Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Drought and Dust

Next time anyone thinks the present drought is bad, consider this: 
Vehicle almost buried in fine soil, or dust, in US Dust Bowl 1930s.
source: Kansas State University

On this day [April 23] in Iowa weather history...
1934: The Dust Bowl was in full swing and Iowa was in the midst of its driest spring on record. In April of that year dust storms were reported in the state on 22 days with the worst storm coming on the 23rd. It covered everything across the state with dust and the fine particles penetrated all buildings, cars, and enclosed spaces. Automobile travel was impossible at times due to low visibility and dust drifting across the roads in high winds. Snow fences were in some cases buried with dust and plows were called out to clear 1 to 3 foot drifts off the roads in Montgomery County. Airmail pilots reported that the dust extended to a height of more than 2 miles above the ground. -- NWS

There is no doubt that some areas of the US are experiencing drought, a lack of precipitation.  However, the climate alarmists who insist that man-made carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is making drought worse should pay attention to recent history.  1934 was only 80 years ago.  As the quote above from NWS (National Weather Service) states, the dust from the wind and drought was many times, many orders of magnitude, worse than today's drought.   The 1930s dust bowl and drought were certainly not caused by man's activities, burning fossil fuels, because population was much less and there was far less fuel burned in those days.  The drought was entirely natural.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California 

(where we, too, are experiencing a mild drought.  Just a few years ago, we had more rain and snow than we could use, so naturally the state's water managers ran the water out of the reservoirs and into the ocean.  Great planning...) 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Climate Science, Free Speech and Legal Liability - Part 1

Subtitle: Lies and Legal Liability

The field of climate science, with controversial issues such as whether the planet is warming
Courthouse in Central Texas
due to man's burning of fossil fuels, or the world is blissfully ignoring additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or perhaps the globe is cooling down into the next ice age, has created and still creates vigorous expressions of opinion, and some name-calling, defamatory statements, and calls for deliberate lies and deceit.  There appears to have also been outright lies, false statements, and fabrication of data, among other deceitful practices.   This article explores some of the legal ramifications, criminal cases and Defamation in Part One.  Part Two will continue the discussion on more of the civil causes of action.

We begin with what is Freedom of Speech?  United States law is the basis here, with the understanding that other countries have different laws respecting Free Speech.   Free Speech is a fundamental right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech . . . "   From that simple phrase, many thousands of pages have been written over many decades.   Free Speech means, in general, that a person can say or write whatever he or she pleases, however, there are quite a number of restrictions that legally limit this.  In effect, a person may still say or write whatever he or she pleases, but there can be legal consequences.  Those consequences can range from a nominal award of $1, to millions of dollars in damages, up to the ultimate penalty of death after trial and conviction.  The death penalty sounds harsh, for simply speaking some words, but that is the case and will be examined shortly.   The Free Speech clause in the Constitution limits the government from passing laws regulating speech.  The courts have allowed quite a number of exceptions to Congress’ power regarding Free Speech, so that we have a more orderly society.  There are both Federal and State laws regulating speech.  Also, Free Speech has been recognized to include oral and written communication, plus expressive conduct.

It is convenient to categorize Free Speech laws by the type of court in which the case will be heard, either criminal or civil.  Crimes are examined first.

Speech as a Crime

In the criminal courts, speech can be a crime; for example perjury, sedition, treason, death threats, child pornography, unlawful campaign contributions, false statement to a government official, false statements as an element of fraud, impersonation of another, hate speech, and conspiracy to commit other crimes.   Punishments range from a monetary fine and jail, to prison, to the death penalty.

Perjury is the willful utterance of false statements while under oath.  The penalty can be prison of a few years, however if the false statements under oath result in the conviction and execution of an innocent person, the perjurer is also liable for execution after trial and conviction.   In the climate science context, it is conceivable that a person could be charged and convicted of perjury.  One must merely give false statements while under oath, as a general statement of the rule.  There are numerous caveats, however.

Sedition is “an agreement, communication, or other preliminary activity aimed at inciting treason or some lower commotion against public authority.” (Black’s Law Dictionary; the Federal law has similar language but more detail.)

Treason is “attempting to overthrow the government of the state to which one owes allegiance, either by making war against the state or by materially supporting its enemies.” (Black’s Law Dictionary; as with Sedition above, the Federal law has similar language but much more detail.)

A death threat is a “threat to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, with the specific intent that the statement, made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device, is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out, which, on its face and under the circumstances in which it is made, is so unequivocal,  unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened, a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, and thereby causes that person reasonably to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family's safety. . .” (California Penal Code Section 422)  Within the climate science context, it is unfortunate to observe some of the participants escalating the verbal wars to this level. 

Child pornography is “material depicting a child under 18 in sexual activity.” (Black’s Law Dictionary; various state laws have similar definitions; see e.g. California Penal Code Section 311.2(b)).  One hopes that the various players in the climate change arena do not commit this crime. 

Campaign contributions can be considered speech by expressive conduct.  Such campaign contributions are limited by the Federal Election Commission regulations found in 11 CFR 110 and following. 

False statement to a government official is a crime, for example, a false statement to a police officer that a crime has been committed. (California Penal Code Section 148.5)

False statements are an element of fraud where it is a crime to deprive another of money or property by a false statement or misrepresentation.  (California Penal Code Section 484).   This can apply to anyone who obtains money, as in a research grant, based upon false statements in the grant proposal. 

Impersonation of another is a crime where a “person . . .knowingly and without consent credibly impersonates another actual person through or on an Internet Web site or by other electronic means for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person. . .”  Punishment is up to $1,000 and one year in county jail.  (California Penal Code 528.5)  It is also a crime to impersonate a police officer.   In the climate science context, a famous case is that of Dr. Peter Gleick, who allegedly impersonated another in order to gain access to confidential information at the Heartland Institute, a known skeptic organization active in the climate science arena.  See link.  

Hate speech is the crime where a “person, whether or not acting under color of law, shall by force or threat of force, willfully injure, intimidate, interfere with, oppress, or threaten any other person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him or her by the Constitution or laws of this state or by the Constitution or laws of the United States in whole or in part because of one or more of the actual or perceived characteristics of the victim listed: (1) Disability, (2) Gender, (3) Nationality, (4) Race or ethnicity, (5) Religion, (6) Sexual orientation, (7) Association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.” (California Penal Code Section 422.55 and 422.6)

Conspiracy to commit other crimes is “an agreement by two or more persons to commit an unlawful act.” (Black’s Law Dictionary)  Where the agreement is made by discussions, or speech, such speech is unlawful.  This brings a great number of crimes within the realm of illegal speech, literally hundreds.  Any crime without a speech requirement, such as but not limited to burglary, theft, arson, robbery, rape, mayhem, murder, manslaughter, assault, battery, trespass, etc. that have an associated crime of conspiracy to commit X, makes the speech illegal.

Speech as Civil Causes of Action - Defamation

In the civil courts, speech can give rise to causes of action in defamation, false light, copyright violation, false claim of inventor, fraud (contract context), deceit, fraudulent statements (intentional, negligent, concealment, opinion as fact), appropriation of likeness, false claim against the government, infliction of severe emotional distress (intentional and negligent) and others.  The remedy for the prevailing party in such actions generally is money damages, but can also include restitution, an injunction, a public apology, public retraction, payment of attorneys’ fees, and punitive damages.  Defamation is discussed briefly below.  The climate science context is emphasized, where the cause of action may involve climate science.   The remaining dozen or so categories will be discussed in Part Two.

Defamation is “the act of harming the reputation of another by making a false statement to a third person.”  (Black’s Law Dictionary)   Where the false statement is made verbally, the tort is slander.  Where the publication is made in writing, the tort is libel.  There are several important distinctions in the tort of defamation, including whether the defendant is a public figure or private figure, whether the matter is one of public concern or private concern, whether the false statements were made with malice or not, and whether the false statements were one of a category for which no damages need be proven, or per se.  Given the number of distinctions, libel/slander, plaintiff is a public/private figure, public/private concern, malice or not, and per se or not, there are many possible combinations of the tort and detailed laws for each.  Here, an example is given only with the combination of libel, plaintiff is a private figure, the matter is one of public concern, no malice need be shown, and the statements needed no damages to be proven.   These distinctions are chosen to best match the issue in climate science. 

The elements that must be proven are a false statement, made about another, that injured the other’s reputation, and the statement was made to one or more third parties.  In addition, plaintiff must prove that the third party reasonably understood that the statement was about plaintiff; that because of the facts and circumstances known to the reader of the statement, it tended to injure plaintiff in his occupation, or expose him to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or shame, or to discourage others from associating or dealing with him.  Also, plaintiff must prove that defendant failed to use reasonable care to determine the truth or falsity of the statement; that plaintiff suffered harm to his property, business, profession, or occupation including money spent as a result of the statement; and that the statement was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s harm.

Regarding the issue of what is a public concern, courts have observed: “if the issue was being debated publicly and if it had foreseeable and substantial ramifications for nonparticipants, it was a public controversy.” ( Copp v Paxton (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 829, 845) Climate science, and especially global warming or climate change as it is now known, would certainly qualify as a public controversy.   Governments and non-governmental bodies have produced lengthy volumes of climate science documents, held highly publicized meetings all over the world for decades, and have had the topic front and center in many publications and internet websites, all on climate change. 

The next major point is, what is a false statement in climate science?  A false statement can be intentional, negligent, or by concealment.  An intentional false statement is one which the defendant did not believe to be true.  A negligent false statement is one which the defendant had no reasonable ground for believing to be true.  A false statement by concealment is one in which defendant suppressed a fact when he was bound to disclose it, or when defendant gives information of other facts which are likely to mislead for want of communication of that fact. (California Civil Code 1710). 

This is the heart of the matter, the falsity of the statement.  One can imagine numerous scenarios of defendants making false statements about another that qualify for one or more of the above three definitions: intentional, negligent, or concealment.  Examples of intentionally false would be “he has no training”, “he is incompetent,”  “he makes things up,”  “he takes money from oil companies,” and such.   Negligent falsehoods would be those for which no data exists, or the scientist simply makes up data.  Concealment would be the case where scientists deliberately decline to state the facts that clarify or even provide the true state of affairs.   One of the finest arts of telling a lie, it is said, is to tell only that part of the truth that misleads the other. 

If the statement or statements can be shown to be false, they must next be published to a third party.  In effect, if anyone other than plaintiff reads the libelous statement, that is sufficient.  With the internet, there can be millions of third parties who read the libelous statement. 

Next, the false statement must have injured the plaintiff’s reputation.  Injury to reputation is shown that because of the facts and circumstances known to the reader of the statement (the third party), the false statement tended to injure plaintiff in his occupation, or expose him to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or shame, or to discourage others from associating or dealing with him.   This can be shown by testimony, by business records showing a decline, by statements showing hatred or contempt or ridicule, by plaintiff testifying to feelings of shame, or that others were discouraged or actually stopped associating or dealing with plaintiff. 

Also, plaintiff must prove that defendant failed to use reasonable care to determine the truth or falsity of the statement; that plaintiff suffered harm to his property, business, profession, or occupation including money spent as a result of the statement; and that the statement was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s harm.

In the climate science context, it appears that defamation by libel occurs regularly on the various internet blogs (weblogs).  An actual lawsuit for libel is currently in process between plaintiff Michael E. Mann, PhD, and defendants Mark Steyn, National Review, and Competitive Enterprise Institute.  Professor Mann filed the lawsuit alleging libel.  See link 

Note: a related article discussed legal liability for criminal negligence in terms of climate science, see link 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

The above is written to provide an overview of a general area of the law, and is not intended, nor is it to be relied on, as legal advice for a particular set of facts.  Specific legal advice is available from Mr. Sowell and anyone who seeks such advice is encouraged to contact Mr. Sowell.  

The Truth About Nuclear Power - Part 12

Subtitle: Nuclear plants cannot provide cheap power on small islands
This article explores the idea of using nuclear power plants to reduce the power prices on
Island in the South Pacific
numerous islands.
  The evidence shows that nuclear power would increase the power prices, not decrease them. 
Previously, the articles on The Truth About Nuclear Power showed that (one) modern nuclear power plants are uneconomic to operate compared to natural gas and wind energy, (two) they produce preposterous pricing if they are the sole power source for a grid, (three) they cost far too much to construct, (four) use far more water for cooling, 4 times as much, than better alternatives, (five) nuclear fuel makes them difficult to shut down and requires very costly safeguards, (six) they are built to huge scale of 1,000 to 1,600 MWe or greater to attempt to reduce costs via economy of scale, (seven) an all-nuclear grid will lose customers to self-generation, (eight) smaller and modular nuclear plants have no benefits, (nine) large-scale plants have very long construction schedules even without lawsuits that delay construction, (ten) nuclear plants do not reach 50 or 60 years life because they require costly upgrades after 20 to 30 years that do not always perform as designed, and (eleven) France has 85 percent of its electricity produced via nuclear power but it is subsidized, is still almost twice as expensive as prices in the US, and is only viable due to exporting power at night rather than throttling back the plants during low demand.   

As written almost 5 years ago on SLB, Nuclear Plants on Islands – A Nutty Idea, see link, there are no nuclear power plants located on islands that have approximately 1 million population.  Such islands could easily support power from a 1,000 MW reactor.  The construction costs are far too high, one plant is far too inflexible in operations, and it is cheaper for islanders to import fuel oil or LNG and generate power that way.  Using fossil fuel is far safer, too.  So, how about smaller modular plants, perhaps 4 of them at 300 MW each, which allows for one to be down for maintenance.   The reason this is not done is economy of scale pushes the power price far above 60 cents per kWh.  It’s cheaper for the islands to burn fuel oil to generate power and pay 25 cents per kWh.   
Here are the 15 islands with populations from 0.8 million to 1.25 million people, and no nuclear power plants.

Island ……………….population, millions
Hong Kong……………….1.18
Xiamen Island…………...1.08
Sao Luis Island……….…1.08
Trinidad…………………...1.03 (this island has abundant natural gas, so of course is not a candidate)
South Island (NZ)……..…1.008
Grand Canary………..…..0.815
Reunion (France)…….….0.793

The same is true for the five islands with 4 to 5 million population: Singapore, Sicily, Bali, and two in the Philippines.  There, the grid could use one 1,000 MWe nuclear plant and provide roughly one-fourth or one-fifth of the total power.  Or, the utility could build multiple smaller reactors to provide 5 GW of power, 5 at 1GW, 10 at 500 MW, 15 at 333 MW, 20 at 250 MW, etc.  But, they have not.   Power prices would still be far too expensive due to economy of scale.   Larger plants provide lower-cost power, while smaller plants produce more expensive power.  
For the smaller islands listed above, multiple small reactors could also be installed but would increase prices far too much due to economy of scale.
It is notable that two contenders in the small, modular reactor market recently failed to attract any customers or any investors.  See link.  Modular reactors and their various problems were discussed at some length in part 8 of the series.  See link

Despite having to burn imported oil or LNG, the many small islands in the world have not adopted nuclear power as a means of reducing their power prices.  The island of Oahu, for example, charges approximately 25 cents per kWh for power based on oil and a small amount of imported natural gas.  Even if small modular reactors were built to provide operating flexibility, nuclear plants cannot provide cheap power on small islands.  The claim by nuclear advocates that nuclear power is cheap is simply not supported by the evidence of all the islands in the world that presently provide expensive power.  If nuclear were indeed cheaper, the islanders would likely adopt that.  

 Previous articles in the Truth About Nuclear Power series are found at the following links.  Additional articles will be linked as they are published. 

Part Twelve - this article

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

Marina del Rey, California

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Modular Nuclear Reactor Vendors Cut Funding

Modular reactor developer scales back 

B& W cuts development, funding by 90 percent due to lack of customers and lack of investors.  (Imagine that...)  "Babcock & Wilcox will slash its spending on the mPower
Westinghouse SMR
(small modular reactor) Concept
source: NRC
small modular reactor project, having failed to find customers or investors."  

"With the DoE arrangement now one year old, B&W hoped to have secured a number of utility customers for the small reactor as well as investors keen to take a majority share in its development. Spokesperson Aimee Mills told World Nuclear News that B&W had been unsuccessful in these aims, "There was interest from customers and interest from investors, but none have signed on the dotted line." "

Also, from the same article:   "In February this year (2014) Westinghouse announced it would scale back its development of its 225 MWe small modular reactor design, having lost out in the DoE competition."  see link from World Nuclear News, 4/14/14 

As posted earlier on SLB, small, modular nuclear reactors have little chance (zero, actually) of competing in the market due to the adverse effects of economy of scale (it's more expensive to make smaller plants) that outweigh any benefits from modularized construction.  see link to earlier SLB article. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Truth About Nuclear Power - Part Eleven

Subtitle: Following France in Nuclear is Not the Way to Go

Update 4/15/14:  included comparison of France electricity prices to US prices; included another reference for the EU Commission investigation of low power prices in France. -- Roger

To summarize the first ten articles, it has been shown (one) that modern nuclear power plants are uneconomic to operate compared to natural gas and wind energy, (two) they produce preposterous pricing if they are the sole power source for a grid, (three) cost far too much to construct, (four) use far more water for cooling than better alternatives, (five) nuclear fuel makes them difficult to shut down and requires very costly safeguards, (six) are built to huge scale of
Nuclear Plants in France
source: Wikicommons
1,000 to 1,600 MWe or greater to attempt to reduce costs via economy of scale, (seven) an all-nuclear grid will lose customers to self-generation, (eight) smaller and modular nuclear plants have no benefits, (nine) large-scale plants have very long construction schedules even without lawsuits that delay construction, and (ten) nuclear plants require costly upgrades after 20 to 30 years that do not always perform as designed.

This article, number eleven in the series, discusses a favorite topic of the nuclear proponents, France and their nuclear power plants.  France, they say, has cheap electricity and obtains 80 percent of their electricity from nuclear power plants.  France, they say, actually exports power to other countries.   They say these as if those are good things.  The reality is quite different. 

Nationalized Electric Industry

Just after World War II, France nationalized the electric utility industry.  Until very recently, EDF, the French utility, was government-owned.  It is now a combination of private and government ownership.  see link to EDF website for the company history.   When a country nationalizes an industry, the government has no obligation to pay for the assets, or if it does pay, to pay fair market value.  The country also can, and often does, subsidize the construction of new assets such as nuclear power plants.  This leads to the second point.

Subsidized Power Pricing

France could, and did, set power prices at the point it chose, without any requirement to pay for assets, loans, bonds, or any other fixed costs.  French power pricing reflects the ongoing cost of operation such as fuel, labor, and maintenance.  In effect, the nationalized industry allowed France to subsidize the electric prices, which subsidizing did happen.  see link

There is also the matter of tarTAM,  a subsidized rate for large and medium-sized customers.  This is to be eliminated in 2015, but has been in effect for years.   

French subsidized prices were Investigated for anti-trust by the EU.  (see previous link) 

When one is not required to pay for the capital cost of assets, or can bury the costs within the labyrinth of government coffers, it is easy to charge below-market electricity prices. 

Update 4/15/14:  The EU Commission's report of 2007 of their investigation into power pricing in France concluded: "The Commission has assessed the aid element in the two regulated tariff systems as applied to non-household consumers. It found that these regulated tariffs were financed at least in part through state resources. It also concluded that, as far as the ‘yellow’ and ‘green’ options were concerned, the tariffs conferred a selective benefit on certain non-household consumers and that they affected trade between Member States."  (emphasis added)   source: see link.

In addition, The 2013 prices for electricity in France and the US were, per the IEA 2013 Key World Energy Statistics, slide 43  (see link) :  France industrial power price, 11.6 cents per kWh compared to US at 6.7 cents, and residential price at 17.5 cents per kWh compared to US at 11.9 cents per kWh.   This shows that France, with almost a full nuclear-powered grid, charges approximately double for industrial power (11.6 vs 6.7), and approximately 50 percent more for residential prices (17.5 vs 11.9).   French prices would surely be much higher, if France did not export power but had to throttle back each night, and if subsidies were fully forbidden.   -- End update --  Roger

Export Electricity 

France does indeed export electricity, but it is necessary to investigate to see why this is.  EDF exports power, mainly at night to neighboring countries, to increase production rate and avoid load reductions in the nuclear plants.  This is the problem as described in Part Two of the Series, that being nuclear plants are very difficult to operate and load changing is difficult and dangerous.  

Night exporting to neighboring countries acts the same as wind energy in the US, it forces load-following plants in the neighbor countries to reduce load or go off-line.   Thus, France is benefiting while neighbors take the burden of part-load, unloaded plants, and increased maintenance from severe load swings.   It is little wonder that the EU investigated. 

Subsidized Exported Plant Technology

France is desperate to sell nuclear power plants, and subsidizes the plant costs to be built in other countries (e.g. India).    France wanted 16 cents per kWh for the power sales price, but India negotiated it down to 10 cents.  Per a recent article (see link), "The two sides (India and Areva) have agreed on Rs 6 per unit, down from Rs 9.18 per unit quoted by the French company Areva initially, which was not acceptable to India."

In addition, France agreed to a very low loan interest rate to sweeten the deal: "France has also decided to provide India a loan for the project at 4.8 per cent interest rate for 25 years"  (same source from just above).  

No Other Countries Follow France
World Electricity Production in 2011
source: IEA Outlook 2013, slide 24

If the French model on nuclear was any good, why has no other country in the world adopted 80 percent power from nuclear?   No country follows France, with Ukraine next at only 46 percent, and South Korea at 29 percent of domestic electricity produced by nuclear power. (slide 17 from IEA see link).   In fact, world-wide, nuclear power produces just 11.7 percent of all electricity (2011 IEA above, slide 24).   If nuclear power was truly a better technology, one would expect that the past 50 years would have observed country after country abandoning coal and natural gas and building nothing but nuclear power plants.  Clearly, with only 11 percent or a bit more in world electricity share after 50 years, nuclear power is not the best choice.  


After the worldwide increases in crude oil price in the 1970s, France chose nuclear power rather than high-priced imported oil or relying on other countries for natural gas.  France has, in the intervening years, subsidized its power prices, reluctantly privatized a portion of the electric industry, developed nuclear technology that it desperately subsidizes to sell to other countries, exports low-balled subsidized power to neighboring countries in an attempt to maintain high nuclear plant operating rates, and recently was the object of an investigation for anti-trust by the EU related to power prices.  Clearly, following France in nuclear is not the way to go.

Previous articles in the Truth About Nuclear Power series are found at the following links.  Additional articles will be linked as they are published. 

Part Eleven - this article

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sea Level Rise and Annual Rainfall

Sea Level Trend - source:
Global Annual Rainfall
Subtitle: Is Sea Level Rise Due to Rainfall

The two images at right show the trend in sea level (top image) and the areas of the oceans with the greatest rainfall (bottom image).  Curiously, the area where the seas are rising the most (red and pink areas) is the same area where the most rain falls.  This area is in the Pacific Ocean just to the east of the Philippines and New Guinea.

In contrast, the area in blue (sea level image) just to the west of North America and South America shows a declining trend in sea level.  That area also has a small amount of annual rainfall.  

There may be some valid, scientific explanation for this.  I have searched, briefly, for such but to no avail.  This is another example of climate scientists lumping together data from many points on the globe, taking an average, then producing an alarming pronouncement that doom is imminent.  Climate scientists have averaged the sea level trends, and concluded that the seas are rising at 3.2 mm/year.  This works out to about 1 foot per century. 

It is unclear to me how excessive rain over the ocean could lead to sea level rise over time, and a lack of rain leads to sea level decline.  The amount of rain in the red areas is 8 to 9 mm/day, which is 10 to 11 feet per year.  Questions that arise, to me, are Do the clouds that produce the rain interfere with the satellite sea level measurements?   For the sea level increases shown of 10 mm/y (3 feet per century), have the local islands actually experienced 6 feet of increased mean sea level over the past 200 years?   It seems that, if the seas actually rose so dramatically in that area, there would be plenty of evidence and newspaper documentation.  Yet, I can find none.

Is the sea actually rising?  Or, are scientists being deceptive?    

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Truth About Nuclear Power - Part Ten

Subtitle: Nuclear plants require costly upgrades after 20 to 30 years
Steam generators inside containment structure
Purple-cutaway view.
source: NRC
One of the favorite arguments of the nuclear proponents is that, even though a nuclear plant costs more to build, it lasts for 60 years.  The second part of the statement is not true, although the first part is definitely true.  Equipment wears out, and must be replaced at significant cost.  As an example, the pressurized water reactors, PWR, have an expensive heat exchanger – the steam generator – that suffers tube degradation over time. see image.  NRC requirements cause these steam generators to be replaced when tube degradation reaches a certain level.  For some plants, the replacement works.  At California’s San Onofre plant – SONGS – however, four replacement steam generators failed recently very soon after startup.  The plant owner, Southern California Edison, SCE, elected to shut down the plant permanently rather than complete the steps required by the NRC to ensure the steam generators could be repaired and operate safely. 
Details of the SONGS steam generator troubles can be found at the NRC website: see link.  
The NRC described the tube degradation as “unexpected.”  Apparently, the type of tube wear and degradation is one that has never been witnessed before.   The tube wear was due to adjacent tubes rubbing against each other, and tubes rubbing against retainer bars.    The safety concern, unique to nuclear power plants using the PWR design, is a sudden loss of main steam header pressure.   In the words of the NRC, this is a main steam line break.   The reason this is a safety concern is that radioactive hot water under high pressure flows on the inside of the tubes in the steam generator.  At a somewhat lower pressure, water flows on the outside of the tubes.  The water on the outside of the tubes is heated, boils, and turns to steam (hence the name, steam generator).  The tube walls must retain their strength to prevent leaks of the radioactive water through the tubes and into the steam system.  The steam system's pipes run outside the containment building, into the steam turbine, and from there steam flows into the condenser.   With both systems operating normally, pressurized radioactive water on the inside of the tubes, and lower pressure water/steam on the outside, the tubes have an easier task in keeping the two water systems separate.  But, if a main steam line breaks, the pressure difference across the tube walls increases suddenly and dramatically.  Weak tubes would, of course, fail and send radioactive water and steam into the atmosphere.  This is unacceptable, but is a natural consequence of choosing to generate power using nuclear fission as the heat source.
Indeed, this is exactly what happened at SONGS when the new steam generators sprung a leak, radioactive water entered the steam system, and a small amount of radioactive steam was released into the atmosphere.  See link  As required, SCE shut down the plant to investigate. 
The sticking point in the order from NRC to SCE was this: “SCE will determine the causes of tube-to-tube interaction and implement actions to prevent recurrence of loss of integrity in the Unit 3 steam generator tubes while operating.”   That is a most reasonable requirement, find out what happened, and implement steps to make sure it does not happen again.  SCE, however, either could not, or would not take the time and expense to determine the causes.  Instead, SCE shut down both reactors in the plant.
It should be noted that minor tube wear is normal and expected.  Indeed, with the more than 9,000 individual tubes in one steam generator, a tube that is near failure due to excessive wear can be plugged to remove it from service.  The difference in this case was the rapid tube wear so very soon after the new steam generators were placed in service.   The original steam generators lasted not quite 30 years, as the SONGS reactors came online in 1983 and 1984, and the steam generators were replaced around 2010.  The radioactive steam leak occurred in January, 2012. 
There is much more to the story of the leaking tubes at SONGS.  As time permits, that story will be told.  It involves SCE trying to obtain an extension to the operating permit by claiming the replacement steam generators were sufficiently similar to the original equipment to qualify for "like-for-like" status, when the new steam generators were not "like-for-like."   A United States Senator became involved.  A re-licensing procedure would have been lengthy and the plant would be shut down for the duration of that procedure.   
In addition, the 2000 MW of electricity was lost to the grid, and had to be replaced somehow.  A part of that story is related at this link.  The good news is that at least 75 MW of the power must be from energy storage systems.  That will provide a significant boost to the grid-scale energy storage firms.  
Other nuclear plants also have been in the news due to tube wear and degradation, including the St. Lucie plant in Florida.  See link   Also, the Watts Bar plant has suffered tube wear and has ordered replacement steam generators.   Finally, the Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ohio is replacing its steam generators, also.
It’s an exciting time.  How many more nuclear plants will go the way of SONGS, due to faulty replacement steam generators that have tubes wear on each other? 
It can be seen, then, that the nuclear power plant in California lasted a bit less than 30 years, not the 50 or 60 years as nuclear proponents claim.   Nuclear plants require costly upgrades after 20 to 30 years, but the anticipated added life does not always appear.  

Previous articles in the Truth About Nuclear Power series are found at the following links.  Additional articles will be linked as they are published. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California