James Conca

 
Articles by James Conca:

James Conca: "I have been a scientist in the field of the earth and environmental sciences for 31 years, specializing in geologic disposal of nuclear waste, energy-related research, subsurface transport and environmental clean-up of heavy metals.

"I have found that important societal issues involving science and technology are rarely made on the basis of science, but on people's perception of science. Science is necessary but insufficient. It seems to be more important to understand Fareed Zakaria than Stephen Hawking, although you better understand both if you want to solve issues like sustainable energy development.

"Prior to my present position, I was Director of the New Mexico State University Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, the independent and academic monitoring facility for the Department of Energy's WIPP site, a little-known deep geologic nuclear repository for bomb waste.

"I came to NMSU from Los Alamos National Laboratory where I was Project Leader for Radionuclide Geochemistry and its input into the Yucca Mt Project. Before that, I was on the faculty at Washington State University Tri-Cities. At the California Institute of Technology, I obtained a Ph.D. in Geochemistry in 1985 and a Masters in Planetary Science in 1981. I received a Bachelor's in Science in Geology/Biology from Brown University in 1979."

by James Conca (at Forbes)

Hurricane Florence, a potentially devastating Category 2 hurricane is on track to make landfall in the Carolinas sometime within 24 hours after this morning, Thursday, September 13. With winds up to 130 miles per hour, Florence could be the most powerful storm to hit so far north in the United States - ever.

hurricaneFlorenceNASA-NOAA satellite image of the Atlantic Ocean captured on September 11, 2018 at 11:45 AM EDT showing Hurricane Florence approaching the east coast with Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Helene fast on her heels.NASA/NOAAUnfortunately, Tropical Storm Isaac, and Hurricane Helene are fast on her heels (see figure). Isaac is expected to upgrade to a hurricane before landfall.

Along with most everyone else, nuclear power plants in North and South Carolina, as well as Virginia, have been preparing for the natural onslaught.

Hurricane Florence will most likely hit two nuclear power plants operated by Duke Energy - their 1,870 megawatt (MW) Brunswick and 932MW Harris nuclear plants in North Carolina. If Florence turns north, it could also hit Dominion Energy's 1,676MW Surry plant in Virginia. Brunswick is expected to get a direct hit.

The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is watching carefully. But no one is really worried that much will happen, contrary to lots of antinuclear fearmongering. Power outages will occur as lines and transformers are destroyed and non-nuclear buildings get damaged, and it might takes a few days to a few weeks to bring power back up, something that includes all energy sources.

 

by James Conca (at Forbes)

NuScale Power is on track to build the first small modular nuclear reactor in America faster than expected.

NuScaleSmrOnTruckNRC just completed their Phase 1 review of NuScale’s Small Modular Nuclear Reactor. The small size of its Power Module means it can be factory-built and shipped by truck, deceasing construction costs enormously. NuScaleTwo weeks ago, NuScale’s small modular nuclear reactor design completed the Phase 1 review of its design certification application (DCA) by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That’s a huge deal because Phase 1 is the most intensive phase of the review, taking more hours and effort than the remaining five phases combined.

The NRC’s review of NuScale’s DCA only began in March 2017 and the NRC’s final report approving the design is expected to be complete by September 2020. NuScale is the first and only SMR to ever undergo an NRC review. After sailing through Phase 1 so quickly, the company really is on track to build the first SMR in America within the next few years.

by James Conca (in Forbes, Aug 29, 2018)

Evacuation ZoneIn Tennessee Valley Authority’s early site permit application for putting a small modular nuclear reactor at their Clinch River site, the NRC concluded that SMRs don’t need a huge evacuation zone in case something happens. The affected zone is just the site boundary fence around the entire power plant which covers less than a tenth of a square mile, only 60 acres.

It turns out you don’t have to run at all. First, they really can’t melt down. Second, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission just agreed that any emergencies that could possibly occur at a small modular nuclear power plant probably won’t even get past the fence.

No need to come up with huge evacuation plans for nearby cities or anyone living near the plant, like we did for older plants. You can just stand there at the fence and watch what’s going on.

The NRC’s openness to reducing the EPZs for SMRs came in evaluating a Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) application for an early site permit to determine a reasonable Emergency Protection Zone (EPZ) for their proposed new small modular reactor site near Clinch River. TVA's application included information on NuScale’s SMR which is the most detailed and the farthest along of all reactors.

PaloVerde nuclear

Arizona’s Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station could be forced to close in six years, instead of twenty-seven, if voters approve a renewable-energy ballot measure, according to plant owner Arizona Public Service Company (APS).

Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona produces the most electricity of any power plant in America, over 30 billion kWhs per year, and is also the largest single producer of low-carbon electricity.

by James Conca
Hurricane Harvey made land fall in Texas this week and the flooding was historic. What is shaping up to be the most costly natural disaster in American history, the storm has left refineries shut down, interrupted wind and solar generation, caused a constant worry about gas explosions, and caused a chain of events that led to explosions and fires at the Arkema chemical plant that is only the beginning.

Over a fifth of the country’s oil production has been shuttered. Natural gas futures hit a 2-year high as did gasoline prices at the pump.

But the Texas nuclear power plants have been running smoothly.

 

You wouldn’t know it from the press, but nuclear energy is actually moving forward around the world, even in the United States. Third Way recently surveyed the North American landscape and found 60 companies and research organizations developing advanced nuclear technologies.

 

Pronuclear demonstrators in Albany celebrating New York’s adoption of a clean energy standard that supports nuclear instead of just a renewable energy standard. Shown are members of Mothers for Nuclear, Save Vermont Yankee, Environmental Progress, Students for Nuclear, among others. Source: Environmental ProgressYesterday, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) voted to approve a provision within the Clean Energy Standard (CES) that would value the emission-free energy that Upstate New York’s nuclear energy plants provide, finally recognizing that these plants are essential to meeting the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030.

Since everyone agrees that this goal would be impossible to achieve without retaining the state’s existing nuclear power, this provision was critical.

The last two weeks of September was quite the time for news – the Pope’s visit, the Speaker’s exit, the Chinese President’s visit, the United Nations General Assembly, huge Hurricane Joaquin, weird House committee rants, flowing water on Mars, more Trumpeting, the new Daily Show.

But the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Seattle on his way to the East Coast was little heralded. Disputes over computer hacking, cyber-plundering and limits on U.S. firms’ access to Chinese markets have tensions high between the two federal governments, to the point where unleashing economic sanctions on Chinese businesses is a definite possibility (WP).

by James Conca

Over the last fifty years, nuclear energy has proven to be the safest and most efficient of all energy sources, from both the human health and environmental perspectives. In total, to produce a trillion kWh of electricity, nuclear takes less land, uses less steel and concrete, has less emissions, kills fewer people, and has lower life-cycle costs than any other energy source.

America has 62 nuclear power plants with 99 operating reactors comprising over 100 thousand MW of installed capacity that produces 800 billion kWhs of electricity each year – about a fifth of America’s power.

So what about nuclear power isn’t good?

 

It turns out that building a combination of new natural gas and new nuclear plants, while maintaining existing hydroelectric and nuclear plants as long as possible, gives us the cheapest and most reliable energy future.

Every branch of the United States Military is worried about climate change. They have been since well before it became controversial. In the wake of an historic climate A United States Navy Carrier Strike Group in the South China Sea. Every branch of the United States Military is worried that climate change is a significant threat multiplier for future conflicts. And the Navy may bear the brunt of these effects.  Source: United States Navychange agreement between President Obama and President Xi Jinping in China this week (Brookings), the military’s perspective is significant in how it views climate effects on emerging military conflicts.

China will be our biggest military and political problem by the middle of this century. It would be nice to understand what issues will exacerbate our struggles.

An article in Forbes by James Conca

Physician group's claims on nuclear energy are wrong

The Columbia Generating Station’s nuclear power plant in Richland, Washington that, together with hydroelectric power, gives Washington State the lowest carbon, cleanest energy footprint in America, delivered with the lowest cost per kWhr of any state. Photo credit: Energy Northwest

The Columbia Generating Station’s nuclear power plant in Richland, Washington that, together with hydroelectric power, gives Washington State the lowest carbon, cleanest energy footprint in America, delivered with the lowest cost per kWhr of any state. Photo credit: Energy Northwest

According to a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility, shutting down the Columbia Generating Station in Washington state and building a natural gas-fired facility as its replacement could generate $1.7 billion in savings for ratepayers over a 17-year span, but the claim isn't backed up, writes scientist James Conca. "[W]hile this report supposedly says it's all about cost, it's really all about anti-nuclear politics," he argues. Forbes (12/15)

Looking out the window from my hospital bed last week, I marveled at the clarity of Rattlesnake Ridge almost 30 miles away. The air quality was amazing.Smog in Beijing has reached dangerous levels and resulting health costs have overshadowed positive effects of the energy. Credit: images.forbes.com

I then looked down at an article I was reading in The Week that reported how the air quality in Beijing was so bad, the visibility so low, that a downtown factory building burned for three hours before anyone noticed!

The American public first became aware of Beijing’s bad air issue during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Coaches were having a hard time allowing our athletes to go to Beijing to train prior to the Games because the air was so toxic. The City responded by shutting down coal plants in the area, implementing forced-reduction in traffic and halting many industrial activities.  It worked pretty well for the duration of the Games.

But it’s gotten worse since then...