Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The View from Mecklenburg

photo_southhill The South Hill Enterprise says that it has the “largest paid circulation of any Mecklenburg County newspaper,”  which we take to mean it gets whomped by penny savers but otherwise has cornered the market in southern Virginia. Enterprising reporter Lisa Andrews went out to see how the local population was responding to the passage of the Energy bill in the House. Andrews also talks to the Washington politicians, but let’s just glide right by them.

Local farmer Hart Hudson said Friday, “I am not in favor of anything that will increase the cost of production.” Hudson said he supports the VFBF [Virginia Farm Bureau Federation] stance and he urged others to oppose the passage of the bill as it makes it way to the Senate.

Well, that’s to be expected, if a little narrow-band.

Dean Price, owner of Red Birch Energy in Bassett, referred to the bill as a way to use “trickle down” economics and to encourage local farmers to spend locally. “This legislation will allow more American entrepreneurs and farmers like me to grow and sell our own energy,” Price said. “These kinds of jobs can’t be outsourced and will be a huge part of a new economy and business model in Southern Virginia.” He said that the economy is on the verge of an economic boom.

We hope Mr. Price is right about the economy. We looked up Red Birch Energy and found that it is a biodiesel concern that uses local canola to make its diesel fuel.

“I encourage the Senators and Congressmen of the Fifth District to notify the small farmers in the area how this bill will impact them and how they can take advantage of the opportunities included in the bill,” President of the National Black Farmers Association John Boyd said Monday. “I would like to see them holding meeting and keeping the rural farmers up to date on the progress. Ultimately the bill will reach rural America. It will come to us, an area that doesn’t normally get affected by such legislation. We will feel the impact of the solar power and it will help rural America.”

We like Mr. Boyd’s expansive nature a lot, but reckon every energy initiative has a considerable impact on farmers. We took a peek over at National Black Farmers Association Web site and found that Mr. Boyd created it on his own and really has a beef, so to speak, with the USDA. You can read all about it over there.

The 13th annual Picnic in the Park is set for this Friday from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. in Parker Park. The free event features music, kids games, popular concessions, and, of course, the biggest and best ever fireworks display provided by Dominion Fireworks.

I might have aimed my camera differently, but if you’re around Parker Park, drop by.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Barack Obama on Nuclear Energy

20070309-BarackObama We quoted a bit of President Barack Obama’s discussion of the energy bill in the post below, but he had more to say, with nuclear getting a pretty good showing. Here are all his comments referencing nuclear energy from the interview (the nuclear parts neatly bolded), with a fair amount of surrounding context. Do take a look at the whole thing, though. Lots of meat.

1. President Obama: I think this was an extraordinary first step. You know, if you had asked people six months ago -- or six weeks ago, for that matter -- whether we could get a energy bill with the scope of the one that we saw on Friday through the House, people would have told you, no way. You look at the constituent parts of this bill -- not only a framework for cap and trade, but huge significant steps on energy efficiency, a renewable energy standard, huge incentives for research and development in new technologies, incentives for electric cars, incentives for nuclear energy, clean coal technology. This really is an unprecedented step and a comprehensive approach.

2. President Obama: So this is really a bill that helps give industry a certainty that this is coming along, rather than depending whether you start now or five years from now -- let's start it now. I've seen over the last decade more and more industries that the United States used to have a leadership in -- from nuclear power to power engineering of transformers to cars -- just one by one going away, being off-shored. And we've got to capture back this high-value engineering, which is the future.

3. Q. Do you think the Senate is actually going to be able to get something done this summer? You've got a lot of things, between health care --

President Obama: How the Senate times all this stuff is going to be, obviously, up to Harry Reid and the leadership in the Senate. But with the House having taken the lead and set a benchmark, I think the Senate is going to recognize now is the time to act.

So how all this stuff gets sequenced is hard to gauge. It may be that the Senate decides to do health care before they do energy. We've still got financial regulation in place. And the air traffic control system on all this legislation, how we land all of it I think is going to require enormous hard work and a deft touch by legislative leaders. What we want to do is to simply encourage the Senate and the House to seize the day, seize the opportunity.

The most important message that I want to deliver -- and it's the same message that I'm delivering on health care -- is everybody knows what we're doing isn't working. Everybody knows that. There's no contradiction. That the most vocal opponents to this legislation all have to admit that the status quo is unacceptable. So then you ask them, well, okay, what should we do? And they're sort of mumbling and muttering and vague allusions to, well, maybe we ought to do more nuclear power.

Well, I'll tell you what, there is a serious approach to nuclear power in this building. "Well, we need to focus on production, that's what will free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil." I've already said I'm happy to see us move forward on increasing domestic production, including offshore drilling -- but we can't do that in isolation from all these other important steps that need to be taken.

So if the starting point is to acknowledge that we can't keep on doing the same things that we've been doing and expecting different results, then it means that now is the time to act. And I'm confident that ultimately the Senate is going to feel as the House did and, as tough as this may be, they're going to go ahead and move forward.

You knew there had to be an Obama pointing picture. Looks like there must be a balcony for him to point at in this shot.

The Energy Bill Passes the House

mitch-739075 Not by much – 219-212 – with a fair number of Democrats voting against it and all but eight Republicans likewise. But it passed. The Senate has a parallel bill wending through committee that is now scheduled for a September vote, so we’ll have to wait to see if, and in what form, this bill passes. But there’s been plenty of reaction to it at this stage.

John J. Castellani, President of Business Roundtable: “The bill ignores the role that oil and natural gas must play in the transition to a low-carbon future, as well as nuclear energy’s central role in reducing America’s carbon footprint. To achieve the GHG reductions called for in the bill, we not only need to use energy more efficiently, but also must deploy a balanced, comprehensive portfolio of new low-energy technologies.”

The Associated Press (H. Josef Hebert): The House-passed bill contains provisions to make it easier to get loan guarantees and expands the nuclear industry's access to loans for reactor construction. An Environmental Protection Agency analysis that shows modest future costs from a low-climate energy world assumes a significant expansion of nuclear energy. The Senate could add more incentives for the nuclear industry.

President Obama: You look at the constituent parts of this bill -- not only a framework for cap and trade, but huge significant steps on energy efficiency, a renewable energy standard, huge incentives for research and development in new technologies, incentives for electric cars, incentives for nuclear energy, clean coal technology. This really is an unprecedented step and a comprehensive approach.

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.), Minority Leader, on Fox News Sunday: Well, I hope it won't pass the Senate. The president himself said last year that it will lead to skyrocketing electricity increases. Think of it as a light switch tax. I think the president's right. I think it's going to lead to significant increases in electricity across America in an effort to try to deal with a global problem.

If we do have a global warming problem, and many people believe we do, we need to target it on a global basis. The way to get at it is to build more nuclear power plants which don't have a CO2 emission problem and to develop the kind of technology to burn coal cleanly.

Friends of the Earth (President Brent Blackwelder): It’s a shame we can’t celebrate the passage of the first-ever bill intended to reduce global warming pollution. Unfortunately, big oil, dirty coal, corporate agribusiness, and Wall Street lobbyists neutered this bill and it now fails to deliver the transformational change that is needed. This bill will produce nowhere near the emissions reductions that are needed to solve global warming, and—astonishingly—it will eliminate existing EPA authority to fight pollution from coal-fired power plants. [We’re actually surprised nuclear escaped their rogues gallery.]

U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Senior Vice President of Environment, Technology and Regulatory Affairs William Kovacs): Despite the good intentions of this bill's drafters to transition the U.S. to a 'clean, green economy,' H.R. 2454 [the number given the energy bill] still suffers from a large number of flaws. It fails to ensure that enough renewable or alternative energy sources, which include not only wind and solar but also nuclear and coal with carbon capture and sequestration, will be brought online to compensate for the fossil energy that will be de-selected by the bill's aggressive caps.

Naturally, we’re cherry picking – if we went with environmentalists or business types exclusively, it could get pretty gruesome. And even from this selection, you may be surprised that the bill passed at all.

Pass – the House bill – or fail – as McConnell foretells for the Senate – and you’ve still got a useful tool for Copenhagen:

"The passing of this legislation will give good encouragement for Copenhagen negotiations as it shows that the US is starting to move on climate action," ACF executive director Don Henry said in a statement on Saturday.

"It is a reminder that we need to get cracking and pass good climate laws in Australia; otherwise we will be left behind."

And:

The climate bill being debated today [last Friday] in the U.S. House represents a “sea change” and “points to the fact that the United States [is] very serious on climate,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a visit to the White House this morning.

See? If an eventual failure of the bill indicates a desire to see the rest of the world get on board – see McConnell again – it’ll still have been a valuable exercise.

Senator Mitch McConnell. Not sure if he’s signaling peace or two. (NEI’s reaction to the House energy bill is here, by the way.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Waxman-Markey Bill Faces Congress

vc53 Today sees the vote in the House on the Clean Energy and Security Act, aka Waxman-Markey aka the climate change bill, likely to be a very near thing on a very tight vote margin. As you might imagine, this is last ditch time for those who want the bill and those who don’t.

Greenpeace says no:

Since the Waxman-Markey bill left the Energy and Commerce committee, yet another fleet of industry lobbyists has weakened the bill even more, and further widened the gap between what Waxman-Markey does and what science demands. As a result, Greenpeace opposes this bill in its current form.

Which sounds to us like Greenpeace’s lobbyists need a good talking-to.

Heritage’s Ben Lieberman says no:

Inflicting economic pain is what this is all about. That is how the ever-tightening emissions targets will be met.

Well, it probably isn’t about inflicting pain. The goal would seem to be to avoid inflicting pain.

The New York Times is going for yes:

The bill has shortcomings. But we believe that it is an important beginning to the urgent task of averting the worst damage from climate change. Approval would show that the United States is ready to lead and would pressure other countries to follow. Rejection could mean more wasted years and more damage to the planet.

Interestingly, the Times looks at the bill on a more global basis. A lot of the no’s see their opposiition more local terms.

The Washington Post tries yes, but:

Even if it passes today, Waxman-Markey is just a first step. With a flood of amendments to the House bill expected today and fierce battles to come in the Senate, the debate over how to design this fundamental shift in the American economy remains wide open.

We should know later today.

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North_Carolina_State_University2 North Carolina State University is getting $5.9 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct research on improving nuclear energy production and management.

And why?

“Energy researchers at N.C. State work hard to find more efficient and effective ways to generate and deliver energy to millions of people across the country,” said Louis A. Martin-Vega, dean of the College of Engineering. “These seven nuclear energy research awards are a tribute to the outstanding quality of our engineering faculty and will significantly enhance N.C. State's leadership role in providing solutions to the nation’s energy challenges.”

There are 71 of these grants. We congratulate NCSU and every other research outlet and school that receives them. Story here.

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tarmar08 Don Safer is board chairman of the Tennessee Environmental Council. He has a post up at The Tennessean’s blog that is, from first word to last, completely false:

Concerning letter writer Mr. Haupt's comments: Mother Earth will not be thanking us, unless increased genetic mutations, birth defects and cancer are her way of thanking us for the increased radiation on the planet. Radiation causes all of these tragedies.

It’s been awhile since we’ve seen nuclear pushback so bluntly bankrupt of viable arguments. Read and marvel.

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(To be fair, TEC is sponsoring a streambank restoration at Jerry Erwin Park in Spring Hill this Saturday. By all means, drop by and help. We’ve done this ourselves, so we can tell you this: you’ll get wet and dirty, but happy and satisfied.)

Levelized Costs of New Electric Generating Technologies - EIA

Just wanted to bring to your attention probably one of the best, most complete, and credible sets of data on new power plant costs I've come across so far. The data comes from the Energy Information Administration's Annual Energy Outlook 2009 and the chart and table below were created by the Institute for Energy Research. The only other source I've seen that comes close to a credible comparison on cost data is Lazard (pdf).

In the past, I hardly used EIA's cost data much, partly because their capital cost estimates for nuclear were always too low (the estimates are much more realistic this edition), but mostly because they only presented their cost assumptions that feed into the NEMS model (pdf). They never showed a levelized, unsubsidized, balanced set of cost data for nearly all technologies. Here's IER's explanation of the data:

To determine the most economic technology for the type of demand (base, intermediate, or peaking load) for which new capacity is needed, NEMS competes the technologies based on the economics of their levelized costs. Levelized costs represent the present value of the total cost of building and operating a generating plant over its financial life, converted to equal annual payments and amortized over expected annual generation from an assumed duty cycle.

The table below provides the average national levelized costs for the generating technologies represented in the updated AEO2009 reference case. The values shown in the table do not include financial incentives such as state or federal tax credits, which impact the cost and the competitiveness of the technology. These incentives, however, are incorporated in the evaluation of the technologies in NEMS based on current laws and regulations in effect at the time of the modeling exercise, as well as regional differences in the cost and performance of the technology, such as labor rates and availability of wind or sun resources.

Below are IER's chart and table. I'd say the results speak for themselves. Hat tip to Charles Barton!



Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Future, The Shifting Ground, and Bachmann

242184471_88a6043925_d Bob Metcalfe has an interesting futurist editorial in the Wall Street Journal:

The good news is that the big names in nuclear energy -- like Areva, Hitachi, General Electric and Toshiba -- have recently been joined by a bevy of high-tech start-ups seeking to develop advanced nuclear-reactor designs for both fission and fusion energy production. So far, there are five fission and two fusion start-ups, among them Hyperion, NuScale and Tri Alpha.

We don’t want to quote much – too much on Metcalfe’s mind to paraphrase. He considers current nuclear technology too expensive, though he give a kind of indirect thumbs up to the kinds of mini-reactors Babcock & Wilcox recently introduced, and perhaps oversells fusion – still essentially a lab project.

Even as a peek into the future, we found ourselves quibbling a lot. But it tweaks the brain and is therefore worth a read.

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Geothermal’s in town and shaking things up. While prospecting for heat in Basel Switzerland a few years ago:

the project set off an earthquake, shaking and damaging buildings and terrifying many in a city that, as every schoolchild here learns, had been devastated exactly 650 years before by a quake that sent two steeples of the Münster Cathedral tumbling into the Rhine.

That’s not good. Even worse:

… An American start-up company, AltaRock Energy, will begin using nearly the same method to drill deep into ground laced with fault lines in an area two hours’ drive north of San Francisco.

We have no brief on geothermal energy, but this does give us pause:

But because large earthquakes tend to originate at great depths, breaking rock that far down carries more serious risk, seismologists say. Seismologists have long known that human activities can trigger quakes, but they say the science is not developed enough to say for certain what will or will not set off a major temblor.

We vote for finding out what might cause a major “temblor” - in San Francisco – in a fault line riven area – before proceeding apace. The story has a lot of good material about geothermal energy, so do read the whole thing. You may or may not find yourself quaking.

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Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s (R) statements sometimes zoom straight into the ideological ether - where the air can get a little thin, and her message, however valid, becomes easier to dismiss. But credit where it’s due, and in The Hill, Bachmann effectively brings nuclear energy down to the local level:

One of the current U.S. nuclear generators is in my district, in Monticello, Minn. Last year, as the Xcel Energy site celebrated 38 years as a good neighbor, strong business and excellent power source, they met with area environmental groups that were re-thinking their long-held opposition to nuclear power. In a Star Tribune article (“No Protests as Xcel Ramps Up Nuclear Plans,” by Heron Marquez Estrada, July 27, 2008), Bill Grant, Midwest director for the Izaak Walton League of America, a leading national conservation group, was reported as saying that “he would not be surprised if the group revises its policies to include a nuclear option in its vision of how to fuel the nation’s future energy needs.”

Well, we’ll see, but hope, it does spring eternal. Bachmann zings the Democrats a few times, rather mildly, but has some salient points to make. Have a read.

Basel, Switzerland. Those are likely the steeples near the middle of the picture the Baselians would like to keep upright.

The Wind Out of Britain

ExecutiveWindmill We always wish our windy friends well, since we like the aesthetics of windmills and they answer to the need for renewable energy sources, but sometimes you just have to wonder:

The wind industry is suffering from increasing capital costs [this is in the UK] and needs three to four manufacturers competing to bring down construction costs, the association said. Costs of building wind capacity are forecast to rise for the next few years and then decline from current levels until 2015, the group [The British Wind Energy Association} said.

Without putting too fine a point on it, if costs are going to increase over the “next few years,” that about gets us to 2015. Frankly, we imagine wind has the, er, wind at its back and its costs will decrease as economies of scale kick in. Which renders this whole story kind of silly.

“We could see prices fall by as much as 20 percent from today’s 3.1 million pounds ($5.1 million) per megawatt” of installed capacity, McCaffery said. “Government must pull out all the stops to accommodate this program.”

And what stops should government pull? A different story provides some clues:

Demand for turbines outstrips supply so that has pushed up the price. [still kind of silly – see a demand, ramp up supply.]

It is made worse by the value of the pound because turbines are priced in euros.

It is also still difficult to secure the necessary investment.

On top of all of this, power generators still want a strategic plan from the authorities for a full offshore grid, rather than the ad hoc connections preferred by Ofgem. [Ofgen is the electricity/gas regulator in Britain.]

That last part is key. While the story asserts that the electricity grid can handle the intermittency of wind without undue strain – which will allow for a ramp down on coal even while nuclear sticks around – and we really hope that true and not just hopeful - the lack of grid integration with where windmills happen to be does represent a problem. Seems solvable, and the British do have a will to make wind energy work.

We would, however, recommend an enterprising Brit type open a turbine factory. The market’s there – it’s odd that both these stories take it for granted that the turbines have to come from the continent. We’re already seeing companies open fabrication plants for the nuclear industry here – seems plausible for the Brits and wind, too.

This Executive Windmill is solar powered. That’s renewable squared! It’ll set you back $350, which explains the Executive part.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bob Bennett and The 100 Nuclear Plants

1277260Bob_Bennett_official_photo_240 A couple of weeks ago, we noted that Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) had called for building 100 new nuclear plants. What Alexander created is, shall we say, a meme, one that is catching on in Republican energy circles. Here for example is Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah):

"It's been my experience and my position...that one of the driving forces behind America's economic growth has been our access to cheap energy," Bennett said at a Republican-only hearing on energy development he organized. "If we're going to survive in the kind of economy we want, we need to have access to cheap energy."

We’re not sure we’d stress the “cheap” part of “cheap energy” – in a way, all energy has been cheap and we’re fairly sure that even the most draconian energy bill might make energy less cheap but far from ruinously expensive - but we take his point, especially since nuclear energy portends no particular need for foreign entanglement. It answers to concerns of energy security quite tidily.

Bennett serves on the energy and natural resources committee and is ranking member on the energy subcommittee of the appropriations committee. He has a significant voice in these issues. So his proscription matters:

That means, Bennett says, reviving the idea of building new nuclear reactors, a move the United States hasn't made since 1977. He wasn't alone in that thought.

He sure wasn’t.

"The president has said Iran can produce electricity through nuclear power, so why in the world should we not in the United States begin to pick up the technology that we invented," Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said.

"The future of energy is clean energy," said Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, including, "building at least 100 new nuclear power plans in the next 20 to 25 years."

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said he was stumped why anyone would oppose such a construction blitz.

"You'd think that all Americans can come together on a plan like that," Wicker said.

You’d think. We cannot find ourselves disagreeing with any of this, although we think Bennett’s Republican’s-only get-together would have benefited from some bipartisan effort. Excluding Democrats is what Republicans don’t like when it happens to them and a limited group with no real disagreement can lead to an airy dismissal of problems.

But if Bennett can broaden out his coalition some more – and we think he could – he can turn an interesting assemblage into one that might have an impact on policy. We hope he does that.

Himself. Sen. Bennett is in his third term as junior Senator and is next up for election next year. You can get a sense of his outlook on energy here.

Pennies in the Fuel Bank

emergency-bank The idea of a fuel bank to control the flow of uranium to countries contemplating domestic nuclear energy production has stumbled a bit.

The International Atomic Energy Agency and industrialized nations argue that a multilateral uranium-enrichment center would best meet growing global nuclear energy demand while dissuading nations from building proliferation-prone enrichment plants themselves.

But emerging nations, who fear "multinationalizing" control over the fuel cycle would curb their right to home-grown atomic energy for electricity, rejected a request by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to develop a detailed plan for approval in September.

The IAEA is likely right; however, an almost constant tension in international relations is that emerging nations – think India, for starters – feel pushed around by more developed nations. The goal behind the fuel bank is to limit proliferation opportunities, but a fair number of countries do not feel they represent a proliferation risk.

"(Developing nation) delegations kept saying they felt this plan would hamper their inalienable and sovereign right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to develop their own nuclear fuel cycle," said a Vienna diplomat in the closed-door gathering.

And presumably, some countries don’t like being lumped in with bad actors in being included in this arrangement. We’re reasonably sure this would include countries that are bad actors.

As with American or any other politics, one has to consider this bump part of the push-pull to get policy made – a snapshot in time, so to speak. The fuel bank, by virtue of presenting a way to keep nerves calm in the international community, remains a salient project and gives nuclear a profile in countries just emerging into the industrialized era. If such countries can commit to nuclear energy, and its renewable cousins, then climate change issues need not hold back progress. And that argues for the fuel bank.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday YouTube Fun

For those unable to attend the Nuclear Energy Assembly a few weeks back, video clips of the events are now up on NEI's YouTube channel. Clips include speeches by: Congressman James Clyburn, Congressman Steny Hoyer, Senator Lisa Murkowski, FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff and NEI CEO Marv Fertel.

Sadly, footage of the Dancing With the NEA Stars competition remains on the cutting room floor. In the unlikely event that you were jonesing for dancing utility industry employees, we present the good folks from the Swedish power company, Vattenfall. Yikes. (Or yïkesa, as they say in Stockholm.)


From Germany to Maryland – with Love

r128634_422578 We can’t help but think that Die Welt, the German magazine, has an ulterior motive for looking at Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs plant. If they do – like knocking over Germany’s ban on new construction – they don’t reveal it. But we wonder.

Members of the Maryland Chamber’s board visited the existing 1,735-megawatt nuclear power plant, which first went online in 1975, and which is recognized internationally for its high level of performance. Calvert Cliffs Unit 2 set a world record this year for pressurized water reactors by operating non-stop for more than 692 days, and in 2008 had a record capacity factor, a measure of efficiency, of 101.37 percent.

Sterling!

In addition to helping Maryland meet its energy and climate change goals, the privately funded initiative to build a new nuclear unit would be one of the largest industrial development projects in Maryland history, resulting in 4,000 construction jobs and 400 permanent operational positions.

Golden!

The Nuclear Energy Institute estimates that nuclear power plants pay 36 percent more than the average salaries for a local area, and that the average nuclear power plant generates $430 million in sales of goods and services in the local community and almost $40 million in total labor income.

Pure platinum!

Everything said here is true and also answers to our comment yesterday that not considering the entire life of a plant in calculating the cost of it is deceptive. None-the-less, please Die Welt, we’re blushing.

Well, we could have shown the Calvert Cliffs plant, but that’s too easy. This is the Gundremmingen plant near Ulm in Germany. If the Germans don’t get cracking, they’ll have to close this plant due to the ban – and, who knows, perhaps buy electricity from France to replace what’s lost.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Questions Worth Asking?

falling-money Triplepundit asks the following question:

At some point you just have to ask yourself, what is it that these politicians are getting to push nuclear energy so hard?

Answer: knowledge. It’s a powerful thing. You can read the rest of the post yourself, but we didn’t find it all that noteworthy. The opening question was just too easy.

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While Congress is contemplating a new energy policy, American women are paying the electric bills at home and making the critical decisions on energy use in their homes and businesses, according to the national Women's Survey on Energy & the Environment, the first in-depth women's survey on attitudes and awareness about energy.

We look forward to finding out what women think about energy. Oh wait, we already know that – from polls – that also include – men. We genuinely don’t get this one.

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We trust that Mark Miller at the Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment means only the best when he writes that building 100 new nuclear plants, as suggested by the Republicans’ stab at an energy plan, would be ruinously expensive – you can find his whole report here – but it rests almost solely on the basis of the admittedly high cost of building a plant. The actual cost of the electricity the plant produces, how much it costs to run the plant, and the the length of time the plant can stay in operation all feed into the price paid by ratepayers – you and me and everyone we know.

If you leave off these other elements, you get “Cooper Study Shows Trillions of Dollars in Excess Costs if US Builds 100 Nuclear Reactors.” If you add them in, you end up with nuclear being highly competitive. See here (for a pdf) or here (for a PowerPoint show) for attempts to give a full picture of the costs of nuclear energy.

Read Miller’s study in conjunction with these and we think you’ll see how easy it is to make nuclear look like a money pit when, in sum, it can be quite the opposite.

“When it rains, it rains pennies from heaven. So when you hear it thunder, don't run under a tree. There'll be pennies from heaven for you and me.” – A rather grim depression-era tune by Arthur Johnston and Johnnie Burke. We guess Mr. Miller has just put us in a mood.

The Last Time I Saw – Concrete

light-transmitting concrete Not much thought about by energy types, but exceptionally important in the construction of a nuclear power plant, concrete would seem an unchangeable item. After all, it’s been in use since Roman times. But that, as MIT demonstrates, is remarkably unimaginative thinking – the creation of cement, a component of concrete, accounts for 5 to 10 percent of the carbon emissions in the world (though that range is so broad, we think they should say, “If we had to guess.”) So how to make it more energy efficient?

In the January issue of the Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids, the team reports that the source of concrete's strength and durability lies in the organization of its nanoparticles. The discovery could one day lead to a major reduction in carbon dioxide emissions during manufacturing.

It’s all about the nanoparticles.

He [Franz-Josef Ulm] and Georgios Constantinides, a postdoctoral researcher in materials science and engineering, studied the behavior of the nanostructure of cement. They found that at the nano level, cement particles organize naturally into the most densely packed structure possible for spherical objects, which is similar to a pyramid-shaped pile of oranges.

The guys poked various cements with nanoparticle needles to create a kind of taxonomy.

The C-S-H [calcium-silicate-hydrate] particles (each about five nanometers, or billionths of a meter, in diameter) have only two packing densities, one for particles placed randomly, say in a box, and another for those stacked symmetrically in a pyramid shape (like a grocer's pile of fruit). These correspond exactly to the mathematically proved highest packing densities allowed by nature for spherical objects: 63 and 74 percent, respectively. In other words, the MIT research shows that materials pack similarly even at the nano scale.

And?

If the researchers can find--or nanoengineer--a different mineral to use in cement paste, one that has the same packing density but does not require the high temperatures during production, they could conceivably cut world carbon dioxide emissions by up to 10 percent.

Yes, it’s pretty deep-dish. And creating that new mineral – ah, there’s the rub – may well prove as carbon intensive as creating cement. Nobody knows. But it’s fascinating that someone (Ulm and Constantinides being the someones) decided to do the deep-dish look at concrete and begin to ideate a replacement for it. Obviously, very early days, but enormous potential. Do read the whole thing.

Architect Aron Losonczi has developed a new type of concrete [this story is from 2006] that transmits light by adding "optical fibers" into the mix. The fibers are used to shift light at each end, producing a "see-through" effect. Called LiTraCon, "the blocks are a combination of 'optical fibers' and concrete, mixed so that the fibers create a fine glass aggregate within the concrete." The glass fibers then transfer light from one side of the block to the other, creating the effect of light transmission.

Perhaps Ulm and Constantinides need to have a chat with Mr. Losonczi.

Sarkozy: Nuclear is dead (?!)

Sarkozy nuclear is deadWe tip our hats to the savvy marketing peeps at Greenpeace for generating lots of internet buzz this morning about their spoofed edition of the International Herald Tribune. From the AFP,

Greenpeace supporters handed out mock copies of the International Herald Tribune in several countries Thursday to press world leaders to agree on ambitious efforts to tackle climate change.

The eight-page mock-up included everything from an environmentally friendly Garfield comic strip to a horoscope (Sagittarius: 'There is a limit to what you can do with the resources available to you').
This below-the-fold (beyond the pale?) article caught our eye, "Sarkozy: Nuclear is dead."

While it might be fun to reciprocate in kind, and create a spoofed news article with a headline that read, "Greenpeace Embraces Nuclear Energy," we remember that the founder of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore, and the former head of Greenpeace UK, Stephen Tindale, already have.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nuclear Loan Guarantees Expand

piketon The nuclear good news express has – seemingly – pulled into the station for an extended stay. We’ll see what we can do about reviving our natural gloomy nature tomorrow.

A measure passed in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a vote of 15 to 8 includes language for the creation of the Clean Energy Development Administration, a new federal agency to help funnel loan guarantees for nuclear, wind and solar projects.

Chatter has moved nuclear energy in and out of this “clean energy bank,” but the final word is: in.

While an initial $18.5 billion loan-guarantee program will help build four new nuclear plants, an additional $90 billion in loan guarantees already have been requested among the 17 companies proposing 26 new reactors, according to Mitch Singer of the Nuclear Energy Institute.

What’s intriguing about this is that the benefits of these 26 plants – well, the ones that are chosen to get the loan guarantees, anyway – way outstrip the cost to the government. Loan guarantees represent no taxpayer outlay – instead, they put the imprimatur of the government behind loan applications made to private banks, reducing risk considerably. It’s really the nuclear interests and the banks that pull the financial freight here.

Now, the government would be on the hook if a project went pear-shaped, but there’s no advantage to letting that happen – any potential nuclear renaissance would wither away if the plants cannot be successfully built and the dream of reversing climate change would wither with it.

So the onus falls on the industry to ensure that the projects do not fail. And industry would not put itself willingly into a position to fail. If the businesses had fallen into a such a state of disrepair, they simply would not proceed.

But they are proceeding.

[Duke Energy] plans to announce on Thursday a new nuclear-power project near Piketon, Ohio that also is near a planned uranium-enrichment plant operated by USEC Inc., according to reports and an industry source.

The (old) Piketon plant. When people call industrial plants “hulking,” this is what they mean. Whatever Duke and USEC do with this site will be a marked improvement.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In the Nuclear Sphere: Good News All Around

AmigaBox-1152x864 Lots of strikingly good news in the nuclear sphere today: Let’s take them one at a time.

The Department of Energy has introduced a scholarship program:

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced nearly $9 million in awards to support the next generation of American nuclear energy development.  Under the Nuclear Energy Universities Program, the Department of Energy will provide $2.9 million in scholarships and fellowships to 86 U.S. nuclear science and engineering (NS&E) students, and will offer more than $6 million in grants to 29 U.S. universities and colleges in 23 states. 

We’re so used to huge numbers coming out of the government that our first thought was that this was pretty paltry. Millions? Should be billions. But no, this is more than enough to get the ball rolling:

Four-year and two-year accredited universities or colleges including community colleges and trade schools were eligible to apply for an infrastructure grant.  Award amounts for each project are subject to negotiation but range between about $100,000 and $300,000.  Awards are limited to one per university or college and are expected to be completed by September 30, 2009. 

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From our friends in the Senate:

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today passed an amendment to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that recognizes the strategic importance of nuclear energy to America’s supply of carbon-free electricity.

The amendment, passed with bipartisan support, calls for the expansion of nuclear energy facilities that have proven essential in providing clean and secure domestic energy for the United States and in reducing greenhouse gases. Nuclear energy prevents 692 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year and produces nearly three-quarters of all carbon-free electricity in America.

Our first point. We’ve heard you complain that we overplay those dumb losers the Republicans. But those dumb losers represent 40 Senators and Senators, much more than Representatives, tend to be little universes unto themselves. And, oh, aren’t so dumb, either.

When a respected figure like Sen. Alexander (R-Tenn.) starts talking up nuclear energy, it has a knock-on effect throughout the chamber. Now, we’re not crediting this bi-partisan outcome to Alexander, or even to the Republicans per se, but we will credit him and some of his colleagues for moving the needle at least a little in the direction of nuclear – with good, pertinent arguments - especially since there have not been very loud voices against nuclear in the Senate. And as this result show, the needle did not have to move very far.

Our second point. This amendment provides a sense of the Senate, meaning no one has to do anything about it. But it now becomes easier for legislators and nuclear advocates to say, “This is the way the Senates says we should go – so let’s go this way” and have policy grow up around it.

It’s an excellent outcome in a somewhat difficult political environment. Celebrate.

(Our link is to an NEI press release, which we like to avoid. We’ll go for an external link should there be one.)

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And here’s an excellent roundup of countries wanting to host a nuclear fuel bank. And what is fuel bank?

A nuclear fuel bank would seek to offer counterbalancing incentives to encourage countries to lease nuclear fuel from foreign sources rather than seek to make their own. The assumption underpinning these proposals is that guaranteed access for NPT-compliant countries to nuclear fuel at modest cost would be more attractive than developing expensive and proliferation-problematic enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. The logical corollary is that if a country nevertheless persisted in pursuing sensitive domestic nuclear technologies despite the higher financial costs involved, then suspicions would increase that it was seeking the option to manufacture nuclear bombs as well as nuclear fuel.

We wrote about the fuel bank in conjunction with Iran the other day – before the election there – but the idea is much broader in scope than as a means of containing rogue nations. This article represents an excellent primer.

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We’ve been following the Western Governors Association conference, which ends today. A lot of interesting nuclear news there – surprising – not because it isn’t a nuclear-friendly group, but because the focus was so intense. Likely the presence of Energy Secretary Steven Chu has something to do with that. We’ll look at the conference outcome a bit more tomorrow, but visit their site and read some of their energy papers.

We admit our nuclear sphere looks an awful lot like an Amiga boing ball, but as fans of the groundbreaking computer during the 80s, we know it can multitask.

Nuclear By Name, Nuclear in Fact

We haven’t been the happiest persons on our increasingly watery planet with the Waxman-Markey energy bill, but neither have we been the unhappiest. After all, the bill set ambitious targets on greenhouse gas emission reduction and nuclear energy is a sure, even the surest, way to meet those targets. But nuclear energy was a – little – perhaps a bit – unacknowledged in this obvious role. Steve Kirsh in the Huffing Post put it this way:

Both Secretary Chu and the President of MIT point out that nuclear has to be a key part of the energy mix going forward. We can't supply all our clean energy needs relying on just renewables.

Yet this bill has over 932 pages, and the word "nuclear" only appears twice.

That seems pretty odd considering that 70% of our CO2-free power is from nuclear. Even more odd considering we haven't built a new nuclear plant in 30 years and it's still 70% of our clean power!

So true. (Kirsh has a lot more to say on this, all on point. (Do read the rest of his story.)

We were intrigued to see a response to Kirsh’s story from an unnamed “House staff member” (in other words, grain of salt) who aims to address the seeming nuclear shortfall:

● Because nuclear power generates far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels, utilities will need to hold far fewer emission allowances for the nuclear plants to comply with the carbon limitations in ACES. According to EPA modeling, twice as many new nuclear plants would be built by 2025 under ACES than without the legislation.

● Under the federal Renewable Electricity Standard, electricity generated from new nuclear units is not added to a utility's baseline electricity level. As a result, the addition of a nuclear plant would not require a utility to obtain additional renewable electricity. This ensures that the RES provides no disincentive to the construction of new nuclear units.

● ACES establishes a self-sustaining Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA) within the Department of Energy to promote the domestic development and deployment of clean energy technologies. CEDA would be empowered to provide direct loans, loan guarantees, and letters of credit to support clean energy technologies that might otherwise be unable to secure financing, including nuclear power.

● ACES includes reforms to the existing Department of Energy loan guarantee program. The Department has received applications for federal loan guarantees from 21 proposed nuclear power plants, totaling $122 billion in requested assistance.

Some of this strikes us as counterintuitive as logical policymaking. It’s one thing for us to assert that certain things will likely happen because they must happen to achieve a goal, as we did above; it’s quite another to have it part of actual policy. Seems sneaky – even unnecessary – that’s where that grain of salt comes in handy.

On the other hand, the points about RES and CEDA in particular make sense because nuclear is already plays a role – it doesn’t need to be specifically mentioned. So the staffer has a point – a lack of nuclear by name does not mean there is no nuclear in fact.

Fascinating.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Meet the Governors: Dr. Chu Goes West

Butch_Otter Well, actually, he came from the west, so this isn’t a case of a Washington tenderfoot having to adapt to the rough-and-ready ways of our cowboy politicians out west – not that we don’t enjoy the cliche-laden image of it anyway.

In fact, Energy Secretary Steven Chu is visiting the Western Governors Association annual meeting in Park City Utah. It’s running from the 14th to the 16th, and you can watch various sessions via streaming video.

The Governors have ideas about nuclear energy, as expressed in their Resolution 09-1: Energy Policy, Renewable Energy and Transmission for the West :

Nuclear energy currently provides 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and 10 percent of the electricity within the WGA states. Nuclear energy is a baseload source of electricity and does not produce greenhouse gases, ozone, haze, or mercury. For new nuclear power facilities to be built, a range of issues associated with cost, safety, waste disposal, nonproliferation, and natural resource requirements must be taken into consideration and properly addressed.

And they’d really like those issues to find resolution, as indicated in this report:

Idaho Governor "Butch" Otter then asked Secretary Chu about the future of nuclear energy, another technology that some are looking to develop in Utah. Chu responded that nuclear energy has to be part of the nation's energy future, and said the administration wants to revive the industry, after it essentially came to a halt 30 years ago, when the Three Mile Island accident occurred.

"We're trying to help. We have some loan guarantee money that will help three, possibly four reactors get going. We need to get more than that going, for sure," said Chu. "We also want to do research in more advanced designs of reactors."

We’d only note that while building new plants came to a halt, the nuclear industry rolled right along.

Stay tuned. There may be more interesting tidbits coming from this conference.

Maybe the whole cowboy thing isn’t so far off. That’s Governor Otter on the right. Here’s the story: [In December 2007], Governor Butch Otter and more than 100 volunteers donned warm clothes, braved chilly temperatures, picked up hoops and headed into the sagebrush. The reason? To help the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) collect sagebrush seeds to restore sagebrush habitat in burned areas around southern Idaho. Good for the governor!

Is Nuclear the Green Solution?

nationaljournal Not our question – because we know the answer – but that of the The National Journal, which has set up a forum for invited parties to grapple with the question. When we checked, some of the pro-nuclear sources had weighed in -

  • Paul Sullivan, Professor of Economics, National Defense University
  • Elizabeth Moler, Executive Vice President for Government & Environmental Affairs & Public Policy, Exelon
  • Bill Johnson, CEO, Progress Energy
  • Marvin Fertel, President and CEO, Nuclear Energy Institute

Presumably, the folks with somewhat less sanguine views toward nuclear will be showing up as the week goes on. Here’s the introduction:

Senate Republicans want to build 100 new commercial nuclear power plants over the next 20 years. Over the last two years the industry has applied for licenses to build 30 new reactors, and Babcock & Wilcox Co. recently unveiled a new mini-nuke plant aimed at supplying power to small electricity users, such as municipal districts or individual industrial customers. But critics say nuclear power is too expensive and so risky that Wall Street won't finance the new plants. Opponents are critical of proposals for a federal loan guarantee program for low-carbon energy projects that could help finance the new nuclear plants.

We won’t quote any of the responses here, pro or con, especially since the thread will grow as the week goes along, but check over there a couple times to see who’s mixing it up. Hopefully, we’ll get some counterintuitive and interesting perspectives rather than boilerplate.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Follow-Ups

mpower_in_containment On Babcock and Wilcox’s announcement of new, smaller nuclear reactors:

Our friends at the Heritage Foundation like what they see:

One of the most interesting things about B&W’s entrance into the reactor market is that unlike most other designers, they have the industrial infrastructure to start building these things right now. And what’s more, this is a company that builds reactors today, multiple reactors each year, that the U.S. government uses for national security purposes. No one else has that on their resume.

True enough, though not necessarily determinative in any significant sense. Let’s call it a point in their favor.

The exciting thing about nuclear power is not what it gives us today, but what its potential is for the future.

Also true. This being Heritage, let’s let them have their moment:

It is a perfect example of why government can’t pick winners and losers among energy sources. Government subsidization of some technologies inevitably crowds out investment and innovation for others.

Or it spurs investment and innovation, depending. But Heritage will be Heritage.

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On the Republican’s American Energy Plan:

The U.K. newspaper the Guardian, much like Heritage, can be relied upon for certain go-to attitudes. For example:

America's nuclear industry and its supporters in Congress have moved to hijack Barack Obama's agenda for greening the economy by producing a rival plan to build 100 new reactors in 20 years, and staking a claim for the money to come from a proposed clean energy development bank.

Really? Hijack? Nuclear’s been puttering around the greens for over 50 years. Maybe it shouldn’t be put in a position where it can be described as hijacking an agenda? Especially since it’s so responsive to that agenda.

Ellen Vancko, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said: "The nuclear industry would like to be able to finance the next generation of nuclear reactors using the faith and credit of the US taxpayer to underwrite the expansion. They don't want to be responsible for any risk of financing these plants and neither do their lenders."

If the UCS thinks every other segment of the energy business doesn’t have much the same in mind, we’ve got a windmill we’d like to sell it – cheap. And in defense of every energy industry, including nuclear, this is a public-private partnership; government does have some ideas on how it wants energy deployed. No industry stands utterly alone. (You could say the Guardian, UCS and Heritage approach the role  of government in the energy sector in surprisingly similar ways.)

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And on our mention of Microsoft’s new Bing search engine, we thought we’d be remiss not to point you to Wolfram Alpha, described as a computational knowledge engine. It’s doesn’t so much provide you  with links to other sites as pull together a ton of information about your search term, derived from other sites. For, um, nuclear scientists and engineers, there’s a lot of potential here. Here’s a couple of examples, from a rank amateur:

Uranium 235

stopping power air, 0.5MeV electron

Consider playing with Alpha as your Friday Fun project. You can even download your results as a pdf or a Mathematica notebook. (You can get a free notebook viewer from Wolfram’s site. It’s worth the download - lots of great content for it apart from Alpha.)

The containment chamber of the Babcock & Wilcox reactor.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What Is Art?: A Debate Down Under

What is Art"What is art?" A long-time favorite answer of mine to this unanswerable question comes from the venerable English philosopher Keith Richards: "As far as I'm concerned, 'Art' is just short for 'Arthur.'"

The aboriginal people of Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory of Australia, are a little less cheeky in their definition of art; reacting strongly this week to an "anti-nuclear art installation" located on the sacred Annie Meyer Hill. Per the ABC News,

The art features an anti-nuclear poem, which says: "Solar city, getting hippy; nuclear city, what a pity. Solar city sitting pretty, nuclear city makes me shitty."

The hill is part of the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens and a registered sacred site.

A custodian for the site, Doris Stuart, says the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority has told her it had no knowledge of the sign.

"I'm in mourning at the moment because we had my brother's funeral there at Annie Meyer Hill.

"That's how much we hold, you know, so I'm upset to think that one of our sites can be used as how people perceive them to be used as."

The curator at the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens, Mark Carter, says he removed the poem from the hill and handed it to the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority as evidence.

"The nuclear issue - that's actually irrelevant," he said.

"What it was was somebody putting their opinion on a site which was absolutely just unquestionably the wrong place.

"It would be the equivalent of someone going and spray-painting an anti-nuclear symbol on the Sistine Chapel, or something like that.

"It is absolutely outrageous."

The American Energy Act

The Republicans have released the full text of their American Energy Act. You can read the whole thing here. We’ll note that it includes some points the Republicans have stressed since the last election: drill here drill now, strong favoring of domestic energy sources, disdain of regulation. But we’ll focus on a couple of points and let you explore it yourself.

First, the bill has a decidedly different philosophy from the Waxman-Markey bill now in mark-up. While that legislation aims to reverse climate change by making carbon emission reduction the centerpiece of government action, the Republicans focus much more on energy security and tapping domestic forms of energy. They even go further than this:

(a) IN GENERAL.—Section 302(g) of the Clean Air Act is amended by adding the following at the end thereof: ‘‘The term ‘air pollutant’ shall not include carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, or sulfur hexafluoride.’’
(b) CLIMATE CHANGE NOT REGULATED BY CLEAN AIR ACT.—Nothing in the Clean Air Act shall be treated as authorizing or requiring the regulation of climate change or global warming.

It goes into the weeds more, as legislation will, but it’s hard to imagine a more thorough repudiation of the need for carbon emission reduction. This will likely become a highly contentious point.

Second, the legislation does go into more detail as to how it would spur industry to put up 100 new nuclear plants in 20 years – that is, to have them running instead of a mix of running plants, plants under construction and plant licenses under review. (This comes from the Summary; the bill’s language would make your head explode):

The bill reinforces a commitment to protect public health and safety while providing for an accelerated regulatory process for new nuclear applications where there is a design already certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC); a site already licensed for operating reactors; an operator in good standing with the NRC; and a full and complete Combined Operations and Construction License application. This bill also lowers construction costs by suspending import tariffs and duties on imported nuclear components for five years if there is no domestic manufacturer.

That takes care of licensing, but we couldn’t find anything about loan guarantees – presumably, the tariff reduction would cover some of the plant cost. The government would make direct loans for coal-to-liquid projects and advanced battery technology for cars (actually a contest with a cash prize for the latter), but we didn’t see anything about nuclear in these sections.

Some other nuclear provisions:

  • streamline the NRC licensing process for new reactors
  • direct NRC to develop a certification schedule for innovative reactor designs
  • create a National Nuclear Energy Council to coordinate federal government policy
  • direct the NRC to review the Yucca Mountain repository license application
  • allow money from the Nuclear Waste Fund to be used to develop used nuclear fuel recycling technology
  • direct DOE to audit its stockpile of surplus uranium and create a uranium reserve to be used should traditional supplies be disrupted

The American Energy Act is a thoroughgoing attempt to create (at least) a framework of a bill that could be filled out with much more detail. We suspect the repudiation of climate change will invalidate it for many voters – there are some EPA provisions here that will cause problems, too – but it’s worth a read alongside the Waxman-Markey bill to see where compromises might be found.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Nuclear Game Changer?

reactor_concept_small That’s how Babcock & Wilcox described their scaled down nuclear reactor, intended to top out at 125 megawatts. Cost has been an issue with, shall we say, pee-wee reactors, but no problems here:

The mPower reactor would include independent "modular" units that could be manufactured on an assembly line, thus cutting manufacturing and construction costs, said John Fees, CEO of McDermott International, the parent company of Babcock & Wilcox. Units could be built and come online even as others are being built, he said, allowing power companies to start earning revenue faster.

And:

"This brings not only lower installation base cost but also brings greater cost certainty" compared to the $6 billion to $8 billion large-reactor option, Fees said. He declined to name a price for mPower, but said it would be "under the $5,000 per megawatt" price that the industry has estimated for large reactors.

How much lower isn’t really the point – that it even hovers there is remarkable, as scaling down a plant this far has generally made it uneconomical.

The new reactor has attracted "early and broad customer interest," Mowry said. A consortium of regional municipal and cooperative utilities -- which he declined to name -- has signed a "memorandum of understanding" to explore the construction of reactors, he said.

We include this to note the second instance of a “decline.” We wonder if the Times is suggesting there’s some doubt built into this – as there should always be before an announcement turns into a practical working item that fulfills various promises.

But if doubt turns into reality – and why not, B&W aren’t selling this via infomercial - there’s very real potential here. One thing you want a new nuclear plant to do is to allow shuttering a plant that emits CO2 willy-nilly. These small plants, which presumably can be sited a bit more easily than their big siblings, might make that more broadly plausible. (The B&W page referenced below shows these units joined together to scale up, but that doesn’t seem to be the initial goal.)

So far, the industry attitude seems encouraging and uncommitted.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is evaluating a potential site near the Clinch River in Roane County, Tenn., for the reactor and is a industrial consultant for Babcock & Wilcox, said Jack Bailey, TVA's vice president of nuclear generation development. TVA has not made any decisions about building a small reactor plant, however, Bailey added.

Same for Exelon. This makes sense – early days and all – but Babcock & Wilcox are hoping for 2011 approval from the NRC for the design. Then we’ll see what’s possible and who commits to what.

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The story reports that several politicians showed up for the announcement, including Tenneseeans Sens. Lamar Alexander (R) and Bob Corker (R) and Reps. Lincoln Davis (D) and Zach Wamp (R). Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) also was there. Maybe this ties into the nuclear provisions of the Republican energy bill we noted this morning or it’s a nod to TVA. Rep. Lincoln gives it a bit of a bi-partisan push.

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Babcock&Wilcox have a page up on this technology. See here. You can look at a nice brochure, read more about it and – hey, no page to place orders!

A concept shot of the reactor.

The National Summit

Jobs in Detroit MichiganWith NEI's President & CEO Marv Fertel set to address the Detroit Economic Club at next week's National Summit, this New York Times article, Michigan Tries to Renew Itself Without King Auto, caught our eye today.

For all the talk of California’s economic woes, the distress in Michigan is greater. About 800,000 jobs have been lost in the state — about 1 in every 6 — since 2000, and its unemployment rate has reached 12.7 percent, higher than any other state.

The fallout has been even worse in heavily populated southeastern Michigan. Manufacturing jobs in the seven-county region that includes Detroit have fallen 51 percent since the beginning of the decade, and auto-related positions have fallen 65 percent.

Hmmm...wondering what type of industry would be looking to hire highly skilled workers who are familiar with steel, welding and parts assembly.

The Republican Energy Bill

The Republicans will today introduce an energy bill intended as a replacement for the Waxman-Markey legislation now wending its way through the House (and due for a vote sometime near the end of June – a date’s not set yet.) Here’s the Times:

The Republican proposal, drafted by a group led by Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, leans heavily on nuclear power, setting a goal of building 100 reactors over the next 20 years.

So we would expect the bill to include some provisions for beefing up DOE and NRC to handle this. But what can we say? More, please.

There’s also this:

The bill also provides incentives for increased oil and gas production on public and private lands and offshore. It would also authorize oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a focus of 30 years of controversy in Congress.

This proved to be a popular provision during last year’s Presidential campaign, but even if the House adopts some ideas from the bill, this likely won’t be one of them. ANWR’s become an article of faith in both parties, but they are as opposite poles on a magnet.

Now, while this bill will likely have most value as an index of ideas the party would like to see implemented, the ideas themselves are certainly worth consideration. For example:

The Republican measure does not include any mandatory cap on emissions of heat-trapping gases, relying instead on nuclear energy, natural gas and renewable fuels like wind, solar and biomass power to reduce production of the gases, which have been linked to global warming.

We’re not entirely sure how the Republicans avoid a command-and-control mechanism over energy here – after all, private industry plays a heavy role, so a lot of government pot sweetening would have to take place to move the markets where the Republicans want them to go. Let’s see if the bill, once it’s posted, goes further into these issues.

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Here’s Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) announcing the plan on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Pence was the lead on this bill, as Chairman of the American Energy Solutions Group, a working group within the caucus. You can see his statement about the bill here.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Going Out Guide

bilde If you happen to live in the neighborhood of Asbury Park New Jersey next Thursday, take the opportunity to learn about nuclear energy issues from the folks who make it:

Exelon Nuclear's Oyster Creek Generating Station will host a Community Information Night Thursday, June 18. This unique, one-on-one forum is designed to inform and update the plant's neighbors about plant operations and nuclear energy issues.

And what might you learn?

Exelon representatives and technical experts will be on hand to provide information on nuclear energy topics including plant operations, tritium, used fuel storage, safety, security, the environment and community outreach efforts. There will also be take-away information. Light refreshments will be served.

And we’re reasonably sure that the Oyster Creek workers will be happy to have a run at any difficult question you may have.

Oh, and we’re pretty sure some of the plant employees and other attendees will be single (nuclear jobs pay very well, hint) and open to some small talk over the light refreshments – there, now we’ve fulfilled our Going Out Guide responsibilities.

Click the link for details and make your plans accordingly .

Oyster Creek Generating Station.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Nuclear Fuel Bank and Iran

800px-IAEA_flag Last week, President Obama said during his speech in Cairo that he wanted Iran to be able to pursue nuclear energy while not pursuing nuclear weaponry. The issues here are many, though using a nuclear plant as a stalking horse for building bombs isn’t really one of them. As we’ve noted before, Russia’s handling the fuel for the plant – which it built - under the auspices of the IAEA, so Iran has no viable options for mischief around Bushehr.

But where Iran may be fully foiled is in the creation of a fuel bank. And what is a fuel bank?

The basic idea is to have a relatively small, but guaranteed supply of low-enriched uranium available as a backup should a country's supplies of civilian nuclear fuel from other nations be cut off for political or other reasons. Of the dozen or so countries that now can enrich uranium, several - such as Brazil and South Africa - do so to guard against such disruptions, not to build nuclear weapons.

And this is the direction Obama wants to take:

As part of a new strategy to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, President Obama plans to seek the creation of the first-ever international supply of uranium that would allow nations to obtain fuel for civilian nuclear reactors but limit the capacity to make bombs, according to senior administration officials.

Why would this work, especially since Iran could retrieve uranium both licitly – through the bank – and illicitly – however?

"We want to give the Iranians an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to peaceful nuclear energy and serve as a new model," said a top administration official involved in crafting arms-control policy. "What we can do is create a system of incentives where, as a practical matter for countries that want nuclear power, the best way to obtain their fuel and to handle fuel services is through a new international architecture."

Okay, incentives, carrot no stick.

Iran's refusal to take advantage of the fuel bank "may give the US and other countries a stronger argument that Iran's program is really designed to give them a nuclear weapon potential," Kimball said.

This would be stick no carrot.

We should note that the bank isn’t a U.S. driven idea nor is its point only to paint Iran into a corner – the IAEA had already been working toward a bank for awhile. (See here, though, for IAEA’s page about Iran. Tons of information.)

That said, Iran’s activities have motivated a new push for the bank. (See here for more on that.) Russia and Kazakhstan have offered to host the bank (Kazakhstan signed a nuclear-free agreement with its neighbors recently, but got a waiver to host their bank; some sources say Russia is more likely to get it, but we’ll see) and the D.C. advocacy group Nuclear Threat Initiative has raised money from various countries (including the U.S.) to move forward with a bank under IAEA auspices. 

The article raises a good set of questions about the fuel bank – with some of the answers fully baked and the rest depending on further decision making. But with Obama throwing his hat in and vocally using the bank as to deter Iran’s weapons ambitions, the idea here may be to provide that country a way out of the world’s bad books. A lot to wait and see, but a start on boxing in Iran.

The IAEA logo. Not terribly exciting – the U.N. really likes that calming blue - but we’ve never featured it here.

When the Brass Ring Is a Cure

And hard to catch, and tantalizingly within reach. That makes Susan G. Koman for the Cure and its annual Race for the Cure so important. But cure for what?

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen for the Cure and launched the global breast cancer movement.

Today, Komen for the Cure is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures.

Hard to think of a family untouched by breast cancer. When my mother died of it some years ago, the sympathy from friends came in the form of testimony – about sisters, mothers, grandmothers, nieces, daughters – the losses span the generations to cause grief whatever age you are, where ever your life has taken you.

Susan G. Koman for the Cure focuses its activities in the Washington D.C. area:

Funds raised from the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure® are granted to local and national programs that support Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s promise to save lives and end breast cancer forever.

Seventy-five percent of the Komen Global Race’s net income stays in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area to fund local screening, treatment and education programs for the medically underserved. The remaining dollars support the Komen Global Promise Fund, a program of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which is dedicated to reaching underserved people in areas where breast cancer mortality rates are the highest.

And so the race means a lot to the Nuclear Energy Institute, as a corporate citizen of the District, and to its employees, all of whom have seen breast cancer test their strength, love and resolve. So NEI fielded a team, in tribute to strength, love and resolve:

NEI Team Photo

We congratulate them all. NEI slipped in and out of the top 20 list for money raised by a corporate team, and it’s important to recognize that money pulls the freight here, but we think it’s fair to say that running and walking for the cure means seeing that brass ring in the hazy distance – and going for it. And grabbing for it. So close – tantalizingly close.