AWOL

Where is Steven Chu?

Americans expect leadership from their leaders. Chu has the track record to provide it in this case, yet he is failing to do so. If he is being hamstrung by special-interest pressure within the administration, one would expect that to be a resigning matter. I fear it is more likely that he has succumbed to pressure from his erstwhile allies, the greens, and is simply displaying a lack of backbone.

Yet he should consider what this means for his own plans. The administration’s energy plan, based on the EPA’s draconian regulations against greenhouse gas emitters, depends on a hundred new nuclear power plants being built. The administration knows that that powering America by wind and solar energy is as likely as extracting sunlight from cucumbers, which is why nuclear figures so heavily in the plan. If that option is now off the table — and the Left has been so successful in its opportunistic framing of this issue that it might well be — then there is a massive gap in the plan that can only be filled by coal or natural gas. Secretary Chu will be forced to argue that, if there is a nuclear ban, then the EPA’s beloved greenhouse-gas regulations will also have to be taken off the table. This is a circle that simply cannot be squared.

But then, leftists generally have no problem with unsquarable circles.

[Update a few minutes later]

Since he’s not up to the job, here’s a simple explanation of Fukushima.

23 thoughts on “AWOL

  1. Thomas Matula

    Actually he is following good PR practice by NOT making any statements before we know just how the Japan crisis plays out, statements that could later be used against him, and the administration, in the form of edited sound bites, as was done with official statements made during Three Mile Island.

    Not only would such statements be used as sound bites against him but they would draw media attention to the U.S. program. This is the perfect time for official sources to stay quiet, lay low and let the debate rage overseas. So actually he is playing it smart.

  2. Chris Gerrib

    And to second Thomas Matula, Chu is keeping his mouth shut until he finds out exactly what is happening at the power plants. Since “keeping the US informed” is probably secondary to “keeping the plants from a China syndrom” on the Japanese priority list, Chu may not have enough specific information to comment.

  3. Rand Simberg Post author

    Yes, Chris, thanks. I am a little encouraged that a few of them don’t think that “math is hard.”

    My fear is that those who do will take power (this is the same sort of innumeracy that Congress suffers from when it comes to space policy).

  4. Pete

    The death rate from nuclear is about 0.04/TWhr, coal about 160 and natural gas around 4.

    Something that has been bothering me is how the use of the Richter scale as an indicator of the severity of an earthquake without factoring in proximity. While local geography matters and every earthquake is different proximity perhaps goes with something in between a square and a cube relationship (though this does not account for tsunamis).

    If we go with a cube relationship a 9 earthquake at 100km is roughly equivalent to a 6 earthquake at 10km. Hence the second 6.3 Christchurch earthquake (~10km) was slightly more intense in the center of Christchurch than the earlier 7.1 Christchurch earthquake (~40km) and this 9 earthquake in Japan (~130km from coast) had similar direct intensity. Of course the larger an earthquake the greater the effected area and the more tsunami capable it becomes.

    It might be reasonable to expect an aftershock of 8 following the Japanese earthquake (a general rule is to expect one at one order of magnitude less than the initial earthquake). If this aftershock occurred much closer to the mainland it would be conceivable for the intensity to be greater than the original earthquake, although the tsunami risk would presumably be much lower. Something to be a little concerned about. The Japanese earthquake was big, but fortunately, it was not that close. The nuclear power plant was designed for an 8.3 earthquake, and it survived a 9, but would it survive a say 7 aftershock that was right on top of it?

  5. Der Schtumpy

    I think the other thing that has gone mostly unsaid, reported only two times that I heard, they are attempting to keep the generators running. They were not working to just shut them down, and let the core go cool to stop the meltdown(s).
    .
    I don’t think U.S. producers would EVER do that. Not to mention loss of cooling water shuts them down as one of the engineered safety features.

    I’m not sure WHY they are trying to run the plants. If lines are down going TO the customers, and entire towns and villages are gone, what’s the point.

  6. Pete

    I expect they have shut the cores down as much as possible (including throwing in boron, a neutron absorber, and sea water), but it can take as long as a week for the core to fully shut down. I am not sure of the exact details (one brief course on nuclear engineering 15 years ago in a nuclear free country…), but there are numerous secondary nuclear reactions and short half life reaction products that take time to decay even with the control rods fully in.

    Presumably they are using the primary heat exchangers to help cool the reactor. Given all the shielding the reactor is effectively quite well insulated and any internal heat source will eventually lead to meltdown, given enough time, unless it is cooled. Running steam through the turbine and condenser (even if it is so lightly loaded that it is not even spinning) would seem a likely first course of action. Maybe they also have secondary heat exchangers and ways of bypassing the turbine – I have not researched it.

  7. Der Schtumpy

    Pete,
    I looked, there isn’t a lot of operational intel to be found. Just a lot of supposition and hysteria.

  8. Thomas Matula

    Der Schtumpy,

    I would question that reporting since the entire plant was being retired at the end of the month which is why only three of the six reactors were in operation. There would be no rational reason for the generators to be going.

  9. Thomas Matula

    Rand,

    [[[At the very least, he could be saying, “We shouldn’t even be discussing the policy implications of this until we have the facts.”]]]

    A sound bite is a sound bite and I am sure anti-nuke kooks could spin even this into a news story using favorable contacts in the media.

    For Example

    Obama Representative says we shouldn’t let the Japanese nuclear disaster be part of U.S. Nuke Policy discussions.

  10. John B

    Did nobody read the article that Rand posted? The article specifically stated that diesel generators were being run to help provide electricity to circulate coolant to prevent an overrun condition in the cores. They have no dreams of generating electricity to go over the broken grid, but they need it locally within the plant to keep the coolant and clean water flowing to cool down the reactors with the control rods in place. Barring that, they have flooded the cores that blew out their tertiary containment buildings with seawater and boric acid, which they had hoped to avoid having to do, because it only makes cleanup last that much longer.

  11. Thomas Matula

    John B,

    Der Schumpty was referring to reports about the primary power turbines not the diesel generators. Its a given those need to be running to run the pumps.

  12. Thomas Matula

    Hi All,

    Here is a good example of how any administration statement is likely to be misused.

    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/top/all/7471753.html

    [[[Administration officials said the U.S. would seek lessons from the Japanese crisis but said the events in Japan would not diminish the United States commitment to nuclear power.

    "It remains a part of the president's overall energy plan," white House spokesman Jay Carney said. "When we talk about reaching a clean energy standard, it is a vital part of that."

    Elsewhere, governments began questioning their vision of a nuclear-energized future amid rising threats of a meltdown at one Japanese reactor.]]]

  13. Carl Pham

    Thomas, that is so much special pleading bullshit. A private citizen is entitled to exercise just such PR caution and concern for one’s own political future and reputation as you specify. A Secretary of Energy, still less a President, is not. It’s his job to speak out immediately, regardless of the political consequences to himself later of maniacs armed with large-capacity sound-bite magazines. Anything less is shameless cowardice, a preference for saving one’s own political career over performing one’s clear public duty.

    If that’s the kind of scum you think are in government, then they need to be purged. We don’t need a Hindmost, he who leads from behind, for a human nation.

    FWIW, I would expect Chu is a little bewildered and unsure of what to do. He’s just a laser jock geek, you know. At home in the seminar room browbeating PhD candidates for their lack of understanding of spin-orbit coupling, and comfy with speaking authoratatively to NSF program directors. But that’s about a million miles from the gritty weird uncertain world of practical politicals and human leadership under high-pressure fast-moving events. You want someone with governing experience, or at least military leadership experience, to be able to handle that.

  14. Josh Reiter

    “But that’s about a million miles from the gritty weird uncertain world of practical politicals and human leadership under high-pressure fast-moving events.

    AKA. Reality

    This administration has been absurdly obsessed with their media image. A number of reporters have gotten calls from people inside the administration after they wrote an article critical of the Obama. They start harassing them about why they had to word, this and that like that. They then suggest that the journalist should say it like, this and the other thing next time.

    Rand, after I read this article it almost makes me think the “Hill Staffer” that was trolling on your other site might have actually been a part of the administration. I mean, didn’t you get a disparaging comment from a staffer when you were in Washington, too?

  15. Paul D.

    I doubt that, after flooding the primary loops with seawater, these plants will ever be returned to operation. Boiling increasingly concentrated brine can’t be doing anything nice to the components not designed to face it.

  16. MfK

    If we have a huge coal sludge leak that poisons some rivers, followed by a natural gas line explosion that destroys a city block, topped off by a hydroelectric dam failure that sweeps away a town, this administration will be completely out of energy options.

  17. Thomas Matula

    Carl,

    You have it exactly backward. Its exactly times like this for an official to ACT like an official and not do anything that would hurt the program. And it is about the program, not the individual. A private individual has the luxury of sounding off at anytime, but there are times that public officials need to keep their mouth shut.

  18. Thomas Matula

    Paul,

    [[[I doubt that, after flooding the primary loops with seawater, these plants will ever be returned to operation. ]]]

    Which is fine as they were scheduled to be decommission at the end of the month anyway. The only thing impacted is that it will make the decommission process much more expensive, but that is of little concern at the moment.

  19. Murgatroyd

    Off topic, but as long as we’re talking about people with names like Chu …

    Has anyone seen anything in the media about aid to Japan from China? They’re big, they’re prosperous, and they’re right next door. If they’re contributing aid, let’s praise them. And if they aren’t, well, that’s noteworthy too.

  20. Paul D.

    China has indeed offered aid to Japan now, Murgatroyd. It was in the news, and was commented on because of the sour tone of the relationship recently.

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