Friday, July 19, 2019

Now Trumpies Want To Cut Nuclear Reactor Inspections To Reduce "Regulatory State"

Leave it to Trump and his swamp cronies and grifters to now pressure the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)  to  seek to reduce or "cut" inspections at nuclear facilities.  This according to a Denver Post article five days ago ('NRC Looking At Reducing Inspections At Reactors', by Ellen Knickmeyer.)   Janice's first reaction on seeing the news was to almost blow a gasket, given she'd worked in nuclear medicine almost 30 years before we moved to the U.S.  (where she became a beta tester for brachytherapy software.)

"What are they, mad?" she yelped.

Well, maybe.  But then we know all the Trumpies - the nest of vipers currently infesting all agencies of the government - are not about protecting citizens' welfare but rather their fat,  monied pockets.

While some might cheer the sound of the word "deregulation" or mentally conjure up images of freedom and personal liberty, they are more brainwashed than accurate. Actually,  as economist George Lakoff has pointed out, e.g.

Regulations are protections. Protections of the public health provided by a government that puts citizens' interests above corporate profits.  Deregulation then, means the abolition or elimination of those same protections. 

What gives then with this new impetus to cut inspections at nuclear plants, reactors?  Well, this misbegotten push is consistent with Trumps' theme to "reduce regulatory requirements for all industries".   The fewer regulations, the more "freedom" the industries have to operate and the more profits they can rake in.  The ones who lose are citizens, whether those who ingest pork tapeworms e.g.
Image result for tapeworms in pork, images

Because  FDA or USDA inspectors didn't do their oversight job, or those who get brain or pancreatic cancers from drinking water laden with perchlorates, because the EPA loosened regulations of water quality.  In this case, with the nuclear reactors proposed cuts in inspections we learn from author Knickmeyer we learn it originated with the nuclear power industry as a "cost cutting promotion" Janice put it, maybe they never saw the excellent HBO series Chernobyl.  Especially when the nuclear reactor's core exploded in that forlorn Ukrainian town.

Okay, 'Chernobyl' was somewhat dramatic and hyped, but still many lesser calamities are possible when reactors are given short shrift in inspections. Look no further the Three Mile Island which set back nuclear power for a generation in the U.S.  And let's please be clear that without nuclear power as a "bridge" energy source there is simply no way to significantly cut back on fossil fuels or aspire to any Green New Deal.

Why the desire for cost cutting via inspections at nuclear installations?  Well, because nuclear power is currently struggling in market competition against cheaper natural gas and ascendant renewable energy. But two things are forgotten by market mavens: 1)  Natural gas has methane as a spinoff, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than CO2, and 2) no combination of renewables (solar, wind, geothermal) can match nuclear energy in 'bang for the buck' and what we call energy intensity. In regard to (1) let's also bear in mind the incredible attendant  waste. I.e. in the last quarter 740 million cubic feet was "flared off" into the atmosphere each day, according to energy analytics firm Rystad Energy (WSJ, p. B6, July 18).  The reason?  It is "too unprofitable"  to transport the gas to distant locations for use.

In one interview in Esquire, from May, 2016, climate scientist James Hansen is blunt in dispatching  green and environmentalist "happy talk" over alternative energy.   As he points out (ibid.):

"If we are to avert catastrophic climate change we have to build nuclear power plants on a massive scale and crank them out fast enough to stop all fossil fuel emissions by 2050."

What is the basis for this? According to The Physicist's Desk Reference (Table C, p. 187, Energy Generation by Type) the projections for the most energy-intense uses  (aggressive consumption category, I) for all forms of solar, geothermal and wind add up to only 6 exajoules (EJ) by 2020. This compares to 24 EJ for oil (including kerogen), 16 for coal, 9 for natural gas and 6 for nuclear. Thus, ALL the usual "green" alternatives" are projected to barely add up to what nuclear will deliver on its own. Hence, to phase out fossil fuels we need to not only restrict and curb their use but also enter nuclear into the "bridge" source mix - preferably enough to eventually trump natural gas as well.

Fortunately, according to The Denver Post AP article, the recommendations made public Tuesday met with "considerable disagreement among the nuclear agency's staff."   Specifically, commission member Jeff Baran courageously criticized the proposed changes, asserting that reduce oversight "would take us in the wrong direction".

Which is an understatement, given we now - more than ever - need vastly more trust in nuclear energy and reactors as a bridge energy source. We simply cannot do without them, as James Hansen notes, if we are to reduce fossil fuel consumption.  As Baran added:

"NRC shouldn't perform fewer inspections or weaken its safety oversight to save money."

Even more blunt was the comment of Rep. Frank Pallone (D- NJ) , chair of the House Energy and and Commerce Subcommittee:

"Cutting corners on such critical safety measures may eventually lead to a disaster that could be detrimental to the future of the domestic nuclear industry."

Which even a certified loser, grifter and con man like Dotard ought to be able to understand. But see, it's not a question of understanding but retaining the corporate power leg of his coalition to sustain any bid for re-election. Especially as he's doubled down on his racist racists rants showing himself to be completely unfit for the highest office.

Among the most head-spinning arguments employed by the Triumpies and their clones is the claim that "trimming overall inspections will improve effectiveness because inspectors will be focused on issues of greater safety significance."

Which is about like claiming that FDA, and USDA inspectors can go easy on their restaurant inspections in the interest of "greater safety significance" as if  they were to ask:

Do we really need to check restaurants for sanitary standards?

Can't we tolerate a little bit of roach feces and fly larvae in the pantries and on the fruits, and some norovirus in the salads?

Can we not allow just a bit more food poisoning - like at Chipotle  - to get higher profits?  (If all restaurants have the same lower standards we all win, no?)

You get the idea!  As Edwin Lyman, a nuclear power expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, put it (ibid.):

"That (reasoning) completely ignores the cause-and-effect relationship between inspections and good performance."

In other words, if you don't inspect or don't do it as often, you will miss critical defects that can give rise to a calamity. One that ultimately whacks your bottom line even more. 

Ask Boeing and how its ignoring of the defects of the MCAS software system on its now grounded MAX 8 planes worked out!

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