Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday YouTube Fun

First, the spinach: NEI's 2009 financial briefing for Wall Street analysts is now available on NEI's YouTube channel. Part 1 can be seen here:


And now, the ice cream: AREVA Resources Canada sponsored a Save the Planet video contest. Contestants were asked to submit a "fun, creative, educational video" that answered the question, "How do you propose to solve the world's increasing energy demands?" Here is your 2009 People's Choice winner, The Adventures of Nuclear Power Man & the Energizers.



Honorable mention honors [mine] for the PC/Mac spoof.

The Obama Budget and Yucca Mountain

The Obama Budget and Yucca MountainThere's quite a spirited debate going on at WSJ's Environmental Capital about the proposed defunding of Yucca Mountain in President Obama's budget plan. NEI's Scott Peterson notes in the comments,

This is an opportune time to re-evaluate America’s policy on managing commercial reactor fuel.

Given the clear need for expansion of nuclear energy (more than 70% of U.S. carbon-free electricity production comes from nuclear power) , the Obama administration and Congress should revisit the decision to use a once-through fuel cycle and instead pursue uranium recycling as part of an integrated approach includes at-reactor storage, private sector or government-owned centralized storage, and continued development and licensing of a federal repository.

Given the legal obligation that the government has to fulfill its responsibility under that law, the industry believes the NRC’s review of the Yucca Mountain license application should continue. In parallel, the administration should convene an independent panel of the best scientific, environmental, engineering and public policy leaders to fully investigate the critical issues and make a recommendation to President Obama and Congress on how best to proceed with managing used nuclear fuel.

Centralized storage is a strategic bridge in the uranium fuel management process that would also provide storage for reactor fuel from power plants that have been shut down. The federal government should collaborate with the private sector and other countries on a research and development and demonstration program to recycle reactor fuel in a way that is safe, environmentally acceptable, enhances the worldwide nonproliferation regime and makes sense economically. Other countries are looking at recycling as part of their used nuclear fuel management program and the United States should be constructively engaged in this technology development.

Through recycling, we can reclaim and reuse a significant amount of energy that remains in uranium fuel and reduce the heat, volume and toxicity of radioactive byproducts that ultimately will be placed in a repository.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Simple Little Cap-and-Trade Tale

china_pollution In a story about President Obama’s budget priorities, this popped out at us:

As for cap-and-trade, the official said the administration believes it will generate enough money to fund a variety of priorities, including investments in renewable energy and rebates for vulnerable consumers who may struggle to pay higher energy bills if utilities pass along the cost to consumers. Obama also wants to use the money to cover the cost of extending his signature Making Work Pay tax credit, worth up to $800 a year for working families. That credit, which will cost $66 billion next year, was enacted in the stimulus package, but is set to expire at the end of 2010.

What surprised us is that the administration believes cap-and-trade will pass, get set up, work as expected, and start generating revenue in time to issue tax credits for 2011. Given how long it takes to get a program into gear – establishing an office, hiring a staff, identifying the players in a cap-and-trade regime, setting up the mechanism to manage the new marketplace – this is remarkably optimistic. (And responsible, too: offering rebates to those who will bend under higher energy bills seems exactly right.)

If Energy sets up something similar to Europe – and makes it work better than Europe’s first try – the numbers should work as expected. But this is one we’re sure to watch as it takes each step forward – and we’ll be quite content if it all goes as Obama expects it to. And just a little surprised.

American plants of all stripes have progressed to the point that belching smoke like this has become pretty rare – so welcome to China – now producing more carbon emissions than the U.S. No real comment intended by that – yet - we’ll see what comes out of the climate change talks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Commentary on President Obama's Speech Last Night

Jason Ribeiro at Pro-Nuclear Democrats wrote an excellent, fact-based piece on why President Obama should have included nuclear energy in his not-the-State-of-the-Union speech last night. As well, Ribeiro includes some data Obama needs to see that explains the limitations of several of his proposed "innovations" on energy:

The important thing to understand about this graph is the line on top is hydro energy. Wind generation would have to increase at least 5 times to start to reach the output of hydro. But with a 25% or less capacity factor we also know that such an expansion of wind power requires a 4x build redundancy for a given output, so the actual build out expansion would be over 20x for wind to approach hydro. Thus, doubling from what it is today won't do much at all. In addition, adding the needed power transmission lines to and from windy areas to population centers will cost a bundle. The lower green line is solar, but since it has a lower capacity factor and output than wind energy it might have to increase some 500x just to equal the current output of wind energy.

Comparing all the energy sources in a chart, we can see the gargantuan growth the renewables sector would have to do to replace fossil fuels. In this chart, the whole renewables sector, the light green line, scrapes near the bottom. Nuclear is the blue line that was only recently overtaken by natural gas, the green line. Upgrades at nuclear plants have kept its market share at what it is even though no new plants have come online in years. Instead of having to multiply by factors of hundreds, thousands really, nuclear can reach the output of coal by increasing 2.77 times taking into account a 90% capacity factor.
Well said! Be sure to check out the rest of Ribeiro's piece.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Barack Obama and Bobby Jindal on Energy: No Love, Love

Here is President Obama's paragraph on energy from last night's not-the-State-of-the-Union:

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest $15 billion a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

No Love.

And Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, in his not-response, er, response:

To strengthen our economy, we need urgent action to keep energy prices down. All of us remember what it felt like to pay $4 at the pump and unless we act now, those prices will return. To stop that from happening, we need to increase conservation, increase energy efficiency, increase the use of alternative and renewable fuels, increase our use of nuclear power, and increase drilling for oil and gas here at home. We believe that Americans can do anything and if we unleash the innovative spirit of our citizens, we can achieve energy independence.

Love

Chris Goodall and The Greening of The Atom

ChrisGoodall We’ve been noting over many posts the exceptionally rapid embrace of nuclear energy by a growing number of European countries and even by the European Union itself. Generally, where there has been opposition on the state level, it has come from the Green Party – we’re thinking mostly of Germany here, but Great Britain, too.

Yesterday, we wrote about Greenpeace UK’s executive director Stephen Tindale coming around to support nuclear energy. It turns out he’s being joined in his efforts by Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith, author Mark Lynas, and Green Party activist Chris Goodall. That last one interested us – the Greens have reliably disliked nuclear energy -  so we prowled around a bit to see how he came to this support.

---

Clearly, Goodall has focused a lot of attention on climate change, as indicated in this little bio in The Guardian:

Chris Goodall is a businessman, author and climate change expert. His new book, Ten Technologies to Save the Planet, was published by GreenProfile in November 2008.

Nuclear is not one of those ten. Here is a roundup of articles written by Goodall for the Guardian. One of his articles (from last November) is called The 10 Big Energy Myths and Myth 4 is “nuclear power is cheaper than other low-carbon sources of electricity”:

Unless we can find a new way to build nuclear power stations, it looks as though CO2 capture at coal-fired plants will be a cheaper way of producing low-carbon electricity.

That’s not the most thoughtful sentence we’ve ever read; admittedly, most of his comments here are okay if not particularly profound or new:

If we believe that the world energy and environmental crises are as severe as is said, nuclear power stations must be considered as a possible option. But although the disposal of waste and the proliferation of nuclear weapons are profoundly important issues, the most severe problem may be the high and unpredictable cost of nuclear plants.

We’re not too worried about proliferation in general, in Britain and the EU not at all. But the waste and cost issues can be overcome. Apparently, he’s decided something similar, as even the above lines indicate might be percolating in his mind:

These enormous twin challenges mean we need to get real about energy. At the moment the public discussion is intensely emotional, polarised and mistrustful. This is particularly the case for nuclear power – too often people divide into sharp pro- or anti-nuclear positions, with no middle ground. Every option is strongly opposed: the public seems to be anti-wind, anti-coal, anti-waste-to-energy, anti-tidal-barrage, anti-fuel-duty and anti-nuclear. We can’t be anti-everything, and time is running out. Large projects take many years to construct.

That’s not the fullest embrace imaginable, but it does mean that Goodall’s concerns about climate change has trumped his hesitancy. He’s a Green who’s been mugged by a windmill. Interestingly his article, called “The Green Movement Must Learn to Love Nuclear Power,” a title that sounds editor-imposed, barely mentions nuclear power, but instead raises issue with various renewable energy sources. Read the article, then look at those 10 myths again and you’ll see a big change in Goodall’s thinking in the last few months.

---

How is this going over with the Green Party? Could be better.

Mr. Goodall’s remarks had left many party members “seriously concerned”, the Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas, MEP, said last night. “It is of great concern to me that a candidate should be promoting a policy which is at odds with the party manifesto, and I shall be taking that forward,” she said. “In any party, you have a range of different views, but once selected as a parliamentary candidate, you have a particular responsibility.”

The matter would be dealt with by the party’s regional council, after speaking to Mr. Goodall directly, she said. Asked if this would include disciplinary action and possibly even de-selection as a candidate, Ms Lucas would only say: “We will be taking appropriate measures.”

We understand party discipline, but why does this have a whiff of excommunication?

Chris Goodall himself. We hope the Green Party forgives him his trespasses.

William Tucker Shares His Thoughts on Renewable Mandates

William Tucker, author of Terrestrial Energy (his latest book "about nuclear energy, global warming and the threat to the environment"), shared his thoughts at the American Spectator about what it means to be renewable as well as what renewable mandates may do to the country. Here are a few nuggets:

What is a renewable portfolio? Well, it's what we used to call an "unfunded mandate." The premise is that the government has perfect foresight on where our energy future is going and as good legislators it's their responsibility to hasten its arrival. Corporations and utilities, you see, are generally too greedy and stupid to perceive the future so they have to be prodded on their way. In their wisdom, the legislators will mandate that by 2000-whatever the state or nation shall derive XX percent of its electricity from "renewable sources." It's up to the utilities to do the job. California pioneered this strategy in the 1990s but 26 states have now followed suit, although four make it only voluntary.

All this is likely to make electricity more expensive, which is what is holding the utilities back. Solar electricity now costs about 24 cents per kilowatt-hour and wind 14 cents, as opposed to 5 cents for coal or natural gas. Utilities will pay the bills but then will inevitably pass them along to consumers. California now pays the highest electrical rates in the country, precisely because it will not allow coal or nuclear plants but has pursued a 30-year strategy to develop renewable energy.

The best criticism of renewable portfolio standards ("RPS" for short) comes from Fred Krupp, executive director of Environmental Defense, who is (please don't tell anyone) a closet conservative. In his book, Earth: The Sequel, Krupp writes: "Mandates presume that the government already knows the best way to proceed on energy. But the government doesn't know any better than anyone else. The best thing to do is to level the playing field, through something like a carbon tax or cap-and-trade, and then let the market sort things out."

...

So just what is a "renewable" source of energy? Well, it depends on whom you ask. Wind is definitely renewable (although some people are pointing out that if we put up too many windmills we may start changing wind patterns, which will affect the climate). Solar heat and electricity are renewable because the sun shines every day. Geothermal energy is renewable because the heat of the earth will always be with us. It is generated by the breakdown of uranium and thorium atoms in the earth's crust. (That's why I titled my book on nuclear power Terrestrial Energy.) If we take those same uranium and thorium atoms and put them in something called a "nuclear reactor," however, that is not renewable because -- well, because it isn't, that's why.
I encourage readers to check out the rest of Tucker's piece.

Experts Weigh In On How The U.S. Should Handle Its Commercial Nuclear "Waste"

The National Journal's energy blog is asking "How Should America Handle Its Commercial Nuclear Waste?" So far, four experts have weighed in: Chuck Gray from the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, David Kreutzer from the Heritage Foundation, Thomas Gibson from the American Iron and Steel Institute, and NEI's new CEO Marv Fertel. Here's what Marv had to say:

Since Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982, our nation has been pursuing a path for the ultimate disposal of used nuclear fuel using a once-through fuel cycle.

Given the clear need for expansion of nuclear energy programs in the United States and worldwide, the nuclear industry proposed two years ago that our nation should revisit the decision to use a once-through fuel cycle. Instead, we should pursue a closed fuel cycle that includes recycling. This integrated approach includes at-reactor storage, private sector or government-owned centralized storage, research and development on recycling technology and continued development and licensing of a federal repository.

It is clear that President Obama may not support opening the Yucca Mountain repository even if it receives a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Given federal government’s legal obligation to fulfill its responsibility under the law, the industry believes the NRC’s review of the Yucca Mountain license application should continue.

In parallel, the administration should convene an independent panel of the best scientific, environmental, engineering and public policy leaders to fully investigate the critical issues and make a recommendation to President Obama and Congress on how best to proceed with managing used nuclear fuel.

NEI’s approach to developing an integrated nuclear fuel management program includes the following concepts:

First, we recognize that since used nuclear fuel can be safely and securely stored for an extended period of time, interim storage represents a strategic element of an integrated program. Therefore, we can continue on-site storage of used reactor fuel while candidates are identified for volunteer private or government-licensed sites for consolidation of used nuclear fuel.

Consolidating used fuel at private or government centralized storage facilities is necessary for the federal government to begin meeting its legal commitment. Initially, centralized facilities should provide storage for reactor fuel from power plants that have been shut down. DOE also needs to address its obligation for the removal and disposal of high-level radioactive waste from government sites.

Second, the federal government should collaborate with the private sector and other countries on a research and development, demonstration and deployment program to recycle reactor fuel in a way that is safe, environmentally acceptable, enhances the worldwide nonproliferation regime and makes sense economically. France, the United Kingdom and Japan recycle used nuclear fuel and the United States should be constructively engaged in this technology development. Through recycling, we can reclaim and reuse a significant amount of energy that remains in uranium fuel and reduce the volume and toxicity of radioactive byproducts that ultimately will be placed in a repository.

Third, even with recycling, a geologic repository will be needed for the ultimate disposal of the waste byproducts. However, the characteristics of the waste form requiring disposal will influence the design of the repository. Although licensing of the Yucca Mountain repository should continue, the results of an independent commission’s strategic assessment of the overall approach to used fuel and defense waste management should provide direction on the characteristics of the repository program.

If the administration unilaterally decides to abandon the Yucca Mountain project without enacting new legislation to modify existing law, it should expect new lawsuits seeking further damage payments as well as likely requests for refunding at least $22 billion already collected from consumers that has not been spent on the program from the Nuclear Waste Fund. State regulators last week warned that if administration or congressional actions curtail the Yucca project, they will take legal or legislative action to protect the balance of the fund and escrow future consumer payments.

Further, given the uncertain path forward for the Yucca Mountain project and these difficult economic times, Energy Secretary Steven Chu should reduce the fee paid by consumers to cover only licensing costs incurred by DOE, NRC and Nevada local units of government that provide oversight on the program.

Secretary Chu pledged to use the best possible scientific analysis to determine a path forward on nuclear waste disposal. With interim storage, we have sufficient time to examine the country’s used fuel policy. Regardless of whether this is done by a blue ribbon commission or by Congress, this step must be taken now.

Global Nuclear News: Vietnam, Algeria, Iran

Floating_Globe Vietnam is making determined steps toward joining the nuclear family:

The Vietnam Nuclear Energy Institute and the US’ Westinghouse Power Company last week introduced AP 1000 nuclear power technology at a workshop in Hanoi.

The Vietnamese are starting almost from scratch, but are moving faster than looking at a presentation might indicate:

Faced with threats of power shortages and the increasing prices of coal and oil, the Vietnamese government agreed to speed up and double the scale of the first nuclear power plant project in Ninh Thuan province from 2,000 to 4,000 MW.

Here is Director of VNEI Vuong Huu Tan on the schedule:

If the investment report is approved by the National Assembly this May, we will make the investment project. This process may take two years. After that we will seek international tenders or choose contractors to ensure that the construction will start in 2015. The government plans to put the first turbine into operation in 2020 and we will adhere to this plan.

That’s impressively ambitious. (VNEI and NEI would probably enjoy each other’s company but are otherwise unrelated.)

---

Now, here’s a country we haven’t covered here before:

Algeria aims to build its first commercial nuclear power station around 2020 and would build another every five years after that, Energy and Mines Minister Chakib Khelil said on Tuesday.

As with Vietnam, Algeria has to get the structure to do this in place:

Khelil said a law would soon be debated by Parliament for the creation of an atomic safety agency and a company to develop nuclear energy.

But they’ve made pacts with all the usual players – the United States, France, with Russia, as usual, in the wings – and some not all that usual – Argentina and South Africa. But this isn’t a case of all nuclear all the way:

Khelil said the government wanted to give a lot more importance to solar energy and was aiming for 15 percent of Algeria's electricity to be generated from renewable sources including solar and wind by 2025-2030.

Did we mention ambition above? Double it here. With a population of about 33 million, Algeria could become a power powerhouse in its part of the world.

---

And where would a nuclear-energy-around-the-world roundup be without Iran?:

Iran's first nuclear power plant will undergo a critical series of tests starting Wednesday before full-scale operation begins later this year, Iranian state radio reported Sunday.

Although the Bushehr plant itself shouldn’t cause too much trepidation – Russia built it, is heavily involved in testing it and switching it on, and really doesn’t want to goof up its place in the global nuclear marketplace - Iran’s a different story. We’ve noted before that the IAEA is trying to keep fears at bay and it does so again in this context:

"Iran is cooperating well with U.N. nuclear inspectors to help ensure it does not again understate the amount of uranium it has enriched," the agency said.

Well, that certainly sends confidence way up, doesn’t it? But Iran would have to make some provocative moves to get into the bomb-building business:

Defenders say that to weaponize its program, Iran would have to take steps such as withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, kicking out international inspectors, breaking U.N. seals on batches of uranium and shutting down dozens of U.N. cameras that monitor nuclear sites across the country.

So there’s that. We have no particular brief here – we bow to the IAEA on these issues – but do not dispute that Iran’s aggressive rhetoric and actions in its region raise warning flags.

Looks like a vision of how the world stayed afloat from another age. Hopefully, the plug didn’t leech energy from the heaven next door.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Another Greenpeace Executive for Nuclear Energy

Greenpeace Environmentalists Nuclear EnergyFirst it was Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore seeing the light about the benefits of nuclear power, now another former director of the international environmental organization has become a convert. In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Stephen Tindale, Executive Director of Greeenpeace UK from 2001-2007, describes his road to Calvary Damascus.

“My change of mind wasn’t sudden, but gradual over the past four years. But the key moment when I thought that we needed to be extremely serious was when it was reported that the permafrost in Siberia was melting massively, giving up methane, which is a very serious problem for the world,” he [Tindale] said.

“It was kind of like a religious conversion. Being anti-nuclear was an essential part of being an environmentalist for a long time but now that I’m talking to a number of environmentalists about this, it’s actually quite widespread this view that nuclear power is not ideal but it’s better than climate change,” he added.
For his article, "Nuclear power? Yes please...," The Independent's Science Editor, Steve Connor, also interviewed Lord Chris Smith of Finsbury, the chairman of the Environment Agency and Mark Lynas, author of the Royal Society's science book of the year in 2008 (Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet).
None...was in favour of nuclear power a decade ago, but recent scientific evidence of just how severe climate change may become as a result of the burning of oil, gas and coal in conventional power stations has transformed their views.

“The issue that has primarily changed my mind is the absolute imperative of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Fifteen years ago we knew less about climate change. We knew it was likely to happen, we didn’t quite realise how fast,” said Lord Smith, who described himself as a long-time sceptic regarding nuclear power.

“What’s happened is that we’ve woken up to the very serious nature of the climate-change problem, the essential task of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and the need to decarbonise electricity production over the course of the next 20 to 30 years,” he said.

Renewable sources of energy, such as wind, wave and solar power, are still necessary in the fight against global warming, but achieving low-carbon electricity generation is far more difficult without nuclear power, Lord Smith said.

Mark Lynas said that his change of mind was also a gradual affair borne out of the need to do something concrete to counter the growing emissions of carbon dioxide created by producing electricity from the burning of fossil fuels. “I’ve been equivocating over this for many years; it’s not as if it’s a sudden conversion, but it’s taken a long time to come out of the closet. For an environmentalist, it’s a bit like admitting you are gay to your parents because you’re kind of worried about being rejected,” Mr Lynas said.

“I’ve been standardly anti-nuclear throughout most of my environmental career. I certainly assumed that the standard mantra about it being dirty, dangerous and unnecessary was correct,” he said.

“The thing that initially pushed me was seeing how long and difficult the road to going to 100 per cent renewable economy would be, and realising that if we really are serious about tackling global warming it the next decade or two then we certainly need to consider a new generation of nuclear power stations.”

The long moratorium on building nuclear power plants in Britain came about largely because of intense lobbying by environmentalists in the 1970s and 1980s – a campaign that may have caused more harm than good, Mr Lynas said.

“In retrospect, it will come to be seen as an enormous mistake for which the earth’s climate is now paying the price. To give an example, the environmentalists stopped a nuclear plant in Austria from being switched on, a colossal waste of money, and instead [Austria] built two coal plants,” he said.

The four [Ed. Note: Tindale, Smith, Lynas, and Chris Goodall] will now join the ranks of those like Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser to the Government and now director of the Smith Centre in Oxford, who was sceptical about nuclear power until he was presented with data on the scale of the climate-change problem.

Nuclear Energy R&D Strategy by EPRI and INL

Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat beat me to this story so I'm going to copy from him ;-):

A new report co-authored by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) details how nuclear energy research, development, demonstration and deployment can help reduce U.S. carbon emissions and bolster energy security.

The report [pdf], A Strategy for Nuclear Energy Research and Development, outlines the research necessary to create options for the deployment of nuclear energy in the decades ahead. The report also examines nuclear energy’s relevance to nonproliferation and the need for the United States to maintain international leadership in developing nuclear energy.

...

The strategic plan defines six goals to expand the safe and economical use of nuclear energy:

1. Maintain today’s nuclear fleet of light water reactors
2. Significantly expand the fleet with advanced light water reactors
3. Develop non-electric applications for high-temperature reactors
4. Assure safe, long-term used fuel management
5. Assure long-term nuclear sustainability
6. Strengthen United States leadership internationally.

...

Total funding needs from government and industry for the proposed research agenda covering the initial 2010-2015 period are estimated at $3.5 billion.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Thoughts and Criticisms of Secretary Clinton's Comments in Japan on Nuclear Energy

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech to students at the University of Tokyo. Jason Ribeiro over at Pro Nuclear Democrats took a look at her speech and had quite a few excellent thoughts and criticisms about her comments on nuclear energy.

Are We In An Era of Confusion?

Charles Barton at Nuclear Green thinks so and I think he's right.

Fruity Socialists Doing Yoga: The Perils of Namasté

Namastesm1 Namasté’s CEO, Blake Jones, is quite upfront about the benefits of the stimulus plan for his company, a solar panel supplier in Colorado:

Depending on the details, Jones said the passage of the plan would allow him not only to lift his hiring freeze put into place in October but would allow him to start hiring again.

"It might have a huge impact on our business," Jones said. "If things were to continue on the present course without the stimulus, we'd have to lay off half of our staff and close one of our offices."

And we say, fine. Whatever one may think of the stimulus, this is what it is supposed to do, and keeping these technologies rolling along is a net good.

---

However, what to make of some of the commentary around Namasté? Jones introduced the President and Vice President during their stimulus bill barnstorm, amusingly mispronouncing Biden’s name after Biden mispronounced Namasté. (You can likely call it what you want as long as you order some panels.)

From the snark side, there’s this:

Obama chose the perfect face for his "signing the stimulus" party: a blonde, clean-cut young yuppie fellow who owns a small business. A small hippie business.

The guy owns a solar power something-or-other called—wait for it—"Namasté." Which meant that half the press conference involved the assembled officials, from Biden to Obama to the governor of Colorado, amusingly mispronouncing a fruity yoga word.

Then the secret hippie who who's stealing all the stimulus money to buy hemp called our Vice President "Joe Bidden." Namasté!

Actually, the leading N and trailing é makes us think of Neslé, so maybe that should be “chocolaty yoga word.”

From the ideological side, here’s Tracy Byrnes on Glenn Beck’s Fox News show:

Now, "Namasté" is a greeting of respect in Sanskrit. Now, the company Namasté will most likely benefit from all the president's energy incentives that are stuffed into this plan. This 2-year-old company needs all the money it can get. It can barely keep its 55 workers onboard.

But it's not just the company's financial distress that's got people thinking. It's these collective in-house rules of this solar company that are making people wonder why the president decided to associate himself with it.

So to start, all Namasté employees, no matter what their job description, are on the same pay scale, and a portion of everyone's salary goes to charity. Hmm. All major decisions are made by a consensus of all the company employees -- all 55. And everyone gets six weeks vacation a year. It's no wonder the company is struggling and needs financial assistance. But for many of us taxpayers, it seems odd.

Actually, “many of us taxpayers” are probably jealous that those 55 folks have jobs that they’re now likely to keep. We’re also fairly sure almost no one outside of Byrnes is wondering “why the president decided to associate himself with it.”

Stuff like this makes us feel very – provincial – small – and stupid.

Namasté’s logo. We guess it’s meant to represent sun rays – it’s certainly colorful.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Moments of Dread: The EPA and Carbon Emissions

20080807-43-vampyr-366 When a new administration takes over, there are always some moments of dread, even among those constituencies that might expect to benefit. The change in Washington over the last two elections, however, has been seismic in nature, with the Republicans further out of power than at any time in my adult life, and the Democrats working the levers of power with considerable skill if not always with polish. So the dread is of the unexpected, the unknown, the unforeseen.

Now, it’s practically a truism that the two parties are closer together than not in terms of policy, and it’s certainly true compared to Europe, where splinter parties act as hot wires at the far ends of local politics to give their governing coalitions a solid jolt. So while the shiver of the needle slightly leftward may cause the French to yawn, it’s dizzying enough for many Americans. 

The post below about DOE Secretary Chu provides some indication what the nuclear industry has to wrap its collective mind around. But even some events not specifically nuclear-driven or motivated have large potential consequences. Take the regulation of carbon emissions:

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to act for the first time to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet, according to top Obama administration officials.

The decision, which most likely would play out in stages over a period of months, would have a profound impact on transportation, manufacturing costs and how utilities generate power. It could accelerate the progress of energy and climate change legislation in Congress and form a basis for the United States’ negotiating position at United Nations climate talks set for December in Copenhagen.

The Bush administration had been pushed in this direction by the courts, leading to fears about backyard barbecue raids and taking in iceless polar bears, but it chose not to act.

Here’s the thing: the story indicates that the Clean Air Act might be the basis for action, but cap-and-trade and even a carbon tax seem more likely because they have greater potential to mitigate carbon emissions without warping the economy. (See here for why the Clean Air Act might not be a great vehicle for driving this – it more-or-less lines up with our view.)

Here’s an example of this line of concern, from the NYT:

"Potentially, it's a huge mess, not only for E.P.A. but for state regulatory agencies, because the Clean Air Act is second only to the Internal Revenue Code in terms of complexity," said Mr. [Jeffrey] Holmstead, now director of environmental strategies at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani.

He said that under the clean air law any source emitting more than 250 tons of a declared pollutant would be subject to regulation, potentially including schools, hospitals, shopping centers, even bakeries, which has prompted some critics to call it the "Dunkin' Donuts rule."

(The story should have mentioned Holmstead’s previous history as a Washington lobbyist for energy concerns. That certainly adds, shall we say, inflection to his comments.)

Now, here’s the other thing, from candidate Obama’s energy plan (pdf):

Obama believes that the imperative to confront climate change requires that we prevent a new wave of traditional coal facilities in the U.S. and work aggressively to transfer low-carbon coal technologies around the world.

Clean coal got a shout-out during the campaign, which the coal industry has featured in ads like a condemned man hanging onto the kind words of his executioner. Will clean coal get to where it needs to be before the trap door swings open? Well, maybe: these things don’t happen overnight.

As our various posts about state actions regarding nuclear energy suggest, the states are outrunning the feds in understanding how nuclear becomes a most plausible energy generator if a carbon emission switch is suddenly flipped.

Well, the hand is now reaching toward that switch, with everything happening afterward unknown, bound to be a bit unexpected, dare we say a little uncanny. There it is: your moment of dread.

It’s just a guy carrying a scythe summoning the ferryman. From Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr (1931), a film that incarnates the moment of dread.

Another Environmentalist for Nuclear Energy

After hearing a presentation from Ariel Levite, the former Principal Deputy Director General for Policy at the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, Eric Wesoff at Greentech Media is slowly changing his mind about nuclear energy:

I am a knee-jerk environmentalist and have a visceral response to the word “nuclear.” But the more I learn and read, the more experts I speak with, the more my mind is changed — nuclear is a necessary part of the energy mix, albeit with enormous risk.

These risks need to be confronted head-on by sound technology, policy, diplomacy and science.

No Plans From Chu to Stop Progress on Yucca Mountain

From the Las Vegas Review Journal:

Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a group of state officials Wednesday he favors moving toward licensing a nuclear waste repository in Nevada, although whether it would ever be built is another thing altogether.

...

The proceedings would continue for the government to work through issues associated with licensing a first-of-its-kind nuclear waste site, according to this view.

The episode appeared to shed further light on the thinking of the new energy secretary and a possible Obama administration strategy on the Nevada project.
We still have this issue, though:
... several people who were at the 20-minute session said Chu stressed that President Barack Obama doesn't want the Yucca repository, "and I work for the president."
On a slightly different note, Las Vegas Review Journal reported this the day before:
The government affairs arm of the nuclear industry on Monday called for President Barack Obama to convene a blue ribbon nuclear waste commission, a move that could be a first step toward forming alternatives to burying radioactive power plant fuel at Yucca Mountain.

With the future uncertain for the Nevada project, the Nuclear Energy Institute is endorsing a fresh look at nuclear fuel management, an NEI official told an audience of state utility regulators. Under the proposal, the Department of Energy would be allowed to continue pursuing a license to build the Yucca repository while the study was being conducted over a 12- to 24-month period.

...

"Others are raising the issue that they want to end this current program, so then what is Plan B?" Paul Genoa said. "I would expect any politician responsible for this would have to put forward a Plan B before they take away Plan A, and how do you do that without some consultative process?
Here's our three-pronged, integrated used fuel management strategy (pdf) for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.

Picture of the desolate Yucca Mountain. If used fuel can't be stored safely in the middle of a desert in the middle of nowhere, then where can it be put?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Panic Button

2505669673_9f52de0e33 We’ve done a fair number of stories about the actions of several states to overturn bans. These state actions are delightful to us but must be alarming to those who genuinely if irrationally fear nuclear energy . We choose not to identify one from another – we could always be wrong, after all.

While researching a story about legislative moves in Oklahoma, we ran into some arguments we hadn’t heard in awhile:

"I wouldn't want to vote for something that causes cancer," said Dr. Morton S. Skorodin, who distributed a power point presentation highlighting the dangers of nuclear power.

"Nuclear power plants do vent radioactive nuclear gases every single day," Skorodin said. "All forms of cancer can be induced by radiation."

Not to mention all the radioactive nuclear electricity coming out of your wall sockets. Bet that PowerPoint presentation has some fascinating bullet points!

---

Dr. Skorodin is not the only one pushing the panic button:

Bud Scott of the Sierra Club said nuclear energy is not a viable industry for the state because of its enormous cost. Officials said a nuclear power plant would cost up to $8 billion and take 10 or 12 years to build.

A nuclear power plant would likely only be built if the Oklahoma Corporation Commission agreed to have ratepayers pick up part of the cost during the construction process.

Scott’s focus on money is right up-to-date and an area of vulnerability for power plants (especially but not only nuclear). 

Having “ratepayers pick up part of the cost during the construction process” is what the legislation recently passed In the Georgia Senate does; it is estimated to raise electric bills there about $16 per year per customer. Clearly, this has been seen and understood in other statehouses. The Oklahoma legislation now on the floor of the Senate there is explicit that this is also how Oklahoma would fund a plant. It also snaps Scott’s arrow before it gets out of the quiver.

---

Parenthetically, here is a bit of Dr. Skorodin’s writing from Counterpunch, setting the stage leading to the last election:

The Society of the Spectacle meets the neo-totalitarian total information awareness society. The state has technology for and has commandeered the resources to spy upon everyone with 16 or 18 “intelligence” agencies and control us as much as possible with the media of five corporations that are pretty well unified as to how and how much the populace is “informed”. On the other hand, the populace is atomized (deprived of meaningful ties to others); the only major non corporate-government institutions are the cooptable churches.

Even if you find some or all of this true or at least arguable, it’s a whirligig of banshee alarms that doesn’t take enough account of, for starters, Counterpunch and Dr. Skorodin’s abilities to speak truth to power. Clearly, they have considerable ability to do so. (Read the whole thing, though, to get the full flavor – there’s a lot of intelligence mixed with a kind of last-angry-man disdain. Dr. Skorodin seems to carry a panic button in his pocket.)

Doesn’t this kind of temptation usually lead to Daffy Duck being disintegrated?

Kentucky Ban Overturned in State Senate

Ages_No.4_Ridge_Coal_Co._Ages__KY_1915 The news is that Kentucky is en route to overturning its ban on building nuclear energy plants:

Sen. Bob Leeper of Paducah said adopting the federal standard would allow Kentucky sites to be considered for next generation nuclear power plants which would help curb greenhouse gas emissions caused by coal-fired powered plants.

This is simply another story that tells what is percolating around the states – either bans are falling or public service commission rules against paying for a plant as it is built are being overturned. We’re not sure we’d make the coal/nuclear divide quite so stark, but this is Kentucky and it explains the tilt of the story (which originally came from The Morehead News there).

"With our coal reserves and gas reserves in Eastern Kentucky, to me, that's the wrong way to go."

That’s state Sen. Walter Blevins, who voted against the bill. He really didn’t like the result.

Blevins said since there were some negative votes, the House should take a closer look at the bill.

The vote in the senate? 29-6. Darn that democracy thing!

We can’t say that we’ll be ban-free by the end of this year – we’ll see how stubborn Wisconsin is – but it shows the states moving faster toward a nuclear future than only looking at Washington might suggest. 

Kentucky coal miners circa 1915.

Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

Meet Not a sheep!

Principles on How the Nuclear Industry Can Communicate More Effectively

Baruch Fischhoff wrote an informative piece at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists explaining how the nuclear industry can communicate better with the public:

Working the crowd is essential for a technology such as nuclear energy, which depends on the public's acceptance to host plants, invest in industry firms, and support government subsidies and loan guarantees. Proponents want the world to believe that the public will increasingly be open to an energy source that directly produces no greenhouse gases, while opponents want the world to believe that the public will increasingly fear accidents, cost overruns, the uncertain future of nuclear waste, and the diversion of weapon-grade material to bomb making.

In truth, neither side really knows what the public fears or wants. Unless supported by sound empirical evidence, claims about public opinion are just speculation. In the case of nuclear energy, there's surprisingly little research describing the public's concerns about nuclear energy in any real depth. Moreover, predicting future public concerns requires predicting how nuclear energy will emerge as an issue through legislation, protests, hearings, accidents, terrorist diversions, oil embargos, climate change-linked disasters, or other currently unknowable events.

One can, however, predict how the industry will be judged by the public when it responds to events (or creates them). If the industry is seen as responsible and genuinely concerned with the public's welfare, as well as its own, then it will be judged fairly. The following principles, drawn from research and experience, specify what it takes to be seen as such a partner. Adhering to them doesn't guarantee public acceptance or an end to vigorous public debate over nuclear energy. But it does increase the chances of having fewer, but better conflicts, ones that focus on legitimate differences in the interests of the industry and the public, made up of diverse constituencies with their own distinct interests and views (e.g., plant neighbors, environmental justice communities, and elected officials).

Following these principles won't be easy for an industry that has often viewed communication as a one-way process. It will need to move beyond a "decide-announce-defend" communication strategy to an approach that begins by listening to the public and moving in a more acceptable direction. In fact, the industry's relationship with the public must be paramount. That means worrying at the highest levels of management about whether the industry actually has a story worth telling, in the sense of bringing genuine benefits and acceptable risks to society.
Baruch then went on to highlight the eight principles the nuclear industry should follow which could improve communications with the public. They're great principles and I plan to study these a bit. Anybody have any additional thoughts/criticisms on how the nuclear industry could improve its communications?

Did You Know? "We are living in exponential times"

Check out this video that was shown at an American Nuclear Society Conference on Nuclear Training and Education. The numbers are astonishing.



The video asks at the end: So what does it all mean? To me, if humans are growing at an exponential pace then we're going to need a lot of new nuclear plants. :-)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Walking into a Windmill

mill01 We’ve sometimes read stories about people who misjudged where a helicopter rotor was or just how close is too close when in proximity to an airplane propeller. But we hadn’t thought very much about the relative danger of being near a windmill. But danger there is:

[The Caithness Windfarm Information Forum’s] "Summary of Wind Turbine Accident Data to 31 December 2008"  reports 41 worker fatalities.  Most, not unexpectedly, were from falling as they are typically working on turbines some thirty stories above the ground. In addition, Caithness attributed the deaths of 16 members of the public to wind-turbine accidents.

Well, all right, that’s not getting in the way of the blades, exactly, but the roundup offered is almost comical in the way these towers of terror can do in the unwary. In addition to falling off them, you can have them hurtle themselves at you, throw ice at you, catch on fire and send flaming yuck your way, and collapse on top of you. They’re like the apple trees in The Wizard of Oz, but far crankier.

Most of these mishaps are simply collateral of having an energy generator heavily dependent on a moving part and of making towers that can deal with friction and vibration – presumably, engineers have worked out these issues, so there are likely occasional flaws in construction and siting that can send them cascading across the landscape. Given the small number of incidents (about 300 in the story) in relation to the number in use, perhaps small beans, but consider:

Why these fatalities for wind compared to none for the American nuclear power industry? Nuclear energy comes from a reactor core about the size of a living room where it can be monitored and contained in-depth. It would take 2,000 30-story tall wind turbines to produce the power of a typical nuclear plant, assuming 90 percent and 30 percent capacity factors. How many accidents would you expect when building 2,000 30-story turbine generators as compared to pouring concrete for a single containment building of a few thousand square feet?

More than zero, perhaps – nuclear plants have had industrial accidents, though nothing caused by radiation. Here’s the whole report, as a pdf.

Correx: We didn’t make it clear enough that the nuclear industry has had fatal industrial accidents – it has. We’re having a little fun with our wind friends, but we don’t want to be deceptive about it. The point the report makes about nuclear vs. wind and their relative potential for industrial accidents remains valid. The nuclear industry’s record on worker safety is remarkably good.

The windmill from Frankenstein (1931). First Victor von F- is heaved over its side and carried aloft by a sail before hurtling to the ground – he lives – then the mob catches it on fire and the creature is seemingly burned to death – or redeath – but also lives. Sort of a non-starter as a death trap.

So Where’s the Beef?

ht_miss2009_atom_090216_mn We’re all in favor of promoting nuclear energy in creative ways, but we have to admit to mixed feelings about the Miss Atom contest (in Russian).

Russia's nuclear industry has been trying to change all that in recent years, rolling out the annual Miss Atom Beauty Contest. The competition is open only to women who work in the nuclear world and, as the Web site describes, "Miss Atom is the first and only industry-wide, Web-based project for nuclear belles."

The goal of the competition? To show that smart women working with hazardous materials look pretty good when they're not wearing chemical protection suits.

Er, huh? (This bit came from ABC News).

The Russian site has over 200 entrants, all self-submitted, so this plays reasonably well, and anyone can vote. While American industry now shies away from beauty contests as a viable way to promote themselves (and perhaps Russian industries do, too – this is an online effort, run by a portal for nuclear news), it’s not as though Americans are innocent of finding ways to put pretty women in swimsuits. And firemen and such certainly don’t mind showing the results of their gym routines if charity is involved. Miss Atom is a bit retrograde from our perspective, but really, it’s a cultural wash.

Nonetheless, it is a bit disappointing for a country that has gone considerably further then ours in terms of gender equality – at the very least, where’s the beef? We’re sure some of the guys “look pretty good when they're not wearing chemical protection suits.” But maybe that’s another contest.

Needless to say, the competition has received some negative press outside Russia, particularly from those who believe it is sexist and demeaning to female workers. [Ilya] Platonov [the organizer of Miss Atom] vehemently denies such accusations.

As well he might. The Moscow Times has more on Russian beauty contests, including Miss Atom, here. While we hoped for some sociological distinction, you could swap out the local details and publish this story in any American newspaper.

There she is, Miss Atom. There she is, your ideal; With so many beauties; She'll take the town by storm.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Peaches But No Cream? Nuclear Plant Funding in Georgia

peach4 We were pleasantly surprised that Georgia has done what Missouri is edging toward doing:

Wednesday the Senate took great strides in saving taxpayers and Georgia Power customers significant money by passing the Georgia Nuclear Energy Financing Act, Senate Bill 31. The bill allows recovering of financing costs during the construction of two nuclear power generators [at Vogtle] rather than have the financing costs compounded at the end of the project. Sen. Don Balfour, chairman of the Rules Committee, sponsored the bill.

We don’t disagree with any of this – pay-as-you-go stems interest charges that run into the hundreds of millions - but the writing certainly has a Pravda-like tone to it, doesn’t it? This comes from the Senate press office; we wonder if their next release will be about their glorious five-year plan for agriculture.

---

Let’s see how it plays in the press. Here’s Jay Bookman in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

State senators —- with little or no expertise in utility management, and with no staff to call upon for advice —- decided that somehow they knew better than the PSC [public service commission] how to handle extremely complex technical questions about utility financing and ratemaking.

Uh-oh.

Of course, the senators weren’t entirely on their own in making that decision —- they had a little input from experts at Georgia Power. The company has more than 70 lobbyists registered to protect its interests —- roughly one lobbyist for every three legislators. In fact, the legislation in question, Senate Bill 31, was largely written by the company’s lobbyists and lawyers.

We have no reason to doubt Bookman’s sincerity, but these are boilerplate arguments against policy you don’t like. We’re reasonably sure PSC member are happy to assist legislators and are far from delicate lambs being mowed down by evil Georgia Power.

But here’s Stephen Willis (same source):

The most obvious threat to Georgia Power’s big monopoly nuclear and coal plan is the development of Georgia’s offshore wind resources. To forestall this, Southern Co., Georgia Power’s parent company, has worked with the U.S. Minerals Management Service to obtain exclusive rights to the development of offshore wind in Georgia for at least five more years.

Are you picking up a certain distaste for Georgia Power? A lot of the articles on this move can’t really detach the value of the legislation from feelings about Georgia Power – we don’t get the same vibe about AmerenUE and the Missouri press and we suspect the “Georgia Power is a monopoly” meme is a convenient peg.

---

Here’s some reaction from Georgia pols – specifically, the Lieutenant Governor and those running on the GOP side for governor next time out:

Though he said little publicly about the measure, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle was one of the forces pushing S.B. 31 through the chamber.

But three other GOP candidates for governor — the ones who hold public office — have yet to gather behind it.

To summarize, Secretary of State Karen Handel remains cautiously neutral. State Rep. Austin Scott (R-Tifton) says the timing is wrong. And state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine says the whole deal “stinks.”

Here’s what Oxendine says:

You don’t change the rules — it almost smells like you’re making special rules because you want to be able to guarantee what the outcome is. It really smells of Georgia Power saying, ‘I want a specific outcome.’

Hmmm! Back to that. In the end, the state wanted the same outcome as Georgia Power. The Senate went for the bill 38-16. Cost to each residential consumer: about $16.00 per year. A bargain for the result: but Georgia Power should have found a way to sell the peaches with a little cream.

We went to college in Atlanta. Our apartment there was located on the corner of Peachtree Street and West Peachtree Street. At last count, Atlanta had 71 streets with Peachtree in their names.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

ElBaradei Brews Tea: The IAEA on Iran

Iran_nuclear_plant The International Atomic Energy Agency has been in the news a fair amount lately, especially as it tries to stake out a position vis a vis Iran before the Obama administration really turns it sights eastward:

Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the Vienna-based U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that after stockpiling enriched uranium, Iran would face further technical and political hurdles should it seek to build nuclear arms.

"There is a concern, but don't hype the concern," ElBaradei, alluding mainly to U.S. and Israeli warnings, said in a CNN interview broadcast late Sunday. "There is ample time to engage (Iran) and reverse the concern and to move into more engagement rather than more isolation."

While ElBaradei is perhaps a little over-sanguine in his gentle assessment of Iran’s ambitions, he’s not a fool about it, at least not precisely, though his pronouncements are very cautious:

In an interview with the Washington Post, ElBaradei said Iran had seen that the ability to build an atom bomb in a short period would give it an insurance policy against attack.

"Obviously, they look for their own security, and they have seen that if you have nuclear weapons, or at least the technology, you are somehow protected from an attack," he told the Post's Sunday edition.

“Somehow protected from an attack.” Let’s allow that the IAEA has its priorities – as a United Nations agency, it has to tread around the sensitivities of its members, of which Iran is one, to achieve its goals of inspection and cooperation – and further recognize that this rather weak tea from ElBaradei is made from very strong leaves – leaves that could upset important stomachs.

How does Iran see this? Here’s the lede on the Tehran Times’ story:

The UN nuclear watchdog chief urged the Obama administration on Thursday to open ""direct dialogue at a high level"" with Iran with “no preconditions” on its nuclear program.

We’re not a big fan of the word “preconditions,” heretofore known as “conditions,” and we’re sure Iranians know that their nuclear plans will be part of any discussion with the United States – Topic A, even – but a recognition seems to growing that the saber rattling that has characterized American-Iranian relations over the past several years will morph into something other, perhaps something that stands to make Iran seem less beleaguered and thus less attractive to its part of the world. (Not that it’s been all that attractive: at least some of the recent Arab interest in nuclear energy seems motivated by sidewise discomfort with Tehran.)

A story that will become much larger in the next couple of years.

Under construction: the nuclear plant in Bushehr.

Loan Guarantees in the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act" of 2009

Today might be the day we find out if $50B in loan volume for the existing loan guarantee clean energy program makes it into the final "stimulus" bill. The Conference Committee members are supposed to meet at 3 pm today to iron out the details.

As promised last week when I explained how the loan guarantees were scored, below is page 20 (out of 69 pages) from the Congressional Budget Office's detailed version of the Senate's final "stimulus" bill. A summary of the costs of the stimulus bill can be found here (pdf).

loan guarantees stimulus billWhat I'm going to discuss below is what's in the table above. (Click on the image to expand.) The "Account Total for Title 17 innovative technology loan guarantee program" shows $9,000M in Budget Authority (BA) for all energy loan guarantees. A week ago it was $10B but was one of the provisions that changed to get the votes of three Republican Senators.

Right above the "Account Total" is the "Supplemental Emergency" budget authority which shows that $500M is to be appropriated to the existing loan guarantee program to provide $50 billion in loan volume. And then right above that is the $8,500M to be appropriated to "sec.1705 loans" which are the renewable energy projects and the transmission lines necessary to bring that renewable energy to market. These loans are separate from the existing loan guarantee program and were one of the specific provisions cut by $1B to pass the Senate.

According to CBO's page above, $50B in loan volume for the current loan guarantee program is expected to cost the taxpayers $500M (NEI, however, doesn't believe it will cost taxpayers anything (pdf)). The $50B in loan volume goes to all projects that "avoid, reduce, or sequester air pollutants or anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and employ new or significantly improved technologies as compared to technologies in service in the United States at the time the guarantee is issued." Any renewables and transmission lines, however, will receive a separate $8.5B in appropriation to support $56B-$85B in loan volume. (I don't have the documentation yet, but the word is that this $8.5B in appropriation scores at 10-15 percent of the loan volume.)

The House's "stimulus" package does not include any budget authority for the existing loan guarantee program. Since the House and Senate versions don't match on this topic, the Conference Committee members will need to agree on whether the $50B in loan volume should be included or not. This will be a battle because certain House members on the committee don't want it in there.

Now that it's hitting crunch time, I ask that if you're a proponent of the nuclear energy industry, please call the Senate and House conference committee members to indicate your support for $50B in loan volume for the existing loan guarantee program! [And while you're at it, sign up with the Nuclear Advocacy Network.]

If you're interested in the many benefits loan guarantees could provide, then see our policy brief on Financing New Nuclear Plants (pdf).

Update 5:10 pm: Mr. Joseph Romm has a different take on what these loan guarantees mean at AlterNet and Climate Progress (they're identical posts). I left the same comment at his blog, Climate Progress, as the one at AlterNet...we'll see if he approves it on his own blog. :-)

Update 8:00 pm: My comment never showed up on Romm's blog (big surprise) but it was the first one on his Gristmill post.

Update 2/12, 5:30 am: Sad news, the $50B in loan volume for the existing loan guarantee program was stripped from the final bill. :-(

Well, there's always the next piece of legislation...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Stimulus Bill Conference Committee Members Announced

Stimulus Bill Conference Committee MembersAfter passing the economic stimulus plan by a vote of 61-37 earlier today, the Senate conference committee members have been announced.

Harry Reid (D-NV), Majority Leader
Max Baucus (D-MT), Finance Committee Chairman
Charles Grassley (R-IA), Finance Committee Ranking Member
Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Appropriations Chairman
Thad Cochran (R-MS), Appropriations Committee Ranking Member
We'll have the House conferees as soon as they become available.
Update (4:50pm): House conference committee members, per Federal Times:
Dave Obey (D-WI), Appropriations Committee Chairman
Charles Rangel (D-NY), Ways and Means Committee Chairman
Henry Waxman (D-CA), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman
Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Appropriations Committee Ranking Member
Dave Camp (R-MI), Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member
Update #2 (2/11): Responding to woolie's request to provide some context for my original post, here's a link to David Bradish's latest post, Loan Guarantees in the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act" of 2009.

The Conference Committee will meet at 3:00 pm ET today. C-SPAN will be televising the proceedings; a live webcast is available here.

Stimulus Bill Debate

stimulus bill debateAn interesting segment earlier today on NPR's Morning Edition: "What Kind Of Green Jobs Will Stimulus Spawn?" This exchange between the reporter, Christopher Joyce, and Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, caught my ear as I was running out the door.

Joyce: Another form of virtually carbon-free baseload electricity is nuclear power. While the stimulus package provides loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants, Harbert says nuclear needs more attention.

Harbert: A new nuclear plant generates about 1,500 very high-end jobs in a local community, for as long as the plant operates. It will be much higher, certainly, during construction. But that's a tremendous boon to a local economy.
The full audio can be heard here.

Japan's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Plant to Restart a Reactor

From Power Engineering International:

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of Japan has decided to approve Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (TEPCO) plan to reactivate one of its seven nuclear power reactors at its plant in Niigata Prefecture, which has been shut down since a devastating earthquake in July 2007.

The No. 7 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant of the electricity utility, known as TEPCO, may restart commercial power generation by summer when power demand typically peaks if the local authorities of Niigata Prefecture, the city of Kashiwazaki and Kariwa village give the green light, TEPCO says.

...

To date, TEPCO has spent a total of some 30 billion yen [more than $300 million] to improve the quake resistance of the No. 6 and 7 reactors. The remaining five reactors are still undergoing inspection.
Good luck on the restart!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Missouri and The Callaway Plant: An Update

missouriSubheader The last time we checked in with Missouri, AmerenUE wanted to build another unit at Callaway, but needed a change in the law to allow it to charge customers for their construction while it was ongoing. Even if this change would save kittens from being made into food, the prospect of higher energy bills remains daunting, of course, the current economic outlook sends shivers through everyone. In sum, AmerenUE couldn’t have picked a worse time to want this change.

Peter Bradford, who served on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1977-1982, said the change would raise electric bills for business and residential customers and reduce the money available for creating jobs and spurring economic development.

You have to give Bradford credit for being bang up to date on his economic buzz words. If you’re trying to get a date for the prom, be sure to argue that agreeing will create jobs and spur economic development. In fact, one could argue convincingly that the Callaway plant will do both – it’s blindingly obvious that new construction is an economic good. However, asking ratepayers to pony up for it is a tough sell. AmerenUE’s giving it a try:

The Missouri Energy Development Association, a trade group for Ameren and other Missouri investor-owned utilities, estimates that electric customers' rates would increase between 1 percent and 3 percent annually and just over 10 percent during the entire project.

That figure is based on a construction project taking about six years with Ameren able to get smaller electric cooperatives and municipal utilities to buy an ownership stake in the second reactor.

In other words, they admit to a certain optimism. Keep the name Delbert Scott in mind: he’s the state legislator putting forth the bill to make the change AmerenUE is looking for.

---

And here come the Greens:

Such efforts have been met with disdain by environmentalists, many of whom say categorizing nuclear power as "clean" energy is greenwashing.

"They're putting a green bow on a box of radioactive waste that's never going to go away," said Kathleen Logan Smith, executive director of St. Louis-based Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

We think Ms. Smith has seen Kiss Me Deadly, with the Great Whatsit. Nuclear waste has practically lost all its ground as an argument; maybe Ms. Smith could try job creation and spurring economic development.

Correx: we said AmerenUE wanted to build two new units. It's just one - we got over-enthusiastic.

Well, we can’t feature that darned arch every time we look in at Missouri. This is the world’s largest pecan, in Brunswick. We think they kind of missed the boat on achieving a pecan here, but world’s largest filbert probably doesn’t make much sense in Brunswick. Here’s some info.

Friday, February 06, 2009

And Then There Was Europe

Karl-Heinz_Florenz_MEP_sm@body We have to give our European friends points for ambition:

Discussions regarding Europe's future energy policy this week has seen MEPs backing proposals for new EU targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% before 2050.

And, the meetings of the full EU Parliament in Strasbourg saw support for a 60% renewable energy target.

We think MEP stands for Member of European Parliament. In any event, the MEPs have some firm ideas how to reach these targets:

This week's discussions by MEPs also included nuclear energy, with MEPs calling on the Commission to draw up a specific "road map" for nuclear investments, while rejecting calls for a "phase out plan" for nuclear power in Europe.

Well, okay. The Europeans are getting ready for the climate change conference happening in Copenhagen later this year to bang out a new framework to replace the Kyoto protocol. Impossible to know whether the targets will be as ambitious as the Europeans are now discussing – though they have some idea, as interim conferences in Bali and Poland provided some direction – but they’re not waiting to find out.

---

And from the same article:

[Slovenian MEP Jordan] Cizelj said of Europe's energy mix: "It has to attain a larger portion of energy sources that do not emit greenhouse gases, such as renewable energy sources and nuclear energy. Besides, we cannot stop using coal, but we have to ensure the use of the best possible technologies that assure carbon capture and storage."

For those of you who think coal is going anywhere anytime soon.

Karl-Heinz Florenz, the German MEP (isn’t the planet the Great Gazoo came from) who presented the EU climate report. We’re sure it’s not remotely true, but every picture we see of an European politician seems to look like Herr Florenz – intelligent, well fed, a little jowly.

Lively Debate on Nuclear Energy Between Dr. Patrick Moore and Harvey Wasserman at Democracy Now!

This is probably one of the most entertaining debates on nuclear energy I've seen in a long time!

By the way, their debate about $50 billion of loan volume in the Senate's "stimulus" package goes to "projects that avoid, reduce, or sequester air pollutants or anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and employ new or significantly improved technologies as compared to technologies in service in the United States at the time the guarantee is issued." The actual appropriations for the $50B in loan volume is $500 million because the Congressional Budget Office scores the cost of the program at one percent of loan volume. But like I said in a previous post, if the program works as designed and no projects default, then none of this money is needed.

Also in the Senate's "stimulus" package but not mentioned in the debate is $95 billion in loan volume earmarked solely for commercially proven renewable energy projects and the transmission lines necessary to bring that renewable energy to market. What's interesting about this loan volume is that the appropriated amount is $9.5 billion. The CBO scored the costs of these loans at ten percent of loan volume. Confused yet?

Let me see if I can make it more simple. Only $500 million would be spent by the government to provide $50 billion in loan volume for the loan guarantee program. Contrast this with $9.5 billion that would be spent by the government to provide $95 billion in loan volume going solely to renewable energy projects and transmission lines.

I'm working on getting some links from the CBO that explain how they score it (their website is extremely slow right now) but this is how NEI's Government Affairs group explained what's going on. I guess Otto von Bismarck was right: The less people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they'll sleep at night.