Friday, May 29, 2009

G8 Gives Nuclear a Nudge

Some interesting movements at the G8 Energy Ministers’ Meeting this week in Rome.

The energy ministers of the G8 countries offered their thoughts on nuclear’s role in energy security and emissions reductions.

In a joint statement with the European Energy Commissioner, the G8 energy ministers called for international cooperation on nuclear energy:

“…We encourage all countries interested in the civil use of nuclear energy to engage in constructive international collaboration. To this end we support international co-operation to ensure the highest possible available technical standards…”

In another joint statement from the G8 energy ministers; the European energy commissioner; and the energy ministers of Brazil, China, Egypt, India, South Korea, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and South Africa recognized the importance of nuclear power for “those of us interested.”

Perhaps most compelling was an IEA background paper prepared for the conference, “The Impact of the Financial and Economic Crisis on Global Energy Investments.” This document duly notes that

“Nuclear technology is the only large-scale, base-load electricity production technology with a near zero carbon footprint, apart from hydro power (where potential is often limited).”

Ok. Some rather interesting verbiage, but what’s the big deal?

Answer: The people behind the announcements and the timing. The G8 Energy ministers are a powerful bunch and the stated, #1 objective of the G8 Energy Ministers’ meeting was “to define common strategies to cope with global climate change.” 

Next week, preparatory negotiations for the U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen are set to begin in Bonn, Germany. Then, it’s on to the full G8 meeting in Italy this July. It’s too early to tell what, if any, effect these joint statements might have on the climate change or G8 talks, but the timing couldn’t be better.

Oh, and about that European Energy Commissioner, it’s Andris Piebalgs. And he has a very interesting blog post here on nuclear power’s role in Europe’s energy portfolio. At “more than a third” of EU electricity supply, it plays no minor role. And it’s sure to continue to play a role as Europe continues to fret about secure, low-carbon energy supplies.

The open question is whether this will have an knock-on effect outside the G8. It should be an interesting summer.     

Written by Thaddeus Swanek

The Voice of Yucca Mountain

Ward Sproat If you cover the nuclear news world during the later years of the Bush administration, there was no missing Ward Sproat, who turned up at virtually every Congressional hearing having anything to do with nuclear energy. He was Director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management and essentially the voice of Yucca Mountain from 2006 until last year.

Despite expressing some doubt that his office would submit the the brown mound’s license application to the Department of Energy by the office’s target date (see here for some gloom on his part), he and his staff did get the application done, a nice capstone for his tenure. We can only hope it won’t be the last good news about Yucca.

Anyway, we were quite happy to see him land some work post government service:

Bechtel today announced the appointment of Edward F. (Ward) Sproat, III as Senior Project Manager at Bechtel Power Corporation, effective May 11, 2009. He will become the Project Director for the proposed Calvert Cliffs 3 nuclear energy facility in early June.

We couldn’t find a link to this on Bechtel’s site – we got it with our run of press releases – but we’ll check back Monday and add it if it appears. In any event, congratulations to Mr. Sproat – he doesn’t even have to move – and a good move for Bechtel.

Sproat doing what he did a lot of – testifying.

The End of Nuclear Waste?

tcfo We’re pretty sure this is how we got The Incredible Hulk:

The NIF [National Ignition Facility] team will fire nearly 200 individual laser beams generated by an accelerator the size of a football field. The beams converge on a single target chamber containing a capsule of hydrogen. The hope is to compress it, and creating a subatomic reaction called fusion, ultimately igniting a controlled version of the same thermo-nuclear combustion that takes place on the sun.

Yes, this would indeed be fusion, under the auspices of the Lawrence Livermore Labs in California.

We have demonstrated that we can break every barrier," said NIF project manager Bruno Van Wonterghem. "We have broken the energetics barrier for the largest laser in the world. This is not only the highest energy laser, it is also the most precision laser in the world."

"And believe it or not, this is where we take the hydrogen in water and using Einstein's equation, turn mass into energy," explained NIF director Ed Moses.

"We're talking about igniting at the nuclear level and burning matter and turning it into energy," said Moses. "It's a very new thing. When we do this, it will change the way people think about their future."

To quote Rameses, Big talk for a guy wearing sandals, Moses. And how might this effect nuclear energy?

"That is a very interesting particle because it can penetrate the nucleus of another atom. So now we could take nuclear waste and use those neutrons to bust it up, get energy and remove the waste," said Moses.

To literally re-burn nuclear waste, engineers would create a separate compartment around the fusion chamber. The escaping neutrons would pass through the radioactive waste, igniting it. The result -- tons of material now piling up at nuclear storage sites around the country could potentially be burned a second time, taking most of the radioactivity out of it in the process.

We do take this seriously – the labs have been working on this for 10 years – and the science behind it is very interesting to the extent we understand it (to the extent we don’t, it’s likely even more interesting), but we’ve read enough about fusion to learn caution. And we’re not the only ones:

But they admit, the chances of a life engine plant becoming reality ultimately depends on one of the biggest experiments of our time, and whether hundreds of lasers can trigger fusion, creating energy from water.

Not sure how one judges an experiment the biggest – the Large Hadon Collider would seem up there too – but we’d bet success plays a big role. And we’ll add the usual issues about fusion when considering success – scaling, reliability, not soaking up more energy than it produces (a big issue in fusion) and of course, the little matter of turning Bruce Banner green. But we’ve only got a month to wait. We’ll see soon enough.

And by all means, click over here for a lot more, a lot of it fascinating, including a virtual tour. You too can thrill to having a couple hundred laser beams pointed at you.

“The final optics assemblies (FOAs) are mounted on the target chamber and convert NIF's nominal infrared (1,053-nanometer) laser light to ultraviolet (351nm) using a system of two nonlinear crystal plates made of potassium dihydrogen phosphate (KDP).” As we said above, to the extent we understand it, interesting.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lamar Alexander Goes for an Even Hundred

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander called Wednesday for doubling the number of nuclear reactors nationwide, a potentially $700 billion proposal that calls for building 100 more over 20 years.

That’s what he said to the Associated Press. Why think small? And he’s got all the right reasons lined up.

"I am convinced it should happen because conservation and nuclear power are the only real alternatives we have today to produce enough low-cost, reliable, clean energy to clean the air, deal with climate change and keep good jobs from going overseas."

Allow for a bit of hyperbole and that’s okay. And he totes up the numbers that might go for his idea.

Alexander said he would deliver that message next week speaking on the floor of the Senate, where he said all 40 Republicans and many Democrats support nuclear energy. He said he hopes President Barack Obama's administration would embrace his call under efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Read the rest and see what you think. Sen. Alexander has become a very strong voice for nuclear energy.

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The story also includes some lovely quotes for balance, from Steve Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Boilerplate, but this stuck out:

Smith urged conservation and efficiency improvements instead, but Alexander said they would not be enough to blunt growing energy demand.

Environmentalists usually go for renewables, with natural gas as a backstop, but Smith seems to see that as distasteful as nuclear energy – or maybe conservation and efficiency poll better. Alexander nails the problem exactly. If electric cars take off, for example, what then does Smith have to offer?

Bullets Fly at Calvert Cliffs – Yawns Ensue

calvertcliffs Does nobody care?

One might think the NRC would be concerned about this. It's not.

Is Constellation Energy Group, which runs the place? Not really.

And why not?

Granted, it would take a lot more than a few bullets to knock over a reactor…

Well, there’s that. So what happened?

Apparently [actually, no “apparently” about it] officials created a firing range on the secured grounds of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Lusby, Md., and use it about 200 days a year.

But the shooting was halted earlier this month after someone's off-target shots during SWAT exercises shattered glass and struck a command center near the reactors.

Just think! If the bullets had got any nearer to the reactors, they would have – well, gotten nearer to the reactors. And not only at Calvert Cliffs:

Firing ranges are common on the sprawling grounds of the nation's nuclear facilities, [NRC spokeswoman Holly] Harrington said. At Calvert Cliffs, the range is used about 200 days a year by plant security officers, who are tested regularly by commission auditors.

Should Constellation be careful it doesn’t recur? Sure – an investigation is why the shooting range is shut down for now. Maybe they’ll move it further out – maybe they’ll put up some kind of barrier between range and plant. We’ll see.

But in any event:

"Heck, you could take a gun and shoot right at the reactor from the outside" and still not cause significant damage, [Lt. Steve Jones, commander of criminal investigations for the sheriff's office] said.

He called the incident a "training accident" and said a combination of "target placement [and] shooter error" probably was to blame. Investigators are conducting ballistics tests to determine which officer fired the stray shots.

Regardless, hate to be that officer.

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Gotta love cable news.

Bullets flying around some of most toxic materials known to man?

Brilliant!

Sheesh!

Calvert Cliffs – pocked with bullets but standing tall.

CTW on MSNBC's Morning Joe

CASEnergy Co-Chair and former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman is making the media rounds in NYC today, with appearances scheduled on CNN, Fox Business News and MSNBC. Here she is on "Morning Joe." Host Joe Scarborough teed up the interview with a provocative question:

"I think it's asinine, what we've done over the past 30 years, where we've allowed France to fuel 80% of their economy on nuclear energy and we have fallen so far behind. Why is that?"


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Russia and America – Nuclear BFFs?

Sergei Kiriyenko Well, that’s going a little far – and silly, to boot. But the Russians have actually found a way to do a little nuclear business on this side of the world without setting off alarm bells.

Of course, we’ve noted many times the big bear’s activities around Europe and Asia, where it has competed with every other country, including the United States, with a developed nuclear business.

And, of course, there’s Iran, where Russia built the plant at Bushehr and, in so far as Iran can be leashed in its ambitions, Russia has an interest in not having its efforts corrupted.

If the tests [at Bushehr; this was written in February] are successful, [Iranian official Mohsen] Shirazi said it will clear the way for the use of nuclear fuel rods containing enriched uranium that was supplied last year by Russia under a contract estimated to be worth about $1 billion.

That fuel is currently under the seal of UN nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency …  [B]oth Russia and Iran argue that the Bushehr project is purely civilian and cannot be used for any weapons program. Iran has pledged that spent fuel from the facility will be shipped back to Russia.

Coldish comfort – Iran has an enrichment facility of its own - but there it is.

The American deal is not nearly so ambitious – or troubling:

"This is a revolutionary breakthrough," Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko told reporters.

No, really, it’s not:

Rosatom announced a landmark deal Tuesday to supply U.S. companies with enriched uranium fuel, in what is the first commercial nuclear energy contract between Russian and U.S. corporations.

The agreement will see state uranium-trader Tekhsnabexport, a unit of Rosatom, provide enriched uranium to U.S. electricity companies Pacific Gas & Electric Company, AmerenUE and Luminant, officials announced at the Atomexport 2009 forum, which showcased Russia's efforts to become a world leader in atomic energy.

The contract with the three companies will run from 2014 to 2020 and is worth more than $1 billion.

The Russians really like the nice round sound of $1 billion – the story above uses it, too. And Kiriyenko may well have a point, as having the Americans buy Russian uranium may well encourage other countries to follow suit. We’ll see.

Another interesting tidbid from the same story:

More than 162 billion kilowatts were produced last year by the country's nuclear reactors, more than has ever been produced in a single year in either Russia or the Soviet Union, Kiriyenko said.

The country's uranium reserves total well over 1 million tons, enough to power both existing and planned nuclear reactors for the next 60 years, he said.

Kiriyenko did say, however, that Rosatom would postpone until 2014 a program to build two reactors per year because of a drop in Russian demand for electricity.

We’d prefer they built the plants to shutter less clean plants nearby or to supplement Russia’s electricity generation while the 21st century revs up. And that drop in demand probably speaks to the economy which likely speaks to the delay.

Sergei Kiriyenko, the Rosatom chief. In many photos, he looks so young as to doubt his authority – he’s 47, which this photo at least makes believable. Russian optics, maybe? Delicate features? Lunch at Dick Clark’s?

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Energy Bill at Triple Speed

As you may have heard, the climate change bill, your gateway to the world of cap-and-trade, successfully made its way out of the House Energy Committee – on its way to Ways and Means, Transportation, even Agriculture, the “cows doing what they do” people (in Rep. John Boehner’s memorable phrase). You can read more about the bill’s passage here.

But since this is Friday, and leading into a long weekend at that, here’s a fun sidelight to the climate change bill. Fearful that the Republicans would insist on a reading of the 900-page bill as a stalling tactic, the Democrats hired a speed reader. It didn’t happen, but our friend Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) didn’t want the day to slip away without hearing what the speed reader could do. That’s what happens here.

Enjoy - and Happy Memorial Day.

 

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Once More at Yucca Mountain

nytlogo379x64 We’ve ramped down discussing Yucca Mountain – it gets to seem whiny after awhile – but that doesn’t mean the discussion is over. The New York Times demonstrates the mountain’s continued relevance in an editorial today that only begins by excoriating the administration for letting politics trump science:

It is no secret that the president and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, who hails from Nevada, want to close down the Yucca Mountain project, which excites intense opposition in the state. The administration has proposed a budget for fiscal year 2010 that would eliminate all money for further development of the site, and Mr. Reid has pronounced the project dead.

But eliminating or scaling back the licensing process, now in progress, is where the Times really has an issue:

These ramp-downs are occurring at the worst time. The regulatory commission is just beginning its licensing process, which is scheduled to take three to four years, and its relevant boards have ruled that at least eight intervenors can raise some 300 issues for technical challenges, an unusually high number. The cutbacks increase the odds that the agency will stumble in trying to justify a license — or that the hearings and evaluations won’t be completed within statutory deadlines.

Meanwhile, the administration, Congressional leaders and the nuclear industry are calling for a blue-ribbon panel to study alternative ways to dispose of nuclear waste. Surely it would be useful for any such panel to know whether the Yucca Mountain project was sound or flawed.

Yes, surely it would be useful.

Before approving this truncated budget, Congress needs to ensure that it contains enough money to sustain a genuine licensing effort. We have no idea whether Yucca Mountain would be a suitable burial ground for nuclear wastes. But after the government has labored for more than two decades and spent almost $10 billion to get the site ready for licensing hearings, it would be foolish not to complete the process with a good-faith evaluation. Are Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid afraid of what the science might tell them?

We can jump to an answer with a very strong likelihood of being right. Let’s see if the heft of the Times moves the needle on this topic in a sensible direction.

Renewable and Nuclear Industries Team Up to Ask Obama to Get the Loan Guarantee Program Moving

Via the Green Inc blog:

Worried that an important loan-guarantee program has ground to a standstill, renewable energy industry associations sent a letter Wednesday to President Obama urging him to speed the program along.

The signers represented virtually every type of clean energy — wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, nuclear, combined heat and power, and biomass — and reflected the industry’s concern that a loan guarantee program for clean energy projects approved in the stimulus package was stuck in the federal bureaucracy, as has been a similar loan program that predates the stimulus.

The letter, seen by Green Inc, cited “disagreements” between the Department of Energy and the Office of Management and Budget over regulations to carry out the loan guarantees. Three months have gone by since the stimulus packaged passed, the letter stated, “and we have little confidence that ongoing discussions between D.O.E. and the Office of Management and Budget over these regulations will produce a satisfactory result in a timely manner.”

“With access to these loan guarantees,” the letter continued, “our member companies will be able to start construction of planned projects that would otherwise need to be delayed or canceled due to current capital market conditions.”

Vice President Joseph Biden and the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, were sent copies of the letter, as were Energy Secretary Steven Chu; Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget; and several other senior officials.
It's profound that these industries came together to resolve this bureaucratic stalemate. Kumbaya comes to mind here. :-) Hopefully the letter will do its part.

Logos of the industries who signed the letter.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Something in the Freezer

art.thawedcreature.cnn This should thrill the natural science world:

On Tuesday morning, researchers will unveil a 47-million-year-old fossil they say could revolutionize the understanding of human evolution at a ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History.

And cause a bit of a shudder:

But the event, which will coincide with the publishing of a peer-reviewed article about the find, is the first stop in a coordinated, branded media event, orchestrated by the scientists and the History Channel, including a film detailing the secretive two-year study of the fossil, a book release, an exclusive arrangement with ABC News and an elaborate Web site.

Heaven knows, a jackpot has accompanied big discoveries since at least the uncovering of King Tut’s tomb back – hey, almost a century ago, in 1922 – but this coordinated outreach for the big bucks smells a little ripe, like gettin’ while the gettin’s good. Think if those guys with the gorilla suit really did have Big Foot in their basement freezer – or had the money to convince someone of same.

It gets better:

“Any pop band is doing the same thing,” said Jorn H. Hurum, a scientist at the University of Oslo who acquired the fossil and assembled the team of scientists that studied it. “Any athlete is doing the same thing. We have to start thinking the same way in science.”

Well, no, actually, no we don’t.

No nuclear link here – unless you count the occasional spectacular announcement about nuclear fusion – but an interesting view on monetizing scientific advance. Let’s hope the science equals the monetizing.

Big Foot in a freezer. Ignominious!

Taking the Quotes One at a Time

lamar-alexander-1108-lg-54342781 We’ve sometimes focus on silly politician quotes, but not really their context. When people hear something they think is stupid, they have every right to think it is stupid, but when they hear the same stupid thing repeatedly, or with mild variations, then the nub of the idiocy can get stuck in the head. There must be something to it or why does it keep getting said?

Thus, the constant conflating of industrially produced carbon dioxide with what we produce as individuals has become an effective bat to swing against cap-and-trade. Now, it may not work ultimately, because it’s Republicans swinging the bat and Democrats hitting the ball – er, so-to-speak – but it’s effective and can always be revived come the next election cycle. Think Drill baby drill and you’ve about got it.

We brought this up the other day, but we realize it can work in something like reverse. And in your own favor. Take, for example, this quote from Sen. Lamar Alexander:

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today told Energy Secretary Steven Chu that “we should be as aggressive about expanding nuclear power . . . as we are with wind and solar” during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, of which Alexander is a member.

“In his inauguration address, the president talked about power from the earth, the wind, and the sun, which captured the imagination of a lot of people. But these sources provide less than 1.5 percent of our electricity today, and even if we reach 15 or 20 percent renewable power, we will still need 80 to 85 percent of base power,” Alexander told Secretary Chu. “We should be as aggressive about expanding nuclear power and doubling or tripling research funding to find a way to get rid of the carbon in existing coal plants as we are with wind and solar and other so-called renewable electricity sources because they do not provide base-load electricity.”

This all makes perfect sense to us – good luck on coal getting where it needs to be – but also a little curious. After all, Alexander is an appropriations guy – he really can put some muscle behind his verbiage. Even if the DOE wants less money for nuclear energy, Alexander and his peers can provide more and make strong suggestions how to use it. They can even codify it, as in the current climate change bill.

All true, but not really the point. The point is that this is also becoming a statement that is said again and again, with the aim of impressing itself upon anyone listening. If Alexander could bring about 20 or 50 or more nuclear plants, he no doubt could find a way to do that. But in the face of opposition, he does this instead (and we should note, Chu was receptive – we like Chu’s habit of saying what he believes even if the politics are not quite where they should be.) That’s why it appears on his Web site for all and sundry to pick up.

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And to be fair, some do think even this is stupid. Here’s Tennessee blogger Pete Kotz letting Alexander have it:

He's calling for the construction of 100 nuclear power plants, arguing that it's more practical than investing in renewable energy. He cites France, where 80 percent of its energy comes from nukes, and it has some of the cheapest and cleanest electricity in Europe.

Unfortunately, there are a few problems with the good senator's thinking…

You can read the rest to see why Kotz doesn’t like this idea (though his first point, “it's never good to take your cues from France,” is pretty juvenile) but it suggests that Alexander is doing what every media-savvy politician tries to do: gain traction for his ideas.

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We have to say, we’ve become big admirers of Sen. Alexander. Most of what he says about energy is on-point and reasonably balanced. That’s not as usual as it should be.

Senator Lamar Alexander

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jon Wellinghoff Light and Dark

06 One of the speakers at this year’s Nuclear Energy Assembly was Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He had stirred up a bit of controversy a couple of weeks ago by seeming to dismiss not only nuclear energy but all baseload energy in favor of, we think, smaller electricity grids that would be able to make do with a combination of renewable energy sources and natural gas. Here’s what he said about nuclear on Clean Skies TV (transcription: see here to be sure we haven’t misquoted):

From a cost standpoint, from the numbers I’ve seen, the plans [for nuclear energy] seem very costly. They look much more expensive than the alternatives, including not only renewables but also energy efficiency. Also combined heat and power and other distributed systems that would use natural gas. So, I think there are a whole plethora of alternatives that are less expensive that the nuclear alternative.

He was more explicit with the New York Times a little earlier:

"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."

We don’t agree with any of this, although it falls short of absolute hooey. (Baseload doesn’t just mean cheapest, though, it means most reliable, too: that part is hooey.)

So we were a little intrigued to see if Wellinghoff was going to wriggle away from his comments or, better, expand on them a bit so we can grasp his ideas about distributed systems.

Let’s let Greenwire’s Peter Behr take over the story:

But Nuclear Energy Institute President Marvin Fertel finally took up a microphone to ask what was arguably on everyone's mind in the room.

"I can't let this question go by," Fertel said, adding, "you've been quoted [as saying] you didn't see a need for baseload, either coal or nuclear, if we could just get distributed generation and renewables" added at a sufficient scale.

"I didn't say that," Wellinghoff replied. His point, he said, was that renewable energy, energy demand management, new technologies and other strategies could create "a new paradigm" for the industry.

"It is conceivable in this scenario that you may not need large central station plants," he said. "That's one scenario. That doesn't mean that scenario is in fact going to occur. But it is a scenario that is rational.

"There may be other scenarios that are rational, as well, including incorporating significant nuclear and coal into our system. Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter what might be a rational or irrational scenario. What matters is what the markets will do."

We’ll go for wriggle.

We meant to find something a little less dour for Mr. Wellinghoff. But this seems to be his official portrait, so there he is.

Overheard at the Nuclear Energy Assembly

nea_logo The Nuclear Energy Assembly is the annual conference of the Nuclear Energy Institute. It brings together all the bigwigs of the industry, plus a lot of the littler wigs, to listen to speeches, pick up awards for innovations in the field, catch up with industry colleagues – you know, the kinds of things people do at conferences. We thought we’d share you some of the bits and bites from the speeches given the opening morning – it was a virtual parade of politicians and regulators saying realistic but upbeat things.

For example, here’s House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer:

“My message to you is a simple one: nuclear energy is part of the solution. I say ‘part’ because there is no one single solution to America’s energy needs. I will keep arguing that nuclear power has a vital place in that mix, and that it deserves our government’s support.”

And here’s House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Peter Visclosky:

“If you look at these (energy) issues on a factual basis, there is a large and important role for nuclear to play. What I would hope, and what I have expressed to the Secretary of Energy is two-fold: One, that there is a sense of urgency at the Department of Energy to move forward, and this certainly pertains to some of the nuclear issues we face today. My other message is that you need to make sure you manage large-scale projects effectively.”

Now, all right, these sound a lot like politician speak, but they are Democratic politicians, and their support for nuclear energy is pretty straightforward.

And get this! In a Roll Call story about Hoyer’s speech, Nancy Pelosi’s spokesman said:

“The Speaker recognizes that nuclear power will continue to be part of our nation’s energy mix. She looks forward to working with Leader Hoyer and other Democratic leaders as well as the committee chairs to craft a consensus energy package.”

But getting back to the industry, here’s some comments from Gary Gates, president and chief executive officer of Omaha Public Power District and the new chairman of NEI’s board of directors:

“Around the world, 61 reactors are under construction or about to start producing power,” Gates said. “The economy is tougher today than when we met last year, but the need for new nuclear plants remains strong. The planning horizons for some facilities may have changed, but we expect four to eight new plants to be in operation in the United States by 2016 or 2017.

“All of this activity will lead to more jobs, in the short term in manufacturing and construction, and in career-long jobs to operate the plants. We estimate that 15,000 new jobs have been created and over $4 billion has been invested in the nuclear industry over the past few years. Nuclear is one of the few industries to be creating jobs at a time when so many jobs are disappearing.”

More to come.

Monday, May 18, 2009

It’s Energy Bill Week!

Henry Waxman Okay, we know that’s not going to cause as much excitement in some quarters as it does ours, but it does look, at least in the House, like an all-hands brawl in the making. And that’s always fun: the Republicans have lined up over 400 amendments to introduce during the mark-up of the bill (which, according to the Politico story, can be squelched by Energy Committee chairman Henry Waxman.) Many of the amendments have no chance of passing the committee but do slow down the process of getting the bill out of committee.

But the bill, officially called the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, has also gathered unusually broad support.

Here’s Exelon:

In a speech today [Friday] at the National Press Club, Exelon Chairman and CEO John W. Rowe joined the debate in Washington centered on the Waxman-Markey bill, calling on Congress to pass climate legislation this year that features a cap-and-trade system to encourage investment in low-carbon energy.

And here’s League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski:

Chairmen Waxman and Markey have worked tirelessly to bring forward a crucial and historic bill that will move America towards a clean, safe energy future. Their bill will create new clean energy jobs, improve our national security, and help protect our planet.  We encourage the House Energy and Commerce Committee to quickly send this bill to the House floor, where we look forward to working with Members of both sides of the aisle to strengthen it, in particular by increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy provisions.

Greenpeace no, Environmental Defense Fund yes. And Al Gore?

He likened the Waxman-Markey bill to a civil rights bill: “the most important of our lives. It is a moral imperative.” He stated that it is an environmental Marshall Plan, which is what he called for (and outlined) in his book “Earth in the Balance.”

Over at the New York Times, Paul Krugman recognizes the downside of cap-and-trade, the centerpiece of this legislation, especially since compromise is giving a fair number of the carbon credits away for free. That needn’t crater the market for carbon credits, which will form after they are all auctioned or given away, but it isn’t ideal. Krugman’s interesting column concludes:

Still, the bill represents major action to limit climate change. As the Center for American Progress has pointed out, by 2020 the legislation would have the same effect on global warming as taking 500 million cars off the road. And by all accounts, this bill has a real chance of becoming law in the near future.

Indeed it does. We want to see how some of the markup goes before determining nuclear energy’s role in the bill. It has some already, but this is legislation where nuclear could play a determinative role. Let’s see if that happens.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)

2009 Update to MIT's 2003 Future of Nuclear Power Study

MIT-Future-of-Nuclear-PowerBack in 2003, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a study on nuclear power because they believed "this technology, despite the challenges it faces, is an important option for the United States and the world to meet future energy needs without emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) and other atmospheric pollutants." The 2003 study identified "the issues facing nuclear power and what might be done to overcome them."

Today, MIT released its Update to the 2003 study (pdf), and while some great progress has been made over the past six years, more needs to be done:

After five years, no new plants are under construction in the United States and insufficient progress has been made on waste management. The current assistance program put into place by the 2005 EPACT has not yet been effective and needs to be improved. The sober warning is that if more is not done, nuclear power will diminish as a practical and timely option for deployment at a scale that would constitute a material contribution to climate change risk mitigation.
Yikes. All is not bad though. Here are some good things that have happened over the past six years that the Update mentioned (p. 5):
The performance of the 104 U.S. nuclear plants since 2003 has been excellent.

The NRC has granted 51 license extensions to date with 19 such renewals granted between January 2003 and February 2008. Furthermore, modest power uprates have been granted in that period, adding about 1.5 GWe to the licensed capacity.

Seventeen applications for combined construction and operating licenses for 26 reactors have been submitted to the NRC.

Extension of the public attitudes research carried out in 2003 reinforces a trend towards greater public acceptance of nuclear power.
What's MIT's latest assessment on the costs of new nuclear plants? Here's page 6:
While the U.S. nuclear industry has continued to demonstrate improved operating performance, there remains significant uncertainty about the capital costs, and the cost of its financing, which are the main components of the cost of electricity from new nuclear plants.
No surprise there. Uncertainty will continue to remain until we actually complete new plants. Here's MIT's updated table on costs comparing nuclear, coal and gas. (LCOE = levelized cost of electricity)
The results of the costs seem reasonable with the following caveats:
The 2003 report found that “In deregulated markets, nuclear power is not now cost competitive with coal and natural gas. However, plausible reductions by industry in capital cost, operation and maintenance costs and construction time could reduce the gap. Carbon emission credits, if enacted by government, can give nuclear power a cost advantage.” The situation remains the same today.
Just to make sure we're clear here, the MIT study is saying nuclear power is not competitive with coal and gas plants that freely emit greenhouse gases. Once coal and gas plants actually have to account for their generous unwanted byproducts, nuclear power becomes competitive. I think most everyone would agree that the day of freely emitting GHGs is coming to an end. Somehow, though, I have a feeling that our nuclear opponents are going to spin this Updated study to claim that nuclear power is uneconomical, even though that claim will be based on one scenario that is becoming more and more unrealistic for coal and gas plants. We'll see...

Also worth noting is that the MIT team conducted some great research on new nuclear plant costs. In a supplemental paper to the 2009 update, MIT presented the costs of five units built between 2004-2006 in Japan and Korea (page 45 of the pdf). The two ABWRs mentioned came in under $3,000/kW. MIT found that "this more recent range [in costs] is lower than the range for the earlier Japanese and Korean builds [built between 1994-2002], perhaps reflecting continuing improvements in construction or other design factors." Exquisite. Hopefully the US can capture those lessons learned.

After you read this Update, be on the lookout for "a new MIT study, currently underway, on The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, which will examine the pros and cons of alternative fuel cycle strategies, the readiness of the technologies needed for them, and the implications for near-term policies." That study should generate some interesting discussions...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Where Your Vote Can Count

MANN_7_TX This image was created by Jadon Mann, a seventh grader in Georgetown, Texas.  Here’s what he says about his entry: “I believe that we all should chose a cleaner energy and keep the planet green for years to come.”

If you want to vote for Jadon’s entry – or any of the others; they’re pretty nice – go here. Jadon’s is under the grades 7-9 tab.

Here’s how Google describes the contest:

Welcome to Doodle 4 Google, a competition where we invite K-12 students to play around with our homepage logo and see what new designs they come up with. This year we're inviting U.S. kids to join in the doodling fun, around the intriguing theme "What I Wish for the World."

Both our country and the world are undergoing significant change. At Google we believe in thinking big, and dreaming big, and we can't think of anything more important than encouraging students to do the same.

The winner will appear on Google.com on May 21.

Jobs Beget Jobs: Siemens in North Carolina

Lt_Gov_Beverly_Purdue When we say that new nuclear plants are engines of job creation, we don’t just mean the new jobs created to construct and run the plants, but all the jobs that can grow up around it. Here’s an example:

Siemens Energy Inc. plans to hire more than 200 engineers in Charlotte – the latest step toward turning the region into an energy hub, state and local leaders said Thursday.

During a news conference at the Charlotte Chamber, Siemens officials said they'll add 226 jobs over the next five years, with an average annual salary of about $49,100 this year and $66,500 by 2013, plus benefits.

Nice in itself, nicer even when you consider:

Last month, a nuclear power unit of electronics giant Toshiba announced the addition of nearly 200 workers, averaging six-figure salaries, to staff a national project management and engineering center opening in August. More than 30 new nuclear reactors are proposed nationwide, including six in the Carolinas.

Hmmm. So it makes a little more sense why Siemens might be doing this:

Most of the new hires will be engineers, who will design the company's steam turbines and electric generators.

It all kind of fits together, doesn’t it? And North Carolina is a player here, too, eager to bring high paying jobs to its side of the state borders. And the reason:

“The state that gets green right,” she said then, “will own the next 50 years in this country.”

That’s Governor Bev Perdue. To translate into the vulgar: Jackpot!

Governor Purdue.

21st Century Energy Policymaking

Ken Salazar We’ve been focusing so much on the politics of cap-and-trade and the miseries of Nevada mountains that we’ve forgotten to bring you some nuclear good-time news. It’s not like there isn’t any, though you might not know it from hanging around here. Last week, Thaddeus Swanek of NEI’s member-only newsletter Nuclear Energy Overview visited a conference that brought together folks from  Congress, the administration and other interested parties to talk about the prospects going forward – a little luminance to go with the radiance.

Enjoy: 

Nuclear energy is a key piece of a strategic energy plan for the nation, congressional leaders said this week at a conference hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the United States needs to move forward with a comprehensive energy plan that includes nuclear energy. 

Salazar noted that President Obama often speaks about the necessity of a diverse mix of energy sources.  Nuclear is on that table, Salazar said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the best energy strategy will be one that “embraces balance— from renewables to coal with carbon capture and sequestration; from nuclear power to domestic drilling to investments in energy efficiency.”

“We’ve seen the dangers of global warming and the dangers of dependence on foreign sources of energy,” Hoyer said. “This is a transformative time for America’s energy policy.”

“I don’t think we can get there from here, to where we want to get, without nuclear,” he added.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said that what makes the most sense to fill the  “potentially dangerous energy gap between the renewable energy we would all like to have and the reliable, low-cost energy that we have to have,” is conservation and nuclear power.

Alexander proposed building 100 new nuclear power plants in the next 20 years. “We can do that.” 

Renewable energy sources alone will be unable to provide the large baseload electricity that the American economy needs, said Robert Blue, senior vice president of public policy and corporate communications at Dominion.

A wind farm co-owned by Dominion in West Virginia has about a 30 percent capacity factor; in contrast, its nuclear plants have capacity factors above 90 percent, Blue said. Nuclear energy is “a proven technology that is carbon-free that we can count on.”

Hoyer said that to assist with new reactor construction, loan guarantees are important in providing financing.

The current $18.5 billion in loan volume offered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s  loan guarantee program for new nuclear plants is “not going to be enough,” Hoyer said. “Nuclear energy is very cost-effective energy, but initial capital investment is very large, and we have to recognize that.” 

Hoyer also discussed the Clean Energy Technology Deployment Administration concept currently being considered in Congress, which would offer financing to different forms of clean energy at no cost to taxpayers, much like the Export-Import Bank now does for U.S. exports (see Nuclear Energy Overview, May 7).  He cited the program as an idea “worthy of discussion and, indeed, adoption.”

The Obama administration also should address used nuclear fuel reprocessing and storage, speakers said. Alexander called for an “aggressive mini-Manhattan project on recycling nuclear fuel.”

Phil Sewell, senior vice president of USEC, said, “We can eliminate 95 percent of the volume of nuclear waste just by reprocessing.” To help the nuclear industry to grow, reprocessing and storage of used fuel “need to be addressed by this administration,” he added.

When you live outside Washington, you tend to take a sour view of the Federal government. While we would be fantastically naive not to have a little lemon in our tea, what you may not know is just how many outlets – like the Chamber of Commerce – do get-togethers to share ideas, educate, mold policy, hammer out problems, etc.

We admit to having fun with some of the sillier views of politicians, but in addition to the things you see them do, they attend summits and conferences all the time to get a handle on complex subjects they may not have cared much about before being put on a committee.

You might not respect politicians much, but you would respect at least some of them – like Hoyer and Alexander – a little more more after you see the effort they put into doing their jobs well.

Ken Salazar. We found a lot of pictures of him in a cowboy hat, so clearly he likes the look and hasn’t been forced into something.

Friday YouTube Fun

A couple of weeks back, we pointed readers to "the unlikeliest beach book of the year:" David MacKay's Sustainable Energy - without the hot air.

Yesterday, this well-produced trailer for the book was passed along to us. Using a common 40-watt light bulb, MacKay provides a lucid demonstration of an individual's daily energy consumption. Touring the English countryside on his bicycle, the Cambridge physicist asks, and answers, what does the landscape look like when a country moves away from fossil fuels?



Good show, indeed.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gregory Jaczko Named NRC Chairman

Jaczko Along with a bunch of other personnel announcements, Gregory Jaczko, who has been an NRC commissioner, now assumes the post of Chairman, replacing Dale Klein. Here’s the news from the NYT:

A former adviser to Senator Harry Reid is President Obama’s choice to lead the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, giving opponents of a nuclear waste repository in Mr. Reid’s home state of Nevada another well-placed ally. The new chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, has served on the five-member commission since January 2005. He will now serve as the commission’s official spokesman and as its chief executive, overseeing day-to-day operations as well as long-range planning.

Despite the comment on Yucca Mountain, we think its role in the near term was set before now. Jaczko has plenty to do; we doubt Yucca Mountain will dominate his agenda.

You can read the NRC’s mini-bio here.

Here’s NEI’s congratulations:

“The Nuclear Energy Institute congratulates Commissioner Jaczko on his ascension to the chairmanship of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In the four years that Commissioner Jaczko has served as a member of the commission, he has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to safety and transparency in our nuclear regulatory regime, along with considerable technology and policy insights with regard to the safe operation of civilian nuclear facilities.

“We greatly value the fact that, particularly in those instances where our views on how to best achieve a common goal—continued safe operations—have differed, our relationship with the new chairman has been marked by mutual respect and candor. I have the utmost confidence that this amicability and open communications with all stakeholders, including the industry, will continue for the betterment of the regulatory process.

“This is a critical time in our nation’s energy and environmental history. It is vital that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission achieve its mission through a predictable and fair regulatory philosophy that includes a disciplined approach with regard to licensing the new nuclear plants that will help the nation achieve its formidable energy and environmental goals. We welcome the opportunity to work with Chairman Jaczko toward this end.

“NEI thanks Dale Klein for his service as NRC chairman over the past three years. Under his leadership, the commission completed rulemakings in nuclear plant security and other significant issues, and began the efficient processing of 17 license applications for new reactors. We look forward to his continued involvement on the commission.”

And Sen. James Imhofe (R-Okla.) has put up an on-point congratulatory note:

"I look forward to working closely with him in his new role as chairman of the NRC," Senator Inhofe said. "Nuclear energy must continue to play an increasingly important role in our nation's domestic energy supply. As we work together toward that goal, I appreciate Chairman Jaczko's commitment to transparency and improving public communication, something I very much agree with.

"Also, I believe the Reaction Oversight process has worked well, so I am very interested to learn about Chairman Jaczko's suggestions for changing it.  Any potential changes to performance indicators should avoid injecting unnecessary instability into the process."

So there you go. We’ll see if we can scrounge up some Jaczko quotes for contemplation.

Himself.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Building a Building: Nuclear Plant Component Makers See Growth

A company called Report Linker has released a, well, report called “Nuclear Energy Technologies Worldwide: Components and Manufacturing.” It can be yours for the low, low price of $3,195 (we get the idea of pricing something at $9.95, but we think Report Link could have gone sporty and priced this at $3,200). We checked for change under the couch cushions, then decided to settle for the press release instead:

The U.S. is the global leader in nuclear energy technology manufacturing, having a total market value of nearly $45.2 billion in 2002 and growing to an estimated $50.8 billion by year-end 2009. By 2013, SBI estimates that the U.S. market value will reach $61.1 billion, growing at an eleven-year Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 2.8%.

The U.S., France, and Japan comprise more than half of the global value of nuclear energy technology manufacturing. SBI estimates that France’s market value will grow from $28.9 billion in 2009 to $34.8 billion in 2013 (3.4% CAGR) and Japan will grow from $19.6 billion to $23.7 billion (3.4%) in 2013.

They also report that South Korea and China are rising quickly and offer the somewhat puzzling news that the Netherlands and Pakistan are developing into potent nuclear component suppliers. Okay, the Netherlands maybe, but Pakistan seems shaky enough to ward off big orders. We frankly think they may be underestimating U.S. growth, but that may be because they count only American companies and not Japanese (Toshiba, Hitachi), French (AREVA, EDF) and other foreign outfits operating here.

But it’s a press release: we could always forgo that elective surgery we’ve been eyeing and buy the book to delve into the details. What’s heartening is that the numbers continue trending upward – the nuclear business is fully mature (wind, solar, biomass and so on are not yet so and will probably see growth described as “explosive” – assuming the energy/climate change bill in Congress isn’t watered down to gruel.) So while the percentages offered are small, they are positive and the real numbers are in the billions. We’ll take it.

Rep. Joe Barton on Cap-and-Trade and the U.S. As Haiti

Haiti-Micah-Group We had a bit of fun with Rep. Joe Barton yesterday, but politicians say all kinds of things and a good amount of it leads to fun. But fair’s fair and Barton has put up an article more fully explaining his position on cap-and-trade. It can be found at American Daily Review, which describes itself as “News, politics and conservative commentary without compromise,” so Barton can speak with at least some political filters dialed down.

His article is called “Democrats Cap & Trade Plan: Sending us back to 1875”

Here’s a taster:

Nobody understands exactly what the legislation means in dollars and cents - more on this later - but to experience how it would feel to lower your personal carbon footprint to the size this bill proposes, set the flux capacitor to 1875. That’s the last time Americans’ carbon emissions matched the goals set by the Waxman-Markey legislation.

What, the old DeLorean is up on cinder blocks in the front yard again? In that case you can test drive Waxman-Markey by sailing down to Haiti, because current CO2 emissions are where Waxman-Markey wants America’s to be in 2050. Radical environmentalists think such a CO2 level will be heaven on Earth, but the place that has actually achieved it is a nation swimming in bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, typhoid fever, dengue fever and malaria, with 47 percent illiteracy and a life expectancy of 49 years. So excuse me if I remain unconvinced.

We definitely appreciate the Back to the Future references, but what we really take away from this is that Barton feels that progress will cease and even reverse if the bill is passed as written. This is a much more dire forecast than we’ve seen before.

His Haiti comparison doesn’t really work, though, since Haiti is not a country that reversed carbon emissions from the position of being a highly developed industrial nation. Obviously, The United States is not starting from the same place and therefore cannot end in the same place as Haiti. (Actually, history has put Haiti in a position to advance industrially without utilizing carbon emitting technology.)

One more taste and then head over to read the rest:

Just why anyone beyond reliably liberal politicians and environmental activists would support cap-and-trade is getting harder to understand. It is true that some utility companies that used to be suspicious now embrace it, but probably only so long as they get their free emissions permits.

The last try at this was called the Lieberman-Warner bill, with John McCain involved at an early point. We’re pretty sure cap-and-trade is a fairly conservative solution to this issue – a direct carbon tax would be the go-to liberal solution – but only if you think there’s an issue to address. We agree with Barton, though, that free emissions permits rather dilutes the purpose of the legislation.

(EIA, by the way, said the Lieberman-Warner bill would need a substantial amount of nuclear power to meet its emission reduction goals; EPA has said much the same about Waxman-Markey. And Barton, as a long time supporter of nuclear energy, has a solution that fits a cap-and-trade regime nicely. See here for Barton speaking via video to a 2006 NRC conference.)

In any event, we could have an entertaining conversation with Barton about this stuff all day. Check out his article and see what you think.

Children in the Haiti-Micah program. This is a group that takes in orphaned – and, we might fear, abandoned – children and supplies them with the basics – shelter, food, education. More on these good people here.

The Long-Awaited Future of Fusion May Have Gotten a Little Bit Closer

At least that's what scientists at the University of Gothenburg may have determined. Science Daily has the story:

Ultra-dense deuterium is a million times more dense than frozen deuterium, making it relatively easy to create a nuclear fusion reaction using high-power pulses of laser light.

“If we can produce large quantities of ultra-dense deuterium, the fusion process may become the energy source of the future. And it may become available much earlier than we have thought possible”, says Leif Holmlid.

“Further, we believe that we can design the deuterium fusion such that it produces only helium and hydrogen as its products, both of which are completely non-hazardous. It will not be necessary to deal with the highly radioactive tritium that is planned for use in other types of future fusion reactors, and this means that laser-driven nuclear fusion as we envisage it will be both more sustainable and less damaging to the environment than other methods that are being developed.”
And how far are they in their discovery?
So far, only microscopic amounts of the new material have been produced. New measurements that have been published in two scientific journals, however, have shown that the distance between atoms in the material is much smaller than in normal matter. Leif Holmlid, Professor in the Department of Chemistry, believes that this is an important step on the road to commercial use of the material.

The material is produced from heavy hydrogen, also known as deuterium, and is therefore known as “ultra-dense deuterium”. It is believed that ultra-dense deuterium plays a role in the formation of stars, and that it is probably present in giant planets such as Jupiter.
Hope to see it work in our lifetime! Hat tip to JM.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Carbon Emissions of the Long Distance Runner

joe_barton We’ve noticed several times an argument against regulating carbon emissions without actually noticing that it’s the same argument with different examples. For example, Here’s House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio):

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.

And Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.):

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.

At the time, we noted these comments lacked much in the way of logic or responsiveness to the issue. But this quote from Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) cinched it for us:

“So if you put 20,000 marathoners into a confined area, you could consider that a single source of pollution, and you could regulate it,” Barton says. “The key would be whether the EPA said that 20,000 people running the same route was one source or not.”

So that’s it. The argument is that any system intended to rein in carbon emissions (EPA regulation, cap-and-trade) will also cover the natural production of carbon dioxide – like you and I breathing in a crowd. We’re surprised Rep. Barton didn’t mention that any well-attended event puts masses of people together to release carbon dioxide pell-mell. So here comes the end of public attendance at football games and concerts-on-the-green. It’s a slippery slope: pretty soon, we’ll have to telecommute because we won’t be allowed out of our houses anymore.

The problem is that the argument is false, a straw man. Here’s what the EPA says about you and I and our devilish emissions:

Natural sources of CO2 occur within the carbon cycle where billions of tons of atmospheric CO2 are removed from the atmosphere by oceans and growing plants, also known as ‘sinks,’ and are emitted back into the atmosphere annually through natural processes also known as ‘sources.’ When in balance, the total carbon dioxide emissions and removals from the entire carbon cycle are roughly equal.

And then came the industrial revolution. (Now, all right, Boehner has a bit of a point about farm animals, but food supplements will likely put that one to bed.)

You may want to read the whole Newsmax story the above quote came from. You’ll get the fullest possible exposition of why the solution to carbon emissions is to do – nothing – because they’re not a problem. We don’t agree with much of it – and find the story’s good points rather buried in thick ideological honey, as is usual from NewsMax – but there it is.

Let’s see, we’ve used a picture of Rep. Boehner – and Rep. Shimkus – so here’s Rep. Barton. A sort of “twilight-of-the-gods” shot.

An Inside Look at the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant

Phoenix, Arizona's Channel 3 crew had the opportunity to record a few minutes of video of the inside of containment at one of the three Palo Verde units that was undergoing a refueling outage. Be sure to check it out.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Chill at Yucca Mountain

mountain So, if Yucca Mountain has been pushed onto a low-flame back burner, what then?

"Legally, it's a mess," explained Richard Stewart, a New York University law professor who has closely followed the project. Noting that nuclear power is the nation's largest energy source that does not emit greenhouse gases, Stewart said he worries that a continuing impasse at Yucca Mountain "could chill options for dealing with climate."

This hasn’t gone unnoticed.

But Yucca isn't dead yet. It has formidable backing in the House and from probably a majority of members of the Senate. Legally, it remains the nation's only approved long-term nuclear waste storage site.

There’s that, though writer John Fialka points out that though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) does not have the votes to kill Yucca Mountain outright, he can prevent Congress from reactivating it more fully through an unbreakable filibuster.

However, the legal issues remain quite real, with virtually every state with a nuclear plant now in position to sue the federal government; some have already rattled sabers. Keeping Yucca Mountain in a Valdemar-like half-life may cause those sabers to be sheathed.

And then there’s this:

Moreover, he [William Magwood IV, a physicist who directed nuclear programs in the Department of Energy under both former Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush] added, a number of U.S. allies in Europe and Asia are waiting for the United States to lead the way toward solving the nuclear waste problem. Magwood knows this because as a DOE official he took many of his foreign counterparts on tours of Yucca Mountain.

"They had an experience similar to what I have. You go to the top of the mountain, and you realize that you're really in the middle of nowhere. They all wished they had some kind of desolate area like this and wonder why we're having this argument."

We appreciate Magwood’s sentiment, though we don’t consider these comments on point. We suspect international watchers understand that Yucca Mountain has not been attacked on substance; it will be, as it always is, local politics rather than anything the United States does or doesn’t do that will point their way. Other countries would have had to do so anyway if they happen not to have a isolated-mountain-in-the-middle-of-nowhere to use as a repository. (And don’t misunderstand – there are other ways to deal with used fuel. But whatever method –storage at the plants, recycling, smaller regional repositories – is chosen, it has to be codified and, so far, no move to do that has occurred.)

Read the whole thing – a lot there about the politics we haven’t mentioned. Clearly, NIMBY plays a huge role and that makes us wonder whether similar issues will overtake other energy sources, at least in the short term – those windmills need a lot of room to roam.

But the problems addressed by nuclear energy – and renewable energy sources, too, especially as carbon emission control solutions - will likely not recede. Once the pushback to these problems relents, we expect more sensible policymaking to follow. And wouldn’t be surprised to see Yucca Mountain back in the thick of things.

No, no, not Yucca Mountain. If it looked like this, it might actually be an appealing location. Symbolism – it’s all the rage.

Dallas Morning News on the Waxman-Markey Bill

Waxman Markey BillHat tip to NNN reader Walker for passing along this Dallas Morning News Editorial that somehow didn't make it into our media clips. From Friday, May 8th:

First step toward a balanced energy policy

...The [Waxman-Markey] bill is long on environmental policy mandates but short on energy.

For instance, there's no mention of nuclear energy in the more than 600 pages, nor does the bill provide critical details about the cap-and-trade mechanism proposed to reduce CO{-2} emissions.

[snip]

No energy or environmental bill can be complete without a serious and comprehensive strategy to develop nuclear energy, essentially a carbon-free but reliable power source. [Ed: emphasis added]

U.S. electricity use is projected to increase 45 percent by 2030. This means nuclear and other cleaner energy alternatives are necessary to wean the nation from coal and other fossil fuels, which today account for about 85 percent of U.S. energy production. Congress should not squander an opportunity to promote nuclear energy as an integral part of the transition.

This bill must streamline the permitting process for nuclear plants, address safety concerns and provide incentives for companies to invest in nuclear power.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Friday YouTube Fun

Adhering to Friday YouTube Fun precedent, we serve up the vegetables before the ice cream sundae.

Two new ad campaigns caught our eye this week. The Alliance for Nevada's Economic Prosperity released two spots promoting the economic benefits of the Yucca Mountain project. The group seeks to reposition Yucca Mt. as a center for nuclear research and reprocessing, instead of a long-term storage facility.



Somewhat unlikely advertising partners, Exelon and Environmental Defense Action Fund have teamed up to launch a national TV, print, and online campaign. Titled "a Smart Cap," the ads tout the benefits of a national cap on carbon emissions. Exelon CEO John Rowe makes the pitch, delivering the tag line, "You'll be surprised."



And now your YouTube sundae: an episode from the Walt Disney Science series from 1957, "Our Friend the Atom," introduced by Mr. Disney himself. Fifty plus years later, the animation still holds up.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Sovietologist on Climate Progress' Nuclear Critic Joe Romm

This is definitely worth reading!

Depleted Cranium on Nuclear Desalination Plants

Here are some interesting facts on the potential of nuclear desalination plants:

Assuming that the same efficiency as the BN350 [reactor] setup were achieved in a conventional regenerative steam distillation plant, such a two-reactor [8-9 GW thermal APWR and EPR] driven desalination plant could therefore deliver about one million cubic meters of water per day (over one quarter of a billion US gallons), as well as more than half a gigawatt of electricity - more than enough for all plant operations as well as activities like pumping water, operating equipment and other internal activities.

To put this another way, since one acre-foot is equal to 1234 cubic meters, such a desalination plant could produce 810 acre-feet of water per day or about 283,500 acre-feet per year. What that equates to: Slightly less than half the water consumed by the entire city of Los Angeles.
Facts like these make me believe that we won't have serious water consumption problems in the future. If we run out of fresh water, the technology is already there for us to easily adapt to desalinating sea water.

Also worth noting, the proposed EPR unit at Calvert Cliffs, besides producing electricity, will be a desalination plant, though the water will only be used for plant purposes:
Unique to Unit 3 will be a desalination plant to produce potable water using reverse osmosis. The desalination plant will produce up to 1,250,000 gallon of potable water per day for Unit 3 and supporting facilities with total dissolved solids (TDS) less than 400 parts per million (ppm). The source for the desalination plant will be the brackish bay water from the makeup supply to the circulating water system. The TDS for the brackish bay water runs 10,000-15,000 ppm. The potable water will be distributed as makeup water for the demineralized water system, miscellaneous potable water services, fire protection and source water for the four ultimate heatsink cooling towers used during normal shutdown and power operation.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

To Harvey Wasserman: "Why should I trust anything you say?"

Wasserman asks: Who Will Pay for America's Chernobyl? Answer: No one – Because it can’t happen here.

The premise of Wasserman's article is erroneous. It is physically impossible for any U.S. nuclear power plant to explode like the Chernobyl reactor did. They are a completely different design that cannot run out of control and explode. And (unlike Chernobyl) all U.S. nuclear plants have heavily fortified containment buildings that are designed to withstand the worst case accident, nor can our reactors catch on fire. The fact is, Chernobyl can't happen here.

The worst thing you can do to a U.S. light water reactor - overheat the fuel and cause it to melt - is what happened at Three Mile Island 30 years ago. But the TMI accident had no impact on the health of the people or the environment around the facility because of all of the safety systems built into the plant. With all of the changes and additional safety measures made because of the lessons learned from TMI, it is very unlikely a similar accident will happen again. And (unlike Chernobyl) TMI was cleaned up, placed in safe storage, and paid for years ago. The total cost of the clean up was about $975 million, paid in equal shares by the nuclear industry, ratepayers, and insurance.

Speaking of insurance, Wasserman says "the industry cannot get its own insurance," the Price-Anderson Act could pay only "a tiny portion of the potential damage," and that "taxpayers are on the hook," to pay for an accident. All of these assertions are false. Every nuclear plant is required to have property insurance of at least $1 billion. Every nuclear plant also is required to have liability insurance of at least $300 million. If the $300 million is used, the Price-Anderson Act can take an additional $12 billion from the industry, and Congress can get even more from the industry if it shows cause. The fact is, the nuclear energy industry is very well insured and taxpayers are well protected.

Wasserman’s argument about millions of deaths and trillions of dollars lost is based on a discredited study. He stated that “the Sandia Laboratory's WASH-740 Report warned that a melt-down at an American reactor could permanently irradiate a land mass the size of Pennsylvania. The fiscal costs, like the potential death toll, were essentially inestimable.” The NRC issued a disclaimer on the Wash-740 study (that used nuclear bomb data and assumed no containment building) stating, "The NRC's most recent studies have confirmed that early research into the topic led to extremely conservative consequence analyses that generate invalid results for attempting to quantify the possible effects of very unlikely severe accidents.”

Wasserman’s statement that nuclear power plants have "a 40 year design span," is incorrect. They did not have a designed life span. When the plants were built is was recognized that like all machines, how long they would last depended on how well they were built, and how well they were maintained and operated. There were some who thought the plants might operate a century or more, and they may be right. The "104 rickety atomic reactors" he refers to operate at full power over 91 percent of the time. They are in fact, by far, the most reliable cost effective source of electricity in the nation because they were well built, and have been very well maintained and safely operated.

Considering the above are just a few examples of Mr. Wasserman’s many attempts to deliberately mislead readers in this article, one might ask Mr. Wasserman, "Why should I trust anything you say?"

Guest post by NEI's Tom Kauffman, former reactor operator at Three Mile Island.

NEI's CEO Marv Fertel on Nuclear Jobs

National Journal's Blog asked a group of experts if the Obama Administration is focusing too much on the jobs created by renewable energy:

The federal government is funneling billions of dollars into renewable energy projects. When evaluating those investments, should the main criterion be the number of jobs "created" by the project? What other standards should be used to evaluate those projects? Is the Obama Administration focusing too much of its attention on renewable energy projects, to the exclusion of traditional sources of energy?
So far five experts have responded, NEI's CEO Marv Fertel, being one of them:
Nuclear power plants provide more jobs than any other source of electricity. Based on jobs per 1,000 megawatts of electric generating capacity, nuclear plants create 500 new jobs, compared to 220 for coal plants, 90 for wind plants and 60 for natural gas-fueled plants, according to Ventyx and the Energy Department.

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In the last three years, private investment in new nuclear power plants has created an estimated 14,000-15,000 jobs. The nuclear industry has invested more than $4 billion in new nuclear plant development, and plans to invest approximately $8 billion in the next several years to be in a position to start construction in 2011-2012.
David Kreutzer from the Heritage Foundation also had some intriguing things to say:
The problem with renewable energy subsidies as job creators is they don’t create net jobs. Yes, with sufficient subsidies you can induce people to work in places they otherwise wouldn’t. You can point to people making windmill blades or installing solar panels or whatever and talk about the new “green” jobs. But you miss the jobs lost when the funds for the subsidies are pulled from other parts of the economy either by taxing or borrowing.

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It is no surprise that researchers in Spain, evaluating the actual data as opposed to models and anecdotes (pdf), found that subsidies for renewable energy projects cost 2.2 jobs for each “green” job created.
Interesting...