Feeling Warm And Toasty? Thank An Isotope!

I am warm.

Today is January 6th, 2014. I am in Pennsylvania. And at the moment, the temperature is -5 degrees Fahrenheit. (Yes, that’s a negative number in Pennsylvania.) And the forecast does not call for a heat wave anytime soon.

We’ve got the kind of cold front weather men and women everywhere fawn over – the kind that gins up groovy names like “polar vortex” and “snowmageddon.” One of my cleverer friends is even broadcasting snowmageddon updates replete with egg shortages and cannibalism (!!!). And I am as comfortably warm as warm can be, thanks to my local power plant.


I live near Beaver Valley Power Station. Beaver Valley has two pressurized water reactors with a combined capacity of 1815 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough electricity to power more than 1. 4 million homes. At last report**, both reactors are cranking at 100 power – powering my furnace to push out the cold air mother nature insists on delivering.

And as of October 2013, nuclear energy accounted for 19 percent of all the electricity produced in the United States. So whether you are rubbing your hands over a space heater or relaxing in a warm, cozy bedroom reading a book, know that safe, reliable nuclear energy played a part in getting you to that comfort zone. You’ve got to love that good ol’ uranium-235!

**Oh the irony! Beaver Valley Unit 1 automatically tripped from 100 percent power due to a current differential in the main step-up transformer just as I was writing this post. (Ref. Event Number: 49697, 1/6/2014,19:09 hrs.)


Bias and Dishonest Journalism

Media bias is generally a very important topic when it comes to politics. We consumers generally rely on the media to give us the facts, not to dictate our opinions for us. It is important for media outlets to be fair and accurate in their treatment of news events, so that consumers are able to make informed opinions. In addition to media bias, we should discuss nuclear bias. Unusual events at nuclear power plants generally garner plenty of media attention. And, as I will demonstrate, some reports are better than others.

On Friday, October 4th during a routine inspection of the containment liner at Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station in Shippingport, PA, FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company found and reported a hole in a rust-degraded area of the containment liner. The story was not widely reported. (I can’t know if it made the news, as I’ve sworn off cable.) But where it was reported, there exist noticeable differences in how the finding was portrayed.

Unfortunately, the first article I looked up to read about the Beaver Valley story showed clear signs of nuclear bias; and was not very informative to boot. The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s John Funk had plenty of negative light to shed on the hole found in the Unit 1 containment liner. The author appears to put words in the mouth of FirstEnergy’s spokesperson, saying the spokesperson attributed the corrosion to a piece of wood “carelessly left behind.” The author also states that the containment building is required to be air-tight, which is just plain wrong. Then the author dedicates a significant portion of the article to quotes from a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization that generally has nothing but negative things to say about the nuclear industry. Consequently, Mr. Funk’s article is riddled with negative connotation.

This same finding at Beaver Valley was reported in stellar fashion by Anya Litvak of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Not only did Ms. Litvak accurately portray the finding, she dug deep to reveal to her readers industry-wide findings related to degradation of containment liners. It was actually fascinating reading. Rachel Morgan at the TimesOnline did a good job reporting* the event as well, describing past degradation findings at the plant and going on to discuss another industrial safety event that occurred during the same refueling outage. One thing both of the aforementioned articles do is avoid the use of subjective descriptors. The writers also took the time to inform their readers about past experiences with containment liners and about related events – each reading like a statement of fact rather than a collection of opinions.

It is important to point out bias such as this. Readers deserve better from journalists. Journalists need to keep their personal opinions to themselves, and let their readers decide what kind of story the facts are telling.

*Article is behind a paywall. But I was able to bypass it on my mobile device.