What Are Nuclear Plant Operators Doing to Prevent Another Fukushima?

The Fukushima Nuclear Plant in Japan never anticipated the powerful tsunami that caused the failure of all its systems. Even today, several years after the event, the plant is under constant monitoring, and clean-up measures continue to be done to ensure the safety of the public. Whether other nuclear plant operators around the world are increasing safety measures to prevent another Fukushima disaster is a matter of public concern for everyone.

Assessing Climate Conditions

Many experts believe that the problems at Fukushima occurred mainly because the operators didn’t believe a disaster of this magnitude could never happen. Unfortunately, it appears that the effects of climate change may make these sorts of natural disasters even more common. Of course, different plants around the world will be subject to a variety of environmental conditions and factors. These individual differences will not only have to be properly assessed before construction, but also considered in ongoing repairs and reinforcement as plants age. Currently, the public is averse to investing more money in nuclear power that has so many cost considerations and possible safety hazards in an age of significant climate change. Tectonic faults, ocean currents, flooding and possible water shortages must be factored into any construction design and costs.

Better Fuel Technology
The high levels of heat that occur in the nuclear fission process are a major concern for any nuclear power plant operator. A new idea for safer fuel rods involves enclosing them in sheaths of silicon carbide that would form a tough ceramic coating that bypasses the splitting of water molecules into hydrogen gas that can ignite and explode.

Redundant Cooling Systems
One of the critical problems made evident by the Fukushima disaster was failure of sufficient generators and water pumps to continue to cool the hot fuel after the power systems failed. Redundant water cooling system are not only feasible but one of the more cost effective systems that can be put in place to prevent the overheating and hydrogen explosions that created the highly hazardous situation in Japan.

Instrumentation Improvements
Another significant problem that occurred in the early days of the Fukushima disaster involved the failure of instrumentation that allowed the operators to know how much water was available in the cooling tower. This proved to be a significant handicap to providing remedial cooling in an expeditious manner. Relocating the instrumentation inside the tower yet outside the pressure vessel, while also switching from analog to digital displays, would allow operators the ability to evaluate the arrangement and condition of the fuel itself. In addition, the use of a “hodoscope,” an instrumentation device used to detect direction and intensity of radiation would help operators to determine water and fuel condition even under crisis conditions. These measures would serve to provide more accurate information about changing conditions at a plant in crisis and would allow faster implementation of remedial actions.

Although many of these new technologies are still in the development stage, they are eagerly being studied by nuclear plant operators who are actively seeking ways to prevent the next Fukushima disaster and make nuclear power safer for the public under all types of unexpected conditions.

Addison Appleby is an IT specialist and technology writer from Tucson, Arizona. She is fascinated by energy, robotics, and much more.

A Decade of Leadership: Texas Electric Power Deregulation

On January 1, 2002, Texas did something that few other states at that time had dared to try: it deregulated its energy market. For such a large market as Texas is, this was a major event in the energy industry. Over a decade on, people are looking back on Texas’ deregulation and asking whether the policy worked. Deregulation was designed to open up the energy market to more competition, thus giving consumers more choice and, presumably, cheaper options when choosing their energy provider. With hindsight, we can now assess whether the policy delivered on what it promised. Below we will look at the history of deregulation in Texas, and how it has changed the way Texans purchase and receive their energy.

A History of Deregulation

Prior to 2002, Texans didn’t have much say in how their energy was delivered to them. The electricity market was controlled by just a few government regulated utility companies and co-ops. Due to a bill passed in 1999, however, that changed when, in 2002, the electricity market was opened up to private competition. After deregulation, Texans were given dozens of energy companies and a variety of electricity rates to compare and choose from. Unfortunately, deregulation coincided with a sharp increase in the cost of natural gas, which meant that many critics were able to accuse deregulation of leading to energy price increases. The truth is, however, that natural gas prices would have risen regardless of whether the energy industry was regulated or not, and it was only unlucky timing that gave the impression that gas price increases were somehow due to deregulation. Now, as gas prices are beginning to recede, the benefits of deregulation are being noticed. In fact, most Texans have switched their energy provider at least once since deregulation began, indicating that even if some were critical of deregulation, most were willing to take advantage of the choices it offered.

Has Deregulation Worked?

Deregulation was designed to lower costs and to give consumers more choices in how they managed their energy needs. As we’ve noted, because of increasing gas prices, initially Texans were paying more for their electricity bills. Now, however, gas prices are declining, and the competition in the energy market is allowing Texans to take advantage of some of the cheapest electricity in the nation. Because energy companies are constantly competing to outdo one another in order to attract new customers, Texans are enjoying ever cheaper rates on their electricity. In fact, Texas has become a leader in energy deregulation. Aside from the cheaper prices consumers are enjoying, increased competition has led to a number of other innovations. Nowadays, Texans can take advantage of prepayment plans, online energy accounts, and energy price risk management for their energy needs.

Texas took a bold step in 2002 when it chose to open up its electricity market to private competition. While deregulation hasn’t always been the smoothest of rides, a decade on Texans are beginning to see the benefits that deregulation is offering them. Whether it is being able to shop around for the best deal on their energy needs, or being able to manage their energy use through prepayment plans and online accounts, Texans have been at the forefront of energy deregulation in the United States.

Yogesh Mankani is a small business energy consultant. He frequently writes about the electric industry on business blogs.

Shop Smart and Compare Rates for Electricity

With prices rising and jobs fading, it is becoming more and more important to be an intelligent consumer in today’s world. Fortunately, with the Internet, it is also becoming easier and easier. Most commodities can be compared with just a few clicks, although the advertising of different sites can make the task a little harder. While most people think of shopping around as something you do for physical objects, in many areas of the country, you can look at different rates for electricity and power to choose your own provider.

As far as comparisons go, rates for electricity actually have an advantage over many other commodities. While advertisements for many goods and services may have misleading information or quote prices in confusing ways, electric companies are prevented from doing so, at least in Texas. The Public Utility Commission, the government body responsible for maintaining a safe market for customers of electricity, has a formal set of requirements about what information companies have to provide. This information is called an Electricity Facts Label, or EFL. The EFL for each company is required to have the same information stated in the same format, so customers can instantly see any differences.

Neutral comparison sites— that is, sites that don’t have any skew toward any one company by emphasizing one over the other or putting them in an order meant to draw your eye to a specific company— will usually use these EFLs as their primary source of information. Customers will generally see at least part of the EFL even in a brief summary of a company and its services.

While it is true that a company’s rates for electricity don’t tell the whole story behind its production or its work ethic, money can be the primary concern for many. And that’s fine! As long as you are getting adequate services, there’s nothing wrong with focusing primarily on saving money. Many of us need to save everything we can in these troubled times, and if that’s the case, there should be no shame in switching to a cheaper provider for your needs. Not everyone can or wants to make environmental concerns or even customer service a priority.

Whatever you use as the primary criterion for your choice, it is important to carefully compare multiple aspects of an electric company’s services and to use comparison shopping to find out more about rates for electricity.

This piece was written by Shop Tx Electricity, Compare and shop electricity rates for your home or business.

Twitter: @shoptexasenergy
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shop.texas.electricity

The Real Impact of Environmental Disasters

When an environmental disaster occurs, it can be devastating to ecosystems.

The monetary and health-related consequences of an environmental disaster are enormous. Cleanup costs, the initial costs associated with a disaster, are defined as the amount it will take to return the affected area to normal. What isn’t accounted for in these “cleanup costs,” is the impact on communities and wildlife that spans decades.

From the Deepwater Horizon spill to the Exxon Valdez incident, billions had to be spent on cleanup, lives were lost, and wildlife suffered. The impacted communities are still suffering from the after effects of these environmental disasters.

Image courtesy of: Vermont Law School Master of Environmental Law

Ofgem’s Energy Reforms Tackle Rising UK Energy Prices

As energy prices in the UK and Europe continue to rise, many are seeking to cut costs by tackling the sometimes misleading and complex contracts offered by large energy suppliers.

Ofgem, the UK energy legislator, has been working hard in recent years to ensure that the general public and businesses alike get the best deal on their energy. Measures taken by the commission include tackling issues such as rollover contracts and cancellation fees, something that has recently prompted large companies like EDF Energy and Scottish Power to amend the way their contracts work for consumers.

This month Ofgem have produced a new set of rules for energy suppliers, in line with the first stage of their Retail Market Review (RMR), in the hope that in their words they will make the energy market “simpler, clearer and fairer” for the consumer. This new regulation aims to ensure that energy suppliers provide information to their customers that is clear and not misleading. Any brokers or other third party intermediaries will also be bound by this code of conduct.

These changes will be made in three areas: behaviour, information and process. This will have the following effect:
• Behaviour; suppliers must carry out their actions in a fair, honest, transparent and responsible manner.
• Information; energy suppliers will be required to provide written or oral information that is not misleading, and also plain and intelligible.
• Process; suppliers must make it easy for customers to get in contact with them, and deal with any issues quickly and courteously. All processes should also be complete and transparent in the eyes of the consumer.

Ofgem have stated to suppliers that these changes should come into effect by the end of the year to make gas and electricity tariffs simpler for consumers, and by the spring of 2014 they must also inform their customers of the cheapest deal available.

Industry commentators Which? have stated that these measures “do not go far enough” to tackle the issue of rising energy prices and transparency in the market. They propose radical changes should be instated by government to ensure that pricing is simpler still and that there is ring fencing of producers and suppliers to make sure there is a fair amount of competition in the market.

As a recent report into the energy market by Cornwall Energy has highlighted, many businesses still have faith in the measures that Which? have been quick to mark as ineffective. Around 71% of businesses in the UK believe that this legislation will improve the service provided by energy brokers. With 29% of micro-businesses not knowing the end date of their contract, and over 20% not understanding the auto renewal process and its effects, it is clear that more transparency is required.

Whilst it is clear that Ofgem’s regulation has had effects on energy suppliers in the market, helping those purchasing energy to understand their bills, it is as yet unforeseen as to whether these current changes will have the effect that is required to truly revolutionise the way they have conducted business in recent years. This is a concern that affects not just the UK, but is something that is being tackled by countries throughout Europe as well, in the hope that energy prices truly reflect the market.

This piece was written by Indigo Swan, who provide energy purchasing services to businesses in the UK.

Twitter: @indigo_swan
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Indigo-Swan/537871199597656

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