Friday, April 29, 2005

Nuclear Energy Outside the Beltway

Over at Outside the Beltway, Steve Verdon is musing about the nuclear component of President Bush's national energy policy:

I do agree that more nuclear power is probably a good idea and that there probably should be a very serious look at and overhaul of the regulations for nuclear energy. Other countries have been using nuclear power safely for decades. One problem with increasing nuclear power in the U.S. are the hysterical environmentalists who ironically want to cut CO2 emissions, but at the same time don't want to switch to nuclear power which emits no CO2. Another problem, which is derived in part from the previous problem, is the exorbitant costs due to the regulations on nuclear power. So while this would be a good direction to go in, I doubt that we will go in that direction.

While I understand where Steve is coming from (before I came to work in the nuclear energy industry I shared many of the same misconceptions), I have some additional information that sheds some more light on the argument. First up, the environmental movement isn't quite so monolithic in its opposition to nuclear energy any longer. Over the past two months we've introduced our readers to figures like James Lovelock, Hugh Montefiore, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore and most recently, countercultural icon Stewart Brand -- all environmentalists who have endorsed the expansion of nuclear energy because it emits no greenhouse gases.

Granted there is still opposition inside the activist community, but there are clear indications that the public pronouncements of these figures are beginning to have an effect -- one that was most recently seen over at environmental pub, Grist.

Then again, when the activists decide to come out and play, nuclear supporters are proving to be more than ready for them.

As to his concerns about regulation, the NRC has made a commitment to the concept of performance based and safety-focused regulation, something that NEI CEO Skip Bowman made a point of mentioning earlier this year in his luncheon speech at the NRC's 2005 Regulatory Information Conference:

In short, reactor safety, security and emergency planning should work synergistically, in a conservative, but realistic way, to protect public health and safety regardless of whether challenges to plant safety are operational, acts of God, or acts of terrorists.

In the past, pure deterministic regulatory approaches led, in some cases, to gross over design in the zeal to build in unrealistic margins to protect against unrealistic events. This new concept, introduced only a few years ago, calls for application of realistic engineering, physics and experience centered on safety.

The NRC took the first step in this direction when it transformed the reactor oversight process to common sense, objective criteria that are focused on those systems and components that are most important to safety.

First thought to be unworkable, the safety-focused reactor oversight process demonstrates that this concept can work and bring practical discipline and rigor to the process.

And when it comes to the possibility of building new plants, 16 companies are working through three consortia to demonstrate the combined operating license process. Then there's the three companies nearing a decision from the NRC regarding early site permits.

Safe to say, there's plenty of reasons for optimism in the nuclear energy business today.

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1 comment:

Karen said...

Hey, smart people...It's YOUR fault! Read this article I came across today by Peggy Noonan and pasted in below: July 19, 2006 WSJ article PEGGY NOONAN

The Heat Is On
On global warming, the media's continuing power, Ralph Reed--and revisiting last week's column.

Thursday, July 20, 2006 12:01 a.m.

During the past week's heat wave--it hit 100 degrees in New York City Monday--I got thinking, again, of how sad and frustrating it is that the world's greatest scientists cannot gather, discuss the question of global warming, pore over all the data from every angle, study meteorological patterns and temperature histories, and come to a believable conclusion on these questions: Is global warming real or not? If it is real, is it necessarily dangerous? What exactly are the dangers? Is global warming as dangerous as, say, global cooling would be? Are we better off with an Earth that is getting hotter or, what with the modern realities of heating homes and offices, and the world energy crisis, and the need to conserve, does global heating have, in fact, some potential side benefits, and can those benefits be broadened and deepened? Also, if global warning is real, what must--must--the inhabitants of the Earth do to meet its challenges? And then what should they do to meet them?
You would think the world's greatest scientists could do this, in good faith and with complete honesty and a rigorous desire to discover the truth. And yet they can't. Because science too, like other great institutions, is poisoned by politics. Scientists have ideologies. They are politicized.

All too many of them could be expected enter this work not as seekers for truth but agents for a point of view who are eager to use whatever data can be agreed upon to buttress their point of view.

And so, in the end, every report from every group of scientists is treated as a political document. And no one knows what to believe. So no consensus on what to do can emerge.

If global warming is real, and if it is new, and if it is caused not by nature and her cycles but man and his rapacity, and if it in fact endangers mankind, scientists will probably one day blame The People for doing nothing.

But I think The People will have a greater claim to blame the scientists, for refusing to be honest, for operating in cliques and holding to ideologies. For failing to be trustworthy.