Friday, October 31, 2008

Don't Open the Box!

kiss_me_deadly What's in the box?

Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt. Whoever opens this box will be turned into brimstone and ashes.

The head of Medusa. That's what's in the box, and who looks on her will be changed not into stone but into brimstone and ashes. But of course you wouldn't believe me, you'd have to see for yourself, wouldn't you?

Listen to me, as if I were Cerberus barking with all his heads at the gates of hell. I will tell you where to take it, but don't - don't open the box!

Horror movies are often interpreted as coded messages of dread and loathing of the unknown, whether it be death (Night of the Living Dead), disintegration (The Exorcist, which uses devil possession as a metaphor for disease) or visions of oblivion. In the 50s, nuclear energy might have been a reasonable fear engine, but it was mostly used to grow things really really big: the ants in Them and the spider in Tarantula. These aren't really horror films, as they focus on the ability of science (and lots of ordnance) to restore order from disorder. Horror doesn't have much use for order.

But as the villainous Dr. Sobiran makes clear above, the thing in the box is biblical, mythological, apocalyptic.

The novel Kiss Me Deadly involves Mickey Spillane's detective hero  Mike Hammer with jewel robbers, dirty commies and dusky dames. In transferring it to the screen, director Robert Aldrich and writer A.I Bezzerides ejected most elements from the novel and replaced a box of jewels with a box of - something.

Aldrich and Bezzerides take the Spillane mix of gore and sex - Raymond Chandler gone rancid - and create a world turned on its head - even the opening credits run backwards. Hammer is not really bright enough to understand that the usual quest for nuclear secrets that 50s detectives pursued has been replaced with the secret itself - fission in a box - and briefly opens the box to a metallic screech of splitting atoms, a nova of light, and intolerable heat. He ends up with a heck of a sunburn, too. So he gets it - don't open the box! (What Dr. Sobiran intends to do with his box, and how he got its contents into it, is never quite clear.)

When Hammer, his sultry secretery Velda, Dr. Sobiran and treacherous femme fatale Gabrielle ("Kiss me, Mike. I want you to kiss me. Kiss me. The liar's kiss that says I love you, and means something else.") meet for the final showdown at Sobiran's beach house, people end up shot, dead, dying, and with Gabrielle, like Pandora, left alone with the box. See picture above or here to see how that goes.

So is this horror or a detective thriller run wild? Both, but mostly horror - the mounting dread, the monster in the box, an ending that promises no relief or restoration of order - that's horror. And this time, it's our friend the atom, divorced from any plausible purpose, that provides a glimpse into the destructive eye of it all. The gods can renege, can take back the very idea of life as easily as they gave it - if we mess around in their domain - and annoy them beyond reason.

This much discussed movie is nihilist to the core. As Velda puts it,

"They?" A wonderful word. And who are they? They're the nameless ones who kill people for the great whatsit. Does it exist? Who cares? Everyone everywhere is so involved in the fruitless search for what?

But remember: this is horror, taking fears from the dankest part of ourselves and making us roll around in them. (As the old commercial said: "You're soaking in it.") Aldrich and Bezzerides use nuclear energy as a terrifying unknown - they're not making an argument (like, say, The China Syndrome), they're providing a fantasy of the world - and you - going to pieces one atom at a time.

Of course, it's all an intentional lie - that the part of us inherited from lizards might accept as truth, if only long enough for the frisson of being scared. (We can hardly wait to see what nightmares of ick the movie version of the Large Hadron Collider brings to earth or what hellish dimension it flings us into.)

And so to all our Nuclear Notes readers, we wish a happy Halloween - spent under the bed, trembling from the inside out and with a box of the great whatsit beside you, shrieking to be opened.

Gaby Rogers. Miss Rogers was one of three actresses officially "introduced" in this 1955 movie along with Maxine Cooper (Velda) and Cloris Leachman - who enters in the opening scene naked under a raincoat, describes Mike Hammer, whom she's just met, to a tee and is then horribly murdered via pliers by Dr. Sobiran. From such an ignominious debut, Miss Leachman went on to an Oscar, several Emmys, and a career stretching to the present day. Ralph Meeker plays Mike Hammer and Albert Dekker is Dr. Sobiran.

Honoring Radiation Protection Professionals

hps_Page_1 Next week is National Radiation Protection Professionals Week. Why them? Let's let Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) tell you (warning: pdf):

Members of the radiation protection profession make it their life’s work to allow government, medicine, academia, and industry to safely use radiation. By providing the necessary leadership, these professionals protect people from radiation hazards thus enabling society to reap benefits of this remarkable technology.

And so it is: we of course think of radiation as a factor in the nuclear business but radiation is everywhere:

Small amounts of radioactive materials can be found in our bodies, in products we use daily, in the ground, in building materials, and in outer space. They are a natural part of our everyday life. We commonly find radiation devices such as x-ray machines in a hospital or at the airport. We use radiation mainly for its beneficial purposes such as in medicine to diagnose disease, in industry to generate electricity, and in smoke detectors to make our homes safer.

That comes from Radiation Answers, a Web site that's a gold mine of information. It dispels myths, shows how radiation is used in every aspect of our lives, and yes, shows when and how radiation can be dangerous. If there weren't some danger, we wouldn't need radiation protection professionals, would we?

Here, via the Health Physics Society (another pdf - they must have a deal with Adobe), are some suggestions on what you can do during their special week:

• Post National Radiation Protection Professionals Week posters around your office and distribute informational pamphlets (such as What is a Radiation Protection Professional?) to staff, management, clients and local schools.
• Hold a staff appreciation lunch and distribute items of appreciation.
• Create a forum where people can discuss radiation protection professional recent advances in technology.
• Invite clients, citizens, management and or public servants to tour facilities showing beneficial uses of radiation when possible.

We'd add a treasure hunt so you can do something with those geiger counters you brought to the party. The Health Physics Society sponsored the resolution with the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors (and boy, does their Web site need a second look! - great information, though). It looks like Congress recessed before passing Inhofe's resolution recognizing the week, but let's just pretend it did and party anyway.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Chronicles in Advocacy: Tell It to the Wind

emptied-prairie We don't share as many negative editorials with you as we used to because a.) there just aren't as many as there used to be and b.) the list of arguments is pretty short and tends to get repeated over and over. That's as tedious for us to keep rehashing as it is for you to read it.

So this editorial from the High Country News ("for people who care about the west") did not raise hopes for some original debate:

Then there is always the risk of a meltdown if we resume construction of nuclear power plants. Many Americans probably don’t remember or have never read about the meltdown of the Three Mile Island power plant in the 1970s. Its cleanup took from 1979 to 1993, and cost ratepayers, taxpayers and stockholders around $975 million. To paraphrase cowboy poet Wallace McCray, reincarnated nuclear power in this new century “ain’t changed all that much.”

Well, you get the picture. But what struck us is the ID for the author:

Russ Doty is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is the chief operating officer of New World WindPower in Billings, Montana.

Right off the top, we think that op-ed writers ought to advocate the manifest benefits of their favored energy generator and not go after their cousins.

Nuclear and wind are sort of distant cousins (twice removed by marriage, perhaps) because nuclear doesn't pair well with wind farms - nuclear plants are efficient enough that ramping down plants when the wind picks up isn't a very efficacious use of either wind or nuclear - so we get why a wind power guy might like to keep a nuclear plant out of his neighborhood. But that's not what's motivating the editorial officially and we find hiding behind long discredited arguments a little - distasteful.

Wind power looks to be getting a big boost in the next presidential administration - whoever wins - so there's a lot for the industry to tout - and a lot of country for nuclear and wind (and solar and hydro and etc) to share. We're all in it for the common good - let's leave it at that.

A view of the prairie. Seems like a lot of room for a wind farm or two.

Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

Physical Insights and Atomic Insights already beat me to the punch but we'll still do the introduction. Meet Finrod over at Channelling the Strong Force. His About this blog piece is very thought-provoking, make sure to check it out:

We exist in a sea of electromagnetic force, and are for the most part utterly subject to its dictates. One other force makes itself blatantly known in the course of our mundane activities, namely gravitation, but electromagnetism packs far more power in its punch. It takes a mass the magnitude of Earth to make us weigh ten Newtons to the kilogram, but with a simple rearrangement in the structure of a vanishingly, ridiculously tiny portion of Earth’s mass, we can override the gravitational force of this entire planet, and stand on two feet (by burning sugar in our cells) … or fly to the other side of it in a 747 (by burning avgas in a jet engine).

...

The images of the early nuclear age have a certain amount of baggage which we need to move beyond to make informed choices for the future. This blog is my humble attempt to encourage people to make that move.
Welcome for the third time!

Correction: Welcome for the fourth time! My bad Dan. :)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sarah Palin Talks Energy - as The Race Winds Down

sarah_palin The Presidential campaign is, after 127 years, winding down and the candidates are essentially making their final pitches - generally dialing back the attacks and amping up the positive messages - city on the hill, the future is bright, that kind of thing.

So it's interesting to see that Sarah Palin gave a full speech on energy issues today. This has proven to be one of the brightest lights of the McCain/Palin campaign because it responds in a focused way to an issue of concern. That light has dimmed a bit due to the drop in oil prices and a bit more due to the stock market tsunami, so it strikes us as a good topic on which to wind things down. Even if the short-term concern has drooped away a bit, it's still a concern and worth a hearing.

The speech can be found on the campaign Web site here. Here's the take-away on nuclear energy:

Another essential means to energy independence is a dramatic expansion in our use of nuclear energy. In a McCain administration, we will set this nation on a course to build 45 new reactors by the year 2030. And we will set the goal of 100 new plants to power the homes and factories and cities of America.

This task will be as difficult as it is necessary. We will need to recover all the knowledge and skills that have been lost over three stagnant decades in a highly technical field. We will need to solve complex problems of moving and storing materials that will always need safeguarding. We will need to do all of these things, and do them right, as we have done great things before.

The line about safeguarding materials seems awfully close to Obama's concerns about safety and not McCain's repeated assurance that Yucca Mountain is the way to go - we've noticed Governor Palin has been marking out some territory as her own and this might fall into that category - but she has the balance between growing the infrastructure and the workforce about right. These things are happening anyway, but it's good to know Palin wants to encourage it further.

---

So, we're less than a week from the election, Obama's big pitch comes tonight, the campaigns are trying to flip a few stubborn states (Gov. Plain delivered her speech in Toledo - the next election should have an Ohioan on a ticket just so we can deny the state its favored status - hrmff!), and our hair is a little - grayer - and thinner.

Search for any of the four candidates in the handy box above if you'd like to get caught up on NNN's coverage of the debates, speeches, and conventions - and then do the same amongst the sites you visit for the other topics that interest you.

Can't speak for anyone but me, of course, but this feels like the most consequential presidential election of my wastrel life - I first voted during the Carter/Reagan match-up, so there's been some big ones - and although nuclear energy figures heavily in my thinking, many other issues do, too. And the candidates, darn them, have made this one tough decision.

Tough, but not impossible. So be sure to vote this year. Vote luminously - vote radiantly - but vote.

Governor Palin.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blogging Yourself into a Corner

nuclear-headerWe occasionally take a look at Greenpeace's Nuclear Reaction blog (subtitle: "Blogging the Meltdown of the Nuclear Industry") so we can see if some interesting new meme is springing up we may want to note.

A couple of stories caught our eyes:

Business Wire: Areva: Revenue and Data for the First Nine Months of 2008
The group cleared revenue of 9.1 billion euros over the first nine months of 2008, up 12.9% compared with the same period in 2007.

and

The Deal: Northrop Grumman in $360M nuclear deal with French MNC
Defense and technology company Northrop Grumman Corp. said its shipbuilding division is creating a joint venture with France's Areva SA to build a manufacturing and engineering facility in Newport News, Va., to supply the American nuclear energy sector.

Nothing says meltdown of the nuclear industry more than profitability and an expanding infrastructure. We cannot say the blog is being unfair with its readership, though, so points for honesty.

Nuclear Energy to Power Planes?

That's a possibility. Here's the TimesOnline:

Ian Poll, Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Cranfield University, and head of technology for the Government-funded Omega project, is calling for a big research programme to help the aviation industry convert from fossil fuels to nuclear energy.

...

“If we want to continue to enjoy the benefits of air travel without hindrance from environmental concerns, we need to explore nuclear power. If aviation remains wedded to fossil fuels, it will run into serious trouble,” he said.
The article has really generated the comments. The first one is the best:
As soon as I started reading this, one picture immediately came to mind: Marty McFly standing next to the Delorean and asking Doctor Emmett Brown, "This thing is NUCLEAR!!??"
Yep, whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it will achieve...
Hat tip to Eric McErlain.

Picture of the DeLorean with Marty and Doc from Back to the Future 2.

Election Day: A Voter Scorecard on Nuclear Energy

Election Day A Voter Scorecard on Nuclear EnergyWith Election Day just one week away, NEI Nuclear Notes is here to provide readers with a handy voter scorecard on nuclear energy. We sent a survey to all 69 Democratic and Republican candidates running for the U.S. Senate (Mark Pryor [D-AR] is running unopposed) and asked these three questions:

1. Does your candidate support the use of nuclear energy as a source of carbon-free electricity in the U.S.?
2. Does your candidate support the expansion of nuclear energy in the United States?
3. Does your candidate support the expansion of nuclear energy in his/her state?

We received completed questionnaires from 31 candidates. Some key takeaways:

  • 30 candidates were supportive of the use of nuclear energy in the U.S.
  • 30 candidates supported the expansion of nuclear energy in their state.
  • Democratic and Republican Senate candidates from: Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Wyoming were in favor expanding nuclear power in their states.
  • Challengers submitted 19 questionnaires, incumbents 12.
So how'd your candidate fare? Did they make the list?
Alabama - Jeff Sessions (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Alaska - Ted Stevens (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Colorado - Mark Udall (D): Yes, Yes, Yes
Georgia - Saxby Chambliss (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Idaho - Larry LaRocco (D): Yes, Yes, Yes
          Jim Risch (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Illinois - Steve Sauerberg (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Iowa - Christopher Reed (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Kansas - Jim Slattery (D): Yes, Yes, Yes
          Pat Roberts (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Louisiana - Mary Landrieu (D): Yes, Yes, Yes
Massachusetts - Jeff Beatty (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Michigan - Jack Hoogendyk (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Mississippi - Roger Wicker (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Nebraska - Scott Kleeb (D): Yes, Yes, Yes
          Mike Johanns (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
New Hampshire - John Sununu (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
New Jersey - Dick Zimmer (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
New Mexico - Steve Pearce (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
North Carolina - Kay Hagan (D): Yes, Qualified Yes*, Qualified Yes*
          Elizabeth Dole (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Oklahoma - Jim Inhofe (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Oregon - Gordon Smith (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Rhode Island - Bob Tingle (R) No No No
South Carolina - Bob Conley (D): Yes, Yes, Yes
Tennessee - Lamar Alexander (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Virginia - Jim Gilmore (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
West Virginia - Jay Wolfe (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
Wyoming - Chris Rothfuss (D): Yes, Yes, Yes
          Michael Enzi (R): Yes, Yes, Yes
          Nick Carter (D): Yes, Yes, Yes

* "If we can find ways to reduce costs, improve safety and find a practical solution for dealing with spent nuclear rods, yes."


[Incumbents are in bold.]
In lieu of completing the questionnaire, several candidates sent letters of support. A few excerpts:

Mark Warner
(D-VA)
"Nuclear power should be expanded and should play a role in addressing our energy and environmental needs. Nuclear power generates one-fifth of America's electricity. It holds the potential to provide clean, relatively inexpensive power and lessen our dependence on fossil fuels at a time when prices are rising.

France gets 80% of its electricity from nuclear power and Japan is aggressively building new reactors. If they can do it, so can we. While safety around using nuclear power has improved greatly, we need to invest in research to find a long term solution to storing nuclear waste. And as we look to increase our nuclear energy, nuclear plant security also must be a top priority."

Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
"I am proud to represent the people of South Carolina, and I believe that my record on the issues is the best resource for voters as they make decisions about their support. As such, I choose not participate in surveys or pledges.

However, I am a strong advocate for a national energy policy that promotes new technology to meet our growing energy demands and to protect the environment. I believe a new energy policy will help ensure that we continue to enjoy the abundant and comparatively inexpensive power on which our homes and businesses have come to rely. Nuclear power must be a part of the solution. One element of bipartisan energy legislation I have cosponsored allows the recycling of spent nuclear fuel which is an essential step forward to ensure we can build more nuclear plants. I look forward to working with organizations such as yours to develop comprehensive energy legislation which both respects our natural environment and provides for our growing energy demands."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Smith View

With the predominance of knowledge industries, financial instruments, and labor-intensive services in our economy and news this political season, one might forget about the asset-intensive businesses that drive the heartland. We do not. Our membership is drawn from across the industrial spectrum and the fate of our largest members - utilities, manufacturers, suppliers and vendors, engineering and construction companies among them - depends on the interplay of capital markets; tax, trade and economic policy; and government regulation more than is the case for companies less laden with fixed assets. Thus it is heartening to hear the perspective of someone who understands the challenges of these heavily capitalized companies in today's turbulent times, a perspective that seldom reaches the front pages of The Washington Post or the New York Times or the teleprompters of CNN.
This morning, the Wall Street Journal weekend edition published an interview with Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx and a member of the Energy Security Leadership Council. In the interview, Mr. Smith explains the need for changes in corporate tax policy to support rather than punish investment in corporate assets, describes how those investments link to better opportunities for workers and improvements in wages, and discusses the responsibility of corporate boards of directors to oversee managers and give them long-term incentives tied to the fortunes of shareholders.
Mr. Smith also speaks about the importance of energy. With FedEx the second largest consumer of energy in the world (only the U.S. military consumes more), Mr. Smith is keenly interested in energy policy. He believes the U.S. must dramatically expand its domestic energy supply. Asked how we should do this, he said:

"Two things: The first is we should maximize oil production in the United States in every respect. Everything, offshore, Alaska, shale,nonconventional, coal to liquid, gas to liquid, and nuclear. Let the market work. Second, and this is where I am an apostate on the free market, and also where I disagree in the main with, with Boone Pickens. The United States has only one real way to reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum, in terms of reducing demand while we're increasing our domestic supply, and that is to electrify the short haul transportation system, to go to battery powered cars. The technology that brought us laptops and cell phones has reached a point where these lithium ion batteries can now produce cars like the Chevy Volt and the new plug-in Toyota Prius."
Interesting - a guy whose business flies airplanes, drives trucks, and employs 290,000 people mentions nuclear. That sounds like the perspective of someone who understands the interrelatedness of our energy needs and the importance of pursuing all options, a perspective we applaud and commend to your reading.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Pigeons Arrested at Iranian Enrichment Facility

Yes I mean real pigeons - the ones that have wings and fly. This is hilarious:

Iranian security forces have arrested two "spy pigeons" near the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, the Etemad Melli newspaper reported. One of the pigeons, which had some metal rings and "invisible" strings attached to it, was caught near a rose water production plant in the nearby city of Kashan in Isfahan province. A source told the newspaper, "Early this month, a black pigeon was caught bearing a blue-coated metal ring, with invisible strings."
That's not all:
last year Iran reportedly arrested 14 squirrels for spying. Iran's state-sponsored news agency said at the time, "The squirrels were carrying spy gear of foreign agencies, and were stopped before they could act, thanks to the alertness of our intelligence services."
I wonder what kind of hard time these squirrels and pigeons will be sentenced to do...

Picture of a spy pigeon from the International Spy Museum in DC.

Areva, Northrop Grumman Deal Roundup

Areva Northrop GrummanYesterday's announced deal between AREVA and Northrop Grumman to build a $363 million nuclear reactor manufacturing plant in Newport News, VA is getting a whole lot of media attention.

The New York Times says Nuclear Power May Be in Early Stages of a Revival.

...Not since 1973 had anybody in the United States ordered a nuclear plant that was actually built, and the obstacles to a new generation of plants seemed daunting.

But now, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 21 companies say they will seek permission to build 34 power plants, from New York to Texas. Factories are springing up in Indiana and Louisiana to build reactor parts. Workers are clearing a site in Georgia to put in reactors. Starting in January, millions of electric customers in Florida will be billed several dollars a month to finance four new reactors.

On Thursday, the French company Areva, the world’s largest builder of nuclear reactors, and Northrop Grumman announced an investment of more than $360 million at a shipyard in Newport News, Va., to build components for seven proposed American reactors, and more for export.

The change of fortune has come so fast that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which had almost forgotten how to accept an application, has gone into a frenzy of hiring, bringing on hundreds of new engineers to handle the crush of applications.
Fortune magazine weighs in, Nuclear power revival gets big lift
The announcement follows one earlier this summer by The Shaw Group and Westinghouse of their plans to build a nuclear components plant in Louisiana. Both are important steps toward what AREVA chief executive Anne Lauvergeon, in an exclusive interview with Fortune before the announcement, described as “reviving the capacity of the nuclear industry in the U.S.”
Unsurprisingly, the deal made page one of the local, the Newport News Daily Press: 540 jobs, $363 million in nuclear reactor deal
"It enables, on the footprint of the shipyard, a new technology, a new form of production," said Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. "Shipbuilding is a massive industry. It has some cycles associated with it. But to have this technology at the shipyard location ... is a great thing for that shipyard."

The building where the joint venture will do the work will be constructed in the north end of the shipyard where there is currently a large parking lot. The companies make the large components, but not handle any radioactive nuclear materials, that will be used to construct a wave of planned reactors nationwide.

The move will further strengthen Virginia's position as a leader in nuclear technology and bring high-paying engineering and advanced manufacturing jobs to Newport News. Construction of the facility, which will help Northrop Grumman be less dependent on federal spending cycles that can lead to the loss of skilled employees, will start in March 2009.

"This gives us a chance to diversify a little bit and allow us to smooth more of that out," said Mike Petters, president of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding. "We don't see this as interfering with anything we do on the Navy side. In fact, we think it compliments it very well."
WVIR, the NBC affiliate in Charlottesville, has the video of Governor Kaine's announcement at the Capitol in Richmond.

Mothers in Pieces

mfpLogoHiRes One thing you have to give groups who base their existence on not liking something, they'll pull every rabbit out of the hat in order to have their way. This differs from advocacy groups, because being zealously against something comes far more naturally to the human animal than being zealously for something (Presidential elections aside, of course, and even they are usually motored by dissatisfaction with the status quo.)

But the zeal frequently doesn't work - often foiled by a tin ear for nuance - and so it has come to pass for the San Luis Obispo group Mothers for Peace, which has been trying for two years to keep Diablo Canyon from storing their used nuclear fuel.

Well, lately, anyway. They describe themselves as a “non-profit organization concerned with the local dangers involving the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant” and nuclear energy in general. Luckily, they also stand for "peace, social justice and a safe environment," so we must allow that their hearts are in the right place.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week rejected on a 3-1 vote a petition contending that PG&E’s Diablo Canyon power plant is storing used nuclear fuel in above ground storage containers without sufficiently accounting for the potential environmental damage resulting from a terrorist attack. In rejecting the petition, the commissioners determined that even the worst-case scenario would not cause health problems for area residents - and that scenario is vanishingly small. (This gets into risk assessment, a frighteningly complex field of study that you use when you try to convince a friend that plane travel is far safer than your average 1974 Pinto.)

In 2006, the 9th circuit court of appeal agreed with the group that NRC must develop an Environmental Assessment (EA) to address the concerns.

NRC complied in 2007, but Mothers for Peace remained dissatisfied:

The resulting EA, however, is offensively inadequate, a simplistic 8-page document which distorts and minimizes the environmental impacts of attacks. It rules out credible threat scenarios and fails to provide references to scientific or other sources.

Things didn't go well for them:

"The NRC staff and PG&E provided essentially uncontradicted evidence that the probability of a significant radioactive release caused by a terrorist attack was low, and that the potential latent health and land contamination effects of the most severe plausible attack would be small," commissioners wrote in their order.

None of this is new, of course - we'd agree if the mothers had said that Yucca Mountain would be a better place than the plants to store used nuclear fuel - so would the plants, when it comes down to it - but we all know how that's going, and we'd guess the mothers wouldn't want to open that can of pop.

However, the mothers really didn't do their homework on the casks - they're really quite safe and not vulnerable to much mischief - and the commissioners rapidly whittled their various contentions down to one. And the NRC essentially said that one didn't have much merit. The decision allows PG&E to continue with their storage procedure.

Don't rule out the Mothers of Invention - er , for Peace - yet, though. Diablo Canyon may allow them to go about their business in a pollution-free kind of way, but they won't stop until they get that delicious smoke-belching plant to enhance their "peace, social justice and safe environment" sort of life. We wish them all kinds of luck - we just won't specify which kinds.

Hard to complain with such a sweet logo - normally, we might ding them for the whole "doing it for the children" dodge - but heck, they are mothers, so we guess they get a pass on that one.

Reason Roundtable

A rich discussion on nuclear energy and energy independence appeared on the Reason Foundation web site earlier this week. At last look, the dialogue continues, with the three authors exchanging perspectives on nuclear energy's role in achieving energy independence, federal energy subsidies, and the cost of new nuclear plants.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Founding a Foundry

mainlogo One thing we've mentioned here a few times is that a nuclear renaissance is going to require some oomph from the steel industry if the parts necessary to build a plant are going to be built in the United States. Well, here it comes, via the, ahem, French:

France's Areva SA said it is forming a joint venture with Northrop Grumman Corp. to build nuclear reactor vessels, steam generators and other pieces of heavy equipment at Northrop's shipyards at Newport News, Va., a sign that the planned construction of new nuclear reactors in the U.S. could help stimulate the country's manufacturing sector.

The $360 million investment in Areva Newport News LLC will result in construction of a 300,000 square-foot manufacturing and engineering facility that will support U.S. sales of Areva's nuclear reactor, called the "evolutionary power reactor," or EPR. Areva is seeking to get the reactor design certified ...

You have to pay good cash money to see the rest of the story on the Wall Street Journal site, but here's AREVA:

« AREVA Newport News s’inscrit dans le renouveau nucléaire américain », a déclaré Anne Lauvergeon, Présidente du Directoire d’AREVA. « AREVA s’est fixé comme ambition de construire un tiers du ...

Oops!

Let's try again:

“AREVA Newport News is powerful evidence of the reality of the U.S. nuclear energy resurgence and our commitment to it,” said AREVA CEO Anne Lauvergeon. “AREVA intends to build one-third of all new reactors around the world and at least seven in the United States."

AREVA already does this kind of work in France, but the Northrop Grumman connection helps create jobs in this country and leverages the latter's skills in fabbing big pieces - think shipbuilding, sub-genus nuclear ships and submarines - to get the effort up and running quickly.

This is very, very good news - a piece of the puzzle now fitted into place. Our jigsaw is green and getting greener.

La plume de ma tante est sur le table. Or something.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Nucular Option

247px-Speech_balloon_3_types.svg Further to KB's post below, the reason sometimes given for politicians (and others, of course) to turn nuclear to nucular - from Eisenhower to Palin (we think Jimmy Carter had a variant pronunciation, too, though different than "nucular") - is to sound down home, the way that Palin likes to drop her "g"s. It's a keeping-it-real kind of thing.

However, you knew there had to be a field of study about this "issue," and that it would address nucular. William Safire, who was the New York Times' language maven before his retirement, addresses how cognitive linguistics handles "nucular":

The Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker informs me that ''a person mishears a sonorant consonant (like l or r or y) followed by a vowel as a vowel followed by a consonant. This can happen because the two sounds are acoustically similar -- they literally look alike on an oscilloscope. Presumably the respective neural patterns that arise when a person hears them are similar as well.''

Well, okay. There's more, but we think we might stick with the keeping-it-real argument, perhaps mixed with the cowboy way of finding convenient ways to slide easily over syllables - pardner instead of partner, for example -  which does align, we think, with Pinker's formulation.

How to fix it?

The way to straighten out your mental dictionary, if you have this ''nukular'' problem, is to train your brain to think of the word not as three syllables but as two words: new and clear.

We like that. New clear - sounds like an advertising campaign waiting to happen. In sum, we're quite all right with nucular - the dictionaries give it play, and it continues to make English a dynamic language, determined by its speakers.

First balloon: "The nucular renaissance promises an emission free, low cost energy source for all." Second balloon: "if he doesn't stop saying nucular, he's gonna get such a pinch." Third balloon: "Ow! Why'd you pinch me!?"

Robert Draper's NYT Story on McCain

Draper on McCainFrom the yet to be published New York Times Magazine cover story on the McCain campaign, we find this nuclear nugget:

"in the hours after Palin’s stunningly self-assured acceptance speech at the G.O.P. convention": “[A]n elegant … woman sat alone at the far end of the bar. She wore beige slacks and a red sweater, and she picked at a salad while talking incessantly on her cellphone. But for the McCain/Palin button affixed to her collar and the brief moment that Palin’s new chief of staff, Tucker Eskew, spoke into her ear, she seemed acutely disconnected from the jubilation swelling around her. In fact, the woman was here for a reason. Her name was Priscilla Shanks, a New York-based stage and screen actress … who had found a lucrative second career as a voice coach. Shanks’s work with Sarah Palin was as evident as it was unseen. Gone, by the evening of her convention speech, was the squeaky register of Palin’s exclamations. Gone (at least for the moment) was the Bushian pronunciation of ‘nuclear’ as ‘nook-you-ler.’ Present for the first time was a leisurely, even playful cadence that signaled Sarah Palin’s inevitability on this grand stage.”
Via Mike Allen's Playbook.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

All Politics Is Local: Iowa Edition

IA-00058-C~Giant-Ear-of-Corn-Towed-by-Tractor-Posters We're reminded of that reality by this story in the Des Moines Register, which looks at the candidates energy proposals from the point of view of Iowans. The focus is on cap-and-trade, which favors low carbon-emitting energy sources by making them the beneficiary of carbon "credits" which can be sold to high emitters until they get their act together:

And those issues will determine how much more companies and consumers will have to pay for energy - and how soon their bills will rise - as well as what kind of energy they'll be using.

Cap-and-trade will likely impose some pain in the pocketbook, although opportunities arise as well:

Also at stake: Iowa's growing wind and biofuels industries. Making coal and gasoline more expensive to use will make wind power and biofuels more economically competitive.

"Iowa is going to benefit from these things," said Jerald Schnoor, a University of Iowa researcher who chairs the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council.

There's a lot more, especially how different energy policies affect agriculture and, well:

Agriculture is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from livestock and use of fertilizer. More than 20 percent of Iowa's estimated greenhouse emissions come from agriculture.

That's a lot of methane, and the article doesn't attempt to explain what Iowa might do about livestock and fertilizer, both of which are irreplaceable. We're not sure (but are doubtful) that cap-and-trade legislation attempts to address this.

According to Real Clear Politics, Obama is up in Iowa by about eleven points, outside the margin of error, but the article makes no assumptions and includes material about both candidates.

If you ever visit Iowa, you may be sure you'll see variations of this postcard a lot.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Wisdom of Crowds

Wisdom of CrowdsNext week I'll be interviewing journalist William Tucker and seek the assistance of Notes readers: any suggested questions I should ask the author of Terrestrial Energy? You can leave your questions for Mr. Tucker in the comments or email them here.

Thanks for your help.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Your Next Nuclear Vacation

610x The best takedown of the Swiss we know - because why would anyone want to take down the Swiss, after all? - comes from Orson Welles in The Third Man:

Don't be so gloomy. After all, it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Cuckoo clocks and now a way to recycle remnants of the cold war into something unique and just a little bizarre. Here's the complete writeup from World Nuclear News, which they took from Der Spiegel.

The world's first "zero-rated" hotel - a former underground nuclear bunker - is set to open in Sevelen, Switzerland. The abandoned bunker has been transformed into a budget hotel by twin brothers Patrik and Frank Riklin with the motto "less is more": it has not been painted, the beds are from a nearby condemned hospital and hot water is not guaranteed - but what would you expect for just $9 to $13 per night?

Patrik insists that the hotel's stark Cold War atmosphere is "damned comfortable." A monitor within the bunker gives guests in the windowless hotel their only view of the outside world.

One condition from the Swiss military is that the bunker be ready at all times to revert back to its original function within 24 hours.

A group of guests gave the 54-bedded hotel a trial run last week. The hotel can only start commercial operation if given approval by the town in November. However, the Riklin brothers are already setting their sights on setting up a chain of such hotels. "People could hike from bunker to bunker," Patrick said. "Bunkers will definitely go down well with Japanese tour groups," he added.

Clearly a good locale for your next horror film featuring a twitchy desk clerk who hasn't left the bunker in 40 years and the mewling protoplasmic ick in room 666 that he calls Mother.

To quote a minor character in the Third Man who struggles with his English, "He is now [points up] in hell, or [points down] in heaven."

Sounds like heaven.

Picture of the bunker hotel form the AP. Well, at least the room - er, space - looks big, not that common in Europe.

While Graham Greene wrote the screenplay for The Third Man, it's been acknowledged that Orson Welles wrote the Cuckoo Clock speech himself - remember, though, that Welles is playing the villain, Harry Lime, so we may assume he meant the speech to be Lime's cheerful cynicism, not a reflection of Welles' own feelings.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Perils of Advocacy: Texas Edition

 logo-tsepaA group called Nuclear Energy for Texans (NET) is protesting the actions of another group, Texans for a Sound Energy Policy Alliance (TSEPA), who, according to NET, are up to mischief:

"It is outrageous that this small anti-nuclear activist group would travel across the country to try and derail a project that the vast majority of Victoria, Texas residents whole-heartedly support."

And though the story doesn't say what that mischief might be, Marketwatch has another press release to explain:

TSEPA spokesperson John Figer states: "Exelon's record in Illinois is clear. We don't want to be a Braidwood, Texas. Beyond safety, this project critically impacts our state's water future. The Guadalupe River has been listed as one of the 10 most threatened rivers in the U.S. and we don't have enough water to support a thirsty nuclear power plant. A lack of freshwater inflow will critically impact the San Antonio bay, wetlands, estuaries, fish and the endangered whooping cranes. Nuclear power plants should go in places with major sources of water... and that is not in Victoria, Texas."

And TSEPA headed up to Illinois to protest in front of Exelon's headquarters. Sounds very Chinatown, doesn't it?, although without the sister-daughter thing. It's all about the water.

However, most water that goes into a nuclear plant comes right back out and none the worse for wear. Environmental studies also have to be done to ensure no harm is done. (In fact, Exelon will build two ponds on the site and bypass the Guadalupe River completely. The company doesn't say if it'll stock those ponds with fish or other wildlife but it could. See here for more from Exelon.) For these reasons, TSEPA's pitch seems to us a non-starter. However, NET's response carries a certain chill:

The small anti-nuclear activists group TSEPA who is protesting the Victoria plant is financed almost entirely by people who do not even live in the Victoria area.

This sounds like the "outside agitators" argument you used to hear right before union meetings and civil rights marches got busted up. People inside and outside Victoria have an interest in the new plant.

We're on NET's side - no surprise there - but TSEPA does not appear to be doing anything grossly wrong - well, the "facts" on their web site are pretty fact free, but no law stops them from making an argument with bad facts. They'll just lose in the end. Calling TSEPA small and funded by visigoth outsiders is unproductive - just roll out the truth, NET! It's enough.

TSEPA's logo has a cowboy Bar-B-Bar brand kind of vibe to it, which might be intended to attract exceptionally green bullriders and rodeo clowns - well, at least it's different than that usual blue skies blue water thing these kinds of groups like to use.

The Third Presidential Debate

lincoln douglas debate Or was it the 564th? Well, it was the last one anyway. Here are the nuclear quotes and we should note, this is three-for-three in which there were nuclear shout outs. Granted, all eyes are on the economy and associated pocket book issues, so we expected much less about energy policy this time out.

First, McCain:

Energy -- well, first -- second of all, energy independence. We have to have nuclear power. We have to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much. It's wind, tide, solar, natural gas, nuclear, off-shore drilling, which Senator Obama has opposed.

We've heard this one before, although it oddly came after the candidates were asked what programs they'd cut. McCain had several suggestions: he really doesn't like ethanol:

I oppose subsidies for ethanol because I thought it distorted the market and created inflation; Senator Obama supported those subsidies.

Answering how to eliminate dependence on foreign oil:

We can eliminate our dependence on foreign oil by building 45 new nuclear plants, power plants, right away. We can store and we can reprocess.

Senator Obama will tell you, in the -- as the extreme environmentalists do, it has to be safe.

Look, we've sailed Navy ships around the world for 60 years with nuclear power plants on them. We can store and reprocess spent nuclear fuel, Senator Obama, no problem.

So the point is with nuclear power, with wind, tide, solar, natural gas, with development of flex fuel, hybrid, clean coal technology, clean coal technology is key in the heartland of America that's hurting rather badly.

So the point is with nuclear power, with wind, tide, solar, natural gas, with development of flex fuel, hybrid, clean coal technology, clean coal technology is key in the heartland of America that's hurting rather badly.

"Extreme environmentalists?" Do they use organic bungee cords or something? You can also see that McCain's points are much the same as he has made before, with one notable exception. In the last paragraph above, he puts nuclear energy among its coevals instead of making it stand alone in the cold, cold wind. Rhetorically, that's important, as it makes nuclear energy a peer of its non-emitting cousins instead of something "other." A little thing, but important.

And Obama? Well, nothing, so we guess this wasn't a complete sweep of the debates - he did make some terse statements in the first two matches. Here's a bit where nuclear might have slid in:

That's why I've focused on putting resources into solar, wind, biodiesel, geothermal. These have been priorities of mine since I got to the Senate, and it is absolutely critical that we develop a high fuel efficient car that's built not in Japan and not in South Korea, but built here in the United States of America.

And that's almost a stretch. We're not sure how nervous Obama makes us - check back after we have our blood pressure measured - since he does recognize a place for nuclear energy. But it is not high among his priorities. We'll just have to see.

Did you know the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates all had one subject? - the expansion of slavery into new territories of the United States. The debate format was: the first speaker spoke an hour in the affirmative, the second speaker an hour and a half in opposition, then the first speaker concluded with a half-hour rebuttal. The two alternated going first, with Sen. Stephen Douglas kicking things off.

The result? Both won - Douglas retained his seat and Lincoln rode the popularity of the debates into a collected book edition (for which he oversaw the publication) and the Presidency.

'Nuclear More Reliable for Energy than Oil and Gas'

That's according to the Nuclear Energy Agency's latest Nuclear Energy Outlook study. Here's a summary (pdf):

The security of energy supply from nuclear power is more reliable than that for oil or gas, according to the authors of the first ‘Nuclear Energy Outlook’ launched today by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA).

Additionally, uranium’s high energy density means that transport is less vulnerable to disruption, and storing a large energy reserve is easier than for fossil fuels, says the publication. It adds that one tonne of uranium produces the same energy as 10,000 to 16,000 tonnes of oil using current technology. Technological developments are likely to improve that performance even more.

...

According to one scenario in Nuclear Energy Outlook, existing nuclear power technologies could provide more than a fifth of global electricity by 2050 as demand for power rises in countries such as China and India. Under this scenario, 1,400 reactors of the size commonly in use today would be in operation by 2050, providing four times the current supply of nuclear-generated electricity.

Callaway Nuclear Plant Achieves First Breaker to Breaker Run

Well done!:

AmerenUE’s Callaway Nuclear Plant has achieved its first so-called "breaker-to-breaker run" after operating for 520 days without going out of service, according to a statement released by the St. Louis-based utility.

A breaker-to-breaker run is when a plant operates from one refueling to the next without going out of service. The plant is refueled every 18 months and must go offline during refueling.

...

The 1,190-megawatt plant generated 16 million megawatt hours of electricity - enough to power on average more than 857,000 households.
Welcome to the club.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Obama, McCain Voters Favor Nuclear Energy

Tree And by an impressively wide margin, too. A new poll from Bisconti Research for NEI interviewed 1000 voters to determine the support for nuclear energy depending on which candidate they were leaning towards - we've always liked the idea, much used by pollsters, of the "leaning" voter. You get an image of a grove of folks, swaying as the political winds move them.

Before going through the results, we would have anticipated that John McCain voters would prefer nuclear energy much more than Barack Obama voters; Obama's support has been positive if a bit on the tepid side and we expected his candidacy would attract more environmental no-nuke diehards.

But see for yourselves.

“Overall, do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity in the United States?”

Favor (which combines strongly and somewhat favors):

Obama: 72%

McCain: 86%

That's about what we expect from the McCain crowd, but higher than expected (well, than we expected) from the Obama folk. It may be that engaged voters have tussled with this issue enough to give nuclear a solid boost.

“From what you have heard, do you think that (John McCain/Barack Obama) includes nuclear energy in his energy plan for the future?”

McCain leaners/McCain - 72% McCain leaners/Obama - 24%

Obama leaners/Obama - 54% Obama leaners/McCain - 45%

McCain has been considerably more voluble about his support for nuclear energy both on the trail and at the debates. Obama brings it up, but in terse sentences, not full paragraphs. That seems reflected in these numbers.

There's a few questions probing support for various energy policies. We won't go into the specific questions (involving recycling used nuclear fuel, loan guarantees, and so on) but will note that the range of voters supporting such policies stayed exceptionally high, between 74 and 87 percent.

You can decide what to take away from these numbers. We think it provides evidence that voters are aware of many of the issues around nuclear energy, generally support it despite candidate preference, and understand it well enough as an energy source. You could even conclude that the next president will have pretty wide latitude with where he might go with nuclear energy.

We've mentioned before that we don't blame anyone for doubting the legitimacy of a poll sponsored by an advocacy organization; however, one cannot really measure effectiveness by cooking the books. What's a lot more likely to happen is that an organization simply won't publicize poor results.

And in truth, NEI doesn't publicize good results that broadly, either - most polls are intended for the membership and for internal use, not for the public per se. We received permission from NEI central to share these numbers with you.

Well, all right, it isn't at all fair to compare our grove of leaning voters to the apple trees in The Wizard of Oz. After all, they cheerfully answered the questions and did not throw apples afterward. We just wanted to find some anthropomorphic trees and these was pretty memorable if overly cranky. (And Scarecrow did provoke the trees, if you'll remember.)

Nuclear Proliferation Humor from the Onion

Hat tip to Pro Nuclear Democrats.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Nuclear Option: CNBC

The Nuclear OptionYour must-see TV tonight (assuming watching Warren Sapp and Susan Lucci cut the rug doesn't float your boat): CNBC premieres its 60-minute special,"The Nuclear Option," at 9:00 ET. From the programming notes,

Power consumption in the United States has never been greater. Currently the country gets 20% of its electricity from nuclear energy. But with the price of oil soaring and increased opposition to coal fired plants, many wonder if America should be more like France, where 80% of the power is nuclear. Americans haven’t built a new nuclear plant in thirty years. Now the country sits on the verge of a nuclear revolution.

CNBC's Melissa Francis explores the issue, which according to a recent CNBC poll has the nation divided. She takes viewers on a rare tour inside of a nuclear power plant, to France where nuclear energy is working, and to what may be the future home of the first new nuclear power plant in the United States in over 30 years.

A Nuclear Reactor on the Moon?

This story was made public about a month ago, but hey, better late than never:

NASA engineers are exploring the possibility of nuclear fission to provide the necessary power and taking initial steps toward a non-nuclear technology demonstration of this type of system.

A fission surface power system on the moon has the potential to generate a steady 40 kilowatts of electric power, enough for about eight houses on Earth. It works by splitting uranium atoms in a reactor to generate heat that then is converted into electric power. The fission surface power system can produce large amounts of power in harsh environments, like those on the surface of the moon or Mars, because it does not rely on sunlight...
Nuclear energy is used to power submarines, used to power millions of homes and businesses, and used to power rockets going to other planets, to name a few. It looks like there's not one thing nuclear energy can't power.

Picture of the proposed fission surface power system.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Pro Nuclear Democrats" Added to the Blogroll

If you haven't already seen Jason Ribeiro's blog, Pro Nuclear Democrats, be sure to stop by.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The New York Times on the Candidates' Nuclear Views

nytimes_logo Here's the opening paragraph of Larry Rohter's story:

Contrary to what Democrats may think, there is more to John McCain’s energy program than “drill, baby, drill.” And contrary to what Mr. McCain has been saying on the campaign trail, where he proposes the construction of 45 nuclear plants by 2030, Barack Obama does not “oppose the use of nuclear power.”

This pretty well lines up with what we've said as this campaign rolls along (always pleasing), and the story gets Obama's campaign to open up a bit more on what seems to us tepid support:

Elgie Holstein, an adviser to Mr. Obama on energy issues, accused the McCain campaign of misrepresenting Mr. Obama’s position on nuclear power.

“Some specific proposals that Senator McCain has made are troubling,” Mr. Holstein said, because of the problems of storage and reprocessing, and the issue of non-proliferation of nuclear fuel.

Of course, Obama and Holstein could be more forthcoming on how they want to deal with what they call problems; we suspect they'll find them less problematic should they settle into the White House, but we've heard this from them enough to want them to move forward on some ideas.

Once you get past the take away on Obama, the article runs into real trouble dealing with McCain's positions. Partly, this is because the candidate doesn't want to talk to the New York Times or let his spokesmen do so either. That's short-sighted on McCain's part because it allows Rohter to proceed as he will.

For example:

In campaign speeches, Mr. McCain also estimates that his program to build nuclear reactors would “provide 700,000 jobs for American workers.”

Some nuclear power experts offer more modest figures, noting that much of the heavy foundry work and other tasks would have to be done overseas, at least in the initial phase.

True enough, but building and operating nuclear energy plants provides economic ripples throughout communities and creates a cascade of employment around a well-paid workforce. McCain's figure, given his plan, may actually be kind of modest.

But Mr. McCain has said he wants such work [the foundry work] to be done within the United States, even though he noted in July in Missouri that “our manufacturing base to even construct these plants is almost gone,” and added, “We will need to recover all the knowledge and skills that have been lost over three stagnant decades in a highly technical field.”

Well, true, but again, not the end of the story. Putting up so many plants creates an opportunity to revitalize the steel industry. Since it takes awhile to get a new plant license approved, there is time for investors to start looking seriously at, um, founding foundries (and for a President McCain to encourage it.)

You get the point. While the story does a shout-out to NEI, it doesn't quote anyone - NEI could have filled in this part of the story if McCain didn't want to; instead, Rohter depends on the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Resources Defense Council for quotes. As you'd expect, they send the story into a severe imbalance.

Well, read the rest on their site - but it's a completely unfair article for something purporting to give a fair reading to the candidates' positions.

When It Absolutely, Positively Must

In nature, every niche has its creatures and every creature has its niche. From Psalm 104 to Darwin, humans have noted the precise fit between resource and need across all existence. Much of the debate about energy arises from differing views on the needs that are to be served and the fit between those needs and the resources available. Sometimes the needs of a particularly demanding niche help us to see what a resource does, or can do, elsewhere.

This week a news article described the retirement of the Russian ice-breaker Arktika. Lead ship in a class that includes five sister ships, the Arktika is powered by two nuclear reactors that in combination deliver more than 72,000 horsepower to the propellers. The ship entered service in 1975 with a design life of 25 years. According to the article, the ship's life was extended an additional eight years through "engineering knowledge", much as the life of U.S. nuclear plants is being extended through design studies and replacement of critical components.

Nuclear energy is perfectly suited to the needs of an icebreaker, where intense power is needed to drive the ship through the ice, the power source must be extremely reliable, and refueling is often not an option. Nuclear energy also frees the icebreaker's operators from the vagaries and logistics of fossil fuels. Although our land-based electrical grid presents a much less hostile operating environment, it demands power sources that are just as reliable. With the high density of development in our major metropolitan areas, the electrical grid needs similarly dense energy sources that can provide large amounts of power in a small land area. No source is denser than nuclear energy. While refueling needs are less a concern for land-based power plants than for ships, nuclear power plants excel nevertheless, having lengthened the time between required outages and reduced the duration of those outages through the sharing of best practices and pursuit of excellence. Whether you're at sea or on land, when you need intense, reliable power, nuclear energy is indispensable.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Second Debate: McCain, Obama and Nuclear Energy

art.debate First, McCain:

You're going to be examining our proposals tonight and in the future, and energy independence is a way to do that, is one of them. And drilling offshore and nuclear power are two vital elements of that. And I've been supporting those and I know how to fix this economy, and eliminate our dependence on foreign oil, and stop sending $700 billion a year overseas.

McCain probably needs to stop staying he "knows" how to do something, because it can make people wonder why anyone would think otherwise, but he's on solid ground here. We're still not convinced on the efficacy of offshore drilling, but he is, and who here is a single issue voter anyway?

and:

We can work on nuclear power plants. Build a whole bunch of them, create millions of new jobs. We have to have all of the above, alternative fuels, wind, tide, solar, natural gas, clean coal technology. All of these things we can do as Americans and we can take on this mission and we can overcome it.

We like clean coal insofar as it keeps an American industry alive, but might suggest alternative fuel companies look to coal country to set themselves down. We suspect there's a work force there hungry for, shall we say, alternative employment.

And Obama:

We're going to have to develop clean coal technology and safe ways to store nuclear energy.

McCain gets a bit exasperated:

Now, how -- what's -- what's the best way of fixing it [ciimate change]? Nuclear power. Sen. Obama says that it has to be safe or disposable or something like that.

Look, I -- I was on Navy ships that had nuclear power plants. Nuclear power is safe, and it's clean, and it creates hundreds of thousands of jobs.

And -- and I know that we can reprocess the spent nuclear fuel. The Japanese, the British, the French do it. And we can do it, too. Sen. Obama has opposed that.

We see the point, though annoyance clogged McCain's meaning a bit. If we understand Obama, he thinks plants are safe enough. But he doesn't like Yucca Mountain or transporting fuel to it - not "safe" enough.  

Obama takes issue:

And that's why we've got to make some investments and I've called for investments in solar, wind, geothermal. Contrary to what Sen. McCain keeps on saying, I favor nuclear power as one component of our overall energy mix.

He goes on to ding McCain for not voting for alternative energy when it has come up, but that raises our antennae. Candidates always ding each other for voting down stinky bills (say, killing baby seals for science) despite some supportable provisions (alternative energy funding). All candidates do this - McCain got Obama on 45 tax hikes using the same trick - but it should be mothballed.

Back to McCain:

And as far as nuclear power is concerned, again, look at the record. Sen. Obama has approved storage and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

Oops! We think he means "has not approved."

We picked the transcript up here. (We heard McCain's oops ourselves, so that's not CNN's goof.)

---

Take away: McCain greatly favors nuclear energy. Period.

But Obama - hrmm! He has a tough time engaging with it  - we plucked out every reference from both candidates, so the imbalance here is down to them - but recognizes that no energy policy can omit it.

That leads to reasonable worries about what Obama might actually do - we don't think he would kill government support, but that's a pretty low bar to clear. Industry and a Democratic Congress are clearly moving on nuclear energy, and Obama would have to deal with both. That's a higher bar. Beyond that, though, mystery.

What do you think? Presumably, energy has taken second seat even in our minds to economic issues, and what the candidates said on the economy will undoubtedly have greater sway over voters than their energy proposals. We won't be so single-minded as to suggest it should be otherwise. Niche blog we may be, but niche voters no.

Still: has Obama finessed nuclear energy to within an inch of its life? Is McCain's embrace of all-of-the-above when it comes to energy an invitation to policy chaos? Time's getting short.

So, until next Wednesday - Long Island, this time.

Correction: we duplicated a paragraph accidentally. Fixed.

Themselves.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Sri Lanka Takes a Look at Thorium

sri-lanka-political-map And why not? They have a lot of it:

Vitharana had told the newspaper that Sri Lanka had Thorium deposits in the Western coast of the island from Beruwala to Negombo, which is an areas stretching South and North of the capital, Colombo.

What they don't have is the technology to use it, but luckily their neighbors to the north, also with piles of the stuff, is trying to make it plausible:

"The Indians have developed a technology to enrich Thorium as a source of energy to produce electricity," minister Vitharana was quoted as saying. "They are on the verge of commissioning a reactor for power generation in India using Thorium as main resource."

This is all at the chatter level - literally, with Sri Lanka and India broaching the subject at the IAEA's annual conference - and pretty abstract - Thorium has gotten over some impressive technical hurdles, but there are other issues to consider, especially:

  • the high cost of fuel fabrication, due partly to the high radioactivity of U-233 chemically separated from the irradiated thorium fuel. Separated U-233 is always contaminated with traces of U-232 (69 year half life but whose daughter products such as thallium-208 are strong gamma emitters with very short half lives);
  • the similar problems in recycling thorium itself due to highly radioactive Th-228 (an alpha emitter with two-year half life) present;
  • some weapons proliferation risk of U-233 (if it could be separated on its own); and
  • the technical problems (not yet satisfactorily solved) in reprocessing solid fuels.

Where thorium represents an opportunity - and, as noted in a post below, come to the attention of the American government via high-profile legislation - is its abundance, estimated to be three times that of uranium (about on par with lead) and perhaps even more - the element's relative lack of utility has constrained any major search for veins.

---

About that legislation. This popped out at us amongst its findings:

((6)(A) thorium fuel cycle technology was originally developed in the United States; and (B) cutting-edge research relating to thorium fuel cycle technology continues to be carried out by entities in the United States.

Not untrue, but odd to note this as a bona fide. Would its value be less if the French got there first?

Map of Sri Lanka. Since the country has held itself aloof from entities like The World Bank and International Monetary Fund - to its credit, perhaps? - the money to build a plant might be hard to come by. A thorium plant is, no matter how you slice it, capital intensive. Then again, the value of thorium itself may pick up considerably.

South Texas Project Nuclear Plant Sets Record on Continuous Operations

From STP:

The South Texas Project established a U.S. nuclear power industry record Sunday, completing four consecutive breaker-to-breaker production runs by repeatedly operating both its units continuously between refuelings. The plant shut down its Unit 2 reactor Sunday for routine refueling and maintenance.

No other nuclear power plant has accomplished this in the five decades since the first commercial reactor in the U.S. began operations in 1958.

...

During the past four years, STP’s two units have produced more energy than any other two-unit nuclear power plant in the country. Both units have led the nation in production, and Unit 1 led all 439 reactors worldwide in electric generation last year.

...

In its record-setting production runs, STP generated 65 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity. That equates to approximately 7.5 percent of all electricity used in Texas during that time.

Unit 1 operated continuously from April 2005 to October 2006, when it was shut down for refueling, and from November 2006 to March 2008, when it was refueled again. Unit 2 was continually online from October 2005 to March 2007, and again from April 2007 until yesterday. The units generated 32.7 billion kWh and 32.3 billion kWh, respectively, during those production runs.
I'd say congratulations are in order!

Picture of STP.

Thoughts on the DOE Loan Guarantee Program

The Department of Energy is moving forward with its clean energy Loan Guarantee program. In a press release last week, DOE announced that it had received applications from 17 companies to build 14 nuclear power plants totaling 21 new units and almost 29,000 megawatts of new electrical capacity. In total, the applications seek $122 billion in loan guarantees, while the program is authorized to commit only $18.5 billion to new nuclear plants. Following the DOE announcement, NEI's Richard Myers, Vice President, Policy Development, noted in an interview with Bloomberg that the oversubscription is a sign that $18.5 billion is not adequate to provide the financing support necessary. In a piece on the loan guarantee program and another on the debt ceiling of the Tenessee Valley Authority, Dan Yurman explains why.

In essence, there are some jobs so big they are beyond what the private sector alone can do. Federal support, such as loan guarantees, enables the private sector to attract more capital to the enormous projects needed than would occur otherwise. Without that public-private partnership, the entire cost of these massive projects would be borne entirely by the federal government (i.e., the taxpayers). With federal encouragement, the private sector is willing to bear a fair share of the risk and put its money on the line to contribute to dealing with the nation's energy and environmental needs. That's what we take from the oversubscription in loan guarantee applications last week.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Paul Newman on Nuclear Energy

logo The National Review has a terrific piece on our old friend Paul Newman and his support for nuclear energy. Here's a taster:

“In all the meetings I had with Paul Newman, he struck me as very open-minded and inquisitive,” says [Denis Beller, a professor of engineering at the University of Nevada]. “He came out to Nevada in 2002 and visited the Harry Reid Center for Environmental Studies, where several faculty members showed him research on the transmutation of nuclear waste. They also discussed why ideas like launching nuclear waste into the sun were not really practical. The visit ended with a trip to Yucca Mountain, where Kevin Phillips, the mayor of neighboring Caliente, whose front porch is only 50 yards from the rail line where waste would be transported, told Newman he was not opposed to the project. Later [Newman] told me, ‘That’s the most impressive thing I’ve seen.’”

There's also a shout-out to NEI's involvement with Newman-Wachs, Newman's car racing outlet:

In 2002 Newman and [Eddie] Wachs formed Newman Wachs Racing, which fielded two cars that carried 26 nuclear decals and a public service message promoting nuclear power. Two year later the Nuclear Energy Institute became aware of their effort and sponsored a car emblazoned with the message “Nuclear — Clean Air Energy,” which won the opening race of the 2008 Champ Car Atlantic season. The car and its racing crew subsequently visited several engineering schools around the country to encourage young people to enter the nuclear profession.

You know that with National Review, there's going to be a few zingers at left-wing Hollywood types, but writers William Tucker and Stephanie Gutmann can't quite get past their bona fides to a central point: Paul Newman supported nuclear energy and was still a committed "lefty."

We've noted many times here that nuclear energy has just about become a post-ideological subject and opposing or supporting it is no longer an index to a person's political leaning. We think National Review missed a great opening here: pat themselves on the back for helping this to occur. Might hurt to lose the issue, but a win is a win. They could then move on to more reliable hot button issues - drilling in ANWR, tax breaks to oil companies - the kind of thing that does still inflame the left.

India Notes NEI on the US-India Agreement

nuclear_deal NEI has been supportive of the US-India nuclear trade agreement and worked to help it along its winding trail through the international and national thickets where it could. The Indians have noticed this, as this story from NDTV demonstrates:

Nuclear Energy Institute, the policy arm of US nuclear energy industry, has welcomed the Congressional ratification of the historic US India Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement and said that it has the potential to strengthen the American economy.


"The agreement holds the potential to strengthen the US economy while fostering within India increased use of nuclear energy to cleanly provide the reliable electricity that is so vital in modern society," said Frank Bowman, president and chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Institute.
... 
[NEI] was part of the US nuclear industry delegation, which visited India last year to have a preliminary round of talks with the Indian Government officials and also the private sector.

Most of what the article says will be familiar to readers of this site, but it's interesting to see the Indian press look at this deal from so many angles - something the American press might note.

Nice image used by NDTV for their story. It mixes the American and Indian flags. Would make a good wallpaper for your computer.