Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In the Nuclear Sphere: Good News All Around

AmigaBox-1152x864 Lots of strikingly good news in the nuclear sphere today: Let’s take them one at a time.

The Department of Energy has introduced a scholarship program:

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced nearly $9 million in awards to support the next generation of American nuclear energy development.  Under the Nuclear Energy Universities Program, the Department of Energy will provide $2.9 million in scholarships and fellowships to 86 U.S. nuclear science and engineering (NS&E) students, and will offer more than $6 million in grants to 29 U.S. universities and colleges in 23 states. 

We’re so used to huge numbers coming out of the government that our first thought was that this was pretty paltry. Millions? Should be billions. But no, this is more than enough to get the ball rolling:

Four-year and two-year accredited universities or colleges including community colleges and trade schools were eligible to apply for an infrastructure grant.  Award amounts for each project are subject to negotiation but range between about $100,000 and $300,000.  Awards are limited to one per university or college and are expected to be completed by September 30, 2009. 

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From our friends in the Senate:

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today passed an amendment to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that recognizes the strategic importance of nuclear energy to America’s supply of carbon-free electricity.

The amendment, passed with bipartisan support, calls for the expansion of nuclear energy facilities that have proven essential in providing clean and secure domestic energy for the United States and in reducing greenhouse gases. Nuclear energy prevents 692 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year and produces nearly three-quarters of all carbon-free electricity in America.

Our first point. We’ve heard you complain that we overplay those dumb losers the Republicans. But those dumb losers represent 40 Senators and Senators, much more than Representatives, tend to be little universes unto themselves. And, oh, aren’t so dumb, either.

When a respected figure like Sen. Alexander (R-Tenn.) starts talking up nuclear energy, it has a knock-on effect throughout the chamber. Now, we’re not crediting this bi-partisan outcome to Alexander, or even to the Republicans per se, but we will credit him and some of his colleagues for moving the needle at least a little in the direction of nuclear – with good, pertinent arguments - especially since there have not been very loud voices against nuclear in the Senate. And as this result show, the needle did not have to move very far.

Our second point. This amendment provides a sense of the Senate, meaning no one has to do anything about it. But it now becomes easier for legislators and nuclear advocates to say, “This is the way the Senates says we should go – so let’s go this way” and have policy grow up around it.

It’s an excellent outcome in a somewhat difficult political environment. Celebrate.

(Our link is to an NEI press release, which we like to avoid. We’ll go for an external link should there be one.)

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And here’s an excellent roundup of countries wanting to host a nuclear fuel bank. And what is fuel bank?

A nuclear fuel bank would seek to offer counterbalancing incentives to encourage countries to lease nuclear fuel from foreign sources rather than seek to make their own. The assumption underpinning these proposals is that guaranteed access for NPT-compliant countries to nuclear fuel at modest cost would be more attractive than developing expensive and proliferation-problematic enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. The logical corollary is that if a country nevertheless persisted in pursuing sensitive domestic nuclear technologies despite the higher financial costs involved, then suspicions would increase that it was seeking the option to manufacture nuclear bombs as well as nuclear fuel.

We wrote about the fuel bank in conjunction with Iran the other day – before the election there – but the idea is much broader in scope than as a means of containing rogue nations. This article represents an excellent primer.

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We’ve been following the Western Governors Association conference, which ends today. A lot of interesting nuclear news there – surprising – not because it isn’t a nuclear-friendly group, but because the focus was so intense. Likely the presence of Energy Secretary Steven Chu has something to do with that. We’ll look at the conference outcome a bit more tomorrow, but visit their site and read some of their energy papers.

We admit our nuclear sphere looks an awful lot like an Amiga boing ball, but as fans of the groundbreaking computer during the 80s, we know it can multitask.

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