How to Stop Worrying and Learning to Love the Nuke

Keel-laying ceremony for nuclear attack sub U.S.S. Delaware in April. Huntington Ingalls, owner of the old Newport News Shipbuilding shipyard, is one of the world's leading experts in small nuclear power plants. The ship's crew began extensive training in operating the nuclear reactor long before construction of the ship was complete.

Keel-laying ceremony for nuclear attack sub U.S.S. Delaware in April. Huntington Ingalls, owner of the old Newport News Shipbuilding shipyard, is one of the world’s leading experts in small nuclear power plants. The ship’s crew began extensive training in operating the nuclear reactor long before construction of the ship was complete.

by James A. Bacon

I don’t know what kind of future the nuclear power industry has in the United States, but whatever it is, Virginia wants to grab a piece of it.

The Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium (VNEC) and the Center for Advanced Engineering and Research (CAER) have announced a plan to join forces to bring more nuclear research dollars into Virginia and create more nuclear workforce opportunities, reports Virginia Business magazine.

VNEC was created in 2013 by the Virginia General Assembly as an independent authority with the goal of making the Commonwealth a global leader in nuclear energy. CAER’s mission is to increase competitiveness for  core, high-wage industries in the Lynchburg area around a knowledge-based research hub.

The two organizations agreed to pursue initiatives related to researching new nuclear technologies, education and training programs, and bringing nuclear-related businesses into Virginia,

“This agreement will help us ensure government, academic institutions, and private commercial entities make the most of Virginia’s capabilities for contributing to the next generation of nuclear technology and education, opening doors for additional research funding, creating opportunities for new jobs, and launching new businesses in the commonwealth,” Sama Bilbao y León, director of nuclear engineering programs at VCU and chairman of VNEC, said in a statement.

It wasn’t clear what resources will be applied to the initiative, although the article did allude to “the historical support” of the General Assembly and the Virginia Tobacco Regional Revitalization Commission as possible sources of financial backing.

VNEC has endorsed the use of nuclear power in Virginia’s electricity generation mix, stressing the need for zero CO2-emissions baseload capacity to offset the intermittent generation of solar and wind. But VNEC’s main thrust is to bolster the economic prospects of key players in the nuclear power industry including AREVA Inc. North America, a Lynchburg-based subsidiary of the French nuclear construction and services company; Babcock & Wilcox, a Lynchburg-based nuclear service firm; and Huntington Ingalls Industries, the Newport News-based builder of nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.

Bacon’s bottom line: Nuclear power has had a bad image in the United States ever since the Three Mile Island episode, not to mention the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters. Moreover, the massive safety redundancies built into nuclear power plants make them incredibly expensive. But the industry is working on new technologies that might bring down costs and alleviate safety concerns, the most promising of which is a new generation of smaller reactor.

Virginia has had a good experience with nuclear. Dominion Virginia Power’s nuclear facilities in North Anna and Surry have among the best tracks records in the country. The U.S. Navy in Norfolk has operated nuclear-powered warships without incident for decades. Why not embrace the industry? Why not benefit from other peoples’ unfounded fears?

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21 responses to “How to Stop Worrying and Learning to Love the Nuke

  1. Entirely too logical! Anyone tree-hugger serious about our “carbon footprint” should agree with you, too. But, like support for GMOs and distancing oneself from Donald Trump, logic has never proved sufficient to muster the political will to break through the fog of misunderstanding, rumor, emotion, bureaucratic obfuscation, indecision, delay, and of course, cost.

    • Acbar strikes Gold again! An absolutely perfect characterization of one of our modern day witch hunts – complete with its foul brew of superstition, angst, ignorance, illusion, hysteria, fear, greed and power-mongering that drives our modern day group think hysteria disguised as science and announced by our corrupt cabal of high priests as their own world class cutting edge scientific inquiry, research, development and problem solving.

      This toxic brew spreads daily now. Its sludge has breached and its now filling up every nook and granny of our government institutions, our NGOs, our colleges and universities, our political parties, our media and now its invading and more of our Fortune 500 corporations. We are being overwhelmed by Big Mindless Data a click away.

    • I just came across this related bit of wisdom re Fire:

      …Novelist G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” He could easily have been talking about our obsession with science in the current year. What good are the studied opinions of dead white men who lived before microscopes? What could ancient texts possibly teach us about the human condition in our enlightened age? As it turns out, they can teach us quite a bit.

      Power: The Warming and Singing Flame

      The humble beginnings of human control of fire differ less from mutually assured destruction than we might imagine at first glance. The ancients knew flame gave us the power to create, but also to destroy. They express the melancholy nature of this power. Like a child leaving his warm and comforting home in a journey to adulthood, fire presented man with the hard choices and limitations that are the prerequites of freedom. But along with the sadness and consternations of that freedom came joy, and the power to create a world not as it is, but as we wish it to be.

      In his prologue to “Henry V,” Shakespeare begins by saying “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.” He is begging the audience’s pardon for being unable to present Henry’s story with anything more than mere words, actors, and flimsy set pieces. He knew reality contains a vastness we will always struggle to wrangle into our vain, weak words and ideas. The bard’s humility should serve as a model for us all.

      Did the discovery of fire have a downside? Of course it did. But it does not lie in the specific harms of one age or another. It is not the scourge of tuberculosis, the cigarette I smoke, or the woman tied to her kitchen. The true downside of fire is power.

      Like life itself, fire comes with no instruction manual. But ancient voices mused on its meaning, its imposition of responsibilities. The New York Times was remiss in ignoring the ancient context of its critique of fire. But for those of us who want it, our remote ancestors continue to provide more sage advice regarding the flicker of flames.”

      By David Markus at

  2. You should note in your blog that Chernobyl basically used a design with zero modern shutdown safety features and no containment shell, while Fukashima was a first generation reactor design from the 1960’s that was swamped by a sunami wave. These reactors are not comparable to U.S. reactors and have no comparison to a 4th generation reactor designs with modern passive shutdown features.

    • If the Russians ran their power industry anything like they ran Aeroflot, it’s a wonder they only had one Chernobyl. My wife and flew Aeroflot to Europe once. We pulled down on the window blind and the entire wall panel almost came down.

      I did some legal work for Exelon (the power holding company) some time ago and had some exposure to information about Commonwealth Edison’s Midwestern nuclear plants. They appeared to be safety wrapped in safety and tied with caution.

  3. what happened to the concern about “subsidies” ?

    I’m in favor of nukes when they make them so that they auto-shut down instead of melt-down.

    and I’d have a helluva lot more confidence when folks admit that putting one on top of an active earthquake fault is downright dumb!

    oh – and for those here who tend towards anti-govt views.. you know – the “corrupt”, incompetent, crony-capitalist govt – do you want the govt involved with the nukes? Do you want the govt deciding safety standards, where they should be sited – and using taxpayer money to provide insurance for them?

    or do we just want to let that good ole free market do it’s thing?

    • Subsidies are still a concern. But that’s a different issue.

      Subsidies pertain to the issue of whether Dominion Virginia Power should build a third unit at North Anna. This post refers to efforts to attract more nuclear-related research, workforce development and economic development.

      • re: ” This post refers to efforts to attract more nuclear-related research, workforce development and economic development.”

        comparing this to renewables – and the govt role in incentivizing renewables – or not.

        how is the govt role in nukes – different from a similar role in renewables?

        why is the govt involvement in solar “bad” but in nukes “good”?

  4. I have a question for Acbar or TomH or others who have knowledge.

    It has to do with the nature of baseload when it comes from Nukes.

    Let’s say a Nuke is running at it’s design output -and grid demand drops tremendously – so much that all the other dispatchable units have suspended and there is still too much generation coming from the nukes.

    what do you do?

    this is not a safety or disaster question – it’s a simple operational question.

    I suspect the answer is that you just idle the turbines or just let them spin but don’t send power to the grid…

    if that is true – and there is the ability at most nukes to “idle” turbines – – doesn’t that, in essence mean they can fire up that way also and not spin any more turbines than there is demand for on the grid…. so that,

    … in effect – Nukes can be used as “dispatch” … i.e. you can use or not use the generation power by using or not using turbines that are powered by the nuke fuel?

    in other words – you can fire up the nuke – and not feed it’s power into the grid – if you wanted to….

    this is essentially how shipboard propulsion works – the reactors are always “ready” but the ship itself may actually be not moving , moving slowly or under full steam – … the but nukes are “always on”.

    • an excellent – objective article – thanks for sharing!

      and could not help but see this not that far into the article:

      ” “Let me just give you a bald fact,” says J. Doyne Farmer, an Oxford University professor of math and complexity economics. “Nuclear power and solar photovoltaics both had their first recorded prices in 1956. Since then, the cost of nuclear power has gone up by a factor of three, and the cost of PV has dropped by a factor of 2,500.”

      so Bacon wants us to “embrace” nukes but he has “questions” about the “costs” of solar at Oceania, eh? Typical!


      I support nukes that don’t melt down but auto-shut-down. When we do that – we can put them in places like Fairfax and Hampton without folks fearing for their lives.

      it’s totally bizarre to me that we continue to use super-deadly designs that are 50 years old and attempt to “PR” the risk.

      If you want public acceptance of Nukes – we have to make them less deadly – it’s as simple as that. And THAT should be what we “embrace”.

      The fact that Dominion still apparently entertains using that 50-year technology on top of an active earthquake fault – does not give me confidence that the advocates really understand what is critical to the public.

      When Don or Jim are “okay” with a Nuke within 5 miles of where they live – we’ll know we’ve made progress. Until then we all are super-Nimby’s when it comes to Nukes.

      • Larry, I feel like I have to police every comment lest you misrepresent my views, I let that misrepresentation go unchallenged, and readers draw the wrong conclusion. Putting a smiley face afterwards does not help!!

        You said: “So Bacon wants us to “embrace” nukes but he has ‘questions’ about the ‘costs’ of solar at Oceania, eh? Typical!”

        The context of the article is clear: I urge Virginia to embrace the nuclear industry in order to spur research and economic development. That does not represent an endorsement of any particular nuclear project here in Virginia, which, of course, should be judged on its individual merits on the basis of cost, reliability and environmental impact.

        Any comparison with a particular solar energy project is a non sequitur.

        • Jim – I think my characterization was totally fair.

          you say “embrace” nuclear right after you have posted multiple blog posts – including Oceania questioning the Navy’s embracing of solar!

          do you want me to actually go get your comments ?

          You have a clear and unambiguous record of questioning solar and I don’t think I’ve ever heard you ONCE say we should EMBRACE Solar.

          am I wrong?

  5. These government created and paid for entities which exist only to further the nuclear industry are good examples of corporate cronyism and a waste of taxpayer funds. The mature and established nuclear industries are always crying for someone else to pay for whatever — from direct subsidies in NY State, to insurance (if it is safe, let them get insurance on the open market), to research, to dealing with the wastes.
    In spite of Bacon saying this isn’t about new nukes, he brings up Dominion and their record at NA and Surry (which also is not so correct just looking at North Anna being built on a fault line which was known and covered up, and now the earthquake which exceeded design specs but the plant still is running, and will not be made safe to the new specs of the proposed NA3). It’s all about NA3 (a $19 billion boondoggle which will raise electric rates over 35% for the next 60 years, thereby hurting economic growth, new jobs, and crowd out safer, cheaper, faster and more diversified electrical production).
    It’s time to end the nuclear subsidies (time to end all energy subsidies in my humble opinion), and let the free market (guided by the utilities and an independent and strong SCC) direct investment in production, storage, distribution, and delivery of electrical and other energy.

    • For the record, I agree that we should end all energy subsidies and let energy sources compete on a level playing field. North Anna 3 should be built only if it can be justified on the basis of cost, reliability and environmental considerations.

      To repeat my response to LarryG’s comment elsewhere in this thread, my post clearly embraced the effort to bring nuclear research and economic development to Virginia. I did not endorse any particular nuclear project as part of the generating fleet.

      • and once again I remind Jim as he “embraces” Nukes that he has not said that at all about Solar..

        I think Jim does owe an explanation as to why he advocates “embracing” nukes but not solar.

        how about it?

        • I do embrace solar — as long as it is cost competitive and can be integrated into the electric grid without hurting reliability. I have said that repeatedly.

          • not really. Most of your commentary is to question solar rather than “embrace” it… you’re really not an advocate of expending resources to help innovations to MAKE IT reliable and integratable to the grid.. you cite them as issues to prevent it.

            yet you cut a lot of slack for nukes… encouraging them to figure out the issues… “embrace”…

            look at your recent Oceania commentary… you want to know about the money… more “transparency”.

            where is that same ardor for Nukes?

  6. Sir James should not be allowed to blow off subsidies for the U.S. nuke industry so easily.

    I can’t think of any power form more heavily subsidized than nuclear, starting with the Manhattan Project. There was the Rickover program for nuclear subs, the Price Anderson Act to indemnify possible reactor accidents and on and on.

    This state “consortium” is more of the same government involvement in propping up nukes. It is another form of subsidy.

    And there are cost and safety issues. A third unit at North Anna will cost $19 billion and won’t be able to make money for years. Speaking of North Anna, the two existing units were shut down for several months in 2011 when an earthquake caused a trip and moved heavy casks filled with radioactive waste.

    VEPCO, Dominion’s predecessor company, was caught lying about a geological fault back in the 1960s and 1970s.

    It also doesn’t serve much purpose to complain that Chernobyl and Fukushima were older reactor designs. So are North Anna’s and Surry’s.

    This is quite a reality check.

  7. Jim Bacon “urges Va. to embrace the nuclear industry to spur research and economic development”, but what has Virginia to get out of a dying dinosaur of a totally government dependent enterprise? Areva is near broke again, and 80% owned by the French gov’t, about to be bailed out by another nuke company 80+% owned by the French gov’t. Newport News is 100% gov’t dependent on big defense spending. The consortium is comprised of businesses who want the gov’t to bail them out, any way any how. Further, these gov’t organizations have immediately invoked all cloaks to close their proceedings and to operate as much as possible without public watch; protecting their special information they claim.
    The research and work needed on nukes is how to safely and permanently dispose of the 100 to 100,000 year wastes (note: no country has done so, and France, Japan, Russia, China and the US are still awaiting the first safe geological respository). we need not embrace expensive, gov’t dependent, risky (terror, finances, and so time consuming) nuclear power when we have new safer, faster, cheaper, better for the environment, and better job creating technologies like new technologies (LED, on demand hot water heaters, high efficiency heat pumps and fridges), conservation, new nat gas plants, wind, solar, and bio mass and gas co-gen plants. nuclear is so old mid 20th century technology while an explosion in new efficient 21st century technologies is driving down costs and reducing the need for fossil fuels and nukes. Embrace the exciting low cost future, and don’t cling to the polluting expensive past.
    Nationwide, nuclear is seeing market based nukes closing (including Dominion’s Wisc. plant) in the face of inexpensive nat. gas, flat or decreasing demand, and wind and solar growth. The plans for NA3 are another uranium to plutonium plant using waste heat to boil water — still based on the 1940s design to get plutonium for a bomb. flat out we don’t need any more plutonium as we can’t deal with what we have.
    Jim’s point that new plants need to be judged on cost, reliability, and environmental impact is only partially correct. We also need to judge on time to completion, risk in operation or accident, and an assessment of past results of those plants. Nuclear loses big time on most of these criteria, and they are getting worse in many. All western new nukes (including the three in the US) are over budget and time, many by factors of three. The dangerous and terrorist desired wastes of the last 40 years are still stored on the shores of the James River and Lake Anna! and have no where to go for the next 100 years! you shouldn’t add new bedrooms if the septic tank or sewer system can’t take any more s**t.
    simply put, these gov’t (read my taxes) programs are for corporations or organizations who need more gov’t money. time to stop throwing any more good money at this pit of political and economic corruption.
    Virginia needs to embrace a positive and sustainable energy future and stop wasting taxpayer monies.

  8. so… nukes – crony capitalism?

    and yes.. I had forgotten the terrorism potential… nukes are like huge targets just beckoning would-be terrorist types…

    again – I favor smaller nukes that automatically shut-down and don’t melt down so I’m not opposed to Nukes per se . I’m opposed to the 50-year obsolete designs that utilities like Dominion would never ever support – if it weren’t for the govt … that’s the truth.

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