Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Union and Energy Policy

Here's the passage from tonight's State of the Union address that dealt with energy policy:

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.

The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly 10 billion dollars to develop cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative energy sources - and we are on the threshold of incredible advances. So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative - a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants; revolutionary solar and wind technologies; and clean, safe nuclear energy.

We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips, stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment ... move beyond a petroleum-based economy ... and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.
UPDATE: Some reactions. Here's Jay Reding:
[I]f we’re going to truly achieve the important goal of becoming a truly 21st Century economy, we need a radical and comprehensive plan to do so. That means a real commitment to nuclear energy. China is working on pebble-bed reactor technology that can provide massive amounts of cheap, clean, and safe nuclear energy. We can’t allow ourselves to fall behind.
Stephen Green:
The last time I heard a President get applause for saying something about nuclear power, it was Jimmy Carter. And he wasn't exactly saying nice things about it.
Self-described environmentalist Watchdog 316 signals he might budge on nuclear energy if it means curbing greenhouse gas emissions:
For the record I don’t like the concept of nuclear energy, but I believe some compromises are necessary in this battle.
For more on the Advanced Energy Initiative the President mentioned, click here. Thanks to Austin Bay for the pointer. And for NEI CEO Skip Bowman's statement on the speech, click here. And for more coverage on the rest of the speech, click here.

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Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

In a post about the energy policy proposals that may be in tonight's State of the Union address, Dean Armstrong had this to say:

There is nothing inherently wrong in nuclear power--it's cleaner than coal (yes, a point for another post). We need new energy sources as use naturally increases with time, and it's the most efficient way.
UPDATE: And be sure to visit Dave Huether at NAM blog.

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The Industrial Safety Accident Rate in the Nuclear Energy Industry

The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO)'s mission is

To maximise the safety and reliability of the operation of nuclear power plants by exchanging information and encouraging communication, comparison and emulation amongst its members.
WANO provides a wide variety of data on the nuclear industry, and today, we're going to look at the Industrial Safety Accident Rate or ISAR. According to WANO, the ISAR at U.S. nuclear power plants is far lower than the rate at related industries like electric utilities or manufacturing.


The ISAR is calculated by taking the number of accidents resulting in lost work, restricted work, or fatalities for every 200,000 worker hours. The Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to this as 100 full-time workers (100 workers * 40 hours per week * 50 weeks = 200,000 worker hours). Please note that the rate reported from BLS does not include fatalities.

To find what these rates are for other industries in the U.S. go to the BLS IIF webpage. If you scroll down to Get Detailed IIF Statistics under Create Customized Tables (one screen), you can click on Occupational injuries and illnesses (2003 forward). From here you can query any industry in the U.S. You won'’t be able to find nuclear power plants but you will be able to find Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution as well as the Manufacturing industry. For kicks, check out what some of the rates are for Financial Activities -- you'll be surprised at what you find.

On WANO's website, world performance indicators are available. The ISAR for the world is lower (.21) than the U.S. (.25) for 2004. However, only half of the plants outside the U.S. report that data. The WANO data I refer to here is for members only, so here'’s NEI'’s link to the data back to 1980.

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Natural Gas Supply Between Russia and Georgia Disrupted

From the Associated Press and Pajamas Media:

Iran started exports of natural gas to Georgia on Monday in answer to Tbilisi's appeal for help for its severe energy shortage, and Georgia's president vowed to reduce his U.S.-allied nation's energy dependence on Russia.

Mysterious explosions Jan. 22 on the Russian pipeline network that transports gas into Georgia cut off supplies to the ex-Soviet Caucacus Mountain state, leaving millions of Georgians shivering in their homes in bitterly cold temperatures...

Georgia has accused Russia of waging an energy blockade in retaliation for its government's pro-Western policies. Although Russian gas supplies resumed gradually Sunday, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili promised in a televised address to the nation that Georgia would diversify its energy imports.

"We are working to ensure that next winter, Russia's share of energy supplies in Georgia will drop significantly," he said.
Thanks to Instapundit for the pointer.

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A Civil Debate on Nuclear Energy and Renewables

Click here for a pointed, but civil, debate on nuclear energy and renewables between Dave Erickson and James Aach over at Re/Action on Climate Protection. Here's an excerpt from one of Erickson's comments:

Re: Nuclear/fossil fuel and numbers. First of all, we want to get rid of the fossil fuel plants. That's the whole reason for this discussion. In particular, we're discussing the replacement of the coal plants that generate over 50% of the power in the US as a first step. This amounts to 0.3 TW total capacity. If you figure 1000MW for a nuclear power plant, that amounts to 314 new nuclear plants. As you know, it takes 10 years to build a nuclear power plant. As you also know, it is an enormous project to build one nuclear plant, not to mention find the site.
Later, Aach responds to a number of the assumptions built into this model, but there is one point I'd like to address.

Coal powers 50% of U.S. electric generation because it is abundant and the least expensive option available. And despite the technology risk that coal represents (concerns not only about GHG emissions, but also mercury) coal is not going away anytime soon.

In other words, we won't be building 314 nuclear plants in the U.S. in the near future (whether the infrastructure to build that many plants in such a short period of time is another question entirely). NEI's best estimate is that by 2025, 30,000 MWe of new nuclear capacity will be in operation, with at least that much more under construction. According to current averages, that's about 60 plants.

And as Tim Worstall and Matt Schor have pointed out, when you keep nuclear energy as an option, reducing greenhouse gas emissions gets a whole lot easier.

Putting all our eggs in one energy basket doesn't make sense, as we discovered in 2005 when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted oil and natural gas supplies in the Gulf of Mexico. Significant fractions of that production capacity remain offline today, and some of that capacity, according to reports in the trade press, may never return to production ever again.

So we shouldn't take anything off the table. We need coal. We need IGCC. We need natural gas. We need renewables. And we need nuclear energy too.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Newsweek Highlights Nuclear Energy

Over at Newsweek's international edition, the magazine is taking a broad look at the global resurgence of nuclear energy and the reasons behind the revival. Click the following links for all of the articles in the package:

Energy: The New Nuclear Power Boom

Nuclear Energy: China Leaps Forward

India's Nukes: A Deal With 'Difficulties'

Europe: A Climate Change For Nuclear

The Nuclear Waste Problem

Thanks to Synthstuff for the pointers.

UPDATE: The Energy Blog has further thoughts.

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America's Default Energy Policy

Mac Johnson has some thoughts about America's default energy policy. Thanks to Marc Comtois for the pointer.

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New Energy Blog from NRECA

Our friends at NRECA have started a new blog, Amped Up. Check it out.

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Deutch and Moniz Propose New Course for Used Fuel Management

Today's must-read comes from yesterday's edition of The Washington Post, where former Director of the CIA John Deutch and former Undersecretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (both served during the Clinton administration), have proposed a way forward for used nuclear fuel management:

What should be done? First, and most important, the government should take title to the spent fuel stored at commercial reactor sites across the country and consolidate it at one or more federal sites until a proper disposal pathway is created. This can be done safely and securely for an extended period and, indeed, such extended storage should be incorporated into a proper disposal strategy. It would take the pressure for a hasty disposal solution off both government and industry.

Second, the president should continue his broad diplomatic effort for supplier countries such as France, Britain, Russia and the United States to supply fresh fuel (and remove spent fuel) for countries with small nuclear power programs if they agree to forgo dangerous and costly fuel cycle facilities for a significant period.

Third, Yucca Mountain should not be abandoned. Rather, the Energy Department should take a fresh look at assessing its suitability under various conditions and adjust the project schedule accordingly.

Fourth, the administration is right to consider reestablishing a strong program to explore ideas for reducing the challenges of long-term waste management while not increasing proliferation risks. But much research is needed, and it will take decades before the viability of such approaches can be evaluated, and still more time before they can be deployed. Premature technology choices and arbitrary schedules for demonstration plants will repeat past mistakes.

Fifth, Congress and the administration should not push for reprocessing of the current spent-fuel inventory. Marginal benefits for disposal are more than offset by cost; by risks to the environment, health and safety; and by the proliferation threat. This last problem, by itself, would undoubtedly provoke considerable opposition in Congress and could undermine the reconsideration of nuclear power that is now gaining momentum.

A successful waste-disposal program has to survive many administrations; a program based on reprocessing will not.
NEI's last public statement concerning used fuel management came on Jan. 17, when NEI President and CEO Skip Bowman delivered a letter to U.S. Senator James Inhofe expressing the industry's opposition to S. 2099, "The Spent Nuclear Fuel On-Site Storage Security Act of 2005."

That same day at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Deutch and Moniz serve on the faculty, Bowman delivered a lecture on the future of the industry, and addressed, specifically, what lies ahead in terms of the nuclear fuel cycle:
If the renaissance of nuclear energy now in progress around the world is to be sustainable, it must involve a lot more than simply building hundreds of new nuclear plants.

New nuclear plant construction on the scale required by the world over the next 50 years implies a significant increase in the amount of spent fuel we envisioned a few years ago and—unless we develop next-generation reprocessing technology that can pass the economical, proliferation and environmental litmus tests—an unacceptably large number of storage and disposal facilities for nuclear waste.

So we must make plans to evaluate closing the nuclear fuel cycle in the long-term, and reduce both the volume and toxicity of the waste by-product.

Finally, although we must plan for the long-term, we must continue to act in the short-term.

The long-term technology roadmap is essential, but we cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed in the short-term.

We cannot, for example, allow the long-term potential of advanced nuclear fuel processing and recycling technologies to distract us from the necessary short-term imperative: Developing centralized storage and disposal facilities for used nuclear fuel.

No matter how much we might believe in eventually closing the nuclear fuel cycle, no matter how great the long-term promise of used fuel reprocessing and actinide recycle and transmutation of fission products and fast reactors, this technology development is at least 35 to 50 years and tens of billions of dollars from fruition.

And even if we develop these technologies successfully, we will still need permanent disposal facilities.

So we must continue to develop the permanent repository planned for Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

We must have a credible program to develop centralized storage and disposal facilities in the near-term if we expect to retain federal, state and local support for building new nuclear power plants and renewing the licenses of our existing plants to operate for an additional 20 years.
For our posts from last week concerning the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, click here and here.

UPDATE: An excerpt from this morning's edition of The Energy Daily (subscription required):
The Bush Administration's so-called "fix Yucca" legislation will likely include plans to use at least one federal site for centralized storage of spent fuel while the Yucca Mountain repository is being developed, and a demonstration project to bury small amounts of nuclear waste in the underground Nevada repository...


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Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Deal for Kyoto Supporters

Virginia's Matt Schor has a message for the supporters of the Kyoto Protocol:

I'd support an international treaty for greenhouse emission reduction if it called for a meaningful reduction (e.g. 90%) and the means for achieving this, nuclear power, were explicitly agreed upon. To call for reductions without agreeing on a path to get there is just whistling in the wind.
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Nuclear Energy and Renewables Can Work Together

In today's edition of the Guardian (U.K.):

Surrounded by some of the world's roughest seas, Britain could generate a fifth of its electricity by harnessing the power of tides and waves.

The potential of marine energy is revealed in a report by the government's energy advisers. Wave and tidal power could replace the electricity that is currently produced by UK nuclear power stations, they state, and could prevent the need for Britain to rely on increased Russian gas imports.
To which Tim Worstall replied:
Wave and tide power are indeed interesting sources of electricity. But, umm, why use it to replace nuclear? Why not get 20% (roughly the current share) from nuclear, 20% from tide and wave? Then we'’d be even better little global citizens, wouldn'’t we?
Once again, we see yet another example of blinkered thinking. Worstall is correct here: There is no reason why nations can't leverage both wave energy and nuclear power in order to offset imports of natural gas. In fact, forgoing either option would put the world that much further away from achieving any sort of meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while building the new baseload electric generating capacity the world will need so much in the years to come.

Thanks to Filibuster for the pointer to the Guardian article.

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Nonproliferation Blog

We don't spend a lot of time on nonproliferation issues here at NEI Nuclear Notes, though that may change. In the interim, stop by Nuclear Fuel Cycle, a blog on nonproliferation issues published by a group of graduate students in intelligence at Mercyhurst College.

By the way, when it comes to intelligence and counterterrorism, it looks like the students at Mercyhurst have got some game.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Georgia Power and Southern Pick AP-1000 for Vogtle

Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear Operating Company announced today the companies are pursuing the Westinghouse AP1000 as the nuclear reactor technology for potential new nuclear units at the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant. The companies said the Plant Vogtle Early Site Permit (ESP) and Combined Construction and Operating License (COL) applications will be based on the AP1000 design.

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This Week in Nuclear Podcast

Our friend John Wheeler has produced Episode 5 and Episode 6 of the This Week in Nuclear podcast. Give him a listen.

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Russia Targets Nuclear to Provide 25% of Electricity by 2020

We've been writing plenty about Russia and its natural gas supplies over the past few weeks. Even though that nation has the largest proven reserves of natural gas (1,700 tcf or 27 percent of global reserves), it hasn't stopped officials from thinking about building new nuclear capacity. From RIA Novosti:

A member of Russia's financial watchdog said Friday that the development of nuclear power was the country's best energy option.

This statement echoes the national energy strategy until 2020 that ranks nuclear power as one of the main guarantors of the country's energy security.

"Our objective is to ensure that within 10 to 15 years nuclear power plants account for at least 25% of overall electricity generated in the country," Mikhail Beskhmelnitsin, an Audit Chamber expert, said. "We have to build 40 to 50 energy units during that period."
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Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

Meet Anthony Kendall.

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RFID and Nuclear Components

Hitachi has developed an interesting application for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology in the nuclear industry.

With the RFID tag system, RFID tags are attached to construction materials as they are delivered so they can be efficiently monitored in distribution management. Subsequently, it will lead to preventing human errors and ensuring the traceability of the materials used. The navigation system uses RFID tags attached to both cable cores and end terminals to simplify cable connection work and help workers easily check for errors when they connect cables.
Neat stuff.

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Reaction to GNEP Proposal

There's plenty of reaction to yesterday's news concerning the Bush Administration proposal for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, including this AP account that quotes NEI's Chief Nuclear Officer, Marv Fertel:

"Reprocessing could help avoid or delay the need for a second repository," Marvin Fertel, a senior vice president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's lobbying group, told a congressional hearing last March.

But Fertel emphasized that the nuclear industry views fuel reprocessing as a technology that is still decades away from being economical - and won't be as long as fresh uranium is plentiful and relatively cheap.
More later, as we pile through the coverage.

UPDATE: American ex-pat Jim Freeman has some thoughts.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

Visit Dvorak Uncensored.

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Bush Administration to Back Reprocessing

From today's Wall Street Journal (free feature):

The Bush administration plans to announce a $250 million initiative to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, a first step toward reversing a 1970s policy that rejected reprocessing as too dangerous to pursue.

The administration's decision to put the money into its fiscal 2007 budget to test new technologies is part of an effort to jump-start the nuclear-power industry at a time when energy prices are high and concerns about global warming make nuclear power plants more acceptable.

According to nuclear industry officials and others briefed on the proposal in recent weeks, the program could be announced as early as next week in President Bush's State of the Union address. If the technology works, it could vastly reduce the amount of spent nuclear waste that would have to be buried in underground storage, such as at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, set to open after 2012.
More later.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Westinghouse Looking To Bolster Work Force

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Apparently feeling good about its prospects under Japanese ownership, Monroeville-based Westinghouse Electric Co. yesterday hoisted a big help-wanted sign, offering a $1,000 bounty to employees for referring successful job applicants for the 400 or more openings it expects to have this year.

The nuclear power plant designer, which employs almost 9,000 worldwide, is looking to hire at least 400 people a year corporate-wide over the next six to seven years, with many of the openings in the Pittsburgh region where it employs about 3,000.
There's more going on here than just the prospect of new reactor build. The fact is, the nuclear energy work force is aging, so recruiting a new generation of plant employees across multiple disciplines is a real priority.

If you're interested in a career at any one of the nation's 103 nuclear reactors, click here for a brochure (PDF) on the sort of opportunities that are available.

Thanks to Interested Participant for the link.

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Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

Meet Ken Inman.

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Blogger Outage

NEI Nuclear Notes will be going offline briefly at about 7:00 p.m. EST so the folks at Blogger can get something fixed. They say the outage won't last long, but just be aware that you might not be able to get through to us tonight for a little while.

As always, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Protesting Greenpeace Scare Mongers

Remember the anti-nuclear ad Greenpeace U.K. released a few weeks ago? U.K. blogger David Trent wasn't amused either.

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Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

Check out Pharmacy and Compendium.

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Another Bogus European Opinion Poll

I know I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but there's another public opinion poll getting some play today that probably doesn't reflect the reality on the ground when it comes to public opinion in Europe about nuclear energy:

European citizens want their governments to focus on developing solar and wind power and are less enthusiastic about nuclear energy, according to a survey released on Tuesday.

The Eurobarometer poll showed 12 percent of those surveyed favoured developing the use of nuclear energy, while 48 percent supported solar and 31 percent backed wind power development.

(snip)

The survey, covering almost 30,000 people, was carried out in the 25 EU member countries as well as acceding and candidate states from Oct. 11 to Nov. 15 last year.

All this story really needs is a brief sentence explaining that the poll results might have been different had it been taken after the record cold snap that struck the continent simultaneously with a natural gas supply crisis. I'm not surprised they didn't bother. Click here and here for some previous examples.

Meanwhile, the U.K. has started its long-awaited energy policy review.

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Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

Meet Pat McGuinnes.

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NPR On "Take Title"

Yesterday at NPR, David Kestenbaum did a short report on legislation moving through Congress that would result in the U.S. government "taking title" of used nuclear fuel at the reactor sites where it is currently stored -- an initiative that NEI and its member companies oppose. Included in the piece is an interview with NEI's John Kane.

For more on the proposal from our archives, click here, here and here.

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China's Energy Future

Here's an informative overview from Business Week.

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European Natural Gas Crisis Continues

Across Europe, the temperatures keep dropping, and Ukraine keeps diverting natural gas supplies meant for other customers in other nations. Monday was the sixth straight day that Russia's Gazprom said that it was unable to meet demands of foreign customers.

Here's something to think about: In the 1970s, as America endured an oil embargo, nuclear energy was able to displace oil-fired electric generating capacity. Today, nuclear energy could perform the same manuver, but this time displacing natural gas, freeing up those supplies for home heating and industrial use.

Here's something else to think about: Going forward, three of the largest suppliers of natural gas will be Russia, Iran and Algeria. Conversely, the two largest sources of uranium are Canada and Australia.

Who do you trust?

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Some Notes on Decorum

I'd like to remind our readers that our comment strings are made available to debate facts and opinion, and not to make personal attacks on other participants in the forum.

Thanks for your time and attention.

New Nuclear Energy Insight Web Page Debuts

Nuclear Energy Insight, NEI’s monthly newsletter, has a new Web page for the new year.

The page, www.nei.org/Insight, features articles from each month’s publication. Readers also can access archives of past issues dating to 1997 and download entire issues. New readers can subscribe to Nuclear Energy Insight via the Web page.

The January issue of Insight features an article on a new study that reaches this conclusion: "The case for nuclear power is now solid on economics alone." There also are reports on how the Three Mile Island plant powers the local economy and how nuclear technology is helping heart patients. Other articles discuss a new partnership between two Georgia universities to educate nuclear engineers, a DOE proposal to simplify fuel-handling systems at Yucca Mountain, and increasing worldwide support for nuclear energy.

Senator McCain on Energy Security

Here's U.S. Senator John McCain from a Sunday morning interview he did with Fox News:

And the second lesson we should have learned from this, and what’s going on in Venezuela with Mr. Chavez, and what Putin did vis-a-vis the Ukraine, we’ve got to get quickly on a track to energy independence from foreign oil. And that means, among other things, going back to nuclear power.

But we better understand the vulnerabilities that our economy and our very lives have that when we’re dependent on Iranian mullahs, and wackos in Venezuela, and now Mr. Putin obviously deciding at least under one occasion to exercise the oil card, which never happened in all the days of the former Soviet Union.
Thanks to AZ Congress Watch for the pointer. And there's more from James Chang.

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Nuclear Energy Industry Transitions

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards has re-elected Graham Wallis as chairman, William Shack as vice chairman and John Sieber as member-at-large.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has appointed Jeanne Lopatto to the newly created position of special assistant for federal and international programs. Lopatto previously served as director of public affairs for the Department of Energy.

Donald Miller, vice president of Urenco Inc., left the company on Jan. 20. He had been with Urenco since 1985.

Constellation Energy’s subsidiary, Constellation NewEnergy, has named Terry Harvill vice president of regional regulatory and government affairs (Michigan and Ohio). Harvill joins Constellation NewEnergy from DTE Energy Co., where he was director of regulatory policy and operations. Harvill also served as a commissioner of the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Robert Eby will lead USEC Inc.’s American Centrifuge engineering and manufacturing operations in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Philippe Garderet is the new scientific vice president of AREVA. He will head the ITER project for the company. Alain Bucaille has filled Garderet’s former position as senior vice president, research and innovation.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has announced that Hank Courtright will serve as vice president of the environment and energy analysis sector. He previously served as vice president of the generation sector. Chris Larsen will replace him in that role. Larsen previously was managing director of EPRI International Inc.

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Progress Energy Selects Harris Site for Combined License

Progress Energy just announced it will prepare a combined construction and operating license (COL) for its Harris Nuclear Plant, southwest of Raleigh, N.C.

The company also announced it has selected Westinghouse Electric Company to supply the reactors for the potential future expansion of Progress Energy's nuclear generation in the Carolinas. These announcements are important next steps in the process as the company continues to evaluate options to meet the demands of its rapidly growing customer base.

...

"A renewed emphasis on conservation and energy efficiency is an important factor in planning for the future," said [Bob McGehee, chairman and CEO of Progress Energy]. "However, even with more conservation and energy-efficiency programs, energy use will continue to grow as more people move to this region. To meet that growing demand for electricity, we'll need to add significant new power generation.

...

The company informed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in August 2005 of its plans to submit a combined operating license (COL) application for a nuclear power plant. It updated those plans Nov. 1, 2005, to include a second COL, one for Florida and one for the Carolinas. Each COL covers up to two reactors at each site.

This step is necessary to obtain a license should the company decide that a new nuclear unit is the best option for meeting the need for additional generation. The application for the COL could be filed in late 2007 or early 2008. If approved by the NRC -- and if the decision to build is made -- construction could begin as early as 2010, and a new plant could be online around 2016.
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Sunday, January 22, 2006

NBC's West Wing: "Duck and Cover" Indeed...

Oh, Lisa, I agree with almost everything you just said, but I'll come back to that later... As Lisa did a good job blogging here, NBC aired their Duck and Cover episode of West Wing tonight.

I saw no basis in reality for any of the show. Isn't it great how even the characters on the show point fingers at the regulators for failures instead of the companies who own them and have a vested interest in running them well? Only in Hollywood does the agency blamed for the failure also get to the hero and kill one of their own putting a stop to the emergency... oh, I'm am so getting ahead of myself...

OK, first of all no stuck valve is going to require rigging a temporary cooling pipe. Current nuclear designs are not so fragile that simply any one or two valves failing could put the public in jeopardy. That's all phrased in the negative. Put another way, the reactor has one source of cooling while operating, a different sources of cooling (often 2 or 3) while shutdown, and yet two or three more sources of cooling in the event that something abnormal happens. So we're already closer to the truth of 12 different things (or 50) that have to go wrong to produce a meltdown.

[What? Are nuclear types allowed to say, "meltdown"?]

It's so difficult to address the mischaracterizations in the show. I can't even call them 'issues' because they're not.

I could tell you how ludicrous it is to suggest that a temporary cooling pipe would crack as soon as it's put into use, but it galls to even talk about it. I know there would be no need to install a temporary pipe in the first place, let alone to install one not designed for it's inteneded use. (The cracking issue sounds good on tv, complete with the ice/hot water/glass analogy. But try this on for size: take a glass out of the cabinet and put ice cubes and water in it. Does it break? No, it's the ice in the hot water that breaks glass. Care to tell me how these fictional engineers in this fictional power station installed this fictional temporary pipe while it was still holding hot water? Of course not! The pipe installed would have been high quality, safety pipe off the shelf, reviewed and approved for the intended design use.)

Let's see, what else? The very idea that anybody would want an economic major of a president calling the shots instead of the people who know the physics of nuclear energy, materials and radiation is horrifying. What happened to all the experts who spent their entire careers working and studying every nth detail of anything that could go wrong and then some? They all sit on their hands and let the president tell them what to do? Shouldn't there be a procedure for how to deal with what goes wrong when everything goes wrong?

Argh! Yes! Even in the absurd examples shown on this show, there are procedures for how to respond to Hollywood-style unreality events. Why write procedures you never plan on using? Not because the danger is so great, but simply so that when something happens that you don't expect, decisions are made by a rational analysis of the problem years in advance. The people in the crisis aren't faced with winging it. All these safety procedures that people like to pretend are proof that nuclear is dangerous are a programmatic means of dealing with an emergency long before any emergency happens. Decisions are made logically while not in an adrenalin rush, and then written down and filed away for when they're needed. How many other ways to get cooling, where to get emergency equipement from, how many people to evacuate, who to shelter and when... It's not a crystal ball and it's not magic.

Don't even get me started on pressurizing an auxiliary building to 50 pounds and worrying about a bad weld somewhere. Come on, get a grip, for pity's sake! Buildings are designed for equipment and workers. While it is possible to pressurize the containment (they're made airtight for a reason) the containment and the other buildings have scrubbers, filters, sampling, monitors and gas treatment for even their ventilation. Any single stuck open valve that could release something not designed to be released also has a backup system to protect the public - another valve in line with it that can be closed, for example. And this isn't necromancy or trial and error; if safety procedures call for something as absurd as a pump to add cooling to the core, then the procedures will also require it be kept on site, how big it is, what capacity it has to have, and calculations will show that it will work - not merely reduce the temperature by 12 degrees instead of hundreds.

Did you ever consider where all that steam being "pumped" to the auxiliary building was coming from? [Why am I suddenly reminded of the kid trying to collect fog in a bucket? "Pump steam to the auxiliary building?"] Simple physics will tell you that the steam is generated by taking heat away from the core. So, you can't have a lack of cooling and too much steam generated at the same time. Pick one problem or the other...

Enough. You get the idea. I'll probably get spun up over it again and post more later. But I should also tell Lisa where I disagree with her. Vinnick's words (Alan Alda's character) were right much of the time (though not always), but that wasn't the point, nor was the idea to throw a bone to the pro-nuclear audience. Vinnick was designed to be a pro-nuclear albatross around our necks. The show writers set him up to present pro-nuclear arguments, so that anybody who tried to take his side in day-to-day conversations would be seen as he is in the show - the bad guy. "Oh, you think nuclear is a non-polluting technology? Even if it requires evacuating half California?" It's a straw-man argument to set up all pro-nukes to be the same pariah that Vinnick is. They did no favors to the country, or to energy policy, or to cheap, clean electricity production.

Is there a musical episode of West Wing in the offing? I'm not surprised they're losing their audience and cancelling the show. As much as I've liked the show, I'm not even too disappointed, either.

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The West Wing's Nuclear Farce

When I first decided to pursue a degree in nuclear engineering, my mom said to me, “Lisa, you realize this means we will never have a meaningful conversation about your work, right? I get a math rash balancing my checkbook.” But over the years, she's picked up quite a bit of information from my frequent chattering about nuclear issues. While she and I have quite a few political differences, I have to smile when she calls me to rail against the propaganda she sees from local antinuclear activists.

So I decided to give her a heads up that one of her favorite shows, The West Wing, would be airing tonight an absurd episode involving a nuclear power plant accident. She said, “You know I wouldn’t believe what they say without talking to you.” I’ve trained her well! Too bad the writers at NBC don’t have the same inclination to speak to someone with some educational, technical, and working background in the nuclear industry before writing fairy tales. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a few of the errors in the West Wing episode based on a preliminary script. At that time, I said that I would take the post down if NBC decided to alter the script to reflect reality. Unfortunately, the episode played closely to that script and I think it is important that I re-post a few of the falsehoods. I hope more of my colleagues chime in.

First, the spoiler says, "the feedwater pump failed. Kate inserts that the feedwater pump carries radioactive, hot water to the steam generator..." Raise your hand if your PWR has a feedwater pump between the reactor vessel and the steam generators. No one?

But that is almost a forgivable error compared to the failure to mention that there are backup pumps, backup systems, and backup water sources to ensure that core cooling is maintained. The script says that personnel at the plant were able to install a "temporary cooling line...to the core." I defy the writers to describe exactly how things like safety injection systems and gravity-fed emergency cooling can be categorized as "temporary."

While they do mention that many, many things must go wrong for anyone to be harmed by a nuclear power plant incident, they conveniently eliminate all of the actual safety systems that make it a true statement. Like the fact that even though designs ensure that there is plenty of backup cooling, PWR containment buildings can withstand steam buildup from a loss of coolant accident. Venting in the auxiliary buildings? Only if I'm there expressing my frustration with antinuclear propaganda.
After watching the episode tonight, I was astounded that, in addition to the technical errors, they couldn’t even get logistical and administrative details correct. Plants are required by federal law to have highly-developed and detailed evacuation plans. In the extremely unlikely event that an evacuation would be necessary, officials would not be playing it by ear. There is also a finely tuned communications plan, onsite NRC inspectors would know the details of the situation as they happened, and NRC headquarters would be directly linked to an emergency command center. The mass confusion among the heads of the affected government agencies would just not occur. Furthermore, the EPA doesn’t set radiation dose limits, and the president would never have the authorization to make operational decisions.

In short, the writers didn’t just make a small, obscure highly technical error here and there. They wrote a complete farce and made no attempt to make it plausible.

I did like that Alan Alda’s character pointed out the contribution nuclear makes in combating climate change, but that still doesn’t excuse NBC for perpetuating nuclear myths that make a fair pubic debate impossible.

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NBC Cancels West Wing

Guess that nuclear accident storyline didn't help:

The new president on "The West Wing" will be a real short-timer: NBC announced Sunday it was pulling the plug on the Emmy-winning political drama after seven seasons in May.

NBC, struggling to regain its footing after the worst season in its history, also outlined several midseason schedule changes _ including the moves of popular dramas "Law & Order" and "Las Vegas."

"The West Wing" announcement wasn't much of a surprise. Although this season's story line with a presidential campaign involving a Democrat played by Jimmy Smits and Republican portrayed by Alan Alda has been strong critically, ratings have sunk with its move to Sunday nights.
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Friday, January 20, 2006

California PUC Announces Plan to Cap GHG Emissions

Thanks to my colleague Mary Quillian, I was able to find the following draft decision that was issued late last week by the California Public Utilities Commission:

Today we state our intent to develop a load-based cap on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E), Southern California Edison Company (SCE), and non-utility load serving entities (LSEs) that provide electric power to customers within these respondents' service territories. Over the longer term, we also intend to develop a GHG limitation program that includes emissions from the natural gas sector, as the requisite emission reporting and certification protocols become available.

As discussed in this decision, we will establish a baseline for the GHG emissions cap on a historical year basis, with 1990 as our preferred reference year. Our final determination on this matter will await further consideration of implementation issues associated with using this particular year as the reference, including the availability of adequate historical emissions data for the investor-owned utilities (IOUs) and other LSEs. We also leave to the implementation phase our consideration of the appropriate level of emissions reductions (and associated caps) over time, relative to the base year.
Though I haven't found any schedule for hearings, the CPUC has invited public comments on the draft decision. These are due to the CPUC on February 2, 20 days following the publication of the decision. Comments may not exceed 15 pages.

More later.

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Miss Nevada On Board With Yucca Mountain

Couldn't help but notice this item this morning:

Crystal Wosik, the first Miss Nevada to preside over a Miss America pageant held in the Silver State, tried to put the rest of the country at ease Thursday over the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

"During her interview with the judges, they asked her what she thought about Yucca Mountain and she told them that it has to go someplace, and that (Yucca Mountain) was the best-built facility in the country," said the state's pageant director Nancy Ames, following the interview portion of the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas.
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Program Reminder On West Wing

Just a friendly reminder that the episode of the West Wing that deals with a nuclear accident at a fictional California nuclear power plant airs on Sunday night on NBC.

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Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

Meet Robert Synott.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Jeopardy! Tackles Nuclear Energy

In case you missed it last night, click here for video from the first round of last night's episode of Jeopardy!, which contained a category on nuclear energy.

UPDATE: Here's a breakdown of the questions and answers (or is it answers and questions?):

$200 A boiling water reactor produces this vapor inside the reactor vessel to generate power. What is steam?

$400 These slender tubes holding fissionable materials are bundled together and loaded into the core. What are [fuel] rods?

$600 It may be a person who slows down two debaters, or a substance that slows down neutrons to permit fission. What is a moderator?

$800 Entergy Corp. says that the Indian Point plant’s containment structures are this material, 3 ½’ to 6’ thick. What is concrete?

$1,000 In the photo here, everything is working normally as these two towers do their jobs. What are cooling towers?

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

More Polling Sleight of Hand from the Guardian

A few weeks ago, we told you about a poll commissioned by the Guardian (U.K.) that claimed a majority of Britons opposed the expansion of nuclear power. Of course, what the Guardian failed to mention was that the poll had been taken weeks before Russia decided to play games with Western Europe's natural gas supply.

Then, I said it might be time to take another poll. And the same holds true today, as the Guardian is touting results from a poll that was done by the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research:

[T]he Tyndall Centre today releases the results of a survey of public attitudes to climate change and nuclear power, which show that 42% of people oppose building nuclear reactors and 34% support it. The results broadly mirror previous surveys: a Guardian/ICM poll last month showed 48% against new building and 45% for.

The Tyndall Centre survey of 1,491 people, carried out with Mori, found 60% of people supporting new building as long as renewable energy sources were developed and used at the same time, and 63% agreed that Britain needed nuclear power as part of a mix of sources to ensure a reliable supply. However, 74% said that nuclear power should not be considered as a solution for climate change before all other energy options had been explored.
I have no reason to doubt the poll's methodology, but I can still question the results, which were based on interviews done in October and November of 2005 (PDF), weeks before the Guardian's outdated poll.

Like I said before, it's time for another poll. Or perhaps the Guardian and the Tyndall Centre would prefer to wait until news of Vladimir Putin's mercurial habits disappear down the memory hole?

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Summary of Long Now Debate on Nuclear Energy

We've been passed an e-mail summary of Friday night's Long Now debate on climate change and nuclear energy that was authored by Stewart Brand. The account is reprinted below:

The Long Now Foundation
Seminars on Long-term Thinking

Climate Change and Nuclear Prospects
(Cavanagh-Schwartz discussion)

Given the power to decide who would go first--- anti-nuke Ralph Cavanagh from Natural Resources Defense Counsel or pro-nuke Peter Schwartz from Global Business Network--- the large audience Friday night voted for Schwartz to make the opening argument.

It is the threat of "abrupt climate change" that converted him to support new emphasis on nuclear power, Schwartz said. Gradual global warming is clearly now under way, and there is increasing reason to believe that human activity is driving it, mostly through the burning of coal and oil. If warming is all that happens, it will be an enormous problem, but some regions of the Earth would gain (Russia,Canada) while many others would lose.

In the event of abrupt climate change, though, everyone loses. The most likely change would be a sudden (in one decade) shift to a much colder, drier, and windier world. The world's carrying capacity for humans would plummet, driving human population from the current 6.5 billion to as low as 2 billion, with most of the losses from war. It would be a civilization-threatening catastrophe. From research Schwartz has led for the Pentagon as well as from his own training in fluid dynamics, he thinks that continuation of the current warming is very likely to trigger the kind of radical climate instability that has been the norm in Earth's past, except for the last 10,000 years of uncharacteristically stable climate. Therefore everything must be done to head off the shift to climate instability.

Meanwhile, Schwartz said, world demand for energy will continue to grow for decades, as two billion more people climb out of poverty and developing nations become fully developed economies. China and India alone will double or quadruple their energy use over the next 50 years.We will run out of oil in that period. That leaves coal or nuclear for electricity. Conservation is crucial, but it doesn't generate power. Renewables must grow fast, but they cannot hope to fill the whole need.

Nuclear technology has improved its efficiency and safety and can improve a lot more. Reprocessing fuel will add further efficiency.

The discussion format called for Cavanagh to quiz Schwartz for ten minutes, drawing out his views further. Cavanagh asked, "What about the storage of nuclear waste?" "We defined the problem wrong,"Schwartz said. "Storage for thousands of years is not needed. The present storage on site in concrete casks is working, and the 'waste'is available as a further energy source with later technology." In the discussion Schwartz also pointed out that new reactor sites are not needed in the US, since all the existing sites are expandable.

The format called for Cavanagh to now summarize Schwartz's argument. He did so to Schwartz's satisfaction, adding a point Schwartz missed--- recent findings indicating that the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now the highest it has been in 25,000 to 400,000 years.

It was Ralph Cavanagh's turn to present for 15 minutes, striding the front of the stage. He began by agreeing that messing with the atmosphere and thus the climate is a "suicidal" experiment for humanity to be conducting, and it has to be stopped. He agreed that nuclear should not be considered taboo and should be included as a candidate clean power source, but its history is not encouraging. No new reactors have built in the US since 1973. Nevada has stonewalled on waste storage at Yucca Mountain. The nuclear industry has all manner of government subsidies, loan guarantees, and protections from liability. It has never competed in the open market with other energy sources.

California, Cavanagh said, has led the way in developing a balanced energy policy. Places like China are paying close attention. PG&E has become the world's largest investor in efficiency, led by Carl Weinberg (who was in the audience and got a round of applause). And now there are signs that California may become the leader in setting limits to carbon emissions. Within limits like that, then the private sector can compete with full entrepreneurial zest, and may the best technologies
win. Nuclear would have to compete fairly with new forms of biofuels and with ever improving renewables.

Schwartz asked Cavanagh about the large government subsidies for solar research while there have been none for nuclear (except fusion). Cavanagh said the subsidies were declining, and should. There should be more funding for R&D in biofuels and other alternatives, but the main role for government should be in setting emission standards and then let the private sector duke it out for the best solutions.

Schwartz summarized Cavanagh's argument to his satisfaction (many later reported they liked that feature of the evening), and then a host of written questions came from the audience. Asked for a catalog of desirable new technologies, Schwartz wanted cheaper solar, effective energy storage (batteries are painfully limited), and a better electrical grid, while Cavanagh would like more R&D on vehicles and breakthroughs on coal processing.

My take on the evening is that Cavanagh was particularly persuasive on the need for nuclear to compete on the open market, and Schwartz was persuasive on the direness of climate prospects and the relative readiness of nuclear power to help.

--Stewart
The debate is continuing over at the Long Now's discussion forum.

UPDATE: More from the Digital Crusader.

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Nuclear Energy Industry Transitions

Cameco Corp.'s newest board member is John Clappison. Clappison recently retired as the managing partner of the Toronto office of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

PPL Corp. Vice President James Seif is resigning to serve as campaign manager for Bill Scranton, a Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate. Seif had been vice president of PPL for nearly five years.

In addition, PPL Corp. has named Matt Simmons vice president and controller, effective, Jan 30. Simmons currently is vice president of finance and controller at Duke Energy Americas. PPL also announced appointments to two newly created positions, effective immediately: Russell Clelland, formerly director of finance, is now assistant treasurer, while Mark Woods has transitioned from director of financial accounting and reporting to assistant controller.

Duke Power has named Ronald Jones senior vice president of nuclear operations. Jones formerly was vice president of Oconee Nuclear Station. Bruce Hamilton will fill that position.

FirstEnergy Corp. has named Bennett Gaines vice president and chief information officer, effective Jan. 31. Gaines joins FirstEnergy from Cinergy Corp., where he was vice president and chief information officer.

The Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) has promoted Charles Moriarty to chief financial officer and vice president of corporate services–financial. Moriarty has been with OPPD since August 1967. In addition, OPPD has elected officers to its 2006 Board of Directors. Del Weber is chairman, Fred Ulrich is vice chairman, John Green is treasurer and N.P. Dodge Jr. is secretary.

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Hanson on Energy Security

Victor Davis Hanson says it's time for the left and right in American politics to meet in the middle and do something about America's energy independence and energy security:

If the left pushed nuclear power and more drilling, and the right pushed more mandatory efficiency standards and alternative fuels, the United States could cut its imports and collapse the world price.

Imagine the dividends to America that transcend even scaling down our trade imbalances. Cash-hungry failed foreign nations would now have fewer resources to aid terrorists like al Qaeda or Hezbollah, or even to fund anti-Western madrassas. The Arab Street would have to blame its own elites for mismanagement rather than Western bogeymen. And it would be far easier to curb weapons of mass destruction if madmen lacked the oil to pay for them.
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Monday, January 16, 2006

Lovelock: Earth in "Grave Danger"

Scientist and climate expert James Lovelock, who has been warning for the past two years that the world must turn toward nuclear energy in order to lower greenhouse gas emissions and stave off the effects of global warming, is raising the alarm once again in the pages of the Independent (U.K.):

The climate centres around the world, which are the equivalent of the pathology lab of a hospital, have reported the Earth's physical condition, and the climate specialists see it as seriously ill, and soon to pass into a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years. I have to tell you, as members of the Earth's family and an intimate part of it, that you and especially civilisation are in grave danger.
On February 2, Lovelock's next book, The Revenge of Gaia will be published. For a preview, click here.

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U.K. Labor Leader Endorses New Nuclear Build

U.K. labor leader Derek Simpson is getting his union ready to put its weight behind new nuclear build:

"The debate on the energy crisis is in limbo and we need urgent action or Britain will face the prospect of blackouts and soaring utility bills over the next five years.

"The nation's energy needs will be hostage to politically unstable states unless the Government's energy policy promotes clean coal technology and new nuclear power build."
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The Price Of Dependence on Russian Natural Gas

Writing in the Weekly Standard, Daniel Twining, a fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, has a warning for countries that become dependent on Russia for supplies of natural gas:

A closer look at the way Russia has wielded energy supplies to support its allies and bludgeon its rivals in Eurasia suggests that major economies increasingly dependent on Russian gas and oil exports--including great powers in Europe and Asia, and even the United States--are rendering themselves vulnerable to the ambitions of an autocratic, imperial state that has not refrained from using energy as a geopolitical weapon and has been ruthless in its treatment of both internal political opponents and neighboring states.
For more, click here for an overview of the situation from Lionel Beener from the Council on Foreign Relations.

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