Blog Archive

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Let's Review Glasgow's Relationship to Nuclear Power

Since the cable television side of our business is presently delivering a steady stream of news about the disasters in Japan, it is only fair that we talk about the electric side of our business and how it is impacted by the total failure of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. We all want to know what this means for us here in Glasgow, and we think there are a few outcomes which are certainly possible.

While we have no idea how things will play out from here with the doomed plant in Japan, and we don’t know anything about the potential health effects for us here in Glasgow from that plant so far away, we do know a bit about the TVA operated nuclear units. TVA has six working nuclear units today. They are: Browns Ferry (at Wheeler Reservoir in North Alabama), Sequoyah (near Chattanooga, TN), and Watts Bar (at Spring City, TN). TVA is also working on a new reactor at the Watts Bar site which will bring them up to seven units total. None of these sites is ever going to be affected by a tsunami, but a well placed tornado or two, even an earthquake, might cause some issues.

The attached video was produced this week by TVA to address many of the questions that area residents might have about their units and what they are doing in the wake of the failure of the plant in Japan. We encourage you to watch this video.

In the longer term, we need to discuss what happens if this disaster causes widespread dissatisfaction with TVA’s use of nuclear power. That is the real issue which we think will impact us in Glasgow. The truth is, there really is no way to generate large amounts of electric power without negative impact on our water, air, soil, and our health. For the last several decades, we, as a people, have been content to trade the comfort and convenience offered by relatively cheap electric power for the health issues created by producing that cheap power. While this is a fact, when one puts that in a sentence it is really unbelievable. We have been trading our health for cheap electric power? And we did this of our own free will? Amazing. What is wrong with us?

TVA has been recognizing the health and environmental issues associated with coal-fired generation of late and they have been moving toward more nuclear generation, and a half-hearted effort to reduce electric power demand, to replace the aging coal-fired fleet. Until this week, it was a consensus opinion that this was a good move, even though new nuclear units are frightfully expensive and TVA’s coming Time Of Use electric rates offer little incentive to get folks motivated to reduce demand. This week, no one knows if that consensus will hold. One this is certain though; Glasgow EPB’s preparation for converting to infotricity is still a viable solution and it will not have any negative impact on our health or environment.

We still believe that there is a vast reserve of electric power available through using the product wisely. We believe our electric network, broadband network, and other technologies can, with the cooperation of our customers, orchestrate a system whereby water heaters, thermostats, and major home appliances can work together in one system to live on ever smaller amounts of electric power generation capacity. We believe it makes much more sense to spend the money that would be spent on new nuclear generation, on better technology, smart appliances, and thermal storage HVAC devices for our homes and businesses. The net effect would be the same additional capacity for the electric grid, but it would be distributed across the region with investments made in millions of homes, instead of just at one address where new reactor vessels and containment buildings would rise.

What scenario will actually unfold as a result of the Japanese tsunami? You get to decide. Will you demand to maintain your home at the same temperature, winter and summer, as you have for the last fifty years? If so, you are voting for the “just build more expensive generation plants” solution. If you are willing to modify the way you have been using power and adapt to our infotricity concepts, you are voting for moving away from the solutions of the past and embracing a future which may be more wonderful than we can even imagine. How will you vote?


Chuck said...

Infotricity, as you say, can not hurt and if it is able to be done in such a way that customers do not notice the difference such that their showers are always warm/hot, the milk is always kept cold, the ice cream isn't melted, and homes are warm and cool when needed then fine. Given that though, if these things aren't maintained then I suspect it will be seen either as "Big Brother" trying to interfere in peoples homes, or an excuse to justify rate increases for those that aren't prepared to upend their days and nights in order to do all their household chores that require electricity during the late night hours.

Additionally there is an urge to push auto makers to produce electric cars, which admittedly aren't ready to completely replace our oil\gasoline needs yet.
Given our dependence on a finite resource namely oil, and given the fact that other countries are now developing their own needs for oil, we have little choice in the long term but to convert to alternate energy sources for transportation.

I hope that TVA and EPB in their long term planning are keeping in mind that it seems likely that automobiles will be plugged in and trickle charging in our future. This charging "may" well occur mostly during the late night hours when there is excess electrical capacity, but even in our own community with 2nd and 3rd shift workers there will be charging that will occur during the daytime hours. It may not be completely bad though, if these auto batteries and their home charging stations get developed so that in times of power outages\emergencies the auto batteries can reverse the flow of energy and temporarily power individual homes until the utility comes back online.

As for generation plans well people don't want coal because of its pollution and dangers for miners, people don't want oil, or natural gas, and some don't want nuclear due to the what-if fears and the spent fuel storage.

Wind and solar, correct me if I'm wrong can not generate the amount of electricity needed even if they weren't limited in the locations they can be utilized. So as nice as those two methods sound they will not cut it. Admittedly I've thought that a limited number of solar panels could be installed on the flat rooftops of the local schools and hospital in order for them to be usable as shelters. They could be a big part of the initiative to be proactive for situations such as the ice storm we experienced several years ago.

Our country does have to make some hard but "educated" decisions about nuclear power given the Japanese situation. First of which is that there will be no mushroom cloud like a nuclear bomb. People in the U.S. do not need to go out and get their potassium iodide pills and start taking them. I get the impression that many people have that perception since the word nuclear gets that stigma since it is associated with nuclear weapons. We know that two nuclear bombs ended WWII, and Russians had nuclear missiles pointed at us. Now other countries like Iran want nuclear weapons to have leverage.
Secondly, there is no doubt that placement of these plants can and should be limited in the US, so they are not too near fault lines and even coastlines.

As it is, 1960's General Electric Mark 1 designed reactors, built in the 1970's, and no longer built by that design, apparently have had two extreme natural disasters in succession. Even those old designs had safeguards for both of those type events but not to the degree, and in succession as in this case. I'm sure it will all be studied, and if changes to current designs need to be made then they will. Now we pray for the Japanese people while they go through multiple disasters.

NO option will ever be 100% effective, and 100% safe for the environment, and 100% safe in any disaster.