest of the world (INCLUDING FRANCE, the patron saint of nuclear power!) is investing billions of dollars in these and other renewable technologies. In France, just for one example, the conservative government wants to get roughly 20% of the country's energy from renewables by 2020.

These are not by any measure "red herrings." They are available technologies with cost structures that are in exponential decline for readily comprehensible reasons: until now, production has been on a pre-industrial scale since costs were high and demand, accordingly, low. Government incentives around the world (tiny by comparison to those provided to other energy sources over decades)have raised demand, and efficiency of production (i.e. production at scale) is cutting costs dramatically. Again, there is simply no risk comparison between nuclear power and solar and wind technology.

Since I'm sure that JCarter will bring up the old canard about "baseload" power, I'll head it off at the pass. Again, there are actually multiple answers. First, in the real world -- not the ideal world where fossil fuels are abandoned immediately -- the simplest answer is to be found in simply running existing fossil, especially natural gas plants, when power is needed and unavailable. This is, however, a poor long-term solution from an environmental point of view. Second, renewables at scale can be combined with one another. For example, I was told by one of CVPS's power guys that the Canadians are already combining wind power with their hydro: closing dams when the wind is blowing; opening them when it's not, creating a very simple, very large scale "battery." Finally, great progress is being made on actual large-scale battery technology, which remains an area of intensive research around the world.

I will close by simply noting that none of the options sketched here involve "living by candlelight."

"Three quick replies to JCarter. "


1.) You missed the point, no surprise. Regardless lets move on to the other quick replies

2.) John, I am going to agree with you on this. Energy conservation is a zero risk, plausible PARTIAL solution. It's not a solve all, but it has a place in energy discussions. However, if conservation is to be embraced, Energy companies must be held from increasing rates due to lack of demand. BED, jacked rates 14.5%, in part because energy conservation put them in a position where they weren't selling enough energy to maintain lines, pay people,etc. But I am on the same page with youhere.

3.) Wind and Solar are not viable as a power source. They will always be a foot note at the bottom of the page. THere is however one renewable energy that I stand by whole heartedly... Geothermal. Oddly enough it doesn't seem to make the discussion. Maybe because GMP/CVPS/BED can't make much money off it. But, it is still the cheapest source of heat and AC

Perhaps the oracular JCarter would care to explain why he's so sure that "Wind and Solar are not viable as a power source," when the rest of the developed world is busily investing billions in them.

As to geothermal, JCarter is mixing apples and oranges. As a method to produce electricity, my understanding -- albeit EXCEEDINGLY limited -- is that the problem in the US is that the resource is fairly limited. As a substitute for oil heat, it may well be a viable resource, but that has virtually nothing to do with the discussion we've been having concerning electricity, nuclear power, etc.

Of course it has value in a discussion of energy alternatives. Do you know of no one that uses electric heat in the winter or electric AC in the summer to cool their house? It speaks to the same point you were making about reducing consumption, although on a much larger scale.

As for why wind and solar aren't viable : Mainly, they require rather large areas of land for little pay off. Did you know John that currently, today, right now we as a global society do not produce enough food to feed the world. In fact even if we produced food on every farmable acre it would still be short. And yet, just this year two prime tracts of land in this state were used for solar panels. Globally, the billions of dollars being invested are death sentences for thousands of people. Moreover, wind projects in Lowell and other places are destroying prime forest and habitat for animals critical for the circle of life. Were you aware John that the Lowell wind project effectively blocks one of the largest black bear crossings in the state? All for a few a miniscule amount of energy that can be provided by a single plant on a small tract of land. Wind...Solar... it's just a classic example of being totally oblivious to the unintended consequences.

Sorry, Mr. Concise, not good enough.

1) The answer to your first question is no, I don't know anyone who uses electricity for building heat. That, of course, means nothing, but you asked.

The real question is: how much of the electricity consumed in the US (or in VT) goes to space heating. From what I can tell after a quick internet scan, the answer to both questions is well under 10%. If this is correct, my observation above is correct. Please prove me wrong, or admit that geothermal energy is a very marginal answer (at the very best) to the question of how best to constitute US (or VT's) electrical demand. All that said, and just for the record, I have no objection to geothermal energy.

2) "As for why wind and solar aren't viable: Mainly, they require rather large areas of land for little pay off." That's just silly.

a) First, the United States has millions of acres of building rooftops, where solar installations would require NO land use. There are millions more acres of land which could well be viable for photovoltaics and not for farming: think blighted inner cities, or brownfields, for just 2 examples. I've never seen calculations of exactly how much energy could be generated without using ANY otherwise viable land, but it is surely NOT inconsequential.

b) As to wind, turbines are being installed throughout the Midwest (sometimes called America's Middle East because of the incredible wind resource) on farms where crops are also grown. Farmers receive rent from developers which helps to make their farming ventures more profitable. Wind power is NOT incompatible with farming.

c) It is simply not the case, as a generalization, that "we as a global society do not produce enough food to feed the world." The reason there have been food shortages in recent decades is NOT lack of production; in fact, in most years, excess production on US farms holds agricultural prices down, making farming unprofitable. Why do you think American farmers receive subsidies NOT to grow crops? Why do you think Vermont dairy farmers are having so many financial problems?

The world food problem is one of distribution: succinctly put, globally poor people can't afford to buy food while excess food rots in rich-country warehouses. Therefore, there's simply no truth to your statement that "Globally, the billions of dollars being invested are death sentences for thousands of people." (There HAS been concern about the use of ethanol and other biofuels taking agricultural land out of food production, and therefore raising market prices on basic commodities. Good for farmers, bad for poor people.) But all of this is truly irrelevant to this discussion.

Finally, you try to bring the discussion down to specific Vermont projects. Sorry, I have no desire to follow you there and the relevance of these to a discussion of the national or international "need" for nuclear power is extraordinarily marginal, to say the very least.


1.) you don't consider 10% of the countries energy consumption to be significant? But regardless the 10% is wrong, 10.1% is for space heating, 16% is AC, and another 9.1% is water heating. All these are coupled into a residential geothermal unit. So promoting them has the potential to save up to 35.2% of US energy use, 1/3rd.

2.) Solar most certainly could be put on roof tops, a good place for them as a matter of fact. I have no issue with that. I don't see it as a major source, but nonetheless certainly a consideration. Doesn't work in the northern US but certainly in the Southern half of the country it's a possiblity.

3.) You are correct, wind and farming can go side by side. And another plausible use that I would support, again however I don't see it accounting for much more then 10-15% of energy consumption. But that makes it a discussion for energy generation on a National scale. If we could only stop the destruction of our ridgelines It would garner more support for wind. That and the guaranteed electric rates that are in cases 7.5X the current price, and 5X the future rate.

Any energy alternative needs to be at most twice as expensive as other sources, otherwise they are fool's errands. But as long as it is a case of "spending a dime to save a nickle" there will never be the support for it. Moreover, it is best if alternative energy is a more personal issue. Encourage individual to put up a small wind tower, or solar panels (have some on a seasonal camp). The excessive profit from large companies on the backs of taxpayers and rate payers would go along way to encouraging individuals to upgrade their own personal systems. And as you pointed out earlier a related note. WHy should you be exposed to the risks of nuclear power... why should I be forced to pay 30cents kwh for energy I don't want?

1) Where are you getting your figures?

I'll detail what I found in a moment, but in summary, the figures I found show that heating and air conditioning COMBINED constituted a total of 10.1% of US load in 2001. This figure includes things like portable space heaters, which would not be replaced by geothermal installations, as well as ceiling fans, dehumidifiers and humidifiers, and evaporative coolers. Adding hot water would make it 12.9%.

To go deeper into the weeds, the best figures I found are from the DOE's EIA website. I haven't found one set, so I've had to compile two. This one ( says that HVAC, which includes space heating, air conditioning, other HVAC (which may well include geothermal, which requires electric pumps), and furnace fans comes to 356 billion KWH (=356,000 MWH). This one ( shows that total energy use came to 3,557,107 MWH, which means that your 10% figure was approximately correct (for 2001, which is the latest year for which I could find the figures).

HOWEVER, the 10% figure needs to be reduced in a variety of ways. First, as noted above, it includes dehumidifiers and ceiling fans, etc., which would NOT be replaced by geothermal installations. Second, the figure should be substantially reduced because of energy efficiency. The first step in any energy policy should be to stop wasting energy, and a huge percentage of US buildings remain uninsulated. Third, geothermal heating installations use a significant amount of electric energy themselves, which would further reduce the potential savings. Fourth, according to the website you cited for geothermal, "This system can also heat the domestic hot water when it is running," which presumably means that there are significant times when it does NOT provide hot water. Fifth, the figures I found are for 2001. Since then, appliances have become significantly more efficient and in at least some states, including particularly Vermont, fuel switching has been encouraged to get consumers away from using electricity for either space or water heating.

So, until you show me better figures, I'll stand by mine, and no, I don't think the figures are very significant in terms of the broad energy debate we've been engaged in. All that said, I repeat, I have NO quarrel with geothermal, either as a source of heat, or as a source of electricity (where available).

2) We're making slow, but steady progress: you now acknowledge that rooftop solar makes sense "in the Southern half of the country." On what basis do you conclude "Doesn't work in the northern US"? A whole lot of Vermonters living with solar installations would beg to disagree with you. So would a much larger number of Germans.

3) Here again, progress. Now you admit that wind power is compatible with farming and therefore presumably will NOT cause global starvation. Progress.

However, you then conclude "I don't see it [wind] accounting for much more then 10-15% of energy consumption." I'm sure you're a very learned fellow, but the National Academy of Sciences came to a VERY different conclusion, namely that this resource is sufficient to provide 40 times more electricity than is consumed in the WHOLE WORLD.

Let me quote their conclusion, since it's really quite startling: "The analysis indicates that a network of land-based 2.5-megawatt (MW) turbines restricted to nonforested, ice-free, nonurban areas operating at as little as 20% of their rated capacity could supply >40 times current worldwide consumption of electricity, >5 times total global use of energy in all forms. Resources in the contiguous United States, specifically in the central plain states, could accommodate as much as 16 times total current demand for electricity in the United States." (

Please note the conservative parameters: offshore wind is NOT included, and they also restrict locating turbines to 'nonforested, ice-free, nonurban areas" and very conservatively rate them at only a 20% capacity factor. Finally, turbine size is limited to 2.5 MW, while many new turbines are now rated at 4MW.

4) Now you issue the following oracular pronouncement: "Any energy alternative needs to be at most twice as expensive as other sources." Why? Because you say so?

Additionally, on what basis will we calculate how expensive an energy source is? Will we, for example, consider subsidies provided by governments at all levels? Apparently not, since you go on to include VT subsidies for small-scale renewables (quoting a misleading figure), but NOT the ongoing federal subsidies for ALL energy sources.

Will we consider the external costs, for example, in terms of nuclear, the costs of cleaning up the mess at Fukushima? How about the unknown costs dealing for geological periods of time with nuclear waste? (This is but a small slice of the externalities of just one power source).

Finally, will we consider that energy costs are not the same at all times either of the year or of the day? The reason GMP is providing a 6 cents return for solar installations (on top of net metering)is that solar works best on hot sunny days, when the wholesale costs of electricity in New England are sometimes almost double what they are at other times.

In sum, energy pricing is NOT as straightforward or simple a matter as your comment implies.

5) As to your comments about the small-scale energy subsidies in Vermont, this program really has little to do with this discussion. The program to which your refer (I assume, given your postulated 30 cents per kwh) is for SMALL-SCALE solar installations (ONLY) and has little to do with replacing nuclear power nationally or Vermont Yankee in particular. I should note, in passing however, that the 30 cent figure was an initial figure which has now been reduced, and that the figure for wind under this program is substantially lower to start with. Finally, this program is explicitly limited to 50 MW of power production.

Your previous comment (third one back) states under your #1 that I "missed the point," but provides no further clarification. I'm dying to know what I missed.


You are correct in that those figures are from 2001, the most recent I too could find. I believe however you are not accurately reading the information. For example, the EIA figure 1 indicates the following : AC 16%, Heat 10.1%, water 9.1%. You will note that HVAC appliances make up 5%... that is the humidifiers, fans, etc. So those figures least for 2001. They may have changed but in 10 years I doubt there are drastic changes.

2.) Snow on the roof, ice build up, etc make solar in the north unrealistic. You could shovel them off, and risk damaging expensive panels, you could also just ignore and ice build up they would cause, but 20 years from now you will have severe structural damage... I expect many will soon learn that.

3.) Wind may have the CAPABILITY of producing 40X the amount necessary, but we have to live in reality. Realistically that will never happen. It is nice to sit back on estimates of theoretical ideals but true change involves being practical.

4.) Not because I say so, but because the general populus says so. What % of people pay more for "Green" Energy? You can if you want... GMP will sell you more expensive energy if you like.... find that % and see for yourself how many people are willing to pay even a little extra.

5.) I wasn't equating Japan to the tritium leak at ENVY. Your implication that I was is hilarious. My point was that you and a lot of the media have used the Japan disaster to, for example, argue for a shut down of VY. We all know that is extraordinarily unlikely that its possible for a similar event to occur here. To try and use it as an argument is fear mongering.


Following your numbering:

1) Sorry, JCarter, but it's you, not I who are misusing the figures.

The figures you're reading are from the first site I mentioned. They are the percentages for each of those uses of total RESIDENTIAL consumption, NOT total consumption. Residential consumption is roughly 30% of total US demand. That's why I had to go to the 2nd website, which gives a total US consumption figure. If you take the figures on the first page I cited, the total US consumption figure on the 2nd page, and then do the math, you'll come up with my figures. Since we're discussing overall electrical supply and demand, not just residential use, the figures I gave are the right ones to be using.

ALL 5 of the adjustments I mentioned need to be made, and EACH of them will result in lowering the total amount of US demand accounted for by heating, etc.

2) Now you're REALLY stretching. No solar because of snow on the panels? You're joking, right?

3) a) Why would anyone WANT to build enough wind to generate 40 times the amount of power needed? Of COURSE, that's not intended to represent the portion to be generated by wind power. What it suggests, however, is that with a small fraction of the available resource, much more than 10-15% of US power could be generated by wind. Put differently, there's so much wind resource available in the US that power planners can decide to generate as much as they want through that means.

That leads to the next question which power planners must answer: b) How much power do we WANT to generate using wind turbines? The answer will depend on a LOT of different factors. Here are a few. i) Wind is an intermittent resource, so what are we going to use to supplement it? Batteries? Solar? Natural gas? Etc. ii) Wind investment is entirely "up front." Natural gas plants, for example, are cheaper to build, but then require ongoing fuel costs. How do we balance those things? iii) If we use wind in the best places (i.e. in the US, the heartland), how much do we invest in transmission to get it to other parts of the country, and what are the downsides (economic, environmental, political, etc.) of doing that? The real list would be significantly longer and more complex.

Long story short, I've shown that I) wind turbines ARE compatible with growing food, and II) that it's unlikely that either cost or resource capacity will be the limiting factor in deciding how much wind to use. I've thus countered the two arguments against wind you provided.

4) Ok, so your figure is supposed to represent the 'view of the people.' I suppose you have some polling data to back that up? Unlike you, I don't just pull facts out of the air or out of my imagination; I ground them in something, preferably from an unquestionable source, or even better, a source which is opposed to my own point of view (e.g. the utilities).

That said, I'm sure that there IS a limit to what people are willing to pay for greener power. I don't have the faintest idea where 'the people' would draw that line. The reason I asked my previous question was that I had a very strong suspicion that you don't either. Having run a business for 10 years trying to sell "green" products to people who almost universally say they want to buy green, I am more than a bit skeptical as to how much extra most people are willing to pay for "greener" anything.

It's worth adding, however, that neither you, I, nor "the people," get to make the choice. At least in Vermont's system, it's the utilities who make it, within parameters set by the legislature and the regulatory bodies. The rest of us interact with those choices indirectly at best.

5) Why you mentioned tritium then I don't know. But we'll pass over that and go to what you now say you meant: "We all know that is extraordinarily unlikely that its possible for a similar event to occur here." Sorry, but it's EXACTLY as likely, or unlikely, as it was at Fukushima. The reactors are, in all pertinent regards, twins.

Just for the record, it is now clear that Fukushima's designers DID consider both earthquakes AND tsunamis ( The plants were theoretically designed to meet what were thought to be CREDIBLE threats from both. The problem was that the designers didn't consider THIS earthquake and THIS tsunami "credible."

Precisely the same is true at VY. The plant is designed for the acceleration which would be generated by, a 6.4 earthquake, the largest for which there is historical precedent in this region. So what happens if VY gets an unprecedented earthquake? (Vermont State geologist Larry Becker asked last week that, in light of what just happened, VY re-examine this very question).

VY is designed to resist one CT river dam break. What if more than one dam breaks, a greater likelihood, I might add, now that global warming (who thought about THAT possibility when VY was designed and built??) appears to be producing storms of greater intensity.

Want some other scenarios? Terrorists attack the spent fuel pool at VY, putting a large enough hole in it that the water leaks out faster than it can be replenished. What if the same thing happens through human error? Remember the crane that released spent fuel which then dropped to the floor of the pool at VY? Fortunately, the crane's brakes worked and the fuel was not very high above the floor. Suppose it had been a good deal higher, and the equipment failed. I should note that human error, not earthquakes or tsunamis, has been the cause of most nuclear power failures.

The spent fuel pool vulnerability is a trait VY shares with Fukushima. HOWEVER, the fuel inventory at VY is 5-10x greater, meaning the radioactive release potential is that much greater. Also, the prevailing wind blows TOWARDS the largest close metropolitan area (Boston) rather than out to sea.

This is precisely why, many posts ago, I went through a more detailed analysis of risk, magnitude, etc. Your facile dismissals may be comforting to those who have not really thought these questions through, but fortunately for all of us, even the industry is more thoughtful than that. What I've tried to do is look at the wider context in which those judgments get made.

To sum up, I repeat: every nuclear accident so far has been deemed "non-credible" before it happened. As David Lochbaum, who worked as an NRC trainer and now works at the Union of Concerned Scientists said in a press conference yesterday: "The Russians came to Three Mile Island and said that that couldn't happen there. The Japanese went to Chernobyl and said that that wouldn't happen there. We don't want to be in the same position of going to Japan and saying that couldn't happen here, because the track record on those statements isn't particularly good."

Nukes can only be designed for accidents their designers can imagine and deem credible. Then, they must accurately and correctly design AND BUILD them to meet those eventualities. If any of these steps fails anywhere in that chain at ANY nuclear plant, the result is Fukushima, Chernobyl or far worse still.

That's not "fear mongering." It's the reality of nuclear power; it comes with the territory. Your faith in the improbability of any such possibilities is touching, but frankly, pretty indefensible, considering that it's been repeatedly contradicted in the real world.

No, Greenberg, Jcarter is right: to use the example of a tsunami as an argument to shut down VY desperate argumentation and shameful fear-mongering.

"Could Vermont Yankee withstand an 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami?"
Are you kidding!? Just standing there it is crumbling to radioactive bits. We don't need no stinkin' earthquake!

"No, Greenberg, Jcarter is right: to use the example of a tsunami as an argument to shut down VY desperate argumentation and shameful fear-mongering." And where did I do that?

@ Glow Worm:

"Are you kidding!? Just standing there it is crumbling to radioactive bits. We don't need no stinkin' earthquake!"

Really? I guess you know more about the core structure and safety of the plant than all the scientists and engineers at the NRC, eh?

@ Greenberg:

"And where did I do that?"

Are YOU kiddng me? Now you're just being dishonest for dishonesty's sake. You have TOTALLY been using what happened -- a 9.0 earthquake and a tsunami -- to argue for shutting down VY:

-Greenberg on this thread at 3/16, 11:12 am: ""2) To JCarter, who asks "Does a natural disaster caused a nuclear disaster every week? Or just once?" How many times do you need it to happen? I'm pretty sure the folks in Japan now think once is enough.""

-3/16, 12:15 pm: "JCarter has put his finger on the nub of the disagreement, when he writes: "the risks are low, the benefits high." I believe just the reverse is true: the benefits are virtually non-existent and the risks -- and catastrophic accident is only one of them -- vastly outweigh them."

-3/16, 1:09 pm: "Since precisely the same equipment was in place in Japan as at VY, the question is whether a series of accident events, in a different set of scenarios, could occur here."

-3/16, 5:00 pm: "JCarter's sarcasm seems a bit out of place today with 8 out of 10 Fukushima nuclear plants in serious difficulty -- "

"The nuclear industry has maintained for decades that accidents can't happen at their plants . . .Well, Fukushima isn't completely different: in fact, it's the SAME type of plant as VY, and the redundant technologies which failed one after the other at Fukushima (redundant cooling, primary containment, secondary containment) are the very same ones VY is depending on."

"Had you asked anyone in Fukushima last week, it's reasonable to guess that they would have told you exactly what JCarter continues to assert: namely, that accidents at nuclear power plants are exceedingly unlikely."

"The facts on the ground at Fukushima suggest that we would be well advised to take a closer look at scenarios previously considered non-credible."

-3/19, 9:47 am: "What we know by definition -- what we are witnessing in Japan right now -- is that when these accidents DO occur, their consequences are enormous . . ."

-3/20, 5:05 pm (responding to jcarter): ""We all know that is extraordinarily unlikely that its possible for a similar event to occur here." Sorry, but it's EXACTLY as likely, or unlikely, as it was at Fukushima. The reactors are, in all pertinent regards, twins."

"Precisely the same is true at VY. The plant is designed for the acceleration which would be generated by, a 6.4 earthquake, the largest for which there is historical precedent in this region. So what happens if VY gets an unprecedented earthquake? (Vermont State geologist Larry Becker asked last week that, in light of what just happened, VY re-examine this very question).
VY is designed to resist one CT river dam break. What if more than one dam breaks, a greater likelihood, I might add, now that global warming (who thought about THAT possibility when VY was designed and built??) appears to be producing storms of greater intensity."

"The spent fuel pool vulnerability is a trait VY shares with Fukushima."

If you don't call that using the Japanese situation to further your campaign against VY, then you are just blatantly dishonest.

And please ask your friend Glow Worm to use his real name.

Given the discussion with JCarter about solar and wind, the following excerpts from 2 articles in today's Guardian are pretty interesting.

1) "There's no denying that Germany has been a real pioneer in building a competitive low-carbon economy. Its renewables industry supports 340,000 jobs and replaces €5bn (£4.3bn) worth of energy imports per annum." (

2) "Germany could derive all of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2050 and become the world's first major industrial nation to kick the fossil-fuel habit, the country's Federal Environment Agency said today.

The country already gets 16% of its electricity from wind, solar and other renewable sources – three times' higher than the level it had achieved 15 years ago."

and from the same article:

"Germany is the world leader in photovoltaics: it expects to add more than 5,000 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity this year to reach a total of 14,000 megawatts. It is also the second-biggest wind-power producer after the United States. Some 300,000 renewable energy jobs have been created in Germany in the last decade." (

I would just add that it snows in Germany.

To Pierre A. Noyd. I see. So according to you, any mention of catastrophic accident at a nuclear plant is "fear mongering." How about when the NRC or the industry do it? Are they fear mongering as well?

Your argument is really quite preposterous; catastrophic accident risk is a fact of life at nuclear plants. That's why, as I have pointed out repeatedly above, they're designed for just such eventualities. Fukushima is the real-time action demonstration of all that unwinding before our eyes.

Your accusation appears to suggest that the best strategy in the face of known risk is to ignore it and hope it goes away (or never happens). Ostriches might agree; I don't.

"Glow Worm," as far as I know, is not "my friend." I say as far as I know, since I don't know who it is. The one difference, which motivated my response to "Jimmy," is that "Glow Worm" did not shelter behind his or her anonymity to launch an ad hominem attack, as "Jimmy" did. But my comments on anonymous and pseudonymous comments apply to all, and therefore certainly to him or her.

"launch an ad hominem attack"

Calling someone biased is an "ad hominem attack?" I'm not sure you understand what an ad hominem attack is. Here's a hint, it looks like this: "(insert less-than-full name here) has no credibility because we don't know exactly who they are."

1. pierre a. noyd: for greenberg to use Fukushima as basis for argument against VY is fear-mongering.

2. greenberg: i didn't do that.

3. pierre a. noyd points out numerous instances of exactly where greenberg did that.

4. greenberg now says, ok, i did do it, but it's ok.

Point of clarification: an ad hominem attack involves attacking the opponent rather than the argument, or as Webster's says, "appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect ... marked by an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made." See also Internet forums, behavior on.

In other words, saying you can't believe someone because he/she is biased is an ad hominem attack, and saying your opponent has no credibility because he/she is anonymous is an ad hominem attack.

Carry on.

i give up! You are right John, shut down all nuclear power plants everywhere.

"greenberg now says, ok, i did do it, but it's ok." No, Pierre A. Noyd (which I realize could well be a nom de plume), I'm not admitting any such thing. What you pointed out, in response to my question, is numerous examples of my discussing catastrophic accidents at nuclear plants. Since much of my discussion in these columns has been a discussion of the risk of catastrophic accidents, carried on in what I believe to be a sober, rational, and thoughtful manner, my question was certainly never intended to suggest that I haven't been discussing what, in fact, I obviously HAVE been discussing.

What I challenged before, and challenge now, is that such discussion is "fear-mongering," or that the comparison of Fukushima to VY is somehow misleading or again "fear mongering." As I said in my previous post, unless ANY such discussion is "fear mongering," then I don't believe mine was. If you believe that ANY discussion of catastrophic risk is "fear mongering," or that ANYONE who points out the virtual identity of VY and Fukushima's design in terms of containment technology, spent fuel pool placement, age, construction firm, and backup systems is "fear mongering," so be it. That's your right and I plead guilty then. But I note that the NRC and much of the press is equally guilty. Google Mark I containment and Fukushima and check it out.

Your point, however, remains preposterous. Soberly discussing nuclear risks is not "fear mongering," it should be a central focus of any reasonable assessment of energy policy.

As to the discussion of "ad hominem," it too has gone beyond the point of absurdity. I challenged "Jimmy," (and others) for hiding behind pseudonyms while attacking individuals who use their real names, and I used some fairly harsh terms. Readers and commenters may characterize that however they like. I do not retract my statements and I do not plan to engage in a dialogue here with cowardly jerks. Have at it!

"attacking the opponent rather than the argument"

Right. I primarily attacked Gundersen's arguments, and characterized him as biased in the process. This is not ad hominem.

"John Greenberg" declared me non-credible because I don't hand Google my full name, while refusing to substantively respond to anything I said. You know, like why anonymity on the internet is "cowardly." This is ad hominem.

Now consider that "Greenberg" engaged in an ad hominem attack in the process of incorrectly characterizing my comment(s) as an "ad hominem attack." Besides being hilarious, it might also cast a certain light on everything else he says. I won't elaborate, because that would be... ad hominem.

"Pierre A. Noyd (which I realize could well be a nom de plume)"

...but it doesn't matter whether it is. Are you starting to get it? At all? Didn't think so.

@ Greenberg:

Unless you are willing to state that you believe that a very serious earthquake followed by a tsunami is a possibility in Vernon, Vt., then your incessant references to what happened in Japan are: a) foolish, or b) fear-mongering, or both.

You say you only want to point out that people who build nuclear power plants should plan on catastrophic contingencies. Fair enough. But that's NOT what you've been doing. You've been explicitly using Fukushima, which, again, involves a rare-magnitude earthquake followed by a tsunami, to argue for the shutdown of VY.

We should not have a nuclear plant in Vernon, Vt. because an asteroid might hit it. Hey, it's not likely, but it's possible, right? After all, look what happened in Japan!!!

That, in a nutshell, is your argument. No matter how much you deny it, that IS using the events in Japan to argue for a shutdown of VY.

And at the same time you're vehemently insisting that you're NOT using Japan as an example and you're NOT fear-mongering.

Keep it up. It's going well for ya so far.

Entergy, and the NRC, and NEI, all say not to worry; that the VY plant is built better than its counterpart in Japan, and that what has happened in Japan would never happen here.

This from a company that deferred maintainence on its plant to the degree that it collapsed. This from a company whose executives lied under oath about underground pipes that have leaked radioactive material in our groundwater. This from a company that illegally allowed radioactive waste to leave the plant in a truck.

They might be right. Maybe what's happening in Japan couldn't happen at VY. Maybe something much, much worse could happen there.

Dear Mr. Stannard,

Your logic is impeccable. You say that Entergy, the NRC, and NEI "all" say something, and they you say "this from a company that . . ." Is NRC a "company"? Is NEI a "company"?

And even if we indulge all your facile fantasies about how evil and terrible Entergy is, please tell me how that makes a tsunami in Vernont more likely than it was before they lied?

Your logic is stunning.

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