Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Blueprint for Securing America's Energy Future

The Institute for 21st Century EnergyThe Institute for 21st Century Energy, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, released its Blueprint for Securing America's Energy Future [PDF] earlier today, calling for the significant expansion of nuclear power in the U.S. The Institute made nine recommendations:

  • Congress should increase the loan guarantee authority of DOE’s Loan Guarantee Program commensurate with the capital cost of new nuclear power facilities. Additionally, Congress should transition the function of the DOE Loan Guarantee Program to a more permanent, stable financing platform, like the Clean Energy Bank of the U.S. (CEBUS) discussed in Section V of this report.
  • Congress should amend the Nuclear Standby Support Program to allow for recovery of increased project costs as a result of delays, rising equipment costs, escalation clauses, and costs of litigation, and it should provide for the recovery of 100% of covered costs and debt obligations.
  • Congress should ensure that the Nuclear Regulatory Commisson (NRC) has the necessary resources to review and approve combined construction and operating licenses for new nuclear power plants in a timely manner.
  • DOE should increase the amount of federally stockpiled uranium available for use in domestic nuclear facilities and create a strategic reserve of low-enriched uranium from its existing inventory to guard against supply disruptions.
  • The President and Congress should authorize the Secretary of Energy to enter into agreements with willing communities to foster the development of privately owned central facilities for the temporary storage of used nuclear fuel where DOE could purchase storage services for commercial used fuel removed from nuclear power plants.
  • The President and Congress must commit to a permanent solution to our nation’s nuclear waste. As directed by current law, the President and Congress must act expeditiously to ensure that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Yucca Mountain licensing process proceeds and, if it is licensed, provide full funding for construction and operation of the repository as well as take legislative action to permanently withdraw the necessary land from public use, eliminate the current statutory 70,000 metric ton cap on disposal capacity at Yucca Mountain, and establish a radiation health standard for a time period that can reasonably be demonstrated through scientific evidence.
  • If the President or Congress will not fully commit to this path, they owe it to the American public and the utilities that have paid fees and interest in excess of $27 billion into the Nuclear Waste Fund, to pursue a parallel path of centralized interim storage, industrial deployment of advanced recycling technology, and continued governmental research and development to more quickly place the U.S. government in compliance with U.S. law.
  • Congress should change budgeting rules to take the Nuclear Waste Fund “off budget” and codify use of this fund for interim used fuel storage through purchasing storage services from private central storage facilities as well as used fuel recycling.
  • The President and Congress should expeditiously establish a program to begin the recycling of the nation’s used nuclear fuel and establish a new corporation to coordinate the federal government’s legal responsibility to safely and reliably dispose of the waste while not subsuming DOE’s R&D mission. This entity should be provided long-term contracting authority andaccess to monies from the Nuclear Waste Fund.

Hat in Hand? The IAEA Talks Money Woes

051007_elbaradei_vmed_4a.widecIf everything is timing, now was not the right time for the International Atomic Energy Agency to start a fundraising effort:

The International Atomic Energy Agency chief urged 145 member states on Monday to come to grips with an IAEA funding crisis undermining its ability to prevent nuclear proliferation threats.

Opening the IAEA's annual assembly, Mohamed ElBaradei called for urgent steps to increase funding of the U.N. watchdog, modernise equipment and enhance its legal authority to verify the nature of nuclear programmes in suspect countries.

In case you think ElBaradei might be unwilling to raise the rhetoric to alarming levels:

"It would be a tragedy of epic proportions if we fail to act (for lack of resources) until after a nuclear conflagration, accident or terrorist attack that could have been prevented."

Yes, that certainly would be a tragedy, wouldn't it? While we don't want to suggest even for an instant that the IAEA shouldn't be funded to a reasonable level - the U.N. put it charge of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty - we suspect it might be pushing apocalypse in the face of a uncomfortable financial environment. (And remember, ElBaradei was talking to the membership, not you and me. Putting statements like that out to the public would qualify as fantastically inflammatory, nuclear conflagration or not.)

He urged IAEA members to accept the recommendation of an independent commission for an 80 million euro injection to modernise IAEA labs and emergency response abilities and a gradual doubling of the budget by 2020.

The IAEA's budget now is about 340 million euros, which ElBaradei has called penny-pinching.

We guess 340 million euros (or 420 million euros if you merge the two amounts given) is not so much spread among 145 member nations, though it'll be interesting to see if there's some pushback and what form it might take. We found some stories about individual conflicts between members - see here, for example - but nothing suggesting a ruction with the entity or ElBaradei.

How the assembly goes should indicate how the IAEA proceeds - and who pledges some funds or comes up with reasons not to - so let's wait and see.

Mohamed ElBaradei - that's the IAEA logo behind him. He and the organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for ratcheting down nuclear tensions in North Korea and Iran. There might have been an anti-U.S. bias here, as the Bush administration did not want ElBaradei to continue in another term after the latter "failed" to contain Iraq's nuclear ambitions. Someone ended up a little egg-faced and it wasn't ElBaradei.

Obama Campaigns in Nevada

Obama in NevadaAt a speech to be delivered later this afternoon on the quad of the University of Nevada, Reno campus, Senator Obama has some things to say about rebuilding the grid and nuclear.

To create new jobs, I’ll invest in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure – our roads, schools, and bridges. We’ll rebuild our outdated electricity grid and build new broadband lines to connect America. And I’ll create the jobs of the future by transforming our energy economy. We’ll 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 the United States of America.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Indian-U.S. Deal Inches Forward

india_facilities Inching, yes, but given that congress has been otherwise engaged during the last week, we'll take it:

The US House of Representatives has approved a landmark nuclear deal with India, removing one of two final obstacles to a foreign policy victory for the Bush administration.

While the House approved the deal 298-117 on Saturday, it still faces a hurdle in the Senate. Several senators oppose the deal and could attempt to block a vote in the few days left before Congress recesses ahead of the November elections.

As The Financial Times' Demetri Sevastopulo points out above, The Senate still has to come through and may not:

But the final clinching step remains the approval of the Senate where a senator anonymously put a ``hold’’ on consideration of the bill in a tactic aimed at delaying the vote. Sources were confident that the Senate step would be completed soon and that there could be movement in the Senate as early as Monday.

As of right now, though, nothing in the Senate. We'll keep an eye on it and report back. Even if Congress adjourns without finishing action on the bill, the clock might still run long enough for the bill to pass if it isn't explicitly voted down. That's a long shot, though, so we'll see if the Senate acts before voting on the financial bailout and skipping town.

A map of India's nuclear facilities. See here for what they are and what they do.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman (1925-2008)


People around my age picked up Paul Newman's career somewhere in the seventies, when he was lending his light gravitas to big bucks commercial clangers like When Time Ran Out or amusing himself with auteurist follies like Quintet – two hours of Newman in the snow, swaddled in heavy fur. If he had been anything like an actor, it had been for my parents, not me, and he was about as relevant as Olivia De Havilland in The Swarm, which is to say not much. Now that he has died, 30 years after I first ran into his work, 54 years after he began his film career, and 83 years after he was born in 1925, I cannot say that anymore and haven't for a long time.

In Hud, based on Larry McMurtry's novel, Newman's talent, seen on TV in a pan-and-scan print with runny grays, suddenly became manifest. In that movie, he competes with his stern father for the soul of his younger brother and provides a gateway for the boy into his world of liquor, loose women and moral relativism run wild. The irony of the story is that Hud is sexy, swaggering – testicles on legs – a complete swine, with a hard mean tone to his voice that goes light when seduction is the game, but essentially right when it counts. He sees that his father's rigid adherence to a moral code causes the old man to make ghastly mistakes, yet Hud has no standing to put things right. Now, McMurtry's novel had no intent to favor Hud, even ironically, and Hud is meant to be the villain, but audiences didn't see it that way.


What Newman did was explode the part and made it far more complex than what was on the page. Beyond that, he did it without playing directly to the audience or asking for sympathy – he didn't make Hud sympathetic, he made him comprehensible, someone who could fascinate the audience even through many scenes of bad, even unforgivable behavior.


Like many actors with long careers, Newman had strings of stinkers that might have encouraged retirement – I wouldn't have missed him if he left after some of his seventies work – but he held out until writers and directors realized that his talent hadn't left him and might want to consider doing something more substantial with him. And it came to pass: writer David Mamet and director Sidney Lumet rescued Newman from the high-paying hell of Irwin Allen disaster movies and gave him a first rate vehical in The Verdict, in which he create a very different kind of flawed man than in Hud.


In that film, attorney Frank Galvin is a late middle aged man brought low by alcohol and too much failure, and the movie hinges on his ability – or lack of it – to rouse himself for a big case – involving medical malpractice - against big players – a Catholic hospital with deep ties into the religious and political landscapes of Boston. Newman isn't playing Hud later in life, but a completely different kind of character, one whose already meager resources have run almost completely dry. The movie doesn't escape commercial consideration – we all know how that case is going to work out – but Newman's job was to make you doubt him thoroughly, and he did that.


Newman gave superb performances whenever the opportunities presented themselves. In the 50s, there was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Somebody Up There Likes Me, in the 60s Hud and The Hustler, in the 70s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. Perhaps he did like to hang around people of middling talent a bit too much – he made a string of films with Hud director Martin Ritt that were not too special and repeated the pattern with Stuart Rosenberg after the success of Cool Hand Luke. In both cases, and others, he could be accused of coasting – being a magnetic personality and extremely handsome guy can carry one quite a way.


But The Verdict set him on track to pick-and-choose roles right through his seventies; unlike many other leading men grown old, he seemed to enjoy being free of youthful vanity, sexual desirability, and actorly laziness. In movies like Nobody's Fool, he's quite content to lead an ensemble and in The Road to Perdition, perfectly willing to take over with casual malice when Tom Hanks falters.


And when he acted with his wife of 50 years, Joanne Woodward, as in Mr. And Mrs. Bridge, he would take second chair. Several of his directing efforts left himself out completely, the better to spotlight Miss Woodward's considerable talent – Rachel Rachel, The Glass Menagerie and others are accomplished works, not vanity productions for the wife.


Newman's racing outfit, Newman-Wachs, ran an NEI-sponsored car in some races – you can read about that here – and Newman favored nuclear energy, so there is, however light, a connection. But really, none is needed.


When I made dinner last night, I put together some pork chops and a salad. I went to get the dressing to glop over the greens and saw that it was Newman's Own Lite Ranch, with smiling Paul wearing a silly cowboy hat. I felt like I'd been hit - and gave Hud a spin after dinner.


Paul Newman in The Verdict. Lumet often shot Newman's character from this angle, the better to indicate Frank Galvin's relationship to the bench and to make his eventual success all the sweeter.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The First Presidential Debate

presidential debate in Oxford, MSSenators Obama and McCain participated in the first of the Presidential debates on Friday night. Although planned to focus on foreign policy, the debate covered a range of topics with significant domestic importance, including energy policy. Nuclear energy was mentioned at three points in the discussion of energy policy. The first mention came from Senator McCain:

MCCAIN: Look, we are sending $700 billion a year overseas to countries that don't like us very much. Some of that money ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations. We have to have wind, tide, solar, natural gas, flex fuel cars and all that but we also have to have offshore drilling and we also have to have nuclear power. Senator Obama opposes both storing and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. You can't get there from here and the fact is that we can create 700,000 jobs by building constructing 45 new nuclear power plants by the year 2030. Nuclear power is not only important as far as eliminating our dependence on foreign oil but it's also responsibility as far as climate change is concerned and the issue I have been involved in for many, many years and I'm proud of the work of the work that I've done there along with President Clinton.
The second mention came from Senator Obama, following up a question about Russian intervention in Georgia:
OBAMA: The second point I want to make is -- is the issue of energy. Russia is in part resurgent and Putin is feeling powerful because of petro-dollars, as Senator McCain mentioned. That means that we, as one of the biggest consumers of oil -- 25 percent of the world's oil -- have to have an energy strategy not just to deal with Russia, but to deal with many of the rogue states we've talked about, Iran, Venezuela.And that means, yes, increasing domestic production and off-shore drilling, but we only have 3 percent of the world's oil supplies and we use 25 percent of the world's oil. So we can't simply drill our way out of the problem. What we're going to have to do is to approach it through alternative energy, like solar, and wind, and biodiesel, and, yes, nuclear energy, clean-coal technology. And, you know, I've got a plan for us to make a significant investment over the next 10 years to do that. And I have to say, Senator McCain and I, I think agree on the importance of energy, but Senator McCain mentioned earlier the importance of looking at a record.

The third mention came from both candidates in the closing minutes of the debate:
MCCAIN: No one from Arizona is against solar. And Senator Obama says he's for nuclear, but he's against reprocessing and he's against storing. So...
OBAMA: That's just not true, John. John, I'm sorry, but that's not true.
MCCAIN: ... it's hard to get there from here. And off-shore drilling is also something that is very important and it is a bridge.
And we know that, if we drill off-shore and exploit a lot of these reserves, it will help, at temporarily, relieve our energy requirements. And it will have, I think, an important effect on the price of a barrel of oil.
OBAMA: I just have to respond very quickly, just to correct -- just to correct the record.
MCCAIN: So I want to say that, with the Nunn-Lugar thing...
LEHRER [Moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS]: Excuse me, Senator.
OBAMA: John?
MCCAIN: ... I supported Nunn-Lugar back in the early 1990s when a lot of my colleagues didn't. That was the key legislation at the time and put us on the road to eliminating this issue of nuclear waste and the nuclear fuel that has to be taken care of.
OBAMA: I -- I just have to correct the record here. I have never said that I object to nuclear waste. What I've said is that we have to store it safely.
And, Senator McCain, he says -- he talks about Arizona.
LEHRER: All right.
OBAMA: I've got to make this point, Jim.
LEHRER: OK.
OBAMA: He objects...
MCCAIN: I have voted for alternate fuel all of my time...
OBAMA: He -- he -- he objects...
(CROSSTALK)
LEHRER: One at a time, please.
OBAMA: He objected...
LEHRER: One at a time.
MCCAIN: No one can be opposed to alternate energy.
OBAMA: All right, fair enough. Let's move on.
Being mentioned at a Presidential debate is encouraging for those of us who believe nuclear energy can and should be an important part of the nation's energy future. Only time will tell whether these utterances influence the election and, whoever wins, lead to a national energy policy and laws that enable nuclear energy to shoulder an even greater amount of the nation's energy load. For now, we have a measure of what was on the candidates' minds last night and that will have to do.

The Washington Post has full video of the debate. The IHT has a complete transcript here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Warp Effect: WSJ on Buffett, Constellation and the Fate of the EPR

Buffett Nuclear EnergyThe Wall Street Journal has a story about Warren Buffett's pending purchase of Constellation Energy and, particularly from our point of view, its UniStar subsidiary, a nuclear consortia that includes Electricite de France, AREVA and Bechtel.

The WSJ has no idea how Buffett might proceed with its Unistar subsidiary:

On Thursday, MidAmerican chief executive Greg Abel sounded more enthusiastic about the technology, saying "we're committed to new nuclear."
But:
Mr. Buffett's sudden emergence raises questions about whether nuclear development, in general, has viability, according to Paul Patterson, head of Glenrock Associates LLC in New York, a research firm. "It's a very cloudy picture," Mr. Patterson says, "And, so far, we don't have anyone making a firm decision to go forward." [We're not sure if he means Buffett, which would be an awfully early call, or the industry, which is plainly false.]
What is not fully noted in the story is that the UniStar subsidiary is the gateway to introducing the EPR plant design into the American market (EPR stands for Evolutionary Power Reactor). EPRs are notably expensive - about double per plant than the $4 billion Buffett is paying for Constellation.

For those who may not know or remember, Buffett's company, MidAmerican, abandoned plans to build an EPR in Idaho last year. Luckily, the numbers for Constellation's planned EPR at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear site are much more favorable.

First, the retail price for power in Maryland (9.95 cents/kWh) is twice as high as Idaho (4.92 cents/kWh). This makes a huge difference. NEI believes that the costs of a new nuclear plant financed with a loan guarantee are 6.4 - 7.6 cents/kWh (pdf, page 12). The new plant costs are definitely in the range of competitiveness and profitability for the state.

Furthermore, Constellation has much more nuclear experience than MidAmerican - CEG owns and operates five nuclear reactors whereas MidAmerican owns 25% of two nuclear reactors. CEG also is working close with Areva to pass lessons learned from the construction of the two EPRs at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flammanville in France.

And last, Calvert Cliffs is located in a congested electric region (PJM) where dense sources of emission-free power are needed. Maryland also is part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative whose goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 10% by 2018 in the ten Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states (map to the right). These states definitely have an incentive to build an EPR at Calvert Cliffs.

As we've seen over the last couple of days, inserting large personalities into an issue can create a celebrity warp large enough to impress Captain Kirk - whether it is the Presidential candidates dropping in to rescue America or Warren Buffett toying with a new industry.

If Buffett goes all in on the EPR, other energy companies using that design will benefit tremendously. Buffett's imprimatur can loosen the credit market, influence energy policy, and cause other players to rethink their plans. If not, shudders all around, with, at worst, EDF's and AREVA's plans in this country possibly cratering, at least in the short term. A warp.
If Berkshire pulled the plug on the additional reactor at Calvert Cliffs [in Maryland], it would be a set back for Areva, as well as other companies planning on using Areva's design, such as Missouri-based Ameren Corp., and Pennsylvania-based utility, PPL Corp.
And:
Mike Wallace, Constellation's generation group president, said that if "Calvert doesn't pencil out, none of the others will, either."
Now, just as John McCain and Barack Obama dropping by Washington shouldn't make us worry overly 'bout the current financial tumult, neither should Buffett's actions in the nuclear industry. Nuclear energy doesn't rise or fall on the strength of a single success or failure and, as we've seen, there's virtually no way for America (and the world) to achieve its energy policy goals without nuclear energy.

However, Buffett can roil any industry he steps into by dint of his presence in it. That cannot be underestimated, since just a statement of intent has pushed nuclear energy closer to the center of the energy debate. Fine by us, even if the attendant drama might make us wish for a debate in Mississippi to clear the air.

Written by Mark Flanagan. Contributions from David Bradish.

The USS Enterprise. Back in the nineties, IBM called a computer operating system OS/2 Warp and intended to use the original Star Trek cast in commercials. When terms couldn't be worked out, IBM got Kate Mulgrew from Voyager instead. No offense to Miss Mulgrew, a fine actress, but a black hole of an idea rather than a warp.

Incentives or Investments?

Federal subsidies and their role in promoting our national interests have been debated since the earliest days of our nation. Earlier this week, NEI and Management Information Services Inc. released a MISI report that catalogs in exhaustive detail the panoply of federal subsidies for energy development since 1950. This report presents the facts on the many forms of subsidies employed by the federal government and the amounts expended to promote each type of energy. As the principal author, Dr. Roger Bezdek, said to reporters at the National Press Club on Tuesday, the report does not make any judgments about the appropriateness of the mix, amounts, or targets of energy subsidies. It simply tries to lay out the numbers as completely and accurately as possible, so that public discussion about the history and future of federal energy incentives can be well informed.
The MISI report also does not touch on the other side of the subsidy story - what the public gets in return. NEI has done a series of studies of the economic benefits of individual nuclear power plants. Using typical results from those studies in 2005 NEI estimated the lifetime economic benefits of a new nuclear plant. As shown in the table above, the results indicate that the typical new plant will return more than 11 to 20 billion dollars in local, state and federal taxes and jobs over its lifetime.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Go Slow or Go Fast?

A new article in the business section of the New York Times by Matthew L. Wald explores the expansion of nuclear power in the US. In this article, the question is not if, but how fast?

With the federal government offering the nuclear industry $18.5 billion in loan guarantees and billions more in production tax credits and insurance against bureaucratic delays, at least a few new reactors seem certain to be built.

But how many?
It then goes on to discuss "two opposing viewpoints on expanding nuclear power," with Roger Gale, a former DOE official and consultant, presenting the slow and cautious approach, and General Electric's John Krenicki posing the case for a "large-scale campaign to build plants" to capitalize on economies of scale.

Other people interviewed for this article include Michael Wallace, the chairman of UniStar Nuclear Energy, on his company's strategy for building multiple plants simultaneously and NEI's Richard Myers, who discusses the possibility of a large-scale construction of nuclear reactors in the US.

One thing that left me wondering, however, is the final paragraph. When discussing a future in which "companies line up to build nuclear plants," Mr. Wald concludes
Few American companies will be in the line. Of the four American companies that sold the bulk of nuclear reactors in the 1960s and 1970s, Westinghouse, the biggest, is now owned by a Japanese company, and General Electric is in a global partnership with a different Japanese company. The other two companies were absorbed by larger players.
By "American companies," does Mr. Wald mean American-owned companies, companies that employ Americans, or what? What about the many companies that are hired as contractors for a project as large as the construction of a new nuclear reactor? Do they not count?

In a world with an economy that becomes ever more global with each passing year, it is hardly surprising that the few companies in the world that sell nuclear reactors are international companies. Perhaps Mr. Wald does not realize that one of the "other two companies" that he mentions -- what was once the civilian side of Babcock & Wilcox's US nuclear business -- is now part of the French-owned nuclear company AREVA, which is one of the key partners in UniStar Nuclear Energy, the company that is mentioned in his article.

Nevertheless, this article is definitely worth a look.

Drill the Baby


The states still have to weigh in here, but the Congressional moratorium on offshore drilling is expiring before our eyes (to be more precise, on the 30th of this month):

The end of the ban will not lead to a rush of new drilling any time soon, but it would be a big win for Republican Presidential nominee John McCain who has made opening most U.S. offshore areas to drilling a key part of his campaign. His Democratic rival, Barack Obama, supports limited offshore drilling as part of a bigger overhaul of U.S. energy policy.

We're not as sure as Reuters' Tom Doggett is of the political benefit to McCain, mostly because all eyes are off this issue and Congress has understandably moved energy policy from a boil to a simmer, if that. In fact, if gas prices spike in the next couple of weeks, as seems possible, a (rather unfair) talking point emerges for Obama. Of course, both campaigns have been regular ad machines, so there's that, and it could come up in the debate this Friday.

Derrick, courtesy of Reuters.

EDF To Buy British Energy for $23.2 Billion

edfWe have a winner in the British Energy Stakes. Per the BBC,

French energy firm EDF has agreed to buy British Energy, the firm which operates eight UK nuclear power plants, in a £12.5bn deal.

In addition, British Gas-owner Centrica said it is in talks with EDF to take 25% of all power generated by British Energy once it is in French hands.

It will also take a 25% stake in all new nuclear plants built by EDF.

British Energy power plants generate about 14% of UK energy supply, but many are due to be shut within 15 years.

British Energy chairman Sir Adrian Montague said the deal was "good for shareholders, good for staff, good for the nuclear industry and good for the country".

In an interview with the BBC, he played down concerns about the extent of which the UK's energy provision would fall into foreign hands should the tie-up be successful.

"This country has had a history of being very open to foreign capital. All the investors in the energy industry have sustained jobs and investment in the UK," he said.

"I think it's more important to look at the strength of the supply we enjoy in the UK rather than who owns it."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

CERN's Particle Accelerator Shut Down Until Next Year

Well, when anyone operates a first-of-a-kind, multi-billion dollar machine, they're bound to have hiccups. Here's CERN:

During commissioning (without beam) of the final LHC sector (sector 34) at high current for operation at 5 TeV, an incident occurred at mid-day on Friday 19 September resulting in a large helium leak into the tunnel. Preliminary investigations indicate that the most likely cause of the problem was a faulty electrical connection between two magnets, which probably melted at high current leading to mechanical failure. CERN ’s strict safety regulations ensured that at no time was there any risk to people.

A full investigation is underway, but it is already clear that the sector will have to be warmed up for repairs to take place. This implies a minimum of two months down time for LHC operation. For the same fault, not uncommon in a normally conducting machine, the repair time would be a matter of days.
And some more:
The time necessary for the investigation and repairs precludes a restart before CERN’s obligatory winter maintenance period, bringing the date for restart of the accelerator complex to early spring 2009. LHC beams will then follow.
Picture of a large dipole magnet lowered into the tunnel in April 2007. Source: Cosmos magazine; credit: AFP/CERN.

New Study of Federal Energy Incentives

Dr. Roger Bezdek, President of Management Information Services Inc (MISI) and a noted expert on energy policy analysis, spoke at the National Press Club today, taking questions from the media on the release of a new report on federal incentives for energy development. According to the report, the main beneficiaries of more than $700 billion of federal energy incentives over the past five decades have been the oil and natural gas industries. The oil and natural gas industries together garnered 60 percent of federal incentives between 1950 and 2006, with 46 percent of the roughly $725 billion in federal support going to the oil sector, according to the MISI study.

The report shows that the oil industry has benefited from $335 billion in combined incentives, with natural gas receiving $100 billion. The MISI study also shows that, contrary to some claims, federal energy incentives have not gone to nuclear energy technologies at the expense of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. Of the total incentives provided since 1950, nuclear energy has received nine percent ($65 billion), while renewable energy has received six percent ($45 billion). Coal and hydroelectric energy sources, meanwhile, have received 13 percent ($94 billion) and 11 percent ($80 billion) of the total respectively. The report also indicates that since 1988, federal spending on nuclear energy R&D has been less than spending on coal research and, since 1994, has been less than spending on renewable energy research.

A PDF copy of the report is available on the NEI web site.

Update, 9/24: MarketWatch and BusinessWeek have also picked up the study.

Photo: Dr. Roger Bezdek

Yucca Yuks

Via Tom Toles in today's Washington Post.

US-India 123 Agreement Gains Support

Us-India 123 AgreementWith conversations in DC being dominated by the federal bailout of the financial industry, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the White House later this week runs the risk of being overshadowed. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is taking notice; sending this letter to members of Congress.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation representing more than three million businesses of every size, sector and region, strongly supports the U.S.-India 123 Agreement and urges Congress to approve it before the close of the 110th Congress. The U.S.-India civil nuclear initiative will bring India into the international nuclear nonproliferation mainstream and enhance the safety of India’s civil program. The initiative will also help to revitalize the U.S. nuclear industry and create thousands of high-tech American jobs.

Congress affirmed India’s worthiness as a partner in civil nuclear trade in December 2006 when it passed the “Henry J. Hyde United States India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act” by overwhelming bipartisan margins. Since then, sensitive issues relating to nonproliferation have been carefully considered and unanimously resolved by the 35 governors of the IAEA and the 45 member nations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

India’s civil nuclear program commenced operation when its first reactor, made by General Electric, began producing nuclear power in 1961. With India’s 34-year nuclear isolation now history, the opportunity for U.S. companies today is tremendous, with an expected 30,000 to 60,000 MWe of new nuclear generating capacity by 2030, representing a potential $150 billion of new investment. If U.S. companies are allowed to compete, a modest share of that business could support 250,000 high-tech American jobs. Moreover, the nuclear business would be a fraction of the broader commercial gain across all sectors after this foundation, established of mutual trust and respect, is laid.

It is crucial that Congress act. French and Russian firms are already working in India, yet U.S. firms cannot engage until Congressional approval of the 123 Agreement.
Congress has a historic opportunity to strengthen the growing partnership between the world’s oldest and largest democracies and support thousands of U.S. jobs in the process. The Chamber strongly urges the House and Senate to approve this historic initiative before the close of the 110th Congress.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Yucca is no "Dump"

Yucca Mountain
For years, we have heard opponents of nuclear energy call the Yucca Mountain repository called a “dump”. The tactic of using inaccurate and misleading terms to help or injure a cause is nothing new, but even news outlets that profess to be objective use the term. Certainly they must know, by doing so, they leave readers with a false impression of how this facility will function and what it will look like.

When it comes to materials storage, what is proposed for Yucca Mountain is as far away from a dump as you can get. Anyone who calls Yucca Mountain a “dump” is exposing their bias and/or willingness to sensationalize an issue that deserves a serious discussion.

The repository will cost tens-of-billions of dollars to build and operate. Nuclear material will be carefully stored and monitored, and it will be retrievable for relocation and/or reprocessing. It is not a hole in the ground that waste is literally dumped into. Heck, even landfills aren’t called dumps anymore.

The image below should help prove the point. Click here to see the expanded image.

Yucca Mountain

Friday, September 19, 2008

Meet Clean Energy America

Sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute, this group of talented young speakers is set to debut their speaking and media tour next week in North Carolina. What do they do?

Clean Energy America (CEA) is a national speakers program designed to establish a dialogue with American citizens about the benefits of nuclear energy as a clean, reliable and affordable source of energy. CEA’s goal is to encourage a better understanding of future energy needs and to discuss such vital issues as radioactive waste disposal, nuclear plant safety, the cost of electricity, global warming and the future of renewable energy sources.

Clean Energy America is comprised of mostly young engineers and scientists who volunteer their time to participate in a range of presentations and debates on energy issues before campus, civic and professional groups.
Here are the experts and be sure to stop by at their blog too!

A Filter that Can Trap Radiation from Used Nuclear Fuel

I can't quite tell how practical this could be since the article makes no mention of the exact cost nor how much quantity is needed per year per plant to absorb the radioactive ions, but here's the latest development:

AUSTRALIAN researchers say they have created a low-cost material to filter and safely store nuclear waste.

The potential breakthrough for the environment was made by a team of scientists from Queensland University of Technology, led by Associate Professor Zhu Huai Yong from the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences.

...

Professor Zhu said the QUT team had discovered how to create nanofibres, which are millionths of a millimetre in size and can permanently lock away radioactive ions by displacing the existing sodium ions in the fibre.

...

"The fibres are in very thin layers, less than one nanometre in width, and the radioactive ions are attracted into the space between the layers," he said.

"Once the ceramic material absorbs a certain amount, the layers collapse to lock the radioactive ions inside."
Funny how the Australians came up with this idea and they don't even have a nuclear plant in their country!

Update: Physical Insights has more to add.

Warren Buffett Makes a Nuclear Play

warren_buffett Watching the movements of billionaires is the sport of business pages, and no billionaire is watched more closely than Warren Buffett - well, unless it's Bill Gates, to whose foundation Buffett will eventually leave his fortune. So when Buffett makes a buy - or a play, as those same business pages like to say - money sniffing noses scent the air around their hutches.

So without further ado, here's the Wall Street Journal on Buffett's latest play:

So how to read Warren Buffett’s $4.7 billion purchase today of Constellation Energy? Most likely, as a vote of confidence in the future of nuclear power in the U.S.

...

Some 60% of Constellation’s 8,700 megawatts of generation capacity comes from nukes. And the company’s plan is to build more, it told investors in July: “The primary objective has been to develop the strategic option to pursue new nuclear, and we continue on that path.”

As writer Keith Johnson points out, Buffett has been in and out of the nuclear business before, so this latest move might mean that Buffett sees government plugging some economic holes to make building capital-intensive nuclear plants more attractive.

It's a fair comment and we agree with it. While Congress lately has been sidetracked by offshore drilling, any eventual energy bill is going to be all in on renewable energy sources, and nuclear, wind and solar (etc. - hydro, natural gas, "clean" coal) are going to be big winners.

And - how unusual! - so will Buffett.

Buffett himself - almost cheesecake. Well, if Bill Gates can do it - see here (the photo originally came from a Seventeen shoot) - why not Buffett.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fish Story: John McCain and the Oil Rigs

We really do pity politicians on the stump. They either offer endless iterations of the same points - Obama has recycled bits of his convention acceptance speech until they seem like tics - or they have to find a way to square too many circles to appeal to the widest possible audience.

But there are also unexpected grace notes. Here's McCain trying to merge offshore drilling with environmental concerns (we think):

And by the way, on that oil rig — and I’m sure you’ve probably heard this story — you look down, and there’s fish everywhere! There’s fish everywhere! Yeah, the fish love to be around those rigs. So not only can it be helpful for energy, it can be helpful for some pretty good meals as well. [We're not sure if McCain means good meals for the fish or for people who catch the fish - maybe both.]

This is kind of sweet and not a terrible way to bond with an audience. We couldn't find a study to show whether it's good, bad or indifferent for fish to cluster around oil rigs. But we would note that fish around oil rigs is not an argument to have oil rigs nor is their absence a reason not to have them. It sounds like an argument for the rigs' environmental friendliness, but it could also be an argument for their disruption of the ecosystem.

Plenty of people want offshore drilling, so there's no particular benefit to gilding the haddock. And since there doesn't seem to be evidence that the fish' presence means anything, the environmental argument floats away on the tide.

But it is charming, especially McCain's eagerness to talk about it. He's like a kid seeing his first shooting star.

Patrick Moore on FBN

Dr. Patrick Moore, founder of Greenspirit Strategies and a founding member of Greenpeace, hits the cable airwaves today to talk nuclear power in the U.S.

Must Be Something in the Water


"Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?" Chico Marx as "Chicolini", in the 1933 Marx brothers classic, Duck Soup.
Olivier Kamanda posted an opinion piece on HuffingtonPost.com about impressions of nuclear power after visiting Virginia Dominion Power's North Anna nuclear power station. His positive reaction is not uncommon. U.S. nuclear power plants are, indeed, located in some of the most beautiful spots in the country, and they work hard to keep them that way. Environmental stewardship is taken very seriously by the nuclear industry and may help explain why public support for nuclear power is strongest among those living near an operating nuclear plant.

Photo: North Anna nuclear power station at dusk

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Future Is Now

smalley_fig05bThis made us laugh and we thought we'd share it with you. While reading through various commentary of the energy bill passed by the House today - a non-starter for us and apparently for everyone else too - we ran into this comment from the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States:

The current proposals [by the ever-growing bi-partisan Gang, now numbering 22] would raise taxes on domestic energy producers in order to subsidize futuristic sources of energy such as wind and solar.

Futuristic! We've grown accustomed to our fellow energy generators recognizing that it's the mix that makes the cake and thus not belittling complementary industries, but we can certainly understand IPAMS's pettishness - especially given that its members don't sit next to a coast line.

They really are getting nothing from the House's latest maneuvers in addition to being punished, through no fault of their own, for being on the bad side of a developing energy policy.

(Nuclear energy didn't get a shout-out in the bill, either, but it didn't get spanked like its petrol producing pals. No knowing for sure, of course, but we think the Senate and White House are unlikely to move anywhere with this legislation.)

Still - futuristic! At least they didn't say fictional.

Picture of Miss Bolles and Miss Thorpe of the Connecticut Trapshooters League. You wanna talk futuristic, you can talk to the trapshooting gun.

More about how women shooters were treated in turn of the last century hunting magazines here.

Colorado Considering Nuclear Power

New Nuclear Plant in ColoradoBack in April, we first wrote about the possibility of Tri-State Generation building a new nuclear plant in Colorado. In today's Denver Post there's more encouraging news:

More than half of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association's customers support the use of nuclear power, a company official told a state legislative panel Tuesday.

Colorado's second-largest utility is studying whether it would be feasible to build a nuclear power plant on a 16,000- acre site in southeastern Colorado.

The Westminster-based company would have to partner with another utility such as Xcel Energy or Public Service Co. of New Mexico because of the size and cost of a nuclear plant, Tri-State senior vice president Mac McLennan told the transportation legislation review committee
.

National Geographic Films Turbine Replacement at PPL Susquehanna Nuclear Plant

National Geographic will debut its newest show "World's Toughest Fixes" with an excellent, in-depth look at how the PPL Susquehanna nuclear plant replaced its turbine this past spring. Here is a 7-minute video teaser of the show that will air Sunday, September 28, 9 PM Eastern time.

NRC Throws a Punch in Massachusetts

MA.State.House.iStock_000000831934Small The Nuclear Regulatory Commission tends to float a bit above the political fray - you could say it sticks to its knitting, keeps it head down, insert additional cliche here - so it's a genuine surprise that it has made salient comments - any comments at all - about state legislation that blasts nuclear energy.

But that's what happened in Massachusetts:

In July, the Bay State's House passed a resolution in support of efforts to have independent safety assessments conducted at nuclear power plants in Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire [we don't know how Vermont and New Hampshire feel about this, but knowing New Englanders, probably snorts all around].

Then there's this:

The Legislature also resolved that it's time the nation begin its transition "away from nuclear power to an affordable, clean and sustainable national energy policy."

And what has inflamed the pawk the caw types?

The resolution had several bullet points that were of concern to the House of Representatives. Those included were accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and an earthquake that affected nuclear reactors in Japan.

TMI? Chernobyl? How, uh, 1990 of them. And thus does the NRC put things into better perspective:

"I understand the concerns raised by the Commonwealth," wrote Samuel J. Collins, an NRC regional administrator, in response to the resolution. "However, I feel it is necessary to address some of the statements and assumptions conveyed in that document to dispel any misconceptions you may have with our regulatory role, performance, or processes."

We won't go over all of that here, because you know what Collins is going to say,though by all means read through the story - Collins responds to everything in a measured fashion and proves himself an excellent spokesman.

What's notable here is that the NRC has not let this legislative mischief go without comment. The implication of their response is that while issues around nuclear energy should be fully discussed, and that men and women of good will will have variant viewpoints, one must still start with the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions and good legislation.

We'd guess that Massachusetts lawmakers are up to some election year politicking and pushing some go-to fear buttons rather heedlessly. Wonderful to see the NRC throw the warm water of facts into the gummy mix.

Picture of the Massachusetts State House.

NEI on WAMU

NEI's Senior Director of Media Relations, Steve Kerekes, will discuss the "Future of Nuclear Power" today at 12:00 ET on WAMU's venerable Kojo Nnambdi show. DC institution Diane Rehm provides a nice lead-in with a discussion on her show about the current energy debate in Congress at 10:00 ET. Those in the DC DMA can find WAMU at 88.5 FM. Streaming audio is also available here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Price Anderson Act Explained

Price Anderson ActProviding a corrective to an Op-ed that ran in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, Marv Fertel, NEI's Executive VP and Chief Nuclear Officer had this to say,

The Price-Anderson Act was established by the federal government in 1957 and has evolved into one of the best third-party liability programs in the world, with a minimum of $10 billion worth of insurance coverage in the unlikely event of a nuclear power plant accident.

The program was subsidized by the federal government in its inception, but even then the government made money on the premiums from electric companies that owned nuclear power plants. Under this framework, the public has paid nothing due to nuclear power accidents, while insurance pools have paid about $200 million in claims and the industry has paid $21 million to the federal government in indemnity fees.

The nuclear power industry must provide $10 billion in insurance coverage to compensate the public in the event of an accident. So even if an individual company declares bankruptcy has a result of an accident at its plant, the rest of the industry will provide funding from the pool to compensate members of the public. If $10 billion is not sufficient, Congress can require the industry to contribute additional funds to the pool.

In the worst U.S. nuclear power plant accident at Three Mile Island, about $71 million in claims and litigation costs was covered by the Price-Anderson Act.

McCain and Obama Respond to Science Questionnaire

partner_sea Actually, Obama got his questionnaire in a couple of weeks ago, with McCain following this week. But the Scientists and Engineers for America, the non-partisan group that prepared the questionnaire, have set up a page so you can see both candidates' responses together. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the areas of difference are very few. McCain tilts a bit more toward ethical considerations on hot-button issues (stem cells, genetic research) but Obama is certainly conscious of such considerations in his answers. Likewise, Obama tilts a bit more toward environmental concerns where that is a consideration (ocean health, water) but McCain doesn't neglect those issues, either. (We do get an uncomfortable tingle when McCain puts intellectual property issues as a top issue in the innovation category - science benefits most when least encumbered.)

Anyway, energy is one of the topics. Here's the question:

Many policymakers and scientists say energy security and sustainability are major problems facing the United States this century. What policies would you support to meet demand for energy while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?

McCain gives a paragraph to nuclear energy:

As President, I will put the country on track to building 45 new reactors by 2030 so that we can meet our growing energy demand and reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Nuclear power is a proven, domestic, zero-emission source of energy and it is time to recommit to advancing our use of nuclear energy. The U.S. has not started construction on a new nuclear power plant in over 30 years. Currently, nuclear power provides 20 percent of our overall energy portfolio. Other countries such as China, India and Russia are looking to increase the role of nuclear power in their energy portfolio and the U.S. should not just look to maintain, but increase its own use.

Obama? A bullet point:

A new generation of nuclear electric technologies that address cost, safety, waste disposal, and proliferation risks.

What? You expected something different?

Read the whole thing - both candidates tend to cover all the same bases in much the same way, but as the above example shows, the elements stressed can give a measure of the candidates' enthusiasm. It may feel a little like finding water with a divining stick, but that's politicians for you.

---

Here's how Scientists and Engineers for American describe themselves: "Our mission is to facilitate evidence-based decision making at all levels of government. Our programs include both a short-term focus on the 2008 national elections and a long-term focus on building a more engaged and politically active scientific community through SEA Chapters and the Campaign Education and Training program." [Paraphrased just a bit.]

Founded in 2006, the organization finds its roots in a distrust of science as a political tool. Here's a couple of bullet points from their Bill of Rights:

No one should fear reprisals or intimidation because of the results of his or her research.

Scientists, technologists, and engineers conducting research or analysis with public funding shall be free of unreasonable restrictions in discussing and publishing their work, and the results of governmentally-funded research and analysis shall be made open to the public without unreasonable delay.

This seems a reproach of the Bush Administration, but in truth science and government have always been uneasy bedfellows, with differing scales leading from good intention to bad faith. One could say, at least in some areas, that government and science fell out of sync on this scale and in fairly public ways.

On the other hand, this is the scientists' Web site - they get to be as absolutist as they want to here and to try to get the balance where they want it. The government will take care of itself - it supplies a lot of funding, after all, and will turn the money faucets on and off as suits its needs, current ideology and a whole raft of priorities. No one needs to feint toward a posture of superior purity.

Time for Nuclear: Gresham Barrett's Energy Plan

webGreshamBarrett52 Representative Gresham Barrett from South Carolina has put forward an energy plan that greatly favors nuclear energy.

The Greenville News' Anna Simon reports:

The legislation will seek to resolve what Barrett called “hindrances” to nuclear development by amending several national energy policies to help with nuclear plant construction, nuclear work force education and the management of spent nuclear fuel. The idea is derived from former South Carolina governor and Secretary of Energy Jim Edwards’ plans to provide more nuclear energy.

And how would Barrett remove those hindrances?

Part of the legislation calls for loan guarantees for technologies that reduce emissions. Regarding construction hindrances, Barrett’s legislation would seek to streamline the licensing process by eliminating mandatory hearings required by the Atomic Energy Act for uncontested issues on every Combined Operating License or Early Site Permit. It would also provide an investment tax credit for new nuclear plant construction and establish a joint Congressional committee on nuclear energy.

And on recycling:

The latter issue will be dealt with in another portion of the legislation, which will call for the creation of a quasi-independent corporation to construct and operate a waste repository.

We pity the "quasi-independent corporation" that tries to do that. Someone really has to solve the NIMBY problem first or it's Yucca mountain all over again.

GovTrack rates Barrett as the most conservative member of the House and he participated in the Republicans' sit-in during the last Congressional recess to try to get Democrats to move on energy issues - well, those the Republicans like, anyway. These factors may make his plan tough to move forward, though there's nothing reported that lays outside mainstream thinking (he hasn't updated his Web site, so we haven't seen the full content of the legislation). Barrett has gathered a bundle of ideas worth taking up; we'll see where it goes from here.

Photo of Gresham Barrett. The Hill ranked Gresham one of the 50 most beautiful people on Capitol Hill, the only elected official in the top 10. Why The Hill would do such a ranking, we have no idea.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Australian Frustration Over Nuclear Energy

PCC CSIRO sml2 Leslie Kemeny at the Canberra Times notes that Australia is badly lagging the G8 in its refusal to consider nuclear energy for its energy needs:

Don Argus, chairman of BHP Billiton exhorted delegates to ''start talking seriously about using the country's vast uranium resources for domestic use'' and '' to engage in a debate about nuclear energy''. Without nuclear power Australia would face a century of environmental, economic and geopolitical disadvantage and would miss out on the optimal technology for electricity, water and hydrogen production.

But:

In February 2008, despite growing global and Australian approval for nuclear power, Climate Minister Penny Wong reasserted the Australian Labor Party's opposition to it and promised to press for the greater use of ''alternative energy resources''. She stated, ''We don't need to go down the path of nuclear energy. What we do need to ensure is that we look at renewables, and the Government has a 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020 to drive investment in the renewable energy sector. We will also be investing in carbon capture and storage so there is a clean coal future for Australia.''

Australia doesn't want to see its coal industry crater, so to speak, and who can blame them? While carbon capture and sequestration has potential, it would certainly benefit Australia - and any other company or country wanting to try it - to use nuclear energy to generate the impressive amounts of energy necessary to do it without knocking energy prices out of whack.

Of course, tucking away carbon and hoping the earth doesn't burp it out isn't the only thing you can do with it. For example, there are projects to recycle the emissions as hydrocarbons.

But however you slice it, Australia is missing the boat here:

Without such a provision [favoring nuclear energy] there will be little hope of meeting our stated emission reduction targets [20% reduction of emissions by 2020]. Adopting such an energy policy would transform the token political gesture of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol to the practical and ethical high ground of a real contribution to the global climate change problem.

Kemeny is the Australian foundation member of the International Nuclear Energy Academy - an interested party to be sure. But his argument is good.

Correction: Reader Luke lets us know that BHP Billiton does indeed include uranium in its portfolio. I've removed the parenthetical comment from the above that said it does not.

A post combustion capture facility. Picture courtesy of the Australian Coal Association. You can haul this big phone booth away with a truck to wherever you intend to put the emissions. Still experimental, but it shows that one should not underestimate an industry's ability to square its circles to stay relevant in a changing marketplace.

Google to Launch Computer Navy

Google Computer Navy EnergyNope, Google isn't moving into the online gaming space but they are looking to add a new page to a renewable energy portfolio. The Times [UK] is reporting that Google has filed for a patent to place its supercomputers on barges that are powered, and cooled, by waves.

The company is considering deploying the supercomputers necessary to operate its internet search engines on barges anchored up to seven miles (11km) offshore.

The “water-based data centres” would use wave energy to power and cool their computers, reducing Google’s costs. Their offshore status would also mean the company would no longer have to pay property taxes on its data centres, which are sited across the world, including in Britain.

In the patent application seen by The Times, Google writes: “Computing centres are located on a ship or ships, anchored in a water body from which energy from natural motion of the water may be captured, and turned into electricity and/or pumping power for cooling pumps to carry heat away.”

The increasing number of data centres necessary to cope with the massive information flows generated on popular websites has prompted companies to look at radical ideas to reduce their running costs.

The supercomputers housed in the data centres, which can be the size of football pitches, use massive amounts of electricity to ensure they do not overheat. As a result the internet is not very green.

Data centres consumed 1 per cent of the world’s electricity in 2005. By 2020 the carbon footprint of the computers that run the internet will be larger than that of air travel, a recent study by McKinsey, a consultancy firm, and the Uptime Institute, a think tank, predicted.

In an attempt to address the problem, Microsoft has investigated building a data centre in the cold climes of Siberia, while in Japan the technology firm Sun Microsystems plans to send its computers down an abandoned coal mine, using water from the ground as a coolant. Sun said it could save $9 million (£5 million) of electricity costs a year and use half the power the data centre would have required if it was at ground level.

Al Franken Endorses Nuclear Power

Al Franken Senate candidate on energyAn article in this morning's Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, "Nuclear energy is enjoying a renaissance," looks at the economic and political landscape of nuclear energy expansion in Minnesota.

For those building new — and Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed lifting the state’s moratorium — construction will be faster than in the past, however, said Kent Mortensen, industrial analyst at Thrivent Financial for Lutherans in Appleton, Wis. Instead of designing every plant separately, as in the past, the NRC is approving a handful of technical designs — from firms including Westinghouse and Mitsubishi — and power companies will choose from one of these standard approved designs
The piece is interesting enough on it's own to merit posting but really it provides an opening for me to point to a nugget discovered over the weekend, from an August 15th article in the St. Cloud Times: Senate candidate Al Franken (D) supports nuclear expansion.
New nuclear power plants and new “clean” coal and natural gas plants that can capture emissions thought to cause global climate change should also be pursued, Franken said.

“To me, if we’re going to be serious about ... climate change, this is an opportunity we have to take,” he said of increasing nuclear energy production. “The problem is what to do with the waste. But I believe we can continue to improve the technology to monitor and store it.”

Channeling [and misquoting] Stuart Smalley on nuclear, "We're good enough, we're smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Dueling Editorials: The USA-India Agreement

deliv01 The New York Times and the Washington Post have both put up editorials on the pending agreement to allow the India and the United States to share nuclear technologies. The Times doesn't like it:

The nuclear agreement was a bad idea from the start. Mr. Bush and his team were so eager for a foreign policy success that they gave away the store. They extracted no promise from India to stop producing bomb-making material. No promise not to expand its arsenal. And no promise not to resume nuclear testing.

The Post is all in:

For all its flaws, the agreement would create more international supervision of India's nuclear fuel cycle than there would be without it. If Congress backs out now, the only victims will be American nuclear suppliers, who would have to stand aside while French and Russian companies expand India's nuclear power system.

Although we agree more with the Post, we find its arguments a rather weakish tea. American nuclear suppliers can take care of themselves without this deal, and, as we've seen over numerous posts, the U.S. has been all over the globe making partnerships with various European and Asian countries. France and Russia will be in India competing even if the treaty passes, so there's no guarantee America would see tremendous amounts of business (although we actually think it would.)

But the Times, even with stronger arguments, approaches this with an ideological purity that ignores the nature of the players in this deal - this isn't, say, a Russia-Iran hair raiser - and the practical effects of the treaty, which are fairly benign. We grant that the elements the U.S. is skirting here are important, but have to agree with the Post that a rigid adherence to rules intended to rein in rogue nations shouldn't trip up this deal.

Chances are good for this one. Sens. McCain and Obama are both in support and House Speaker Pelosi wants to move it along and will waive a rule that would have hurt its chances. There's very little downside politically.

Now, the Russia-US nuclear deal, on the other hand - whoof!

Billy Redden in Deliverance. Dueling Banjos, of course, was the moment where the city men found a way to bond with the mountain men, followed of course by misunderstanding, murder and various horrific events. A unique novel and film about the masculine imperative gone mad. Redden was a high-school boy from the Georgia area where Deliverance was filmed; he reappeared briefly in Big Fish (2003) - playing the banjo.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

IAEA: Nuclear Power Worldwide Could Double by 2030

IAEAAccording to report from the IAEA. Per Reuters,

Nuclear power production could as much as double by 2030 as countries seek relief from rising fossil fuel costs and a remedy against global warming, the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Thursday.

"Nuclear power, in step with growing global demand for energy, will continue expanding into the next two decades," said a summary of the latest annual version of the IAEA's Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period to 2030.

Global nuclear power generation, now estimated at 372 gigawatts yearly, is likely to rise to anywhere from 473 gigawatts to 748 gigawatts, the report by the Vienna-based U.N. agency said. A gigawatt is one billion watts.

The low end of the forecast would assume that all nuclear capacity now under construction or in the pipeline got built and current phaseout policies remained in place, it said.

The high-end projection reflects "government and corporate announcements about longer-term plans for nuclear investments, as well as potential new national policies, such as responses to new international environmental agreements to combat climate change", the report said.

IAEA energy planning chief Hans-Holger Rogner said climbing costs for natural gas and coal, coupled with increasing environmental constraints, such as the Kyoto Protocol limiting greenhouse gas emissions, were fuelling nuclear power growth.
In other IAEA news, Mohamed ElBaradei has decided to step down as Director General of the agency at the end his term in November.

Wind a Boon(e?) for Gas

The Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog today points to a WSJ op-ed by European writer Edgar Gärtner on the link between wind and gas. He cites European experience showing that increasing deployment of wind turbines in Spain and Germany coincides with greater dependence on gas, needed to support wind generation that can drop off at any time. He suggests that this may be why gas producers are eagerly promoting wind development - it is an effective way to promote demand for natural gas and the value of natural gas holdings. Gärtner concludes:

Wind power is clearly not reducing the dependence on imported fuel, contrary to the frequent claims of its proponents. In fact the experience from Germany and Spain shows that it is increasing the dependence of imported natural gas. And that's not energy security.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The I Edition of Global Nuclear Notes: India, Iran, Italy

sourceimagesmallSome updates of stories we've been following here:

Italy has found a partner for its nuclear ambitions. The winner: Great Britain. Here's British PM Gordon Brown:

"We both agreed that nuclear power can play an important part (in achieving) our shared objectives on climate change and energy security."

And his Italian opposite number, Silvio Burlusconi:

"We do hope that there is going to be a single nuclear policy for Europe."

Us, too. He needs to get on the horn with our German friends.

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An Israeli expert on middle east affairs thinks Iran needs nuclear energy:

"Iran's requirement for nuclear energy is justified... It is very important for Iran to find other sources of energy, especially non oil and non gas," Meir Javedanfar told the Christian Science Monitor.

Faced with a nationwide power shortage problem, the country has scheduled power outages of up to two hours a day throughout the country.

Hmm! We understand that an unstable Iran is an issue for Israel, but we're not thrilled with the games Iran and Russia have been playing. Read the whole thing and see what you think.

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And India is already talking deals with American nuclear suppliers:

GVK Power & Infrastructure Ltd. and Nuclear Power Corp. plan to buy reactors and equipment from General Electric Co. and Westinghouse Electric Co. when a three- decade ban on India's atomic trade is lifted.

They're jumping the gun a bit - Congress seems unlikely to pass the deal allowing India-U.S. traffic in nuclear materials this term - House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman told the administration he's going to block it - so it may take a new president to get it moved to the full House. We'll see.

We picked this image up from here but couldn't figure out who created it. It's a contest entry: the idea is to start from one image and change it to another in Photoshop. This started as an image of the evil queen from Snow White holding out a poisoned apple - that version was created by Mikkel Lund and is very striking. You can apply symbolism to this variation as suits you.

World's Largest Particle Accelerator Starts off Successfully

This isn't directly related to nuclear power but I'm sure many of the readers here could appreciate the significance and relevance of this event. 


From the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN):
The first beam in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was successfully steered around the full 27 kilometres [17 miles] of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator at 10h28 this morning. This historic event marks a key moment in the transition from over two decades of preparation to a new era of scientific discovery.

...

Starting up a major new particle accelerator takes much more than flipping a switch. Thousands of individual elements have to work in harmony, timings have to be synchronized to under a billionth of a second, and beams finer than a human hair have to be brought into head-on collision. Today’s success puts a tick next to the first of those steps, and over the next few weeks, as the LHC’s operators gain experience and confidence with the new machine, the machine’s acceleration systems will be brought into play, and the beams will be brought into collision to allow the research programme to begin.
What is the purpose of the LHC?
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a gigantic scientific instrument near Geneva, where it spans the border between Switzerland and France about 100 m underground. It is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things. It will revolutionise our understanding, from the minuscule world deep within atoms to the vastness of the Universe.

Two beams of subatomic particles called 'hadrons' – either protons or lead ions – will travel in opposite directions inside the circular accelerator, gaining energy with every lap. Physicists will use the LHC to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, by colliding the two beams head-on at very high energy. Teams of physicists from around the world will analyse the particles created in the collisions using special detectors in a number of experiments dedicated to the LHC.

There are many theories as to what will result from these collisions, but what's for sure is that a brave new world of physics will emerge from the new accelerator, as knowledge in particle physics goes on to describe the workings of the Universe.
Pretty sweet stuff! For more information, check out the page on Wikipedia.

Update: