Friday, May 30, 2008

Ralph Nader at NEI - the Wrapup

Ralph Nader and some Greenpeace activists showed up yesterday outside our offices to shout slogans and wave signs - well, not Nader himself, but his crew. As you may know, Washington is the go-to stop on Amtrak when you have a sign and a slogan, so the lunchtime crowd is very used to this happening pretty much every day. In our view, Nader and crew should have promoted his appearance a little better, perhaps on D.C.'s numerous college campuses. As is, the whole thing seemed a bit ad hoc.

But it would be churlish of us not to include some photos. These were taken by NEI's staff photog, Anna Gomez.

protest

This was directly in front of NEI's building - the front door faces a corner - and is what was going on before Mr. Nader arrived. This looks like a pretty thin crowd, but deceptively so - about 35 or so people aside from NEI employees turned out and some lunchtimers stopped for a moment or two to listen.

nader1

Here's Mr. Nader. The microphones poking at him are from various energy news outlets, like Platts. We didn't notice major press figures, though of course they might have been there. Note "Nukes" on the sign - a little whiff of eighties nostalgia. Happily, there were no headbands or day-glo pants on view.

Mr. Nader was a little taller than I expected, a bit slouchy and a bit hangdog. He has a strong, distinctive voice, but directed his comments mostly at those microphones rather than the gathered throng. He did deliver a bit of what seemed his stump speech on energy issues - you can get a sense of that at his web site - but was a fairly modest presence for a presidential candidate. I think we can assume he wants to promote issues that matter to him rather than have to pick an Agriculture Secretary, so the small audience and pack of interested newshounds seem about right.

Well, a little excitement on a Thursday - everyone was quite gracious, the tone remained friendly and inclusive rather than combative, and the Greenpeace folks looking to snare donations were as chirpy and animated as can be. It was a treat for many here to shake hands with Mr. Nader and express respect for what his life has been and continues to be: substantial, unique and very American.

The only outside link to this event I've found is to Crosswalk, a Christian outlet. If you find others, add them in the comments.

NEI's Energy Markets Report - May 19-23, 2008

Here's a summary of what went on in the energy markets last week:

Electricity peak prices decreased $1-24/MWh at all hubs except for Entergy. PJM West fell to $64/MWh, the lowest price it’s been over the past four months, due to moderate temperatures. Entergy prices increased to $83/MWh, the highest price since the end of July 2006, due to hot temperatures at the end of last week. ERCOT peak prices fell less than $1/MWh last week; however, the ERCOT Houston and ERCOT South hubs “baffled” experts as the peak prices rocketed to $315-440/MWh last Friday – Platts, Megawatt Daily 5/27 (see pages 1 and 3).

Estimated nuclear plant availability increased to 88 percent last week. Three units finished refueling outages and three units began maintenance (see pages 2 and 4).

Gas prices at the Henry Hub fell $0.04 to $11.31/MMBtu (see pages 1 and 3). According to EIA, the final leg of the Rockies Express West pipeline is in service. This 210-mile segment connects Audrain County, Missouri, with almost 500 miles of REX-West that had already begun service in January 2008. REX-West is a 42-inch-diameter pipeline that begins in Weld County, Colorado providing 1.5 Bcf per day of capacity from Rockies production fields to markets in the Midwest. By the end of 2009, the pipeline is expected to expand further eastward to Clarington, Ohio, as part of the 638-mile REX-East segment.

Uranium spot prices remained at $60/lb U3O8 for the third week in a row (see pages 1 and 3). According to EIA’s 2007 Uranium Marketing Annual Report, owners and operators of U.S. civilian nuclear power reactors purchased a total of 51 million pounds U3O8e (uranium oxide equivalent) of deliveries at a weighted-average price of $32.78 per pound U3O8e. The 2007 total of 51 million pounds U3O8e decreased 23 percent compared with the 2006 total of 67 million pounds U3O8e. Eight percent of the 51 million pounds U3O8e delivered in 2007 was U.S.-origin uranium at a weighted-average price of $28.89 per pound U3O8e. Foreign-origin uranium accounted for the remaining 47 million pounds (92 percent) of deliveries at a weighted-average price of $33.05 per pound U3O8e.
For the report click here. It is also located on NEI's Financial Center webpage.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

McCain to Miss Lieberman-Warner Vote

John McCainIn yet another sign that Lieberman-Warner is DOA, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has announced that he will not be present when the Senate begins debate on the Lieberman Warner Climate Security Act next week. From The Washington Post,

In a press conference late Wednesday afternoon, McCain said he did not support the bill sponsored by two of his closest allies, Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) because it doesn't offer enough aid to the nuclear industry, and he would not come to the floor to vote on it.

"I have not been there for a number of votes. The same thing happened in the campaign of 2000," he said. "The people of Arizona understand I'm running for president."

While he backs the idea of a mandatory limit on greenhouse gases, he added, he's "been disappointed so far there has not been a robust" provision in the bill for greenhouse gases.

Westinghouse in the Press

Local news reporter straight out of central casting (Jon Delano) aside, a nice piece about Westinghouse ran on Pittsburgh's KDKA last night. (Video is available here.) With orders for six new plants in the U.S. and four in China,the folks at Westinghouse have sure been busy.

Ralph Nader to Visit NEI

nader We bow to no one in our respect for Ralph Nader and the work he has done to expose government and corporate corruption and to work always for his fellow citizens. By extension, he has done good work for many other people throughout the world by inspiring them to look closely at their own institutions and to find fault where fault is found.

Mr. Nader has always been a gadfly, and a highly effective one, buzzing through the last several presidential elections, often with the Green Party, and persisting despite a certain wariness on the part of the press. Nader is completely free of any spin and external agenda aside from his own; his willingness to speak truth to the various powers that can overwhelm our lives is vital if the idea of America is to function at all - he cuts through the cant to get at the truth and then tries to make the truth more powerful than the myths that many prefer to subscribe to.

We ruminate about Mr. Nader because he will be speaking about nuclear energy outside the building NEI occupies. He will be there because NEI is here (we have two floors of a 13 story building, so our neighbors are in for a treat). Mr. Nader really, really doesn't like nuclear energy and hasn't liked it since at least the seventies.

Here's some of the announcement:

Now, nuclear power is resurgent.

Why?

Because politicians like McCain, Obama and Clinton all want to keep nuclear power on the table.

All three support legislation that would provide government taxpayer subsidies and guarantees to power companies to build nuclear power plants.

...

The billions are far safer and better spent supporting energy efficiency and solar energy projects than building these nuclear national security risk boondoggles.

...

Once again, we will be saying loud and clear - No Nukes.

To us, this has the whiff of the coffee house and of earnest folk singers singing earnest songs. The flyer mentions solar, but Nader favors any renewable, emission-free energy source that isn't nuclear.

We could quibble quite a lot about Nader's stances around nuclear - you can read all about it at his Web site - but won't in this post. We will say that Nader is holding tightly to ideas that have seen their best days come and go, but he's allowed. After all, if Robert De Niro can play in Bullwinkle, Ralph Nader can stage slightly old-style No Nukes gatherings without endangering his legacy. It is what it is.

So if you find yourself around 19th and I in DC today at noon, stop on by and see Ralph Nader. Shake hands with him: he's a living legend, after all - a vexing one for us, certainly, but there you go.

By all means, visit Mr. Nader's Web site and see what you think. They have a blog (where the above snippets come from), a way for you to contribute to his campaign, and various position papers.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

SCANA to Build Two New Nuclear Reactors

SCANA (SCG) subsidiary, South Carolina Electric & Gas, announced Tuesday that they had reached a contractual agreement with Westinghouse and the Shaw Group (SGR) to design and build two 1,117-megawatt nuclear power plants at the Virgil C. Summer Station near Jenkinsville, SC. The AP 1000 reactors are slated to become operational in 2016.

Tuesday after-hours trading was up for SGR and SCG. The Wall St. love continued Wednesday: Shaw Group shares rose $3.42 (5.9%), SCANA shares were up 25 cents (.62%).

No Hope, All Is Lost: A New Argument Against Nuclear Energy

MV5BNTE3MjI2NjM2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzUxNjY2._V1._CR96,0,221,221_SS100_Glenn Compton, chairman of ManaSota-88, a regional environmental  group (the region being Florida), writes in the Sarasota Herald Tribune about the utter terribleness of nuclear energy. Now, it's not really fun or enlightening to find these little screeds and promote them to you, because the arguments are mostly identical, have long been discredited and, we should note, are fading: a fair number of environmental activists are finding a place at their tables for nuclear energy.

However, a couple of Glenn's angles struck us as different enough, if a little grim, to highlight:

In the United States, electricity generation emits less than half of the carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide is a major contributing greenhouse gas and comes mainly from burning fossil fuels.

Demand for gasoline and coal is expected to increase greatly with the predicted growth of global economies. Even if the United States were to construct as many nuclear power plants as quickly as possible, carbon dioxide emissions are projected to double worldwide by 2025. The greenhouse effect is likely to become far worse before it ever gets better.

His solution? He offers none. Things are going to get worse, nothing can stop or mitigate it, and cats will be living with dogs.

Well, here's a stab at a solution:

The choice is not between the continued use of fossil fuels or building additional nuclear power plants. Another option, cheaper than any new energy supply and causing no increase in greenhouse gas emissions, is energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency and conservation save money, reduce the need for coal mining and oil and natural gas drilling, reduce power plant emissions and make America less dependent on foreign oil interests.

Actually, this kind of thinking makes us happy we live in a society - and really a world - where corporate citizens, for all their manifest flaws, act in concert with human citizens, for all their manifest flaws, to think up ways to improve a situation in which they are essentially partners. This hands-off-the-corporate-world argument is very unusual from someone running an environmental group and one we turn a fishy eye to.

(To be fair, Glenn does tout solar energy a bit - Florida seems the place for it sunshine-wise, though perhaps solar is a bit problematic because the parts of the state that aren't built up are protected wetlands and such.)

And finally:

Proponents of nuclear power are exploiting public concern about global warming to justify nuclear power expansion, but nuclear energy is not the answer to global warming.

No, no, not the answer, an answer. Really, it's not an all-or-nothing proposition.

And hey, let's not use "exploit" like it's a dirty word - the public concern is real, nuclear energy is part of the solution and what else are proponents to do but exploit (to make productive use of) that reality. After all, Compton is propounding some fatalist notions and exploiting fears that all will end in grief - oops, that's actually the other definition of exploit (to make use of meanly or unfairly).

Well, read the whole thing. We really do hope that the environmental movement isn't entering an end-of-days period - there's more hope than not on this issue. You don't have to trust us on this - just look around you.

Picture from The Day After Tomorrow. Silly movie, but good special effects.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

And The Wind Cries Nimby

windmillAfter you've read the John McCain quote in the post below, you may  wonder if, by proposing to put used nuclear fuel, including that of the United States, into some kind of international repository, he is falling prey to the worst NIMBY argument imaginable or acknowledging that other countries, notably Russia, have offered to serve as just such a repository.

Frankly, we don't know, but his comments did highlight the NIMBY issues that can infect any effort, however benign it might otherwise seem. Take, for example, wind power, which doesn't generate anything that needs to be recycled or stored but does require expansive land masses on which to plant windmills.

Artist Grahame Sydney yesterday said nuclear power in New Zealand was preferable to a huge wind farm on the Lammermoor Range in Central Otago.

Well, we can't fault Mr. Sydney for bad taste in energy choices. Let's see what else he has to say:

"If given the option between 176 turbines on the sweeping Central Otago vistas and a single nuclear station, I would certainly prefer the latter," Sydney said during cross-examination. He said after the hearing that nuclear energy, with several other options, was dependable and predictable, unlike wind generation.

Hurmff. Far be it from us to ding a supporter of nuclear energy, but we wonder if his research into its superiority was partially motivated by not wanting that wind farm cluttering up the skyline. Oh, maybe he does say that:

In his written evidence, he had said landscapes had a power and a meaning which was real, mysterious, and vital to many people's sense of identity. "They play a vital role, aesthetic, cultural and spiritual, in the lives of New Zealanders."

We suspect Meridian Energy, which wants to put up the wind farm, has run smack into an artists' colony. Not only do the prospective neighbors want unspoiled vistas, but they're mighty articulate about it, too, making them effective spokesmen for their cause.

"I see myself in the hills and valleys of Central Otago and feel I am being watched by them. I am a creature of the wide-open spaces, I feel liberated there, imbued with the possibilities otherwise denied me," [Oturehua poet and writer Brian] Turner said.

What do you say to that, bub?

Meridian Energy counsel Humphrey Tapper said Project Hayes' specific site did not prominently feature in an art archive produced by 30 artists expressing Central Otago landscapes.

Artist 1, Meridian 0. We can see New Zealanders being not especially sympathetic to big bad energy, even if Meridian is doing exactly what is wanted - creating a source of emission free electricity generation in a fairly remote area of their country. If not exactly Yucca Mountain, this wind farm points up the frustrations that will be faced as new energy sources ramp up, be it wind, nuclear or solar -all those ugly panels cluttering up "my" pristine desert landscape! - but they must be faced regardless.

Maybe McCain can square this circle, maybe Obama will find the way. But McCain seems to have just missed it this time. We'll stay tuned.

Note: The picture above is of a windmill from 1800 or so - Nothing like today's ultra-modern dragonfly spinners. Perhaps if the wind energy folk made them look more like this, New Zealand artists would have less to complain about.

McCain Proposes Alternative to Yucca Mountain

John McCainSen. John McCain (R-AZ) has just completed delivering a major foreign policy speech on Nuclear Security at the University of Denver. (The full transcript is available here.) I found this quote especially interesting,

I would seek to establish an international repository for spent nuclear fuel that could collect and safely store materials overseas that might otherwise be reprocessed to acquire bomb-grade materials. It is even possible that such an international center could make it unnecessary to open the proposed spent nuclear fuel storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
McCain's senior foreign policy advisers will be discussing the candidate's address in a conference call scheduled for later today. Over at Time's Swampland, Ana Marie Cox asks readers what they would ask if they were on the call. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all, "What would you ask?"

Bridging the Gulf with Nuclear Energy

attractions_image2Even if we were a little more, um, self-centered, we probably  wouldn't try out a sentence like this:

Nuclear power rather than renewable sources like the wind or sun are the best option for oil-rich Gulf Arab states to meet growing energy demands, especially if produced collectively, say regional experts.

Not that we don't agree, but it does seem counter-intuitive: we're not sure about wind, but one thing we do know, there's a lot of sunshine in those parts. So why the focus on nuclear?

[Saudi Electricity Company president Ali Saleh al-Barrack] said that while Saudi Arabia was conducting research into renewable energies, options such as wind and solar power were either limited or less attractive for technical reasons.

Given the high demand for power and the population growth in the Gulf region, "I think the only immediate solution is nuclear energy," which is the best option in economic and environmental terms, Barrack said.

And here's where we really started to like Mr. al-Barrack:

He dismissed fears of environmental damage from nuclear energy as "driven by Hollywood-style fiction."

There's been some concern over development of nuclear energy in the middle east because of the region's fractious history and a somewhat tendentious concern over proliferation, but the countries there (let's leave Iran to the side for now) have approached nuclear energy responsibly. Most have pacted with the United States and/or France to explore the technical options and several (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) are working as a unit, initiating talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Raja Kiwan, an analyst with energy advisers PFC Energy, throws a wet blanket over the party - which is what analysts of any field are paid to do, right? - by noting that most of the partners are pursuing separate agendas, with UAE likely to get a plant first. (Well, if they can get Dubailand up and running, a nuclear energy plant should be a snap.) But even he does not deny or downplay the inevitability of nuclear energy:

"Nuclear is probably the most tested and the most applicable source of energy for the (level) of demand growth that this region is going to be seeing over the next 20-25 years," he said.

It's enough to make a nuclear energy advocate self-centered.

Note: The picture above is of Dubailand. Looks like fun in the sun.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

Check out Worlds Apart.

A History of California's Energy "Policies"

Over at the City Journal, Max Schulz - a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and director of its Center for Energy Policy and the Environment - wrote a brilliant summary on California's myopic energy policies. Below are some of the many highlights. I encourage everyone to read the whole thing:

In truth, however, the Golden State’s energy leadership is a mirage. California’s environmental policies have made it heavily dependent on other states for power; generated some of the highest, business-crippling energy costs in the country; and left it vulnerable to periodic electricity shortages. Its economic growth has occurred not because of, but despite, those policies, which would be disastrous if extended to the rest of the country.

...

To understand better how California’s environmental policies have played out, however, consider what two of them—opposition to nuclear energy and promotion of solar power—have done to Clay Station, California, 25 miles outside Sacramento, where two gigantic cooling towers rise up over rolling fields and farmland. This facility was once the Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station, capable of generating over 900 megawatts (MW) of electricity, enough to power upward of 900,000 homes. Rancho Seco opened in 1975, when antinuclear fervor in California was just beginning to gain momentum, and at one point, it generated more electricity than any other nuclear plant in the world.

...

The [Rancho Seco] facility didn’t entirely close, though. In 1984, trying to position itself as a national leader in solar power, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) began building photovoltaic solar panels on the site, taking advantage of the already constructed infrastructure to transmit power. At the same time, in a bid to position itself as a national leader in solar power, SMUD instituted programs subsidizing the construction of photovoltaic panels for Sacramento homes and businesses. The utility halted the installation of new panels in 2002, after it became clear that the program would cost perhaps three times more than projected and had lost millions of dollars, falling well short of its modest goal to install 2 MW of solar energy that year.

Today, Rancho Seco possesses one of the largest photovoltaic arrays in the world. Yet it provides less than 4 MW of electricity, or less than half of 1 percent of what the closed nuclear plant optimally offered. Total solar capacity for the Sacramento region is less than 50 MW, or about 6 percent of the nuclear plant’s output. In fact, after millions of dollars in subsidies and other support for solar power, the entire state of California has less than 250 MW of solar capacity.

...

Another secret: California’s proud claim to have kept per-capita energy consumption flat while growing its economy is less impressive than it seems. The state has some of the highest energy prices in the country—nearly twice the national average, a 2002 Milken Institute study found—largely because of regulations and government mandates to use expensive renewable sources of power. As a result, heavy manufacturing and other energy-intensive industries have been fleeing the Golden State in droves for lower-cost locales.

...

Even renewable energy projects can have trouble getting off the ground, often because of Not-In-My-Backyard objections.

...

It’s hard to claim credibly that California illuminates the world when it has trouble illuminating itself. Further, California’s particular path makes sense only if the rest of the country refuses to follow it. The state’s lawmakers and regulators have enacted policies that for several decades have allowed Californians to feel good, even smug, about their environmental credentials. Yet California’s economic prosperity has relied on the fact that other states have built power plants and established sensible regulatory regimes that don’t force businesses to flee. The power plants scattered throughout the western United States, as well as the factories in the American Midwest and South, have consistently saved California from the folly of its own anti-energy agenda.

...

California is certainly within its rights to set policies for itself and to live with the consequences. But everyone can’t do what California does. Someone needs to build power plants and oil refineries. Someone needs to manufacture the cars, trucks, airplanes, and other pieces of heavy equipment that enrich Americans’ lives, till our fields, and grow our economy. Someone needs to produce the plastics and chemicals that undergird our prosperity. Those things require energy, and lots of it—growing amounts of it. All the wisdom of Athens and all the power of Sparta won’t change that fact.
Hat tip to Joe Somsel for the link.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Nuclear Green Added to Our Blogroll

Be sure to check out Mr. Barton's blog.

"One of the roles of educated people in society is to help other people overcome irrational fears. That role is certainly not to manipulate those fears to further irrational personal and group agendas." - Charles Barton

Diaries on Nuclear Energy at DailyKos

David Walters stirred up the debate with Charles Barton by discussing California's wind energy problems while adding in the benefits of nuclear plants. NNadir wrote A Comment On Whether Nuclear Energy Can Save Your Pathetic Butt in which tinhat7 wrote back saying he doesn't think so. Unfortunately for tinhat7, most of the votes agreed with NNadir.

DOE to File for Yucca Mountain License this June

According to Energy Secretary Bodman, it looks like the DOE is still on track to submit Yucca's license application to the NRC early next month.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Italy Reverses Nuclear Policy

In a move intended to bring an end to being the world's biggest net importer of electricity, the Italian government today announced that they will begin building nuclear power plants by 2013. The decision is a reversal of a 1987 referendum, banning the use of nuclear power in the country. From The New York Times,

“By the end of this legislature we will put down the foundation stone for the construction in our country of a group of new-generation nuclear plants,” said Claudio Scajola, minister of economic development. “An action plan to go back to nuclear power can not be delayed anymore.”

The change for Italy is a striking sign of the times, reflecting growing concern in many European countries over the skyrocketing price of oil and energy security, as well as the warming effects of carbon emissions from fossil fuels. All have combined to make this once-scorned form of energy far more palatable.

“Italy has had the most dramatic, the most public turnaround, but the sentiments against nuclear are reversing very quickly all across Europe — Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany and more,” said Ian Hore-Lacey, spokesman for the World Nuclear Association, an industry group based in London.

NEI's Energy Markets Report - May 12-16, 2008

Here's a summary of what went on in the energy markets last week:

Electricity peak prices at the Western hubs increased $3-23/MWh and decreased $6-57/MWh at the Eastern hubs. According to Platt’s Electric Power Daily (5/16/08), ERCOT has seen “its share of volatility in recent months” due to “an influx of new wind generation and not enough transmission… In 2006, there were 75 15-minute intervals in which real-time prices fell below $0/MWh. So far this year [2008], there have been already more than 2,250 occurrences” (see pages 1 and 3).

Gas prices at the Henry Hub increased $0.43 to $11.35/MMBtu. Working gas in underground storage as of May 9 was 1,529 Bcf, which is 0.2 percent above the five-year (2003-2007) average (EIA, see pages 1 and 3).

Estimated nuclear plant availability increased to 83 percent last week. Five units finished refueling outages and two units finished maintenance. Salem 2 shut down for several days due to steam generator instrumentation problems (Platts, see pages 2 and 4).

Uranium spot prices remained at $60/lb U3O8 (see pages 1 and 3). According to EIA’s 2007 Domestic Uranium Production Report, total production of U.S. uranium concentrate (yellowcake) in 2007 was 4.5 million pounds U3O8, 10 percent above the 2006 level. Total employment in the U.S. uranium production industry was 1,231 person-years for 2007, an increase of 63 percent from the 2006 total. And total expenditures for land, exploration, drilling, production, and reclamation were $336.2 million in 2007, 52 percent more than in 2006.

Northern and Central Appalachian coal spot prices continue to remain high ($100-105/short ton) due to overseas demand. The Illinois and Uinta Basin spot prices also are at elevated levels (about $45-60/short ton) but the Powder River Basin spot prices have seen only slight increases over the past few months (source: EIA).
For the report click here. It is also located on NEI's Financial Center webpage.

NEI's Nuclear Performance - April 2008

Here's a summary of U.S. nuclear plant performances last month:

For April 2008, the average net capacity factor was 79.0 percent. This figure is 0.3 percentage points lower than April 2007. Monthly nuclear generation was 57.1 billion kilowatt-hours in April 2008, lower than the 57.3 bkWh in April 2007.

For 2008, year-to-date nuclear generation was 256.9 billion kilowatt-hours, compared to 260.8 bkWh in 2007 (1.5 percent decrease).

Since the start of 2008, 41 reactors have either finished or are undergoing refueling outages. In 2007, 34 reactors had either finished or were in refueling outages at the same time last year.

The average refueling duration so far for 2008 is 36.7 days. The average refueling duration for 2007 at the same time last year was 38.1 days.

On March 12, Constellation’s Calvert Cliffs 1 set a refueling outage record for all Combustion Engineering units at 19 days and 15 hours. There are 14 operating CE units in the U.S.
For the report click here. It is also located on NEI's Financial Center webpage.

Toshiba Expects 33 Reactor Orders by 2015

From the World Nuclear News:

Japan's Toshiba Corporation expects orders for at least 33 nuclear power reactors by 2015, and plans to expand all its nuclear businesses over the period to 2020, according to the company's president.

The predictions were made earlier this month in Strategies for Growth 2008, the company's outline of the business directions planned for all its divisions. In a question and answer session, the company said that 33 units could be a conservative estimate, adding "we believe it is possible that the number of orders might increase." The Toshiba presentation does not say where it expects the orders for 33 units to come from but highlights the US, China, South Africa and the UK as countries with plans for new projects and where it is making sales efforts. The company plans to more than double its current annual sales target for the nuclear division, to ¥1 trillion ($9.6 billion) in 2020. ...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lieberman-Warner Climate Bill and Nuclear Energy

Sen. Barbara Boxer's (D-CA) much-anticipated "Boxer substitute" to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act has just been released (sub. req'd). To no one's surprise, the nuclear industry does not get much play. However, according to Congress Daily's Darren Goode, Senator Boxer "may be amenable to provisions regarding training of workers, keeping production in America and nuclear safety."

In the coming days, Sen. Joe Lieberman (Independent Democrat-CT) and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) are expected to unveil an amendment that "would aim to increase nuclear engineers and other workers and improve the financing and purchasing of [nuclear power plant] equipment." From CongressDaily,

Warner said the nuclear section “will be the focal point of a lot of attention.” He said their plan will serve as a “building block” for others to work on during the floor debate. Lieberman said he and Warner are not addressing the speeding up of nuclear facility permits through amendments, and added that providing loan guarantees for nuclear production is possible. Furthermore, he said, their initial amendment does not address the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository or the broader issue of cleaning up and storing nuclear waste.

Boxer said Lieberman and Warner should have the votes to attach a nuclear title to the bill and said she may be amenable to provisions regarding training of workers, keeping production in America and nuclear safety. “They have the votes, so at the end of the day we will see what passes,” she said.
To be continued...

Here Comes the Czech Republic

map_of_czech_republic

It does sometimes seem as though we have a scoreboard around here to tote up the countries that are warming up (or rewarming up) to nuclear energy. Obviously, concerns over CO2 emissions and nuclear energy's avoidance of them is the biggest motivator. The ability to scale up seems to be a factor, too, and gives nuclear a leg up on other emission-free energy generators.

So let's welcome the Czech Republic:

A letter in support of the further development of nuclear energy in the European Union has been signed by all 24 Czech Members of the European Parliament and published in the Czech press.

And here's what the letter says:

The letter said that "without nuclear energy as a vital component of a low-carbon energy mix the Community will not be able to meet its energy security, energy independence and CO2 emissions reduction goals." It said that the [European Nuclear Energy Forum] has "provided a much-needed endorsement of the pivotal role nuclear energy plays in the EU's current and future low-carbon economy" and "has, finally, put nuclear energy on an equal footing with other major energy sources."

We can only agree. The Czech Republic is treading carefully, though, because the current governing majority is a coalition that includes the Green Party and, as a condition of its participation, disdained nuclear energy. (The republic has nuclear plants now and had planned to expand them.)

However, senior government representatives, including prime minister Mirek Topolanek, as well as opposition parties, have since advocated nuclear energy.

No word in the article how the Greens feel about this, but there's at least a sense that the party is getting backed into a corner. We'll see how it goes: the Czechs are ready to go and the politics only need a bit more of push to catch up. We don't follow Czech politics enough to know what may occur - the Greens may relent or a new election might exclude them from the coalition - but the signs are good. Now, what are those Slovaks up to?

Web Site Siting: Radiation Answers

One of the scarier things one can contemplate happening is being irradiated, and anything so scary is going to be riven with taboo and fear-driven misinformation - popular culture, never shy to amping up fear, shows victims being baked from the inside, developing ghastly sores, rapidly sickening and dying. Dispelling fears surrounding nuclear energy has been an uphill but mostly successful battle, but radiation and its effects...

So the site Radiationanswers.org is a welcome taboo buster. The site was created by the Health Physics Forum, which describes itself thusly:

The Health Physics Society is a non profit scientific professional organization whose mission is excellence in the science and practice of radiation safety.

What is valuable about the site is that it does not sugar coat its subject matter or try to spin away concerns about radiation. Instead, it contextualizes them so what may be considered fearful and what need not be feared are given their proper due.

Here's how their press release puts it:

The HPS undertook a year-long effort to create a site specifically aimed at providing radiation information to the public because of comments from U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Dale Klein that the radiation industry “has not been sufficiently proactive in educating the public about what is a real danger and what is not.”

The Citizen’s Guide to Radiation is authoritative, scientifically accurate, and understandable in addressing questions being asked by the public about radiation. It was created with guidance from advisory groups such as the American Medical Association, the Electric Power Research Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Association of Physics Teachers, the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors, Inc., the Interagency Steering Committee on Radiation Standards, and the Center for Construction Research and Training (formerly the Center for Protection of Workers' Rights).

As that list of groups suggests, the most important factors in this site's creation is that it be thorough and truthful and that it can be trusted to educate without institutional or corporate spin. This mirrors NEI's approach to discussing the world of nuclear energy and it is always greatly appreciated when others adopt the same approach (NEI provided a grant for the site, but did not control its creation.) Pay it a visit and see what you think. If you have feedback to make it better, it would surely be welcomed by the Health Physics Forum.

Exelon and Watchdog Group Cooperate on TMI

From Pennsylvania's Business Journal:

Exelon Corp. agreed to help a nuclear watchdog group keep tabs on Three Mile Island for the next five years.

The agreement was reached with EFMR Monitoring Group, which is led by nuclear activist Eric Epstein. Under the deal, Epstein agreed not to file legal challenges to the relicensing of Three Mile Island Unit 1. The unit's license expires in 2014, but Chicago-based Exelon is trying to extend the life of the plant until 2034.

The pact calls for Exelon to increase local charitable giving and to help fund an upgrade of a radiation-monitoring system EFMR operating around the plant, Epstein said. The company also committed not to store nuclear waste from other plants at Three Mile Island, Epstein said.
And who says anti-nuclear and pro-nuclear people can't get along?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Wired Magazine's Green Issue: Go Nuclear

Wired magazine marks its 15-year anniversary with the cover story, "Inconvenient Truths: Cutting Carbon Is the Only Thing That Matters." In a sidebar titled "10 Green Heresies," contributing editor Spencer Reiss writes,

There's no question that nuclear power is the most climate-friendly industrial-scale energy source. You can worry about radioactive waste or proliferating weapons. You can complain about the high cost of construction and decommissioning. But the reality is that every serious effort at carbon accounting reaches the same conclusion: Nukes win. Only wind comes close — and that's when it's blowing. A UK government white paper last year factored in everything from uranium mining to plant decommissioning and determined that nuclear power emits 2 to 6 percent of the carbon per kilowatt-hour as natural gas, the cleanest of the fossil fuels.
It's been a good week for press: last Wednesday it was The New York Times' editorial board, today, Wired.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Big Bear of Two Continents: Russia in Vietnam

russia

It's a synchronicity kind of thing: Just as Vietnam revs up its interest  in nuclear energy, here come the Russians, continuing to lumber around their neighborhood looking for partners:

Valeri Rachkov, Director of Rosatom’s Scientific Policy Department, said during the International Nuclear Energy Exhibition which wrapped up in Hanoi on May 17 that Russian companies have good prospect of winning bids for building the first nuclear power plant in Vietnam as Russia has experiences in this field.

But Rachkov admits that wanting to bid and winning a bid are two different things:

However, the executive added that it is still too early to mention any specific plans as there will be fierce competition in the Vietnamese market.

Well, yes. First Vietnam actually has to decide it wants to proceed with nuclear energy - the bill before the Vietnamese legislature seems likely to pass but you never know - and second, France and Japan were also hanging around the exhibition and have some formidable technology to put forth.

But we may be sure that if any country in Russia's immediate neighborhood even gets nuc- out of their mouths, Russia will be right there looking to sell. We'd say capitalism seems to be working pretty well for them - or at least the competitive zeal aspect of capitalism - but so far, with limited success - only Iran, Bulgaria and India have so far gotten on board. We have no judgment about this one way or another, we're just noting the aggressiveness with which the big bear of two continents has nosed into any nuclear beehive that has even the promise of honey. Best of luck to them.

Note: The Russian bear above is juggling plates depicting favorite foods. No editorial comment intended - he's just cute.

Monday Morning Breakfast

...nuclear energy news you may have missed this weekend.

The Wall Street Journal looks at the impact that cap-and-trade would have on the nuclear energy industry's bottom line....On ABC's "This Week," House minority leader John Boehner (R-OH) said that the House Republicans will release a "real energy policy" this week. Boehner added, "...we also have to be serious about having nuclear energy, and we need to be able and willing to go produce more oil and gas here in America in an environmentally sensitive way, and we can do that."...The Netherlands needs a nuclear energy program, so says Dutch economics minister, Maria van der Hoeven....On its front page, the St. Petersburg Times weighs in on the proposed new plant build in Levy County,FL....The Wilmington Star-News editorial board is encouraged by the announced GE Hitachi expansion of its campus in Wilmington, NC....The EU Energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs discusses "nuclear without taboos" and EU energy policy on his blog....France is the model for growing the nuclear industry in Australia, according to On Line Opinion....On Friday, NEI's Sr. VP of Governmental Affairs, Alex Flint, appeared before the Senate Republican Conference on Energy Policy. (Flint's testimony begins at 01:16:15 in the video clip.)...Simona De Silvestro lost the race at Laguna Seca on Sunday, but maintained her overall lead in the Atlantic Championship series.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Simona De Silvestro, Off and On the Track

Simona De Silvestro —and the industry—gets some nice pub with the lead story on today's ClimateWire,

A stunning Swiss blonde parked her racecar in the most unlikely of places: a hotel ballroom in Chicago filled with nuclear industry representatives at an annual conference.

The 19-year-old Simona de Silvestro was fresh from winning the Atlantic Championship season opener in Long Beach, Ca., driving the sleek, 300 horsepower Swift 016, powered by a modified Cosworth engine. Now she was entering a competition of a different sort. The vehicle, which is emblazoned with the phrase "Nuclear Clean Air Energy," is part of a racing team backed by actor Paul Newman.

De Silvestro and her car's pro-nuclear message are both being used by the nuclear power industry to turn heads, but not just at the track. The industry plans to show off her car and its message on university campuses.

NEI recently provided partial sponsorship of Newman Wachs Racing -- de Silvestro's movie star-supported team -- in exchange for the right to brand her vehicle on the racing circuit and take her on multiple campus visits to generate interest in nuclear power. Entergy, the second largest nuclear power operator in the United States, also is a sponsor of the campaign.
Full article is available here (sub req'd.)

Simona will seek to maintain her position as points leader in the Atlantic Championship Series at this Sunday's race at Laguna Seca in Monterey, CA.

Au Revoir, EDF?: British Energy Rounds Up Some More Bidders

We wrote a couple of days ago we may have jumped the gun on the British _Energy British Energy story by declaring Electricité de France (EDF) the last company standing in the bidding for the nuclear utility. We did - or might have. While British Energy says it has more interest, it will not say who has expressed the interest or how serious the various parties are.

Here's how Bloomberg puts it:

Two of the three proposals received by British Energy were for more than 680 pence [about $13.29] a share, yesterday's closing price, said a person with knowledge of the offers, who declined to be identified because the matter is confidential. Centrica Plc, the U.K.'s biggest energy supplier, made one of them, a second person said.

Centrica is a bit of a surprise as earlier stories had them partnered with EDF.

Even more surprising is that one of the bidders is thought to be Suez, the French energy concern that complained that EDF might lock them out of the British nuclear market. We said then they might want to consider just competing and here they are - competing. Good for Suez, if the rumor is confirmed.

Various article are suggesting different bidders, including Germany's RWE (although Bloomberg thinks they're out) and E.ON and Spain's Iberdola.

Sit tight - this one's going to take awhile to play out - and let's see what happens next.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

This Island Earth: Following Up on Some Recent Stories

One thing journalist types like to do is follow up on previous stories to see where they've gotten to, if anywhere. It provides continuity for the reader and, yes, fills space in the newspaper. So, if Mayor Jones decides everyone should have a monkey, then let's see if everyone has gotten one (though avoid monkeys named Caesar - only grief will come from it.) If a cat was a rescued from a tree, let's check up on that darn cat and see if he learned his lesson.

So, without further ado:

We wrote recently that Bruce Power is looking to build a nuclear power plant in Alberta, though the provincial government is going to convene an expert panel to offer advice on how to proceed. Now, some University of Calgary students have beaten the panel to the punch and stirred up a little controversy:

A group of University of Calgary students are causing a stir over their recent conclusion that nuclear energy is a safe and viable option for Alberta. The fourth-year environmental science students completed their comprehensive research project which studied site selection, background radiation, media perception, modeling worst case scenarios, comparing technology sources and risk assessment.

They don't think the Peace River site chosen by Bruce Power is the best:

"When it comes to technical feasibility and the Alberta landscape, nuclear is a competitive option," said Kowalewski. "The biggest limitation for what we looked at was the actual feasibility of the Peace River [site] that is currently proposed, based on soil stability, proximity to vaults and water balance issues."

Well, okay. Our old friend The Pembina Institute also weighs in, but it's boilerplate nuclear-is-bad stuff.

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We wrote recently about Vietnam's intention to move forward with nuclear energy. Nothing new on that front, but Hanoi is now hosting The third international nuclear power exhibition. Here's what it's about:

It is designed to provide [the] Vietnamese [information] about the world development of the industry.

The exhibits include displays of Japan's advanced pressurised water reactor and France's third-generation pressurised reactors.

(I've helped the translation here a bit.)

Sounds like AREVA and Toshiba are exhibiting. We wondered if France was going to weigh in here - looks like the answer is yes.

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We've written several times about the growing interest in nuclear energy in the Arab world, but have always read that the go-to partners were France and the United States, with Russia darting about. Now, score one for the British:

United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom signed here today a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) concerning cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

We suspect that "peaceful uses" phrase will be used a lot as Iran's neighbors will very much want to avoid the taint of Iran's activities. Here's a little more, from the British side:

Asserting that nuclear power can make a real contribution to meeting UK's commitments to transition to a low carbon economy whilst enhancing energy security, the Minister pledged his country's support to the development of safe, secure, and economically viable civil nuclear power generation and research programmes.

And no Pembina Institute to pour vinegar on the good times.

AFL-CIO Backs "Clean Energy Bank"

Add Mark Ayers, President of the Building & Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, to those supporting the creation of a "Clean Energy Investment Bank." At the NEA conference last week, Ayers said, “Our primary mission [during the current Congress] is to secure an extension of the loan guarantee program to ‘kick start’ the renewal of nuclear power generation in this country.” He also expressed the desire to explore ways to advance the concept of a “clean energy bank” that would help finance construction of capital-intensive energy projects, including nuclear plants.

The Clean Energy Investment Bank Act of 2008 was introduced by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and is co-sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY), Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bon Jour, EDF: British Energy Finds a Bidder

Well, maybe. The British Government solicited bids for its 35% shareedf of British Energy, which runs eight of the ten nuclear energy plants in the country. The last several weeks have seen stories about the Germans (E.ON) and Spanish (Iberdola - they now own Scottish Power) dropping by to kick the tires, and they might still submit bids, but it looks like Electricité de France (EDF), in concert with the British Centrica, has won the prize. This could be considered a disappointment for investors, as the stock has been rising in hopes of a bidding war.

So far, EDF is mum about how much it is bidding, but:

The Daily Telegraph said Friday that EDF and its advisers, Merrill Lynch, were putting together a deal worth between 9.2 billion pounds (11.7 billion euros, 18 billion dollars) and 10.2 billion pounds.

This story from Agence-France - there are many stories about this development out there - suggests that EDF is pushing into the UK market regardless of British Energy.

The Financial Times said the firm had acquired land near Wylfa on the island of Anglesey, north Wales, and Hinckley Point, in the county of Somerset, southwest England.

It said such "stealthy purchases" could allow EDF to build up to three new atomic power stations, regardless of whether it is successful in its bid for British Energy.

And all these aggressive moves have caused alarm for a French competitor, Suez.

Suez has begun intensive lobbying of the Government and the board of British Energy to ensure EdF would not be able to stop other operators building nuclear power stations in the UK.

Seems crybabyish. We're not expert on French business practices, but perhaps Suez ought to just get out there and compete.

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We may have jumped the gun a bit on this one - this is a story containing a fair number of hairpin turns - but we've wanted to get it on our gps devices for awhile and this particular turn in the road seems a good place to leave a marker.  As they say in TV Land, stay tuned.

The Choreographers of Nature: Michio Kaku on Nuclear Energy


Michio Kaku, co-founder of string field theory and professor of theoretical physics at City University in New York City, makes some interesting points in a short interview with The India Times' Narayani Ganesh:

We're moving from being passive observers of nature to its active choreographers. This historic transition in science is enabled by discoveries in three fundamental areas: The DNA theory of life, the atomic theory of matter and computer technology that demonstrates that the workings of the mind are based on logic and electrical circuits.

I actually don't think computer technology demonstrates anything of the sort - it took aliens from Jupiter, after all, to cause the HAL 9000 to jump from human simulacra to human - but Kaku can likely run rings around my paltry doubts.

He's not too fond of nuclear energy:

Going for nuclear energy is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Fusion (based on hydrogen) is clean. But fission (based on uranium) generates tremendous waste. Nature uses fusion; for example, allowing the stars to recycle themselves cleanly. But nature does not use uranium, which is filthy. Nature only uses fusion, the power of the stars.

There appears to be some Gaia thinking in his formulation, but it's worth noting that nature doesn't actually "use" any energy source to generate electricity that man has harnessed for his own use, certainly not wind, solar, gas, coal, hydro or the rest. Using an energy source to generate heat has been understood as man's domain since Prometheus stole fire from the gods and man really did become the choreographer of nature. (Well, if he can do Gaia...)

Instead, he suggests:

Beyond 30 years, the goal of the ITER project in France is to find a way to control fusion. Within 40 years, commercial fusion power, which uses ordinary sea water as fuel, may become a reality.

He allows for this much wishful thinking because, he says, the polar ice sheets will have melted away by 2050 anyway. Kaku is a fascinating man and his current book Physics of the Impossible is well worth reading. His tendency is to think big - really big - and in the very long term. But practically, he reveals some of the pitfalls of an ivory tower genius brought low by the necessities of keeping society puttering along - at least until fusion gets itself together - maybe - someday.

New York Times Endorses Nuclear Energy

In a New York Times Editorial running this morning, The Post-Bush Climate, we find this nugget,

His [McCain] plan differs in other respects, too. He decided at the last minute to delete from his speech a proposed tariff on countries like India and China that defy international agreements on emissions, partly because the tariff could be misconstrued as hostile to free trade, which Mr. McCain supports. The Senate bill contains such a provision. Meanwhile, Mr. McCain is much more enthusiastic, and in our view rightly so, about nuclear energy as a cleaner power source than the Senate sponsors or the two Democratic presidential candidates are.
Since 2005, we've been running a feature on this blog titled, "Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy." Perhaps it's time to start "Another Editorial Board for Nuclear Energy."

Welcome aboard, NYT.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bush Sends U.S.-Russia Civilian Nuclear Energy Pact to Congress

President George W. Bush has sent the agreement called Cooperation in the Field of Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy to Congress for approval. Here is a description of the pact from President Bush's letter to Congress:

The proposed Agreement provides a comprehensive framework for peaceful nuclear cooperation with Russia based on a mutual commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. It has a term of 30 years, and permits the transfer of technology, material, equipment (including reactors), and components for nuclear research and nuclear power production. It does not permit transfers of Restricted Data, and permits transfers of sensitive nuclear technology, sensitive nuclear facilities, and major critical components of such facilities by amendment to the Agreement. In the event of termination, key non-proliferation conditions and controls continue with respect to material and equipment subject to the Agreement.

Congress has been quite dubious about this pact, particularly because of Russian aid to Iran's nuclear efforts. The best hope for the pact is for Congress to do nothing; if no action is taken in 60 days, then the pact takes force. But the House has already passed a measure that essentially forbids this pact and the Senate has a similar bill with 70 or so co-sponsors ready to go. Congress appears ready to weigh-in, and a perceived toughness toward Iran will play well to voters. Much more to come, no doubt.

We've written about this pact recently. Take a look there for more details and links.

Explaining the Costs of Nuclear Power Plants

Conferences, campaign speeches, and media all contributed to an especially busy NEI Monday. At Brookings, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) called for a bipartisan Manhattan project leading to "clean energy independence." The U.S. representative to the IAEA, Ambassador Greg Schulte, discussed nonproliferation initiatives at a Woodrow Wilson International Center event. Sen. John McCain (R) continued his policy tour, stopping in Oregon to deliver his address on climate change. And The Wall Street Journal published an article looking at the costs of new plant builds.

Mark Flanagan responded via the NEI blog. Scott Peterson took to the airwaves, citing industry and independent analysis that shows nuclear-generated electricity to be cost-effective and competitive. Peterson also emphasized the bipartisan support for new plants in statehouses and Congress.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Let the Battle Begin: The Wall Street Journal on the Expense of New Plants

The argument that building new nuclear energy plants will represent ruinous expense for anyone to undertake has percolated among nuclear opposition folks without much mainstream notice. Now, however, the Wall Street Journal has taken a crack at it. It's nicely researched and written up to WSJ standards, although you've heard the argument of the piece many times. Here's the lede:

A new generation of nuclear power plants is on the drawing boards in the U.S., but the projected cost is causing some sticker shock: $5 billion to $12 billion a plant, double to quadruple earlier rough estimates.

$5 to $12 million? That seems a pretty big spread. Here's a longer taster, with a soupcon of that "on the one hand, on the other hand" thing journalists use to cover all bases:

Several things could derail new development plans. Excessive cost is one. A second is the development of rival technologies that could again make nuclear plants look like white elephants. A drop in prices for coal and natural gas, now very expensive, also could make nuclear plants less attractive. On the other hand, if Congress decides to tax greenhouse-gas emissions, that could make electricity from nuclear plants more attractive by raising costs for generators that burn fossil fuels. Nuclear plants wouldn't have to pay the charges because they aren't emitters.

Coal and natural gas are not really rival technologies. They are part of the energy mix and will be for a long time. So-called clean coal and carbon emission sequestration may cause their stock to rise in the greenhouse-gas-reduction sweepstakes, but likely not at the expense or even benefit of nuclear energy. Likewise, the rise and fall of prices in those markets would have next to no impact on nuclear energy because nuclear energy solves different problems.

The second point  - that Congress will turn a fishy eye on fossil fuels - is widely perceived to be certain, which is what has led in part to the nuclear renaissance and also to the increased interest in solar, wind and tide technologies. (Other non-emitting energy sources are not mentioned at all in the article, an odd omission.)

What the article represents is what newspapers are actually good at, which is pushing back at orthodoxy. That nuclear energy now seems the orthodox way to address climate change is heartening; that the Wall Street Journal would want to push back at nuclear energy and try out the expense argument is inevitable - it gets the issue into the public sphere. Fine: it had to happen sooner or later and it's not that tough an argument.

The article treats nuclear energy as though it were an all-or-nothing proposition; it's not. Coal, gas, wind, solar, nuclear and all the usual suspects will feed the energy grid. Nuclear has a place at the table, but it won't scarf down all the food.

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Leave it to our friends at the Heritage Foundation to have a go of their own at the WSJ article:

The simple fact is that energy prices are increasing and if the nation wants to limit CO2 emissions, then nuclear must be part of the answer. So the question for policy makers is two-fold. First, what can be done to reduce energy prices overall and second what can be done to reduce the construction costs of nuclear power plants.

Heritage lists six proscriptive points, some of which reiterate our own, some of which are new:

...Commit to the free trade of commodities. Simply lifting tariffs on the products, like steel and cement mentioned by the WSJ would reduce construction costs. The U.S. would have the added benefit of gaining access to the resources to build the energy plants, of whatever source, to meet its energy demands.

And some of which are conservative boilerplate we could take or leave:

Sixth, minimize regulation. The nuclear energy industry is one of the most heavily regulated in the country. At best, it will take nearly four years before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will give approval to build a new plant. Furthermore, regulatory mandates have drastically increased the amount of construction materials needed to build a plant despite experience showing that such reinforcements were unnecessary.

Minimizing regulation has done this country so much good, hasn't it?

But read the whole thing - and the WSJ article too - and watch the fur fly.

Monday Morning Breakfast

...nuclear energy news you may have missed this weekend.

The Washington Post reports that at least 40 developing countries have approached U.N. officials about starting nuclear energy programs....According to the AP, Senator McCain will call for the expansion of nuclear power while speaking at a Vestas wind turbine plant in Portland, Oregon....The Wall Street Journal looks at the economics of new plant builds....UK hedge fund, The Children's Investment Fund (TCI), will seek sanctions against the Japanese government over its decision barring TCI from doubling its stake in J-Power. Per columnist William Hutchings, "The firm said the government's decision was damaging Japan's reputation as an open capital market."...The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, the local that covers Luzerne County, PA (Susquehanna), is publishing a two-part series titled "Nuclear Reaction." Part one, "Powering Up," ran on Sunday....The Lawrence Journal-World's man-on-the-street asks its readers, "Would you prefer that the Legislature pursue nuclear or coal power in Kansas?" (They prefer nuclear.)...Diane Farsetta from PR Watch doesn't.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Rise of Carly Fiorina

Carly FiorinaIt's been a good few months for Carly Fiorina; the once-embattled former president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard is now an advisor and leading surrogate for the McCain presidential campaign. Fiorina has recently been mentioned as a possible running mate with Senator McCain. Today she appeared in the "B" segment on ABC's This Week. Here she is on McCain and nuclear energy,

There's no question that Senator McCain has said over and over again that we have to incent innovation. So that we are building these new green technologies. We have to incent innovation around things like clean coal. And by the way, we also have to incent innovation around nuclear power. Which is clean. It's abundant. Yes, there are issues. But nuclear power, if we would step up, and adopt nuclear power in this country, that's potentially many millions of jobs.
Note: Transcript is not yet available. Quotation appears at 3:43 in the video clip.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Everything Old Is New Again: Westinghouse Steps Forward

For a lot of folks, Westinghouse is a name associated with the  westinghouse washing machines, TV sets and vacuum machines that graced their suburban tract homes growing up. Even at the time, though, the brand seemed a little old-fashioned, something with the ordure of musty velour.

But Westinghouse was then a powerhouse almost as broad based as General Electric. In recent years, as a division of Toshiba, Westinghouse Electric Company (the electronics and appliance maker still exists as Westinghouse Electric Corporation, owned by CBS) has largely focused on the nuclear market. Here's how they've spent the last several years:

For the past few years, amid a resurgence of the nuclear power industry, Westinghouse's Engineering Services group has been furiously upgrading and refurbishing aging plants—and minting money along the way.

But that work is almost done, and Business Week's Brian Hindo documents what Westinghouse is doing to move forward and retain its relevance:

Last fall the company won a contract to make repairs to Alloy 600, a metal that is found in old reactors. It had never done that before. Nor had it serviced a type of reactor that uses boiling, rather than pressurized, water to generate steam. Now it has a satellite office in San Jose, Calif., dedicated to such jobs.

But even this isn't the full point. That comes through Westinghouse's determination to push itself forward though taking on a culture of risk aversion and reversing it to allow the company to think outside hidebound assumptions and discover what else it could do and how it could do them:

[Engineering Services head Nick Liparulo] needed to send a strong signal that risk-taking wouldn't be a ticket out the door. At [University of Virginia's Darden School of Business professor Jeanne] Liedtka's suggestion, he took nine of his best managers and made them "growth leaders." Their sole responsibilities would be to chase down new technologies and markets.

As Liedtka's involvement suggests, this has more than a whiff of an academic business theory given form - expect many pop business books to come out about it if they haven't already - but the results are good and it has pushed Westinghouse forward. Read the whole article - it's a good, positive one and gets the weekend going right - and see if Westinghouse hasn't blown the dust off the velour and made it plush again.

Pennies from Heaven: A Nuclear Stock Fund

For those of you more engaged with your financial portfolios than wewallstreet are, take a look at this, courtesy of Kiplinger:

Investors who want to ride nuclear's revival without betting on individual stocks have a new option. Invesco PowerShares last month launched an exchange-traded fund called the Global Nuclear Energy Portfolio (symbol PKN). The ETF tracks the performance of the World Nuclear Association (WNA) Energy Index, which contains 64 companies that design, construct and operate nuclear power reactors. The shares closed at $27.08 on May 8.

And the fund is jam packed with the usual suspects, minus of course Keyser Soze:

The ETF's biggest holding, at 8.5% of assets, is Areva (ARVCF.PK), a French company. "Areva is one of just a handful of publicly traded companies in the world that both designs and builds reactors," says Phillips.

Other big holdings include Japan's Toshiba (TOSBF.PK), Emerson Electric (EMR) and Canada's Cameco (CCJ), a leading producer of uranium, the raw material that becomes fuel for nuclear reactors.

Writer Amy Bickers reviews the reasons nuclear has sprung back to life and offers a definition of an ETF:

ETFs are funds that track a particular index and trade on exchanges just like stocks. ETF prices move up and down, in line with the value of the securities they hold. ETFs contain mechanisms that keep the share prices close to the value of their holdings.

Whether the electricity market in general is responsive to this kind of financial instrument, we have no idea. If you took our advice on stocks, you'd have only yourself to blame if your next home was a giant-screen TV box in a low traffic corner of your local public park.

Perhaps the more financially savvy members of our readership can weigh in on the virtues and vices of this kind of offering. For us, it's interesting that outfits creating such offerings find nuclear energy something that might appeal to potential buyers.

The CBO Study on Nuclear Energy

Your rainy weekend reading suggestion: the Congressional Budget Office's just released study,"Nuclear Power's Role in Generating Electricity." The pull quote:

In the long run, carbon dioxide charges would increase the competitiveness of nuclear technology and could make it the least expensive source of new base-load capacity. More immediately, EPAct incentives by themselves could make advanced nuclear reactors a competitive technology for limited additions to base-load capacity. However, under some plausible assumptions that differ from those CBO adopted for its reference scenario—in particular, those that project higher future construction costs for nuclear plants or lower natural gas prices—nuclear technology would be a relatively expensive source of capacity, regardless of EPAct incentives. CBO’s analysis yields the following conclusions:
  • In the absence of both carbon dioxide charges and EPAct incentives, conventional fossil-fuel technologies would most likely be the least expensive source of new electricity-generating capacity.
  • Carbon dioxide charges of about $45 per metric ton would probably make nuclear generation competitive with conventional fossil-fuel technologies as a source of new capacity, even without EPAct incentives. At charges below that threshold, conventional gas technology would probably be a more economic source of base-load capacity than coal technology. Below about $5 per metric ton, conventional coal technology would probably be the lowest cost source of new capacity.
  • Also at roughly $45 per metric ton, carbon dioxide charges would probably make nuclear generation competitive with existing coal power plants and could lead utilities in a position to do so to build new nuclear plants that would eventually replace existing coal power plants.
  • EPAct incentives would probably make nuclear generation a competitive technology for limited additions to base-load capacity, even in the absence of carbon dioxide charges. However, because some of those incentives are backed by a fixed amount of funding, they would be diluted as the number of nuclear projects increased; consequently, CBO anticipates that only a few of the 30 plants currently being proposed would be built if utilities did not expect carbon dioxide charges to be imposed.
  • Uncertainties about future construction costs or natural gas prices could deter investment in nuclear power. In particular, if construction costs for new nuclear power plants proved to be as high as the average cost of nuclear plants built in the 1970s and 1980s or if natural gas prices fell back to the levels seen in the 1990s, then new nuclear capacity would not be competitive, regardless of the incentives provided by EPAct. Such variations in construction or fuel costs would be less likely to deter investment in new nuclear capacity if investors anticipated a carbon dioxide charge, but those charges would probably have to exceed $80 per metric ton in order for nuclear technology to remain competitive under either of those circumstances.
The study was written by Justin Falk, an analyst with the CBO's Microeconomic Studies Division, under the supervision of Joseph Kile and David Moore. Hat tip to the CBO Director's blog (?!), for the pointer to the study. You have to believe that when the Director of the CBO is blogging, this medium is here to stay.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Go West, Young Power Plant: Nuclear Energy in Alberta

We've noted Ontario's interest in nuclear energy and now Alberta  alberta takes a crack at it (courtesy of The Prairie Post):

The debate about nuclear energy and whether it will have a future in Alberta has officially begun as Bruce Power Alberta begins the planning to build the first nuclear power plant in western Canada and the Alberta government appoints a committee to research whether nuclear energy should be pursued in the province.

That sounds like two stories, doesn't it, since Bruce Power is not going to get very far if the government research goes against it. Here's what Bruce Power has in mind:

Bruce Power, based in Ontario, purchased the assets of Energy Alberta Corporation and in March filed an application with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to prepare a site for the potential construction of the plant on Lac Cardinal near Peace River.

Peace River sounds kind of nice, but Bruce Power! Are all the boys in Canada named Bruce (who are not named Doug, that is)?

And here is what the provincial government is up to:

The [government-selected expert] panel will be asked to provide a comprehensive examination of: environmental, health and safety issues; waste management; comparing nuclear energy with other electricity generation technologies; current and future nuclear power generation being used in Canada and around the world; and Alberta's future electricity needs.

Naturally, writer Rose Sanchez rounds up opposition:

Mary Griffiths, a senior policy analyst with Pembina, says nuclear energy isn't the answer. Instead the greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands [?] should be dealt with through carbon capture and storage technologies.

Well, that would be good, we guess, if carbon capture and storage technologies were actually ready to be implemented. Curiously, the Pembina Institute sells wind power. Sanchez doesn't mention this, a bit of a journalistic breach - a reporter should come clean when a source might have a financial interest in zinging a competitor.

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Here's a description of a Pembina Institute book called "Nuclear Power in Canada: An Examination of Risks, Impacts and Sustainability."

In addition to the fact that nuclear power is not itself a [greenhouse gas (GHG)] emission free energy source, a future path based on nuclear energy would simply replace one problem (GHG emissions) with a series of different, but equally unacceptable impacts and risks. These encompass everything from facility reliability and waste management to the potential for catastrophic accidents and nuclear weapons proliferation.

<rant> Feh! This sounds like the building-a-plant-produces-greenhouse-gas thing again plus long discredited arguments. You can download the whole book as a pdf on their site if you want. And hey, Pembina, windmills don't magically erect themselves - we have to assume there's some heavy machinery involved that's less than enviro-friendly. </rant>

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Ahem! Let's see how what expert panel finds out and wish Bruce Power luck. Alberta seems likely to join the atom club, especially if they lean on the work already done in Ontario and elsewhere to vet nuclear energy.

Thanks to Trails Canada for the map.