Friday, January 30, 2009

No Friends of Champagne

Friends of the Earth logo We had a little fun with the Heritage Foundation earlier today, but at least it was in the context of some good ideas they’re putting forward. We thought we’d try a little balance and see what’s up in the environmental activist sphere – an inexact match, since environmentalism is hardly the sole province of liberals.

But while the Heritage Foundation couches their arguments in a comfy cocoon of ideological certainty, Friends of the Earth charges across the room blasting a shotgun in all directions. But that doesn’t mean they hit the target:

Senate appropriators voted yesterday to add a preemptive, up-to-$50-billion bailout for the nuclear industry to economic stimulus legislation.

The move was strongly criticized by Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder.

“The nuclear industry has given millions of dollars to politicians, an investment that appears to be paying off,” Blackwelder said. "Senators are supposed to be fixing the economy but instead they’re offering the nuclear industry a $50 billion gift that will create virtually no near-term jobs. It's unconscionable. Lobbyists are probably popping champagne corks as we speak.”

Oof! If lobbyists are popping champagne corks, it’s because they like champagne. So we yield that point to Blackwelder. But the rest is ludicrously off-target.

That $50 billion “bail-out” went to: renewable energy systems, advanced fossil energy technology, hydrogen fuel cells, advanced nuclear energy facilities, energy efficiency programs, transmission technologies, hybrid or diesel vehicles, and carbon capture and storage technology.

That should put bubbles into the noses of a lot of champagne drinkers and not just lobbyists – there are a lot of jobs in those industries and a whole lot of construction in the pipeline.

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Why would Friends of the Earth say something transparently untrue? CNN offers a possible explanation (talking about the loan guarantee provisions in the bill):

Although the legislative language leaves open the types of technology eligible for a government loan guarantee (as long as they substantially reduce greenhouse gases), some environmentalist organizations opposed to nuclear power are concerned that the measure could be used to fund new generation.

In other words, anti-drinking advocates are incensed the champagne business may get a boost. Well, that’s logical – we’d be pretty unhappy if the bill included funds to convert puppies to food (we’re against that), so if you don’t like nuclear energy, you’d be against this. But, in the words of President Obama, we won. Misrepresenting the win as a ghastly effort by drunken lobbyists to line congressional pockets to lock other energy sources out of the stimulus doesn’t change that. It’s children who spin outlandish stories when they get mad; an advocacy group behaving childishly risks losing credibility with its membership.

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Let’s fill out the story a little bit. Senate appropriators approved an additional $95 billion in loan guarantee authority for commercially proven renewable energy projects (and the transmission lines necessary to bring it to market.) The stimulus legislation approved by the House on Wednesday also provides an $80-billion increase in loan guarantees earmarked solely for renewables and transmission. Loan guarantees give banks a nudge to lend money for expensive capital projects by putting the force of government behind the loans – barring default, the government outlay is minimal. Nuclear projects can apply for these projects, but there’ll be a lot of competition.

And no “near-term jobs?” Wrong again, FOE. At the end of 2008, private investment in new nuclear power plants – and in manufacturing facilities to support new nuclear plant construction – has created an estimated 14,000 to 15,000 jobs. That’s the tip of an iceberg: as construction ramps up, so will the hiring.

And that’s just the nuclear industry. Look at the rest of the list above and you can see how these mature and nascent industries will be a significant stimulative agent.

Friends of the Earth says it “Champions a Clean and Just world.” We’ll grant them clean. It needs to work on just.

Ahh, That Heritage Foundation: Nuclear Ideas & Partisan Hectoring

480x230_AskHeritage_VER2 The Heritage Foundation’s Stuart Butler offered up some nuclear prescriptions to the new administration in yesterday’s Washington Times:

First, Washington should create a level playing field for energy ideas. That means no longer artificially favoring one new energy source over another and instead creating a strong, market-oriented approach to energy so that the best sources can expand. It's time to say no to lobbyist-driven subsidies and phase out existing ones.

Second, Congress and the administration must commit to respecting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s authority to review the permit application to construct the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository in Nevada.

Third, we need to cut the red tape now slowing plant construction. The arduous, four-year nuclear-plant permitting process should be replaced with a new two-year fast-track process for experienced applicants who meet reasonable siting and investment requirements.

We don’t disagree with any of it specifically, though we’re reasonably sure Butler knows that banning lobbyist-driven subsidies needs 536 members of Congress to sign on to it – and since all of them would deny being thus influenced, they see no need to stop it. (It’s a wee bit of a red herring anyway; lobbyist activity flows from many sides of an issue, though admittedly, some lobbyists are much more effective than others.)

You may have noticed the call for a “strong, market-oriented approach” and thought to yourself, Ahh, that Heritage Foundation. But Heritage has in the past been more likely to throw government under a bus and back up over it, so this represents something new – a recognition that government and industry are in the energy business together. Heritage favors the industry side, the Center for American Progress the government side. That’s just how it goes in the wide world of partisan big thinkers.

We can’t let Butler go – but do read his whole article; it’s pretty good – without tweaking him a bit:

Anyone old enough to remember the 1979 movie "China Syndrome," about the deadly cover-up of a nuclear accident, knows Jane Fonda and other liberals would have a fit at the idea of more nuclear energy.

Ahh, that Heritage Foundation. The red meat’s getting a little gray and mealy there. Even kids of my generation remember Miss Fonda more as an exercise guru. We think Heritage would do itself a big favor by recognizing that nuclear energy isn’t quite the liberal danger flag it used to be. Even anti-nuclear environmental activists are beginning to look like dead-enders. Heritage’s ideas are good enough that there’s really no need to throw slop to the hard core.

One of the Heritage Foundation’s initiatives. We have a feeling if you ask Heritage a question, Jane Fonda might well be part of the answer.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shovel Ready Projects: Investor's Business Daily

Shovel ready projectsThanks to NNN reader Aaron for passing along this Investor's Business Daily editorial from Friday, Shovel-Ready Nukes.

Stimulus: So-called "shovel-ready" infrastructure jobs are said to be the key to economic recovery. But rather than just roads and bridges, between work and home, why not nuke plants to power our lives at both ends?

Amazingly, with all the talk of shoveling money into infrastructure projects, no mention has been made of our energy needs, the jobs that can be created by expanding our energy infrastructure and the jobs that can be created with the additional energy provided.

To be sure, vast sums are planned for alternative energy sources such as wind farms and solar plants, but like the current stimulus packages they will take too long to affect the economy in any significant way.

Nuclear energy is a different matter. This dormant industry is ready for a renaissance. The American public seems to have grown out of the media-induced fear of nuclear power. According to Zogby International, two-thirds of Americans support the construction of nuclear power plants in the U.S.
You can read the entire editorial here.

They Call the Wind Uneconomic

scroby-4 Honestly, we come not to ding wind power:

One of the firms participating in the London Array project, under which the world's biggest offshore wind farm would be built in the outer Thames Estuary, has questioned the scheme's economic viability.

The Financial Times reported at the weekend that Paul Golby, chief executive of E.ON UK - which owns 30 per cent of the Array venture - says that "the economics [of the Array] are looking pretty difficult".

This is due to the extra expense of setting a wind farm off shore. Naturally, this caught our eye:

The FT quotes energy major Centrica as estimating the cost of offshore capacity at £3m per megawatt, more than double what it costs to build nuclear stations.

Once you’ve got a nuclear plant built, the running costs are relatively minimal. Nuclear energy can generate power nearly all the time while a wind farms tops out at about 30% of the time. (This fact musters this comment: “Thus, it costs more than six times as much to build a given level of power production using wind farms as it does using nuclear.” Gulp!)

While some nerves frayed past breaking on this point, there’s enough will – and monied parties - to get the windmills humming:

The London Array seemed to be under threat last year when Shell, with a 20 per cent stake, pulled out of the project saying it was uneconomic. However, Shell's place was taken by the emir of Abu Dhabi. E.ON has 30 per cent, and the other half is owned by DONG Energy of Denmark.

So, goodbye Shell, hello emir. We’d guess the emir sees this as a pilot project for something Abu Dhabi might consider for itself - his outfit is called Future Energy Company – plus the use of gas turbines as backup might be appealing. (The Danes are likely providing the know-how. See DONG if you read Danish.)

You may look back at that first sentence and think that there is indeed a whole lot of wind farm dinging going on – and we admit, we like those wind to nuclear cost comparisons.

But no, the point is that changing the energy portfolio from proven to (essentially) unproven technologies is much costlier than might first seem apparent. Nuclear energy is a proven technology that answers to the pressing problem (du jour perhaps but none-the-less)of carbon reduction – and does it better than the London Array, not needing those gas turbines as backstop. Nuclear energy is not issue-free, of course, but in this context, its virtues become much more apparent.

Wind, solar, hydro, even the bête noir of clean coal seem unavoidable routes forward – and certainly should be as long as government and industry are willing to move them forward. But virtuous, cost-free panaceas? No. In a large way, comparing them to nuclear energy only makes those drawbacks glare.

Windmills in the London Array. Be sure to visit its site for lots of interesting information.

For A Soft, Glowing Complexion

We’d like to think this is a good idea, but somehow we can’t see using a Geiger counter as part of our morning routine. An alarming classic from the annals of advertising (okay, we could go into the healthful and hurtful aspects of radiation – you can go here for all of that – but we’re appreciating goofiness here):

Washington Monthly: Rethinking Your Opposition to Nuclear Power?

Rethinking opposition to nuclear powerOver at Washington Monthly's Political Animal, Steve Benen has a robust discussion going on about Mariah Blake's feature story in the Jan/Feb issue, "Bad Reactors: Rethinking your opposition to nuclear power? Rethink again."

This post in the comment thread caught my eye.

Once I learned the science, I found that much of the left's objections to nuclear were unfounded. And I say that as a bona fide lefty in favor of single payer health care, a minimum income, and other things considered too far to the left for passage.

As for how long the nuclear waste lasts, the heavy metals and carcinogens generated by the tons daily from burning coal have a half-life of forever. It's not enough to say what's wrong with nuclear; you have to compare it to the incredibly destructive alternatives we're already doing on a planet killing scale today.

We can and I believe we will get past the downsides of nuclear. It will provide a base supply that can be supplemented by solar and wind, which cannot by themselves be the entire basis of our power generation because the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine, and as mentioned above, batteries also have their downsides even if we were to be able to store the energy from solar and wind for their downtimes.

Posted by: Eclectic on January 26, 2009 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

Monday, January 26, 2009

Show Me the Nuclear Plant

missouri_arch AmerenUE plans to build a second unit at its Callaway plant in, appropriately enough, Callaway county, Missouri. So far, the reaction is pretty good:

AmerenUE says the plant would provide 2,500 new jobs with an annual payroll of $400 million for about five years during construction. The second reactor also would create at least 400 well-paying permanent Callaway County jobs with an annual payroll of $30 million. Callaway County residents also are elated that the project would produce an estimated $115 million annually in property taxes during construction and another $90 million each year after the plant begins operating.

This is a news story, which leads us to wonder how writer Don Norfleet knows how “elated” the residents are – maybe he really has the pulse of his neighbors, be we suspect editorializing. The numbers are reasonable, though, and good for the county.

However, AmerenUE has had to militate for a change in the law to bring about the new unit:

At issue is legislation introduced a few days ago that would repeal a 1976 law approved by a ballot initiative that prevents utilities from charging customers for power plants until after they are constructed.

AmerenUE officials say they won't be able to build the plant if the law is not repealed and customers would be hit even harder with higher rate hikes if payments did not start until after construction was completed. Attracting financing with no immediate income stream in the current economy also would be questionable.

The reason for laws like this is to keep costs from running wild, but state commissions can presumably serve the same purpose. Where there is opposition to the new unit, it comes not from environmentalists, but from consumer activists – and that’s not due to the plant, or a problem with nuclear energy, but because they don’t want customers to be charged while the plant is being built.

But we wonder, nuclear or not, whether this is just a sign of the world that’s coming: as renewable energy sources ramp up and cap-and-trade legislation encourages non-renewable sources to ramp down, the result will certainly be some rugged bills coming through the mail – or energy credits to consumers – or state and federal subsidies. A mix of several of these, but an issue Missouri will likely be among the first to face. Let’s see how this does in the legislature and then follow it from there.

It’s called the Jefferson National Expansion Monument – inviting name, no? This is probably a state courthouse – the capital is in Jefferson City, not St. Louis.

Scientific American on Nuclear Energy

Scientific American Cover And a lot of interesting information on uranium, too. When I worked at Scientific American during the late eighties, the rule for the magazine was that one story per issue should be comprehensible to laymen, but every other article could go into as much technical detail as a specialist could stand. This appears to have changed – while not nearly at the dumbed-down level of, say, Psychology Today, all the articles in the current set are informative and graspable to any interested party.

So you can learn how long the uranium supply will last – 200 years – unless an economical method emerges that can pull it from sea water – then it’s 60,000 years. (No mention of Thorium, which may throw these numbers askew one day.) Or the first nuclear reactor – 2 billion years old and counting. Or what to look for in the next generation of plants.

That last story dates from 2003, so they may be pulling some stuff out of the archives to support the newer material. Still, good reads.

The cover of the current issue. We’re not sure if this is an on-line only collection or if it will appear in the magazine.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Chinese New Year2009 is the year of the Ox; an animal that symbolizes hard work and tenacity.* And while I resolve to be more diligent in studying my Mandarin in '09, and admittedly have little idea what this broadcaster is saying, her story from the CCTV News Hour still holds great value in its accompanying B-roll: video of the construction progress at Guandong province's newest nuclear plant, Ling'ao II.



* Despite my seven-year-old niece's declaration, 2009 is not the year of hugs and kisses. Though it could be.

Biography of Robert Oppenheimer on PBS Tonight

PBS' American Experience show will air a two-hour biography tonight of Robert Oppenheimer, "Father of the Atomic Bomb."

Robert Oppenheimer's life and legacy are inextricably linked to America's most famous top-secret initiative -- the Manhattan Project. But after World War II, this brilliant and intense scientist, tasked with the development of the atomic bomb and widely considered one of the most important minds of the twentieth century, fell from the innermost circles of American scientific policy. At the height of the Red Scare, the veil of suspicion fell over J. Robert Oppenheimer. He was accused of having communist sympathies and was pressed to explain his relationships with known communists.

This biography will present a complex and revealing portrait of one of the most influential American scientists. Interweaving interviews with family members, scholars and colleagues with dramatic recreations featuring Academy Award-nominated actor David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck, and The Bourne Ultimatum), this film follows J. Robert Oppenheimer on a fascinating arc from the heady world of international physics to the top-secret Manhattan Project, and finally to the dark days of the Red Scare and McCarthyism.
Click here for tonight's show times in your local area.

Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

Meet Sean Grabbe:

How long do we have to wait for nuclear power? Its the cleanest non-poluting energy source we have.

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In the future I will list a few books about the propaganda against using nuclear power. It amazed me as to how safe and pollution free nuclear power is. Something else to think about--our navy runs all of its carriers on nuclear power. Last I heard they get about 20yrs before having to get new fuel rods.
Sean just began his blog this month. Be sure to stop by and welcome him to the nuclear club!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Flash Fun

With apologies to MetaFilter for blatantly ripping off their Friday Flash Fun idea, we offer up AE4RV's Nuclear Plant Operator game. Enjoy!

Friday Flash Fun

The Energy Center of the Balkans

СИМЕОН САКСКОБУРГГОТСКИ ПОСЕТИ АЕЦ КОЗЛОДУЙ We’re probably edging close to beating this story to death, but we admit we’re fascinated by Bulgaria’s attempts to rouse its nuclear industry in the face of Russia’s reminding it how overdependent it is on Russia’s natural gas. The other day, we doubted Bulgaria’s nuclear rebirth could sustain itself without making it central to its energy policy. Well, now the Bulgarians are moving out of crisis mode and into policy mode:

Ever since [the plants’] closure at midnight on December 31 2006, as a precondition for Bulgaria’s European Union membership, the issue has been exploited by a number of politicians who have cited Bulgaria’s energy security and the country’s lost role as “the energy centre of the Balkans”.

And get this:

Numerous internal investigations have all confirmed that the two units are entirely safe and that Bulgaria suffered an injustice by being effectively forced to agree on their closure to qualify for EU membership.

The IAEA helped Bulgaria get the plants up to standards in the early part of the decade. The story doesn’t say who conducted the “internal investigations,” so accept that as you will. We’d be happier if the IAEA stopped by for an inspection.

We get the impression that Bulgaria might be vulnerable to, shall we say, an excess of nationalism:

Such a stand [for switching the plants on] boosted the popularity of the ultra-nationalist Ataka party, exploiting people’s dreams of resurrecting Bulgaria as a key energy provider and exporter of electricity to other countries in the region.

Or the Ataka party (its web site in Bulgarian – pictures show a lot of grim visages) could be a bunch of dead-enders. Someone with a better sense of modern Bulgarian politics might want to comment on this.

We should note, too, that Bulgaria is not suddenly re-embracing nuclear energy. Although EU jitters closed the current plants, construction has started on new ones and these apparently pass EU muster. In any event, we may be wise to back away from our earlier stance and acknowledge that the Bulgarians are grappling with the issues surrounding nuclear energy given their specific circumstances.

By all means, read the whole article. Writer Petar Kostadinov does a terrific job laying out all the elements – and very nicely translated, too.

Yesterday, we had the outside of the Kozloduy plant. This is inside.

Nuclear Plants Are Going Wireless

Here's something enticing for us nuclear geeks. In InTech's January edition, two software engineers, a software developer and two nuclear plant engineers wrote about the coming age of wireless technology at nuclear plants.

Wireless presence in nuclear power plants is inevitable. The government and industry sectors are preparing...
The Department of Energy is funding the research and development (R&D) project:
The project is in two phases to progress over a period of three years. The Phase I effort is completed, and the Phase II project is pending. In Phase I, the feasibility of wireless sensors for equipment condition monitoring in nuclear power plants was the object of investigation. In Phase II, this R&D effort will continue for another two years to address the technical issues that must be resolved to establish the foundation for widespread use of wireless technologies in nuclear power plants.

The R&D will focus not only on equipment condition monitoring, but also, and as importantly, for a variety of other applications such as equipment aging and obsolescence management, manpower savings, reduction of radiation dose to maintenance personnel, asset management, and process measurements.

Work in wireless application areas for nuclear power plants is also proceeding at international research organizations, laboratories, and universities. In this phase, we only looked at U.S. organizations.

The next step is Phase II. That effort is due to run for two years to develop and implement a prototype system to use wireless technologies for a variety of applications in nuclear power plants.
Looks like some big savings can happen at nuclear plants just by keeping up with the latest technologies. And who says nuclear plants are dinosaurs? :-) Here's the 12-page Phase I study if anyone is interested (pdf).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Riding the Rails with Nuclear Energy

hoisting Trains that travel via electric power are “green,”  as we currently accept the the term, because they do not use (much) diesel fuel. And, if the electricity they use is not generated by a carbon emitting source, it’s like hitting the daily double of greeniness. An advertising bonanza. Rooty-toot-toot! Now if train food were improved, they could also eliminate the methane problem, but one emission at a time.

We frankly don’t know which American trains might qualify for this designation, but this story from The Guardian covers the European scene.

Travelling by train is the green way to go. In the month when the government seems set on railroading us into a third Heathrow runway, even ministers will agree on that. You can "travel greener" with Arriva to Wales. Or hop aboard Eurostar, which claims to "generate 10 times less CO2 than flying" to Paris. Or emit "78% less" than flying if you take one of Virgin's tilting Pendolino trains to Glasgow.

And wouldn’t you know that nuclear energy appears somewhere in the equation:

Eurostar does so well because its trains are mainly powered by French nuclear power stations. The company can't quite bring itself to say "our trains are greener because they run on nuclear power", but that is what it means.

We’re not sure why the French would hesitate to make this point since so much of everything (80% to be exact) is powered by nuclear energy. Maybe because nuclear acts as a great leveler where it is so prevalent. If Eurostar benefits as much as all other French electric trains, there’s no advantage to claim. (But since the advertising seems to be versus planes, they could still bring it up – so we officially don’t get it.)

Writer Fred Pearce, in what we might call classic Guardian style, goes into a lot of detail about just how green these trains really are, looking for purity. It’s an interesting read.

We don’t really recommend travelling this way – it’s liable to end in tears in a small town jail - but if you’re going green and really want to score points with like-minded friends, the frugality demonstrated here can’t be beat.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In the Best Interests of a Crisis

Kozloduy We’re always highly suspicious of government policy that erupts out of crisis rather than as the logical result of a governing philosophy. So we turned a rather fishy eye last summer on the drive to drill for oil domestically. To us, this seemed ideological game playing: Congress putting a stick into the eyes of pesky environmentalists because it could also seem to be fixing a problem. But it wasn’t a fix; the eventual oil glut due to consumers buying less gasoline was the fix. All this stood to the side of our chosen niche and it was hard to think how nuclear energy could be the center of a similar crisis. But now it is.

Here’s what’s happening:

Slovakia, Bulgaria, Italy, Britain even Germany are among those countries giving nuclear energy another look, following the dispute between Russia and Ukraine, which has cut the flow of Russian natural gas to Europe has alarmed governments about the issue of energy security. Slovakia and Bulgaria, among the worst hit by the gas cutoff, announced last week that they may reopen Soviet-era reactors that had been dismantled in recent years, before the countries joined the European Union.

The story attempts to build out its thesis on some tenuous evidence, since Britain, Italy and Germany have been moving nuclear-ward at their different paces for awhile. We wrote about Slovakia and Bulgaria last week – they’re the ones turning their shuttered plants back on. 

Should we support this hasty (re)embrace of nuclear energy to solve an immediate problem or at best see it as a mixed blessing?

Well, it dose have its good points: it broadens the arguments about energy security considerably to rope in natural gas and nuclear energy; these were mostly missing from the American drama last summer. And depending on where you get your uranium (or thorium, if you’re feeling sporty), nuclear energy is almost certainly more germane to domestic/green/base load energy than just about any other source you could name - certainly more than oil, which seems likely to face harder times whether drilled in Saudi Arabia or America.

But “energy security” is abstract – not being able to afford gasoline or shivering in your Sofia apartment are concrete. Both are temporary, both vulnerable to political grandstanding. Gasoline is affordable again and Russia will start the natural gas flowing again. Domestic drilling solved nothing while nuclear energy isn’t being sold as a policy solution to the energy security problem. Nuclear energy is helping to stop people shivering, so it has had an impact where domestic drilling has not. Still, in both cases, no argument is being made and won – instead, it’s all about desperation and politics. And thus are follies born.

So, we sympathize. We hope Slovakia and Bulgaria see nuclear energy as a long term solution and include it as part of their energy policies. But we also have to display enough intellectual honesty to view this particular nuclear good news story with some trepidation.

Bulgaria’s Koluzdoy nuclear plant. Or at least the parking lot and a couple of towers. This is the one the Bulgarians are switching on.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Charles Barton at The Oil Drum blog

Charles Barton, author of the Nuclear Green blog, just began a series at The Oil Drum blog about liquid fluoride thorium reactors. Be sure to stop by!

Update 1/23/09, 9:35 am: Barton has some deep thoughts on how the debate at The Oil Drum blog is going.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Snuggle Up to the Warmth of Nuclear Power

We empathize with the citizens of central Europe suffering during the current interruption in gas deliveries from Russia. A January 16 headline in The Washington Post tells it all: "Misery mounts in gas-deprived European nations." The 18-day disruption in gas flows, a result of disputes between Russia and Ukraine, is the second such disruption in the past three years. As my colleague Mark Flanagan notes in a recent blog post, European responses to this crisis include serious reconsideration of what nuclear power can contribute.
We in the United States are not immune to disruptions in our energy supplies, either. Fifteen years ago this week, the New York Times wrote about the effects of severe winter cold gripping the northern U.S. Among the problems facing the grid at that time were frozen coal piles, fuel barges stranded in icy waters, and extreme electricity demand.
Hard times remind us of what matters. In these cold, dark days of mid-winter, what matters is the electricity that powers our economy and heats and lights our homes. In our non-stop civilization, dependability matters. When the coal freezes or the gas stops, when the wind dies or sun sets, you can still snuggle to the warmth supplied by 104 muscular nuclear power plants, 24-7-365.

Energy Subsidies - A European View

Steve Kidd from the World Nuclear Association, writing in Nuclear Engineering International magazine, discusses energy subsidies in the U.S. and elsewhere. For the U.S. view he cites figures from the Management Information Services, Inc., study commissioned by the Nuclear Energy Institute and released last fall. More importantly for this audience, Mr. Kidd describes the European experience on energy subsidies and reminds readers that nuclear energy has always had to include the cost of waste disposal in its calculations. According to Mr. Kidd, the Euopeans' cost of coal-generated electricity would double and that of gas-generated electricity would increase by 30% if they were required to internalize the costs and impacts of their wastes.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Into Every Life Some Gas Must Fall

83673 And some days must be dark and dreary – like when your behemoth neighbor to the east decides to cut off the natural gas spigot – so you must find your own sun behind the clouds:

Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said on Friday that his country would restart a Soviet-era nuclear power reactor at Kozloduy, in the face of severe ongoing gas shortages due to the energy dispute between Ukraine and Russia.

Normally, we’d recoil from anything that has “Soviet-era” next to it as a adjective, but this plant hasn’t been idle since the Brezhnev years – it only closed in 2007 (as a preliminary to joining the European Union – we’re not sure why – perhaps “Soviet-era” spooked them, too). Moreover, earlier in the decade the Bulgarians worked with the IAEA to ensure the plants came up to modern standards. (You can read a lot more about all of this here.)

So this isn’t a case of the plant shaking with the strain of age and throwing control rods through its walls. We’d guess they have to get EU permission to reopen it, but the story doesn’t quite say.

Regarding the decision to restart the reactor, [President Georgi] Parvanov said Bulgaria did not want a 'nuclear energy conflict' with the EU, which opposes such moves, but also asked 'how much more serious will this crisis become?'

Bulgaria has another plant coming on line in 2014, so assuming they can get this one switched back on, it may only be until Russia behaves or the new plant opening. But it certainly reminds Bulgaria – as it does Slovakia, which we noted yesterday – that it doesn’t have to depend much on any other country to keep the nuclear plants going and the sun still shining. It just takes the will to do it – and the patter of a little rain falling.

From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Be still, sad heart, and cease repining; Behind the clouds is the sun still shining; Thy fate is the common fate of all; Into each life some rain must fall; Some days must be dark and dreary.

A rainy day in Bulgaria – really!

Inauguration Parade Route News

If you're one of the estimated 2 million people expected to brave the cold and descend upon Washington, D.C. this weekend for the inauguration ceremonies, you may encounter one of these NEI ads along your travels.

inauguration-parade-routeThe ad, Nuclear Energy is a Cool Way to Reduce Global Warming, can be found on 25 different bus stands along the inauguration parade route and throughout the city. Willing to take your hands out of your pockets long enough to take a photograph of the Polar Bear ad? Send them into us here and we'll get 'em up on the blog.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

ironies and Little Failures

paint-can In rummaging around the radiant news of the day, we often run into stories that not only don’t quite fit any particular theme that interests us, but seem determined to not fit any particular theme at all. We sometimes put these in a cold oven back near the pilot light to see if we can come back and make some sense of them later. For example:

Nathan Lewis, a chemistry professor at the California Institute of Technology, has spent three decades researching another option: harnessing solar power to create fuels that can replace oil and gasoline.

Well, that’s interesting and we do like to check in with our renewable cousins. But we realize that Lewis has a bit of sale to make:

N&O [News & Observer]: Tell us what you'll be talking about.

Lewis: I'm going to talk about where our energy comes from now. That gets at the scale of the energy problem. It's not fixing a few light bulbs in Fresno. It's not building 50 nuclear power plants. Even if you conserved energy at twice the level you need [it wouldn't be enough].

N&O: What would it take?

Lewis: Something like 10,000 nuclear power plants within the next 50 years somewhere in the world. That's a pretty stunning number to most people, but it's in fact the scale of energy.

We’d hate to tell Professor Lewis how many solar panels he might need to produce an equal amount of energy, but it’s really the 10,000 that caught our eye. A very stunning number indeed.

Here’s Professor Lewis’ idea:

Lewis: I work in technologies to capture, convert and store sunlight. Solar paint: stuff you can paint on your roof, and maybe ultimately make fuel directly. Artificial photosynthesis: How do you build a leaf? Nature built it. We know it works. We just gotta figure out a way to do it ourselves better.

We wish Professor Lewis a lot of luck.

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rolando This seemed a promising headline:

Peru needs a nuclear energy program.

We don’t disagree, and the story promises encouragement:

In an interview with reporters from El Comercio newspaper, [Rolando] Páucar affirmed that it was important for Peru to develop a nuclear energy program to seek the development and production of safe and clean energy.

But:

Even though nuclear specialist Rolando Páucar has pushed for Peru to use nuclear plants to produce energy, the Andean country’s Ministry of Energy has not paid this scientist or his requests much attention.

Hmm! Viva Rolando Paucar?

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AppleStrudel-thumb The Viennese are unhappy:

"We were really aghast when we heard that it's being taken back into use," was the angry comment from Herwig Schuster - spokesperson for the Austrian branch of Greenpeace - at the news that the Bohunice V 2 nuclear power station, located just 100 km from Vienna in neighbouring Slovakia, is to re-open.

And why are the Slovaks reopening the plant?

But now, because of the problems with the supply of gas from Russia, the Slovak government has indicated that it wants to bring the reactor back into use.

And why should this bother the Viennese?

All in all it's no wonder that - as research has shown - Vienna comes in third place behind Saint Petersburg and Kiev as the European city most under 'threat' from nuclear power stations, despite Austria's own nuclear-free status.

Love to see that research! We suspect it proves precisely what the Viennese want it to prove. We suspect the Slovaks roll their eyes at the Austrian research. We really suspect the Viennese have not been as affected by Russia’s mischief as the Slovaks.

The Austrians claim that the gas problem with Russia is just an excuse, because only eight percent of Slovakia's energy actually comes from gas.

Or maybe the Slovaks want the benefits of nuclear energy despite the “threat” to Vienna. We suspect – well, we just do.

Steven Chu's Nuclear Support: Daily Kos, Mother Jones Respond

Steven-Chu-nuclear-energyAt the risk of engaging in omphaloskepsis (?!), Daily Kos and Mother Jones (?!) have picked up our post on Steven Chu's confirmation hearing for Secretary of Energy. The posts by Markos Moulitsas and Kevin Drum have led to a spirited debate; eliciting supportive comments in two of the least likely, until now, corners of the blogosphere.

Just one of the many comments, via Drum:

"I should perhaps make it clear that I'm 100% in support of moving to a sustainable economy, and moving our energy production to renewables is absolutely necessary as part of that. That said, we can't yet power our grid entirely from renewables yet, and nuclear energy seems to me better than coal for supplying our needs as we bridge the gap.” Posted by: dob on 01/14/09 at 3:52 PM Respond
If you can, stop by Kos and MoJo and weigh in.

Stimulating the Nuclear Industry

We don’t logroll much for NEI’s advertising activities – it can take care of itself – but we liked this newspaper ad that ran in The Washington Times’ 111th Congress special section:

NEI AFL-CIO ad Click on the picture to see the whole thing. Basically, it makes the case that the nuclear industry represents an engine of employment, much of it union-based (the ad is co-sponsored by the Building Trades Department of the AFL-CIO), and infrastructure build out that, not coincidentally, also works towards the energy priorities enumerated by the incoming Congress and new administration.

Of course, the nuclear industry wants to be in on the financial stimulus – every significant industry stands to benefit. Nuclear has a pretty good case to make for itself, though, and the approach of this ad seems to fall right in with the mood of the public. If you dig into this Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, you’ll see that using the stimulus monies for job creation rather than tax cuts appeals to the respondents. That shows the priorities of a tough economy – people who have jobs are afraid they might lose them – and adds to the appeal of what the nuclear industry has on offer.

Government spending at this level – and this is beyond any previous level – can be an invitation to a boondoggle, and local and state officials are sensing a potential jackpot – see this story about Wilton, Connecticut and multiply it by a couple hundred thousand.

So we’ll have to see whether the stimulus takes the form of a contained program limited to effective uses of the money – which would benefit any number of industries, including nuclear energy – or a gigantic trough of ineffective pork. We know which one we want. We know which one we fear.

Oh! But good ad! We know that’s what we want.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Steven Chu and The Perfect Storm

Steven ChuFirst, consider that Steven Chu’s confirmation hearing yesterday (you can watch the whole thing at this link – it’s a little over two hours) was moved to a bigger room. While we suspect that Hilary Clinton’s hearing, happening at the same time, got the marquee space, the interest in Chu’s testimony was huge – and justifiably so, as many of the energy topics addressed during the Presidential campaign continues to interest people even as gas prices have righted themselves.

Second, consider Chu’s unexpected celebrity as the product of the permanent bruising left from the pummeling at the pumps everyone took last Summer. If average energy consumers were sanguine before about their energy options, they are no longer. Add the popular and largely media-driven concern about global warming and greeniness and there is a perfect storm – the abstract and distant becomes concrete and immediate.

You can read Chu’s comments about nuclear energy in the post below. He had a lot to say on other topics, too, of course, but nuclear energy really became the renewable energy source of the day, with its cousins solar getting a couple of shout-outs (both positive) and wind barely gusting in. (Biofuel got more coverage than either – corn state Senators were looking for encouragement.)

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Speaking of corn state senators, coal state senators were also much in attendance. Chu threaded his way very carefully through the resulting mind field, but there’s no reason to think he was insincere in his measured outlook for coal. Pull quote: "We will be building some coal plants. One doesn't have a hard moratorium on something like that when we search for a way to capture carbon and store it safely." Well, okay.

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Chu’s focus on nuclear energy came about because of the questions he was asked, not by his own initiative. Still, it’s a big deal. Here’s the Politico’s headline:

Chu vows to push nuclear power

And first graf:

Steven Chu said on Tuesday that he would push as the new energy secretary to help the nuclear energy and clean coal industries jump-start their contributions to battle the nation’s energy crisis.

Headline from U.S. News and World Report:

Chu Quizzed Mostly on Nuclear Issues During Hearing for Energy Post

And first graf:

One could be forgiven for thinking that Steven Chu, President-elect Barack Obama's choice to head the Department of Energy, was being evaluated for a somewhat different role—that of, say, chief nuclear officer—during his Senate confirmation hearing this morning.

Yes, we think one could be forgiven.

While many outlets went with nuclear energy for their ledes, as many went with climate change as the hook – which suits us – while we were amused to see that both the Washington Times (an exceptionally conservative newspaper) and TPMCafe (an exceptionally liberal Web site) clamped onto coal: Obama energy pick backs coal and Energy Secretary-Designate, Steven Chu Endorses "Clean Coal"? (you can sample those for yourself – the perspectives differ quite a lot.)

Steven Chu swears in: the whole truth.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Steven Chu Energy Secretary Confirmation Hearing

Steven-Chu-Energy-Secretary-confirmation-hearingIf you're a proponent of nuclear energy in the United States, I'm not sure that Steven Chu's testimony from today's Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of Energy could be any more encouraging. Excerpts from a rush transcript are below.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK): Let me ask you about nuclear energy. You have indicated in your statements and in our conversations that you support continued nuclear development. I think we recognize as we want to move towards a world where we have greatly reduced our emissions, that nuclear is a very key component in our energy package there. The nuclear waste policy act requires that in exchange for a 1 mill per kWh fee on nuclear power, the DOE has an unconditional obligation to take and dispose of that nuclear waste. That was beginning back in 1998. Obviously we’re about ten years late. The projected taxpayer liability for DOE’s failure is $11 billion at this point and growing. The issues as they relate to Yucca Mountain. I understand that President-elect Obama has said he opposes that. If confirmed, what do you propose to do, in the short term, to meet the government’s obligation as it relates to the nuclear waste issue. And if you could speak just a little bit about the option of nuclear fuel recycling.

Steven Chu: Thank you, Senator. I think these are very thorny questions, as you know. The President-elect has stated his position very clearly. On the other hand, the Department of Energy has an obligation, a legal obligation, to safely dispose, provide a plan that allows the safe disposal of this nuclear waste. And indeed I am supportive of the fact that the nuclear industry is, should have to be part of our energy mix in this century. And so, in going forward with that, we do need a plan on how to dispose of that waste safely, over a long period of time. There’s a lot of new science that’s coming to the fore and I pledge, as Secretary of Energy, that I would work with the members of this committee to try to use the best possible scientific analysis to try to figure out a way that we can go forward on nuclear disposal. So it will occupy certainly a significant part of my time and energy.

Sen. Murkowski: Can recycling be a part of that solution?

Steven Chu: Yes. Again, in the long term, recycling can be a part of that solution. Right now, even though France has been recycling, Japan is starting to recycle, Great Britain is now beginning to look at this. I think, from my limited knowledge about that, that the processes we have are not ideal. There’s an urge to increase the proliferation resistance of recycling. This dates back to the days of the Carter Administration where he said the United States will go once through recycling, once through the fuel cycle in order to decrease the chance of nuclear proliferation. Now we’re in a different place and time. There are other countries doing recycling. And so the idea here is now to do it in a way that makes it more proliferation resistant. And there’s an economic feasibility issue. This is actually, in my mind, a research problem at the moment and something that the department should be paying a lot of attention to. I think there’s time to look at it and develop means, but certainly recycling is an option that we will be looking at very closely.

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Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC): In 2005 we passed EPAC. That Energy Policy Act incorporated a loan guarantee program for companies willing to step out and build new nuclear generation. It was authorized at $18.5 billion. Not sufficient for the future, but a good start. Just recently, Progress Energy in North Carolina announced two new plants in Florida that they would construct. And they made this statement that they think that, they will seek to do these without DOE loan guarantees. Because they had run into too many hurdles with the program. One, it’s been slow to get up and running and structurally in place. Now, all of a sudden, we’re hearing companies that talk about it’s problematic to go that route. We’re on a timeline that, from a reliability standpoint, we have to start construction and we have to do it soon. Do you support the loan guarantee program, number one?

Steven Chu: Senator, yes I do.

Sen. Burr: If confirmed, do you commit to expanding the authorization levels?

Steven Chu: Well, I think that’s a matter of Congress.

Sen. Burr: [Are you] seeking to expand?

Steven Chu: I think it is something that is very important. As I said before, [as is] the development of nuclear power. But as these companies, what little I know of what these companies are doing, it’s a mixture of the loan guarantee program and the local regulatory authorities that can allow the utility companies to fold whatever they want to do in the rate base. The point here is that nuclear power, as I said before, is going to be an important part of our energy mix. It’s 20% of our electricity generation today, but it’s 70% of the carbon-free portion of electricity today. And it is baseload. So I think it is very important that we push ahead. I share, what little I know, again, your frustrations of the time it has taken and I will do my best to, as I said before, put together a leadership and management team that can do it in a more timely manner.

Sen. Burr: Do I have your commitment that you’ll work to make this a more workable program?

Steven Chu: You absolutely do.
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Senator Bob Corker (R-TN): The issue of nuclear. I'm gonna skip down and just be very brief since you've had now nine questions regarding that [nuclear]. I noticed a lot of people say that they support nuclear, but they also mention the waste issue. And it's as if once we solve the waste issue then we can pursue nuclear again. It's my understanding, based on what I've heard here today, you mean pursue nuclear now in spite of the, some of the issues that we have regarding waste. Is that correct? All out now? Loan guarantees, let's move ahead. We have 104 plants today. Probably need 300, let's move on?

Steven Chu: Yes, because I'm pretty confident, I'm confident that the Department of Energy, perhaps in collaboration with other countries, can get a solution to the nuclear waste problem.

Sen. Corker: Okay. Perfect. So, you'd move ahead while that was being solved?

Steven Chu: I think, certainly, these first several [new] plants that we talked about, use the loan guarantee to start them going. Just also, as you well know, Senator, I think, this is a complicated economic decision by the utility companies that will invest in these plants. So it's partly loan guarantee, it's partly the rates that utility companies will allow. But it, there is certainly a changing mood in the country, because nuclear is carbon-free, that we should look at it with new eyes.
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Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL): Let’s talk about nuclear power. You’ve mentioned this as an option, as something that will be part of the mix. I guess my question to you is, if you accept the CO2 as a global warming problem, isn’t it important that we accelerate this proven source of clean energy? And will you take a lead, not just to talk about it, not just to opine about it, as we often do, but actually do the things necessary to see if we can’t restart a nuclear industry in America? Are you committed to that?

Steven Chu: Senator, yes I am. I think, first to get these first several projects [new plants] going. In the meantime, we need to do the work necessary to see if recycling and proliferation resistant and economically viable ways also [are] feasible. I think those are two areas that are very important.
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Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA): My question is, to follow-up, and I ask this, because, not because it hadn’t been asked ten times to you this morning, but I think, in asking, you’ll understand how many of us feel about nuclear. You’ve had a least six or seven questions. Mine’s going to be the eighth. It’s just apparent to us, mainly based on the great leadership of Senator Domenici, who is with us, I think, this morning, and others, the importance of getting off the dime on nuclear. So would you just briefly state again what are your number one, number two, and number three strategies to move us forward on nuclear?

Steven Chu: The first is to accelerate this loan guarantee program for the several [new] nuclear reactors, their need to start, to restart the nuclear industry. So that, certainly, you’ve got to get going as you say. I agree with you, Senator. The other question, and it’s a concern of other Senators, is that we need to develop a long range plan for the safe disposal of the waste. And this is something that’s the responsibility of the Department of Energy. And that has to go forward as well, because you have to develop that concurrently with the starting of this industry again. And so those are [inaudible], in my mind, the two highest priorities. The third is that there is research that has to be done. Again, because reprocessing has the potential for greatly reducing both the amount and lifetime of the waste and to extend the nuclear fuel.

Sen. Landrieu: Well can we, can this committee count on you to go to bat in the atmosphere of these troubled financial markets? Can we count on you to go to bat with the Administration to make sure that the energy sector of this country is given priority, in terms of stabilizing markets so that we can get a lot of this done with government, you know, not being done by the government but supported by the government?

Steven Chu: Yes. It’s been said again and again on the importance, for example, of that $18.5 billion loan guarantee program that to start moving in that direction.

(Photo: Reuters)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Barron’s on Nuclear Energy

BA-AO348A_nuke__NS_20090109203356 See, this is what we’re talking about:

President-elect Barack Obama has put forth a goal to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by 80% by 2050, using $150 billion over 10 years to create a "clean-energy" future. Nuclear plants are the biggest producers of energy that doesn't emit any greenhouse gases.

Not just biggest, but only one able to produce baseload electricity, that is, not hampered by when the wind blows or when the sun shines. Barron’s, where this came from, is chiefly interested in suggesting where their readership might invest their money – which we never recommend you follow unless you do your own research – but that impulse to sniff out the money leads to this tidbid:

Notwithstanding the increased difficulty of obtaining financing since the credit crisis erupted, Cambridge Energy Research Associates has estimated that the potential for world-wide investment in clean energy, of which nuclear generation is the focal point, will reach $7 trillion in real 2007 dollars by 2030.

We think once you reach a trillion or so, you might as well say a zillion-kajillion – money just doesn’t make much sense at this level because mere mortals have no context for it. But we the idea – a lot of clams.

Speaking of a lot of money, here is NEI’s contribution to the story, when author Robin Golden Blumenthal addresses the cost of building a nuclear plant:

Yet the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry trade group, maintains that the capital costs become competitive due to nuclear plants' lower operating costs versus gas producers' costs. What's more, cost comparisons with other types of energy producers don't reflect any benefit that nuclear operators might see from carbon credits.

True enough, though we’d mention that loan guarantees tilt the balance even further back in the direction of fiscal sanity. We also do not know yet how cap-and-trade, where those carbon credits will come from, will work. The last stab at cap-and-trade went down fairly hard in the Senate less than a year ago, though it doubtless will return in some form.

The story is worth a read, especially as it addresses an issue that will come into focus as the Obama administration’s ambitions run into reality: that any effective plan for carbon reduction requires nuclear energy. Without it, those ambitions cannot be achieved.

Scott Pollack’s picture that accompanies the Barron’s article. We like it lots.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Nuclear Engineer: A Manly (?) Kind of Job

nuclear-engineer It is no secret that energy is the life blood of this country. Energy holds the key to the environment, the economy, and national security. My career in nuclear is more than just a paycheck to me. Every night when I go to sleep, I rest easy knowing I am doing my part.

That comes from Jack Gamble, writing at the Art of Manliness blog. He’s a systems engineer, or more specifically, a control rod drive system manager. He doesn’t say at which plant he works, which raises a concern, but his piece is utterly benign (plus he has his own blog, Babeled, which covers nuclear subjects.) The aim is in the title of the post, So You Want My Job, and Gamble does a good turn describing opportunities in the nuclear industry. And there are a lot of those:

There are opportunities galore in the nuclear industry right now. These days are referred to as “The Nuclear Renaissance” due to the rekindled interest in nuclear as an alternative to fossil fuels (known to us as “Dirt Burners”). There are plans in place to build new nuclear power plants all over the country. Also, it is estimated that as much as 40% of the current nuclear workforce will retire in the next 5-10 years. This of course means there are plenty of jobs in nuclear available (for both blue and white collar workers). [Gamble considers himself blue collar.]

Pays well, too, we hear.

He offers observations obvious to us, but not to everyone:

Usually the first thing people ask me is something like “isn’t that dangerous?” or “aren’t you scared of radiation?” Truth be told, in one year’s time I will receive less radiation working at a nuclear plant than a US Congressmen receives in the US Capitol Building.

Which is true. And how did he get his job?

Believe it or not, I landed this job by applying through Monster.com.

Now, we’re not endorsing Monster.com over any other service, but it suggests that the industry is casting a pretty wide net, which is all to the good.

Read the whole thing. The Art of Manliness blog is actually a lot more interesting than you would first guess – much more Best Life than Maxim in approach – perhaps a bit quirky in its seeming desire to revive a masculine style embodied by Mad Men.

One thing we know for sure: jobs are jobs, and plenty of women do this kind of work.

Jack Gamble himself. Visit his blog and take a look around. He covers a lot of the same topics we do, but from the perspective of a plant worker.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Edward Markey to Energy and Environment

House Holds Hearing Future Oil 8AqXqQ-4irIl Here’s some news from The Boston Globe that might cause, well, mixed feelings:

Representative Edward Markey today will be awarded a key energy and environment leadership post in the House, a move that will make the Malden Democrat one of the most powerful players on Capitol Hill on an issue central to president-elect Obama's first-term agenda.

Markey, a 17-term congressman with a strong record against nuclear power and for more fuel-efficient cars, will be named chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, lawmakers and Democratic leadership staff confirmed to the Globe. Markey already chairs the separate House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, a new panel that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi created in early 2007.

Well, you can’t have your best friends everywhere you want them. We rather preferred Markey (D-Mass.) over at telecommunications where his stance on net neutrality – he’s for it - suited us fine. (He swapped chairs with Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who’s also for it.)

As for nuclear energy, we think the atomic genie’s out of the bottle, but we’ll keep an eye on Markey and any corks he may have in his pockets. He may well surprise us.

Rep. Markey himself. We have to admit, we can’t resist politician pointing pictures, but heck, there’s so many of them.

The Chamber of Commerce Makes the Case for Nuclear Energy

Karen Harbert One of the developing themes in the new Congress might well be a new openness in discussing nuclear energy as a way forward if the A-1 priorities in energy policy have become carbon reduction and – in terms of economic stimulus – infrastructure buildout and job creation. We credit this newfound radiance to the steady stream of positive statements that came out of the election – especially, admittedly, from John McCain – and  the media’s increased attention to the benefits of our friend the atom.

But we can still be surprised. Here’s a big chunk of the written testimony given by Karen Harbert of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The topic of the hearing was energy security:

Beyond renewables, there are other critical and clean sources of electricity that the United States must expand. Chief among these is nuclear power.

Nuclear power is an emissions-free source of 20 percent of our nation’s electricity supply, despite the fact that we have not licensed the construction of a new nuclear power facility in nearly 30 years.

Nuclear power is clean. It offers a huge emissions advantage over other baseload power generation sources.

Nuclear power is cost-effective. America’s 104 operating nuclear reactors are the nation’s cheapest source of baseload electricity on a per-kilowatt-hour basis.

But as the members of this committee know, nuclear power is also capital-intensive, requiring an estimated $6 to $8 billion dollars or more for a new plant. Most companies lack the size, financing, and financial strength to fund such a project on their own.

The loan guarantee program authorized in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was intended to help utilities finance the construction of new reactors. Unfortunately, this program has encountered significant implementation delays, and the Congressional authorization of $18.5 billion dollars in loan volume is inadequate — funding only two, or at best three, new nuclear projects.

To develop the stable financing needed for new nuclear plants, Congress should transition the function of the Loan Guarantee Program to a more permanent, stable financing platform like CEBUS, which I outlined earlier. Until such a transition occurs, Congress should increase the size of the funds available to make it more closely align with the real capital costs associated with the construction of new nuclear power facilities.

One reason financing costs are so high for nuclear power plants is the extraordinary length of time—about 8 years—it takes to from submittal of a license application to the commencement of commercial power generation. Although new plants are currently
being considered, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) estimates it will take three-and-one-half years just to review the first wave of license applications for new designs.
This delay is unacceptable and must change.

Congress must ensure that NRC has the resources it needs to review and approve combined construction and operating licenses for new nuclear power facilities in a thorough and timely manner.

As the United States expands the use of nuclear power, we must also commit to a permanent solution to our nation’s nuclear waste. Our current waste policy was designed at a time when no additional nuclear power plants would be built and the existing fleet would be phased out over time. As circumstances have changed, so must our strategy.

To finally move forward on a sensible nuclear waste strategy, the Institute recommends establishing a government corporation to manage the entire back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. This entity could help efficiently meld used fuel recycling with ultimate disposal of nuclear waste.

On the issue of nuclear waste, it is clear that under any scenario, the United States will need a high-level nuclear waste repository. Yucca Mountain has been designated by law, and has been ratified by both executive and legislative branches as that repository, yet Congress has consistently underfunded efforts to build the site’s infrastructure and transportation needs.

If the President and Congress will not fully commit to Yucca Mountain, then we believe they owe it to the American public and utilities that have paid fees and interest in excess of $27 billion into the Nuclear Waste Fund, to develop and pursue a parallel path of centralized interim storage, industrial deployment of advanced recycling technology, and accelerated governmental research and development to more quickly place the United States government into compliance with United States law.

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. You can read her complete testimony here.

Ms. Harbert herself. We suspect she does a lot of this testifying stuff.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Thomas Friedman on Green Technology

thomas-friedman-environmental-technologySome interesting testimony from Thomas Friedman in his appearance earlier today before the Senate committee on Environment and Public Works. The hearing was titled, "Investing in Green Technology as a Strategy for Economic Recovery."

Think about the scale. I give just one example. Nate Lewis of Cal Tech uses this number. We currently, the world currently uses about 13 terawatts, 13 trillion watts of energy. Between now and 2050 we’re going to double that to 26 terawatts, 26 trillion watts. If we want to go from 13 to 26 [terawatts] as a world, accommodate the growth of China and India, and not double the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere – which is the red line from pre-industrial period, which is the red line beyond which climate scientists believe all the climate monsters will come out of the closet—if we want to do that, we basically, we have to take 13 terawatts and get rid of them, through energy efficiency. And of the new 13 terawatts, we need to produce 80% of that from clean, non-emitting sources. If we said, let’s just do that by building nuclear plants, we would have to build one new nuclear plant every day for the next 36 years.
Sounds like investing in green technology as a strategy for economic recovery to me.

"Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power"

Business-Risks-Costs-New_Nuclear-PowerIn case some of you missed it, the Climate Progress blog has picked up a study by Craig Severance, Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power [PDF]. The report has quite a number of holes in it, in my opinion, and the biggest hole has to do with a flawed assumption in how the study calculates the cost of electricity from a new nuclear plant. We've been discussing and debating the study over at Climate Progress and the author has been great in responding to most everyone's critiques.

So what's the flaw?

The study claims that a new nuclear plant's capital costs, when all is said and done, will be about $10,500/kW. Many studies that I'm aware of estimate that a new nuclear plant will cost between $5,000-$8,000/kW for the all-in construction costs. Mr. Severance's capital cost assumptions are quite a bit higher than the highest estimate but whatever. That's not the flaw of the study's cost numbers. The flaw is how the cost of electricity from a new nuclear plant is calculated.

Apparently, the cost of electricity from a new nuclear plant comes out to 25-30 cents/kWh, "triple current U.S. electricity rates." The studies I've seen come out to less than half of that number. So what gives? It appears to be the study's assumption for how fast a utility pays off a nuclear plant.

The study assumes a payback period of 40 years. That's way too long. A new nuclear plant will probably be setup to pay back its loans for construction in 15-20 years and maybe faster depending on the financing agreements. Investors don't wait 40 years to receive their money back and in fact 15-20 years is a long time for any investment. Changing this one assumption in the study basically cuts the cost of electricity from a nuclear plant in half and becomes more in line with the conclusions from the other studies I've seen. I've explained this in more detail here.

This is just one of the problems with the study that I, and many others, have found. We're having quite a spirited discussion and debate over at Climate Progress so if you have the time, please do check it out.

Update: The Heritage Foundation blog has their own thoughts on the study.

Public Comments on Uranium Study in Virginia

For those of us who are interested in the developments pertaining to the domestic mining of uranium, you may find it noteworthy that perhaps the largest deposit of uranium ore in the United States is located in southwestern Virginia.

There won't be any uranium mining in Virginia any time soon though, since there has long been a moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia. But, recently there have been proposals of conducting a study to determine whether uranium can be mined safely and what the potential impacts may be.

Last night, the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission held a public meeting in Chatham, Virginia, simply to hear public comments pertaining to the study of the feasibility of uranium mining. From some of the comments (e.g., likening mining to "brutal rape"), you would think that the study is tantamount to actually starting mining operations.

More information about the public meeting can be found here (incl. video). Some interesting (and often outrageous) comments from the meeting can be found here.