Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nuclear Energy Under the Florida Palms

palm trees in Florida_jpg Here’s some interesting news out of Florida:

A state Senate committee today approved a bill that would require Florida's electric utilities to get 20 percent of their power from "clean" energy, including nuclear and coal, by 2020.

Under the bill, which was approved in a 6-3 vote, 5 percent of that 20-percent goal can be met with nuclear or new coal-burning technology.

We’ll let coal take care of itself, but we think nuclear could very well get Florida to that 20 percent mark quite handily. Why?

The Shaw Group Inc. and Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC have signed a contract for engineering, procurement and construction of a two-unit nuclear powerplant at a greenfield site in Levy County, Fla. Progress Energy Florida Inc., the owner, expects to receive a combined construction and operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by early 2012.

And the schedule for this?

Current plans are for operation of the plant in the 2016-18 time frame, after which Progress Energy will retire its two oldest coal-fired units at the Crystal River Energy Complex in Citrus County, Fla.

So in time for the 2020 mark. Presumably, that coal plant cannot be retrofitted for carbon capture or it could be a win all around the Florida energy sphere. Now to see if other energy sources can step up for that other 15 percent.

What you’ll see a lot of in Florida. A company I used to work for had a warehouse in Florida that frequently had alligators sidle up to its cooling unit. The gators would cover the fan and cause the unit to overheat. Eventually, the company built a fence around the unit, but an occasional rack of teeth would investigate then lope off disappointed. (I was there when a gator planted itself at the front door – never a dull moment.)

The Beginnings of the Energy Bill: Here We Go!

Rep. Henry Waxman From the NYT:

Two senior House Democrats will unveil a 600-page draft global warming and energy bill today that they hope will prompt an intense round of internal negotiations, culminating with passage out of the Energy and Commerce Committee before June, according to several lawmakers and off-the-Hill sources briefed on the measure.

The bill from Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) includes four separate titles aimed at overhauling U.S. climate and energy policy, starting with a cap-and-trade program that sets mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions over the next four decades.

Waxman and Markey – tough customers on nuclear, but there’s wind at the back of the solar radiance that is, uh, nuclear. So we’ll see.

Here are some dates to put on your calendar:

Waxman and Markey also unveiled a preliminary schedule for moving the legislation, starting with hearings on the bill during the week of April 20 as lawmakers return from a two-week spring recess. A subcommittee markup is penciled in for the week of April 27, with a full committee markup to follow during the week of May 11.

The story only quotes Democrats who feel this will sail smoothly through Congress problem-free. And Pangloss felt we live in the best of all possible worlds.

Early days: if you look at the posts below about Reps. Bachmann and Shimkus and then read this:

Both the Waxman-Markey draft and Obama's plan [on cap-and-trade] do line up on a midcentury target curbing emissions by 83 percent. But the House lawmakers offer more specifics than the new administration when it comes to the cap-and-trade program's start in 2012. The Democrats call for a 3 percent emissions cut from 2005 levels. They also include a 42 percent reduction in 2030.

You would be right in thinking that, at the least, there will be some heated discussions.

Lots more to come about this in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned.

Rep. Henry Waxman.

Monday, March 30, 2009

More Popular Than Miley Cyrus?

Miley CyrusWell, maybe not, but this news about the Hanford Nuclear Reservation certainly took us by surprise. Per KONA- 610 AM,

The hottest ticket in town appears to be the 60 tour dates set for the Hanford site. The on line registration started just after midnight, and all 2500 slots were filled up before noon. The Department of Energy’s Cameron Hardy says those lucky to get a tour date will see the construction on the massive vitrification plant. Other stops include the historic B reactor and the Hanford Tank farm. Hardy says they purposely decided not to publicize the actual time that registration began this morning. In part, because last year, the system crashed with the number of registrations within the first half hour….just after midnight.

Rep. John Shimkus on Cap-and-Trade

Rep. John Shimkus A couple of posts below, we wrote about Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s objections to cap-and-trade and suggested the arguments were not very well thought out yet. As cap-and-trade wends its way forward, we expect there will be a fair number of arguments against it – after all, Europe’s first try at it was an unmitigated mess and if not carefully thought out, it could prove a massive shock to the energy industry and its customers – so there are arguments to be made.

We like cap-and-trade more than not, as long as one accepts as premises that carbon emission reduction is a desirable goal – we do – and would prefer not to crater industries while achieving that goal – we do so prefer. Almost anyone is going to accept the second premise; however, not all accept the first. This can be for honest reasons – the science is questionable enough to sow doubt – or for dishonest ones – chances for getting reelected to Congress decline if big donors or a constituency gets upset. And of course there are many tick marks on the scale between honest and dishonest.

A bipartisan group of coal- and oil-state lawmakers said Wednesday they would vote against any climate-protection plan that results in a massive loss of jobs, though it was unclear if there are enough of them to stop President Obama's cap-and-trade greenhouse-gas proposal from becoming law.

"What happens to these coal miner jobs?" asked Illinois Republican John Shimkus, as he held up a large, black-and-white picture of blue-collar workers.

"I challenge the Democrats to move this bill, because we will defeat them at the polls," Mr. Shimkus said during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee on energy and environment.

We’ve knocked out some comments by Texas Democrat Gene Green – this isn’t a Republican issue alone, by any stretch – but we found Shimkus’ comments interesting. This is not a dishonest argument and it answers to an Illinois concern. What Shimkus is arguing against is what cap-and-trade means to avoid – laying off workers in a fell swoop. Shimkus isn’t an outlier here. Business Week puts the argument like this:

Leveling the playing field by forcing fossil-fuel prices to reflect their true cost will spur a wave of clean-energy investment: research and development in new technologies, new factories to produce solar panels and wind turbines, and energy-efficiency retrofits of commercial and residential real estate. That means jobs, and lots of them. While some businesses that rely on dirty energy will be hurt, many others will thrive in the clean-energy economy.

Seems fair, but it’s not a one-to-one correlation. Wind and solar may set up in coal country but may not. What helps Arizona won’t help Illinois. Cap-and-trade means to avoid this outcome by applying pressure over time, not all at once, but the result could still be devastated local economies. So Shimkus has an argument that should be weighed into policy creation.

Then again, here’s Rep. Shimkus on carbon dioxide:

It's plant food ... So if we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere? ... So all our good intentions could be for naught. In fact, we could be doing just the opposite of what the people who want to save the world are saying.

Plants did pretty well before the industrial revolution and there were more of them then. So this one’s a non-starter. But not all arguments are golden, are they? That doesn’t make them dishonest.

Rep. John Shimkus is a six-term representative. He’s had his ups and downs – a minor role in the 2006 scandal regarding House pages was likely a low point for him – and he quoted the Bible a few days ago to explain that he doesn’t think global warming is important because man cannot destroy the Earth. Time will tell if that’s a high or low point.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Going Back to Three Mile Island

122606threemileislandpark We promise not to go nuts on TMI stories – could look like a plea for expiation, which isn’t really needed – but here’s a good write-up on TMI yesterday and today by an NEI staffer, Tom Kauffman, who worked at TMI at the time of the accident and went back there recently as a media representative:

The accident also forever changed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “The TMI-2 accident had the greatest impact on nuclear generation of any single event in history,” the agency said in a recent news release.

“The public’s memories of the TMI accident will certainly fade over time,” I told the editor, “but as long as nuclear plants operate in the United States, the people who operate, maintain and regulate them will always be mindful of their responsibility to stay vigilant and focused on safety.”

Grant Tom his role – we’re pretty sure the nuclear industry was focused on safety at the time of TMI, else you would’ve had a human in additional to an industrial disaster – and he’s right on the details. Nuclear energy is exhibit A in how government and industry can work together to provide a net positive by tamping down each other’s worst instincts – the drive for profit on one side and regulating an industry to death on the other.

Tom focuses on TMI today. Maybe he’ll do a part 2 on his experiences on that day in 1979. First hand accounts always appreciated.

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After you’ve looked at that story, prowl around the Insight portion of the NEI Web site. Insight is intended as a layman-friendly newsletter that covers topics such as nuclear medicine, environmental initiatives at nuclear plants and other feature-like, “light” topics. Lately, Insight has been posting stories like Tom’s that do not appear in the printed newsletter but expand the themes that do appear there. Terrific introduction to the wider world of nuclear utility.

After the TMI accident, Disney artist Art Riley proposed turning it into an amusement park. This is is concept image. See here for more. Far fetched? The Germans have done it with a plant that never opened. See here for more.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Outer Limits of Debate

michelebachmannb_10x15 Congress is barely grazing over the energy issues that will doubtless absorb them more as the year goes along, so we thought we wouldn’t be able to declare the outer limits of this debate for quite some time. By “outer limits,” we simply mean the most extreme position imaginable for or against an emerging policy.

We may have found the outer limits on cap-and trade, per Smart Politics:

“I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us ‘having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,’ and the people – we the people – are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States.”

This is Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) (Smart Politics operates from the University of Minnesota).

We’re genuinely surprised that anyone can gin up this level of rhetoric on cap-and-trade – maybe Bachmann just goes to the outer limits on any given topic.

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We wandered over to her Web site to see what’s what and found that she is hosting a public hearing on cap-and-trade in St. Cloud on April 9. You can find out about that here.

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Bachmann also has a blog and posted a bit more on the subject:

President Obama’s current proposal aims to cut carbon emissions by more than 3 times that of last year’s proposal – 83%. John Feehery, writing in The Hill's Pundits Blog last week, noted that using Director Orszag’s analysis, this would mean that the average family will pay close to $4,000 a year, or $333 a month.

The White House seems to acknowledge that the costs of this tax will impact low-income families hardest and suggests a $500-a-year subsidy. But, that doesn’t even cover two-months cost for the average family. And, it doesn’t take into account the increased costs for everything from groceries to school supplies that a carbon tax will also impose on everyone.

To be honest, this doesn’t really scan. Bachmann is extrapolating, along with Feehery, what the average family would pay at a point of 83 percent carbon reduction without taking account of the replacement technologies – including nuclear energy – that would mitigate costs considerably. And that point is still over a decade away.

Also, calling this a tax isn’t really on the nose:  you can create a tax on carbon emissions directly; it’s actually considered a more liberal, or business-unfriendly, route than cap-and trade. Cap-and-trade creates a market for credits that can benefit energy producers and consumers (while, admittedly, punishing other energy producers and consumers.) Calling it a tax is more political than accurate.

We’re not quite sure of Bachmann’s stance here – it seems populist in nature, but not really fully thought out enough to make it functional. She seems to doubt the science behind climate change, but also favors energy efficiency.

We expect it will become more coherent as the subject becomes more central. Maybe that hearing in St. Cloud will clarify her position a bit more.

Herself. Finding a relaxed picture of Rep. Bachmann proved a bit tough. She’s obviously quite the firebrand. With Al Franken and Jesse Ventura (and Walter Mondale and Paul Wellstone), Minnesota has a fascinating political culture.

Three Mile Island: Across the Misty Susquehanna

three-mile-island With the anniversary of the Three Mile Island accident approaching, stories are percolating that use it as a hook to talk about nuclear energy. Let’s just say that a fair few of them would not have been written in 1979:

Nuclear reactors generate one-fifth of the nation's power. Some see nuclear as a stable, homegrown energy source in light of last year's oil price spikes. Others see it as a way to meet carbon-reduction goals.

Some other see it as Satan incarnate, but this AP story by Marc Levy doesn’t have much room for them.

Public interest is emerging, too: A Gallup Poll released in recent days shows 59 percent favor the use of nuclear power, the highest percentage since Gallup first asked the question in 1994.

We mentioned the other day that Gallup polls carry weight that others cannot match – enough to influence policy. This is exhibit A. And here’s a bit of the takeaway on the accident itself:

No one was seriously injured in the accident, in which a small amount of radiation was released into the air above the Susquehanna River island 12 miles south of Harrisburg. Studies of area residents have not conclusively linked higher rates of cancer to radiation exposure.

Journalistically careful, but okay. A lot of good material in this article – read the whole thing for an excellent mainstream look at nuclear energy then and now.

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The Washington Post offers five myths about nuclear energy. It’s a balanced assessment, not really needing the TMI hook. We think writer Todd Tucker might have reached a little to get to five:

4. Nuclear power is "unnatural."

Umm – huh?

From Godzilla to Blinky the three-eyed fish on "The Simpsons," many of pop culture's oddest creatures owe their existence to the mutating powers of radiation.

Well, since Greenpeace had a go at exploiting fear of mutation a few days ago, we guess Tucker’s on to something we thought became the province of a cartoon a long time ago.

We like this one:

2. Long half-lives make radioactive materials dangerous.

Tucker makes a somewhat counterintuitive but perfectly logical point here:

There seems to be something intrinsically evil about anything that persists for so long. But a long half-life doesn't necessarily make a substance dangerous.

And an example:

A useful, radioactive and harmless part of every person, Carbon 14 has a half-life of 5,730 years. Conversely, some short-lived isotopes can be extremely dangerous. Nitrogen 16, which is produced in operating nuclear reactors, emits very high-energy radiation despite its half-life of just 7.1 seconds.

He doesn’t overstate the case, but it’s an interesting one to make – very culturally astute.

Another good article.

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And an editorial from the Fredericksburg (Maryland) Free Lance-Star uses TMI to get to this point:

Achieving energy independence, moderating climate change, and stimulating economic growth are three clear Obama goals. All would benefit from a renewed effort to embrace nuclear power as an alternative energy source. Yet that focus is fuzzed: We're still stuck in 1979, when an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pa., frightened the nation back into the nuclear Dark Ages.

We agree. We never thought we’d appreciate an anniversary of the TMI accident - color us surprised.

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We ran into this poem about TMI, called Tar, by C.K. Williams. Here’s a bit of it:

I remember the president in his absurd protective booties, looking absolutely unafraid, the fool.

I remember a woman on the front page glaring across the misty Susquehanna at those looming stacks.

But, more vividly, the men, silvered with glitter from the shingles, clinging like starlings beneath the eaves.

That last stanza hints at his title metaphor. Read the whole thing for an intensely personal view of that day in 1979. And then marvel at how far attitudes can move.

Yes, there it is, after you cross the misty Susquehanna.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Among Other Things, Kanye West on Nuclear Energy

kanye_west1_300_4001 Here are some quick hits to roll around the mouth and savor. You don’t even have to spit them out.

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Steve Williams responds to William Tucker’s approval of the scaling back of Yucca Mountain:

If the enviros had any sense at all - and if they feared global warming (um, climate change) as much as they say - they would embrace nuclear power as the globe's, and humanity's, great savior.

Nuclear power is readily available (it costs much more than it should simply because of the legal and environmental maneuvering undertaken to prevent permits for construction of nuclear power plants), is not an emitter of any dangerous pollution at all, and puts solar and wind power to shame because it is so efficient and constant.

And this is from the Victorville Daily Press, in the heart of California’s high desert. Williams has a free market kind of vibe that passes a little too lightly on environmental issues, but we mostly like what he says.

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Uh-oh.

U.S. Navy researchers claimed to have experimentally confirmed cold fusion in a presentation at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting.

We always tread carefully around cold fusion because it seems one of those things that encourages fraud – pathological science is the term, we think - too much a panacea to fully trust – but this comes from the EETimes. After explaining how cold fusion rose and fell in scientific esteem, writer R. Colin Johnson continues:

Now, the Naval researchers claim that the problem was instrumentation, which was not up to the task of detecting such small numbers of neutrons. To sense such small quantities, Mosier-Boss used a special plastic detector called CR-39.

Hmm. This didn’t seem to stop Fleischmann and Pons’ initial results back in the 80s – the problem then was that no one could duplicate their work.

Using co-deposition with nickel and gold wire electrodes, which were inserted into a mixture of palladium chloride and deutrium, the detector was able to capture and track the high-energy neutrons.

We think we’ll put this one on hold until a date yet to be determined. Clearly this isn’t a Hitler diary or a Bigfoot in an icebox, but what it is remains to be seen.

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“The nuclear sector in Europe is definitely undergoing a revival and all the indicators are that the next few years will be a strong time for orders, despite the financial crisis," says Maciej Jeziorski, Research Analyst, Energy & Power Systems, Frost & Sullivan.

Yum. More, please:

"The result is that many of the projects currently planned, proposed or at the pre-proposal stage are likely to be developed further. There are still challenges to overcome such as huge initial costs, getting the planning permission and long lead time for critical components, but overall the prospects for nuclear in the longer-term look good."

You may as well have some spinach with the blackberries, but that still goes down fairly easily. This comes from Fox Business, so we took a look over at Frost & Sullivan to see what they’re about. Growth is definitely the watchword, as it appears numberless times on its homepage. Example:

We are a Growth Partnership Company that helps clients accelerate their growth. Our Growth Partnership Services and Growth Consulting empower our clients to create a culture of growth innovation and leadership that generates, evaluates, and implements effective growth strategies.

That theme is hard to catch, isn’t it? Here’s something on their institute, presumably supplying papers like the one on nuclear energy:

A non-profit institute dedicated to providing research into planet health. The Institute leverages all of Frost & Sullivan's extensive research databases, brand name, and 360 degree visionary model to bring new insight, influence and strategy to global health.

Because how do you grow without health? It all fits together. Business consultants.What they say sounds perfectly reasonable though not particularly original. It’s in a vein that seems to suit Europe these days, so we’ll take it.

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And here’s Kanye West, from his blog (CAPS his):

I'VE BEEN ATTACKED FOR BEING ME... FOR BEING BRIGHT RED IN A GREY WORLD.... I AM NUCLEAR ENERGY...

So that’s that. (To be fair, this is an extract from a long post in which he makes numerous statements that suggest he’s either really self-absorbed or making fun of people who are self-absorbed. Read the whole thing for the full, uncut flavor. Now, that’s that.)

Himself - a man with a lot to say.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Nuclear Energy on the Gallup: A New Poll

gallup Here’s the headline for Gallup’s new poll on nuclear energy.

Support for Nuclear Energy Inches Up to New High

Though Gallup polls nuclear energy lower than Accenture or Bisconti (jump down a few posts for more on Accenture), the numbers suggest the same movement in its favor:

A majority of Americans have been supportive of the use of nuclear energy in the United States in recent years, but this year's Gallup Environment Poll finds new high levels of support, with 59% favoring its use, including 27% who strongly favor it.

Interestingly, these numbers are dragged down by women:

Gallup has always found consistent and large gender differences in Americans' views of nuclear power, and the same applies this year -- 71% of men favor the use of nuclear energy, compared with only 47% of women. Both groups show their highest level of support for nuclear power to date.

Other polls show a gender difference, too, though not this stark. Gallup doesn’t offer a suggestion why this might be so – maybe they’ll do a follow-up to find out – but these numbers do seem more reflective of a government approach that would use blue ribbon commissions to kick the can down the road. If nothing else, they help skittish politicians to triangulate a policy approach that will not set off alarms. While using such commissions might seem overcautious, Gallup is probably the most trusted name in opinion polling, so its poll results gain a prominence that affects policy making.

None-the-less, the results are good and show the needle moving up.

The poll finds that a majority of Americans, 56%, believe nuclear power plants are safe, but a substantial minority of 42% disagree.

Once again, the gender split is significant, with men in the low 70s and women in the low 40s.

A lot to chew over here – we would like to see the questions to see if they contain alarmist elements that might account for the lower numbers in general – but overall, hard to complain.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

No Love from the L.A. Times

lat_logo_inner Here’s what you get for patting yourself on the back too much, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times:

When it comes to highly radioactive nuclear waste, pretty much everybody is a NIMBY. Setting aside the fact that scientists have yet to develop the technology to safely store this waste for the thousands of years it takes to decay, there's the fact that it has to be transported to the disposal site -- mostly by train -- creating the opportunity for spills. Even if the nuclear dump isn't in your backyard, the train tracks might be, and the closer you live to the center of it all, the greater the danger. Little wonder that Nevadans aren't excited by the prospect of a glow-in-the-dark desert.

Ulp! We’d note that nuclear “waste” moves around on trains now without spilling. It’s not put in open barrels, after all. See here for more.

Pro-nuclear activists, whose ranks are growing as the nation looks for non-carbon-emitting sources of energy, needn't fret too much about Obama's proposal, which tables but doesn't end the debate about Yucca Mountain. Yet the move probably would delay some pending applications for construction of nuclear plants, and may even stop some. That's all for the good. Nuclear power is much too risky and expensive to be seen as a reasonable solution to climate change.

We haven’t seen any signs of plants being delayed, but it could of course happen.

We generally think of the L.A. Times as being a fairly conservative paper for its location, so this surprised us a bit. California is next to Nevada, so maybe they have some NIMBY issues of their own. Or maybe they just think what they think.

It would’ve been nice to get a clean sweep of major newspaper editorials on the Yucca Mountain decision and since we suggested that happened, it wouldn’t be honest to let this one slide by. To quote W.C. Fields, Drat!

Yucca Mountain and "What Might Have Been"

Bob McCracken from Nye County in Nevada has kept track for years a list of benefits Nevada could have enjoyed for hosting used nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain. In response to the Obama Administration's recent decision to cut funding to Yucca Mountain, Bob decided to lay it all out on what might have been:

...

The original Yucca Mountain legislation included a provision by which Nevada could negotiate with the federal government for benefits as compensation for accepting the repository. Nevada totally ignored this provision.

* If Yucca Mountain had been built, its construction would have generated thousands of high-paying jobs in Southern Nevada and hundreds of permanent positions once the facility was in operation.

* Nye County could have collected large sums for property taxes on Yucca Mountain and its associated support industries into the indefinite future. So large was the Yucca Mountain project, one could have purchased the entire Las Vegas Strip and more for its planned cost.

* At one point Nevada was informally offered the superconducting supercollider, the world's largest particle accellerator, that the United States wanted to build 20 years ago, valued at between $4 and $10 billion, for accepting Yucca Mountain.

...

* Nevada was also offered a high-speed super train between Los Angeles and Las Vegas as part of the supercollider offer. Its value would have been at least $5 billion, probably closer to $10 billion. Think what that would have done to bring in the tourists and alleviate area transportation woes. The train could have seeded America with advanced train technology; instead, that is the domain of Europe and Asia. Go overseas if you want to ride a fast train.

* At one point, Nevada was offered a multi-billion-dollar nuclear medicine and energy research facility to be connected with UNLV and housed on the Nevada Test Site for accepting the repository. That, like the other offers, was dead on arrival. How many cancer patients would be alive today if the offer had been accepted?

...

* Nye County could have been a world-class site for development and dissemination of science and technology information on nuclear power and other clean energy sources.

...
And the list goes on ...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Polling the World on Nuclear Energy

accenture_logo We’re a little suspicious of polls because they are too often used to reinforce a, so to speak, pre-proven point.

Bisconti Research conducts polls for NEI, we know them to be honestly conducted and fair as can be, but could we blame you for doubting them, just a tiny bit, as you think, Ah, NEI? Well, no, unless you were expecting us to buy you drinks – then maybe yes.

But even if you let your guard down to accept poll results you might otherwise give the fishy eye, there’s the next poll – and the next one – and so on – and before you know it, Ross Perot did win that election. Wind energy is heavily supported by the prison population but not Sister Bernadette’s kindergarten class. Nuclear energy disturbs bird watchers but not gardeners.

So we’re a little suspicious of polls.

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That said, we much enjoyed the increased support for nuclear energy found by Zogby International and wondered whether its poll – and Bisconti’s, too - would see further work backing them up or showing them to be outliers. Well, here comes Accenture:

In the U.S., the picture is a little different. Overall support for nuclear power seems to be growing, with 37% of respondents saying they’ve become more supportive in recent years. And 81% favor using more nuclear power, with only 19% flat-out opposed to nukes. That opposition is due to concerns over plant safety, nuclear waste, terrorism, and cost, in that order.

That’s consistent enough with Zogby and Bisconti as not to matter, but where the real interest lie is that they rumbled through 20 countries looking for feedback.

The upshot? About 69% of people favor adding more nuclear power; 31% are opposed. In the past three years, 29% of people have become more supportive, and 19% have become more entrenched in their opposition.

Those numbers showing increased support (i.e., people changing their minds) are important, because they represent a audience receptive to all those things nuclear energy represents – non-carbon-emitting, locally managed, economic benefits, etc. As energy independence and security, as well as global warming concerns, become paramount in the public discourse, so does nuclear energy. The industry didn’t generate those connections, but since nuclear energy is the right key for these particular locks, there you go. Poll numbers go up and they stay pretty consistent.

Now, we should say that countries are not all on the same page, either in support for or in their lists of concern about nuclear energy. Additionally, throwing renewables into the mix with nuclear energy generates some interesting numbers that might reward analysis.

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Accenture’s business involves them with government and business policy, so it likely created this poll to start conversations with its clients, at lease some of whom must be taking a fresh look at their energy options. That Accenture is publicizing the poll may well benefit their core business. Take all this into account.

Also:

New York-based Accenture, a global management consulting and technology firm, works with nuclear industry clients, primarily in information technology.

Suspicion never dies.

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You cannot look at this poll directly – it’s behind a pay wall – but google around for “Accenture nuclear poll” and run through some of the stories that summarize it. Here’s a story from Reuters UK to get you started. Fascinating stuff.

Accenture’s logo. Not our absolute favorite, but clean and simple, no?

A Tarantula As Big As a House

Well, we just don’t know. (click on pictures or here to see full size versions):

greenpeacebunny

greenpeaceelephant

These are ads created in Romania for Greenpeace and, although these are in English, they may be intended for Eastern Europe.

Mutations? Really? This went out of style after Universal Pictures grew tired of growing tarantulas and praying mantises to the size of houses in the 1950s.

Greenpeace can make all the arguments against nuclear energy they want, but dishonestly leads to a loss of credibility. We can’t imagine Greenpeace USA using these ads, but if this is their response to the vastly increased interest in nuclear energy in Europe, this is a battle they’re fated to lose.

Sheesh!

"Economic Woes" DIDN'T Delay U.S. Nuclear Power Expansion

Yesterday's Reuters story claiming that "economic woes delayed U.S. nuclear power expansion" has a few of its time-lines and facts off. Here's the first paragraph of the story:

The sputtering global economy and frozen credit markets have shrunk the first wave of a highly touted U.S. nuclear power renaissance.
That's news to me. Back in January, NEI released a paper detailing how the nuclear industry has grown by 15,000 jobs over the past couple of years in anticipation of this "renaissance." Back to Reuters:
Nuclear industry advocates had predicted more than a dozen new reactors worth $100 billion or more generating at least 15,000 megawatts of power in the United States by 2020.
It wasn't a prediction, it was a goal of DOE's Nuclear Power 2010 program (pdf) made back in 2002. Reuters:
Then the economic slump hit. Now, Cambridge Energy Research Associates expect four to eight new reactors providing 5,000 MW to 10,000 MW by 2020.
Actually, NEI made this statement more than a year ago at our 2008 annual presentation to Wall Street (see page 12) when the first of today's "economic woes" were barely starting to emerge. NEI tamped down expectations way before today's rough economic patches so it's quite a bit inaccurate to attribute our lower forecast to today's mess.

The rest of the Reuters piece gave no more examples of how the "economic woes" are delaying U.S. nuclear power expansion. In fact, it quotes the NRC as saying the opposite:
"The economy has not affected what the NRC expected" in license applications, spokesman Scott Burnell said.
Looks like the authors of the Reuters story need to do two things. 1) do a little more research to provide time-lines of when things were said, what was said, and by whom. And 2) come up with a headline that actually matches the facts and story. Here are a couple of suggested headlines: Goal for Dozens of New Reactors by 2020 is More Likely to be Met by 2030; Licensing of New Nuclear Plants Unaffected by Economic Woes; or Only Four to Eight New Nuclear Plants Expected to be Online Next Decade (this was a popular headline last year after we stated this at the Wall Street presentation).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What To Do with Your Windows 95 Licenses

Run a nuclear power plant:

Nuclear_Power_Plant_in_Iran

Yes, this is alarming – from Iran’s Bushehr plant – at least on sight. First, that they’d use Windows for this purpose – no ding meant on Microsoft, but it’s a job that requires a real time system like QNX or Wind River or even real time Linux, which doesn’t have export concerns. Second, that error message looks an awful lot like Windows 95, which is an antique.

Well, it’s possible that this is a real time system that simply has error messages that resemble those of Windows 95 or a Windows front end is being used to make the programming easier. And the IAEA is puttering around the plant, too, so international standards do apply at Bushehr.

But you really don’t want error messages popping up on a control room screen – you want a logging system that is closely monitored by trained eyes. Things like error messages can create doubt where none need exist. Bushehr needs a better IT department, we think.

Note: Read the comments on this post. Being on the interwebs and all, this could be a hoax, but we don’t think Bushehr is all that vulnerable to a hoax. Its existence alarms people of many perspectives, though IAEA involvement mitigates alarm by a fair degree. But take a look at the comments – lots of good pushback.

From UPI via Gizmodo

USA Today on Yucca Mountain

USA_Today_re Does USA Today qualify as a top newspaper on a par with the New York Times and The Washington Post? It’s certainly more colorful. You can get it free on air shuttles and at a lot of hotels. People who have seen their local newspaper die – like Seattle – will likely depend on it more, if not for local news. And we certainly like it’s editorial stance on Yucca Mountain:

Like it or not, the nation needs nuclear power as a carbon-free bridge to a future in which wind, solar and other options will power computers and TVs and charge plug-in hybrid cars. It makes sense to dispose of spent nuclear fuel in a single place instead of at more than 100 nuclear plants around the country, where it is now.

They pick up a theme William Tucker pursued in his Wall Street Journal op-ed:

The president and the nuclear industry now want a group of experts to convene to decide what to do next. An idea to revisit is reprocessing spent fuel, which President Carter banned out of security concerns that seem much less compelling 30 years later. Reprocessing allows fuel to be re-used and shrinks the ultimate amount of spent fuel — but what's left still has to go somewhere.

President Ford actually got that ball rolling, but Carter had TMI on his watch, so he usually gets the credit. And, of course, the editorial gets the politics:

Killing Yucca is a big political win for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Nevada lawmakers who've long opposed the storage site. But that victory empowers not-in-my-backyard politicians in every state to dig in their heels. And, whether it's waste dumps or wind farms or oil refineries or air routes, they do — the national interest be damned.

Yes, they certainly do dig in their heels, but this goes all the way to the micro-level – meaning you and me – who would prefer not to have our pristine suburban sprawl besmirched by anything necessary or useful.

USA Today is a little late to the Yucca Mountain party, but it’s striking that the press all along the ideological spectrum has given thumbs down to this decision. Hard to find this much agreement on anything.

Monday, March 16, 2009

No Such Thing As Nuclear Waste

Compost Heap Well, there is, of course, but William Tucker, author of Terrestrial Energy, takes a stab at tearing it all down for you so you can see just how little waste is actually in nuclear fuel if you recycle and repurpose it.

After being loaded in a nuclear reactor, the fuel rods sit for five years before being removed. At this point, about 12 ounces of U-235 will have been completely transformed into energy. But that's enough to power San Francisco for five years. There are no chemical transformations in the process and no carbon-dioxide emissions.

Not a great start – we think the WSJ may have edited some sense out of this paragraph. 12 ounces of U-235 isn’t going to power Nob Hill for five years much less San Francisco. It gets better, though:

Of the remaining 5% of a rod, one-fifth is fissionable U-235 -- which can be recycled as fuel. Another one-fifth is plutonium, also recyclable as fuel. Much of the remaining three-fifths has important uses as medical and industrial isotopes. Forty percent of all medical procedures in this country now involve some form of radioactive isotope, and nuclear medicine is a $4 billion business. Unfortunately, we must import all our tracer material from Canada, because all of our isotopes have been headed for Yucca Mountain.

To be honest, it’s not as though the top 20% of 5% of the fuel rod is U-235, ready to be extracted like the white portion of a leek. But Tucker’s overall point is well taken, that recycling would vastly reduce the amount of material that could readily be classified as “waste.”

Maybe quibbles, and maybe Tucker is aiming to be provocative rather than addressing the complexities of his proposal. Quibbling can be contagious. Even these reasonable lines:

The supposed problem of "nuclear waste" is entirely the result of a the decision in 1976 by President Gerald Ford to suspend reprocessing, which President Jimmy Carter made permanent in 1977. The fear was that agents of foreign powers or terrorists groups would steal plutonium from American plants to manufacture bombs.

That fear has proved to be misguided. If foreign powers want a bomb, they will build their own reactors or enrichment facilities, as North Korea and Iran have done. The task of extracting plutonium from highly radioactive material and fashioning it into a bomb is far beyond the capacities of any terrorist organization.

---can be reversed to suggest that if North Korea and Iran need to build enrichment plants, it’s because Ford and Carter limited proliferation opportunities. Maybe it’s Tucker’s writing style, because he does include a lot of good information and his suggestions tickle the mind agreeably. Give it a read and see what you think.

It’s a compost heap. Waste not, want not.

Greenpeace's "Energy Revolution" Study Doesn't Pass Muster

Nuclear Green and Pro-Nuclear Democrats took a critical eye to Greenpeace's latest study called Energy [R]evolution and weren't impressed. Greenpeace's study leaves nuclear plants off the table as a solution in reducing CO2 emissions (surprise, surprise) while renewables and efficiency are claimed to be able to handle it all. Here's Nuclear Green's part one on Greenpeace's study:

The cutesy feature of the report title, the rather uncreative play on the words revolution and evolution suggests the report's fundamental dilemma: the difficulty of charting a path to a renewables energy future given the serious limitations of renewable energy sources.

...

Clean thus appears to be disassociated from "science based emissions reductions", because the shutdown of nuclear is viewed as being in the interest of being "clean." Furthermore, the notion that over 50% of American nuclear plants would be shut down for the sake of "the clean", in the face of an emissions based climate crisis is highly unrealistic. We must ask then if the [r]evolution plan is a realistic route to a low climate risk future, or a green fantasy wish list for the United States?
Of course the study is a green fantasy wish list. If it was a real study, it would look similar to EPRI's PRISM scenario (pdf), or Princeton's Wedge theory, or the Global Energy Technology Strategy Program (pdf) which was developed by "a core group of scientists." Most independent analyses (including the ones above) show that any credible initiative to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will require additional nuclear generating capacity. Here's Pro-Nuclear Democrats' thoughts:
Seriously folks, the Greenpeace stance is not even a rational middle ground when it comes to nuclear energy. How can anyone, any government, take Greenpeace seriously when it vigorously attacks nuclear energy for the sole purpose of defending its past credibility? Does anyone seriously believe that people such as Patrick Moore and James Lovelock have sacrificed their personal integrity to become sellouts by changing their minds about nuclear?
Jason goes on to explain how the lack of discussion of energy terms in the study like capacity factors, baseload, intermittent, and emission-free paints a serious mis-perception of the capabilities of Greenpeace's plan. Here's Jason's example of what it means to be intermittent:
Photovoltaics and wind energy fit this definition [intermittent] precisely and would provide the majority of the Greenpeace future energy plan. Banking a future energy system on technology that is supposed to work in conjunction with a smart grid is betting the future on an uncertain theory. Before any widespread system would be implemented, it ought to be tested by a computer simulation. For that to work would require a lot of data and sophisticated programming and then it still might not get it right.

...

This confusion of terms and definitions will undoubtedly continue. As long as we cannot agree to use the same terms, formulas, and laws of physics, the energy debate will be going nowhere fast. The omissions made by the Greenpeace document are not out of neglect but motivated by political manipulation and aims to prey upon the energy illiterate. We can only hope those who will be reading the Greenpeace fluff will do a little research checking on the Internet and find another opinion fact based evaluation.
And to wrap-up this post, here's a nugget from Nuclear Green's part two that looks at what "dirty" means in terms of labeling energy sources:
Calling nuclear power dirty is not accurate, but is dramatic, and theatrical. The use of the term dirty with respect to nuclear is not about science, it is about removing questions concerning nuclear risk from the realm of rational discourse, and attempting to resolve questions about nuclear safety on an emotional rather than a rational level.
I would say Nuclear Green's nugget pretty much sums up the whole Greenpeace study: emotional not rational. Well done guys!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

30 Years Ago at TMI and Today

3mile1 The Three Mile Island accident happened on March 28, 1979, 30 years ago. If you were around then, seeing it on TV on top of having just seen the popular suspense movie The China Syndrome, released two weeks before that day, you may well have panicked. Certainly, you imagined, Pennsylvania would become America’s self-inflicted Hiroshima; at the very least, the death toll would be huge on the scene and grow horrific as cancer overtook survivors.

There was no internet – the most capable home computer was the Apple ][ - CNN was in its infancy, and you had a callous on your index finger from dialing and redialing your relative in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and not getting through. So television was the way to learn about TMI. The three networks ran with it all day and night, interrupting soap operas and sitcoms alike.

The style of coverage, the look of the photography, with reporters jittery about radiation exposure, their voices cracking against the background of those awful, staring towers - the stark photographs in the newspapers that afternoon, like the one above – the culture almost seemed to demand an American nuclear holocaust. And didn’t get it, because it wasn’t there to be had. It never was.

But word was out and everyone knew it: our friend the atom had it in for us.

---

The New York Post had the headline: “Nuke Cloud Spreading.” Another headline: “Hydrogen Explosion Threat Looms.” See here for a montage of voices and images from that time, although the image is degraded black-and-white.

What the TMI and NRC people said on that day, as heard on the video, so level and calm and reassuring, surely they were lying, like the liars in The China Syndrome, to save their own skins.

But what they said was true – then – in 1979.

---

There were no deaths and no cancer risk, and no “nuke cloud” floated out over New Jersey. Pennsylvania still turns out funnel cakes and cheese steak.

And Three Mile Island still makes electricity.

You can read about TMI and its impact here.

---

Yesterday:

The coffee mug handed out Wednesday to reporters from as far away as Germany read "Three Mile Island: Clean, Safe, Reliable."

That's the message organizers wanted to give for media day at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. The event came two weeks shy of the 30th anniversary of America's worst nuclear accident.

Because, of course, the accident happened at Unit 2. Unit 1, meanwhile, stayed open and has produced electricity since then – and will continue to, as an extension will likely be granted, for at least the next 20 years.

Since late 2007, 17 companies have proposed building 26 plants, including one in Luzerne County, according to Tom Kauffman, media relations manager for the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Concerns about global warming and energy demands have driven the renewed interest in nuclear power, Kauffman said.

And here’s an odd paragraph:

Kauffman said he is confident that four to eight new plants will be operating by 2018, and more will follow, even though President Barack Obama is not as ardent a supporter of new nuclear power plants as is Sen. John McCain, Obama's Republican opponent in the presidential race.

Well, no, Obama was not as ardent as McCain – feels as though our writer covered the campaign and can’t quite shake it out of her system.

---

So, TMI made cups to give out and had presentations, NEI was there, some reporters came over. Anyone we missed?

Eric Epstein, chair of Three Mile Island Alert (TMIA), a group that advocates for alternatives to nuclear power before the state Public Utility Commission and other governmental bodies, said this technology’s proponents understate its costs.

Actually, Mr. Epstein was at a panel discussion on the 30th anniversary in Harrisburg. He had all his arguments down pat, as we’d expect, although some of them had a faint glint of the disco ball about them.

He said any supposition that nuclear-energy production will wean America off of foreign oil is particularly a “canard” because oil mainly fuels transport while nuclear energy powers grounded facilities.

“Nobody puts uranium in his car,” he said.

We’d be surprise if anyone argued for this outside of Doc Brown. What they might argue for, instead, are electric cars, which would benefit from a lot more electricity being generated. That’s where nuclear energy might come in – here- in the 21st century.

---

Since the 30th anniversary is still two weeks out, we’ll keep an eye open for other keystone doings and let you know about them here.

From a Washington Post retrospective, Three Mile Island: 20 Years Later, done, logically enough, in 1999. See here for more striking photos of that day now 30 years ago.

The Dance of the Blue Ribbons

EpicColorChamp8x11Over the past few days, the Obama administration experienced significant pushback on its decision to scale back the Yucca Mountain project – more, we admit, than we really expected. (Just scroll down to earlier posts – we’ve watched this happen with considerable pleasure.)

Polls, and not just those from NEI, show growing support for nuclear energy – we think NEI can claim some credit for public opinion coming around - and good polls makes supporting nuclear energy easier for even Democratic Congressfolks to do. Consequently, the administration has had to try to provide a fuller explanation, especially to the Senate, of their plans for moving forward. These have been positive developments – so far, so good.

But Congress and the administration still shows reluctance, perhaps it is a hangover from the No Nukes 1980s. Exciting times, those. Thus, rather than act precipitously, we get The Dance of the Blue Ribbons:

Sen. Harry Reid said today he is working to form a study group to come up with alternatives to burying nuclear waste at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada.

"I am going to have a blue ribbon panel to take a look at that," the Nevada Democrat said in a meeting with reporters. He did not give details other than he expected the group would be given a year to report its findings.

Reid often gets cast as the villain in the Yucca Mountain issue – it’s in his state and an article of Nevada political faith is that Yucca Mountain must be opposed – but Reid is actually pro-nuclear. We don’t think he’s anything but sincere here.

And the administration? Stand back, here it comes:

[DOE Secretary Steven] Chu said he was convening a "blue-ribbon panel" of experts to "develop a long-term strategy that must include the waste disposal plan," after Obama's budget ruled out a proposed national repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

"I don't want to suggest what this blue-ribbon panel might determine but let me stress this will be done this year," he told a Senate budget committee hearing on the energy proposals in Obama's 3.55-trillion-dollar budget.

Well, all right, that’s nine months for DOE and a year for the Senate. While we couldn’t blame you for a little cynicism here – kick-the-can is, after all, a rather old-fashioned game – for a Democratic government, this is a tectonic shift in thinking. If they need some time to do that thinking, fine. We’re pretty sure how this will come out – especially with the climate change conference in Copenhagen happening in the midst of it - so fine.

It’s an alpaca. He lives at Colorado’s Bella Vita Ranch, where they seem to have a lot of blue ribbon winners. Take a gander, if you’d like an alpaca for the kids.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chu: Nuclear Must Be Part of Energy Mix

Not our headline – that of the AP story that covers Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s testimony before the Senate Budget Committee. A lot of the Senators there had no intention of letting nuclear energy slip away as a priority and Chu reassured them that it won’t.

Some money quotes:

"I believe in nuclear power as a central part of our energy mix. It provides clean, busload [sic: baseload] electricity"

“Closing the fuel cycle is something we want to do.”

Chu said he is ready to act on loan guarantees for the first group of new reactors and plans on "moving very aggressively to getting the money out the door."

"Nuclear is going to be part of our energy future. It has to be."

Read the whole story for the senatorial jitters – all good, in our view – and Chu’s remarkably reassuring performance. We’ve noticed that the Obama administration has displayed a tendency to roll back over an issue it’s passed by once – see the squabble over earmarks in the omnibus spending bill, for one – so, although Chu has never been particularly harsh in his rhetoric about nuclear energy, we now have to see if these soothing words are followed by effective actions.

Consider these tangles between Congress and the administration preludes to an energy policy. That’s where the tale will really be told.

From the Land of Clean Coal

Siemens und E.ON bauen eine Pilotanlage zur Abscheidung von Kohlendioxid (CO2). In der Anlage am Kohlekraftwerk Staudinger bei Hanau sollen rund 90 Prozent des CO2 aus einem Teilstrom der Kraftwerksabgase herausgewaschen werden. Die Anlage wird im Sommer 2009 in Betrieb gehen. Mit dem speziellen CO2-Waschprozess von Siemens verbraucht die Abscheidung des Treibhausgases vergleichsweise wenig Energie und belastet die Umwelt nicht. Die Technik wurde bereits im Labor erprobt und eignet sich auch für die Nachrüstung konventioneller Kraftwerke. Das Bild zeigt eine Grafik der Pilotanlage. We’re not quite as dubious about clean coal, or carbon capture and sequestration, as are many nuclear advocates, because while we acknowledge the significant technical challenges, we can’t escape believing that the coal industry is powerfully motivated to find a solution that will not drive it into a, shall we say, pit.

But we are not clear of dubiousness: because we also believe that time is a cruel mistress.

The EPA’s intention to lay the ground work for regulating carbon dioxide makes the clock tick a little faster for the coal industry. So does a looming cap-and-trade regime. So does the upcoming climate change conference in Copenhagen, likely to produce emission reduction guidelines more stringent than Kyoto. So, though we enjoy the ThisIsReality.org ads as well as anyone – they’re funny – we find ourselves in sympathy with the energy source that so often gets lumped together in policy discussion – fairly or unfairly, your choice - with nuclear energy.

So we were heartened – somewhat – by this story out of Germany:

A new process for scrubbing carbon dioxide (CO2) from power-plant exhaust gases could make carbon capture a more affordable option for the energy industry. The process, which is to be tested in Germany this summer, promises to remove up to 90 percent of CO2 from flue gases while using far less energy than other methods.

When people use big numbers like 90 percent – we heard a politician recently mention that 93 percent of mortgages are in good shape as an argument to let the rest fail – we use the voice recognition test. If you speak, say, this post into your computer and your voice recognition software gets 90 percent of the words correct, that’s still a heck of a lot of mispelled words. You might just want to learn to type faster.

So why not more than 90%?

In theory, 99.9 percent of the CO2 emitted from a power plant could be removed using the process, but Jockenhoevel says that 90 percent is the economic optimum in terms of infrastructure costs and how much energy is required: "The last 10 percent costs too much."

Well, okay. And this is just step one. How goes step two?

Jim Watson, director of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex, in Brighton, U.K., cautions that the cost of carbon capture has to be balanced against the relatively low cost of buying carbon credits. He adds that developing the technology is expensive, and storing sequestered carbon reliably is an as yet unsolved problem.

And

… Even if this summer's tests go according to plan, it will be years before the technology is deployed, partly because of the difficulty of storing CO2, and partly because of the price of carbon on the carbon-exchange markets.

Then, we read this:

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said today at a Senate Budget Committee hearing that finding ways to reduce emissions from the fuel is important “because India and China won’t turn their back on coal, and the U.S. won’t.”

“It’s a necessity given that the world has incredible coal reserves,” Chu said.

Which is were This Is Reality comes in.

We’re in favor of using all the technology big brains available to overcome these issues. And we won’t mention, this time, the politics of coal or the industrial imperative of coal. Because none of that matters right now. Because this is where we are. What choice do we have but to be sympathetic and to hope?

A coal plant with carbon capture facilities. We wish the Germans all the luck in the world. And how about knocking down that ban on new nuclear plants over there? Even the Greens must be tasting ashes on their tongues right about now.

William Tucker on "How Nuclear Will Revive"

Here's some grand foresight from the author of Terrestrial Energy:

... Sometime in the next 18 months, Obama will finally bring his carbon emissions program to Congress. At that point, the Democratic Party will split in two. Senators and representatives from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois, which get huge portions of their electricity from coal, will never consent to hiking their electrical bills in the midst of a near-Depression.

Obama and Democratic liberals will be at wit's end. After twenty years of yammering about global warming, they will find themselves unable to do anything about it. Will they skulk off in defeat, blaming the Bush Administration? Perhaps. But I think there's a more likely scenario.

Someone in the administration -- probably Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who knows in his heart that wind and solar can't cut it -- will suggest that that a carbon tax be coupled with the revival of nuclear power. Suddenly, the dam will break. NRC regulatory mazes that are still trying to protect us from Three Mile Island will be swept aside. Construction schedules will be accelerated. (The TVA just built a new reactor at Watts Bar in three years and under budget, using a license granted in the 1970s.) Tens of thousands of construction jobs will be created overnight. The French and Japanese will provide the financing. We may even revive the steel industry in the process.

Then, after decades of backing and filling, the nation will at last be back on the road to creating a stable and economical energy infrastructure. It'll be the best thing that's happened to American industry in twenty-five years.
I think he'll be right. Many European and Asian countries have already gone through this energy debate exercise and concluded that they need to build many more nuclear plants. It's only time until the U.S. comes to the same conclusion...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Secretary Chu Discusses Nuclear Energy on Charlie Rose

Energy Secretary Chu on nuclear energyA tip of the hat to an anonymous NNN reader for passing along Energy Secretary Chu's appearance on the Charlie Rose Show last night. (See what you miss when you go to bed early?) The nuclear-related nugget appears at the 18:10-19:34 mark of the interview. (I do recommend watching the video, as the rush transcript below doesn't fully capture Rose's inimitable interrupting interview technique.)

Rose: Nuclear. Where are you on nuclear?
Chu: I think that nuclear energy should be a part of our energy portfolio in the United States this century. It’s carbon-free. It, we...
Rose: This century? It is now 2009.
Chu: Well, that's right. It's the beginning of this century. So, the reason I say that it is because it's going to take time to develop the transmission, and to develop the renewable energies, resources that it gets to be 50, 80% of our electrical power generation. And so...
Rose: In France, it's what, 80%?
Chu: France is a little bit less than 80% nuclear at the moment. Right...
Rose: But all fears you might have had about danger and safety and all of that have been...?
Chu: Well, no. I mean there are certain issues that I think...
Rose: Chernobyl and all that.
Chu: Well, the Chernobyl, the dangers are much less. The newer generation of reactors that are now being checked out by the NRC for licensing are believed to be much safer than the older ones and certainly...
Rose: And how long would it take you, if you made it a commitment to a nuclear facility plant today, how long before you could have it on the stream?
Chu: That's a good question. It depends on the licensing procedure. And so, the NRC is going through the licensing of these new designed plants by GE and Westinghouse, as an example.

No Need for Cassandra

Cassandra After all the to-do about Yucca Mountain, you may be feeling a little – wrung-out. Our Panglossian side says that a proposal isn’t a budget and a budget passes through many hands, some of which may have something to say about this change – some already have, of course – but then – you know – our Cassandrian side this is the kind of thing that usually passes through Congress unscathed as the will of the administration.

So we’ll see. Let’s try for something a little less mixed, in this instance from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Applications to build at least 31 nuclear reactors are before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with more filings expected soon. Many of the projects are in the Southeast, with the first expected to go on line as early as 2015. Nuclear advocates hope eventually to build additional reactors in California.

"I'm aware of 33 or 34 projects in the hopper. I think the prospects are reasonably good. There's demand," said Bill Halsey, a leading expert on nuclear energy at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where scientists have worked on solutions for permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste.

Ah, that’s better. How about this?

"Many people are gritting their teeth and beginning to look at nuclear energy because the problems appear to be more manageable," said Per Peterson, a professor of nuclear engineering at UC Berkeley. "Nuclear energy is the only source that we've found that can directly displace coal for reliable, full-time electrical generation. ... It's the best of a set of not-so-good options."

Much, much better. We’ll even grit our teeth if it makes Professor Peterson happy. Jim Doyle has more of the same and he offers some of the usual suspects for balance – Sierra Club, you know, an old reliable for he said/she said reporting on nuclear – but the story gets to the heart of the issues fairly. Take a look and get your Pangloss back on.

The lady Cassandra herself, in a painting by Evelyn De Morgan, doing the pre-Raphaelite thing.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Rocking the Outrage in Charleston

pc_logo We highlighted the Washington Post’s response to the Yucca Mountain situation because the paper carries some weight and helps set the agenda for the news media. But other editorials can drop the responsible judicious pose and just let ‘er rip:

President Obama's decision to abandon the national nuclear waste disposal site at Yucca Mountain, Nev., is a breathtakingly irresponsible dismissal of a vital project on which billions already have been spent. It extends a security risk at dozens of temporary waste disposal sites around the nation and threatens to cripple the future nuclear development needed to advance national energy independence.

So there! We don’t really agree that maintaining the fuel at sites is a massive security threat – it’s an issue plants wrestled to the ground a long time ago, with a lot of extra attention paid to it after 9/11/01. And the developing attitude seems to be that leaving nuclear out of the energy mix is a non-starter.

But heck, they do know how to rock the outrage down in South Carolina:

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., describes the administration's decision as a repudiation of candidate Obama's stated environmental and energy goals, and as a nod to the far left. "It is disingenuous to say you are going to do something about solving the climate change problem and energy independence without nuclear energy," the senator told us Friday.

We’ve watched enough Fox News to know that “far left” merely means “not conservative,” but we agree with Sen. Graham otherwise. We also would note that there are plenty on the far left, er, left who agree with him – Sen. Graham would be well-advised to tip-toe over to that side of the aisle and see who’s who.

Great editorial, though – fiery and injudicious, not always facing facts squarely, but leaving lots of room for quarrelling.

The Washington Post on Yucca Mountain

washington_post_logo The editorial board takes a look at the Obama administration’s decision to reduce funding for Yucca Mountain:

If the president's vision for a clean energy future is to be believed or is to come to fruition, nuclear energy must be a part of the mix, and the safe disposal of its radioactive waste must be given more serious consideration.

They see the politics:

The president keeps a campaign promise to shut the site down. By doing so, he pleases Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). And he potentially secures the swing state's place in the blue column; the Silver State hadn't voted for the Democratic presidential nominee since 1996 until it went to Mr. Obama in 2008.

And they acknowledge how President Obama might proceed:

He also called for redirecting resources to improve the safety and security at plants around the country until a long-term solution is found. Those alternatives, however unlikely the first one is, are more than he offered when he cut off Yucca Mountain's funding.

Which is true, although likely how he’ll proceed. Obama has shown himself to be a remarkably consistent thinker.

The Post does not acknowledge that the Yucca Mountain license is still in progress – there’s enough funding to allow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to proceed with its review – and thus the repository is not precisely dead. But their response is judicious – and, we should note, influential. It will be interesting to see how much Yucca Mountain percolates through the next few news cycles. If the decision comes to seem a triumph of politics over science – a big no-no for the administration – then some further explanation may be forthcoming.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Retired Nuclear Physicist Busts Out Amory Lovins

(Hat tip to Charles Barton.) Alexander DeVolpi, a retired nuclear physicist from the Argonne National Lab in Illinois, pretty much tore up Amory Lovins's credibility, his false nuclear claims and his outrageously inaccurate predictions from 30 years ago. Here are a few nuggets:

During a Friday, 13 February 2009, “Director’s Colloquium” at my former place of employment, Amory Lovins presented a panoramic evaluation of production and consumption for alternative transportation options, followed by a flawed analysis of energy-sector options. Most egregious, though, was his penultimate attack on the energy-viability and proliferation-security of civilian nuclear power.

...

In prefacing my Friday question to Lovins, I suggested that we should see if that which he proposed 30 years ago would have passed the “smell” test – you know, did it smell bad then, or does it smell bad now? (Experienced engineers have a feeling or sense for things like that.)

[Smell test (idiom). A metaphoric test used to determine the legitimacy or authenticity of a situation. This fragrant phrase comes from the idea of smelling food in advance as a test to see if it has gone bad.]

...

[Ripeness: The state or quality of being mature, fully developed, ready enough, actualized]

...

Lovins displayed complex view graphs that, he purports, show that nuclear is the costliest of “low-or-no-carbon resources.” Yet, in the last 30 years, nuclear has displaced half the fossil-fuel combustion in Illinois while still being competitive. Inasmuch as nuclear-power plants emit no byproduct carbon-dioxide to the atmosphere, surely his claim that it is the costliest of low-carbon-emission sources fails the smell test.

...

Lovins claims that nuclear plants depend on continuing high subsidies. Not so. With hundreds of reactors now producing power, it would not be financially feasible for subsidies to sustain the nuclearized economy. It would be a Ponzi scheme that would have fallen apart by now. That claim also fails the critical smell and ripeness tests.

...

Here are some more observations about the content of the Ambio preprint (which I will advise of my critique for their “further peer review.” As I’ve emphasized repeatedly in this Knol, I find almost no indication of what I would call statistical humility, that is, quantitative assertions being accompanied by estimates of random or systematic error. This is an egregious flaw that is offensive to the scientific credibility. For example, he asserts that “all sources of electricity are unreliable.” Without statistical qualification, that’s utter nonsense. It’s clear that what Lovins is trying to do is to undermine the reliability of nuclear power on the grid, and that can only be done by being categorically vague.

...

In short, Lovins’ latest publication, “The Nuclear Illusion,” lacking the fundamentals of a scientific discourse, would be better titled, “The Nuclear Illusionist.”

...

As a career physicist, I frequently shun technical data presented without expressions of incertitude: they just don’t pass the smell test. As far as I can see in Lovins’ publications, the chronic absence of error bars, estimates of deviation, or statements of uncertainty should immediately discount or nullify the value of his publication.

...

Even though we’re conditioned to expect death and taxes as a certainty, the reality is we don’t know when the end will come and how much the taxes will be. That’s called uncertainty, and when you come across something that seems too certain, it is. Uncertainty, or incertitude, or statistical confidence, or error range – they’re all manifestations of complexity and reality. If you come across someone who is so sure of something, leaving no room for error, beware: That’s a sign of a charlatan or a scam. If you find someone touting something without acknowledging a range of natural imprecision or human error, stand clear.
Well said! For those who missed it, here's NEI's slam dunk of Lovins's "study" from last year.

John McCain and Steven Chu on Yucca Mountain

McCain-testimony Here is a transcript of the testimony from yesterday’s hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. The intent of the hearing was to discuss energy R&D, and mostly concerned that issue, but with DOE Secretary Steven Chu present, several of the Senators let their displeasure known about the scaling back of Yucca Mountain. This is the exchange between John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chu.

We pick up after Sen. McCain established that solar energy will not exceed providing 15% or so of electricity production by 2015.

Chu-testimonyMcCain: That means that clean coal and nuclear power are far more important than maybe some people appreciate today.

Chu: I agree with that in the short term.

McCain: Is it true that a Department of Energy spokeswoman told Bloomburg  [News] that President Obama and you, quote, have been emphatic that nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain is not an option, period.

Chu: That’s true.

McCain: That’s a true statement. So now we’re going to have spent nuclear fuel sitting around in pools all over America - also tell the nuclear power industry that we have no way of either reprocessing or storing spent nuclear fuel around America and we expect nuclear power to be an integral part of this nation’s energy future. What’s wrong with Yucca Mountain, Dr. Chu?

Chu: We have learned a lot more in the last 20-25 years since Yucca Mountain -

McCain: I know that. What is wrong with Yucca Mountain, Dr. Chu?

Chu: I think we can do a better job and - .

McCain: Where?

Chu: Going to your original question about what to do with the spent fuel, the nuclear regulatory agency has said that we can solidify the waste at the current sites and store it without risk to the environment. And so while we do that -

McCain: Has any nuclear power plants made plans to begin solidification of the nuclear waste?

Chu: Yes. There are solidification plans going on today.

McCain: There are plans going on? Are there any plans for reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel?

Chu: I support reprocessing research. I think it’s an important part of the nuclear -

McCain: Why would we need research when we know that the Europeans and the Japanese are already doing it in a safe and efficient fashion?

Chu: I believe the Europeans and the Japanese are doing it but they’re doing it that lends to a risk of nuclear proliferation. The Japanese have already said -

McCain: And you balance that risk of proliferation versus spent nuclear fuel sitting around in pools in nuclear power plants all over the country and telling industry that we may do some research on reprocessing.

Chu: Let’s separate the issues -

McCain: I don’t think they’re separable. I think they’re inextricably tied because it’s clear that industry today is not interested in construction of nuclear power plants because we have no place to store it and we have refused to adopt what is already a proven technology of reprocessing.

Chu: The interim storage of waste – the solidification of waste – is something we can do today. The NRC has said that it can be done safely. That buys us time to formulate a comprehensive plan in how we deal with the nuclear waste. The recycling which I think in the long term is very beneficial  - it has the potential for greatly reducing the amount of waste - is something that we have to press on. But the time scale of the recycling development is different - we have a couple of decades quite frankly in my opinion to figure that one out.

McCain: I couldn’t disagree more strongly, Doctor. But I certainly have the greatest respect and admiration for your work and your knowledge and background. Nuclear energy has got to be an integral and vital part of America’s energy future if we’re going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And to say after 20 years and $9 billion spent on Yucca Mountain that there’s not an option, period, to me is a remarkable statement.

No comment. Sen. McCain did not move on to ask about clean coal, as his initial comment above might indicate; he did express disappointment with the cap-and-trade program as proposed by the Obama administration.

You can listen to the whole hearing here. Move the slider over to about the 55 minute mark to pick up the McCain-Chu exchange.

Senator John McCain and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.