Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Vernon Kindergarten 7

Dear God,

Surely you know what a hammering Entergy has been taking this week with the scrutiny from the Vermont House and Senate about the decommissioning fund. And now the cat is out of the bag about our plans to raid the decommissioning fund to handle our waste problem.

It's been a tough week; lots of negativity from nattering nabobs and such. But I have, in my tried and true Fake-Rob style, succeeded in squeezing one huge positive out of this pimple of a week.

You see, a website of news from Belarus has reported that on April 23, the director at Minsk Kindergarten No. 111 received a call from a "high-level agency" with instructions to keep children indoors and to open no windows.

To no one's surprise, no explanation came with the call. And while speculation about a radiation release from one of the several nearby plants abounds (as does speculation that the whole event was a mere test--of what? Readiness to scare school administrators?), all plants in surrounding counties are playing the "no one in here but us chickens" game.

Meanwhile, in Spain, the government has discovered that a relatively minor leak from the Asco I plant in the country's northeast was 100 times more serious than the plant had ever let on. Furthermore, radioactive particles have been found as far as 60 kilometers from the plant. United Press International is reporting that about 800 people working at the plant are being given medical tests. Both the head of the plant and the top radiological protection official have been fired.

How are these two bits of admittedly dicey news a popped postule of happiness for Entergy/Vermont Yankee? It should be obvious: Neither of these two PR disasters--indeed, nothing anywhere near this bad--happened here! And this despite the fact that our plant is across the street from an elementary school. Furthermore, in order to create a PR "positive" from the PR "negative" of Vermont Yankee's proximity to Vernon Elementary, I have personally arranged for Entergy to donate adorable radiation suits for each kindergartner to wear at recess--year round!

Ain't these babies out of this world?



Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It's Mine But You Can Have Some

Dear God,

SpinCo, NewCo.... Two names so far, lots of money on stationary wasted, and still no approval for Entergy to move ownership of Vermont Yankee and four other Entergy reactors into a new limited liability company.

And now, the union representing workers at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant has asked for intervenor status in the proposed restructuring. Quoting from the Brattleboro Reformer, this is the union's concern as expressed by David Leonardi, VP of the union and a senior operations instructor at Pilgrim:

Six nuclear reactors are going to be connected together and divorced from a conservatively financed company. If there's a problem, if one of the units doesn't get a license extension, it will negatively impact the whole.

Taking off my PR hat for a moment, Lord, and putting on my Mickey Mouse ears, I see the problem as one of trust. Those union folks don't trust the sibling NewCo plants to know how to share resources. And so I offer this set of:

Mickey Mouse Rules for Sharing Resources:
Created Especially for Those Who Care for
our Nuclear Power Plants

  1. When a nuclear power plant refuses to share its favorite decommissioning fund (or shiny red emergency vehicle or licensing setback, whatever), it isn't really being selfish. Sure, it's no fun for you to watch the plant you love wail its emergency sirens in fury and frustration, but sharing is a skill we all acquire gradually. NewCo is a new "family" and working out the kinks in the sibling relationships will take time.

  2. That said, nuclear power plants learn by imitating the people who care for them. Take every opportunity to model good sharing behavior for your nuclear power plants. For example, if you're eating a wonderful cookie, go ahead and toss a few crumbs over a perimeter fence and onto plant property. Sing that old Raffi song when you do:

    It's mine but you can have some
    With you I'd like to share it
    'Cause if I share it with you
    You'll have some too.
    If I have a cake to eat
    If I have a tasty treat
    If you come to me and ask
    I'll give some to you.

    Change the lyrics as necessary to set your plants on the path of thinking about sharing more weighty resources.

  3. As responsible adults we're often alarmed when we catch those we care about being bad. With your nuclear power plants, try to catch them being good—and when you do, lavish them with praise. Thank them for sharing resources with the arts and social services in your community. With enough positive reinforcement from you, they may learn to ramp up contributions to a meaningful level. What's more, they may learn to share emergency funds and financial setbacks without suing for public support or, worse, getting huge Federal bailouts that subsidize the astronomical salaries they pay their CEO.

  4. One way to avoid squabbles over scarce financial assets is to let each nuclear power plant hide at least most of its assets before being obligated to share with its siblings. Contact Entergy's lawyers and accountants for guidance about setting up Cayman Island holding companies. Tip: Cayman Island holding companies may also be good places to hide debt!

  5. If reasonable discussions about asset allocation just seem to dissolve into too many tearful battles, you may want to give your nuclear power plants a "sharing vacation." Colorfully decorate a paper airplane and then help your plant executives and managers imagine putting their petty quarrels onto it. Sing a bye-bye song together while you toss it into the wind (and onto the radioactive lawn) for the rest of the afternoon. Then, all together, make a few dozen pretend cookies or something like that.

Anyway, those are all my ideas, Lord. Aside from them, I don't have a thought in my head.



Monday, April 21, 2008

The Sympathy Card

Dear God,

Do you remember how I've mentioned that, in the PR industry, we sometimes use calendar events to spice up our messages to the people?

Well, this is April, and I'm going to add spice. Because in this month alone, we here at Entergy/Vermont Yankee have had some PR setbacks. For example, in April:

  1. Ahem. Our condenser sprang a leak. It's a small leak--too small for us to easily find. And while the public tends to get alarmed about mystery leaks in nuclear power plants, this particular leak isn't presenting any immediate danger. (It does present a problem, though. River water is getting into the condenser. If the breached section weakens further due, say, to the water passing through it, more water would get in. More water getting in would mean an even stronger weakening force and an even bigger leak and even more water getting in and--well, you can probably see how matters could get out of hand. Long story short: If enough water gets in, the once-tiny leak could end up actually ruining the billion dollar plant). This April, when I notified the press about the leak I wanted to allay fears. I called the leak "a routine evolution for steam cycle plants with condensers." Nobody complained.

  2. Except for Philip Baruth (who somehow weasled out of his promise to post on his blog a series of nude pictures of me). Adding insult to injury, he called my choice of "language here … exceptionally upfucked, even for VY. Suddenly the break-down of components is not just routine, but evolutionary, as though the plant is actually degrading, component by component, into a higher life form of some sort."

In April, this happened, too:

  1. The Windham Regional Commission indicated that it is not ready to recommend that Entergy/Vermont Yankee be given a new certificate of public good. It did so in a letter to the Vermont Public Service Board. The letter expressed huge concerns about the safety and reliability of the plant and the potential costs to Vermont taxpayers of plant operation, waste management, decommissioning, and site remediation.

  2. Things don't look good for us in the Vermont House and Senate, either. They're saying that our decommissioning fund isn't what we promised and neither is our decommissioning plan. They don't much like our plan to spin Vermont Yankee and Entergy's other northeast plants into a limited liability company, either. And here I've been spending all my drinks money with NRC inspectors who were already in the bag.

Also this month:

  1. People caught on that Entergy/Vermont Yankee's reluctance to pay for the sort of testing that was needed on the plant's condenser prior to jacking up the throughput on the plant by 20% seems to have resulted in the condenser leak I mentioned before.

  2. In a perfect example of bad timing, just after our stupidity about scrimping on testing was made abundantly evident, The New York Times reported that scrimping on the part of a contractor (weak rivets rather than the expensive kind) may be what sank the Titanic.

Lord, how can I spin this month of disappointing happenings and coincidences in a way that makes it all more comprehensible to the people of Vermont while pointing the finger of blame in any direction other than mine? How can I admit to having helped my employer blithely give Vermonters assurances but no actual guarantees that they wouldn't be killed in their sleep or caught holding the bag on an enormous liability?

Should I play the sympathy card here? I don't think I've tried that before. Do you think now would be the time for me to let everyone know that it's International Twit Award Month?



Thursday, April 10, 2008

What Is It Good For?

Oversight. Huh. Good God, y'all,

Does the following sentence from The New York Times make you nervous?

… [I]n a data-driven system, under which [federal agency] inspectors mostly review records rather than look at [the actual thing they're supposed to guarantee the safety of], the agency might have lost touch with actual conditions.

Well, it makes me nervous. The Federal Agency referred to in that sentence is the F.A.A. and the actual thing the inspectors are supposed to guarantee the safety of are airplanes. And apparently they haven't done such a good job of things. 3000 flights or so will have been cancelled by week's end this week, and just so that they can undergo safety inspections that were neglected--and this is after prior cancellations by Delta, Southwest, and other airlines.

Apparently the FAA does not do inspections itself; it instead relies on the integrity of the airline companies. And today the Times revealed that, much to everyone's surprise, the airline companies have not always behaved as impeccably as the FAA would have hoped.

Five Southwest Airlines planes grounded last month because they had not been properly inspected had precisely the kind of cracks that the inspection order was intended to detect, an official of the agency testified Thursday to a Senate subcommittee.

Having caught on that the companies it regulates cannot be trusted, the FAA has begun auditing the airlines for compliance with its rules and has grounded aircraft for inspection in unprecedented numbers. Hundreds of thousands of travelers are being stranded. The financial repercussions for the airline companies and their employees will be catastrophic, and the effect will be nationwide in an already teetering economy.

But the FAA doesn't care. They evidently place a higher value on human life than on financial well-being. (That and the Senate and House are breathing down their necks and calling for FAA heads to roll for not having monitored airline compliance more closely to begin with.)

Do you think it's possible, Lord, that the Senate and House might start calling for NRC heads to roll? Because the NRC hasn't just been lax in enforcing compliance. Indeed, NRC staff seem to have been actively bending rules themselves. To whit: The NRC's own Office of the Inspector General ("OIG") found in an audit of the NRC license renewal process that:

1) In over 70% of the audited plant renewals the NRC staff did not verify the authenticity of technical safety information submitted by nuclear power plant operators; and

2) NRC staff reviewers routinely "cut and pasted" whole sections of the renewal application text into their own safety reviews, rather than write their own evaluations.

3) The NRC had no procedures in place to check whether the safety reviews were done properly.

That quote is from theNuclear Information and Resource Service web site.

Also from that web site: When the OIG audit became public information, six environmental groups joined forces and petitioned the NRC "to halt the license renewal process for America's aging fleet of nuclear power plants until objective and independent analysis is conducted into the current licensing renewal process."

The NRC got to decide whether to create a nuclear industry equivalent of the current airline industry fiasco. The FAA has grounded nearly 2000 planes until the integrity of their inspection processes was ensured. The NRC could have "grounded" plant license renewals, including that of Vermont Yankee.

But, of course, it didn't. The environmental groups' petition was denied.

Entergy and, indeed, other nuclear power plants up for relicensing had warned about catastrophic financial repercussion (of the sort that the airlines and their employees are now suffering) should the NRC redesign the relicensing process and re-start the applications for license extension. That's not surprising. In general, we Entergy employees try to rile up regulators as well as the public with worries about what the loss of the Vermont Yankee plant would do to the local economy.

But, really, Lord. We're stretching a point about financial repercussions. Yeah, things might get dicey for Entergy shareholders. But slowing down relicensing or even shutting down Vermont Yankee won't necessarily leave people out of work--or out of electricity. Renewable energy jobs are soaring in Germany. According to Truthout, they...

...shot up to 249,300 in 2007, almost double the 160,500 green jobs in Germany in 2004.

According to revised government figures, as many as 400,000 people could be employed in the renewable energy industry in Germany by 2020. This is 100,000 more jobs than a previous study had predicted due to the boost that the country's economy and exports received as a result of massive investment in the renewable sector.

"The systematic expansion of renewable energy is not only good from the environmental and climate policy point of view but also for innovation, growth and employment in Germany" Sigmar Gabriel, the German Minister for Environment said.

New figures published on March 14, 2008 (Bruttobeschäftigung 2007 by Marlene Kratzat, Dietmar Edler, Marion Ottmüller and Ulrike Lehr) show that solar sector jobs are being added the fastest but that employment in all green energy segments has been growing rapidly.

Biomass, which accounts for 39 percent of all renewable energy jobs in Germany, employed 96,100 people in 2007, up from 56,800 in 2004.

Jobs in wind power, which accounts for 34 percent of green energy jobs in the country, grew to 84,300 in 2007; in 2004, 63,000 people were employed in wind power.

Exports in wind power technology grew to €5.7 billion [US $8.9 billion] in 2007, up 7 percent from 2006. Stronger exports offset a drop in investment in wind farms inside the country as the sector consolidated after years of rapid growth.

The booming solar sector saw jobs grow to 38,600 in 2007 up from 25,100 in 2004 as investment poured into photovoltaic production facilities mainly in eastern Germany.

The geothermal sector saw the number of people employed increase from 1,800 in 2004 to 4,200 in 2006. However, the number of jobs in hydropower have remained more or less steady at 9,400 in 2007 or one percent down from 9,500 in 2004.

Observers say that even these higher job growth estimates for 2020 may be too pessimistic if Germany manages to maintain its current share of exports in renewable energy plants and components in the world's rapidly growing renewable energy industry.

At least 134,000 jobs in renewable energy created so far in Germany are thought to be a direct result of Germany's renewable energy law, which gave a big stimulus to investment.

In addition to jobs in renewable energy plant production and maintenance, there were 4,300 jobs in renewable energy-related research, scientific funding bodies, public relations and local government in 2006.

Figures published by the German government show that renewable energy sources accounted for 14.2 percent of the gross electricity consumption of the country in 2007. The increase of 20 percent from 2006 is enough to power a city the size of Hamburg.

Renewable energy sources generated 222 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2007 in electricity, heating and fuels, accounting for 8.5 percent of the country's total energy consumption, and saving 114 million tons of carbon dioxide.

So, like I said, God: Does this kind of stuff make you nervous? Or are you laughing? Because this is supposed to be a funny prayer blog but I'm not hearing any chuckles from you right now.



Friday, April 4, 2008

Born to Run

Dear, God,

The condenser at Vermont Yankee is leaking at a rate of a quarter gallon of water per minute. Two days ago, we powered down to 45% so that we could find the leak.

But we couldn't find it and so, as of this morning, we're powering back up. WHAM! ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR!


In the day we sweat it out on the street of a runaway American dream.
At night we drive through mansions of glory in suicide machines.

You got, it, Lord! "Born to Run!" But you're my shepherd, right? You da man? No evil should I fear and all that?

Then let's forget what Arnie Gundersen says. Arnie is the retired nuclear engineer who warned that an uprate might result in a cooling tower collapse. Hey, he said it and it happened. But that was just good luck. Then he said that an uprate might result in condenser cracks. Hey, good luck again. Worse, he warned that an unchecked leak in the condenser could set off a chain of events that could ultimately result in a crack in the reactor itself.

Well, we can't find that leak, but you're still da man, right, Lord? YES? Well, right about now would be the time for my shepherd to start protecting us all.


Wendy, let me in, I want to be your friend.
I want to guard your dreams and visions….

Bruce Springstein and the good old days. Let's crank it. Now, listen, Lord! Here come the saxophones!


Step, step, step, kick!
Step, step, step, kick!
Step, step, step, kick!
Step, step, step, kick!
Step, step, step, kick!
Step, step, step, kick!

And with a few male vocals ("Oh, oh, oh, oh-oh-oh-oh, OH! OH! OH! OH! OH-oh") and a strong bass lead, we're out!



Thursday, April 3, 2008

Imagine, Aspire, Achieve

Dear God,

At events like last night's Department of Public Service meeting in Brattleboro, you can always tell the Vermont Yankee employees from the nuclear activists because the activists are wearing fake beards and prosthetic bosoms with bright orange nipples.

Vermont Yankee employees know how to answer a question like "What are the benefits to continued operation of Vermont Yankee?" as it is asked and not insist on the question being reframed on suspicion of it having been scientifically designed by imperialist dogs to do untold harm.

Vermont Yankee employees know not to bring their Chihuahuas to public meetings.

Vermont Yankee employees do not approach the microphone uninvited and plea for people in the room not to put small yellow and/or orange dots (as instructed) on their favorite questions and concerns for fear of signaling to the DPS which questions and concerns can most conveniently be ignored. Did that long-haired woman really expect our consultants to address all of the public's stated concerns natter natter natter natter natter?

Vermont Yankee employees do not stand within hearing distance of me while snickering about Philip Baruth's comment in "Vermont Yankee Achieves Personal Bests in Field of Extreme Linguistic Obfuscation." I had described, in a press release, the recent compressor leak at the plant as "a routine evolution for steam cycle plants with condensers." Baruth said with reference to my word smithing, "Suddenly the break-down of components is not just routine, but evolutionary, as though the plant is actually degrading, component by component, into a higher life form of some sort. Enough to make your head swim, and in fact deliberately designed to do so." Vermont Yankee employees do not find that funny and if they do they don't laugh about it in front of me.

And what about all of that harassment of DPS employees by activists at the outset of the meeting? Actually, I liked watching the couple with the fake beard and prosthetic breasts hump in the corner of the room during Uldis Vanig's presentation. When their "Nuclear Industry" and "Vermont Public Service" signs waggled it was provocative. But wouldn't it have been more effective for them to have had full sex before the meeting? That's what some of us did.

Vermont Yankee employees do not raise concern about contamination with tritium without explaining what tritium is. Note to self: I still have to figure out the whole tritium thing.

All in all, Lord, it was a pretty good meeting except for one thing. I was all set to urge people at meeting's end to go to and buy "J. Wayne Leonard Loves Me" t-shirts. But after the yellow and orange dot fiasco, people got angry and discouraged. Then they kind of dribbled away. The evening closed with a whimper, not with a bang.



PS: Oh! Another thing I forgot to announce at the meeting: "Imagine, Aspire, and Achieve," CEO J. Wayne Leonard's March 2007 "I want it all now" lecture about the nuclear industry, is available online.

As is his January 2008 presentation on Entergy 4th quarter earnings, which includes slides on pre-SpinCo (now called NewCo) and post-SpinCo financial "aspirations."

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Thank God,

….it was "trillium" and not "tritium" that Gary Sachs whispered to the WRC Comissioner shortly after John Shaddis tried to bribe the whole lot of them at the March 27 meeting of the Windham Regional Commission. Because last night, just after I prayed my "Trillium" prayer, Vermont Yankee reduced power to about 35% (update: oops! typo! that's 45%) to perform emergency repairs on a leaking steam condenser.

I got to write up the press release all by myself and I was able to assure the public that it is river water leaking into a condenser and not tritium leaking into the river. Which is good, because tritium is bad. It's a radioactive byproduct of nuclear generation, and when it leaked at Entergy's Indian Point plant, it was a very big deal. Quoting Public Citizen:

In August 2005, high tritium levels were detected when workers dug a new foundation for a crane at the Indian Point site, which is operated by Entergy. The level in one well was thirty times the EPA standard. The source of the leak has not yet been pinpointed, although a leak in a spent fuel pool near one of the reactors is suspected. Local groups are concerned about contaminated water moving toward the Hudson River. In February 2006, strontium-90 was also detected at the site, and there was increased evidence that both radionuclides have reached the Hudson River.

So all seems safe here, considering that we're dealing with trillium (whatever that is) and not tritium (which represents a profound health risk) and certainly not strontium-90 because Gary Sachs never said anything even rhyming with that.

Still, with last night's discovery of a leak, I do have a growing list of "Must Remember To"s:

  • Always spell "Sachs" with an "h" not a "k."
  • Water plants.
  • Learn what "tritium" might have to do with Vermont Yankee.
  • Sing a song of praise to my Lord in thanks for his helping us catch last night's leak problem before anything like a wall or condenser collapsed entirely. Because those awful photos of the catastrophically collapsed cooling tower still scare people. And, after all, Entergy itself once said that the condenser is so old it's lucky to withstand gravity, so it would be embarrassing if the condenser were to go photogenic on us, as well.

"Trillium, schmillium, cock-a-doodle-do...."

I'm thinking my song could start out gloriously like that, in a throaty sort of way that extols the benign. Then it could resolve into something appropriately respectful of the enormous burden that we here at Entergy willingly carry on behalf of the not terribly grateful rate payers of Vermont.