Articles by James Conca:

James Conca: "I have been a scientist in the field of the earth and environmental sciences for 31 years, specializing in geologic disposal of nuclear waste, energy-related research, subsurface transport and environmental clean-up of heavy metals.

"I have found that important societal issues involving science and technology are rarely made on the basis of science, but on people's perception of science. Science is necessary but insufficient. It seems to be more important to understand Fareed Zakaria than Stephen Hawking, although you better understand both if you want to solve issues like sustainable energy development.

"Prior to my present position, I was Director of the New Mexico State University Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, the independent and academic monitoring facility for the Department of Energy's WIPP site, a little-known deep geologic nuclear repository for bomb waste.

"I came to NMSU from Los Alamos National Laboratory where I was Project Leader for Radionuclide Geochemistry and its input into the Yucca Mt Project. Before that, I was on the faculty at Washington State University Tri-Cities. At the California Institute of Technology, I obtained a Ph.D. in Geochemistry in 1985 and a Masters in Planetary Science in 1981. I received a Bachelor's in Science in Geology/Biology from Brown University in 1979."

By James Conca

Coal and natural gas together produce two-thirds of our electricity, almost equally split between them. Nuclear produces 20%, hydro produces 7%, and renewables about 7%. Oil produces even more energy than either coal or gas, but it is used almost entirely for transportation except during Polar Vortexes when coal, gas and wind fail to produce their share.

But nuclear just powers along, rarely affected by anything.

This reliability of nuclear, plus carbon emissions as low as wind, are why Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, TerraPower President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Levesque, Rocky Mountain Power President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Hoogeveen and Nuclear Energy Institute President and Chief Executive Officer Maria Korsnick attended an event at the Wyoming State Capitol to announce the intention to replace coal plants in the state with advanced nuclear power.

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by James Conca at

Last week, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) selected two teams - one led by" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:" aria-label="TerraPower">TerraPower in partnership with GE Hitachi, and one led by" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:" aria-label="X-energy">X-energy - to receive $80 million each in initial funding under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP).

In this program, DOE provides initial funding to develop, test, license, and build advanced nuclear reactors within five to seven years of the award. DOE plans to invest about $3.2 billion over seven years in these projects that will be matched by the industry.

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by James Conca at

For decades, nuclear engineers have dreamt up new formulas, shapes and sizes for the radioactive fuel that powers the reactors of the world’s nuclear power plants (our greatest source of zer0-carbon electric power). Today most of what’s used for reactor fuel is enriched uranium. In the future, fuel compositions could shift toward the very promising element thorium.

A potential breakthrough: The United States Department of Energy (DOE) Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and the Nuclear Engineering & Science Center at Texas A&M have partnered with Clean Core Thorium Energy (CCTE) to fabricate a new type of nuclear fuel, called “Advanced Nuclear Energy for Enriched Life”, or ANEEL.

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by James Conca at

It turns out it did not." aria-label="A new study">A new study, by John Boice, Jr. and colleagues, reports the results of 114,270 nuclear weapons test participants that were followed for up to 65 years. Contrary to decades of anecdotal reports, the study concluded that there were no statistically significant occurrence of cancers or adverse health effects from radiation among these soldiers.

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by James Conca at

Yes, indeed, but not the way you might think. It turns out we need a little bit of radiation to function in tip-top shape. And it’s all about our genes.

The latest studies from New Mexico State University demonstrate that the absence of radiation is not good for organisms.

Read the article at


by James Conca at

America and the world are grappling with the effects of two pandemics. The recent one is the Coronavirus sweeping across the world. The other is a wave of anti-science attitudes that started some years ago. The latter has made the former worse.

Whether it was China gagging doctors who tried to raise the alarm on COVID-19, budget cuts to our medical and basic sciences over the last few years, anti-vaxxers or denying climate change, ignoring reality has consequences.

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by James Conca

While many states have announced they want to be net-zero carbon by 2040 or so, Washington State is likely to achieve it.

Of course, it helps that we already have the lowest carbon footprint of any state in the Union. With 86% hydro, nuclear and wind as our electricity generation, it’s hard to beat. Our last coal plant is retiring in 2025.

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by James Conca, Nov 29, 2019, 08:00am

"As I woke up to Thanksgiving yesterday, I realized we in the Pacific Northwest had been cyclone bombed for the holiday."

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by James Conca

Following the 2011 Tohoku quake, more Japanese have died as a result of the closing of Japan's nuclear power plants than from the tsunami and the earthquake combined. Read the article at

by James Conca at Forbes

About 20% of the world's population has no access to safe drinking water, and this number will increase as the population continues to grow and global freshwater sources continue to decline. The worst-affected areas are the arid and semiarid regions of Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

UNESCO has reported that the freshwater shortfall worldwide will rise to 500 trillion gallons/yr by 2025. They expect water wars to break out in the near-future. The World Economic Forum says that shortage of fresh water may be the primary global threat in the next decade.

Click here to read the article in Forbes...

By James Conca at Forbes

It’s been 30 years since America built a really new nuclear power plant, but we haven’t been idle over this time. A slew of new designs have emerged and, thanks to advances in computing capabilities and the understanding that smaller is better, many of these are ready to be built economically.

This is important. Over the last several years, there has been a growing consensus among climate scientists that nuclear energy is critical for mitigating the worst effects of global warming. States are shifting from Renewable Energy Mandates to technology neutral Clean Energy Standards that include nuclear energy.

So it is good that the development of new nuclear technologies is speeding along faster than most people think. Many new nuclear start-up companies have emerged in the United States, China and Canada, especially those designing small modular reactors (SMRs).

Importantly, all are walk-away-safe, which means the reactor just won’t melt down or otherwise cause any of the nightmares people think about when imagining the worse for nuclear power. It just shuts down and cools off.

Click to read entire article at Forbes

By James Conca at Forbes

As Polar Vortices, Bomb Cyclones and massive hurricanes pummel America more and more often, nuclear power plants keep on putting out maximum power when all other sources can’t.

For the last month, the Pacific Northwest’s only">nuclear power plant has been under a “No Touch” order to help keep the heat on as record cold and snow covered the region. I was stuck in my house for eight days.">As reported by Annette Cary of the Tri-City Herald, the">Bonneville Power Administration, which markets the electricity produced at the nuclear plant near Richland, asked">Energy Northwest, the operator of the power plant, not to do anything that would prevent the plant from producing 100% power at all times during an unusually cold February across the state that increased the demand for electricity – no maintenance activities, even on its turbine generator and in the transformer yard. Don’t do anything that would stop the reliable and constant power output of nuclear.

Click to read article at Forbes...

Many people cite "nuclear waste" as the reason we shouldn't pursue more nuclear energy. But there also exists a big disconnect on what nuclear waste, or used nuclear fuel, actually is. And what it isn't.

In this short video (Pt. 1 of 3), Dr. James Conca, a scientist with degrees from Cal-Tech, formerly of NASA, and Los Alamos and Pacific Northwest National Labs, explains the what and the why behind used nuclear fuel and how it is stored.

Click here to view Part One

How much do you know about radiation? In Part II of his series on used nuclear fuel, Dr. James Conca looks at the radiation involved in storing used nuclear fuel and how long it lasts.

Click here to view Part Two

In the third and final segment from scientist Dr. James Conca, we look at the safety of used nuclear fuel, the confusion some people have with defense waste - and the need for a long-term repository.

Click here to view Part Three


by James Conca at Forbes

NuScale Power is on track to build the first small modular nuclear reactor in America faster than expected.

Two weeks ago, NuScale’s small modular nuclear reactor design completed the Phase 1 review of its design certification application (DCA) by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That’s a huge deal because Phase 1 is the most intensive phase of the review, taking more hours and effort than the remaining five phases combined.

The NRC’s review of NuScale’s DCA only began in March 2017 and the NRC’s final report approving the design is expected to be complete by September 2020. NuScale is the first and only SMR to ever undergo an NRC review. After sailing through Phase 1 so quickly, the company really is on track to build the first SMR in America within the next few years.

by James Conca at Forbes

It turns out you don’t have to run at all. First, they really can’t melt down. Second, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission just agreed that any emergencies that could possibly occur at a small modular nuclear power plant probably won’t even get past the fence.

No need to come up with huge evacuation plans for nearby cities or anyone living near the plant, like we did for older plants. You can just stand there at the fence and watch what’s going on.

The NRC’s openness to reducing the EPZs for SMRs came in evaluating a Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) application for an early site permit to determine a reasonable Emergency Protection Zone (EPZ) for their proposed new small modular reactor site near Clinch River. TVA's application included information on NuScale’s SMR which is the most detailed and the farthest along of all reactors.

 James Hansen and Michael Shellenberger present a compelling case for re-evaluating the role that a modern generation of nuclear nucPwrAreRenewablesEnoughpower must play in the world's energy mix if we are to avert a climate catastrophe of immense proportions.

Click here to watch the video.



by James Conca at Forbes

Arizona’s Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station could be forced to close in six years, instead of twenty-seven, if voters approve a renewable-energy ballot measure, according to plant owner Arizona Public Service Company (APS).

Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona produces the most electricity of any power plant in America, over 30 billion kWhs per year, and is also the largest single producer of low-carbon electricity.

by James Conca at Forbes
Hurricane Harvey made land fall in Texas this week and the flooding was historic. What is shaping up to be the most costly natural disaster in American history, the storm has left refineries shut down, interrupted wind and solar generation, caused a constant worry about gas explosions, and caused a chain of events that led to explosions and fires at the Arkema chemical plant that is only the beginning.

Over a fifth of the country’s oil production has been shuttered. Natural gas futures hit a 2-year high as did gasoline prices at the pump.

But the Texas nuclear power plants have been running smoothly.


by James Conca at Forbes

You wouldn’t know it from the press, but nuclear energy is actually moving forward around the world, even in the United States. Third Way recently surveyed the North American landscape and found 60 companies and research organizations developing advanced nuclear technologies.


by James Conca

Yesterday, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) voted to approve a provision within the Clean Energy Standard (CES) that would value the emission-free energy that Upstate New York’s nuclear energy plants provide, finally recognizing that these plants are essential to meeting the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030.

Since everyone agrees that this goal would be impossible to achieve without retaining the state’s existing nuclear power, this provision was critical.

by James Conca at Forbes

The last two weeks of September was quite the time for news – the Pope’s visit, the Speaker’s exit, the Chinese President’s visit, the United Nations General Assembly, huge Hurricane Joaquin, weird House committee rants, flowing water on Mars, more Trumpeting, the new Daily Show.

But the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Seattle on his way to the East Coast was little heralded. Disputes over computer hacking, cyber-plundering and limits on U.S. firms’ access to Chinese markets have tensions high between the two federal governments, to the point where unleashing economic sanctions on Chinese businesses is a definite possibility (WP).

by James Conca at Forbes

Over the last fifty years, nuclear energy has proven to be the safest and most efficient of all energy sources, from both the human health and environmental perspectives. In total, to produce a trillion kWh of electricity, nuclear takes less land, uses less steel and concrete, has less emissions, kills fewer people, and has lower life-cycle costs than any other energy source.

America has 62 nuclear power plants with 99 operating reactors comprising over 100 thousand MW of installed capacity that produces 800 billion kWhs of electricity each year – about a fifth of America’s power.

So what about nuclear power isn’t good?


by James Conca at Forbes

It turns out that building a combination of new natural gas and new nuclear plants, while maintaining existing hydroelectric and nuclear plants as long as possible, gives us the cheapest and most reliable energy future.

Click here to read the article at Forbes


by James Conca at Forbes

Every branch of the United States Military is worried about climate change. They have been since well before it became controversial. In the wake of an historic climate change agreement between President Obama and President Xi Jinping in China this week (Brookings), the military’s perspective is significant in how it views climate effects on emerging military conflicts.

China will be our biggest military and political problem by the middle of this century. It would be nice to understand what issues will exacerbate our struggles.

by James Conca at Forbes

Physician group's claims on nuclear energy are wrong

According to a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility, shutting down the Columbia Generating Station in Washington state and building a natural gas-fired facility as its replacement could generate $1.7 billion in savings for ratepayers over a 17-year span, but the claim isn't backed up, writes scientist James Conca. "[W]hile this report supposedly says it's all about cost, it's really all about anti-nuclear politics," he argues. Forbes (12/15)

by James Conca at Forbes

Looking out the window from my hospital bed last week, I marveled at the clarity of Rattlesnake Ridge almost 30 miles away. The air quality was amazing.

I then looked down at an article I was reading in The Week that reported how the air quality in Beijing was so bad, the visibility so low, that a downtown factory building burned for three hours before anyone noticed!

The American public first became aware of Beijing’s bad air issue during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Coaches were having a hard time allowing our athletes to go to Beijing to train prior to the Games because the air was so toxic. The City responded by shutting down coal plants in the area, implementing forced-reduction in traffic and halting many industrial activities.  It worked pretty well for the duration of the Games.

But it’s gotten worse since then...

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