Thursday, April 02, 2009

When the Iceberg Thaws

We’ve been a little busy at the NEI Central portion of our, shall we call it, job, but we still want to share some interesting stories with you:

John McCain Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants to quit pussyfooting around and just pull the plug on the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository:

McCain said he disagreed with the administration's choice to rule out Yucca Mountain, but since nuclear power is "vital" for U.S. energy needs, the nation must consider other options. McCain said his amendments would shutter Yucca Mountain and repay fees paid by electricity customers for building a repository. He said other nuclear amendments would address fuel reprocessing.

Grandstanding? Symbolic gesture? In any event, we think it’s pretty effective - and it’s had an impact:

Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said the committee will designate some time during the markup to consider nuclear energy and waste. The panel is expected to have the next markup in a series of four or more the week of April 27, the second week after Congress returns from its April recess, he said.

So, yay.

If you’re ever in Washington, stop by the Senate and see if one of Sen. McCain’s committees is holding a hearing. He’s almost always entertaining – excellent at sparring with witnesses, getting his views across and letting administration officials have it with both barrels – just what you want from an opposition pol, whether you agree with him or not.


iceberg We knew USA Today was working on a story about nuclear energy and waited for it with slightly bated breath – although a recent editorial from the newspaper had been quite positive – but now we get to breath out:

"The nation's nuclear power industry—stuck in a decades-long, deep freeze—is thawing. ... The momentum is being driven by growing public acceptance of relatively clean nuclear energy to combat global warming. Several companies have taken significant steps that will likely lead to completion of four reactors by 2015 to 2018 and up to eight by 2020. …To meet global warming goals, 42 reactors should be built in the next two decades, according to the Electric Power Research Institute. [John Reed, CEO of Concentric Energy Advisors] says that's possible if the first wave goes well. A new Gallup Poll shows a record 59 percent of Americans favor nuclear energy.”

The media push behind nuclear over the last couple of years has been remarkable. And there’s that Gallup poll again – never underestimate the power of Gallup.

In the tradition of USA Today’s user friendliness, the story provides a neat interactive map that shows you how much of your state’s electricity comes from nuclear energy.

Well, we do like the story, but that iceberg thawing metaphor is a trifle unfortunate. Hopefully, nuclear energy can have something to do with reversing iceberg thawing.


Calvert_Cliffs A little mischief in Maryland:

Members of Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition, which includes Maryland PIRG, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Nuclear Information and Resource Service and others, released a new report yesterday outside of the Public Service Commission headquarters, advocating for clean-energy alternatives.

They said their research shows renewable energy sources can produce more electricity than nuclear power plants and for less money.

We just bet it does!

If you’re not a Marylander, you should know that even the least environmentally-friendly legislator will bend over backward to protect the Chesapeake Bay – it’s an article of political faith in Maryland. And the Calvert Cliffs plant sits astride the Chesapeake, annoying environmentalists no end. Do they want a new unit there? They do not.

At the news conference yesterday, representatives from the coalition held signs and a banner that read: "No new nukes," "We love efficiency," "We want green energy" and, in French, "Non Merci UniStar."

The French references Electricite de France, which has partnered with Constellation to build the new reactor.

But Maureen Brown, a spokeswoman for Constellation, said the shareholders, not ratepayers or taxpayers, will hold the cost and risk associated with the project.

In the long run, the additional nuclear power supply in the area will probably be more "economical" for customers, she said.

That economical in quotes is a good touch. These plants, with admittedly high construction costs, hum along for 40 to 60 years. That’s how they get to be “economical.”

This damning-report-and-pithy-signs activism feels awfully rear-guard to us. If Calvert Cliffs were causing frogs to fall from the skies, maybe. Otherwise, a non-starter.

Calvert Cliffs. As industrial buildings go, not too bad. If you’ve seen the hulks along the Hudson, downright attractive.


clean-coal Let’s end this wrap up sweetly, not sourly:

Gov. Joe Manchin’s call to expand West Virginia’s energy base beyond traditional sources, including nuclear power, cleared the Senate without debate Wednesday.

Remember, this is deep in coal country. We’ve remarked before that the states are moving forward where the Feds fear to tread, hopefully not like fools rushing in, but this is quite notable – not just that nuclear is involved, but renewables, too.

[Sen. Brooks] McCabe said he was assured by several leaders in coal production that the industry has no qualms about West Virginia entering the nuclear business.

“They understand the bigger picture,” McCabe said earlier.

That’s good to hear – hopefully, understanding the big picture doesn’t mean seeing the handwriting on the wall. We rather doubt coal is going anywhere in West Virginia.

These signs are throughout West Virginia. The caption underneath says “Clean, Carbon Neutral Coal.” Sounds heavenly.


Ioannes said...

John McCain was the nuclear industry's best friend. He wanted to build 40 new nukes right away, but you didn't vote for him. Now you got Obama. Maybe you guys should rethink Yucca Mountain. And maybe you should start supporting the opposition to the Administration because the Administration really has no intentions of building new nukes.

Anonymous said...

"He wanted to build 40 new nukes right away"

Talk is cheap in a presidential campaign. The President can't build nuclear power plants.

perdajz said...

I'm a little bit disappointed that we no longer have the best bit of anti-nuclear irony. West Virginia had a practical moratorium on building nuclear power plants, because, get this, the waste problem is unsolved and they are too dangerous! It makes so much more sense to take that coal from West Virginia, burn it, and send the waste all over the planet! But seriously, glad to see another barrier come down.

Anonymous said...

It's true that the new administration does not support Yucca Mountain. But setting aside baseless right-wing fear and prejudice, is there any evidence whatsoever that the Obama Administration is delaying any new nuclear power plants?

graciela said...

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Anonymous said...

NEI needs to oppose McCain's bill, and do more to stand up for Yucca Mtn. in general.

Reid won't be Majority leader forever (he may even be defeated in 2010). Neither will Obama. Waiting out Reid's (and perhaps even Obama's) tenure, and then restarting the project, will lead to a resolution of the "waste problem" far sooner than any the alternatives (which all take several decades). Note that all fuel cycle options will still require at least one repository.

Despite all the talk, all that really needs to be done on the repository (for now) is quietly proceeding. Obama is allowing the NRC licensing process to continue, and (given the extensive and continuous meetings with NRC, before and during the licensing process) all indications are that the repository will meet the requirements and be approved. If McCain's bill stops this process, it must be vigorously opposed.

It seems that some think that if the Yucca "controversy" goes away, then the nuclear waste "problem" will be less of a barrier to new plant construction, since the waste issue is less in the public mind's eye. How can they think this? The way that the waste issue rears its head to (potentially) stop new plant projects is that the anti's bring out the argument that "nobody has any idea of what to do with the waste". They will raise this point even if Yucca is no longer in the news. And the fact that we've given up and gone completely back to the drawing board after decades of effort will greatly increase the effectiveness of their argument. Do you think simply talking about reprocessing programs decades away will satisfy the public, given that we've failed to do the far simpler task of siting a repository?

Make no mistake, giving up on Yucca will be a large blow to the effort to build new plants.

Jim Hopf

dave (katana0182) said...

I do think Obama's shaping up to be a friend to nuclear. In Prague:

"And we should build a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including an international fuel bank, so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing the risks of proliferation. That must be the right of every nation that renounces nuclear weapons, especially developing countries embarking on peaceful programs. And no approach will succeed if it's based on the denial of rights to nations that play by the rules. We must harness the power of nuclear energy on behalf of our efforts to combat climate change, and to advance peace and opportunity for all people."

As for Yucca, who needs Yucca, when you've got the Hansen-endorsed IFR, the MSR/LFTR, new LWR designs that can use reprocessed fuel, a bunch of small, safe reactors coming down the pipeline, and a global nuclear fuel bank to ensure a constant supply of LWR fuel and reprocessing of it?

I think that Sec. Chu is whispering sweet nothings into Pres. Obama's ear, and I think Obama's inner scientist is starting to think that its' better the iceberg against nuclear starts thawing rather than having a global meltdown of all the icebergs of the planet caused by coal.