Friday, August 28, 2009

They Shoot Cooling Towers, Don’t They?

This appears on the MSNBC site in their 10 Years of The Week in Pictures slideshow – this is slide 17 (the pictures are much worth going through, as is the archive. Lots of really good photos.)2002_RTREEXH.ss_full

Here’s the caption:

2002: Rainbow frames German nuclear plant

Agriculture and industry meet in a surreal scene beneath a rainbow near the power plant at Grosskrotzenburg, Germany, on Nov. 25.

Hmmm! Grosskrotzenburg? Nuclear plant? Who knew! So we looked it up and found this, a closer view of the plant. And, um, it’s a coal-fired plant. There was a nuclear plant in nearby Kahl but it’s been closed since 1985.

We did find this tidbit about the cooling towers seen in the picture:

At some modern power stations, equipped with flue gas purification like the Power Station Staudinger Grosskrotzenburg and the Power Station Rostock, the cooling tower is also used as a flue gas stack (industrial chimney). At plants without flue gas purification, this causes problems with corrosion.

Anyhow, small error. We sent a note to MSNBC to have them check this, so it may get a caption change soon. Maybe our coal friends might like to link to it (and with the raking over the, can’t avoid it, coals they’ve been getting lately, they could use a pretty picture or two).

"Nuclear Power Plants Don't Cause Cancer"

Clean Energy Insight busts out the myth that nuclear power plants cause cancer:

Regulations imposed on nuclear power plants ensure that both the surrounding population and the workers within plants are exposed to only low levels of radiation. The fact of the matter is that the biological effects due to low levels of radiation exposure are so small that they may not even be detectable. The exact effect, however, depends on the specific type and intensity of the radiation exposure.
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As mentioned earlier, countless studies have shown that populations in close proximity to a nuclear power plant receive negligible levels of radiation exposure relative to general population and are no more susceptible to cancer than the average person.
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The key to dispelling this myth is to acknowledge that, as demonstrated:

  1. Any increased risk of cancer around an operating nuclear power plant relies primarily on the adverse effects resulting from any small amount of radiation it might release.
  2. No single person can go through life without experiencing some level of radiation dose on a daily basis.
  3. The levels of radiation emitted at or near a nuclear power plant, and the associated level of risk, are negligible in comparison to that experienced in commonly occurring events and activities experienced by most on a day-to-day basis.
Stop by to check out their compelling numbers and sources.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Breathless: Nothing to Say About Nuclear Good News

JeanSeberg Well, we always have something to say, but there’s a fair number of interesting articles that come out each day which don’t really require much comment to be fully comprehensible on their own. For example:

Investing in new nuclear power plants is good for the economy, good for the environment and good for energy security. But to ensure that America's nuclear renaissance isn't derailed, members should reject the House restriction on loan guarantees for nuclear energy when the bill reaches the Senate floor.

This op-ed comes from the San Antonio Express-News and we thought might be responsive to the story we’ve been following on South Texas Project. But no: it’s instead a good editorial on the efficacy of nuclear energy written by Bernard Weinstein, the associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University. He knows whereof he speaks, so consider it another link to send your nuclear-deprived friends.

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George Mason University has put together a poll with an unusually thorough slicing and dicing of the respondents’ profiles.They explain this here:

We are pleased to announce the release of our latest report - Global Warming's Six Americas 2009 . … In this report, we identify and profile six distinct groups of Americans based on their climate change beliefs, attitudes, risk perceptions, policy preferences, behaviors, barriers to action, motivations, and values.

Here are the six Americas: The Alarmed, The Concerned, The Cautious, The Disengaged, The Doubtful, and The Dismissive. (The Alarmed killed the Dismissive in the library with a solar panel.) Bottom line: top to bottom, the majority likes nuclear. Here’s the breakdown – just pair it with the categories above – 50, 57, 63, 57, 76 and 88 percent strongly or somewhat favor building new plants.

Here’s a link to the report (largeish pdf). The reason we don’t have a lot to say about this is that it seems to have settled into that 60 per cent or so range that nuclear energy hovers around in many polls. However, the methodology here is interesting – undertaken by students with a lot of time, presumably – and if your mind turns a certain way, the cross tabs will make you purr like a kitten for several hours at least.

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Washington State Senator Jerome Delvin goes all out for nuclear energy in an article at Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Washington is a hydro state, but as Delvin points out:

Our state is fortunate to have clean, renewable hydropower - but we are now using virtually all the hydropower available. We cannot grow it 40 percent, never mind the amount needed to make up for the loss of coal, oil and gas. This task becomes even more insurmountable if the Snake River dams are removed.

Hmm, what to do?

To give up all energy produced from fossil fuels, we need another source of energy that's cheap, clean and full-time. Fortunately, one exists: Nuclear power. Europe is flourishing on it. In fact, France produces 80 percent of its energy from low-cost, zero-emissions nuclear power.

Delvin has his beans together and covers a lot of topics around nuclear energy for his readers. He’s no doubt alert to what Energy Northwest is up to – see post below – but interested here in making the sale for new nuclear. Nothing for us to say – he covers the salient topics in a salient way quite well.

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If you poke around, you’ll be surprised at how many articles either provide a positive introduction to nuclear energy to readers or treat nuclear energy as essentially a given, especially in climate change discussions. People get it, the polls have come around, politicians are building policy around it. Maybe the reason we have nothing to say is that we’re breathless at the flood of nuclear good news that seems part and parcel of coverage these days.

Jean Seberg has a newspaper to sell you in the movie Breathless (1959).

What the IAEA Knows

IAEA_image Here’s a story that started off making us upset at the IAEA and then made us rather more upset at the international players trying strong arm tactics against it. If nothing else, it provides an object lesson in how U.S. news handles conflict between national interests and international bodies.

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The United States and some of its allies are applying pressure on the IAEA to present information it has about Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions:

Iran has charged that the documents, many of which came from American, Israeli and European intelligence services, are fabrications. The [IAEA], according to current and former officials there, has studied them with care and determined that they are probably genuine.

So why is IAEA keeping further information to itself?

But agency officials say that Mohamed ElBaradei, the departing director general, resisted a public airing, fearing that such a presentation would make the agency appear biased toward the West in the effort to impose what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently called “crippling” sanctions. Dr. ElBaradei, who has argued for allowing Iran to maintain a token capacity to produce uranium under strict inspection, has said that the evidence does not create an airtight case against Iran.

And what might the IAEA know beyond what it says publically?

The evidence collected by the agency suggests that each [of two Iranian projects] centers on elements of designing and delivering a nuclear weapon, though the United States said in a National Intelligence Estimate published nearly two years ago that it believed those projects were halted, at least temporarily, in late 2003.

We should note that the New York Times was far too gullible in favoring U.S. rather than IAEA and U.N. assessments of Iraqi nuclear capability, so consider that as an element. See, for example, how Reuters handled this detail:

But the IAEA has no evidence showing undeniably that Iran has a bomb agenda, he said, and IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei was loath to publish the summary for fear it could be used for political ends and make the agency look biased against Iran.

This catches the implication the Times just misses: IAEA will lose considerable authority if it rats out members (who provide it with a lot of confidential information) to whichever superpower comes knocking. Dr. ElBaradei’s reticence seems utterly comprehensible.

Second, IAEA is a United Nations agency. If The U.S. and Europe don’t want to work through that august body, it’s likely because non-western countries – of which there’s a fair few, including China and especially Russia - will probably block any attempt to bully the agency.

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Now, this may sound like we’re fully on IAEA’s side, but really, it comes down to the right way to get a desired result. In this regard, President Obama seems to have a few ideas.

Next Wednesday, American and European officials are scheduled to meet to discuss their next steps on Iran, and President Obama has said he will use the opening of the United Nations General Assembly later in the month … to press for far tougher sanctions.

We suspect Obama will make far greater use of the U.N. to achieve international goals than his predecessor. Let’s see how that goes: we suspect that what IAEA knows will fade in importance as this story goes forward.

We’ve never seen a heavily photoshopped version of the IAEA logo, so this gaudy if striking variation – from here (Theodore’s World – very pro military) - get points for bringing the agency into the 23rd century.

Video of AREVA's Nuclear Recycling Facility in France

Check out this very descriptive video produced by the good folks at AREVA on how they recycle used nuclear fuel, it's definitely worth watching!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sometimes He Just – Goes – Berserk

bjw1 Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977) begins with this narration:

“The story takes place in our nation’s capitol, when certain isolated groups of people were beginning to ask for a freeze on the building of nuclear power plants and the stockpiling of nuclear weapons.

“About six months before our story begins, Congress had appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Senator Sam Foley [E.G. Marshall], to investigate the allegations of these groups, that through campaign contributions and lucrative construction contracts, the nuclear industry had virtually gained control over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the governmental agencies that were supposed to police it.

“As our picture opens, Sen. Foley, after months of closed sessions, without warning abruptly cancels the hearing, and in an unusual move, mysteriously seals all the information uncovered during the investigation, as classified top secret, and then quietly gives the green light for the continued development of nuclear plants and nuclear weapons.”

Then Sen. Foley drops dead, leaving behind a secret envelope. Following the template of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin), half-native American righter of wrongs, is appointed to the seat on the assumption he’ll be easily led. Sen. Jack’s (I-Crazytown) main project is to build a National Youth Camp on the reservation where his longtime soul mate Jean (Laughlin’s Wife Dolores Taylor – they’ve now been together 53 years) runs a “freedom school” and will also run the camp.

But the evil figures noted above and their Congressional cats paws are determined to put a nuclear power plant in exactly the same place. That looks likely to happen unless that secret envelope re-emerges, revealing the perfidious perversions of the nuclear nabobs of nihilism. Will they succeed? What do you think?

A supporting actor with some minor success, Tom Laughlin took the reins of his career and delivered a major hit with Billy Jack (1971), where he first encounters and then defends the native American freedom school. A peace-loving fellow, he occasionally gets pushed so far that he, in his description, “just – goes – berserk” and pummels his enemies into submission. A leftish update of Shane (1953), Billy Jack puts it to the Man.

And In Billy Jack Goes to Washington, our hero becomes the Man. No big fight scenes on the floor of the Senate, though.

It isn’t that the Billy Jack movies are swamped with pontificating and earnestness – not to mention misinformation -  that makes them bad, it’s that Laughlin becomes so righteously possessed that Billy Jack’s professed pacifism and his propensity to go berserk cause the conception of the films to go a wee bit haywire.

Leaving aside quality, however, we didn’t know there had been 141 near nuclear meltdowns by 1977. A reporter tells us, “There have been so many accidents and so many deaths that have been reported.” The things you learn from movies.

We report all this because the still-fit Laughlin – he’s 78 now - has released the four Billy Jack movies onto DVD this week. Would we recommend them? Well, let’s not go berserk. They were quite awful in their day and are now quite awful and extremely dated. So we think nostalgia will guide any decision: if you were of an age in 1971, Billy Jack was the grooviest thing ever, man. If you were of any other age then or not around yet, perhaps we can just call them period pieces, salute Tom Laughlin’s determination to get them made and leave it at that.

Be sure to visit Laughlin’s Web site. It’s quite bonkers.

When will that secret envelope show up? It’ll blow the lid off the diabolical nuclear energy industry.

h/t jabootu for the narration and other tidbits.

Where in the World To Put Nuclear Energy

David-Crane---NRG-(color) David Crane, president and chief executive of NRG Energy, has an op-ed up at the Washington Post in which he leaves aside current energy politics and proposes a closer look not only at technologies that are viable now but also where they are most viable geographically.

This last bit strikes us as original if perhaps a touch too definite – after all, he’s right that solar panels and turbines work best in certain parts of the country, but nuclear energy and electric cars aren’t  bound by geography. Here are his bullet points:

  • The West gets the sun.
  • The Midwest gets the wind.
  • The South gets nuclear.
  • The Northeast gets the electric car.
  • Pursue "clean coal" as a national priority.

This method gets a lot of good information on the page in an organized way – we have to conclude Crane really likes organization – his sock drawer must be a marvel - so we’ll take it. Here’s his paragraph on nuclear:

Democratic policymakers have focused like lasers on wind, solar and efficiency. They need to recognize that the South, still one of the nation's most economically dynamic growth areas, lacks suitable wind and solar resources. The geology of much of the Southeast is not well-suited to sequestering the carbon emissions that must be captured by truly "clean coal." On the other hand, the populace of the South (and that includes Texas) is generally comfortable with nuclear power, and its incumbent utilities are deeply experienced in nuclear operations. Nuclear energy should be the "renewable of the South."

He knows whereof he speaks, so okay. These are quick hits for discussion purposes, not a fully fleshed out plan. Crane has a straightforward approach and inclusive view of energy. And for a daily newspaper, it keeps its explanations simple but not insultingly reductive. Good piece.

Himself.

Round Two on Debating Craig Severance’s New Nuclear Cost Analysis

More than a month ago, Mr. Craig Severance wrote about his lively debate on new nuclear costs with NEI’s Leslie Kass and in response, we posted this. The following week, Mr. Severance responded timely to us and now it’s our turn again. We’re on our second round of posts and the debate has gotten into the weeds. The statements on nuclear from Mr. Severance have become more glaring, in my opinion, so that simply letting just a few of the statements go would be a mistake. Besides the needless analogies and repeating literally half of his rebuttal with previous literature, there are some major interpretation issues Mr. Severance assumes in his latest rebuttal that need airing. (Disclaimer: you're about to read a really long post with no pictures and visuals, hope you enjoy and make it through it!)

“Black Box”
From Mr. Severance's latest post:

The NEI fight-back response is welcome in that we are blowing open the "Black Box" of hidden assumptions about the costs of new nuclear power. It is NOT a cordial discussion when one side won't disclose its numbers.
Won’t disclose its numbers? I have yet to find a publicly available source that shows the costs from all types of power plants (coal, gas, wind, etc) that have ever been built. And there’s a reason that good construction cost numbers are hard to come by: most are kept proprietary for competitive reasons. Utilities do this for all power plants, not just nuclear.

Furthermore, I can’t quite figure out what Mr. Severance means by “Black Box.” When I read his literature, I found no new assumptions he accounted for that the nuclear utilities haven’t put in their public documents. The only differences are the numbers for their assumptions.

Also, he’s brought up a number of times the specious analogy of “a man who started to build a tower, but because he did not 'count the costs' to complete the tower, had to abandon the project to the ridicule of his neighbors.” Mr. Severance seems to think that the nuclear utilities haven’t included all of the costs for the plants because the utilities present the numbers in today’s dollars. He argues that “by the time you actually start building the plant you will need to pay the 'going rate' in the future years when construction actually takes place.”

Well, utilities have taken into account the going rate. Page 250 of Florida Power and Light’s petition to build two new nuclear units (pdf) shows a table of numbers which includes the estimated total cost for the project in future year dollars (it’s the bottom line of the table). FPL estimates it will cost between $12.1B-$24.3B to build two units by 2020. Maybe Mr. Severance didn’t make it to page 250 when he cherry-picked FPL’s overnight cost numbers for the base of his study, otherwise he would have seen that his analogy is not applicable here.

Construction Durations
From Mr. Severance's latest post:
This is a huge error of many optimistic nuclear cost projections. For instance, the MIT Update assumes construction takes place over just 5 years from 2009-2013, with the plant operational in 2014! This is far shorter than nuclear project schedules laid out in utility dockets today (e.g. the South Carolina Electric & Gas facility projects pre-construction expenses beginning in 2007, with operation of the two reactors beginning in 2016 and 2018, a total length of 11 years).

This construction schedule flaw in optimistic nuclear estimates was clearly discussed in my recent articles (e.g. my "Boiling the Frog" article here) -- yet NEI Notes chose to completely ignore this issue.
Well, since Mr. Severance brings this up, let’s discuss it then. First, MIT’s assumption for five years of construction starts when the first safety-related concrete is poured, not when a utility thinks it wants to build a nuclear plant like Mr. Severance seems to assume. No new plants in the US have had their first safety-related concrete pour yet.

Second, the reason we chose not to debate the length of construction is because Mr. Severance didn’t even run a scenario showing how much it costs when delays happen. Here’s what he says two paragraphs earlier:
As noted in my Study, I did not assume any delays, though delays are chronic for the nuclear industry.
So why would we argue with him on an issue he didn’t even analyze? Furthermore, if you take a look at the assumptions in his original study (pages 36 and 37), 87% of the expenditures for a new plant take place during a five year period. But that five year period takes place after spending about 13% of the expenditures five years earlier on licensing, site prep, and other pre-construction activities.

The development period of a new nuclear plant does not see that much spending. It’s when safety-related concrete is poured and construction begins that the spending matters. Nuclear plants take quite awhile to develop and build. This is well known and the expenditure table Mr. Severance used was legitimate in our opinion. Thus, there are multiple reasons why we didn’t get into this argument.

Utilities are low-balling estimates?
From Mr. Severance's latest post:
He [Mark Cooper] comments: "Utilities, especially in the early phase of the regulatory process, have an interest in understating costs, as long as the estimates are nonbinding. Low-balling the costs helps to get the power plant approved."
The publicly available cost numbers to construct a nuclear plant (FPL, Progress and SCANA) are from utilities that are in rate base. Utilities in rate base generally receive a 10% return on their prudent investment which is granted by their state public utility commissions (PUCs). Thus, it is in the utility’s greatest interest to provide the most accurate cost estimates to build a plant, otherwise their returns will be lowered or erased if the PUC does not believe they managed the project prudently. Therefore, it makes no sense why utilities would low-ball the estimates to get the power plant approved as Mr. Severance and Cooper claim. If anything, utilities overstate their cost estimates because they plan ahead for contingencies (pdf).

Last year’s credit crisis and today’s situation
From Mr. Severance's latest post:
Even in this recession, the most economical projects (energy efficiency, wind power) are still obtaining private financing and still moving forward. The riskier, more expensive projects are not having as much success attracting private capital.
Examples? Sources? I hear this all the time being spouted by nuclear critics but I never see anything to back it up. Here’s the situation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is currently licensing new nuclear plants. Utilities planning to build those plants are not yet at the stage of acquiring the necessary capital for construction. Thus, it’s premature to ding the industry for not obtaining financing yet.

Furthermore, many of the “most economical projects” are not moving forward, contrary to what Mr. Severance and the critics say. Not only that, Josh Green at the Atlantic Monthly noted that the renewable industry had a rough September in 2008 when the credit crisis hit:
...For renewable-energy companies, tax-equity deals meant life or death: the combination of credits could offset two-thirds of the capital cost of a project. Companies like Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, and AIG became an integral part—even the integral part—of the renewables industry, because the utility-scale projects they financed produce the overwhelming majority of clean energy in the United States.

Basing the entire system of federal incentives on tax equity had two weaknesses, one that has always been clear and another that became clear only recently. Forcing renewables companies to route government support through Wall Street, thereby sacrificing a portion of it, was needless and inefficient. But it also tied the industry’s fate to that of the financial world’s most aggressive players. Just as Wall Street bankers bet that housing prices could never fall and got wiped out when proved wrong, Congress seems never to have imagined that Wall Street might someday have no profits and need no tax equity. Early last year, the multibillion-dollar tax-equity universe consisted of 18 providers. After September’s record carnage, the number dropped to four. Credit froze, and most projects ground to a halt. All of a sudden, not just a few start-ups but the entire renewable-energy industry was staring into the Valley of Death.
All new electricity generation projects are struggling to raise capital during this major recession.

Who’s Credible?
From Mr. Severance's latest post:
There are big differences in cost estimates for new nuclear power, depending upon who is doing the estimating -- a nuclear promoter, or an independent analyst.
Are independent analysts somehow more virtuous or free from bias than everyone else? Also, who’s the nuclear promoter being referred to here? FPL (which is also the largest producer of renewables)? SCANA (which generates 80% of its electricity from fossil fuels)? Or Progress (which generates 67% of its electricity from fossil fuels)? How about MIT that studies all forms of generation or the Energy Information Administration that is part of the Department of Energy? The list goes on...

The utility estimates are developed by large teams of subject matter experts, so they cannot be discounted as erroneous just because of a presumed but unproven bias.

Contradiction?
From Mr. Severance's latest post:
Since enormous amounts of money are at stake, the big question then becomes -- whose money is on the line? If nuclear vendors want to project very low costs, let them back up those projections with firm commitments.

Instead, we see the industry turning to ratepayers and taxpayers to take the hit if their numbers are wrong.

In other words, the industry wants to play but won't put its money up. With a huge stash at risk, is this a good bet?
Hmmm. Ten paragraphs before, Mr. Severance cited Moody’s saying this:
Moody's considers new nuclear power projects so risky they described the risk for utilities as a "Bet the Farm Risk", in their June 23, 2009 pronouncement "New Nuclear Generation: Ratings Pressure Increasing".
Wait. Mr. Severance says that the industry won’t put up its own money, yet he cites Moody’s earlier as saying utilities are pretty much betting their own company to build these things. Contradiction?

To receive a loan guarantee under Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the loanee (utility) will have to put up at least 20% equity into the project. This means that if a nuclear plant costs around $8B to build, the company building the plant would have to contribute at least $1.4B of its own money to the project. That’s a lot of money for utilities and is the reason why Moody’s calls it betting the farm. Not all utilities will be putting up just 20% of their equity, however. SCANA is planning to pony up 50% equity ($3B, p.2) to build two nuclear plants at its VC Summer nuclear plant. The utilities will be putting up billions of dollars. Yet I don’t know how Mr. Severance or any of the critics can say nuclear utilities have no stake in their projects.

False interpretations of my post
On top of debating Mr. Severance’s analysis, I have to spend time clarifying my previous post because apparently it wasn’t clear enough the first time. There are a number of comments in his latest post that either mis-interpreted what I said or got completely wrong. Here’s one:
The charts and numbers they [NEI] link to show one thing very clearly -- energy industries with lots of money for lobbying and campaign contributions (oil, gas, coal, and nuclear) have enormous subsidies from the Federal government. Meanwhile, solar and wind power have tax credits, set to expire in a few years.
Uh no. The subsidy chart I referenced showed that renewables received the bulk of loan guarantee subsidies, not “energy industries with lots of money for lobbying and campaign contributions.” Thought that was pretty clear but I guess not. Furthermore, renewables have been receiving tax credits since 1978. We don't mind one way or the other but I highly doubt the credits are going away anytime soon like Mr. Severance implies. Here’s another false interpretation of my post:
The NEI Notes article cites older experience with electric utility cost indices, arguing from this older experience that we should once again expect power plant costs to rise at very gentle inflation rates.
Not quite. Nowhere in my post did I project what future construction cost indices will look like. Instead, I argued that over the past 40 years, they increased around 3% per year which included years that saw rapid increases in costs and years that saw very little. My argument is that Mr. Severance needs to take a broader view of past experience instead of only assuming the recent high construction cost indices from a short window of history.

Wrap-Up
While this is a serious topic, I find this debate on costs humorous and entertaining. Why? Because the nuclear critics who cry about the exorbitant costs to build a nuclear plant use numbers from a utility (FPL) which has already gone through rigorous cost analyses, submitted its petition to build two new plants, and received approval by state regulators. After all that state review, the critics dismiss the utility’s and regulator’s conclusions, come up with their own exaggerated numbers and expect everyone to believe them, not the utilities or regulators. And as shown above, the critics contradict themselves and interpret issues incorrectly.

I can understand the need to challenge the nuclear industry’s numbers. Many of the construction costs for today’s operating plants were way underestimated. Much has changed since then. Even though I’m a representative of the nuclear industry, for me, I place my money with the utility whose business is to provide reliable power to its customers, not third-party critics and observers who have no accountability for what they say. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see how well the first wave of new plants is managed and built before we find out how well everyone’s projections turned out…till then, all we can do is make noise.

Update 8/26, 4:30 PM:
Here's Mr. Severance's brief response.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Greenest and the Blackest

polluted-beijing-voted-chinas-most-beautiful-city_9 Monday morning, Let’s see which stories will help us digest our breakfast better and which will make us do a coffee spit take.

Two Liberal climate hardliners have strongly opposed putting up amendments to the Government's emissions trading scheme, as internal Opposition battlelines sharpen following the Nationals' intransigence.

Backbenchers Dennis Jensen and Cory Bernardi also backed Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce's argument that the Opposition should push the issue of nuclear energy.

Those are Austalians talking. Liberals are the conservatives while Laborites are the liberals. A third party, The Nationals, are also conservative (more rural-based than the Liberals) and usually add to coalitions with the Liberals. Got it? Us either. In any event, Labor has the governing majority, so this is a intra-oppo-coalition squabble that will lead up to the next election.

Australians politicians talking about nuclear energy? The world has gone upside down under.

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Indeed, China may soon be simultaneously the greenest and the blackest place on earth. The country is poised to be at once the world's leader in alternative energy — and its leading emitter of C02.

Oh, we imagine having the largest population has something to do with a the extremely broad energy portfolio that goes with it.

These two targets represent some of the most ambitious green goals in the world, and are expected to make China — in just over a decade — the world's largest producer and consumer of alternative energy.

In case anyone wants to use China as a worst case scenario going into Copenhagen.

These come from a long article in The Guardian that’s well worth a read. Oh, and the nuclear takeaway:

Of course, there are some important caveats. In China, "alternative energy" includes both hydro and nuclear power, which are often not classified as such elsewhere. "Please remember, there are negative environmental consequences for dams and nuclear," says Hu Kanping, editor of the Beijing-based Environmental Protection Journal. "I do not think those are really 'clean' energy sources."

Wouldn’t you know that The Guardian could dig up a Chinese environmentalist to say the usual things? It’s like night following day.

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“Virginia has the most nuclear capacity of any state in the U.S.,” [Bob] McDonnell told the lunch crowd, naming Areva, Northrup Grumman, the U.S. Navy, Dominion Power, and Babcock & Wilcox as the state’s nuclear assets.

“We are going to be in the forefront of the energy picture for a long time to come,” McDonnell said, adding that coal and natural gas also are Virginia resources.

And more:

“I’m a strong supporter of drilling offshore in Virginia,” he said to diners’ applause.

“Virginia is going to be the first state to drill offshore in 2011. It’s already set.

So Bob McDonnell, running for governor in Virginia, has lifted some useful pages from John McCain playbook – and likely to his benefit, since this was a popular, if not quite winning, refrain last year. Nothing’s really changed – except for the price of gas and oil - so this aspect of McDonnell’s campaign should play pretty well.

McDonnell is the Republican; Creigh Deeds is the Democrat. Here’s what he said in his energy plan (smallish pdf) about nuclear:

  • Creigh joins President Obama in believing we should consider nuclear power as part of a broader, comprehensive plan to reduce carbon emissions and reduce our dependency on foreign energy sources.
  • Countries with a higher percentage of nuclear power find lower energy costs and lower carbon emissions.
  • But, we must first address all issues critical to safety, including national security, disposal, and the safe operation of any plant.

Well, good, sort of. That last bullet point basically provides an excuse not to support nuclear energy while officially doing so. But he is officially supportive. If we were single issue voters (and in Virginia) we’d likely give McDonnell the nod, gritting our teeth over off shore drilling, but it’s always good to see a Dem issue unambiguous support – it’s like another domino falling over.

Welcome to Beijing. Hope you survive the experience.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Thinkers Thinking Thoughts About Nuclear Energy

the-demos-think-tank We get a lot of email with suggestions on what we might want to spotlight on the blog. A fair amount of it comes from think tanks, those bubbling cauldrons of policy wonks, who often go at issues with a partisan zeal that leaves us breathless. (Some think tanks are non-partisan, at least nominally, but it doesn’t take too long to sort out what’s what.)

So let’s put on our thinking caps and visit with the tankers.

First, here’s something utterly plausible from the Lexington Institute’s Rebecca Grant:

Yes, a politician running for office would be thrilled with the numbers routinely posted by Americans polled on whether they support nuclear power. Gallup pollsters started asking the question back in 1994. Since then, nuclear power never dipped below a 50% approval rating except for one slip to 46% in 2001. This year’s Gallup poll finds 59% of Americans favor use of nuclear power as a domestic energy source.

The numbers on nuclear power generation also show only 52% of Democrats in favor, vs. 71% of Republicans. Only 47% of women are in favor. Household income fractures the data even more, with high earners in favor and lower-wage earners opposed.

No wonder the politics are tough when key voting blocks hold different views. Meanwhile, Department of Energy forecasts are counting on a big increase in nuclear generating plants over the next decade. Increasing electricity usage and concerns about the climate impact of coal plants make nuclear power an important part of the equation.

That’s nearly the whole piece. We agree with just about all of it, though we’d probably note that the raw numbers are good enough to protect even the most Democratic members of Congress from a problematic primary. We tend to the argument that lingering Democratic issues with nuclear energy are historical rather than practical (considering how long some members have been around) and are dropping away with every passing month. But that’s the thing with think tanks: you get to think too!

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Here’s a description of the Lexington Institute:

The Lexington Institute believes in limiting the role of the federal government to those functions explicitly stated or implicitly defined by the Constitution. The Institute therefore actively opposes the unnecessary intrusion of the federal government into the commerce and culture of the nation, and strives to find nongovernmental, market-based solutions to public-policy challenges. We believe a dynamic private sector is the greatest engine for social progress and economic prosperity.

Sounds like our friends over at Heritage, perhaps a bit more amped. Makes us appreciate Dr. Grant’s non-partisan review of the facts all the more, an angle from which Heritage (which has some terrific researchers on-board) would benefit.

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Since we make fun of Heritage, let’s be fair and point out a very interesting piece by Jack Spencer on Rep. Joe Pitts’ (R-Penn.) Streamline America's Future Energy Nuclear Act, which seems a pretty sensible approach to clearing away some bureaucratic roadblocks to speedily getting new nuclear energy projects going. We want to look at this bill a little more closely ourselves, but for right now, check out Spencer’s analysis of it and we’ll return to the subject later.

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All right, what else? How about:

Instead of $1.5 trillion wasteful Obama spending, we need $1.5 trillion for 100 nuclear power plants of 2,500 MW name plate capacities to achieve long term energy and economic security.  … But no country can today afford to destroy its economy by following idealistic and in some cases even undemocratic agendas.

This is Hans Linhardt over at the Gerson Lehrman Group. A bit intense, we’d say. We want to avoid destroying our economy by following, well, any course of action that would have that result. What does Lindhardt suggest?

  • cancel the present pending Obama energy legislation
  • concentrate all funds on Natural Gas and Nuclear Energy [Linhardt thinks too much money is being spent on renewables.]
  • reinstate the Atomic Energy Commission
  • reduce the bureaucracy at DOE and EPA

Well, anybody can say anything, of course, and this qualifies as anything. We just don’t know how Linhardt would go about any of this without considerable dictatorial powers.

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Here’s how Gerson Lehrman describes itself:

Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG) is the global marketplace for expertise. Since 1998, its technology-enabled platform for collaboration and consultation has helped the world’s leading institutions find, engage, and manage experts across a broad range of industries and disciplines.

Broad range seems right to us. Not strictly a think tank, but its experts discuss policy a fair amount.

Think tank. We imagine the term comes from the idea of a gas tank. Instead of powering cars, it powers ideas.

Playing Nuclear Games in Ecuador

ecuador-quito-02 We were happy to hear but also trepidatious about this news:

Russia will help Ecuador develop a nuclear energy program for peaceful purposes, according to a new energy cooperation agreement between the countries, Ecuador’s government said Thursday.

Nuclear, good, but why “peaceful purposes?” We mean, the phrase, not the intention, as we don’t generally consider Ecuador a bad actor on the international stage. Might it be that Russia has gotten a little tarred by its association with Iran?

Well, the Times’ little story doesn’t say. This one does:

Ecuador is building two hydroelectric stations in an attempt to end its dependence on neighbouring Colombia for power.

The two countries broke diplomatic ties in March 2008 after Colombian soldiers raided a leftist Colombian guerrilla jungle camp in Ecuadoran territory.

All right, so Ecuador has a beef with Colombia and wants to divest itself of its electricity dependence on it. Sounds like energy security – not a bad thing.

But then there’s this:

Ecuador's leftist president Rafael Correa, who last year said he intends to strengthen ties with Moscow, is scheduled to travel to Russia in October.

Correa — like his regional ally President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela — is also seeking closer military ties with Russia.

And this:

Russia is pushing to increase ties with leftist Latin American governments in a move that has renewed some Cold War-era tensions with the United States.

Gets better and better, doesn’t it? And it sounds like the anti-American slant taken by some Latin American countries – let’s leave aside discussion of whether such disdain is justified for the moment – has put Russia in the mischievous mode it seems to favor in such situations. We can’t imagine this is going to get anywhere without heavy IAEA participation, but do expect the story to heat up (so to speak) as it penetrates the news cycle and American voices start piping up.

As for us? We’ll wait and see. Nuclear energy si, stalking horse for a new cold war no. We didn’t enjoy the last one very much.

The Presidential palace in Quito, Ecuador.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Scaling Up by Scaling Down in Washington

Shorebirds in Flight at Grays Harbor NWR Energy Northwest has a taker.

[T]he Grays Harbor Public Utility District is considering pitching in $25,000 to get in on the ground floor of a new statewide effort to build five to eight small-scale nuclear power plants, according to The Daily World of Aberdeen.  The push is being spearheaded by Energy Northwest, a group of 22 public utility districts and five municipalities.

We first talked about Energy Northwest’s movement toward nuclear, and its interest in small units, on June 3. At that time, this was the news:

In a May 27 letter obtained by The Associated Press, the [Energy Northwest] consortium asked each of its 25 member public utilities and municipalities to pitch in $25,000 for further research into building one or more small reactors. Those who pay would have first rights to any power produced if a plant is built.

So now, The Gray Harbor Public Utility District is in. Good. 26 more to go. (We looked around to see if any other district has thrown in – or refused to – we don’t thnk so – but if you know different, do let us know.)

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The story, by Stephen Heiser of Nuclear Street, is quite interesting. Not wanting to roll back over what’s happened so far, he speculates what type of small reactor Energy Northwest might look at:

TerraPower, a start-up created inside Intellectual Ventures, the incubator founded by former Microsoft chief scientist Nathan Myhrvold, is trying to build small scale nuclear reactor that runs on depleted uranium, the waste product of current nuclear plants. Babcock & Wilcox, which has built nuclear reactors for decades, has also entered the market for micro nukes with M-Power.

Hyperion's proposed reactor has about half of the power capacity, but is about the size of a common hot tub. NuScale's power plant would need to be refueled every two years, while Hyperion says it would need refueling every five years. TerraPower wants to bury its reactor for 30 to 60 years without bothering it.

Sense some innovation and initiative in the nuclear energy business? Hot tubs and micro nukes – we like it.

Mudflats at Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge. The white specks are birds appropriately refuged there.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Nuclear Energy on the Wild River

6a01053656dea9970b01053656e68f970b The Tennessee Valley Authority is on the build:

Completion of a second reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant — partially built for $1.7 billion, then abandoned in 1988 for lack of need — is under way.

TVA also has been studying the possibility of completing two reactors once under construction at its Bellefonte site in northern Alabama. And TVA has applied for a license that would allow two reactors of a new design — called an AP 1000 by Westinghouse — to be built and operated there.

The bulk of the piece is a q&a with TVA’s Ashok Bhatnagar. TVA had the coal ash spill in Kingston, Tenn. last year, so they’ve got a reasonably skittish customer base. Thus, we were interested to see how Bhatnagar dealt with the inevitable used fuel questions.  Here’s how:

We have a very good method right now for managing wastes. It's very safe, and we've done that for almost 30 to 40 years. We've stored them in our pools, and then we've found a way to store them outside in dry cask storage. And we have a good method that was established to put them in a repository. A particular repository needs to get licensed.

Pretty good. Safe where it is, would be nice to have a central repository.

And why won’t there be a nuclear version of the the coal ash spill?

Because it's well regulated. There's very well defined criteria for how you store the waste. It's a design concept that's built into the plant from the very beginning. The spent fuel pools are designed and reviewed and approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission per very strict regulations.

We’re undecided whether to sound the buzzer on this one. We’re reasonably sure there are regulations about coal ash now and we know more are coming – see here. Beyond this, it doesn’t raise confidence to think TVA only takes care when a regulator is breathing down its neck. Mightn’t it try to circumvent regulation for whatever reason (profit, malice) rather than protect its customers?

We don’t believe TVA has any malicious or avaricious motivation – TVA has been a good nuclear (and coal) neighbor for many years. While we might wish Bhatnagar had thought this statement through a little more, he does an excellent job altogether. Take a look.

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We’re pleased to see some information about the Babcock & Wilcox mPower reactors (small, modular units) from the TVA side. Here’s Bhatnagar:

We have elected to start working with a company on this small reactor concept they have come up with, but it's at the very early stages. There is no detailed design yet. This is the 10-, 15-year kind of thinking that you have to have. You have to make sure your input is in early so the designs come out the way you want them, with the kinds of experience that you've gained over 30 years of operation.

Still in the loop, not far enough along to commit to it. About where we left it.

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We were actually poking around a bit to see what explained this cartoon:

081409

This is from the Chattanooga Times Free Press (If we create a newspaper, we’ll name it the Constitution Free Journal Register Press in honor of merged newspapers.) Presumably this represents the editorial board’s nervousness about TVA’s plans. But it suggests the opposite, too: that it is the public’s nervousness (the sign painter probably not a plant worker) about nuclear energy that creates a problem, not the presence of the plant itself.

And we’ve looked at enough polls on this site to suggest that even this isn’t true. Our conclusion: an incoherent cartoon not reflective of any significant public attitude. As we said, TVA has been a good nuclear neighbor. Let’s just call it drive-by editorializing and be done with it.

Watts Bar nuclear plant.poster2-elia-kazan-wild-river-montgomery-clift-dvd-review 

Believe it or not, there’s a first rate movie about the work of the Tennessee Valley Authority – Elia Kazan’s Wild River (1960). TVA is a 1930s New Deal deal, one of two federal electricity outlets created during the Depression (the other is Bonneville in the Northwest).  TVA has economic development tasks as well as electricity generation.

As you might imagine, TVA’s virtually unique status engenders controversy: further valley authorities were blocked by Congress (Bonneville is a different kind of entity), with small government advocates having at it occasionally since then. Ronald Reagan, for example, famously took a swipe at it at the 1964 Republican convention as an example of big government. But neither Reagan nor any other President has privatized it. And so it is today much as it was created to be in 1933. Fascinating American story – start with TVA’s own version of its history for a baseline.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Running a Nuclear Plant on a Commodore 64?

complete Well, all right, not really – but welcome retro-computing fans, anyway – but we have been interested in how the nuclear energy utilizes computer systems. We know the basics of security – don’t point crucial systems at the internet is a big one – but on a day-to-day basis, how does the industry interact with computers? What does it do with them that’s unique?

Here’s part of the answer:

The new agreement, which adds to the original contract signed in April 2008, covers additional work necessary for Accenture to support business processes, including configuration management of detailed design data and management of data associated with required inspections; testing, and analyses; and use of acceptance criteria involved with the construction of nuclear energy facilities.

The agreement is between UniStar and Accenture, and it gets a little complicated after that. UniStar is jointly owned by Constellation and EDF, tasked with developing, as its home page says, “the safest, most reliable and most economical construction and operational fleet of new nuclear facilities;” Accenture is a consulting company (they produced a poll about nuclear energy that we spotlighted awhile ago). The computer platform described above is called Galaxy. It sounds, to put it mildly, multifaceted.

Daniel P. Krueger, managing director of Accenture’s Power Generation practice said, “We believe Galaxy’s standardized and interoperable approach delivers the most effective capabilities to support the licensing, design, construction and operation of new nuclear energy facilities. Our work with UniStar continues to position Accenture at the leading edge of the new nuclear energy renaissance.”

Some buzz words in there. Standardized how? Interoperable with what? (Our guess: written in Java, run as a web-based service, hosted on Unix/Linux – that would capture those elements pretty well.)

So, it sounds like a business logic platform – or suite of programs – to help the multitude of vendors and in-house folks stay in sync while they track all the elements that go into building new plants. And since this is a Constellation/EDF deal, Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs looks like the perfect place to run the system through its paces.

We wonder, though – will Accenture promote this system to other entities? Seems like it should, being standard and interoperable and all.

The Commodore 64, Introduced in 1982, remains the best selling computer model ever. Why? It was cheap (as low as $99) and it stayed on the market for some 12 years while Commodore tried fruitlessly to move customers to more advanced (C 128, Plus 4) platforms. It took the company going out of business to kill it. Remarkable, even if we doubt it saw much use at a nuclear power plant.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Some Weekend Reading

450x_cp_michael_ignatieff_0 Always learning, always growing, right?

The Whitaker Group provides the argument that nuclear energy can buy African countries energy security and more:

Supporters see nuclear energy as a way for the continent to demonstrate technical progress and achieve energy sustainability. The move toward nuclear energy is also helping regional integration, as African countries cooperate to achieve the economies of scale required for nuclear power. This involves interconnected grids, joint education and training programs, and sharing technological expertise on safety measures.

These are good things, though we hesitate to recommend building plant to “demonstrate technical progress.” To whom and why? We expect African nuclear projects to bring in a good amount of expertise from European, American and Asian partners. And why not?

Whitaker can also be a touch condescending:

Of course, African countries should not pursue nuclear energy unless they have the capacity to maintain the highest standards of safety and quality…

We’re sure they’ll do their best to measure up.

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This is just getting underway, but will make for some plausible beach reading:

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have published a report on the inaugural meeting of the Nuclear Energy Standards Coordination Collaborative (NESCC), a new ANSI Standards Panel, co-chaired by NIST and ANSI, to address the current and future standards needs of the nuclear energy industry.

Nothing like standards to make the heart race. Right now, committees are coming together and deciding stuff. That lends the reports a certain – er, quality (pdf):

Ms. [Fran] Schrotter [of ANSI] provided rationale for changing the name by explaining that the name change would provide more clarity of the forum’s role. Participants at the January 29, 2009 meeting felt that calling the forum a panel would indicate that the forum would be creating standards. The name change would clearly show that it’s a forum for coordination and collaboration.

Which means, we guess, that this is the Nuclear Energy Standards
Coordination Collaborative Forum.

Which indicates where they are in the process. Snark aside, very worthwhile – but nothing really to see here yet.

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Federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff reaffirmed his support for nuclear energy before a receptive audience Thursday.

Who? What?

In his speech, Ignatieff criticized the current state of the nuclear industry in Canada, citing the shutdown of the Chalk River reactor in Ontario and the subsequent isotope crises. He said a lack of proper management of crucially important nuclear energy projects was causing Canada to lag in nuclear technology, despite being a global leader for decades.

[Provincial Energy Minister Jack] Keir and the provincial government have pushed hard to develop the Saint John energy hub, which aims to develop economic growth through various energy projects in the area. The nuclear reactor at Point Lepreau and a proposed second reactor are a large part of that.

Oh, Canada. Or perhaps that’s O, Canada. Michael Ignatieff is leader of the liberal party and an MP from Ontario. Clearly, his embrace of nuclear energy is not chimerical and New Brunswick is all over it.

That’s a pretty good way to kick off the weekend. After all, we did know this about New Brunswick and were happy to learn it. Perhaps we even grew a little.

Note: Mistake fixed. Michael Ignatieff is an MP from Ontario not New Brunswick as previously stated.

Michael Ignatieff. We’ve noted often that American politicians like to point in photographs. Do their Canadian opposite numbers prefer pretending to read?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Perils of Polling

in_polls Rasmussen and Zogby both have polls out that aim to figure out how Americans feel about the climate change legislation travelling through Congress.

If Rasmussen happened to call you, you were in a bad mood:

In late June, Rasmussen Reports surveyed 1000 adults. The poll showed that only 12% of respondents were strongly in favor, while 25% were strongly opposed. And 42% said that the measure would hurt the economy, while only 19% said it would help.

And you were much happier when Zogby caught up with you:

Now comes a competing poll from Zogby, which presents a far different picture. In this poll, a stunning 45% of the 1005 respondents were strongly in favor of the climate bill. Only 19% strongly opposed it.

What does this mean? Well, Business Week’s John Carey thinks that Zogby put the most positive spin possible on their questions while Rasmussen aimed at “objectivity” – good luck on that one! Carey concludes that “the public really doesn’t yet know what to think.”

Well, maybe. But we like the idea that Scott Rasmussen offers – that he was aiming to create a baseline for future polls. That works for both Zogby and Rasmussen. The trick is to see where the numbers go in future polls – especially as people start paying attention after the health care kerfluffle clears out and climate change comes back to the fore.

For ourselves, and only for right now, we’d lend more weight to Zogby because 45 in favor, 19 against (and presumably 36 undecided) seems a more plausible starting point for legislation not quite in the public eye but one about which strong advocates – and the House – have weighed in fairly positively.

A few more polls on the topic (from Gallup and Pew but really anyone) wouldn’t hurt, either.

We expect the polls will get really interesting when the Senate starts fighting over the bill in the Fall. Until then, let’s just say the numbers are all over the map.

Do you favor puppies or kittens? Why, yes, yes I do.

Show Me the Loan Guarantees

JeffCityExteriorLG August isn’t the most exciting news month of the year, largely because our Congress people are checking out the beaches back home and braving an evening with the constituents and because everyone else can barely think in the heat much less make news. So we could forgive the readers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch if their eyes droop a bit when they confront an editorial about loan guarantees.

Right at the moment, the climate change bill has (somewhat ironically) lost heat while health care sucks up all the news resources. But it’s still in progress and still important. Stanford Levin, Emeritus Professor of Economics at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, has the elements about right:

Because nuclear power plants are expensive to build — but with relatively low operating costs — loan guarantees are important and may be crucial to their construction. Therefore, it makes little sense that the legislation as now drafted limits any energy source to no more than 30 percent of the total loan guarantees. This ignores the relatively high capital cost of nuclear power plants, and, consequently, their special need for loan guarantees.

That’s a really solid explanation of why loan guarantees for nuclear plants pay off in the long run and a pretty good ding at Congressional skittishness.

Limiting loan guarantees for nuclear power plants probably would result in loan guarantees for energy that is more expensive and uses unproven or less proven technology. That may mean a higher default rate, costing taxpayers more, at the same time contributing less to clean energy and energy independence. Loan guarantees for nuclear power plants without the 30 percent limit would comport with the purpose of the act, limit costs to taxpayers, and provide carbon-emissions-free electricity at the lowest possible cost.

Also about right. We’d probably hesitate to sound such a dire note about “less proven” technology, but in terms of risk based on maturity, it’s hard to argue with this formulation. Read the whole thing. Levin’s background in economics brings an interesting perspective to his op-ed – and he’s that rarity, an academic writer interested in keeping his ideas reader friendly.

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The Dispatch doesn’t seem to have weighed in on this topic. We’re sure there’s an editorial on AmerenUE’s efforts earlier this year to have overturned a ban on charging customers for the construction of a new plant, but nothing found (we’d be surprised if it was on Ameren’s side).

They do have some recent editorials on global warming:

Climate change and invasive species

Global warming threatens American security

Missouri doesn't need another casino (we beg to differ)

The capital dome in - Quick – what’s the capital of Missouri? If you guessed correctly – and you’re not from Missouri – a merit badge to you. (There was one for knowing state capitals when I was a Boy Scout.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

From the Land of Unappetizing Energy

yellow_onion1 Gills Onions is using onion juice from its processing plant to power a 600 kilowatt fuel cell electricity generation unit that will slice $700,000 in energy costs from the bottom line.

Why not? After all, they have the onions. The story even answers the question that first popped into our head: if you use onions to run your onion factory, mightn’t you run out of onions to send around to customers?

One of Gill’s best-selling products is a line of sliced and diced fresh-cut onions. Because about 40 percent of each onion is unused in the process, the company generates some 150 tons of waste a day.

Okay, so they have the onions (though that seems like a lot of unused onion). Then what?

The system takes methane from fermented onion juice and converts it to energy that is burned in two fuel cells on-site.

Read the rest. It’s pretty neat, although a bit queasy making. Also only really works when you have a lot of onion waste hanging around the plant.

Producing biofuel for a single company's closed-loop system is one thing, but integrating the energy into the public grid is still a prohibitively expensive and difficult endeavor.

Trying to scale this up just wouldn’t be very fun, plus people actually like onions on their hot dogs. Coal and uranium owe part of their energy exclusivity to making a terrible cereal (although not as terrible as wheat germ, we’d guess).

Gills has a page about this here.

Neither a leek nor a scallion.

Doubling Down on Nuclear with the EIA

EIA Logo-1-sized The Washington Times, which acts in DC as a counterweight to the more liberal (and far more influential) Washington Post, writes today about a report (the full report in PDF) from the Energy Information Administration on the Waxman Markey climate change bill.

For the nuclear industry, its conclusions are pretty spectacular, especially since EIA’s reports are heavily referenced in Congress and help set energy policy. We’ve been reading through it – it’s pretty deep dish – but the bottom line is that nuclear energy – well, let’s let the Times tell you:

To satisfy House Democrats' low-cost solution to global warming, Americans would have to double their reliance on nuclear energy by 2030 - a target the nuclear industry says is unlikely and that many environmentalists and Democrats dislike.

Now, you might say, Hey, that second part isn’t so good. If we leave out environmentalists for the moment – so predictable, so useful to reporters - the point here is really that a branch of the DOE is producing this information, so it has considerable pull, even on Democrats.

The result could be a doubling down on the efficacy of renewables or it could be an acceleration in the acceptance of nuclear energy by more Democrats. We’ve seen surprising movement in this direction – this report puts some traction on the road.

Now, what about the plausibility of following the scenario in the report?

Mr. [Richard] Myers [vice president of policy for the Nuclear Energy Institute] said the EIA model's projections are not likely. It would mean 96 gigawatts of new capacity by 2030, while "what's doable" is more in the range of 65 gigawatts, or about 45 new plants, he said.

Still, he said, the model shows that taking options like nuclear off the table means other sources get overwhelmed, and costs rise.

"To the extent you cannot build nuclear at the rate the model suggests is needed ... you are dealing with a world in which electricity costs and natural gas costs are higher than they would otherwise be," he said.

So – a reasonable note of caution. (Luckily, I could ask Mr. Myers about this. He said that he told the Times that 45 additional plants could be in some stage prior to operation by 2030 - licensing, construction, etc – so understand his comment as being specific to 2030 only. Newpapers – huh!)

And there is this doubt, too:

[G]roups that supported the House bill said more important than a specific road map is to set the right goals and incentives.

"Rather than trying to project precisely the mix of technologies in the future, it's more important to get the policy right and let the market pick the technologies," said Thomas B. Cochran, director of NRDC's nuclear program.

Well, that seems reasonable enough. Industry isn’t all that crazy about mandates to start with and the electricity industry will be lousy with them if Waxman-Markey passes.

The Times’ writer Stephen Dinan sort of ginned up his story a bit to provide more conflict than is actually there – Congress is recessed, so no comment out of the usual suspects – having environmentalists weigh in on nuclear energy. But he’s right in what the report projects and we’ll be very interested in seeing what impact it has on the bill as it moves through the Senate.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Inner Limits of Debate: STP and Its Critics

STP Environmentalist groups do a lot of good work, so we’re happy to help them raise money, if being against nuclear energy helps them do that, but we would suggest that such groups freshen up their messages a bit. Or maybe take the financial hit and allow that maybe nuclear energy isn’t all that ghastly. But one or the other, please.

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So here’s the deal.

CPS Energy wants to add units to the South Texas Project, which it co-owns with NRG Energy and Austin Energy:

The recommendation to the CPS Energy Board of Trustees comes after three years of detailed study of various energy options.  It also aligns with the Strategic Energy Plan, CPS Energy’s four-objective roadmap for satisfying future energy requirements.

In CPS’s view, electricity demand will outstrip supply in its area of Texas (including San Antonio) soon enough, and CPS has already invested heavily in solar, wind and hydro power. So now, it’s time for more nuclear energy.

We like the idea (big surprise), but there could certainly be arguments to make against it:

“We are targeting no more than 5 percent bill increases every other year or roughly half that amount annually,” [Interim General Manager Steve Bartley] said.  “We’re well aware of the current economic downtown, so we’re trying our best to make this project affordable for our customers.  Even if we decide not to participate in STP expansion, we will still need customer bill increases to meet the demands of growth on our system.”  

We suspect CPS could charge less without the nuclear units, so a viable argument may be that Texans can’t afford the rate hike. One could also say that CPS’ do-or-die approach to this project is unproductive energy brinksmanship. And that’s just off the top of our heads. We don’t necessarily believe any of it, but they’re valid points of contention.

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So we now bring you Energia Mia, a group opposed to any such expansion. South Texas Project has been so- so- well, to be honest, it’s been a safe, reliable neighbor for 20 years. But you have to start somewhere:

CPS has said that 5-8% rate hikes would be needed every two years for the next ten years to pay for more nuclear power. Electric rates could increase nearly 50% as a result.

Ah, there’s our argument. That 50% figure at the end of 10 years seems to come out of thin air and even 25% seems high. But STP let itself in for this one.

"CPS wants to use old, outdated technology. Nuclear power is a thing of the past, a dinosaur, and we want San Antonio to instead look toward new technologies and today's energy solutions," said Mariana Ornelas, an active member of AGUA, Aquifer Guardians of Urban Areas.

By all means, throw mature (but we should note, continually developing) technology overboard. Newer and shinier objects await.

“Exposure to radiation can lead to cancer and genetic damage, and nuclear reactors create radioactive waste for which there is no safe storage solution," said community leader and former city council member Patti Radle.

Safe storage is kind of a non-starter – at least for now, used fuel doesn’t leave the plant – but it’s a debate worth having – the rest not so much.

"CPS will not have any incentive to pursue efficiency if nuclear power is the goal," said David Wells, with the Alamo Group of the Sierra Club. "Vast financial resources would go into nuclear power, and then instead of conserving, CPS would be trying to find buyers for the excess power generated."

What? They’d make money to share with ratepayers and stock holders? The horror of it. This one doesn’t make sense. CPS can presumably pursue nuclear energy and energy efficiency – and solar – and wind – and – you get the idea.

Update (August 12): see the comments. The Sierra Club’s David Wells writes that he wasn’t correctly quoted in the original article and provides his full quote, which belies our “doesn’t make sense” jibe. Our apologies to Mr. Wells if we only intensified his distress. Newspapers can be awful manglers of quotes.

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Now, we should note that nuclear energy is pretty small beans in terms of advocacy intensity. Most arguments pro and con stay at least within hailing distance of the same fact set and the amount of out and out lying about it is vanishingly small. (See the current health care debate for arguments that are, um, counterfactual and prone to emotional overkill.) That said, we could use a hardier debate – STP is winning this one in a walk.

The South Texas Project. “STP has the lowest production cost reported by nuclear power plants nationwide, at 1.356 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2006. STPS’s combined operating, maintenance and fuel expenses were the lowest among plants that report those costs to federal regulators.” And that’s lower than just about any plant of any kind – running costs of nuclear units is what makes them appealing despite their admittedly breathtaking construction costs – hey, Energia Mia should use that one!

We’re only discussing CPS here, but presumably NRG and Austin will weigh in here too. We’ll poke around and see what we see.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Misinformation 101, India and Viet-Nam

vietnam From a section at Examiner.com called Info 101 comes this bit from Michele Mello aiming to determine if nuclear energy is “clean”:

Some people consider nuclear power to be a clean energy resource and claim it has no GHG emissions. However nuclear energy is the costliest energy resource of all. The cost to mine, transport, refine, and build infrastructure to create nuclear power is astronomical, as will be elaborated later. Much like fossil fuels, uranium is not a renewable resource and once it runs out there isn’t anymore.

Here’s a contest: spot the errors in this one paragraph and then hope this doesn’t really represent info 101. At the least, Ms. Mello could have bypassed the journalistic “Some people claim” construction. Some people claim I’m a god in my own time, but everyone else would be right to wonder who those morons people are.

To her credit, Mello is attempting to engage the issue – she also looks at hydro and hydrogen. We think her facts are off, but not her sincerity. Perhaps we could send her a few NEI fact sheets.

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This story about Dr. Anil Kakodkar, the chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary of its Department of Atomic Energy (seems like he should be one or the other, but there you are) is a sort of confusing read, likely due to translation, but this bit still gave us pause:

The difference between nuclear scientists and normal humans is that they can't be 99.99 percent correct. They have to be 100 percent in whatever they do and Dr Kakodkar's lecture in Mumbai was just that.

That seems awfully romantic to us. Scientists don’t get to be 100% correct too often just by the nature of science itself – not to mention the nature of human existence. Non-nuclear folks don’t make it to 99.99 percent correct very often either. Elevating nuclear science to some kind of celestial sphere doesn’t help the discussion as much as one might think.

On the other hand, this:

India will be importing some 40 light water reactors which will help India stabilize its demand for power by 2020. And after that thorium based reactors would fill the gap.

If there were worries about India and its industrialization, consider them retired. They seem to have exactly the right idea about how to move forward.

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Consider that Viet-Nam is starting at a fairly bad place:

At present, about 60 percent of Vietnam's energy comes from coal and gas-fired plants and 40 percent from hydropower turbines, but demand outstrips supply and blackouts are common.

And consider the potential:

Demand for power will remain robust with growth seen at 14-15% per year "in the next several years", he said.

Total power consumption is forecast to rise to 93.4 billion kilowatt-hours next year based on forecast economic growth of 6.5-7% and industrial production expansion of 7.5%, the government said in a report on Thursday.

Then think of a solution. The Viet-Namese have:

Viet Nam plans to start building its first nuclear power plant in five years and plug it into the grid by 2020 as demand for power continues to grow at a rate of about 15% per year, the country's top atomic official said.

This will boost their energy capacity quite a lot, but it won’t allow those coal and gas plants to close because the demand for electricity will already have outstripped the additional juice produced by the nuclear energy plant.

But at least it won’t be another coal-fired plant, so it’s better than just a wash. (And this article only covers the nuclear element and serving up more electricity – Viet-Nam may well have other plans to reduce their carbon footprint.)

Interesting article. Viet-Nam is moving like chain lightning to get a nuclear industry together. It’s amazing what can be done when the will to do it is there.

You may be sure that whenever we do a story about Viet-Nam, that’s where the picture will come from. It’s the Ireland of Southeast Asia.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

USEC Gets a Reprieve

piketon-usec-300x187 Or even wins. Note the two posts about USEC below – it’s all about the company’s American Centrifuge project and DOE’s rejection of its loan guarantee application to move it to the next stage – and USEC’s almost ferocious response to that rejection.

And now, DOE issues a press release:

The Department of Energy and USEC Inc. today announced an agreement to delay a final review on the company’s loan guarantee application for the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, OH.

There’s a good deal of give on both sides of the issue. From USEC:

As it has indicated, the Department sees promise in the ACP technology, but USEC’s application does not meet all the statutory and regulatory standards that would permit the agency to grant a loan guarantee at this time.  Both DOE and USEC recognize that meeting these criteria will likely take six months or more.

Okay, so USEC accepts that the application needs more work. From DOE:

The Department plans to defer review of the application until a series of specific technology and financial milestones have been met. The milestones that have been conveyed to USEC are in line with the criteria and legal requirements of the 2005 EPACT statute and the subsequent Title 17 loan guarantee regulations.

Okay, okay, so DOE seems ready – or at least willing - to grant a loan guarantee if USEC meets some milestones. We expect USEC can do that and that DOE will be open to granting the guarantee.

However you slice it, a big win for USEC and a demonstration – which we’ve seen multiple times – of the Obama administration’s willingness to roll over an issue a second time to see if it can be done better. It’s unusual – since it raises questions of indecisiveness – but the results are usually pretty good. We’ll take it.

The USEC Piketon Plant – this is where the American Centrifuge will live.

From the Annals of Bad Arguments

ky-mtraboveriver_southwings1-300x225 Anyone can make a bad argument at any time. But when you take some of the most negative elements of your case and try to spin them into a positive, the results can be – er, more negative.

So, here’s Joe Lucas of Americans for Clean Coal Electricity:

"I can take you to places in eastern Kentucky where community services were hampered because of a lack of flat space — to build factories, to build hospitals, even to build schools. In many places, mountain-top mining, if done responsibly, allows for land to be developed for community space."

Love to go on that tour, Mr. Lucas.

h/t ThinkProgress

Cleared mountaintops in Kentucky. We’ll let the coal people take care of themselves, but the article in The Guardian containing the quote is quite interesting – do go over there for the whole thing.

There was chatter a couple of years ago to plant windmills on cleared mountaintops in West Virginia, be we think NIMBY issues killed that one.