Thursday, April 26, 2018

Post #114 – Climate Activists Are Lousy Salesmen

Take a look at this thought-provoking Op-Ed by Stewart Easterby in today's Wall Street Journal...

A few key excerpts...

"The burden of proof in the climate debate lies with those claiming rising temperatures stem primarily from human activity and not other factors.  While the prosecution may feel it has a winning case, the jury's verdict is what counts.  Labeling dissenting jurors "deniers" – an insidious association with Holocaust denial – is a losing courtroom strategy.  Most people are naturally disinclined to obsess daily about a phenomenon that started long before they were born and won't reach fruition until long after the die."

He continues, "It's true that almost all climate scientists believe human-caused global warming is real.  Similarly, American adults understand that expert opinions can change or turn out to be spectacularly wrong.  Think of the recently overturned consensus on the link between egg consumption and coronary heart disease, or the reports during the 1970s that a new ice age was imminent.  Against this backdrop, calling skeptics "anti-science" is counterproductive, especially since skepticism is the essence of the scientific method."

He ends with, "My advice to the activists is this: you will attract more supporters to your cause if you can pick a name and stick with it, create a clear call to action, enlist a convincing spokesman with a small carbon footprint, tone down the alarmism, and fix the computer models.  Most important, listen to the doubters, don't lambaste them." (You'll have to read his Op-Ed piece to fully comprehend his context for these statements...)

Mr. Easterby is not a scientist.  He's a sales executive who has worked for three publicly traded technology companies.  This said, his Op-Ed piece exhibits more clarity, more wisdom, more common sense, and a higher allegiance to the Scientific Method than many I've heard from "experts" and "leaders" in the climate change community.

And just for the record, I believe climate change is real...  However, I find the scientific evidence (both quantity and quality) for human-driven (anthropogenic) global warming to be less than compelling – at least to anyone who understands complex systems, and who really holds the Scientific Method in high regard.   Given today's ground truth in China, India, and Africa, I'm even less convinced we (the people of planet Earth) can do anything to significantly change the climate change vector over the next several decades. (See my Posts #93 and #94.  They are four years old at this point and still as valid as when I originally wrote them...)

Check out Mr. Easterby's post... profound common sense, wise adherence to classical science, and a tip of the hat to human nature...

Just Thinking,

Friday, March 30, 2018

Post #113 – Are Current U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Grid Resilience Assets?

A brazen plug for my most recent publication on nuclear power and electric Grid resilience…

The issue of electric Grid resilience exploded on the scene in late September 2017, when the Secretary of Energy Rick Perry directed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to consider a rule to “accurately price generation resources necessary to maintain the reliability and resilience of our Nation’s electric grid.  Specifically, the rule allows for the recovery of costs of fuel-secure generation units that make our grid reliable and resilient.  Such resources provide reliable capacity, resilient generation, frequency and voltage support, on-site fuel inventory – in addition to providing power for our basic needs, quality of life, and robust economy… Eligible units must also be able to provide essential energy and ancillary reliability services and have a 90-day fuel supply on site in the event of supply disruptions caused by emergencies, extreme weather, or natural or man-made disasters…” (See Sec. Perry’s letter HERE.)  The letter directed FERC to consider and complete final action on the proposed rule by December 11, 2017.  At the request of FERC’s new Chairman, Kevin McIntyre, Sec. Perry later extended that deadline to January 10, 2018. 

On January 8, FERC responded to Secretary Perry’s order by terminating the rule making proceedings order by Secretary Perry, and launching a new proceeding (Docket No. AD18-7-000) to “address resilience in a broader context…”  FERC directed  “RTOs/ISOs to provide information... that will inform us as to whether additional actions by the Commission and the ISOs/RTOs are warranted with regard to resilience issues.”   The new FERC action has three goals: (1) to develop a common understanding among the Commission, industry, and others of what resilience of the bulk power system means and requires; (2) to understand how each RTO and ISO assesses resilience in its geographical footprint; and (3) to use this information to evaluate whether additional Commission action regarding resilience is appropriate at this time.”  ISOs/RTOs and other interested parties have until May 9 to file their comments on AT18-7.

The very public dialog between the Trump Administration and FERC over the subject of “grid resilience” and “fuel security” shined a welcomed spotlight on these issues.  The dialog spawned by DOE and FERC actions has become highly politicized, with advocates from diverse corners of the pro/anti coal and pro/anti nuclear power spectrum using it as a stage to trumpet their views.  But the issues raised by Secretary Perry and FERC in the communications cited above are very real and urgent concerns to our nation.

Power plant fuel security is an important consideration, and fuel-secure (90 days or more of on-site fuel) electric generating stations would be of extreme value in many scenarios involving widespread impairment of our nation’s electric Grid – provided these fuel-secure power plants could otherwise operate and serve the Grid during such eventsBut, fuel security, power plant resilience, and Grid resilience are distinct issues.  A power plant can have a secure fuel supply and still not be a resilient power plant.  Resilient power plants are a necessary, but not sufficient, requirement for resilient Grids.  (I’ll be dealing with these issues in future posts.) 

In the mean time, those of you interested in the question of whether current U.S. nuclear power plants are major Grid resilience assets might want to read my most recent publication, “Are Current U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Grid Resilience Assets?” in the April 2018 of the American Nuclear Society’s journal, Nuclear Technology.  You can freely download the entire Open Access paper HERE.  

Here’s the Abstract of the paper:

This paper examines the concept of Grid resilience in the context of the North American electricity supply system and the role existing (Generation II) light water– cooled nuclear power plants(NPPs) play in enabling and enhancing Grid resilience. (Because of similarities in technology and plant design, it is likely that most of the discussion in the paper is also relevant to Generation III and Generation III+light water NPP designs. The applicability of the analysis to Canadian CANDU and Russian VVER technology has not been assessed.) The paper asks and answers three compound questions: (1) what is Grid resilience, and what is a resilient Grid? (2) what is a resilient nuclear power plant (rNPP), and what are the basic functional requirements of rNPPs? and in light of the answers to these questions, (3) are today’s U.S. NPPs significant Grid resilience assets? The conclusion reached is that existing U.S. commercial NPPs are safe and efficient capacity, energy, and reliability assets and they have demonstrated some Grid resilience benefit during regional weather events. However, today’ s NPPs do not deliver the Grid resilience benefits nuclear power can and should provide the nation. The author argues that nuclear power’s unique fuel security (an attribute that could allow NPPs to energize the Grid during extended periods in which fuel could not be delivered to other types of power plants) is a compelling reason to develop future rNPPs that  would  deliver strategic Grid resilience benefits in the face of evolving hazards and threats to the U.S. Grid.

I would be interested to hear your feedback once you’ve read the article.  A companion paper to be published soon will more fully discuss the definition, attributes, and functional requirements of rNPPs; some enabling design features of rNPPs; and some transformational Grid resilience-enhancing applications of rNPPs.  

I believe the "value proposition" of nuclear energy must be expanded if nuclear power is to remain a viable global energy option in the 21st century.  Efficient generation of baseload electricity simply is no longer a compelling argument for nuclear. rNPPs, are a win-win option – both for those whose primary concern is societal resilience, and those who are advocates for nuclear power.

What do you think?

Just thinking,

Friday, October 27, 2017

Post # 112: My Presentation Next Week on Resilient Nuclear Power Plants (rNPPs) at Winter ANS Meeting

Just a "heads-up"...

Next Wednesday morning (November 1), I'll be presenting a paper on my concept of resilient nuclear power plants (rNPPs) at the American Nuclear Society's Winter Meeting in Washington, DC.  

The presentation, entitled "Enhancing Electric Grid and Critical Infrastructure Resilience With Resilient Nuclear Power Plants (rNPPs)," is scheduled to begin at 1050 in the Advanced/Gen-IV Reactors – II Session.  The venue for the presentation is the Washington 1 Room in the Marriott Wardman Park.

The paper addresses the concepts of critical infrastructure and electric Grid resilience, the definition of a "resilient Nuclear Power Plant" or "rNPP", the primary attributes of an rNPP, the functional requirements of an rNPP, potential applications of rNPPs, and some potentially-enabling design features of rNPPs – all in the concise 20-minute timeframe allocated for the presentation.

I hope to see you there!  Let's talk resilience!

Just thinking,

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Post # 111: Resilient Nuclear Power Plants (rNPPs) – Foundational Definitions of Resilience

I briefly discussed the concept of a “resilient Nuclear Power Plant” or “rNPP” in my last post, and offered the following definition:

“Resilient Nuclear Power Plants (rNPPs) are nuclear power plants intentionally designed, sited, and operated in a manner to enhance overall electric Grid and Critical Infrastructure resilience”.

Thus, rNPPs are defined in terms of their impact on and value to the electric Grid – rather than their size, architecture, or the particular technology suite they employ.  rNPPs might be small and modular, or large and monolithic.  The could be cooled by light water, liquid salt, helium, or liquid metal.   They could employ a thermal neutron spectrum or a fast neutron spectrum.  (This is not to ignore the fact that certain combinations of plant and reactor size, system architectures, and technologies might be more enabling in terms of achieving rNPP functionality than other combinations.  These issues will discussed in future posts.)

So, beginning with the end in mind, and working "from the outside - in," let’s first examine the fundamentals of resilience…

Resilient”.  “Resilience”.  What do these words mean?

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary provides the following definitions:


characterized or marked by resilience such as:

a.    capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture
b.    tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”


1.  the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress

2.  an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”

But, what do the words “resilient” and “resilience” mean in the context of our nation’s Critical Infrastructure?

The U.S. National Infrastructure Advisory Council’s (NIAC’s) 2009 report on Critical Infrastructure resilience is a great place to begin our examination of this question.  NIAC’s report offered a very helpful, if qualitative, definition of Infrastructure resilience:

Infrastructure resilience is the ability to reduce the magnitude and/or duration of disruptive events. The effectiveness of a resilient infrastructure or enterprise depends upon its ability to anticipate, absorb, adapt to, and/or rapidly recover from a potentially disruptive event.

NIAC’s report continues:

Absorptive capacity is the ability of the system to endure a disruption without significant deviation from normal operating performance. For example, fire-proofing foam increases the capacity of a building system to absorb the shock of a fire.

Adaptive capacity is the ability of the system to adapt to a shock to normal operating conditions. For example, the extra transformers that the U.S. electric power companies keep on store and share increases the ability of the grid to adapt quickly to regional power losses.

Recoverability is the ability of the system to recover quickly – and at low cost – from potentially disruptive events.”

“…For the purpose of this study, critical infrastructure resilience is characterized by three key features:

Robustness: the ability to maintain critical operations and functions in the face of crisis. This can be reflected in physical building and infrastructure design (office buildings, power generation and distribution structures, bridges, dams, levees), or in system redundancy and substitution (transportation, power grid, communications networks).

Resourcefulness: the ability to skillfully prepare for, respond to and manage a crisis or disruption as it unfolds. This includes identifying courses of action, business continuity planning, training, supply chain management, prioritizing actions to control and mitigate damage, and effectively communicating decisions.

Rapid recovery: the ability to return to and/or reconstitute normal operations as quickly and efficiently as possible after a disruption. Components include carefully drafted contingency plans, competent emergency operations, and the means to get the right people and resources to the right place.”

NIAC's report broke new ground and added clarity to the overall issue of Critical Infrastructure resilience.  But what about electric Grid resilience in particular?  How do these general definitions and concepts of Critical Infrastructure resilience apply to the particular Critical Infrastructure sub-Sector that is home to nuclear power plants – the electricity generation and delivery infrastructure, or, more simply, “the Grid”?

I’ll address this question in my next post.

Just Thinking,

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Post # 110: Electric Grid Resilience and resilient Nuclear Power Plants (rNPPs) – An Introduction

The interest in "resilient" critical infrastructure, and electric Grid resilience in particular, seems to be accelerating rapidly.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's recent publication of "Enhancing the Resilience of the Nation's Electricity System," the Trump Administration's focus on electric Grid reliability and resilience (Sec. Perry's Cover Letter and DOE Staff Report on Electricity Markets and Reliability), and this week's Congressional hearings on electric Grid resilience (Resiliency: the Electric Grid's Only Hope) and reliability (Powering America: Defining Reliability in a Transforming Electricity Industry), all suggest the time has finally come for a thoughtful and detailed examination of several closely related topics: Critical Infrastructure resilience, electric Grid resilience and reliability, and nuclear power plant resilience.

I've devoted much of my attention during the past two years to the study of electric Grid resilience and the role (current and future) nuclear power plants might play in enhancing Grid resilience.  During the next few weeks, I'll be sharing highlights here from a 110-page report I published in August [ATI-TR-2017-14, "Resilient Nuclear Power Plants (rNPPs) – Potential Building Blocks of U.S. Electric Grid and Critical Infrastructure Resilience"].  I will also be delivering a paper entitled, "Enhancing Electric Grid and Critical Infrastructure Resilience With Resilient Nuclear Power Plants (rNPPs)," at the upcoming American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting on November 1 in Washington, D. C. 

Resilient Nuclear Power Plants (rNPPs) are nuclear power plants that are intentionally designed, sited, and operated in a manner to enhance overall electric Grid and Critical Infrastructure resilience.

Thus the starting point for discussing rNPPs is the definitions of "Critical Infrastructure resilience" and "electric Grid resilience" – two concepts that are surprisingly difficult to define in a quantitative manner that is useful from the engineering perspective.

I will discuss the concepts of Critical Infrastructure resilience and electric Grid resilience in my next post.

Just Thinking,

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Post # 109: The future of nuclear power depends on ...

Some of you are probably wondering what happened to Sherrell.  No blog posts since February?  Really?

Without delving into the particulars, I'll just say I've been "head-down" in other pursuits – some of the fruits of which I'll be sharing here over the coming weeks.  Today, I'll simply set the stage...

I'm convinced the future of commercial nuclear power (at least in the western world) hinges on whether the nuclear power industry can improve its "value proposition" to society.

Although every one of the ~ 100 commercial nuclear power reactors built in the U.S. were constructed primarily as a means of providing safe, reliable, cost-competitive BASELOAD electrical generation capacity (and they have generally done so until relatively recently), it is highly unlikely the construction of future commercial nuclear power plants can be justified solely on the traditional baseload generation argument.  That argument is no longer sufficient or compelling.

So... is there a future for nuclear power?  If so, what is it?

I believe there is a compelling argument for more nuclear power; and it has nothing to do with baseload electricity generation, climate change, or industrial heat applications.


I'll delve into these questions in coming posts.

Just Thinking,

Monday, February 6, 2017

Post # 108: Nuclear Power: Black Sky Liability or Black Sky Asset?

After a 33-year career at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and 5 years in the private sector as an independent consultant, last Fall I re-entered the University of Tennessee in pursuit of my long-delayed PhD.  My research passion lies at the intersection of society’s dependence on electricity, electric Grid vulnerability, and the role of nuclear power in Grid resiliency (particularly with regard to so-called “Black Sky Events”).   

I am pleased to announce my first peer-reviewed publication on the subject was recently published in the International Journal of Nuclear Security.  You may download the paper for free here… 

Here’s the abstract of the paper…

Ready access to abundant electricity is a key enabler of modern life. During the past decade the vulnerability of Critical Infrastructure sectors in the U.S. to a variety of natural hazards and man-made threats has become increasingly apparent. The electrical infrastructure (the “Grid”) is the foundation for all other critical civil infrastructures upon which our society depends. Therefore, protection of the Grid is an energy security, homeland security, and national security issue of highest importance. Geomagnetic disturbances (GMD) induced by solar coronal mass ejections (CMEs), electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks, and cyber attacks are three events having the potential to plunge the U.S. into partial or total Grid failure (de-energization) with subsequent blackouts so massive they are referred to as “Black Sky Events”. Embedded in the U.S. Grid are almost one hundred commercial nuclear power reactors in some sixty nuclear power plants (NPPs). This paper explores the nature of society’s coupled “system of systems” (i.e. Grid, other Critical Infrastructure, human operators of these infrastructures, Government, and the Public) that would be stressed by a Black Sky Event, and presents an analytical framework for probing the behavior of this system during Black Sky Events. The question of how NPPs might be impacted by a prolonged Black Sky Event, and what role, if any, NPPs can play in enabling a rapid recovery from a Black Sky Event is examined. The likely behavior of an NPP during a Black Sky Event is discussed, and it is concluded that today’s generation of NPPs are Black Sky liabilities. However, a unique characteristic of NPPs (the large fuel inventory maintained in the reactor) could make the NPPs extraordinarily valuable assets should a Black Sky Event occur. Their value in this regard depends on whether or not it might be possible to affect a number of changes in the NPPs, the U.S. Grid, and other Critical Infrastructure in the U.S. to enable the NPPs to become Black Start Units – generating stations that would be the foundation of recovering the U.S. Grid during a Black Sky Event. This paper poses the question, “Can today’s nuclear power plants be transformed from Black Sky Liabilities to Black Sky Assets, and if so, how?” An integrated framework for addressing this question is proposed.
The paper deals both with the current U.S. commercial nuclear power fleet, and future commercial power reactors large and small.

I hope it is a catalytic contribution to a dialog that needs to occur.