Power Surge

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
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AG Coakley Warns Federal Government of Nuclear Storage Risks

By Ben Taylor   |   Tuesday, March 22, 2011
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Mar. 23, 2011

This undated photo released by Entergy Corp. shows the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt.(AP Photo/Entergy)

BOSTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is calling on the federal government to help find alternative storage for spent fuel rods at the state's Pilgrim nuclear plant and Vermont's Yankee plant.

The storage and security of fuel rods is one of the issues at the heart of the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan — and Coakley says the rods at Pilgrim and Yankee pose more danger than the federal government has been willing to acknowledge in the past.
These rods, having been used in nuclear reactors, are presently stored in pools of water at these two plants — a mechanism similar to how active rods are used. The problem, according to Coakley, is that in the event of a natural disaster these storage tanks can crack, possibly causing fires and releasing radiation, similar to what happened recently at the Daiichi plant in Japan.
In an interview with WGBH's The Emily Rooney show, Coakley said the government and businesses need to be investigating dry forms of storage. She is worried for the densely populated areas that surround a plant like Pilgrim, which is located in Plymouth County. “The federal government has been telling us for a long time that the risk is insignificant,” she said. “What’s also been concerning is that they haven’t been very transparent about why they reached that conclusion.”
All the parties involved know that the spent rods can’t stay on-site forever, but efforts to relocate them have been halting and impractical. Nuclear companies have been paying into a fund for the federal government to put towards a long-term solution since 1983, which has by now accumulated $24 billion. The Department of Energy determined in 2009 that relocating it to the Yucca Mountain waste repository in Nevada was not a feasible plan.
“So we don’t have either a short-term-long-term or long-term-long-term plan for what to do with the spent fuel,” Coakley said. “Everybody recognizes that these things can’t and shouldn’t stay, you know, on site forever. So we need to move on this.”
She is now similarly hoping to force federal agencies to act. The state has sued the NRC on rule-making complaints multiple times since 2006, but has been unsuccessful thus far. The state government is nearly out of options at the federal level, but Coakley sees an opportunity in that President Obama has recently directed the NRC to reassess the risk of these storage methods.
At this moment of renewed national focus, Coakley thinks that Massachusetts may finally be recognized for its past efforts, and that the state’s concerns may finally be vindicated. “We’ve been saying this for a long time,” she said. “(The NRC) need to look at this in light of what happened in Japan, and they need to be transparent about what their determinations are.”
Certain plants around the country have developed safer procedures for their spent fuel rods, which at Seabrook, in New Hampshire, for instance, are stored underground. But dry storage is more expensive, which has been the industry’s argument against adopting it.
Coakley thinks the NRC may be nearly as intransigent and opaque as the industry. The chairman, Gregory Jaczko, says post-9/11 safety checks have made nuclear plants especially safe. But Coakley says terrorism is just one consideration. As the earthquake in Japan demonstrated, a natural disaster could be just as devastating.
“We’re on the coast, we’re not impervious to earthquakes. There are plenty of nuclear power plants in California. You have to put them into the calculus of what the risks are,” she said.
Her concern is that the NRC is focused too narrowly on the benefits of nuclear power and the sense that it will be integral to future U.S. energy policy. “The federal government gets a little removed from what the risks are and the damages are, actually, on the ground,” she said.

In Lexington, Solar Is Coming

By Andrea Smardon   |   Wednesday, February 9, 2011
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Feb. 10, 2011

A tour of 1366 Technologies | Jess Bidgood/WGBH

BOSTON — One of the state’s largest alternative energy companies, Evergreen Solar, is in the process of closing its manufacturing plant in Devens. But the landscape for solar manufacturing in Massachusetts isn’t all bleak. A solar startup in Lexington, 1366 Technologies, is looking to open a new plant in Massachusetts  — and they’re hiring.
Frank van Mierlo, the CEO of 1366 Technologies, is a tall, energetic man from the Netherlands.  On a brisk walk to the machine shop, he passes a poster with a drawing of a horse and rider, that reads “Solar is coming,” a nod to Paul Revere’s historic ride through Lexington.  Like Revere, Van Mierlo is on a mission , and he’s in a hurry. 

Silicon is seen in the various stages of refinement it goes through before it becomes a solar wafer, a crucial building block of solar cells. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

 “We make manufacturing equipment, so it’s very important to be hands-on, and that means that you should quickly do stuff, quickly try something, quickly draft something, and quickly make it, and so this fast prototyping ability is an important part of our company,” Van Mierlo says.
According to Van Mierlo, solar has made tremendous progress in the last 30 years.  And by bringing down the cost of photovoltaic cells, the part of a solar panel that converts sunlight into electricity, 1366 is taking the industry a step closer to competing with fossil fuels.
“We’re in the neighborhood. If we keep on going, in the next decade or so, we can actually be competitive with coal.  It’s doable, and we have some of the technologies to do that in house,” Van Mierlo said.
In the lab, engineers are focused on turning silicon  — an abundant material found in rocks — into thin wafers.  These wafers are the building blocks for solar cells, and the most expensive part of the supply chain.  1366 has invented a machine that could turn a multi-step process into a single step, producing silicon wafers at a fraction of today’s price.  Van Mierlo says this kind of innovation is made possible by a special blend of talent and venture capital that comes together in Massachusetts.

Engineer Tom Dusseault analyzes solar wafers that have undergone a texture treatment process. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

“That combination of talent, good living conditions, excellent universities — that makes it possible to assemble a group like this,” Van Mierlo said. “And then of course the availability of capital to actually try this — and this is where the US venture community comes in. That does not really exist elsewhere. There is a reason we are more innovative than anybody else.”

Emanuel Sachs is the brains behind the company.  Once a consultant for Evergreen Solar, he’s now a mechanical engineering professor at MIT and the Chief Technology Officer of 1366.  He says the start-up is almost ready to begin manufacturing; they plan to build a pilot factory, and they want to keep it near their Research and Development headquarters. 

 “It’s incredibly beneficial to have your core R&D team very close, ideally co-located with a factory. So they can put their ideas into practice, and see the results themselves.  There’s no doubt that that’s our preferred way to go,” Sachs said.
Richard Sullivan, the new State Secretary for Energy and Environmental Affairs, says being a leader in green energy is a priority for the state, and they will do everything possible to make companies like 1366 want to stay. 

Emmanuel Sachs, the CTO of 1366, stands in the lab. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

“What the Commonwealth can do as a whole is create that supportive environment that makes not only the research & development which I think we’re extremely successful at, but also showing that there’s lot of places in Mass. where the manufacturing can stay here and can be competitive,” Sullivan said.

To help 1366 secure a federal grant, the state has provided $300,000 in matching funds. In total, 1366 has received $7 million in public money, with the bulk of the start-up’s funding – about $45 million -- coming from private venture capital. 

 Frank van Mierlo is optimistic that new energy technologies can be successful here — they just need a level playing field.
“There is 10,000 times more solar energy than we need to power our entire civilization. You can do this with solar, but there has to be ground swell support for that,” Mierlo said.
1366 already has early customers waiting for their wafers in South Korea and Germany.  The company is focused now on finding a location for its pilot plant and hiring people to help lead that effort. Van Mierlo says 1366 hopes to break ground before the end of the year. 

Power Struggle

Wednesday, September 15, 2010
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Now travels to California, which has the most ambitious clean energy plan in the nation. But the state's efforts face stiff opposition from property owners and conservationists who prefer renewable energy from "local sources," such as photovoltaic rooftop solar panels.

Xconomy Report: Charging Up

By Gregory T. Huang, Editor, Xconomy Boston   |   Friday, June 15, 2012
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June 15, 2012

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Can anyone make a battery that’s durable and lasts longer than the status quo? A123 Systems thinks it can — and just in time. The Boston-area cleantech company has been struggling with layoffs and lost revenues, but says it has a new lithium-ion battery that is better and cheaper for electric vehicles. The technology could also be used to store energy for the electric grid. A123 plans to hire 400 new workers in Michigan, as it ramps up production in a tough climate for energy companies.
In other innovation news…
Waltham-based Constant Contact is expanding in Web marketing with its acquisition of New York startup SinglePlatform, which helps restaurants and businesses list their menus and products online. The acquisition could be worth up to $100 million including earn-outs.
Our deal of the week goes to Boston-based Rhythm Pharmaceuticals, a developer of drugs for diabetes and obesity. The two-year-old company has raised $25 million in new venture funding.
And Ministry of Supply, a startup out of MIT, has launched a campaign on the Kickstarter website to support production of its high-tech, thermal-regulating dress shirts. It joins Blank Label as another local apparel company using crowd-sourced funding to roll out new products. 



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The weekly roundup of business, technology and life science news from our partners at airs every Friday on 89.7 Boston Public Radio.

Advocates Rally Outside Nuclear Commission

By Sarah Birnbaum & Kristina Finn   |   Thursday, June 7, 2012
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June 7, 2012

pilgrim protest june 7 2012
Protesters against the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant as they demonstrate outside a hearing of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board on June 7. The hearing was requested by the anti-Pilgrim group, Pilgrim Watch, whose members were among the protesters. (Steven Senne/AP)

BOSTON — Advocates rallied in Post Office Square outside a hearing of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on the morning of June 7 to protest the relicensing of the Pilgrim Nuclear Plant. 
Janet Domenitz, executive director of liberal-leaning think-tank Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, was among the protesters.
"Pilgrim is not safe. Nuclear power is expensive, it is unsafe to the public health and to the environment and we need to find alternatives," she said. "The idea that the NRC has just given this aging plant another 20 years of life shows that they are not paying attention. And we are. And we are calling for a reconsideration of that decision."
Meanwhile, Pilgrim is embroiled in a labor dispute that has resulted in a lockout. Unionized plant workers were also at the rally to protest Entergy management.
Kelly O’Brien, a locked-out engineer at Pilgrim, said the replacement workers weren't qualified to run the plant, potentially compromising public safety.
"The fact of the matter is, you look at the people here, the majority of us have anywhere from 20 to 40 years of experience in that plant," he said. "The workers that are coming in would not be familiar as well as we are with respect to the intricacies of what that plant is and how it's operated."
As for the safety question, he said, "The safety of the plant — well, when we're there we're keeping an eye on it."
About 20 protesters attended the rally.

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