Thursday, August 28, 2008

Obama Finds a Place at the Table for Nuclear Power

"As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy -- wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced."

We'll take it. Now, on to St. Paul.

Mile-High or Invesco? You choose.

Nuclear Energy to Power the Future

Shannon Love over at Chicago Boyz sums it up nicely on why nuclear energy will power the future:

... We need to grow up and accept reality. We’ve exhausted the limits of chemical energy. Using biomass, solar and wind power represents a reversion to older and weaker sources of power. Instead, we need to follow the natural progression of technology and use nuclear energy. With our current and near-future technology, only nuclear power can give us the amount of energy we need, where and when we need it.

I think it important to emphasize that we would need to move to nuclear energy even if we had an infinite supply of fossil fuels and an infinite carbon dioxide sink. Fossil fuels just don’t have the energy density we will need moving into the future. We can no more power the 21st Century with fossil fuels than we could have powered the 20th Century using nothing but wood. Only nuclear power provides energy in sufficient density to power the future...
Sounds like she's been reading The Bottomless Well. Make sure to read the rest of Shannon's piece, it's really good.

"Energy Killers" Watch Out

Below are some provocative statements from Roy Innis' latest book Energy Keepers-Energy Killers: The New Civil Rights Battle. RedOrbit has the highlights:

Roy Innis, chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, has come out swinging against "elitist" environmentalists, politicians, and the nonprofit foundations that fund them for promoting "energy racism" by cutting off access to fossil fuels in the US and pushing up energy prices. "They cause poor families to lose their homes. They make life tougher for families who've worked, struggled, and sacrificed to join the middle class. Then they throw out crumbs that make us beggars at the American banquet," Innis said in his book Energy Keepers-Energy Killers: The New Civil Rights Battle, published by Merril Press. "The fight over energy is the critical civil rights battle of our era," said Innis. "Simply put, energy transforms the civil rights enshrined in our Constitution into civil rights we enjoy in reality."

...

People "who produce energy for everything we do, everything we buy, everything we dream of," Innis designates as energy providers. The "Bull Connor" energy killers, he said, "are people who try to stop them: activists and politicians against oil and gas drilling, against coal mining, against nuclear power, against all energy production, choking off the abundant, reliable, affordable American resources we need."

...

"Sometimes I think environmentalists would rather see you jobless, homeless, or even dead than to support fossil fuel use, even the best, cleanest, and most abundant," said Innis. "The fear and loathing that some have for oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear power is no excuse for us, our policy makers, or our courts to ignore energy reality and widen our energy gap by promoting renewable illusions and closing off access to the real energy we need."

First U.S. Nuclear Components Facility to Be Built in Louisiana

Map image

The economic ripples of the nuclear renaissance become a bit more tidal today as Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal announced a joint venture between Westinghouse and the Shaw Group to build the first module fabrication and assembly facility in the U.S.focused on constructing components for new and modified nuclear reactors.

Here's some more:

In addition to constructing components for new and modified nuclear reactors, the new Lake Charles facility [Lake Charles is about 60 miles west of Baton Rouge] will have the capability to manufacture modules for chemical sites and petrochemical plants around the world. It will create at least 1,400 jobs in Lake Charles over the next five years at an average salary of $50,000 plus benefits.

We suspect the part of the business devoted to chemical plant elements might decrease as nuclear plant mod building increases, but Shaw could add employees as necessary, too. And the real money quotes:

According to an economic impact analysis performed by Louisiana State University, the Shaw/Westinghouse agreement will result in $17.8 billion in new sales, $4.5 billion in new earnings and 9,205 total new Louisiana jobs, including indirect jobs, over 15 years.

And:

These benefits do not include the value of retaining the majority of Shaw’s existing jobs or the potential for Louisiana to become the national leader in nuclear component manufacturing at a time when the nuclear energy industry is expected to experience rapid growth for decades to come.

We've downplayed Louisiana's package of goodies that has helped to make this happen. You can read about this at the link, but it's not an atypical government/business interaction. The state has three goals at least: to keep The Shaw Group in Louisiana for a guaranteed length of time - 15 years, at least - to further develop professional-level jobs in the state and to grow that corner of the state into a Silicon Valley-like center for nuclear parts fabrication (thus drawing in more businesses). The state has some control over the first two through tax breaks and largesse; the third is a hope that may not come to pass. But if it does, bingo.

Very good news, however you slice it, and a sign of the economic benefits of nuclear energy beyond the actual location and operation of a plant.

Map of Lake Charles, Louisiana. Note the lake - truth in advertising.

 

Australia's Big Coal Ad Against Nuclear Power

Rod Adams received this ad from a fellow blogger the other day and posted about it.

It is a very straightforward effort by the coal industry to scare people about nuclear power - not really so much about the typical aspects of nuclear power that some try to use to instill fear, but the threat that nuclear power poses to coal mining jobs.

This kind of ad can only work in a place like Queensland that has a high concentration of miners, but it supports my theory that a lot of what you read about energy needs to be viewed in the context of knowing that it is the world's largest and often most lucrative business. Competition over market share is often the hidden motive behind the emotionally laden messages from all kinds of different people.
Depleted Cranium picked up on Rod's post and shared these thoughts:
The thing I especially like about this is that it singles out nuclear as a threat to coal. Wind? Solar? Oh those are no threat. Build as many wind turbines as you want. Build solar plants. That has no affect on the job security of coal miners.

Also, it apparently is becoming harder and harder to lie about the facts regarding nuclear power’s economics or safety. So what’s left? Just try to cry for sympathy and be a little more honest, stating that the real reason is that the opposition has a vested interest in a competing and inferior power generation method, I guess.
I wonder what would happen if the coal industry in the US ran an ad like that. I bet they would get ridiculed online.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Where the Chips Fall

 popo_chartWe sometimes say here that the viability of nuclear energy from a public opinion perspective is ever improving. The reason we say that is that we look at polls that tell us so.

Now, NEI-sponsored polls, although they're as honestly conducted as can be - NEI really can't learn anything about its effectiveness by playing tricks - can still be viewed by some with a fishy eye. Any poll taken by an interested party on any subject can be seen as suspect - we've all seen polls that do not seem to correlate to any known reality. (Which doesn't mean we won't encourage you to take a look at NEI's public opinion efforts -er, click here, in other words.)

But here are numbers from rather more disinterested parties that show the how our fellow citizens view the state of building new nuclear energy plants:

53 percent said that we should build more nuclear power plants; 31 percent said we should not (NBC News/Wall Street Journal August 2008).

51 percent favored building more nuclear power plants as a way to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil; 41 percent opposed (Fox News/Opinion Dynamics June 2008).

67 percent supported building more nuclear power plants in the U.S.; 23 percent opposed (Zogby May 2008).

53 percent said they would support the construction of new nuclear power plants to meet future electric power needs; 36 percent opposed (Deloitte/ICR 2008).

57 percent supported building new nuclear power plants to generate electricity, knowing that “nuclear power is one of the energy sources, like wind and solar energy, that doesn’t contribute to global warming;” 34 percent opposed (Moore Information April 2008).

59 percent agreed that we should definitely build more nuclear power plants in the future; 39 percent disagreed (Bisconti Research for NEI April 2008.)

Okay, that last one was us. But before you crack wise and say, "A lot of hovering around 50% there," well, our presidential candidates should be so lucky. And even where the numbers hover around 50%, the undecided crowd number around 10-15% - numbers from which to grow. (That's how it works for the presidential candidates, too, come to think of it.)

As you can see, Zogby seems to be the outlier on the high side - all these firms have different methods and of course they all call different people. Number of respondents and margin of error play parts, too. We're pretty sure a combination of the black arts and pixie dust get involved with polling.

But the bottom line is that half or more Americans favor building nuclear energy plants and the numbers gets closer to 60 or higher when its "green" profile is made a part of the question. We could argue a lot about the objective value of "greeniness" - many do - but not its place in the popular consciousness. That matters, but not even as much as one might figure - its the very idea of nuclear energy that is finding more favor, and that matters a lot.

Chart from Perspectives on Public Opinion - POPO in NEI-speak. Clearer version can be found in the June 2008 issue linked above.

How Does Food Irradiation Work?

Ever since the FDA approved the use of irradiation on leafy greens last week, I've been curious to find out how irradiation works as well as its drawbacks. Where does anyone start when they want to find basic information on any topic? Wikipedia, of course.

Food irradiation is the process of exposing food to ionizing radiation in order to destroy micro-organisms, bacteria, viruses, or insects that might be present in the food.

...

The genuine effect of processing food by ionizing radiation relates to damages to the DNA, the basic genetic information for life. Micro-organisms can no longer proliferate and continue their malignant or pathogen activities.

...

By irradiating food, depending on the dose, some or all of the harmful bacteria and other pathogens present are killed. This prolongs the shelf-life of the food in cases where microbial spoilage is the limiting factor.

...

Food irradiation using Cobalt-60 is the preferred method by most processors, because the deeper penetration enables administering treatment to entire industrial pallets or totes, reducing the need for material handling. A pallet or tote is typically exposed for several minutes to hours depending on dose. Radioactive material must be monitored and carefully stored to shield workers and the environment from its gamma rays. During operation this is achieved by substantial concrete shields.
Does food become radioactive after its irradiated?

No. The only way it becomes radioactive is if the source (Cobalt-60) gets on the food, which doesn't happen.

What are the criticisms?

Gristmill and Treehugger (reasonable go-to sources for anti-nuclear claims) published their thoughts last week on the FDAs recent approval.

Gristmill didn't really have complaints on irradiation itself, only that "the FDA is missing the fundamental key to "food safety" -- the prevention of contamination from happening in the first place." Well, people had the same concerns when pasteurization was first introduced (pdf, p. 15), now pasteurization is widely accepted. If you could make food safer and last longer, why not? No amount of prevention will get rid of all the organisms living on the food. Irradiation does.

Treehugger had more interesting comments, most of them in favor of irradiation. Here's one of the criticisms:
Irradiation works by splitting chemical bonds in molecules with high energy beams to form ions and free radicals. When sufficient critical bonds are split in organisms contaminating a food, the organism is killed. Comparable bonds are split in the food. Ions are stable; free radicals contain an unpaired electron and are inherently unstable and therefore reactive. ... I am opposed to consuming irradiated food because of the abundant and convincing evidence in the referred scientific literature that the condensation products of the free radicals formed during irradiation produce statistically significant increases in carcinogenesis, mutagenesis and cardiovascular disease in animals and man.
Sounds scary. Here's what the IAEA says about free radicals (pdf, p. 26):
The fact that irradiation causes the formation of free radicals - which in scientific terms are atoms or molecules with an unpaired electron - and that these are quite stable in dry foods has often been mentioned as a reason for special caution with irradiated dry foods. However, free radicals are also formed by other food treatments, such as toasting of bread, frying, and freeze drying, and during normal oxidation processes in food. They are generally very reactive, unstable structures, that continuously react with substances to form stable products. Free radicals disappear by reacting with each other in the presence of liquids, such as saliva in the mouth. Consequently, their ingestion does not create any toxicological or other harmful effects.
So I haven't found any real drawbacks to irradiation, only a lot of benefits. As irradiation becomes more and more accepted, hopefully more and more people will become less afraid of radiation. Radiation needs to be understood, not feared. Like I said before, radiation saves lives.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Black Is the New Green


We don't read USA Today as much as we might - too colorful, ink doesn't adhere to our hands - but a story on coal and Peabody Energy was full of interesting content and can be found on the web here. This popped out at us:

"There's a perception out there that coal is dirty, and we have to change that," he [Chairman and CEO Gregory Boyce] adds, noting that coal plants already have cut emissions of some pollutants and boosted efficiency to slash CO2 discharges. "Black is the new green."
Now, we know what you're thinking, but read the whole article first, then think again and - er, share in comments, won't you?

Picture of Anthracite. Pretty, isn't it?

Some NEI Goodness for Your Reading Pleasure


We here at Nuclear Notes don't link a lot to the massive resources created by NEI because our purpose is to explore the world of nuclear energy (and other renewable energy sources) both within and without the purview of NEI central. And most of our visitors are, or should be, familiar with NEI and its work. However, that doesn't mean NEI isn't an extremely important advocate for the cause of nuclear energy or that we shouldn't let you in on some of its offerings.

First, we noticed that Market Watch has posted one of NEI's Fact Sheets. Here is how they describe it:

The Nuclear Energy Institute has developed a two-page fact sheet to assist reporters covering energy issues at the Democrat National Convention in Denver. It provides information explaining why commercial nuclear power is a vital part of the American energy portfolio needed to meet rapidly growing electricity demand in clean and reliable fashion. NEI is the nuclear energy industry's policy organization.


And so it is. The data there is all good and a boon for those looking for a stack of factoids to throw around at parties without becoming a bore. Here's a couple to get you started:

Nuclear power provides 19 percent of America's total electricity but 74 percent of America's carbon-free generation.

The United States has the world's largest commercial nuclear program, with 104 nuclear reactors in 31 states.


No one will throw a drink in your face if you tell them that! Look at the site to see the rest (and show Market Watch this is interesting to you.)

NEI can also be found at the Democratic National Convention (and next week, it'll be hanging out at various St. Paul haunts, too - we'll get around to that then) and has produced some ads to go into the conventioneers copies of the National Journal. These were done as big jpegs to make them readable and printable, so go over here to pick them up - they're the first entry on the page. Print a bunch and hand them out to your friends.

Well, that's enough logrolling. Well, almost enough. That last link takes you into NEI's site. Lots of linky goodness, loads and loads of information for you nuclear beginners right up to you engineer types. Excellent resources for school papers, reporters needing to do research - oh, anyone, really. Okay, that's enough.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Joe Biden on Nuclear Energy

_44945397_biden_getty_226b The nice thing about Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden as his running mate is that the latter ran for president himself this cycle and thus piled up a stack of interviews in which he gave his views on - well, everything. If Obama had anything to worry about with Biden on nuclear energy, he may rest easy:

What role do you see for nuclear power?

I see a role for nuclear, but first you've got to deal with the security as well as the safety concerns. I'd be spending a whole hell of a lot of money trying to figure out how to reconfigure the spent fuel into reusable fuel. I would not invest in [growing our nuclear power capacity in its current form], but I would invest in sorting out the storage and waste problems.

Sounds a lot like - Obama.

On other issues, the Indian media seems pleased because Biden has been a major supporter of the agreement allowing nuclear technologies and materials to flow between India and the United States. This is mildly controversial because India has not signed any non-proliferation pacts, mildly so because there is no evidence that India has engaged in any proliferation. Biden is on fairly solid ground here.

Check out this story from the Times of India - there's a lot of Biden love from the subcontinent.

Less love is flowing from the Israelis. This bit from Haaretz explains the uneasiness:

Biden has said more than once that he does not think that isolating Iran is the most efficient way to combat the Islamic republic's nuclear ambitions, and he has even urged sensitivity to Iran's needs. He met with a senior Iranian official in Davos, which led his detractors to say that he was willing to negotiate with an extremist regime that supports terrorism. On the other hand, Biden has proclaimed that a nuclear Iran was "unacceptable."

Well, "an extremist regime that supports terrorism" certainly puts the cork on that bottle. We looked at a few Iranian news sites to see how Biden worked for them, but so far, silence (at least in English).

Well, it's not a nuclear energy love feast on the Democratic side of the fence - it's more than a little frustrating, since more Democratic legislators support nuclear energy these days than hitherto. Part of the reason is no doubt political practicality, but the larger part is simply that time has removed it as a reliable way to get environmentalists under the Democratic tent. Nuclear energy and its "green" benefits make arguments against it sound a little tinny.

We've got a convention in Denver this week, so let's see what comes out of that. And of course, John McCain might well throw a wrench in the Democratic love feast with a VP choice of his own.

Biden himself. "Listen, you, any Republican that thinks they can outpoint me has another think coming." Politicians must really practice their pointing skills in the mirror. You wouldn't want one around a flock of quails or the pointing would get out of control.

Depleted Cranium: Pictures of Nuclear Turbines and Coal Turbines

Check out which are cleaner.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

getfile Sometimes, you just have to do for yourself, so if you want nuclear power, you build a reactor. The Wall Street Journal's Sam Schnecter reports on a group of science fiction fans and amateur scientists who are working on home-based fusion reactors:

Getting into their elite "Neutron Club" requires building a tabletop reactor that successfully fuses hydrogen isotopes and glows like a miniature star. Only 42 have qualified; some have T-shirts that read "Fusion -- been there...done that."

Like many such projects, it has its quixotic side, since fusion works well for, oh, the sun, but practical applications are harder to come by:

But they won't be powering homes anytime soon - for now, fusors use far more energy than they produce. [Fusors are the tabletop reactors.]

For now and likely, for the foreseeable future. But that's not the point. This is something that you do because it can be done, it fascinates you, and into the bargain, it acts as a highly specific secret handshake for those who do it.

While some amateurs, like Mr. [Frank] Sanns, think fusion power holds promise, others are less hopeful. "Basically, it's almost like, over the gates of hell, 'Abandon hope all ye who enter,'" says Richard Hull, who built his first working fusor nearly a decade ago.

We have nothing but admiration for people who do something for the sheer love of it, however arcane that love may be. These guys have a community that supports and nurtures their fusion passion - it's at Fusor.net - and since the WSJ article numbers them at about 100 worldwide, the Internet is the right place for them to found that community. (Though we wouldn't be surprised if they found each other through FidoNet in an earlier age.)

Lots of great detail in the article, so take a read. If fusion interests you, visit Fusor.net. (We think the electricity demands of fusion, not to mention the purchase of stuff like deuterium, might quell our curiosity - you really have to want to do this and commit yourself to it.)

"This is an early un-retouched photo of one configuration of Pillar of Fire. It was put together quickly for visit by Carl Willis. The POF configuration in this case consisted of a normal feedthrough and stalk with a voltage divider on the bottom that goes to ground. This was a neutron producing run." from Fusor.net.

Bees Descend Upon a Nuclear Plant in Britain

Here's something you don't ever read about:

Nuclear sites are often havens for wildlife, but Britain's Sellafield proved too popular recently when a swarm of 40,000 bees descended on its Waste Encapsulation Plant. The main entrance near where the bees had gathered was immediately closed, and pest control specialists were summoned to neutralise the insect threat. However, the tiny creatures were saved from doom by the quick thinking of Tony Calvin, manufacturing manager at the neighbouring Magnox Encapsulation Plant. An amateur bee-keeper for ten years, Calvin raced home to fetch his specialised equipment before tempting the swarm to a new hive and moving them to a more becoming environment.

Fox News on Nuclear Plant Security

Here's the link to the 3.5 minute video Scott Peterson was referring to in yesterday's post.

Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

Meet SRI at Good Read.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

CBS: FDA OKs Radiation To Kill Germs In Leafy Greens

How cool is this?

The government will allow food producers to start zapping fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce with just enough radiation to kill E. coli and other dangerous germs, a key safety move amid increasing outbreaks from raw produce.

Irradiated meat has been around for years, particularly ground beef that is a favorite hiding spot for E. coli. Spices also can be irradiated.

But there had long been concern that zapping leafy greens with X-rays or other means of radiation would leave them limp. Not so with today's modern techniques.

The Food and Drug Administration determined that irradiation indeed can kill food-poisoning germs and even lengthen the greens' shelf life without compromising the safety or nutrient value of raw spinach and lettuce. The new regulation goes into effect Friday. ...
Radiation saves lives. Maybe that should be our next motto.

Hat tip to Eric McErlain!

T. Boone Pickens and the Politics of Wind: What Texas Wants

ERCOT_Region_map Recommendation 1: Recognizing that the combination of incentives and competitive market forces in place in Texas resulted in more rapid investment in wind energy than in any other state, Texas should promote the competitive marketplace by neither increasing nor removing the mandates for renewable energy.

That comes from 2008 Texas State Energy Plan (warning: big pdf). The report has 37 recommendations and seems to leave nothing out of its energy mix. Nuclear energy appears at number 4:

Recommendation 4: To encourage the development of nuclear power in Texas, the [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] should expedite necessary water and wastewater permits associated with new nuclear power plants. While all design and site permits reside with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ensuring that these state permits do not delay development is critical.

And there are entries for clean coal, carbon sequestration, solar, and others. (Hydro not so much, but it does earn a touching tribute from the report: “Areas that have an abundance of hydroelectricity, like the Pacific Northwest,” says the report, “will be significantly less impacted [by a carbon tax] than Texas.” Indeed, Texas emitted more industrial CO2 than any other state, which, given its size, makes some sense. It produced 660 million tons of the stuff in 2005 while the next biggest producer, California, released about 400 million tons. Washington state is at about 110 million tons, Oregon around 40 million tons. Hydro has been very good to the Pacific Northwest.)

Wind is the big winner in the report, though, by a wide margin. As Pickens notes in his TV ads, there's an impressive wind corridor there in Texas and Texas would dearly like to exploit it.

First, clear away regulatory hurdles:

Numerous states have lengthy and costly permitting processes for wind, and gas- and coal-fired generation; Texas has avoided this by permitting only emission and water aspects of generation plants.

Second, provide R&D funds to overcome some of wind's limitations;

The PUC and ERCOT should study whether an additional operating reserve service to help manage the intermittency of wind energy or other alternative energy sources would be a cost-effective solution to more reliably integrating these energy resources to the grid. [The unfortunate acronym PUC stands for Public Utility Commission - ERCOT manages most of the electricity grid in Texas.]

Third, have the will to do it:

Indeed, motivated by a combination of Texas’ renewable portfolio standard, federal subsidies, and higher market prices resulting from the increases in the cost of natural gas, thousands of megawatts of wind generation have been installed in West Texas. While transmission expansion has lagged the installation of wind farms, wind energy has displaced natural gas generation, and this spring, has lead to significantly lower market prices in the western part of the ERCOT grid.

Texas needs to be all in for Pickens to proceed. Texas is all in.

---

But not blind to the potential problems of wind energy.

However, wind energy is produced intermittently, and wind farms generally produce power during off-peak hours when demand is lowest. Substantial penetration of wind energy into the electric grid is likely to create additional costs to ensure that adequate natural gas, storage, demand-response, or other technologies are online and available to respond to inherent large fluctuations in wind energy production.

The intermittent nature of wind (and sunshine, too, for that matter, in the case of solar) is a problem because it cannot provide either peak-load or base-load energy, which depends on, well, dependability. Wind can supplement other energy sources, but it cannot fully replace them. Predicting wind is not a hard thing, but the predictions have to be fairly good to avoid flooding or starving the grid. All this doesn't mean, however, that wind plus nuclear energy cannot in tandem do away with carbon-emitting energy generators, although nuclear energy doesn't really need to be used in tandem with anything else to do that and in fact cannot easily be ramped down to accommodate wind energy.

The most robust wind sites are also usually in remote geographic locations, necessitating significant transmission investment to be able to efficiently move the wind energy to the parts of the grid with the highest demand.

There's transmission again. And the the remote locations bits skims over the massive land requirements of an effective wind farm. Most other energy providers are relatively compact.

---

Our focus here is on wind energy, but the report takes a thorough look at all forms of energy generation in Texas and makes fascinating reading. We'll try to come back to it and explore the Texas view of nuclear energy in another post. In the meantime, please do download and print the pdf.

Map of the ERCOT grid. The acronym stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas. It's all about the grid.

Safe, Secure and Vital: Securing America’s Nuclear Power Plants

32002 FOX News, on this evening’s Special Report with Brit Hume, is expected to examine the security of America’s commercial nuclear power plants. Marvin Fertel, NEI’s executive vice president and chief nuclear officer, is one of the experts on security who discussed security with FOX News correspondent Julie Banderas.

Security in our post 9-11 world is an issue that can be used to unnecessarily alarm citizens if the complete—and complex—picture is not assessed. Some critics of the nuclear industry contend that not enough has been done to enhance security as nuclear power plants. Some even claim that Khalid Sheik Muhammad said that nuclear plants were one of the possible targets on 9/11.


In reality, terrorists often mention nuclear plants, chemical facilities, agriculture and government buildings because it is their purpose to scare people. But terrorists usually will avoid a hard target like a nuclear plant.

However, 7 out of 10 people believe that U.S. nuclear power plants are safe and secure, according to an April nationwide survey. Judge for yourself.

Since 9/11, the industry has invested more than $2 billion in additional security at 65 nuclear plant sites and has increased the number of specially trained, well-armed security forces by more than 60 percent.

Compared to other commercial facilities, nuclear power plants start with a clear advantage in the area of security. The structures that house reactors and critical systems are built to withstand natural events such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and floods.

The difficult-to-penetrate structures are just the first level of a multistage, integrated security strategy. Nuclear power plant security is designed with concentric perimeters with increased security at each level. Physical barriers protect against unauthorized personnel and vehicle intrusion, including truck bombs. These security zones are protected by trained and armed professionals, who use hardened defensive fighting positions located throughout the plant, if needed.

In the innermost security zone, access to the vital areas of our plants is strictly controlled using biometrics and other technologies. Critical areas are under constant surveillance and monitored using state-of-the-art detection equipment.

In addition, every plant must conduct drills and exercises to ensure a well-prepared, comprehensive emergency response plan. Every site tests its security forces against federal security standards and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspects industry security against these standards in mandated “force-on-force” exercises. No other sector of the civilian-operated critical infrastructure has such a robust security program. In 2007, the industry completed the first three-year cycle of NRC-evaluated “force-on-force” security exercises – at every plant. No security forces in any private industry that are subjected to such rigorous testing that includes such drills using a full-time dedicated “assault” team.

The industry expects to be successful against most credible threats, even at levels greater than federal security requirements. But at some point, such threats require a more integrated response. Since 2001, the industry and federal agencies have recognized the importance of coordinating federal, state and local authorities with the industry to best defend against such an attack.

Given these steps, it is highly unlikely that attackers could successfully breach security at a nuclear power plant and even more unlikely they could produce a release of radiation that would endanger the residents near the plant.

Posted by Scott Peterson

Should Nuclear Plants be Owned by the State?

Jerome a Paris has published the same post at several locations making a case that nuclear plants should be financed and owned by the government:

As we see news of the possible (and increasingly likely) bailout of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae by the US Treasury, I am reminded of something that I have been writing about nuclear energy, ie that it should be financed by the State, and I'd like to extend on why I think there are fascinating similarities between the two topics, however distinct they may seem.

My point about nuclear is that it is a capital intensive form of power generation, ie that the main component of the cost of the electricity produced is the long term amortisation (or financing) of the upfront investment. That means that the single most important driver of the cost of nuclear energy is the interest rate applied. In turn, that suggests that the easiest way to lower the cost of nuclear energy is to give it access to State funding, given how the State will always be the entity that has access to the lowest borrowing.

...

We need to make government able to do its job, which means using both the stick and the carrot. If you want cheap mortgages (a worthy goal of public policy), regulate the hell out of banks, and nationalize Freddie and Fannie; if you want cheap electricity, allow public funding of power plants (which, btw, will also heavily favor wind and other renewable energies) and make sure that all forms of generation are fully regulated for their externalities. ...
Be sure to check out the rest. What are my thoughts? I think governments should have as little a role as possible in the markets. Some of my reasoning for this includes the fact that: governments are inefficient, competition is gone (which helps reduce prices) and politics are always changing (which does not provide consistency if we want to have some sort of long-term energy policy). Critics to my reasonings point out that private companies "screw the customers and enrich the greedy." So what do you think? Can the government do a better job with nuclear energy than private companies?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Favor Jane Fonda Did Nuclear Energy

chinasyndrome About as counterintuitive as can be, William Tucker over at the New York Times' Freakonomics blog argues that The China Syndrome was a net positive for the nuclear industry.

Why? Because the movie accurately portrayed what could go wrong in a plant of that time and TMI, happening less than two weeks after the release of the film into theaters, acted as a real-life correlative:

At Three Mile Island things were much worse [than in the movie, where a stuck gauge causes all the problems]. Nothing on the control panel told the operators the level of cooling water in the reactor. Reading other gauges incorrectly, they mistakenly drained the core. The result was a partial meltdown.

One does wonder if the operators needed the "missing" gauge if they'd read the gauges they did have correctly, but Tucker is essentially correct. You can read a detailed explanation of the Three Mile Island accident here and here. (NEI and NRC - Wikipedia is kind of barren on it.)

After TMI, plants presumably got that gauge:

After Three Mile Island, the industry founded ... the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations — to upgrade operator training and pursue safety research. In the 1990’s a group of Navy veterans began asking why reactors couldn’t operate as efficiently as they do on submarines. After upgrading their operations, the utilities soon had their fleet of 104 reactors running at 90 percent of capacity — as opposed to the historical 60 percent.

Even when it's about our own industry, we tend to resist narratives that lead to an inevitable triumph - they are as contrived and false as the barely avoided apocalypse of The China Syndrome. Naturally, the events at TMI led to improvement - that would have happened with or without the movie. But what the movie did was yoke TMI to a very scary, and malicious, scenario. It created a terrifying image for the public that took years to return to reality.

So no, Jane Fonda didn't help the industry. Without The China Syndrome, TMI would have been a step along a path; with it, a Great Wall of China blocked the path, marked by media hysteria and fiction.

Interesting post, though. Be sure to read the whole thing and Tucker's other contributions to Freakonomics. You don't have to agree with any of it, though you might, and he has an interesting way around a subject.

And he does like nuclear - which gives him a big gold star from us - but let's allow The China Syndrome its proper place in the history of nuclear energy.

Jane Fonda - and is that Michael Douglas on her right? - in The China Syndrome. I don't remember Fonda's makeup being quite that heavy, but maybe it fit the TV reporter role.

People - including us - tend to point to Fonda in relation to this film because of her left-leaning politics. It makes things easy, too easy. In fact, The China Syndrome was Michael Douglas' first production after the Oscar-winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. When his TV show ended, Douglas gradually abandoned acting to take up production - until Romancing the Stone in 1984 (also produced by him) vaulted him to star level. Douglas, not Fonda, plays the authors' mouthpiece in the China Syndrome. (If you want to see the trio of movies as an ouvre, you could conclude Douglas liked stories about authority brought low rather than promoting ideology.)

Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Plant on MPT's "State Circle"

The Maryland Public Television's State Circle program aired a debate last Friday over building a third reactor at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant in southern Maryland. NEI's Mary Quillian Helms was interviewed along with Kevin Kamps from Beyond Nuclear. Check out the video.

Nuclear Plant Workers Averaged the Lowest Radiation Dose Ever in a Year in 2007

From the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s compilation of 2007 nuclear power plant worker doses at U.S. reactors shows the average annual collective dose per plant is 97 person-rem, the lowest ever, and is two-thirds of the dose recorded 10 years ago.

To determine a plant's collective dose, hundreds of workers’ individual doses are added up and the result is expressed in person-rem. The average American receives a dose of about 360 millirem every year from all radiation sources; the average nuclear plant worker in recent years received about an additional 160 millirem each year on the job. NRC regulations allow workers at nuclear power plants to safely receive a job-related dose of up to 5,000 millirem each year.

Here is a chart of the data since 1973.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"This Nuclear Energy" - Welcome, Malaysia

malaysia_sm_2008 We've welcomed a good number of countries to the nuclear family, enough by now to think we've filled in our entire stamp book (well, except for Vanuatu - they seem more like hydro people - nice stamps, though).

Now, there's Malaysia, a country split between the mainland and an island it shares with Indonesia, with the South China Sea between the halves. Malaysia is multi-cultural (though mostly ethnically Malay, at about 60%) and multi-religious (although mostly Muslim, again at 60%, mostly the Malays).

Unlike the Arab countries that have taken an interest in nuclear energy, Malaysia does not seem at all motivated by Iran's activities. Instead, worries about oil predominate.

"This nuclear energy is vital following the increase in the world fuel price and our limited oil reserve. Moreover, nuclear energy is cheap and clean," [Science, Technology and Innovation minister Maximus Ongkili said.]

We can't decide which we like more: the idea of a Science, Technology and Innovation minister (one of those in our cabinet here, please) or that his name is Maximus (one of those in our, uh, coliseum, please.)

Here's a little more:

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said in June that Malaysia may consider adopting nuclear power to meet its long-term energy needs amid surging global oil prices.

Currently, half of Malaysia's power plants run on gas. Other sources include coal and hydropower.

Seems like the right idea to us. While we bridle a bit that gas prices should be moving energy policy - we fear the price fluctuations can replace good policy creation with a bipolar-like cycle of panic and neglect  - we think Razak is recognizing, as some American politicians do not, that an eye on the future trumps the quick fixes of the present. Like the U.S., Malaysia has a widely dispersed population that depends on long distance hauling to keep the economy humming.

Let's keep an eye on this and see where it goes.

Map of Malaysia. Perhaps Malaysia get together with New Zealand occasionally to celebrate their divided land massedness.

Just to be fair, here's a nice roundup of Frogs of Malaysia stamps. When they build a nuclear plant, we hope the Malaysians keep those frogs safe. They're pretty unique looking.

Nuclear Power for Journalists with a Bias

The Society of Environmental Journalists (or SEJ) is an organization whose members "envision an informed society through excellence in environmental journalism."

In an era where the term "media bias" is thrown about as liberally as flour in an authentic Italian pizzeria, it is good to find that there exists an organization whose vision and mission is to help dispel this image. Part of that effort involves an annual conference, which this year is being held in Roanoke, Virginia, and according to their web site will have a session taking up the controversial issue of nuclear power.

This session, entitled "Nuclear Power - from Ore to Volts" is aimed at demystifying nuclear power for the journalist by looking at the “five stages in the life of nuclear power: mining, processing ore, enrichment of uranium to commercial or weapons grade, fuel fabrication, and utilization in a nuclear power plant.”

It sounds like a great idea, except when you look at the list of speakers for this session. Representation from the “volts” side – that is, a speaker from an actual commercial nuclear power station or utility – is notably absent. Notably present, however, are antinuclear spokesperson Linda Gunter from Beyond Nuclear and David Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

It looked to me like an innocent oversight until I contacted Roger Witherspoon, session moderator and journalist, who claims to be neutral on nuclear. In our phone call, Mr. Witherspoon had a lot to say about nuclear energy, listing one problem after another as if it were straight out of an antinuclear handbook, then ended by stating he wasn’t antinuclear. After reading some of his articles and comments since our phone conversation, I'm not so sure.

In the end, it didn’t seem to make a difference that the deck was stacked against nuclear energy in this Ore to Volts presentation. In fact, after our phone call, it seemed intentional. When I pointed out that there was no one from the nuclear industry or even a nuclear utility on the panel, he responded that they were going to tour the Areva facility in Lynchburg, and since Areva runs nuclear plants in France, that was representation enough.

In Virginia, Areva provides vital engineering support to the station, but they don’t operate the power plant, perform nuclear station environmental monitoring, participate in emergency preparedness exercises, or manage the utility, nor are they professional spokespersons for the nuclear industry who can provide a balanced perspective against the likes of Linda Gunter and David Lochbaum. No offense to the very capable and knowledgeable folks at Areva, but a “tour” of the Areva facility is no substitute for including a spokesperson from the nuclear power production side in the speaker line-up.

In the end, Mr. Witherspoon curtly dismissed my concerns and defended the speakers list as a fair and balanced representation of the topic.

For an organization whose goal it is “to advance public understanding of environmental issues by improving the quality, accuracy, and visibility of environmental reporting,” this session seems to be in direct conflict with that goal.

Pawlenty, Obama Surrogate Spar Over Energy

Pawlenty Vice President Obama EnergyThe Wheeler News Service, a Wisconsin-based wire service, reports on Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's appearance at U Dub in Madison on Monday,

...Pawlenty makes the pitch for John McCain, whose focus on energy includes the nuclear option.

"It's going to take a federal government and a president that is open to it," Pawlenty said of the possibility of new nuclear plants being built in the U.S.

"The outcome of this election will determine that outcome. I believe that if Barack Obama gets elected, he will slam the door shut on these options."

But Obama spokesman Phil Walczak says Obama does not oppose nuclear power. Obama supports "safe, secure nuclear energy," says Walczak.

"He understands that any longterm energy policy for this country is going to have to include many components, including a nuclear one."

The Economist Hosts a Debate on the "Global Energy Crisis"

I don't know about calling it a crisis but over the next ten days, The Economist will be hosting a debate on whether "we can solve our energy problems with existing technologies today, without the need for breakthrough innovations.” Anyone can sign up and leave comments. Rod Adams and Charles Barton have already shared some of their thoughts.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Plan for Nuclear Energy by the Senate's "Gang of Ten"

American Thinker lays out the Gang of Ten's initiatives for developing nuclear energy in the US:

A new faction within the US Senate, the "Gang of 10", have put forward a set of energy policy proposals that they see as a compromise between the "soft energy path" types like Speaker Pelosi and the "hard energy" hawks like Newt Gingrich.

...

First, they want to subsidize "workforce training." ... Secondly, they propose to encourage research and development of nuclear fuel recycling ... [And third,] the real red meat in the proposal is the tax change to the depreciation schedule for new nuclear power plants.
Check it out.

T. Boone Pickens and the Politics of Wind

pickens_turibine_080515_mn The reason to pay attention to T. Boone Pickens and his plan to replace natural gas with wind energy so as to divert the natural gas to automobiles is two-fold: he’s really rich and has the funds to build a constituency for his ideas; and he aims to cut through a perceived government blockage on energy policy by insisting on an approach – his own - that can be implemented now and has – he says - many positive qualities. He means to short-circuit the larger arguments around energy, cut through competing policy proposals, and get the American people behind a plan that is concrete and reasoned – and his.

Put that way, Pickens might seem profoundly undemocratic, depending as he does on droit de seigneur to push to the head of the line while opposition crumbles due to the logic and fineness of his ideas. He still has to get people to buy in to his plan – without actually buying them off, which would be problematic - and government has to cede its role in policy formation to him. Many big ideas by well-meaning rich folk founder on these points – all the king’s men couldn’t put Ross Perot back together once his public image began to curdle. Commercial buys (and charts) can carry you only so far.

But should T. Boone Pickens and his plan be considered differently than, say, Al Gore and his plan? Before we offer our own answer, consider: both men use much the same apocalyptic-prophetic rhetoric in insisting on dire consequences if their warnings are not heeded. Both use media to put across their message – Gore through a slide show and movie and Pickens through TV ads and a web site. Both offer public policy prescriptions, though Pickens’ are considerably more detailed.

However, we would say there is a signal difference and, in our view, it favors Gore. Let’s leave aside that Gore opened the door that Pickens has walked through, because Gore opened that door intentionally. Anyone can, and many have, responded to Gore’s invitation to weigh in on global warming solutions. The difference really lie in the two men’s orientation.

Gore is a public servant who has continued in that role beyond holding office. We may assume he maintains many contacts in government, but publicly, he puts his ideas into the public sphere to be approached, attacked, morphed, adopted, rejected – whatever. That’s how public policy forms and how a consensus develops around policy. While he remains an effective advocate for his ideas – and the Nobel Prize conferred tremendous credibility upon his efforts – he doesn’t control them.

Pickens is a businessman. We must start with the premise that he is utterly sincere in what he wants to do – and yes, we’ve read some of the same things you may have that would upset that premise – and that he wants to make money from his efforts. Like, say, Bill Gates, who pours money and time into many worthy efforts while making sure the digital world he can influence thinks the apple is only a fruit that keeps the doctor away, Pickens inclines to worthy solutions that can materially reward him. Now, Pickens can be both a saint and a businessman – that isn’t the point – it is that he has constructed a plan that bypasses public debate and is presented as a fait accompli avant le lettre. Questions of motivation naturally rise to the fore and must be considered even if ultimately dismissed.

We can look at plans informed by Gore’s ideas - or we can look at Pickens’ plan. We can approve or disapprove it but there it is. And that’s all there is.

All this preamble is not to preclude delving into Pickens’ proposal – which we intend to do over a few posts – or to say Pickens has no right to do what he is doing – he most certainly does – but only to balance the worthy aspects of his proposal with the preemption of policy formation it represents.

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You may well be thinking – hey, wait a second, this isn’t about using atoms for the general good. But let’s be clear, our own motivations being reasonably suspect, we don’t intend to crush Pickens and his plan under our nuclear heel.

We all recognize, I think, that any sensible energy policy has to include a mix of energy generators – practically, politically, and industrially - and wind has enough, er, wind behind it to be a part of that mix. Pickens or no Pickens, wind energy remains a cousin of nuclear energy in the non-emissions sweepstakes, and even if Pickens cannot ultimately implement his plan, its elements may well enter the broader energy discussion. So it deserves a hearing. After all, you drop in on your cousins occasionally, don’t you?

Picture of himself, T. Boone Pickens. Since there are no links, we guess this qualifies as an original piece – but please, explore the Pickens web site and see what you think.

Next Big Future: How Long Can Uranium Last for Nuclear Power?

If we use breeder reactors, uranium can last for 5 billion years at double current world electricity usage.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Wind Power Brings Prosperity, Anger"

Let me put up my usual disclaimer first: I am not against developing and installing wind power or any other renewable source of energy.

That said, I am passionately against claims by ardent antinuclear activists that wind, solar, and biofuels are the ultimate panaceas to our energy needs.

Each energy technology has its pros and cons but if we take a realistic look at our energy needs and if we evaluate different technologies with the same set of objective criteria we will find that we need them all. We need to thoughtfully deploy them in ways that optimize our use of natural resources, land and private and public investment while minimizing the impact to the environment and to the economy.

This article on CNN demonstrates that finding that optimization is not going to be easy. While some paint wind power as a benign power sources, there are people who abhor the impact it has had on their lives:

Yancey knows the towers are pumping clean electricity into the grid, knows they have been largely embraced by his community. But Yancey hates them. He hates the sight and he hates the sound. He can't stand the gigantic flickering shadows the blades cast at certain points in the day.
Digging into the article, I’m a little confused about the cost of the project. The article reports that it was $400 million but it also says that each 1.65 MW capacity turbine cost about $3 million and there are 195 of them which I calculate to be $585 million. Oh wait, here we go…
In New York, companies benefit from the fact that the state requires 25 percent of all electricity to be supplied from renewable sources by 2013. They also get federal production tax credits in addition to "green" renewable energy credits, which can be sold in the energy market.
Ok, so someone is subsidizing the project to the tune of about $185 million, or about 32% of the start-up cost. Plus the owners of the wind project receive
federal production tax credits in addition to "green" renewable energy credits, which can be sold in the energy market.
But wait, there's more.
Eventually, officials from Lowville, Martinsburg and Harrisburg, along with Lewis County legislators, negotiated a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement that gave the three jurisdictions $8.1 million in the first year…
So in addition to support from the state which is interested in meeting its renewable portfolio mandate, after 15 years, the company will pay NO LOCAL TAXES. Holy smoke. Why didn’t I think to invest in this project? Seems like the owners just can’t lose. In comparison, nuclear power plants currently receive no production tax credit (though there were provisions for them in the 2005 Energy Policy Act for the first few plants in the first few years of operation) and to my knowledge, all pay local taxes. I’m most familiar with the Surry and North Anna power plants which pay about $10 million a year in local taxes.

It all makes the $6600 per turbine per year paid to the landowners look a bit paltry, though.

Some in the community are thinking the same:

People have mixed feelings about the enormous scale of the project. They question what will happen when the 15-year agreements expire. There are concerns about the impact of turbines on bird and bat populations. Some accuse lawmakers of getting too cozy with wind developers -- allegations that prompted New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to launch an investigation into two wind companies and their dealings with upstate municipalities. (The investigation does not involve Maple Ridge.)

Such concerns have prompted some towns to pass moratoria on industrial turbines in order to learn more. Malone and Brandon recently banned them completely.
So towns don’t want wind turbines and much of the state’s leadership and legislature don’t want nuclear. New York State is no place for large scale solar. What does that leave?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

Meet 12 Degrees of Freedom.

Update: Also check out lardbeetle.

Let the Sun Shine In

our_sun While we wouldn’t mind having a few fuel rods in the basement to fulfill all our electricity needs, the likelihood of that happening in the near term is, um, poor.

However, solar panels are available now and unlike mini-windmills, which only show kids what the days of TV-aerial-choked rooftops looked like, panels can sit flat upon rooftops. Jimmy Carter famously installed panels in the White House (His successor, Ronald Reagan, took them out; who’s laughing now?), but they’re back. It’s like a comeback, only not a Norma Desmond-crazy kind of comeback.

We bring this all up to point you to a site we’ve seen at a couple of other sites – quite the cannibalizers, we – which allows you to locate your house or the house you’d like to own to see how plausible it is for you to fuel your big screen TV and Wii with solar panels.

The site encourages you to sign up if you want it to save your work, but you can play around with it without giving any personal data. We tried several possibilities: Morocco proved pretty darn good for this kind of thing, but our current abode will experience a few disturbing brownouts outside the summer months. However, even in other seasons, the panels can provide supplemental power.

The site will also show you panels - they call them roofrays – in your neighborhood to see who you might want to chat up at the Whole Foods market. And it lets you price solar arrays (though that feature may require a sign up).

A little Friday fun.

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Okay, enough fun. Solar energy got quite a serious boost today, out California way:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today applauded new agreements that would increase California's renewable energy supply with enough solar power to service approximately 239,000 homes annually. The agreements stipulate that Pacific Gas and Electric Company has entered into two utility-scale, photovoltaic (PV) solar power contracts, one that will create the largest photovoltaic plant in the world.

The agreements will generate an estimated total 800 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy.

That’s a start. California has 36 million people, so this plant will serve less than 1 percent of its population. The state is hopping a bit ahead of the curve on renewable energy – one might call that hopping a California trait, certainly, though, a positive one. (You can search on the Million Solar Roofs initiative, a Schwarzenegger-backed plan, to see more on California’s embrace of solar.)

Picture of Old Sol himself. Wouldn’t want to get between him and those solar panels. Quick to anger, we hear.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Is it Safe? More on Obama, McCain and Yucca Mountain

marathonman

One of our astute readers noticed that the Obama ad we posted the other day unfairly dinged McCain for not supporting transport of used nuclear fuel through Arizona. Jon Ralston over the the Las Vegas Sun takes up the cudgel. Here’s a fuller context, quoted by Ralston:

[Sam] Shad[, host of Nevada Newsmakers]: “Would you be comfortable with nuclear waste coming through Arizona on its way, you know going through Phoenix, on its way to Yucca Mountain?”

McCain: “No, I would not. No, I would not. I think it can be made safe.”

(We merged Ralston’s version a little to fully contextualize the quote.) The Obama ad doesn’t include that last line, and Ralston assumes McCain misheard the question as asking him whether he would object to fuel being transported through Arizona. Fair enough, though a little ambiguous – one could say the missing line indicates McCain is playing the same “safe” card as does Obama.

And there’s more along those line. Ralston notes that McCain might be hedging a bit now that the state and its five electors are in play:

Now [McCain] is trying to fudge a little by saying [Yucca Mountain] has to meet “the environmental and safety standards that are necessary,” as he told KLAS-TV’s Mark Sayre over the weekend. That’s the same “sound science” sop — and a meaningless one — President Bush and many others have used.

Not to mention Obama. Whether you like Obama’s politics or not, McCain does seem to be co-opting his competitor’s views since they play better to the intended audience. (To be scrupulously fair, the whole offshore drilling kerfluffle showed that Obama can play the same game – maybe it’s a politician thing.)

Truly it is frustrating. Yucca Mountain may be just too vulnerable to scare tactics and misinformation for any politician to state the plain truth: Yucca Mountain, stuffed to its geologic gills with dry casks, is not a danger to Nevadans or anyone else. Shipping nuclear fuel to it endangers no one and is not vulnerable to terrorist attack.

(Yes, we’re linking to NEI Fact Sheets. They’re pretty darn thorough –in fact,  if you think there’s a problem with any of them, please let us know in comments or privately. We really do aim to make them complete and accurate – NEI would have no credibility if it, you know, lied or spun.)

Let’s let Ralston make his point:

So with McCain, you pretty much know what’s going to happen on Yucca and with Obama it’s a gamble — a microcosm of the election, from some perspectives at least.

Hmm. Frankly, we think Ralston demonstrated the opposite – Obama said what he said and has not changed a bit while McCain is nosing away from his original position. It’s interesting to see the narratives that develop around politicians solidify even when events contradict them.

Laurence Oliver in Marathon Man. Odd that an actor with perhaps the most lauded career in the 20th century should be remembered best by many people for a single line in (an admittedly hair-raising) movie scene: “is it safe?”

The Long Haul


In establishing a tripartite national government, the Founding Fathers bequeathed us a very inefficient form of government. Friction between the legislative, executive and judicial branches slows the pace at which major changes proceed through our highly viscous political system. Fundamental changes in national direction arise over decades, not days. Economic and business columnist Robert J. Samuelson discusses this in his August 13, 2008 column, "The Great Energy Confusion", in The Washington Post. Samuelson observes, for example, that:

"...with a growing population and the existing stock of vehicles and buildings, even good policies and technological breakthroughs will only gradually shift our energy consumption. In the government's projection, renewable energy (wind, solar, some biomass) grows seven times faster than average energy use; still, it's only 7 percent of total consumption by 2030."
He also notes that:
"any serious effort to curb oil use and greenhouse gases will require high energy prices -- whether imposed by the market or taxes -- to induce conservation and conversion to nonfossil fuels."
Samuelson reminds us that, with the enormity of the energy challenge, it could take decades for the nation to change. This, he says, reflects the messy process by which democracies reach consensus. The process is, by design, a marathon, not a sprint.

Photo: Magdalena Lewy Boulet, one of three women marathoners representing the United States in the Beijing Olympics

5th Anniversary of the 2003 Northeast Blackout

Some reflections from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC):

On August 14, 2003, the North American electric grid experienced the largest blackout in its history, leaving over 50 million people across Southeastern Canada and the Northeastern U.S. without power. On this, the event’s fifth anniversary, North American Electric Reliability Corporation President and CEO, Rick Sergel, highlights the progress that has been made and new challenges ahead for ensuring reliability:

“In the mid-afternoon of August 14, 2003, the electric system reached a breaking point: trees contacted four separate transmission lines in Ohio – quickly taking the lines out of service; automatic controls sensed the disturbance and unnecessarily took additional lines out of service; failed computer systems left operators with inaccurate system information for hours before being addressed; and grid monitoring tools were not able to assess conditions quickly enough for operators to react.

“With the support and oversight of its stakeholders in industry and government, NERC has worked to fundamentally change the situation that allowed this catastrophic event to occur by developing mandatory reliability standards, enforcing zero-tolerance policies, leading extensive reviews of electric system components, and developing new reliability tools. As a result of these efforts, I can confidently say that the events that led to the 2003 blackout are now much less likely to recur.”
You can read more of the upgrades to the grid here. Funny enough, if you go the Wikipedia page, you can read who was blaming who for the cause of the outage just after it happened. Canadians blamed Americans, New Yorkers blamed Canadians, and all the while it was several trees in Ohio that triggered the whole event.

Do Wind Turbines Cause Adverse Health Effects?

This claim is a bit bogus in my opinion but Dr. Nina Pierpont in NY is set to publish a book next month that claims "living close to wind turbines ... can cause sleep disorders, difficulty with equilibrium, headaches, childhood "night terrors" and other health problems."

Since a doctor makes these claims I guess these health hazards must be real ... not necessarily. Needless to say, the nuclear industry deals with this kind of stuff day in and day out. I wonder how the wind folks will react to these types of claims.

Wind advocates, welcome to a whole new game of PR!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Judd Gregg Calls for Expansion of Nuclear Power

Judd GreggIn a meeting with editors from the Keene Sentinel, New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg (R) had some interesting things to say about nuclear energy's future in the state and Senate.

“If we move forward aggressively with the policy of producing more American energy and conserving more American energy, and show the world that we’re serious about the supply side, that will lead to further reduction in the price of oil,” Gregg said. “And that will take pressure off the economy, which is really reeling from the huge increase in energy costs.”

The energy policies of those in government are beginning to move in a similar direction despite partisan differences, he said.

“There’s always been consensus on conservation and renewables,” Gregg said. “Now we’re seeing some consensus develop around production.”

Along with gas, and oil from offshore drilling, Gregg said nuclear energy should have a role.

“We have not lost a single life to nuclear power in this country,” Gregg said. “We are running nuclear power plants all over this country, and we’re running a navy that’s nuclear generated. So we know how to deal with nuclear energy. We know how to make it safe. And we know how to produce it.

“Yes, nuclear power plants have a life expectancy, and at the end of their life expectancy they get shut down,” he said. “We just shut one down in Maine, for example.”

Vermont Yankee, a nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt., is set to have its operating license expire in 2012. Plant owner Entergy Nuclear is seeking permission to extend its license another 20 years.

“If they can do it safely, they should do it,” Gregg said.

“We haven’t licensed a plant for 27 years,” he said. “The last one to come online was Seabrook (N.H.). Seabrook’s now been operating for almost 20 years, without any problems, generated a lot of electricity and been a very efficient way for us not to buy oil.

Gregg said legislators should consider whether another nuclear power plant at Seabrook would be appropriate.

“We should be using more nuclear power,” he said. “It is clean. It does not affect the global environment. And it is domestic.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tim Kaine Promotes Energy Plan

Tim Kaine Energy PlanAddressing the Southern Governors' Association on Monday, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine called for southern states to develop a regional, comprehensive energy plan to address climate change. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch,

"The issue of energy and how we will we provide power for homes, businesses, transportation has gone from a back-burner issue to a front-burner issue -- thank goodness," Kaine told a meeting of the Southern Governors' Association on the final day of its annual conference, held at The Greenbrier resort. "There is no doubt that the science shows that climate change is happening."

Kaine, the incoming chairman of the 16-state SGA, said regional consensus on a policy is necessary to wield more clout in Washington.

"We shouldn't be absent at the table as the federal framework is being hammered out.
With 26 of the nation's 65 nuclear power plant sites located in states with governors in the SGA, I think it's safe to say that nuclear will be part of any conversations about comprehensive energy initiatives.

Nuclear Cheese from Wisconsin

WISCONSIN_CHEESE BIG Well, cheese, yes, and delicious cheese at that, perhaps created with help from electricity generated by the Dominion-owned Kewaunee nuclear plant, but we mean the  endorsement of nuclear energy coming from Governor Jim Doyle and the cheesiness of the odd hedging Doyle engaged in to get to it.

Doyle said Friday in a conference call organized by the Obama campaign that he agrees with Obama that nuclear power should be considered. Actively endorsing the consideration of nuclear power is a change for Doyle, who previously emphasized his position that the first new plant in the country won't be built in Wisconsin.

Presumably, Doyle is leaving the door open to reverse his position if the political winds shift against it, but it seems a not very coherent stance. The first new plant will be built when a company gets NRC approval and breaks ground. That’s unlikely to be Wisconsin – none of the license applications pending or in progress are for a plant there - so Doyle’s statement makes no particular sense. It doesn’t even seem all that coherent politically.

Doyle spoke out about nuclear power Wednesday, saying he backs his global warming task force's recommendation that utilities be allowed to propose new nuclear power plants under certain conditions. The task force says the plants should be built at a reasonable cost and help meet emission goals.

Ah, there we go. With a task force coming out with the recommendation, Doyle has sufficient cover to make a statement. Even here, there is a fair measure of hedging – of course, such a plant would help meet emission goals if it replaces a emission-producing plant or two and of course, Dominion or another company won’t build  a plant at an unreasonable cost – and with the federal loan guarantee program, a reasonable cost becomes more likely. All this caution piles the cheddar a little thick, but we’ll take it anyway.

Perhaps the Democrats in general and Gov. Doyle in particular are approaching nuclear energy like a squirrel approaches an outstretched hand offering a peanut – ready to bolt at any moment – but it’s a signal change for the party and, we think, a harbinger of  acceptance from the Dems and an Obama administration going forward.

When you’ve got a signature product, flaunt it. After all, we don’t disagree: it is all about the cheese, isn’t it?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Obama on Yucca Mountain

We already knew from the Democratic debate in Nevada that Barack Obama had no use for Yucca Mountain, but despite this, and John McCain’s support of the brown mound, McCain and Obama are within a couple points of each other. Now, Obama is trying to close the deal, using Yucca Mountain as the wedge.

Well, what can we say? We either leave use nuclear fuel scattered around the country – it’s mostly held at the individual plants – or we put it in a similarly remote locale that’s not in a battleground state. Yucca Mountain may well come to represent the dangers of any long-term project subject to the hot winds of political fortune – no matter the overall good it represents. Much the same argument could be made for humming windmill farms or solar panel arrays that mar the fine landscape of some state no matter how far away from people they are.

But Obama’s position has been consistent – it’s certainly legitimate to show how it differs from McCain’s, and the ad is admittedly effective in having McCain play the NIMBY card, since Arizona lay directly next to Nevada. However, NIMBY is the name of the Yucca game and Obama has the winning hand.

A 30-second spot is not the place to develop a replacement for Yucca Mountain nor are Nevadans interested in one. However, even if Obama closed every nuclear plant in the country, he would still need a solution for used nuclear fuel or the government will have to support storing the fuel at the plants and pay for mini-repositories in multiple locales. This is really a bigger issue than a TV spot can address and our annoyance at the ad is picayune – politicians boil their messages down to bite-size morsels on most important issues, so no room to gripe about this one.

Council on Foreign Relations Studies Nuclear Power Expansion

nuclear-power-expansionThe nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations surveys the economic and political landscape of nuclear energy in an article, Challenges for Nuclear Power Expansion, written by Toni Johnson.

Even with these challenges, some still believe climate change policy will soon make nuclear power more competitive. James Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, said in a 2007 CFR symposium that when the life cycle cost of nuclear is accounted for, nuclear power "is still the best way to produce electricity with zero greenhouse gases from the actual operation"—even compared with energy sources such as wind. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in May 2008 that a carbon price of between $20 and $45 per ton, which many projections say is feasible, would make nuclear competitive with coal.

But other experts point to a climate change policy model (PDF) that indicates at least 700 gigawatts in additional capacity would be needed for nuclear power to make any measureable additional contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That could amount to over one thousand new reactors in the next forty years if the majority of reactors currently online need to be replaced.

Some experts believe that while daunting, it is possible to achieve that level of building even with the current lack of construction capacity. Ray Ganther of the French nuclear company Areva said in 2007 the industry managed to start building 150 nuclear reactors within a decade of inception. A 2007 report written by a number of nuclear experts concludes that to reach 700 gigawatts the industry would need to return to nuclear power's "most rapid period of growth" and sustain this rate of growth for the next fifty years (PDF).