Friday, July 31, 2009

USEC Takes It to the Streets

Suffrage_parade-New_York_City-May_6_1912 We generally think protests and protesting are good things. They are ways of getting a message out and trying to bring attention to issues. We don’t even mind when a nuclear power plant is protested – after all, it’s a great opportunity to educate the protesters and even try a counter-protest. Seems so American, so small-d democratic.

Even when it threatens to go small-a anarchic, we would still tilt in favor of an unruly public gathering. This came to mind while we were reading and thinking about a story in Politico this morning that talked about the increased rowdiness at political town hall meetings.

It was Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) whose encounter with a disgruntled constituent brought the issue to the fore. But now, some pols are cancelling the meetings, others are ensuring there is a police presence if they do have one and getting escorted to their cars. It’s as if they’d never heard of a old fashioned free-for-all. But at least two politicians get it.

“Town halls are a favorite part of my job,” said Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), a third-term congressman from St. Louis who noted that a “handful” of disruptions had taken place at his meetings. “It’s what I do. It’s what I will continue to do.”

“People have gotten fired up and all that, but I think that’s what makes town halls fun,” said [Rep. Tom] Perriello [D-Va.], a freshman who is among the most vulnerable Democrats in 2010. “I think that most of the time when we get out there, it’s a good chance for people to vent and offer their thoughts. It’s been good.”

“I enjoy it, and people have a chance to speak their mind,” he said.

But – but - hey! Where’s the nuclear energy in all this? Wait for it:

[Scott] Barker was one of dozens of USEC employees from Ohio who rode a bus overnight to attend a part news conference, part rally thrown by Rep. Jean Schmidt [R-Ohio], asking the White House to reverse a decision by the Department of Energy to reject USEC's application for a $2 billion loan guarantee the company says it needs to complete financing of the $3.5 billion [American Centrifuge] project.

News conference? Rally? What else?

The about 150 USEC workers at the event held signs reminding Obama that when he was a presidential candidate campaigning in Ohio last fall he promised support for the loan guarantee in a letter to Gov. Ted Strickland, a fellow Democrat.

"Obama, keep your promise to Ohio," read one. "Not a bailout ... just a loan," read another. "Ohio needs jobs. Save USEC," pleaded a third.

Holding signs with pointed political content? That’s a protest. (Let’s quickly note that the sign is wrong – a loan is different from a loan guarantee, but USEC says it needs the latter – from the administration - to get the former – from a bank. That’s admittedly a lot to fit on a sign.)

You can read about The American Centrifuge and what’s going on between USEC and DOE a few posts down. We have no dog in this race – even with Schmidt’s involvement, we hope partisan passions stay tamped down in favor of bipartisan job worries - but we can say: if USEC workers wants to paint up a few signs and listen to a few earnest speeches and stir up a little fuss to make their case, viva USEC workers!

Not USEC workers, but suffragettes, who favored unlicensed parades to make their stand. Note: they won.

NEI's 2009 Top Industry Practice Awards on Video - Number Four: "Robotic Inspectors"

Below is the last video of four videos NEI has released over the past month highlighting top industry practices. Hope everyone has found these videos as informative and intriguing as I have.

This video, “Robotic Inspectors,” highlights new inspection devices developed at the Vermont Yankee nuclear energy station to closely analyze the facility’s steam dryer. Entergy Nuclear employees at Vermont Yankee are recipients of the Maintenance Process Award for developing innovative tooling for the inspection of a boiling water reactor steam dryer. The steam dryer is located in the top of the reactor.

Entergy Nuclear partnered with AREVA NP Inc. to develop two remotely operated inspection systems, one to inspect the outer diameter of the dryer and the other to inspect the inner diameter. The outer diameter innovation uses a rail-and-trolley system with a telescoping mast and camera to inspect all 213 welds and components. The inner diameter method uses an underwater crawler with a telescoping mast and camera to inspect all 253 welds and components.

Advantages common to both inspection systems include: improved safety, higher inspection quality, greatly reduced radiation exposure and parallel inspection capability. An annual reduction of 3.6 person-rem of radiation exposure is expected along with a minimum $500,000 cost reduction per outage. The tooling is highly transferable. It was developed so it can be used on all makes and sizes of dryers, regardless of the rail configuration on the refuel floor. The new dryer inspection tools can be used for dryer inspections at all boiling water reactors.

"The Capacity Factor" Has Been Added to the Blogroll

Uvdiv, the author, writes some quality stuff. Never thought I'd see someone take a unit of measure and turn it into a blog but he's done it and he's done it well. Make sure to stop by!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Environmentalists Among the Ruffians

2845573228_b130aa61ce Senate's Clean Energy Deployment Plan: A Nuclear Slush Fund in the Making?

That’s the title of an article on Solve Climate.com. It makes the somewhat juvenile mistake of imagining that something that works against their narrow band of interests is malignant, in this case further metastasized by evil lobbyists. Here’s a bit:

U.S. lawmakers are considering legislation that would create a new independent federal agency to promote government investment in clean energy.

But watchdogs are raising questions about the way the proposed agency is structured, and whether it would be unfair to taxpayers and bad for the environment. Among their concerns are its bias toward nuclear power — a critical issue for the South, which is at the center of the nuclear industry's planned revival.

They’re talking about the Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA) and of course nuclear energy is there – it is a clean energy. Not renewable, but that’s not CEDA’s brief – carbon emission reduction is and that means nuclear as well as all the renewable energy sources. (We suspect those “watchdogs,” or some of them, call Solve Climate home. Two can play at that game and “watchdogs” in the nuclear industry don’t see a problem.)

Here’s a bullet point from the article:

The Senate version allows one technology to hog all the money. The House caps at 30% the amount of total dollars available that can be given to any one technology. However, the Senate version has no caps, which means one technology [guess which?]could enjoy the lion's share of the available subsidies.

And the conclusion it draws:

Given those provisions — coupled with the Senate climate legislation's general friendliness toward nuclear power, which it calls a "clean and secure domestic energy" whose use should be expanded — energy policy expert Michele Boyd of Physicians for Social Responsibility said during a recent discussion of the bill that CEDA could essentially act as a "slush fund" for nuclear power.

Well, no, just because there is no cap doesn’t mean nuclear energy concerns will be slopping in the trough. If anything, wind has the, er, wind at its back, and farm states want biofuels way up the list. Nuclear really will be one among many industries looking to CEDA, not first among equals. Saying otherwise is disingenuous.

Here’s the thing: if you advocate for something, let’s say renewable energy sources, then you recognize, we think realistically, that Congress has many competing priorities and you’re likely to get some but not all of what you want while other priorities you consider loathsome are likely to win and lose some battles too.

However, if you advocate against something, let’s say nuclear energy, then the loathsomeness becomes a disease, overtaking and ruining all your own success for its own rapacious, illegitimate ends. It’s like stumbling innocently into a saloon full of ruffians.

The article also gets into campaign contributions and lobbying, but we don’t think that part’s very good either. Current law allows contributions and lobbying across the ideological spectrum on all issues.

[Former Sen. Jeff] Bingaman [D.N.M.] has gotten more from NEI than just money: In 2006, he also won NEI's William S. Lee Award for Leadership. In accepting the award, he asked the lobbying group to "do your part to use those tools that Congress has put in place to ensure that nuclear power achieves its potential as part of our future energy mix." It now appears the industry is doing just that — with Bingaman's help.

In other words, Bingaman supports nuclear energy and appreciates NEI’s efforts to expand its use. Thinking that NEI lines pockets and sandbags politicians with lies while, say, Greenpeace sprinkles stardust and says only kind things in a kind way is, once again, a little juvenile.

Lobbyists really can’t do wholesale lying on a topic, because it kills credibility at best and locks the lobby out of the conversation at worst.

We like environmentalists and their activities a lot – we’ve been know to support their efforts – but the pose of superior innocence is very trying – and not very honest.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Snafu: Situation Normal at DOE…

Private_Snafu_1 …but all fouled up at USEC, the company that enriches a lot of the uranium in the United States. The Department of Energy has turned down USEC’s loan guarantee application, making it difficult-to-impossible, says USEC, for it to acquire funding to finish its American Centrifuge project. This has led to a pair of dueling press releases that are fascinatingly disjunctive. Let’s look at USEC first:

“We are shocked and disappointed by DOE’s decision. The American Centrifuge met the original intent of the loan guarantee program in that it would have used an innovative, but proven, technology, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and created thousands of  immediate jobs across the United States.

The American Centrifuge is not a new idea. It was first ideated by the Department of Energy in the 1970s as a next generation enrichment facility and abandoned after a successful test in the 80s. USEC, which spun out of DOE as a private company, reactivated the project and, in its words, improved the original design using “modern materials, advanced computer-aided design, digital controls and state-of-the-art manufacturing processes.” You can read more about the project here.

And now, nothing. USEC said it will have to cease work on the facility, though it is close to finished. All fouled up.

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But is it? From DOE’s perspective, it’s situation normal. There’s no reason for USEC to be shocked and disappointed:

The Department of Energy announced today that it will further expand and accelerate cleanup efforts of cold-war era contamination at the Portsmouth site in Piketon, Ohio – an investment worth about $150 to $200 million per year for the next four years that is expected to create 800 to 1000 new jobs. 

Well, that’s something. Here’s DOE Secretary Steven Chu on the centrifuge itself:

“While we believe USEC needs time to develop its technology and demonstrate that it can be deployed at a commercial scale, we’re moving forward with other investments that will create good, high-paying jobs in the community. USEC will have another chance to resubmit their application if they can overcome the technical and financial hurdles, but in the meantime we’ll put more people to work in the environmental cleanup effort.” 

And there’s more. Here’s Chu again:

Therefore, the Department is offering up to $45 million over the next 18 months to support ongoing ACP research and development activities.  Should USEC accept this offer, it would allow them to continue operations, maintenance, and research activities at Piketon and Oak Ridge, and give USEC additional time to strengthen the technical and financial aspects of the application should USEC decide to resubmit it.

“Should USEC accept this offer…” That sounds like a recognition that USEC might well not accept the offer.

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Back to USEC:

“With DOE’s decision, we are now forced to initiate steps to demobilize the project. We deeply regret the impact this decision will have on all those affected, but as we have stated in the past, a DOE loan guarantee was the path forward to completing financing for the project.

That’s USEC’s President, John Welch. Here’s some more from him:

Instead of creating thousands of jobs across the country, we are faced with losing them. Instead of reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy, we are now increasing it. President Obama promised to support the loan guarantee for the American Centrifuge Plant while he campaigned in Ohio. We are disappointed that campaign commitment has not been met.’

Disappointed – and shocked – and more than a little upset. Hard words. You would think DOE killed the project outright.

So does USEC have to mothball the project? There is money for it, for more research anyway, though clearly USEC thinks it is ready to move forward now. Equally clearly, DOE does not.

It’s a bit of a snafu.

Read through the material and see what you think. You would almost think DOE and USEC haven’t said two words to each other in years and still can’t directly communicate. That’s far from the truth.

(In fairness, here’s DOE’s fact sheet called “Job Creation in Piketon, Ohio,” the home of the centrifuge site – this was posted today. It seems as though DOE really doesn’t want to catch flak from USEC over potential job losses.)

Snafu, the word, emerged during World War II as an acronym for the phrase we’ve used here, though we bowderlized it for NNN’s family trade.

Speaking of World War II, Private Snafu is a cartoon character produced by Warner Bros. and created by Theodore Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) but only seen by soldiers. Private Snafu’s goal was didactic, to show in amusing ways how hapless young soldiers could mess things up. For example, one of the entries is based on the idea, Loose Lips Sink Ships.

With no children present, the cartoons were a bit bawdier and with bluer language than common at the time, making them unusual cultural artifacts. You can find episodes at You Tube.

Video of Areva's Jarret Adams at Olkiluoto 3

For those who may not remember, Jarret used to write with us last year until he began at Areva. Now he's traveling it up and spreading Areva's good words!

A Critique of Craig Severance's New Nuclear Cost Paper

A couple of weeks ago the Foundation for Nuclear Studies hosted a debate on the Hill between NEI’s Leslie Kass and Colorado’s Craig Severance (author of a recent controversial study on new nuclear plant economics). Mr. Severance summed up the event nicely in a post he published last week:

It was a very cordial discussion and afterward we all shook hands and posed for pictures. Yet, the differences were sharp.
Yes they were. I was at the debate and right off the bat Mr. Severance was hitting zingers to the nuclear industry on costs. No doubt the industry had a large learning curve to overcome in the past. Yet look where we’re at today: 104 nuclear reactors generating 20% of the US’ electricity representing only 10% of the US’ total installed capacity while operating more than 90% of the time. No other source of energy does that.

Assumptions Matter
The main point of Mr. Severance’s presentation was, of course, to show the estimated enormous expense to build a new nuclear plant. Estimating the costs to build a new nuclear plant relies on a plethora of assumptions. And those assumptions always differ between sources. So when Mr. Severance or anyone else releases a study claiming that new nuclear is exorbitantly expensive, you always have to ask: what are the assumptions?

Construction Cost Indices
Well, there are quite a few questionable assumptions the Severance paper made that inflated the cost results, one of which I found earlier this year. During the debate a commenter found another exaggerated assumption which Severance defended in his post:
I was asked in the Q&A why there were such big differences in cost projections, and I answered "Optimism". For instance, Florida Power & LIght is projecting that nuclear construction costs (which rose an average of 15%/year from 2002-2007), will now only increase by 2.5%/year, which is less than recent Consumer Price Index inflation rates.
If you’re unaware of what’s recently happened to construction costs for all power plants, then you should know that the costs for the materials and labor to build power plants has increased faster than normal for half of this decade. This phenomenon is documented by CERA’s Power Capital Cost Index which Mr. Severance is referring to in the parentheses in his paragraph above. But if you look at CERA’s graph, the estimated costs have moderated a bit over the past year and a half (this fact is not accounted for in Mr. Severance’s assumptions).

If we take a look at the Handy Whitman Electric index from 1990-2002, construction costs increased a little more than 3% per year. In the ‘80s, the index increased around 2.6% per year; in the ‘70s, it was about 3.6% per year. Yet, Mr. Severance’s paper assumes between 8-9% per year increase in construction costs (more than twice the average of the last three decades!).

Current Year versus Future Year Dollars
When presenting cost results, it is necessary to show to the year in which dollars are spent. In Mr. Severance’s presentation, the levelized “low” cost for nuclear comes in at 25 cents/kWh (slide 26, pdf). Yet, the year the paper’s dollars are in is 2018. If one were to deflate the numbers to 2008 dollars (which we’re used to seeing), the levelized “low” cost for nuclear is 18 cents/kWh (as shown in his slide 26). That number is still high. But for some reason, Mr. Severance and our nuclear critics still used the inflated 2018 numbers in their highlights to make it seem like nuclear is more expensive than it really is.

So I’ve shown a couple of examples of how Mr. Severance’s study is built on exaggerated assumptions and deceptions to make nuclear plants seem more expensive. Let’s take a look at how his numbers stack up against other sources.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Energy Information Administration
From Severance’s post:
Ms. Kass presented NEI's version of nuclear economics, citing the recently released 2009 Update to MIT's 2003 study "The Future of Nuclear Power". She did not mention the Update concludes nuclear is still not competitive with coal or natural gas, but did stress its very low cost estimates.
The results of the two MIT studies have been spun so poorly by the anti-nuclear community that I have to ask if any of them ever read the studies. Here’s page 8 of the Updated MIT study (pdf):
With the risk premium and without a carbon emission charge, nuclear is more expensive than either coal (without sequestration) or natural gas (at 7$/MBTU). If this risk premium can be eliminated, nuclear life cycle cost decreases from 8.4¢ /kWe-h to 6.6 ¢/kWe-h and becomes competitive with coal and natural gas, even in the absence of carbon emission charge.
Under a certain set of assumptions, nuclear is not competitive. But in the next sentence nuclear becomes competitive when one assumption on risk premiums is adjusted. Furthermore, if we add in carbon prices, nuclear looks even better. Yet, the nuclear critics like Mr. Severance cherry-pick the only sentence that fit their pre-conceived notions when two other scenarios are just as valid, if not more. Sounds familiar.

How do Severance’s and MIT’s results stack up to each other? Well, Mr. Severance’s “low” levelized cost comes to 18 cents/kWh in 2008 dollars whereas MIT comes to 6.6-8.4 cents/kWh in 2007 dollars. Quite a large discrepancy even after accounting for the one year difference in dollar years.

Not only did Mrs. Kass cite MIT’s results during the debate, she also cited the Energy Information Administration’s cost results that we posted a couple of weeks back. Recent data from the EIA on the levelized cost of electricity shows that “advanced nuclear” comes behind only conventional coal and gas with no carbon sequestration (same conclusion as MIT).

How do Severance’s results stack up against EIA’s? EIA found nuclear at 10.7 cents/kWh in ’07 dollars compared to Severance at 18 cents/kWh in ’08 dollars. Still quite a big discrepancy.

So who’s the outlier?
With a few additional touches in red, below is slide 22 from Mr. Severance’s presentation at the debate:
If you take a close look at the graph, you can see that Severance’s nuclear cost number stacks up almost 5 cents/kWh (or $50/MWh) higher than the next most expensive result from nine other studies. In statistics, a case can be made to eliminate the outliers. But the decision is “ultimately a subjective exercise.” So should we eliminate the outlier? I think so.

Subsidies
From Severance:
By definition – if coming to Washington for subsidies you’re not competitive – slide 2.
Well, according to this logic, I guess no energy industry is competitive then because all of them receive subsidies in one form or another.

On slide 23, Severance asked the nuclear industry: “when can we stop the subsidies?” Right above that question he showed the years when the tax credits for wind (2013), other renewables (2014) and solar (2017) are set to expire. I was stunned when he singled out the nuclear industry for asking for endless subsidies because I remember this chart from AWEA showing what happens when the wind industry no longer receives the production tax credit (pdf). Yet the PTC for wind always came back the following year and has been in existence since 1992. So does Mr. Severance ask the same question to the renewable folks?
Furthermore, if Mr. Severance is so concerned about subsidies, he may be interested to know how much loan guarantee volume has been recently issued to other technologies:
Graph based on combined totals from H.R. 1 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and H.R. 1105 Omnibus Appropriations for fiscal year 2009.

If anyone is interested in reading why loan guarantees are necessary and good for everyone overall, I highly recommend this page from NEI.

Wrap Up
From Severance:
The nuclear industry is always saying in effect, "Next time we'll get it right."

For Congress to accept this argument, with no nuclear vendor willing to stand behind the optimistic cost projections, would be more than optimism. It would constitute "Ostrichism" -- a refusal to face facts --about an industry that has never achieved its economic promises.
A refusal to face facts? I guess Mr. Severance hasn’t kept up with how the nuclear industry has changed from the first go-around of new plants. Here’s our table eloquently explaining the differences:So which construction cost numbers should we believe in? An accountant’s who based his calculations on one overnight cost number from Florida Power & Light and then inflated the total construction costs every way possible? Or EIA and MIT (who are not interested in anything but pure math), and three state public service commissions (who approved construction of their state utility's plans for new nuke plants). Or how about FPL? FPL is the largest generator of renewable electricity and has already received the approval to build two new nukes from their public utility commission. Hmm, tough decision.

Check out this link if you would like to vote for or against Mr. Severance’s argument. So far, the votes aren’t looking good for his paper...

Update 7/29/09 9:45 AM: I left a comment on Mr. Severance's blog post yesterday morning pointing him here and so far the comment hasn't been published. Maybe he's on vacation...

Update 7/30/09 12:10 PM: I guess he was on vacation and we should expect a response later. Looking forward to it.

Update 8/5/09 9:00 AM: If you haven't seen his comment yet, Mr. Severance responded to our post. After reviewing his response, there are quite a few new inaccuracies that need to be addressed. Stay tuned for a post next week.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Vroom! It’s the The Nuclear Car!!

3617343993_eaa462c1b3 Today was picture perfect for Newman Wachs Racing at the Harrah’s Autobahn Grand Prix Presented by Mazda. Atlantic Championship drivers John Edwards and Jonathan Summerton finished 1-2 for the first of two races this weekend at the Autobahn Country Club, which is just a short distance from the team’s headquarters in Mundelein. In front of the team’s friends, family members, and nearly 60 employees of team owner Eddie Wachs’ other companies, both drivers performed brilliantly and brought home the team’s first ever one-two result.

And while this is good news for Edwards and Summerton (and Newman Wachs), why mention it here? Because both men were driving the Nuclear Clean Air Energy car, albeit minus a flux capacitor.

Here is co-sponsor Entergy on the car:

Entergy Nuclear is in its second year of the “Nuclear Clean Air Energy” campaign, having reached nearly two million people on the Atlantic Championship Series and across U.S. college campuses during that time. Our goal is to use the race car to gain visibility for our message and as a platform to recruit engineers to this growing, exciting industry.

NEI is another sponsor. It’s a great way to get the nuclear message out. In addition to racing the car, the drivers also visit college campuses with it and help to get racing nut students interested in nuclear engineering as a potential career. (It helps, no doubt, that Edwards is 19.) If you happen to be near the the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 8, stop by to see Edwards and Summerton do their level best to come in first and second – actually, a likelier than not scenario.

Itself. Click the picture to see the message on its side.

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Marty McFly to Doc Brown: You were standing on your toilet, and you were hanging a clock, and you fell, and you hit your head on the sink. And that's when you came up with the idea for the Flux Capacitor.

See? A nuclear car is as easy as that.

The Bird the Cat Dragged In

Some Monday nuclear tastiness:

09-02-18Nairobi_action Well, we don’t know:

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is willing to support Kenya in exploiting nuclear power as a source of energy.

IAEA Director General, Dr. Mohammed El Baradei, said Friday that in order for Kenya to achieve rapid industrialization there was the need to add nuclear energy in its current energy mix.

"Kenya might have other sources of energy but in order to industrialize faster, there is need for nuclear energy," Dr. Baradei said.

What we can’t tell from the story is whether Kenya wants nuclear energy or if Dr. El Baradei is making some stray comments – other stories on this seem to root from this one. We think he’s saying that the IAEA is offering Kenya help in developing a domestic industry. Then we came to this:

Dr. Baradei was speaking when he met President Mwai Kibaki at his Harambee House office here late Thursday.

Quite a chatty guy, our Dr. El Baradei.

These are members of the Women’s Major Group, protesting before UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program) in Nairobi to keep nuclear energy from being considered a green energy. The sign says, “Nuclear energy is not a solution for climate change. Redirect nuclear funding to renewables – now!”

The rhetoric goes a little extreme: “There is not one part of the nuclear power chain, which is not connected to continued human rights violations, of indigenous and women’s rights and the rights of future generations.” Whew! At least nuclear is an equal-opportunity destroyer of souls.

You can read more here.

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lead01 In the face of the financial downturn, Russia is scaling back its nuclear plans to one new reaction per year from two. That’s understandable. Here’s what caught our eye, though:

At the same meeting, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev put forward three priority challenges for the country's nuclear power industry.

The first task, he said, was to improve the performance of pressurised water reactors over the next two to three years. The second, over the medium-term, is to develop a new technological basis for nuclear energy based on a closed fuel cycle with fast neutron reactors. Thirdly, the industry must develop nuclear fusion as a future energy source.

Good, good, what!? This is the first time we’ve seen fusion as part of a country’s energy roadmap. We’re fond of fusion, especially as an energy source with a genuine fan base – but at least for now you have to drain a city to power a town. (Don’t be fooled, though – a lot of smart people have been trying to make fusion work for years.) If the Russians have a way forward, power, so to speak, to them.

Members of the Russian Cossack Folk Dance and Song Ensemble.

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newt-gingrich We have, at best, mixed feelings about twittering politicians, since the form encourages the drive-by phrase making that has come to define so much television coverage of politics. On the other hand, it is unfiltered communication (ggod) and the imposed terseness tamps down the blowhardiness of our political class(very good).

With that, we give you Newt Gingrich:

We r ready 4 alternative forms of energy that moves into the 21st century & provides jobs. Wind, solar, nuclear, hydropower.

And that’s the bird the cat dragged in.

Himself.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Windmill Goes Round and Round

Lord Mandelson Here’s Greenpeace’s Executive Director John Sauven on the British energy plant:

"If this plan becomes a reality, it will create hundreds of thousands of green jobs and make Britain a safer and more prosperous country. This will be good for the British economy and, in the long-run, save householders money as we reduce our dependence on foreign oil and gas.

This is likely part of what pleases Sauven:

Up to £180m would be made available to promote wind and tidal power – this includes setting up a low-carbon economic area in the south-west to promote marine technologies and money for up to 3,000 wind turbines off the UK's shores by 2020.

And why not? As Britain reworks its energy regime, renewables are extremely valuable – both in themselves and for gaining enough traction and resources to work on issues of scale and reliability. By 2020, those 3000 turbines might be fewer or might be capable of generating more electricity than currently anticipated. A big order and long timeframe can be great for innovation.

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But subsidies can be a problem – when it’s nuclear energy.

[…] Business Secretary Lord Mandelson […] stated in June: "We are not going to achieve a competitive [nuclear] sector by handing out subsidies. We are not in the business of giving out subsidies. We are in the business of maintaining a level playing field."

Well, as seen above, no. And:

Yet to some observers, low carbon technologies do not appear to be competing on a level playing field. [EDF Energy chief executive Vincent] de Rivaz and other major utilities such as E.ON and RWE have been quick to point out that the more photogenic generation sources such as wind and solar are the beneficiaries of generous subsidies and tax breaks. Equally, carbon capture and storage technology is receiving massive R&D funding and incentives. For all the government's rhetoric on free market attitudes, it has effectively picked its winners already.

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Energy Secretary Ed Miliband sounds as though he knows where his fights may come from:

Critics of turbines, which can be more than 300ft high, say they disfigure the landscape and cause noise. Some engineers also question whether they are efficient enough to be economically viable but Mr Miliband said people must come to accept wind farms as a necessary part of Britain's energy sector.

He said ministers would be sensitive to residents' concerns about turbines, but insisted: "They have to go somewhere."

And if he anticipates a fight on wind, imagine adding nuclear to that. Why, nuclear units eat up space – er, sound like a hundred engines going at once – um, well, we joke. Every energy source has a downside. And as we mentioned, it’s possible the wind industry will mitigate some of them.

Shaun Spiers, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said the group supported the expansion of renewable energy but the countryside must be protected. "There will be no public consent for renewable energy infrastructure if it is centrally imposed or causes great damage to the beauty of England's countryside," he said.

NIMBY - this will be the big fight, we suspect.

We wondered what Lord Mandelson looked like. Pretty much like this.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The British Present An Energy Plan

Ed-Miliband-visiting-the--002 Great Britain released last week its analogue of the Obama administration’s energy bill, called the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan. It’s goal is to cut carbon emissions 34% by 2020, using 1990 levels as a baseline. That’s more ambitious than the American plan, but starts from a different place economically and industrially. To put it another way, it’s easier for the Brits to contemplate such a steep decline in such a short time – and it still qualifies as very optimistic.

Here’s what the report say about nuclear energy:

The Government is streamlining he planning and regulatory approvals processes for new nuclear power stations. It is currently assessing sites where developers would like to bring new nuclear power stations into operation by 2025, and this assessment will be included in a draft National Policy Statement for nuclear power, which the Government will consult on later in 2009.

So it’s in the mix. How much in the mix? We think the balance of nuclear and renewables is problematic, but that’s what you’d expect from us.

Energy secretary Ed Miliband said that 30% of electricity would be produced from renewable sources − primarily wind energy, and a further 10% would be from nuclear power.

We’ll really be surprised if that nuclear percentage doesn’t edge upward. Here’s the jobs estimate:

The nuclear power industry would need 11,500 to 16,500 new people by 2015, while the renewables sector will need another 400,000, he [Engineering & Technology Board chief executive Paul Jackson] said. “In order to achieve these [targets] we will need more skilled engineers with the relevant skills and further investment in green technology.

There’s a lot more, of course, but we’ll direct you here to read the whole plan. As you’d expect, energy efficiency, clean coal, a new grid and better fuel efficiency all play a part. We’ll look at some of the reactions to this proposal later, particularly the balance between nuclear and renewable energy.

We’re not expert enough in British government to know how Parliament interacts here (the report itself says it was presented to Parliament), but we’ll see if we can’t sort out how that will go, at least roughly.

Here is the Telegraph’s James Delingpole on Energy and Climate Change minister Ed Milliband, pictured:

“There are, of course, many things to loathe about Ed Miliband: his wonky, slightly sinister face like a giant egg with a hedgehog on top; the way he says “sure” all the time; his Estuarial inability to pronounce his final consonants; the fact that there’s not just him but his ruddy brother too; the annoying missing “l” in his surname; but definitely the worst is the drivel this grinning eco loon is allowed to spout, largely unchallenged, on “climate change.”

Classless and snobby at the same time, a unique combination.

NEI's 2009 Top Industry Practice Awards on Video - Number Three: "The Secret Is Plastic"

Over the last two weeks NEI has released two videos out of four highlighting the top industry practice awards that were given out at our annual nuclear conference back in May. Here's our third video installment of the series:

“The Secret Is Plastic,” highlights new applications of plastic piping at two nuclear plants that enhance their operation and decrease the cost of maintaining plant water systems.

Duke Energy employees at the Catawba nuclear station in South Carolina and AmerenUE employees at the Callaway nuclear plant in Missouri shared the Materials and Services Process Top Industry Practice Award for the use of high-density polyethylene piping for plant water systems.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nuclear Energy in Australia? Someday – Maybe

Aussie uranium Bloomberg reports on the growing realization in Australia that its ambitious carbon emission reduction goals may be hard to achieve without nuclear energy. Well, those with a horse in the race definitely think so:

“As more and more Australians get involved in the whole climate change debate, as they learn about what’s happening around the world where the uptake of nuclear power is increasing quite strongly, they’ll accept the attraction of nuclear power and over time embrace it,”

That comes from Ziggy Switkowski, head of the nation’s main nuclear research institute, and you really wouldn’t expect him to say different, would you?

So what does the government think?

“We have a very clear view that Australia is blessed with conventional energy resources, as well as renewable energy resources and our focus as a nation should be on developing those technologies in renewable energy,” Wong told reporters in Canberra. “That’s why we have got our renewable energy target, to drive investment in the technologies that increasingly the world will need.” [Wong is Climate Change Minister Penny Wong.]

Right now, the Liberal Party, which indeed is liberal (can’t always tell by name with foreign political parties), is in charge.

There has been some progress:

Australia’s ruling Labor Party dropped its 27-year-old ban on new uranium mines in 2007, while leaving state governments with the power to reject mining proposals. Western Australia state scrapped a six-year ban on uranium mining in 2008. The country is the world’s third-largest uranium producer, according to estimates from the World Nuclear Association.

But a fair number of Australians didn’t care for that move, either. In any event, it’s not nearly the end of the story:

Views inside the Government are divided, with some senior players strongly opposed to nuclear energy now and into the future, reflecting a strong no nuclear stance from the party's grassroots.

But some ministers regard the resumption of the debate as inevitable, given expert advice that nuclear energy is now the only technology capable of delivering low emissions base-load electricity, while "clean coal'' technology is not yet
commercially proven.

That “some ministers” comment might have been expanded in the story, but regardless, there is at least a suggestion that as the issue of climate change takes hold in Australia, nuclear energy will become more prominent a part of the conversation just as it has here.

Too Panglossian? Well, maybe, but Mr. Switkowski is right on points and even this much movement in Australia is better than we’re used to. So – maybe – someday – sooner than we would have guessed even last year.

The hydrometalurgical unit at BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam uranium mine in South Australia. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Little More Nuclear, Please

energy-use625x374 And we really mean a little more, as a new set of flowcharts from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory suggest that folks used more renewable energy and a little more nuclear energy in 2008 than 2007. Science Daily reports:

Nuclear energy also saw a slight increase from 8.41 quads [quadrillion BTUs] in 2007 up to 8.45 quads in 2008. While no new nuclear power plants came online in 2008, the existing plants had less down time. Over the last 20 years, the downtime for maintenance and refueling at nuclear power plants had been decreasing.

"There's an incentive to operate as much as possible," [A.J.] Simon [, an LLNL energy systems analyst,] said. "It's a smart thing to do. You can't earn revenue by selling electricity when you're down."

Gulp! I’m sure if Mr. Simon talked to any nuclear energy supplier, he’d learn that less downtime for maintenance has everything to do with the growing capabilities of the work force and the development of best methods in a mature industry, with profit a collateral benefit. Nuclear energy plants are too tightly regulated, internally and by the NRC, for things to be otherwise.

The article opines that building more wind turbines also account, logically enough, for the increased use of that power source, but really, how many people get to choose their electricity provider? In more cases than not, this is a truer measure:

"I'm really excited about the renewed push for energy efficiency in this country," he [Simon] said. "Because once that energy is rejected, it's no longer useful. But more efficient power plants, automobiles and even light bulbs really do reject less energy while providing the same energy services."

By rejected energy, Simon means things like waste heat in power plants. But the story fails to mention the elephant in the room: no, not our fathers telling us not to air condition the world while we talk to our friends at the door, but the then-faltering economy. (It does mention the spike in gasoline prices.) That, more than likely, got people turning off lights and pulling the bike out of the garage. Not a peep of that in this story, though. We’d prefer holding off on praising the energy efficiency of Americans until the economy turns around. Then, we’ll really know.

You can see the flowcharts and download the data here.

One of the flow charts. You could live in these things for days.

Friday, July 17, 2009

It’s Friday and the Mood Is Miscellaneous

Or maybe pusillanimous.

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DSCF0373[1] Gizmodo takes a quick look at 1979: the Year We Wussed Out of Nuclear:

The timing of the movie coming out tying in with Three Mile Island may have been lucky for the producers, who suddenly had a huge blockbuster hit on their hands, but it was less lucky for boosters of safe nuclear energy. Since that meltdown, the production of nuclear power plants has gone down significantly despite the fact that there were no deaths or even recorded cases of cancer caused by Three Mile Island—the amount of radiation that the people near the plant were exposed to is said to be similar to that of getting an X-ray.

Too short to really make an argument, the post seems to want to blame The China Syndrome and Three Mile Island equally for the hibernation in building new nuclear plants. We’d likely stress the movie less – movie alarmism usually has a brief half-life – and Chernobyl and the No Nukes movement (that also spawned a movie, in 1980) that arose from TMI. But see what you think.

Jack Lemmon. The perfect actor to go sweaty and twitchy when the dial sticks.

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Hall14 Speaking of No Nukes and its sponsor, Musicians United for Safe Energy, one of its participants, John Hall of the band Orleans, is now serving a second term as a Democratic Representative from New York’s 19th congressional district. So has Rep. Hall changed his mind about nuclear energy?

Nope.

We should use greater investment in wind, solar, and hydropower, particularly low-head hydropower, to replace the need to rely on polluting forms of energy like old, coal burning plants and nuclear power facilities.

Well, points for consistency, anyway.

Rep. John Hall at a town hall meeting. We were hoping to find a recent picture of him with his guitar, but no love. Hopefully, he still plays.

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timthumb.php Our friends at NA-YGN (that’s North American Young Generation in Nuclear – they have their annual conference in conjunction with NEI’s Nuclear Energy Assembly) have a group blog called Clean Energy Insight up and running. Similar to Nuclear Notes, but with a bit less stress on politics (blame our Washington headquarters for that) and a bit more on local initiatives, we cannot find anything to gripe about it – well, maybe the writers could add a little more of their knowledge about nuclear energy to help explicate news stories. Nicely done, complete with estimates of how long it will take you to read their posts.

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gg11litOffered without comment:

A musical based on the nuclear industry is to be staged this weekend by children from Russia's Sarov region. As part of the NucKids International Children's Kestival [sic?], youngsters from Ukraine, Bulgaria, Finland, Germany as well as Russia will convene in Moscow, where part of their entertainment will comprise songs that dispel myths about radiation and nuclear energy.

Not the group. We just wanted cute Russian kids.

An Update on Two Competing Models of Radiation: Linear No-Threshold vs Hormesis

The author of one of my favorite nuclear blogs, Rod Adams, found a new and compelling document explaining the beneficial health effects of low doses of radiation. The document has generated quite the number of comments at his site and I could see why. Here are some good quotes and background info from the paper (pdf):

In the early stages of nuclear development, more than 60 years ago, the world regulatory agencies (e.g. ICRP) had little understanding of the mechanisms by which nuclear radiation interacts with living things. They observed an excess incidence of cancer death following high dose exposures and measured a linear relationship between dose and cancer mortality in the high dose range. They were unable to observe excess cancers in the low dose range, so they assumed that excess cancer is proportional to dose in that range, all the way down to zero dose. That is, they made a linear extrapolation from evidence in the high range down through the low range, where there is no evidence of harmful effects. This is called the Linear No-Threshold (LNT) model. (p.4)

...

So what levels of radiation are harmful and what levels are not? Based upon human data, a single whole body dose of 150 mSv (15 rem) is safe. The high background of 700 mSv/year (70 rem/year) in the city of Ramsar, Iran, is also a safe dose limit for continuous chronic exposure. Both dose limits are also beneficial. However, our regulations limit exposure to human-made radiation to only 20 mSv/year (2 rem/year) for workers- and 1 mSv/year (0.1 rem/year) for the public. Why have these limits been set so low? (p. 6)

...

There is considerable evidence that exposure to a low dose or a low dose rate of radiation has a stimulatory effect on all living organisms. The immune system is stimulated by a short-term radiation dose. The body has built-in adaptive defences against higher levels of exposure after having been exposed to low-dose or low dose rates of radiation. This is called radiation hormesis. The extensive scientific evidence of the beneficial effects following low dose or low dose rate exposure (e.g. 192 studies in UNSCEAR 1994) and the scientific explanations for the effects appear to have been ignored by the government regulatory authorities (ICRP, NCRP). (p. 7)

...

The doses or dose rates of radiation received in the nuclear industry and by the public living near nuclear plants are within the range of natural background radiation levels and far below the levels where harmful effects have been observed. Radiobiological evidence supports the radiation hormesis model: beneficial health effects for low-dose or low dose rate radiation exposures and harmful effects for high-dose or high dose rate exposures. (p. 9) ...
It'll be interesting to watch how the regulators and public react as more and more evidence like this comes out explaining that radiation maybe isn't as bad as they think. Like I said before, radiation saves lives.

Setting the Watts Bar Too High

250px-Watts_Bar_Nuclear_Power_Plant The Sierra Club, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Tennessee Environmental Council, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and We the People Inc. on Wednesday asked the NRC for permission to intervene against TVA's bid for an operating license at the Rhea County site [a.k.a. the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant].

The groups contend the Unit 2 reactor could harm water resources, including the Tennessee River, and risk public health and safety because of fundamental weaknesses in the reactor's four-decade-old design.

This comes from Knoxnews.com. Apparently, a gathering of environmental groups on one issue is a bit unusual:

[Sara] Barczak [of the the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy] believes it is "pretty unique for Tennessee" for several environmental groups to come together on an issue like Watts Bar, but is glad for the support. "We are very pleased to get some of our longtime allies to join in the fight."

Sometimes we wonder if actions like this are primarily to discourage nuclear energy in deference to, say, wind or solar. We know this not to be true – there’s an investment here against nuclear – but at least from the story, the complaints seem woebegone and not meant to be taken altogether seriously. Here’s that merry band of free marketeers, the Heritage Foundation, to explain why:

No nuclear reactor has ever harmed any water source in the United States. And just how, exactly, would the second reactor risk public health and safety? Would it be the radiation? Nuclear power plants do emit some radiation, but the amounts are environmentally insignificant and pose no threat. These emissions fall well below the legal safety limit sanctioned by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Well, the groups don’t seem to be worried about radiation (this time), so that may be a bit of a straw man. (Although looking at the various environmental sites, we couldn’t figure out where the beef was, either. So Heritage’s guess is as good as ours.)

We’ll keep half an eye on this one, but it seems a non-starter.

Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, the bone of contention.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Story Told by Failed Amendments

house As we’re sure you know from Schoolhouse Rock, when a bill goes through committee, members can propose amendments to enhance this aspect or that of the given legislation. In the House, amendments are sent to the Rules Committee and accepted or rejected there, not in committee or on the floor. The Senate does it in committee and again in the full chamber, where it can become a bit of a free-for-all. (The amendment process is where a lot of pork can get into a bill, but also a lot of good refinements.)

In the process surrounding the 2010 Appropriations bill in the House, this is an opportunity for Republicans to get their priorities into mostly Democratic-written legislation (and also Democrats not on the Appropriations committee) – it was, of course, the other way around before 2006 – and hope the amendments are not then voted down by the Rules committee.

We’re not Congressional historians, but we suspect the element of show is important here, and most amendments from the opposition get voted down. But don’t quote us – we can’t say that this is really true.

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With that preamble out of the way, let’s look at some of the nuclear-related amendments that were knocked down by the Rules committee. They’'ll give you a sense of where the nuclear argument is going, even if not quite getting codified yet.

We’ve listed the sponsor and amendment number.

#99

Directs Department of Energy funds to Yucca Mountain. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas)

#16

Would prohibit funding from being used to administer the Department of Energy's "Yucca Mountain Youth Zone" website. [This one was withdrawn.] Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.)

#52

Would reduce funding for energy efficient building research by 5% and redirect that sum to the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative.  Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.)

#24

Would prohibit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from relicensing a nuclear power plant that has had one or more major leaks in buried pipes that are part of the plant's safety system during the last calendar year. Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.)

#33

Would increase by $115,717,000 funding for D.O.E. Defense Environmental Cleanup, offset by a reduction in the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy account. Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.)

#55

Would insert a sense of Congress that nuclear energy should be considered to be renewable energy for the purposes of any renewable portfolio standard. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)

#35

Would strip all Davis-Bacon prevailing wage provisions from the bill. Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.)

#36

Would strike section 310 of the bill, which adds Davis-Bacon requirements to the bill. Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.)

#28

Would increase by $76 million funding for Nuclear Waste Disposal, offset by eliminating the Appalachian Regional Commission. Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas)

#29

Would increase by $76 million, funding for D.O.E. nuclear energy activities, offset by eliminating the Appalachian Regional Commission. Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas)

#51

Would prohibit funds from being used to collect funds for Nuclear Waste Fund if the President does not first publish in the Federal Register a notice certifying Yucca is the selected and permanently designated site for the development of a repository for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel. Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.)

#87

Would prevent funds from being used to terminate the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository. Rep. Aaron Schrock (R-Ill.)

#88

Revised Would increase funding for Nuclear Waste Disposal by $80 million, offset by a $1.5 million cut to Office of Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), $1.5 million cut to Central Utah Project Completion Account, $1.8 million cut to Department of the Interior Policy and Administration, $23.573 million cut to Strategic Petroleum Reserve, $11.263 million cut to Energy Information Administration, $17.041 million cut to Department of Energy Departmental Administration, and a $24.6 million cut to FERC Salaries and Expenses. Rep. Aaron Schrock (R-Ill.)

#102

Would provide $70 million for the Department of Energy's Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative, offset by reducing funding for the Office of Science by the same amount. Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.)

#22

Would prohibit funds in the bill from being used to delay or terminate construction or permitting of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.)

As you can see, there’s a bit of mischief here, but mostly reasonable items.They provide a sense of how future budgets might treat nuclear energy and some of the elements surrounding it, most particularly Yucca Mountain and the question of used nuclear fuel.

You can see what the Davis-Bacon Act is about here. Rep. Mack really doesn’t like this act and last month introduced with Rep. Steve King the Davis-Bacon Repeal Act. You can read about that here.

The two Democratic entries are minor: we suspect DOE will do something about the first without prompting and the second is an attempt to do away with Indian Point – Hillary Clinton took a run at this goal during her time in the Senate. We don’t know why the Appalachian Regional Commission is targeted for elimination by Rep. Neugebauer – nothing about it on his Web site.

Your House of Representatives.

NEI's 2009 Top Industry Practice Awards on Video - Number Two

Last week, NEI released the first of four videos highlighting the top industry practice awards that were given out at our annual nuclear conference back in May. This week we have a new video to show:

The second video, “Global Ties Boost Nuclear Plant Performance,” recognizes Exelon Nuclear employees who established a very successful international technical exchange program.
Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

As Said by Boxer to Alexander

To give a sense of the impact of Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-Tenn.)insistence on nuclear energy, as noted below, consider the response of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in our Twitter feed to your right. Here’s the whole quote – it ran longer than 140 characters:

You are suggesting a command and control: We order you to build 100 nuclear power plants. $700 billion cost to the ratepayers. No tax credits for them whatsoever. And you come up with other ideas, some of which I support, but costly to taxpayers. All I’m saying is, it is our belief that, if we do this right, we’re going to have those plants built – more plants than you want – and believe me, I’m not the biggest fan of nuclear energy. I believe it has to be part of the solution.

Boxer offers enough pushback to establish bona fides, but she yields to reality in the end.

Boxer also seems to have picked up on Sen. Tom Udall’s (D-N.M.) comment last week:

You put a price on carbon, what you end up doing is sending a very strong signal in the marketplace that carbon dioxide emissions, that these kinds of emissions, are to be reduced in the future and that you move in the direction of technologies [in] which you do not create carbon dioxide – nuclear is one of those.

So if it seems that some Democrats are backing into nuclear energy, it still gets them to the same place that Alexander came to frontally.

We’ll take it.

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We would not have caught this without Twitter, incidentally, because it happened at an Agriculture-related hearing, which we don’t follow (not much nuclear there), and it’s not the kind of thing that would turn up in a news story – we snagged the whole quote from the webcast. Granted, it’s a stray comment and we miss a lot of those each day, but it’s a good one. We’ll take our tools as they come.

Britain: Renewables No, Nuclear Yes

article-1054106-04F06D9B0000044D-60_468x286 "The CBI's report is a very good piece of work," said Steve Holliday, the National Grid chief executive. "There is no difference in the cost of implementing its model, but its carbon reduction is greater and there's a better energy mix."

That comes from the Telegraph, reporting on a report issued by the Confederation of British Industries (CBI), which looks to us like that country’s version of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (And what would that energy mix be?

The study calls for the Government to change the energy mix within the next 12-15 months. Its suggestions include raising nuclear spend by £15bn and carbon capture by £7bn, while cutting investment in expensive gas projects by £11bn and wind by £12bn.

And what would those savings be?

The business lobby group argues that this alternative path will lead to an 83pc reduction in carbon emissions compared with a projected drop under the Government's plans of just 64pc by 2030.

We’ll have to see what the British report on renewables looks like – this seems a warning shot across its bow. Read the Telegraphs write up and then download CBI’s report to see what’s what. (Firefox didn’t like the link to the report, so we’ve taken you to the top page for reports. Try after they’ve fixed the link.)

This is Sizewell B, Britain’s largest nuclear plant. Looks like Klaatu should be emerging from the containment unit.

This is how CBI describes itself: The CBI is the UK's top business lobby organisation. Our specialist services and unmatched influence with government, policymakers, legislators, and unions mean we can get the best deal for business at home and abroad. [Always consider the source of your information, in other words.]

Lamar Alexander’s Nuclear Blueprint

alexanderpic Yesterday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced at the National Press Club a document he entitled Blueprint for 100 New Nuclear Power Plants in 20 Years. It’s as full an explication of Alexander’s ideas as you could want to see.

Here’s the gist of it:

Republican United States Senators offer a different solution, a low-cost plan for clean energy based upon these four steps:

  • building 100 nuclear power plants within 20 years;
  • electric cars for conservation;
  • offshore exploration for natural gas and oil;
  • doubling energy research and development to make renewable energy cost competitive

The House plan will raise prices and send jobs overseas looking for cheap energy.

Nuclear energy and electric/hybrid cars make a great combination and answers to worries about the need for electricity for a mammoth new (if still potential) market. Although we’re not sure one would have to fight for offshore drilling if cars found another energy source, it shows Alexander keeping his options open.

Some elements gave us pause:

We want an America in which we are not creating “energy sprawl” by occupying vast tracts of farmlands, deserts and mountaintops with energy installations that ruin scenic landscapes.

We assume that’s wind and solar. If so, Alexander walks it back later:

Despite the weaknesses of solar and wind [well, he sort of walks it back], both still have definite contributions to make [and] therefore should be part of any energy plan.

But for the most part, he’s on solid ground, even on wind and solar. They really cannot provide baseload energy – that is, reliable and consistent energy – and nuclear energy can do that. That’s key for ramping down carbon emitting plants.

In the blueprint, Alexander looks at how we might bring about 100 nuclear power plants:

  • It’s expensive but not paralyzing. Alexander offers a price of $700 billion, “less than the cost of the … stimulus,” and “nearly all the money will come from private investment.”
  • It will mean “mean a rebirth of Industrial America,” because a market emerges for fabrication plants and other elements. Alexander notes correctly that there is already a ramp-up in manufacturing nuclear plant parts in this country.
  • No NIMBY issues. With nuclear high in the polls, and higher in areas with a plant (all true), Alexander still hedges his bets a bit by noting that many of the 100 reactor could go to existing plants “without developing many new locations.”

We know that this plan cannot really gain a lot of traction in a Democratic-controlled Congress, but Alexander impressively tamps down ideology (well, there’s a bit in his preamble) to deal exclusively in what’s known and factual. That means his plan really can be a blueprint for Dems as well as Repubs who want to get up to speed on the issues.

One can disagree with his plan on premise or on points, but he does lay out the case intelligently and with good arguments. We read through a preliminary draft (where the quotes come from), so haunt his Web site to get a copy of the final version.

Senator Alexander’s been thinking about energy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

James Inhofe Squares the Warming Circle

james_inhofe Politico is running a package of energy related articles in their current print edition and also on its Web site. While the articles as a group are a bit lumpy – there are chats with Barbra Streisand and Carole King, two singers whose, um, records we respect – there are also a fair number of policymakers weighing in.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has a run at nuclear energy:

Listen carefully in Washington, and almost everyone agrees that nuclear energy must be a part of our future domestic energy mix, and for good reason: Nuclear energy is the world’s largest source of carbon-free energy, generating over 70 percent of our emission-free electricity here in the U.S.

Mmm, honey. More please:

Not only will nuclear energy give a boost to our economy, it will also produce new jobs. Mark Ayers, president of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department, has stated: “We will work closely with the nuclear energy industry to help pursue the adoption of a diverse American energy portfolio that places a high priority on the re-emergence of nuclear power.”

Jobs, good.

But, despite significant efforts on the part of NRC staff, this process hasn’t unfolded as smoothly as it could. In fact, there appear to be no actual dates when any of the new plant licenses will be issued. The commission must take responsibility for managing the licensing process and set detailed schedules, which are critical to ensuring that the process is safety-focused and efficient.

Regulatory reform, maybe more resources for the NRC, also good.

In fact, Inhofe lays out most of the arguments for a full revival of the nuclear industry that we might make. It almost gets into oversell territory – the suggestion that building a zillion new plants over 20 or 25 years will bring about an energy panacea. It’s not that Inhofe or Sen. Lamar Alexander really think nuclear is the only energy source worth considering, but that it needs the solid push represented by some of their recent statements.We admit we prefer Sen. John McCain’s all-of-the-above energy formulation, as it seems more reflective of the world as it is and could plausibly become. Regardless, Inhofe hits the bell soundly for nuclear energy.

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Now, one other point: Sen. Inhofe is likely the Senate’s most vociferous opponent of global warming research – or rather the conclusions thereof. One of the pages on his Web site is entitled: U.S. Senate Minority Report Update: “More Than 700 (Previously 650) International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims.”

Lines include:

The over 650 dissenting scientists are more than 12 times the number of UN scientists (52) who authored the media-hyped IPCC 2007 Summary for Policymakers.

This new report issued by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's office of the GOP Ranking Member [that would be Sen. Inhofe] is the latest evidence of the growing groundswell of scientific opposition challenging significant aspects of the claims of the UN IPCC and Al Gore.

Skeptical scientists are gaining recognition despite what many say is a bias against them in parts of the scientific community and are facing significant funding disadvantages.

You get the idea. We have no reason to doubt Sen. Inhofe’s sincerity in pursuing this line of inquiry nor can we dogmatically insist he is wrong. We can say warming skepticism currently seems a rearguard action. The importance of global warming as an issue for the public has fallen off in favor of economic worries, but for many it seems a settled, or settled enough, topic.

So the energy bill has pushed forward with global warming as a “settled enough topic,” and Inhofe has realistically put forward an idea that answers to industry, to a weak job market and to climate change skeptics and adherents. That may be squaring the circle a bit forcefully, but it does get the job done.

“Point of order!” Sen. James Inhofe.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What do thorium reactors and girls who can cite the periodic table from memory have in common?

Answer: Kirk Sorensen. Kirk just got back from England where he gave a successful and compelling presentation on liquid fluoride thorium reactors at the Manchester Town Hall.

I should have known right from the moment I walked in the building that this was going to go well. Right inside the main door are two large statues; one of James Prescott Joule, the famous physicist and thermodynamicist, and the other of John Dalton, chemist and pioneer of atomic theory. As I walked by, Joule whispered that I better tell them a bit about thermodynamics, and Dalton reminded me that chemists could build the best reactor of all.

...

I went through the process of converting thorium to energy and showed how a LFTR uses liquid fluoride fuel to carry the uranium and thorium in a two-fluid arrangement designed to follow the natural processes of thorium's conversion to protactinium, uranium, and then to energy. I described the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment and how it demonstrated that this was a real and feasible approach to take to extracting the energy from thorium. I described a more modern version--the Liquid-Fluoride Thorium Reactor--that would couple the fluoride reactor to a closed-cycle gas turbine and enable the extraction of energy from thorium at an efficiency roughly 300 times greater than we currently get from uranium in existing reactors.

...

This radical improvement in efficiency means that we could supply world energy needs with about 6000 tonnes of thorium rather than the 65,000 tonnes of uranium, 5 billion tonnes of coal, 32 billion barrels of oil, and 3 trillion cubic meters of gas we use today.

Thorium resources are abundant and a single thorium site in Idaho could provide nearly all the world's yearly demand for thorium...
And how did he feel about the event?
It was a great experience!
Be sure to stop by and read the rest of his post and to also find out who he got to meet there. On a lighter note, check out Kirk's two daughters, Zoe (7) and Kaija (4, just turned 5), recite the periodic table from memory. I hope my future kids turn out to be as smart as them!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Life’s Little Ironies

flag A British wind utility, Ecotricity, and French nuclear company EDF are fighting for the rights to a “green” union jack to use at the 2012 London Olympics – EDF is the “sustainability partner” for the Olympics, so that’s pretty green all the way around. (EDF is the majority stakeholder in British Energy, hence their interest in this.) On the Wind Energy Planning Web site, the news story about the squabble concludes:

EDF have submitted a trademark application for their green union jack - however Ecotricity is retaliating by taking the company to the high court. EDF energy are 85% owned by the French State. They are the worlds third largest producer of nuclear waste.

It’s all a matter of perspective, we guess. We reckon we would support EDF if we had much feeling for the set-to, but let’s be generous – and disinterested – and wish it and Ecotricity equal luck. Either way, we’ll see a lot of green Union Jacks.

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We, of course, have no beef with anyone who believes the Earth began on this day or that – it began for each of us on the day we were born, after all – but there’s still so much irony to unpack in this story, it’s a little daunting:

During the hearing, [Arizona] State Senator Sylvia Allen (R), the vice chairman of the committee, argued in favor of mining by saying that the earth “has been here 6,000 years, long before anybody had environmental laws, and somehow it hasn’t been done away with.” “We need to get the uranium here in Arizona, so this state can get the money from it,” argued Allen.

We’re on Senator Allen’s side as far as uranium mining is concerned – she also mentions, correctly, that it isn’t very environmentally impactful – but we find the juxtaposition of uranium and a young Earth very strange.

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Well, okay:

The U.S. would cancel a nuclear energy agreement with the United Arab Emirates if the Middle East nation were to violate any terms of the deal, an Obama administration official said Wednesday.

Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, sought to convince lawmakers that the pact is designed to keep sensitive technology from flowing to Iran or allowing the UAE to develop atomic weapons.

File it under a promise to do what you promise to do and that about gets it. (The U.S.-UAE agreement allows nuclear technologies to flow between the two countries, though in practice, toward the UAE. The Obama administration has signed the treaty and passed it overt to Congress, which can ignore it – meaning the terms will take effect after some days – or reject it. Congress does not need to affirm it.) UAE’s ports have been used as weigh-stations for nefarious Iranian shipments, though that ended some time ago. That’s why this confirmation of the affirmation.

The green Union Jack (Ecotricity’s version). We’re not sure it’s even legal to attempt a green stars-and-stripes for a commercial purpose.