Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Who What Where Why of Yucca Mountain

james_inhofe A group of 17 Senators are puzzled:

Over $7.7 billion has been spent researching Yucca Mountain as a potential repository site and neither the NAS, the NWTRB, nor any of our National Labs involved in conducting studies and evaluating data have concluded that there is any evidence to disqualify Yucca Mountain as a repository.

That’s certainly true. This comes from a letter written by the Senators (all Republican) to Energy Secretary Steven Chu. And they’re doing what a opposing minority should be doing – making the administration explain itself.

As recently as August 2008, all ten National Lab directors, including you, signed a letter on the essential role of nuclear energy which advocated continuing the licensing of a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain.

Again, true, though the “letter” was really more of a white paper.

So, what would they like to have happen?

Given this history, President Obama's memoranda that science will guide public policy and his commitment to an unprecedented level of openness, we find it difficult to reconcile your statement that Yucca Mountain is "not an option" made after only 6 weeks in office.

Please respond to the questions and provide the information requested in the attachment by June 1, 2009. We are eager to gain a better understanding of the basis for your decision and the process that was followed to arrive at that conclusion. Thank you in advance for your timely response on this matter.

You can read the questions in the letter. Rest assured, they’re responsive to the the Senators’ annoyance and, we should note, rather put Chu on the spot. We think this group is on the right track – it includes John McCain (Ariz.), James Inhofe (Okla.) and Richard Shelby (Ala.) - and the DOE’s puzzling decision may well get a fuller hearing. Let’s keep an eye on this one.

Senator Inhofe has questions. We await the answers eagerly.

Arlen Specter on Nuclear Energy

Arlen Specter Why not? He’s much in the news and now that he’s with the majority party, we’d like to know where he tips the balance. As it turns out:

I think there is no doubt that we need to develop nuclear energy in America because of the great problems associated with the dependence on foreign oil. The issues about safety, I think, are in pretty good shape as long as people stay awake.

Also, in the context on the issues of global warming which we’re talking about, legislation has been proposed to this committee. Senator Lieberman, Senator Warner, Senator Bingaman and I have proposed legislation. Nuclear has a lot to offer because it is clean, so that it would ease up on our problems with global warming as well.

He also voted for a used nuclear fuel repository in 1997.

Now, we should also note that on his page on energy, he does not mention nuclear energy once – Pennsylvania is coal country, so a lot of his attention goes there. There’s also this:

I was proud to support the Senate version of H.R. 6 which promotes biofuels, energy efficiency, vehicle fuel economy and carbon storage. The bill expands upon the ethanol requirements enacted in 2005 and also sets requirements for the use of 3 billion gallons of advanced biofuel (fuel derived from renewable biomass other than corn starch) by 2016, increasing to 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuel by 2022.

Specter seems to favor the broadest energy portfolio possible – we looked around to see if he had slighted any somewhere, but found nothing. All in all, a net gain for nuclear energy in the Democratic Caucus.

Himself. Specter was a Democrat until he ran for Philadelphia District Attorney in 1965 (he ran as a Republican while still registered Democratic, then changed his affiliation) and remained a Republican when he ran for the Senate in 1976 before winning in 1980. Specter now looks to inhabit the conservative edge of the Democratic party just as he served for 30 years at the liberal edge of the Republican party. That’s a pretty good working definition of a moderate in American politics.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Unbending Squirrel

cecile_lecomte Activism should be fun, pro- or anti-whatever, since the rewards of activism are often frustration, lost friends, and learning what it is to be called fanatic. So a bow to the unbending squirrel:

A French anti-nuclear activist nicknamed the "unbending squirrel" managed to stop a train carrying uranium from a German processing plant in spectacular fashion, police said on Tuesday.

Cecile Lecomte, 27, rappelled down a motorway bridge near the western city of Münster late on Monday night to hang suspended over a rail line, forcing the 25-car train carrying the enriched nuclear fuel to stop.

That’s probably all kinds of illegal, but as long Ms. Lecomte didn’t hurt anyone – the story doesn’t indicate it - cooling her heels for a few days in a Munster pokey will do no harm. The story doesn’t indicate if she associates with a group, but this story does:

26-year-old French climbing and Robin Wood activist, Cécile Lecomte … [was] arrested in Lueneburg on Thursday where she had balanced from a railway overpass together with other Robin Wood activists.

This happened in November of last year. Note that this is translated from the German – we’re dubious about some of the things said in the translation (based on our very rusty German), so if you go over there, apply caution or read the original German.

And what about Robin Wood?

For over a month [early last year], activists from Robin Wood had been living in a 200-year-old tree to protest a controversial bridge under construction in Dresden. The project might destroy a UNESCO-protected site, but the tree protest ended on Tuesday. The tree has now been cut down.

Here’s Robin Wood’s site. Once again deploying our unreliable German, the name is indeed a pun (as only the Germans can do it) on Robin Hood. Living in a tree seems more their style than stopping trains, but they do like rappelling around.

As long as they do stuff like this – and take care not to put anyone, including themselves, into harm’s way – have at it. The train got where it was going, the tree came down, some consciousness’ got raised, a fair few considered them fools. It’s the old activist game.

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Germany of course has been struggling with its nuclear ban. By 2020, the country will turn off its nuclear plants and lose 25% of its generating capacity. And without viable carbon emission free replacement energy at the ready, this represents a bit of a problem.

But current Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives say that going back to nuclear, as fellow EU member Italy is doing, would reduce Germany's dependency on oil and gas imports from Russia and the Middle East.

We suspect they really can’t do that.

The Greens are part of an unusual left-right coalition right now, so no nuclear, but let’s see what comes out of Copenhagen. Unser Freund Deutsch might be feeling a bit like hanging off a bridge itself.

A politzei de-dangling the unbending squirrel.

Toshiba Nuclear to the Tarheel State

Toshiba NuclearThe office of North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue (D) announced today that Toshiba Nuclear will open a project management and engineering center in Charlotte; adding 194 jobs to Mecklenburg County. The jobs will pay average salaries of $122,037 a year.

Per The Raleigh News & Observer,

Toshiba America Nuclear Energy was established by Japan's Toshiba Corp. last year to capture some of the increasing interest in new nuclear power plants in this country. Utilities, including Progress Energy and Duke Energy, are proposing to build more than 30 plants to meet growing demand for electricity.

The company is the primary contractor for the construction of two nuclear reactors planned in Texas. The company initially considered sites there and in Northern Virginia, where it is based, for the new operation before cutting the list to Charlotte and Atlanta.

"Charlotte is becoming the place to be in the U.S. for nuclear engineers," Fuyuki Saito, chief executive of Toshiba America Nuclear Energy said in a statement. "The quality of the work force, quality of life and strong support we have received from state and local officials make Charlotte a perfect fit for out new center."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hail to the Victors!

Congratulations to the wolverines from the University of Michigan Nuclear Engineering Department for outworking the MIT beavers; being named top graduate school program by U.S. News and World Report.

Your 2009 top-10 Best Nuclear Engineering Schools:

1.University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
3. Texas A&M - College Station
3. University of Wisconsin - Madison
5. North Carolina State University
5. University of California - Berkeley
7. Pennsylvania State University - University Park
8. Georgia Institute of Technology
9. University of Florida
10. Oregon State University


Moving Forward in Limbo

060124_nuke_vmed_7a.widec If a cap and a price are imposed on carbon dioxide emissions, [nuclear] plants could be among the biggest economic winners in the vast economic shifts that would be created by greenhouse gas regulations.

That’s from the New York Times, borrowing a story from Climate Wire, which while noting the nuclear plants achieve the goal of carbon emission reduction rather well, runs though the tough sledding it faces.

For example, President Obama is overly ambiguous in his support:

"The president needs to show his cards on nuclear energy," said energy consultant Joseph Stanislaw, a Duke University professor. "He cannot keep this industry, which must make investments with a 50-year or longer horizon, in limbo for much longer."

We’re not absolutely sure this is the right way to put it – Congress weighs in, too, and we’ve seen an EPA report that basically shows that carbon emission reduction goals are unattainable without nuclear energy. The nibbling around the edges is happening from both ends.

There are also issues with plant costs, loan guarantees, used fuel storage, and proliferation concerns. We’ve talked about these issues enough that you can bat them away if cornered at a party, but issues they remain. Occasionally, the article stumbles a bit in order to keep things comprehensible:

A Lazard Ltd. study last year reported low and high price ranges for major electric power options. The high price for nuclear power came in at 12.6 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 13.5 cents for coal with carbon dioxide capture. The high price for wind energy was 15 cents, but that was reduced to 9 cents when the federal tax subsidy for renewable energy was factored in. A continuation of federal loan guarantees could bring nuclear power down to about 8 cents, the study said.

You’ll probably spot right away the problems here: 1. Carbon capture isn’t mature enough to really assign it a cost and some elements – the sequestration – hasn’t proved itself at all. 2. Wind is not a viable baseload energy source. (See David’s post below for more on this; no slight on wind energy, it’s just a question of how it can be used.) Nuclear energy’s combination of elements (so to speak) is what makes it attractive. (And really, the article does find ways to make this clear.)

A shift in the policy debate to climate change mitigation has helped the industry make its case. The availability of nuclear power reduces U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 680 million tons a year, says Paul Genoa, policy director for the Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the industry. "It's a big number -- roughly equivalent to all the CO2 emissions from our passenger [vehicle] fleet," Genoa says.

Oh, and there’s that, too. There’s nothing in the article you haven’t seen before, but it does lay out all the elements in such a clear way it’s well worth reading the whole thing.

North Carolina’s Shearon Harris plant. We certainly understand the desire to show that nature lives contentedly nearby plants – many plant workers take an intense interest in the surrounding flora and fauna -  but this utterly dominant cooling tower doesn’t really get the message across as well as it might.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

FERC's Chairman Jon Wellinghoff on Baseload Capacity and Distributed/Centralized Generation

Jon Wellinghoff, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, made some interesting comments yesterday at a U.S. Energy Association forum. According to the NY Times, Wellinghoff believes that "no new nuclear or coal plants may ever be needed in the United States" and that "renewables like wind, solar and biomass will provide enough energy to meet baseload capacity and future energy demands." If only it were that simple...

Of the many things I disagreed with from Mr. Wellinghoff's statements, the comments on baseload capacity and the poor analogy of distributed generation are what stuck out most to me. From Wellinghoff:

"I think baseload capacity is going to become an anachronism," he said. "Baseload capacity really used to only mean in an economic dispatch, which you dispatch first, what would be the cheapest thing to do. Well, ultimately wind's going to be the cheapest thing to do, so you'll dispatch that first."
That is not the complete definition of baseload. Baseload capacity also means reliable, constant power to meet the minimum load requirements. Wind, which is supposedly "going to be the cheapest thing to do," does not produce reliable, constant power. Here's what a recent NERC report titled "Accommodating High Levels of Variable Generation" had to say (p. iii):
As the level of variable generation increases within a Balancing Area, the resulting variability may not be manageable with the existing conventional generation resources within an individual Balancing Area alone. [In other words, when you throw enough variable resources into an area that already provides reliable power, the area may become unmanageable.] Base load generation may need to be frequently cycled in response to these conditions, posing reliability concerns as well as economic consequences. [Nevertheless...] if there is sufficient transmission, this situation can be managed by using flexible resources from a larger generation base, such as through participation in wider-area balancing arrangements or consolidation of Balancing Authorities.
How much transmission would be needed? Here's page 35 of the NERC report:
15,000 miles of new transmission lines at a cost of $80 billion will be needed to meet a 20% wind energy scenario in the Eastern Interconnection.
15,000 miles? That's almost twice the diameter of the Earth. The 20% wind scenario mentioned in the NERC report comes from this group which estimates that "229,000 MW of new wind capacity will be built by the year 2024, with 36,000 MW of new base load steam generation [just in the Eastern Interconnection]." Interesting how the study says that additional baseload generation is needed for new wind capacity to work, contrary to the FERC Chairman's statement. Here’s also what Sovietologist found in an EIA report that studied a 20% wind energy scenario:
Wind power cannot replace the need for many “capacity resources,” which are generators and dispatchable load that are available to be used when needed to meet peak load. If wind has some capacity value for reliability planning purposes, that should be viewed as a bonus, but not a necessity...
Pretty much sums it up to me. Here's the other comment from Mr. Wellinghoff that I disagreed with most:
"People talk about, 'Oh, we need baseload.' It's like people saying we need more computing power, we need mainframes. We don't need mainframes, we have distributed computing."
As Rod Adams already noted, we have "centralized servers, routing hubs, [and] switches" in order to have "distributed" personal computers. The electric grid needs a lot of hardware to move electrons as well, and unless we can make electricity travel through the air, the electric grid will always be this way. And is Mr. Wellinghoff saying that renewables are distributed?

My understanding is that distributed generation means "on-site generation" which "reduces the amount of energy lost in transmitting electricity because the electricity is generated very near where it is used." Well, according to FERC's sister organization NERC (pdf, p.ii),
fuel availability for variable resources often does not positively correlate with electricity demand, either in terms of time of use/availability or geographic location... Only seven percent of the U.S. population inhabits the top ten states for wind potential.
That doesn't sound like distributed generation to me. In fact, it sounds like variable renewables will be more "centralized" than baseload coal or nuclear plants because the baseload plants can be built close to the cities/demand.

I highly recommend anyone and everyone to check out the latest NERC report (pdf) I mentioned above if they want to know how to accommodate more wind and solar renewables. The report finds that it's not as easy and cheap as the Chairman would like to believe and the report asks more questions than gives answers.

One more thing, if one of the US' and world's goals is to reduce emissions while maintaining our style of living, nuclear energy will have to be included in the mix. Independent analyses show that any credible initiative to reduce carbon emissions will require additional nuclear generating capacity. This fact is universally recognized by policy organizations at both ends of the political spectrum, national scientific organizations, independent consulting firms and government agencies around the world. Examples include the International Energy Agency, Cambridge Energy Research Associates, EIA's Analyses of the Lieberman-Warner legislation, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, McKinsey & Company and the Electric Power Research Institute.

Please be sure to check out these blogger's thoughts on Jon Wellinghoff's comments as well: Sovietologist at Blogging About the Unthinkable, Rod Adams at Atomic Insights, Natalie Wood at Clean Energy America, Carter Wood at NAM, Keith Johnson at WSJ and Brad Peck at ChamberPost. Also, Susan McGinnis on her show, The Energy Report at CleanSkiesTV, asked some challenging questions to the Chairman yesterday that is definitely worth viewing.

Update: Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat weighed in as well.

Mr. Fertel Goes to Washington [Times]

Wednesday morning, NEI's president and CEO Marv Fertel sat down for a Newsmaker interview with Amanda DeBard, a reporter from The Washington Times. Her article, Nuclear chief says Obama shuns science, is now available online here. (Shameless self-promotion alert: followers of NEI's Twitter feed were already aware of this.)

Fans of YouTube/Those who dislike the written word, can view clips of the Q&A below.

On the science behind Yucca Mountain:



On spent fuel storage:




Another Try at Nuclear Energy and Electric Cars

tama-electric-car-1947 Below we have a quote from the BBC about nuclear energy and electric/hybrid cars. It almost makes the point we wanted, but not quite, and it’s a little silly about where wind and solar fit into the equation. We poked around to see if someone has addressed this topic and stayed a little more on-point and found this from Halbert Fischel in the Weekly Standard:

At the risk of some cross-border envy, Canada's Bruce Power Co. operates an eight-reactor plant on the shores of Lake Huron that produces 6.4 gigawatts. By upgrading our own 100-plus plants to that level, we could produce enough cheap electricity to competitively replace gasoline and charge the batteries of every potentially electrified car and light truck in the United States. An additional 40 such plants would be sufficient to power all our buses, heavy trucks, and trains.

He goes a little pie in the sky after this, but why not?

With 200 plants, augmented by existing and upgraded hydropower, we could replace all hydrocarbon-based power-generating plants and virtually eliminate the U.S. carbon footprint. If this seems too big a task, one need only look at France which gets 80 percent of its electrical power from nuclear plants.

With 400 plants, we could teleport elephants from Paris to Peoria. But we can’t fault the enthusiasm and France certainly did make the transition.

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Don’t think industry, both automotive and electricity related, haven’t noticed the opportunities. Here’s your car guy:

Bill Ford, chairman of Ford, on the history of the auto industry: "We haven't had a lot of revolutions but boy are we now. I love it."

More from Ford, on how times have changed: "When I joined the (Ford) board, I was asked to stop affiliating with known or suspected environmentalists." Ford now works with Paul Hawken and Environmental Defense Fund.

And your nuclear guy:

David Crane, the CEO of NRG Energy, another utility guy who likes electric cars: "The electric car is our savior; it is the air conditioner of the 21st century."

More from Crane: "I'm convinced that there will be three nuclear power plants built in the U.S. in the next 10 years." Whether they will be anomalies (supported by a limited pool of federal loan guarantees) or lead to a nuclear renaissance remains to be seen.

Crane also opines on the current Congressional tilt away from nuclear energy and toward clean coal.

"Right now the dominant wing of the Democratic Party knows they need to accommodate the coal wing of the Democratic Party in order to get energy and environmental policy passed."

We would just add that clean coal also has a tougher row to hoe ultimately than nuclear energy.

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We suspect that electric and hybrid cars will move into the mainstream faster than we can anticipate and will spur energy policymakers to find a way to accommodate them. To be honest, Congress should look forward to at least that approximate moment in time, whether it’s five or so years before hybrids become broadly acceptable, if still too expensive, or a decade or more for them to gain critical mass. Industry is doing its part – to be cynical, there’s profit to be found there – but now’s the time where government direction will dictate how and even whether this industry blossoms.

And that’s where nuclear fits in. It’s hard not to imagine emission free electricity powering emission free cars. Dreams of using wind and solar power as enablers fits a Planet Green utopia, but leads to ridiculous scenarios in which cars have to charge up at night because that’s when the wind blows. No market will develop around such onerous strictures. Certainly, wind and solar belong at the table, but they don’t bring a full set of silverware with them.

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Hurrm! We suspect we’ll be visiting this topic a fair amount.

Nissan’s Tama Electric Car – from 1947!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

No Earth Day for Nuclear Energy

3685512-md We have to just let Earth Day go. This is a day for our wind and solar friends, who of course have a lock on clean energy:

On this coming 39th anniversary of Earth Day on Wednesday, Michigan is facing one of the greatest energy challenges in its history, with serious implications for the state's environment and its economy… As former governors, we support expanding Michigan's nuclear energy capacity. Carbon-free nuclear energy has long been a workhorse for the state's energy needs, powering one out of every four homes and businesses.

Because nuclear energy, wasn’t that the villain in the China Syndrome that made that nice Jack Lemmon die? Surely there’s no place for such evil in the world.

In these cases, groups are putting local environmental concerns first and the planet second. Wind farms, nuclear power plants and hydroelectric dams are ways of providing clean energy, which would reduce carbon emissions and the threat of global warming.

So we’re willing to bow out on this day of green eco-friendliness. We’ve read the headlines, we’ve heard the No Nukes protests. We get it:

Florida Power & Light has been working hard to emphasize its commitment to green, even as it proposes expanding its nuclear capacity. Its parent, FPL Group, has long been the nation's leader in wind and solar power. ''We believe in doing the right thing for our customers,'' Hay said.

Er:

The utility [Xcel] also plans to "up-rate" both plants so they can produce more power. If successful, nuclear would continue to generate about 25 percent of Minnesota's electricity for the next two decades.

Um:

And the waste – well that’s the best part!  It’s a valuable resource we will one day exhume from its storage sites to reprocess for even more energy and useful isotopes.  The fact that all the energy to power a city for years results in nothing but a few drums of solid waste shows how incredibly clean it is.  A coal plant produces tons of waste every day – and sends it right into the air.  That’s how non-nuclear plants store their waste – in our lungs.

We hang our heads in shame. Nothing to offer the earth – blue skies – crystal waters – frolicsome woodland creatures. Nothing to offer. We stand alone – shoulders drooped, hands in pockets, tears leaking from burgundy eyes.

No – nothing - nothing to offer. As if!

Poor us. If you blow on us a little too hard, all our petals fall off. Be sure to visit www.nei.org for a little roundup of what those dead enders think the nuclear industry has to offer on Earth Day.

Using More Energy + Growing Greater Wealth = A Cleaner Planet

Here's some brilliant logic from John Tierney at the NY Times on why using more energy and becoming more wealthy will "save the planet":

1. There will be no green revolution in energy or anything else. No leader or law or treaty will radically change the energy sources for people and industries in the United States or other countries. No recession or depression will make a lasting change in consumers’ passions to use energy, make money and buy new technology — and that, believe it or not, is good news, because...

2. The richer everyone gets, the greener the planet will be in the long run.

...

as people get wealthier they can afford cleaner water and air. They start using sources of energy that are less carbon-intensive — and not just because they’re worried about global warming. The process of “decarbonization” started long before Al Gore was born.

...

As their wealth grows, people consume more energy, but they move to more efficient and cleaner sources — from wood to coal and oil, and then to natural gas and nuclear power, progressively emitting less carbon per unit of energy.

...

The amount of carbon emitted by the average American has remained fairly flat for the past couple of decades, and per capita carbon emissions have started declining in some countries, like France. [Hmm, I wonder why that is the case in France...]

...

Over the past century, he [Mr. Ausubel] says, nothing has drastically altered the long-term trends in the way Americans produce or use energy — not the Great Depression, not the world wars, not the energy crisis of the 1970s or the grand programs to produce alternative energy.

“Energy systems evolve with a particular logic, gradually, and they don’t suddenly morph into something different,” Mr. Ausubel says. That doesn’t make for a rousing speech on Earth Day. But in the long run, a Kuznets curve is more reliable than a revolution.
Be sure to go back and read the whole thing. Hat tip to Eric McErlain!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What Did James Clyburn Do During the House Recess?

Among other things (no doubt), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) sat down with South Carolina Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Otis Rawl and discussed energy and economic issues. This exchange on CEO Corner jumped out,
Rawl: Do you think nuclear, in, from a national level, is a viable alternative?
Clyburn: It is. It absolutely is. All we have to do is to step up and make the case. I have been unabashed in my support for nuclear energy. That's about 54% of the energy we produce in this state. We don't consume all of that. We export some of it. But it is a very critical part of the economy in South Carolina. And I do believe that there's much more support in the Congress for nuclear being a significant part of the sources going forward. [Emphasis added.]
The entire interview can be seen here. (The nuclear nugget appears at the 3:05 mark.)


When You Absolutely Need a Carbon Tax

Fred_Smith.gif We’ve mentioned here, as the cap-and-trade legislation heats up, that conservatives have had a problems with it despite it being the more conservative carbon emissions reduction method. The more liberal one is a carbon tax, which could conceivably have some kind of progressivity, or become more onerous as years passed, but would really put an immediate burden on the energy section.

We’d position them this way ideologically because cap-and-trade aims to introduce a free-market element – a trade in carbon credits - that appeals to conservatives while a carbon tax does not, placing the public good over other qualities, most especially business comfort. But sometimes ideology just skids away on oily tracks.

We offer this preamble to bring you here:

On the topic of carbon emissions, Smith advocates a straight carbon tax.

“We would support, if the Congress in the United States wants to do it, a carbon tax,” he said, according to the Commercial Appeal.

And who’s Mr. Smith? That villainous duplicative agent from The Matrix? No, Mr. Smith is FedEx Chief Executive Officer Fred Smith. Here’s more:

“It’s straightforward. It’s clear. It’s directly related to the sin, which is the production of CO2, the burning of carbon,” he continued. “I agree very much with former vice president Al Gore, who said, ‘Tax carbon, which you don’t want to have, and reward work, which you do want to have.’ Tax carbon and reduce the payroll tax.”

Anything else?

“Anybody who’s concerned with national security, our balance of payments, with our national economic security, should be a proponent of nuclear power,” he said.

Now we’re cooking with gas. Obviously, the nature of the overnight delivery business suggests pretty heavy carbon emissions. But FedEx is trying:

Today, the success story for cleaner truck technology continues. FedEx now operates more than 172 hybrid vehicles around the globe, including the largest fleet of commercial hybrid trucks in North America, which comprises nearly one-third of the deployed North American hybrid market. The FedEx hybrid vehicles have logged more than two million miles of revenue service.

FedEx has about 48,000 delivery vans, so a very tiny drop in the bucket. Early days, though, and FedEx is clearly trying to get ahead of an issue that could bite it hard. We’re not sure this is the right way to put it, but business will move, out of self-interest as well as corporate good citizen goals, to be sensitive to customer concerns as they take hold. But it also has to live in the world that’s here while waiting for the world that’s coming. That means 172 hybrids out of 48,000 total.

And it’s almost a sure bet that a carbon tax would get that number up quickly. In a way, what Smith wants is to kick FedEx all the way ahead of the curve.

The nuclear comment is nice, but the interest here is in a company arguing for short-term pain where long-term gain can be seen. That’s not usual and it throws a fascinating spanner into Congress’ cozy embrace of cap-and-trade.

See here for more on FedEx’s current environmental initiatives from its perspective.

Fred Smith. He founded Federal Express in 1971; it became FedEx in 1998 after a merger with another company. Surprising longevity in the modern business world.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Fast Lane to the Future with Electricity

The Project P.U.M.A. EWeek has up a roundup of electric, hybrid or incredibly fuel efficient cars that will be shown at the 2009 New York Auto Show and, presumably, at many auto shows around the country over the next year.

You know what the first one will be:

The third-generation Prius hybrid vehicle has more "oomph" under the hood than previous iterations, with an expanded 1.8-liter engine, 160 hp and roughly 50 miles per gallon for combined city/highway driving.

But how about:

The Mini E is powered by a 150 kw (201 hp) electric motor fed by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The car has a range of 156 miles "under ideal conditions," and 104 miles "under normal conditions." The BMW Group’s public field trial will use 500 cars; actual mass production, however, could be a long time away.

Or:

The Karma’s sleek chassis moves from Point A to B utilizing a hybrid "Q Drive," featuring a gasoline engine that powers a generator that charges a lithium-ion battery that powers the electric motor that drives the rear wheels. The car uses its electric motor for the first 50 miles of driving; after that, it operates as a regular hybrid vehicle.

Also on view: The Scion IQ, the Chevy Equinox, the Cadillac Escalade, and the Cadillac Converj. We feel sorry for the American car companies: struggling with survival while upheaval in the general car market becomes imminent can’t be easy. And the technology is still so new, getting the public onboard may be an uphill struggle.

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And where’s the nuclear industry in all this, if anywhere?

“Clean” electric cars are a shill for the nuclear power industry. There is no dirtier or more foolhardy source of energy than nuclear.

So there you go.

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Well, actually, there’s a fair amount of debate of how to absorb a huge new need for electricity within the current system.

The BBC lays out the issue nicely:

In the future, more of the UK's electricity is expected to come from nuclear power stations or from alternative energy sources such as wind or wave power. Both produce energy when they can rather than when consumers want it.

Nuclear power stations are less able than, say, coal fired power stations to adjust production to meet demand peaks during the day and troughs at night. Similarly, wind and wave power will produce a lot of electricity during a stormy night, regardless of whether or not consumers and companies want it.

Electricity generated at night when nobody wants it must either be stored or it will be lost. If the UK as a nation had a fleet of these cars being charged overnight, then the power industry's income from drivers would come on top of the income it currently gets from homes and companies.

Of course, a lot of new nuclear plants will replace older nuclear plants, though generally producing more electricity into the bargain. We’ll let the wind and solar folks do their own “shilling,” but the overall idea is to power “green” cars with “green” energy.

So, really, there you go.

We didn’t want to take away from EWeek’s slide show, so here’s the Chevy-Segway Puma. The name is an acronym: Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility vehicle. Frankly, that just seems a stack of words to fit puma, but that’s how it works sometimes. See here for more, including more pictures and videos. We expect it’ll be at the auto show.

First Concrete Pour of Westinghouse's AP1000 Completed at China's Sanmen Nuclear Site

From Westinghouse:

Westinghouse Electric Company, its consortium partner The Shaw Group Inc., China's State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) and Sanmen Nuclear Power Company of China National Nuclear Corporation today announced the successful completion, on schedule, of the first pour of basemat structural concrete for the nuclear island at Sanmen, the site of the first of four Westinghouse AP1000™ nuclear power plants to be built under a contract signed in 2007.
AP1000 Sanmen Nuclear Plant
...

"Completion of concrete pour is a major milestone that visibly moves the Sanmen project from the design and discussion stage to the construction stage," he said. "More importantly, by getting this project underway on schedule, we are further helping to ensure that baseload electricity generation will begin at this plant as intended in 2013."

...

The pour encompassed 5,200 cubic meters of concrete, 950 tons of reinforcing steel and 1000 anchor bolts. The concrete will serve as the foundation for all of the nuclear island buildings, including the containment vessel and the shield building.
Best of luck!

Cows Doing What They Do: Boehner on Climate Change

Boehner So we understand that issues around cap-and-trade are complex and those trying to wrap their minds around it – we mean legislators – may not have completely coherent positions yet.

But climate change, which cap-and-trade means to mitigate, has only two major poles: either humankind is contributing to it or humankind is not contributing to it. Presumably, another perspective might be that there is a human contribution but it is not determinative, but you don’t hear that one so much.

We found House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) rather endearing in his attempt, on ABC’s This Week, to pound all these poles efficiently into the ground.

[George] STEPHANOPOULOS: So what is the responsible way? That's my question. What is the Republican plan to deal with carbon emissions, which every major scientific organization has said is contributing to climate change?

BOEHNER: George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you've got more carbon dioxide.

Well, no denying that. While we imagine Boehner is exaggerating or aiming at a metaphor when he calls carbon emissions carcinogens – they’re not - we take away from this that he does not feel people are contributing to the problem.

But:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it sounds like from what you're saying that you don't believe that Republicans need to come up with a plan to control carbon emissions? You're suggesting it's not that big of a problem, even though the scientific consensus is that it has contributed to the climate change.

BOEHNER: I think it is -- I think it is an issue. The question is, what is the proper answer and the responsible answer?

STEPHANOPOULOS: And what is the answer? That's what I'm trying to get at.

BOEHNER: George, I think everyone in America is looking for the proper answer. We don't want to raise taxes, $1.5 to $2 trillion like the administration is proposing, and we don't want to ship millions of American jobs overseas. And so we've got to find ways to work toward this solution to this problem without risking the future for our kids and grandkids.

Okay, he does believe it’s an issue. If we’re understanding correctly, his major concern is that a solution should not be blindingly expensive nor should it send jobs overseas. This seems a bit  boilerplate, since exporting jobs is a non-functional part of the equation and characterizing cap-and-trade as a tax is not exactly on the nose. But taxes and exporting jobs are reliable alarm bells, so why not ring them?

We’re not really trying to get on Boehner’s case here. We do want to demonstrate the verbiage that precedes a real debate on an issue. We’re not even sure Boehner has sorted out how much he should be for or against anything except insofar as he is in the minority party.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you are committed to coming up with a plan?

BOEHNER: I think you'll see a plan from us. Just like you've seen a plan from us on the stimulus bill and a better plan on the budget.

In other words, wait and see. Well, fine, we may have hoped for a more coherent view of the issues, but we’ll wait and see.

Rep. John Boehner.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Greenhouse Gases Officially Hazardous

JetBarbecue We wonder if industries will have to affix Surgeon General labels on their plants:

Having received White House backing, the Environmental Protection Agency declared Friday that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are a significant threat to human health and thus will be listed as pollutants under the Clean Air Act — a policy the Bush administration rejected.

You’ll remember that this became a point in the last election, with fears of backyard barbecues being shut down. But the intent is more likely this:

The move could allow the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, but it's more likely that the Obama administration will use the action to prod Congress to pass regulations around a system to cap and then trade emissions so that they are gradually lowered.

As you might expect, the usual suspects have lined up. One one side:

The EPA should be required "to follow up with standards under the Clean Air Act, the nation's most effective environmental law, to curb carbon pollution from our cars, power plants and other industrial sources," said David Doniger, climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

And on the other:

"It will require a huge cascade of (new clean air) permits" and halt a wide array of projects, from building coal plants to highway construction, including many at the heart of economic recovery plan,” Bill Kovacs, a vice president for environmental issues at the [Chamber of commerce], said when the EPA's recommendations were made last month.

We suspect EPA Director Lisa Jackson has at the least put Congress on alert that fussing too much about cap-and-trade may not be too wise, since EPA regulation can cover a lot of territory – in other words, a little political gameplaying.

When you have a yen for kabob – or a quick trip to Canada.

The British Serve Up the Sites

1103431 The British Department of Energy and Climate Change (and boy, does that sound up-to-date) has released its list of 11 sites for new nuclear plant deployment. You can guess why they’re doing this:

U.K. utilities are vying to build reactors, backed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown as a way to combat climate change and replace older stations. Atomic plants may generate power more cheaply than coal-fed units, in part because they aren’t required to buy emission permits for carbon dioxide.

We’d say definitely, at least within the projected time for these plants to start up. If clean coal technology catches up, fine, but that probably won’t happen by 2020, so expect some sour times for coal in Britain. (And as we’ll see, coal’s not the problem in this story.)

Most of the plants sites are in England, with one over in Wales; moreover, most are on sites that are hosting or have hosted reactors – that should keep various environmental and other reviews fairly contained.

We won’t list all the sites for you. Go here for a map showing them and another story.

---

Britain may have dithered around this issue a little too long:

Dr. [Craig] Lowrey, [head of energy markets at EIC, an independent consultancy], said that the Government’s failure to take firm early action meant that it was now inevitable that the gap would be filled by new, easy-to-build gas-fired power stations.

However, the depletion of North Sea gas means that Britain will be forced to import more and more raw fuel from countries such as Russia, Algeria and Qatar, while consumers will be left increasingly exposed to fluctuations in the wholesale price of gas.

That may sound an overly Cassandra-like note. If Britain really gets these nuclear plants rolling, then keeping older coal-fired and gas plants around as placeholders seems feasible enough. But the warning is well-taken – the country leans on gas quite a lot.

Official figures show that the share of Britain’s electricity produced by burning gas has risen from 2 per cent in 1992 to 35 per cent today. It is expected to rise further, with gas-fired plants under construction at Pembroke in Wales, the Isle of Grain in Kent and Langage, near Plymouth.

So that’s where dithering brings you.

---

And in the uncanny spirit of the the unknown purple, here comes FOE, not in Britain (that we can find), but Ireland:

Friends of the Earth Director Oisín Coghlan said nuclear power is not the solution and “offers too little, too late, at too high a price and too high a risk.”

And a little more:

Irish CND [Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament] chairman, Dr David Hutchinson Edgar also criticised the plan and said the new sites increase the risk of a terrorist attack on a nuclear installation.

He said: “In the event of either an accident at a nuclear site, or a deliberate terrorist attack, Ireland, and our coastal waters, could not escape the impact of the fallout.

We couldn’t find these kinds of comments in British coverage of the story. Perhaps a difference in the way the Brits and Irish cover things.

---

We looked around for an Irish editorial about this news to see if FOE is tapping a national feeling, but no love: it might still be a little early. In our hunt, we came across this:

Putting developers’ heads on spikes is no business of the asset management agency, writes John Waters.

Uh, we agree?

The plant at Sellafield. This is one of the sites proposed for a new unit.

More Than 50 Nations Want to Build Nuclear Plants

That's according to IAEA's Hans-Holger Rogner:

More than 50 nations are in talks with the UN atomic watchdog to build nuclear power plants, a twofold increase over the last four years, a top agency official said in an interview released on Thursday.

"The IAEA is talking with 50-60 countries about the construction of nuclear power plants," Hans-Holger Rogner, head of planning and economic studies at the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an interview with the German newsletter VDI Nachrichten.

"There were only half as many just four years ago. That's a sign of where the journey is headed," he said.
These are excellent signs that we on our planet want to go more and more nuclear. If I live long enough (hopefully to the end of this century), I bet we're going to continue to develop the Earth into the clean, awesome, sustainable planets like shown in the Star Wars movies. And that will be in part because nuclear plants will be providing much of the affordable, dense, clean baseload power for our planet to make it happen. I'm looking forward to it. :-)

Picture up top is of the Star Wars planet Naboo where 600 million people live, picture on bottom is of the Star Wars city planet Coruscant where "approximately 1 trillion people inhabit the planet". The picturesque planets are what I envision our Earth looking like as we harness more nuclear energy!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Russia Commits to More Nuclear Energy

putin We have to admit that we know less than we might about Russian nuclear energy culture. We do know that it is a major player in the international marketplace and is making deals with any country that has even glanced in the direction of nuclear energy. We know the country has 31 units working currently, generating about 135 billion kWh per year or 16% of Russia’s electricity generation. And we know that most of the plants are clustered in the western quarter of the country – presumably, some of the electricity generated finds its way over to eastern Europe. See here for more.

Regardless of what we don’t know, it really doesn’t surprise us much that Russia is reaffirming its commitment to new plants:

"I believe it is possible to support the application of the Energy Ministry and Rosatom for the additional capitalization of the corporation to the tune of 50 billion rubles," Vladimir Putin said.

Putin said nuclear power plants should generate 25%-30% of Russia's electricity and pledged more allocations to the corporation, despite the ongoing economic crisis. He said 26 nuclear reactors were to be built to reach this target.

Though some recent stories that Russia might slow down its program have pushed Putin to say something now, we noticed a fair number of the stories put it in context of the economic downturn:

The much-anticipated electricity reform, which was meant to head off looming power shortages and depends on new investments from energy companies, is being threatened by the global economic crisis.

Only weeks ago, several energy companies and the gas monopoly Gazprom, which also manages power assets, said they were considering substantial cuts in their investment programs.

We suspect Gazprom might have gotten a call from Putin’s office.

"We should not by any means abandon the plans that were made before," Putin said during a visit to a nuclear plant in Central Russia, the RIA-Novosti agency reported. "The rules of the game do not change during play."

And the call would have sounded something like that.

We almost feel this isn’t a story. Of course Russia is going to build new nuclear plants. Of course the economic downturn might slow things down a bit. It’s almost too obvious.

Putin in a display of national strength. We’re surprised he doesn’t just strangle the fish.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spinning Around the Atom

Here’s a few tidbits of nuclear news to wonder about and inspire awe:

sokolov160508_300x200 The IAEA says that nuclear energy is an unstoppable runaway freight train kind of thing. Well, not precisely:

Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yury Sokolov said on Tuesday that the economic crisis would not change the driver for the development of the nuclear power industry.

And why not?

Sokolov said that the expansion of energy demand, the need of improving energy security, the requirement of environment protection as well as the prevention of climate change, which were the "external drivers" to the development of nuclear industry, were not changed by the economic crisis.

True, but plants still need access to capital to get built and it’s the collapse of the credit market fueling the economic downturn. So we think Sokolov is perhaps confusing the abstract drivers of the industry – and we agree with him about those – and the practical drivers – and to overcome those, we’ll likely have to get to the other side of the recession. In sum, Sokolov is more right than wrong – nuclear energy really is barreling forward. But the economics are like a missing rail or two on the track bed.

---

snake-river Idaho is considering a nuclear plant, but right now they don’t want to hear about the benefits or drawbacks:

"At this hearing, the subject of nuclear power or ultimate land use proposed by the applicant will not be considered. The hearing is solely intended to address the proposed zone change [from agriculture to heavy industry]," reads the announcement for the public hearing.

This sounds orderly enough – presumably the nuclear nature of the plant will get its hearing later. But:

[D]espite the limited scope of the hearing, AEHI has been distributing DVDs in Elmore County touting the safety and benefits of nuclear power and is holding a job fair outside of the hearing. The company announced that it would encourage job seekers to testify for the project.

And:

Snake River Alliance, a nuclear watchdog group, plans to testify against the rezone but also needs to somehow skirt the whole nuclear issue.

"We aren't going off about nuclear unless we have to specifically refer to water use," said Liz Woodruff, energy policy analyst for the group.

Still, SRA will argue that the rezone will allow for over-utilization of water, that area residents oppose the plant, that hazardous materials produced by the plant would threaten natural resources and that job promises are exaggerated.

At first, we hoped that the commissioners would smack down all this irrelevant nuclear to-and-fro, but on second thought, as long as AEHI and Snake River Alliance keep all this outside the meeting and stay on task at the meeting, power to them. Indeed, nuclear power to them.

(See here for a little more. Apparently, this is an appeal. AEHI lost their first rezoning bid last year and this is a second try.)

---

 ShelbyPortrait for web Here’s Alabama Senator Richard Shelby:

“Energy is probably our greatest long-term problem. We need to drill everywhere we can. We have the technical capability. While it won't solve our energy needs, it will help us."

"We ought to go totally nuclear. We have the most modern and the safest technology the world knows. We ought to build a classic nuclear power plant here in Jackson County."

"I would like to support the administration if I thought they were right. I'm worried about this administration. It's the most liberal since Jimmy Carter. I'm not going to help them socialize the nation."

{The U.S. Constitution is] "the most important document we have. It is basically what we are. We should not subordinate to anyone. I'm not interested in a one world nation. I'll fight anybody over our Bill of Rights and our sovereignty."

And all from one story. You can’t say you don’t know where he stands on the issues. But “classic nuclear power plant?” - sounds like classic Coke. In this one instance, we’ll accept the stares and take new Coke.

Yuri Sokolov, the Snake River and Richard Shelby.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Nuclear Energy TV

Bob Geldof nuclearBob Geldof (you know, Live Aid organizer, frontman for The Boomtown Rats, and 2006 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize) raised a few eyebrows last year when luxury car maker Lexus asked him to participate in a forum about its hybrid vehicles. Per The Guardian,

Geldof, as well as talking about hybrid cars, aired his views on climate change, branding renewable energy initiatives such as wind farms "Mickey Mouse" and insisting "to really help the planet, we have to go nuclear, fast".
Sir Bob is now taking his public embrace of nuclear energy to the airwaves. The Telegraph is reporting that Geldof's television production company, Ten Alps, is looking to launch "Nuclear Energy TV."
The company plans to launch Accountants TV later this year, alongside existing channels Engineering TV and Lawyers TV. Plans for Bankers TV and Nuclear Energy TV are in development.

The new channels are part of a plan by the London-listed company in which Sir Bob has a major shareholding to expand its programming from public sector workers to professionals looking to retrain.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Here Comes Tomorrow: Fission Into Electricity

metropolis_fritz-lang-300x224 As we know, nuclear energy creates electricity by generating heat that boils water that turns turbines – if you want to be really simple about it. But suppose you could get electricity from nuclear energy directly:

Now, University of Missouri researchers are developing an energy conversion system that uses relatively safe isotopes to generate high-grade energy. A system that directly converts nuclear energy into electricity would be cheaper than current nuclear conversion technology.

Well, we’ll see about cheaper – researchers are always making claims to justify their work. But it is pretty interesting:

MU researchers have developed a process called Radioisotope Energy Conversion System (RECS). In the first step of the process, the ion energy from radioisotopes is transported to an intermediate photon generator called a fluorescer and produces photons, which are the basic units of light. In the second step of the process, the photons are transported out of the fluorescer to photovoltaic cells, which efficiently convert the photon energy into electricity.

And that’s the premise. So the question then becomes, Can this be done on a much larger scale and in a sustained way? The story doesn’t directly say – they may not know for sure – but this provides a hint:

"RECS effectively utilizes the PIDEC [Photon-Intermediate Direct Energy Conversion] system," [professor of nuclear engineering Mark] Prelas said. "The system we are developing is mechanically simple, potentially leading to more compact, more reliable and less expensive systems."

If you can’t scale the system up, in other words, scale the plant down. Well, that would be cheaper and more compact – but since the nuclear industry as it stands has a remarkable uptime rate, we’ll wait on vetting “more reliable.”

We have no brief on this system. Lots of academic research comes to fruition, lots more does not. So it’s best to be sanguine when you read stories about marvelous new technology. After all, tomorrow comes soon enough, and we’ll hear more about this if there will be more to be heard.

But if you happen to be around Missouri University on April 22, stop by for the Missouri Energy Summit, where Prelas and his crew will be showing off their research. NRC chairman Dale Klein, wind king T. Boone Pickens and many others are also scheduled to speak.

This is how you create electricity in the futuristic world of Fritz Lang’s movie Metropolis (1927). We’re not entirely sure how repositioning clock hands does this, but we do know that if you stop, everything goes boom.

Friday, April 10, 2009

National Nuclear Day in Iran

09lede_iranshow.1.2006

I think they mean “We certainly have a right to use atomic energy.'” Wasn’t Sally Field stuck in Iran? Surely she could have helped on the verbiage. This was taken at Iran’s first National Nuclear Day in 2006. Yesterday was the fourth. Here’s how it went:

Addressing the audience, the president [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] declared two significant achievements as nuclear fuel packaging and its preparation for use in reactors to produce electricity.

The president cited the second achievement as trial of a new generation of centrifuges which multiplies the capacity of existing centrifuges.

Although National Nuclear Day has a certain ring to it, don’t you think so?, we must admit that even Arbor Day generates more excitement if not electricity. Anyway, a fair amount of Ahmadinejad’s activities in this regard feels a lot like nose rubbing – hence the English on the poster above, not to mention the doves.

The Guardian has an interesting story about the political aspects of National Nuclear Day in the changed atmosphere attending the new American President:

[Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei realises that during the expected negotiations, Obama would prefer a reformist resident of the presidential office in Louis Pasteur Street in Tehran. This is why he is waiting to negotiate with Iran after the Iranian presidential elections. He does not want to improve Ahmadinejad's chances. [At least to writer Meir Javedanfar; neither Khamenei nor Obama have indicated any of this.]

The story explains that Ahmadinejad attended a football game between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran lost and people, already wearying of him, decided he brought bad luck.

Imagine how hard it is to shake off the kind of trivia that knocks off politicians in this country, and bad luck, or ghadame shoor, sounds a pretty devastating blow on Ahmadinejad’s gong as he gears up for reelection.

The Guardian opines that what we called nose rubbing could have a second purpose:

However, the international community should understand that promoting one's capability and leveraging power is a tried and tested negotiation method. In other words, there is also the possibility that forthcoming statements could be mere bolstering to improve Iran's position before the start of negotiations with the US.

Seems kind of like the same thing to us, but okay. As the picture above shows, Ahmadinejad can sometimes be as transparent as a five-year-old trying to be crafty. Iran’s standing as a major threat may not sound as major a beep on the world radar as before, but bears close attention as the negotiations gear up.

In the meantime, happy National Nuclear Day, Iranian good folk. Nuclear energy is a gift. Use it peacefully, use it well.

Ahmadinejad, very tiny, the way we like him.

When Newspapers Attack

TWTlogo We generally respect the work done at newspapers – pits of liberal iniquity that they are – because the effort at that first draft of history is important and nothing else has come along to fill that role. Plus, we scurry to add, bias in writing comes out more through detail selection than actual ideological mischief – journalistic writing has a lot of rules to tamp down overt editorializing – but sometimes, you just have to wonder.

Nuclear energy advocates quietly slipped an extra $50 billion for an Energy Department program into the Senate's budget blueprint last week, giving new life to a provision that had been rejected as "nuclear pork" in February's economic stimulus bill.

Well, no, we don’t remember it being rejected on that basis. Pork, as commonly defined, is a budget item inserted by a Congress person to benefit his or her district. Loan guarantees benefit an industry, true enough, but DOE, which will award them, hasn’t specified which projects might receive them, so no one knows which district will benefit.

Second, pork implies a cash pay-out and that’s not the case here. Loan guarantees make banks more likely to loan money, but the debt still lies with the loanee, not the government. The one argument that could gain some traction is that the government will be on the hook in case of default, but Exelon, Constellation, etc., aren’t what one would call bad risks.

It gets worse:

Without debate, explanation or a recorded vote, senators accepted an amendment by Sen. Michael D. Crapo, Idaho Republican, to boost the department's "low-carbon" energy loan construction guarantee program by $50 billion over five years.

This just isn’t very shocking in this kind of action. There’s still a long way to go and a bunch of elements – including true pork – are getting into the budget bill. The only reason to present it this way is to gin up opposition. Loan guarantees could have been accurately described if the Washington Times had talked to someone in the nuclear industry or even to NEI. So who did writer Edward Felker talk to?

Friends of the Earth plans to lobby against the plan again. It says the measure's reappearance, even in its current nonbinding form in the Senate-passed budget resolution, is proof that its sponsors are determined to win the money this year.

"There is no question the nuclear industry is not giving up," said Nick Berning, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth. The industry's backers in the Senate, he said, are "trying again and we're going to fight it."

Oh no, them again. FOE certainly has as much right as NEI to take a stand on this provision and (nuclear) power to them to do it. But they’re not a notably honest group – they don’t want nuclear energy, fine, but their characterization of the loan guarantees tries to present it as a taxpayer soak, and it’s just not.

And aside from a bland quote from Sen. Crapo’s office, that’s it. The Washington Times really blew it with this one.

(Incidentally, we’d prefer to see loan guarantees in the upcoming energy bill. That’s the more appropriate place for them and ropes them into the larger arguments that will coalesce around that bill. That’s the better place even for FOE to go at it, when you think about it – less static from all the other stuff in the budget bill.)

You pronounce Crapo with a long “a,” by the way, as we’re sure Idahoans know.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Used Fuel and Angry Yankees

Way Down East What to do, what to do? We’d be remiss to say that Yucca Mountain is completely, absolutely dead, because it really isn’t, but the decision to slow the pace on the used fuel repository has led to consequences that could easily have been foreseen:

Several legislatures of states with nuclear power plants are considering stopping or reducing payments to the federal government for nuclear waste management until the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nev., repository opens or another solution to the waste problem emerges.

We’ve mentioned before that the administration seems to have taken this cake out of the oven way too early, as the slow pace of Yucca Mountain at least forestalled this kind of action. Way down east, Mainers are moving even further with their demands:

Maine lawmakers passed a resolution yesterday asking the federal government to immediately reduce fees paid by electricity customers for managing spent nuclear fuel.

And:

The resolution also urges the expedited establishment of two federally licensed interim storage facilities that would take possession of the waste and create an independent panel to assess the long-term prospects for handling military and civilian nuclear wastes.

We should note that the law requires the federal government to take the fuel. So if there is even a clue this won’t happen soon, trouble. Does industry think Maine is throwing a spanner into the works? Why, not at all:

"We were pleased to see this resolution adopted by the Maine Legislature. It clearly recognizes the important issues now facing the country in light of the situation with the Yucca Mountain repository," said John Keeley, an NEI spokesman.

Energy Secretary Chu needs to get that blue ribbon commission cracking. Without a solution, which may well remain Yucca Mountain – part of the commission’s brief will be to review the brown mound – the federal-state relationship will continue to deteriorate.

We don’t really think the administration is looking for a bus to throw the nuclear industry under, because there’s no plausible way to reach ambitious carbon emission reduction goals without nuclear energy. But we do think public policy has been badly warped – what Maine has done is being taken up, with variations, by Minnesota, Michigan and South Carolina, with no doubt many others to follow. It’s just what you don’t want to have happen.

Lillian Gish on the ice in Way Down East (1923), a D.W. Griffith film that, shall we say, owes a bit to Hardy’s Tess of The D’Urburvilles. It concerns a Maine girl betrayed by a rotter, taken in by a kind family, and eventually ejected onto the winter ice to meet her fate. Miss Gish had (I think) the longest starring career of any American movie actor, stretching from 1912 to 1987.

Take a Seaweed Pill and Call the Police in the Morning

Greenpeace Canada Seaweed PillsHat tips to Stephen Dubner's Freakonmics blog post, When Scare Tactics Backfire, and TreeHugger for pointing us to this rather bizarre story out of Ontario. Per the National Post,

Toronto police issued an alert today after residents in Rosedale and downtown received an information placard from Greenpeace Canada warning against radiation from nuclear power plants — with a little green pill attached.

The pill was said to be potassium iodine, which is meant to prevent thyroid cancer, one of the most common radiation-caused illnesses.

Officers arrived to a home in the Bloor and Sherbourne streets area Saturday evening and seized the pill.

“It’s an unknown substance in pill form being delivered… we’re kind of concerned,” Staff Sergeant Dan Sabadics said. “We treat it as unknown and hazardous until we know what it is.”

Investigators have determined that it is not hazardous but Health Canada is doing further analysis to identify it.

“Since then, Greenpeace has agreed to cease and they’ve turned over all remaining [pills]. We’re just testing them now,” he said.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time. But once it’s explained that you’re delivering pills and a child [might] get a hold of this. What effect it will have on a child? We don’t know. There are liability issues.”
Wondering if Jon Evans, brand manager [former?] for Disaronno Amaretto, had a hand in this marketing campaign gone awry.

Gov. Martin O'Malley on Planet Forward

Planet ForwardLast week, we pointed NNN readers to Angie Howard's video submission to the upcoming PBS special, Planet Forward. Today, we feature the clip submitted by Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. Titled We're Way Behind, O'Malley makes the case for expanding nuclear energy production in his state and the U.S.




Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Obama on Nuclear: Advancing Peace and Opportunity to All People

200846-vobr-01_obalka_velka President Barack Obama has provided a regular thrill ride when it comes to nuclear energy, tamping down Yucca Mountain, inspiring commissions galore on what to do with used nuclear fuel, and suffering our parsing his every word.

Well, we parse no more. Obama said this to the Czechs gathered in Prague to hear him speak – and by extension, everyone with a TV or radio. The subject was nuclear disarmament (we’ll leave it to you to decide how you feel about that), but what then to do with nuclear energy?

The basic bargain is sound: Countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them, and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy. To strengthen the treaty, we should embrace several principles. We need more resources and authority to strengthen international inspections. We need real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or trying to leave the treaty without cause.

It gets better.

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

A lot of this taps Obama’s penchant for soaring into rhetorical rhapsodies, but an international fuel bank is pretty darn specific. (See here for more information – the U.S. supports Kazakhstan’s efforts – and here for what the IAEA is up to in this regard.) And that last sentence might have come from an overreaching nuclear energy advocate. But boy, we’ll take it – a big change from the stingy references that have dotted Obama’s utterances up to now.

Genuinely strange illustration for the Czech newsweekly Respekt. The colored letters on his teeth – which you can see better by clicking the image – spell “change.” It took us a moment to grasp that they had given him a seventies-style afro, too – we thought at first it was the brim of a cowboy hat. We’re sure the artist has something in mind here, but we’re not sure what that something is. Respekt’s english website is here.

Friday, April 03, 2009

U.A.E. Moves Quickly on Nuclear Energy

UAE-Dubai-Burj-Al-Arab-Hotel-SP The Wall Street Journal looks in at the nuclear doings on the Arabian Peninsula. We’ve looked at this before, but a lot has happened in a relatively short time:

Dozens of American engineers, lawyers and businessmen have converged on Abu Dhabi in recent months to help the United Arab Emirates get the Arab world's first nuclear-power program running by 2017.

Why so many Americans? The answer may surprise you:

Even as the U.S. remains determined to block Iran from developing nuclear weapons, President Barack Obama sees the U.A.E. program as a "model for the world," according to a senior White House official, and by mid-April could move to present a bilateral nuclear-cooperation treaty to Congress for approval.

This is the so-called 123 agreement negotiated late in the Bush administration (123 refers to the section in the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954 that permits trade in nuclear materials and technologies.) And while there was some doubt Obama would conclude it, it’s full steam ahead.

There are concerns, of course, including U.A.E.’s relations with Iran, especially allowing their ports to be used as way stations for dicey materials. They’ve been working to make that less problematic:

Over the past three years, U.A.E. officials say, they have shut down 40 Iranian companies operating in Dubai over either export-control violations or lack of proper licenses. In the past six months, Emirati authorities have also blocked more then 10 shipments of goods for potential military use heading to Iran through Dubai, largely from Asia.

No one – by which we mean in Congress - seems to worry much about proliferation from U.A.E or that U.A.E. might have bad intentions of its own. If you remember the hullabaloo about allowing an Abu Dhabi company to oversee American ports, this is a remarkable shift in attitude in a short time.

The country is working with International Atomic Energy Agency, is a signatory to the non-proliferation agreements, and has picked up partnerships with the big global players – Russia, France, Great Britain and China.

The United States can contribute technical assistance but needs the 123 agreement to propose building a plant or two there. (Once Obama submits the treaty to Congress, they can vote it down or ignore it. If the latter, it takes 90 days for it to achieve the force of law.)

The U.A.E. is seven states - Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain – although Abu Dhabi, the capital, and Dubai, the major port, are the ones that generate all the news. Six of the seven cluster in the northern quandrant of the country, with Abu Dhabi taking the rest of the land mass. The population is about 4.2 million people.

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This is the Burj Al Arab Hotel. We guess it’s a sign of the wealth in U.A.E. that they really go nuts over modern, even edgy architecture and splash out a lot of coin to see interesting buildings realized.

Here’s how its site describes it: “Designed to resemble a billowing sail, Burj Al Arab soars to a height of 321 metres, dominating the Dubai skyline. Illuminated at night by choreographed lighting representing water and fire – Burj Al Arab is simply individual, inspired, impressive.” We’d have to see that night show – could be impressive, could be campy.