Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Move Over Waxman-Markey, Here Comes Boxer-Kerry

clip_image001Or, The Senate Moves on Climate Change. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) have presented the Senate’s version of the climate change bill that will start off in the Environment and Public Works committee chaired by Boxer. As we’ve seen with the health bill, legislation in the Senate moves through several committees in tandem and this one will, too. (House committees tend to control bills under their purview much more stringently.)

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So what about the bill? And nuclear energy? Well, it runs 800+ pages, but seems something of a skeletal framework onto which provisions will be attached as it moves forward. But the message about nuclear energy (start at page 107) is pretty clear:

(1) in 2008, 104 nuclear power plants produced 19.6 percent of the electricity generated in the United States, slightly less than the electricity generated by natural gas;

(2) nuclear energy is the largest provider of clean, carbon-free, electricity, almost 8 times larger than all renewable power production combined, excluding hydroelectric power;

(3) unlike other renewable sources, nuclear energy supplies consistent, base-load electricity, independent of environmental conditions;

(4) by displacing fossil fuels that would otherwise be used for electricity production, nuclear power plants virtually eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants associated with acid rain, smog, or ozone;

(5) nuclear power generation continues to require robust efforts to address issues of safety, waste, and proliferation;

(6) even if every nuclear plant is granted a 20-year extension, all currently operating nuclear plants will be retired by 2055;

(7) long lead times for nuclear power plant construction indicate that action to stimulate the nuclear power industry should not be delayed;

(8) the high upfront capital costs of nuclear plant construction remain a substantial obstacle, despite theoretical potential for significant cost reduc1tion;

(9) translating theoretical cost reduction potential into actual reduced construction costs remains a significant industry challenge that can be overcome only through demonstrated performance;

We’ve cut a few of these out – Congress people can write at length, can’t they? – but we like this one:

(14) those new reactors will launch a new era for the nuclear industry, and translate into tens of thousands of jobs.

Sure enough.

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Currently, the bill defines the government’s role in the nuclear energy industry as reducing the “financial and technical barriers to construction and operation”; and providing “incentives for the development of a well trained workforce.” However, it provides scant information on how to go about the first while offering a few ideas for the second.

Instead, the bill focuses its provisions on a couple of commission-like divisions to be formed by the DOE. Here’s what we could find:

  • Establish a research and development program in DOE charged with both assessing the current state of the industry and consequently, to build a “fundamental scientific basis” of the elements that would “impact decisions to extend the lifespan of nuclear power plants.”
  • Establish “a research and development program to improve the understanding of nuclear spent fuel management and the entire nuclear fuel cycle life” with the goal of “producing dramatic improvements in a range of nuclear spent fuel management options including short-term and long-term disposal, and proliferation-resistant nuclear spent fuel recycling.”
  • Establish the ‘‘Nuclear Worker Training Fund’’.

These seem perfectly fine and responsive to President Obama’s statements about nuclear energy but so far not too responsive to the language in the preamble. We expect issues regarding loan guarantees and regulatory issues will enter via amendments later on. The Senate meetings on this will no doubt be fascinating, as nuclear energy is sure to take a large role.

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You can see NEI’s response here. Positive and measured sums it up.

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In other words, early days. But assuming the health bill clears out before Christmas, a lot of excitement (and exciting fireworks) to come.

Sen. Barbara Boxer. Politics aside, she’s terrific at running her committee – sharp, crisp and always keeping things moving at a clip journalists appreciate.

Nuclear Energy to Power the Washington Capitals

Washington Capitals Semyon Varlamov
If you've been to Verizon Center to see a Caps preseason game or visited the Kettler Iceplexpractice facility in Arlington, VA recently, then the biscuit is already in the basket this is old news: today NEI officially announced a corporate sponsorship deal with the Washington Capitals. Details of the season-long partnership are in the press release here and include this plum of a quote from Capitals Majority Owner Ted Leonsis:

Nuclear energy is an important part of a technology-based solution to climate change. It's a proven energy provider in Virginia and Maryland for Capitals fans and we are pleased to work with NEI to raise awareness of the role that it can play in reducing greenhouses gases across America.
The ad, "nuclear: clean air energy", will be prominently displayed on the dasherboard in Verizon Center (behind the goal where the Caps shoot twice). In addition, NEI will be promoting the "clean air energy" message on radio, during game broadcasts on WFED; in print ads appearing in the official game program; and on the Web, with ads running on the team's site.

The dasherboard, radio, print and web ads all point to nei.org/caps. This microsite looks at the effects of global warming on outdoor sports (hockey, in particular), highlights the initiatives undertaken by the NHL to raise public awareness about climate change and details the clean air benefits of nuclear energy. Visitors to nei.org/caps can also find an NEI flickr page that will capture game photographs taken throughout the season.

A random, remarkable story: while standing in the beer line between periods at last week's game against Chicago, I overheard two Blackhawks fans talking about seeing Alexander Ovechkin play in person for the first time. Fan A to fan B, "I think Ovechkin is nuclear-powered."

Photo Credit: Mitchell Layton

Green Shoots in Autumn: Small Reactors on the Ascent

If you’re passing through the mid-Atlantic the first part of October to see the magnificent foliage points west and north you may consider dropping by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission complex in world-famous Rockville, Maryland, Thursday & Friday, October 8-9, for what promises to be a fascinating Workshop on potential applications for small- and medium-sized (a.k.a. modular, innovative, green) nuclear reactors.

NRC’s announcement quotes its Advanced Reactor Program director Mike Mayfield:

We’re going to examine how these ‘small’ reactor vendors would need to address the NRC’s requirements in areas including safety, security, decommissioning and emergency preparedness. This meeting will help us and our stakeholders determine what issues need more clarification and get everyone’s expectations on the same page.
The NRC invites the public to participate throughout the workshop, which also will cover applications other than producing electricity, such as providing heat for industrial processes.

We realize you have a choice of vacation destinations this fall, so if you can’t make it in person, a “teleconference line and Webinar will be available [to] view workshop presentations online as well as take part in discussions.”

Before tuning in or showing up, some background on these adorable machines is available from, inter alia, Atomic Insights’ excellent overview published today, Dan Yurman’s recent articles, Right-Size Reactors Fuel Vision of New ANS President and What’s a Small Reactor Like You Doing in a Market Like This?, and as always, we recommend Charles Barton’s unassailable reportage, Greens, Small Reactors.

Small/Medium/Modular/Advanced/Right-Size/Innovative/Simple reactor designers and manufacturers participating in the Workshop will likely include Hyperion, PBMR, NuScale, Westinghouse, Babcock & Wilcox, and GE Hitachi.

Not to be outdone, within a week of NRC’s announcement from White Flint, US-DOE said, through its official Richard Black, that it will seek funding in the 2011 fiscal year to support advanced, small-scale power reactors.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Serious Topics, Dry Wit

In a comprehensive, fascinating interview Thursday in sunny Idaho Falls with Idaho Samizdat, Dr. Dale Klein, longtime NRC commissioner and its onetime chairman, discussed rabbits in the context of public communication, cheeses, small reactors, Yucca Mountain, bozos, Blackberries, and business.

Serious quote:

The U.S. has difficulty thinking clearly about how to make long-term capital commitments. The financing profile for a new nuclear reactor is now 60-80 years. Our grandchildren will benefit from them and some will operate them.
Witty ones:
In response to a question at the lunch meeting about the reason France has such a strong commitment to nuclear energy, he quipped, ‘That nation's energy polices come down to just four factors: no oil, no gas, no coal, and no choice.’
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Klein is frustrated by people who have already made up their minds about the license application. Referring to the massive electronic document library that supports the project, he said ironically, "anyone who says Yucca Mountain is unsafe must be a speed reader."

Friday, September 25, 2009

NEI's Energy Markets Report - September 14 - 18, 2009

The latest is up, below are two tidbits you may find useful:

Uranium prices continued their trend downward as prices fell to $42-$42.50/lb U3O8 last week. The EURATOM Supply Agency (pdf) “reported that, compared to 2007, total worldwide uranium production in 2008 rose more than 7% to 44,248 tU [metric tons of uranium]. Canada is still the world’s largest uranium producer (20% of world production) with a total of 9,000 tU. Contrary to 2007, Australia lost its position as the second largest producer and was replaced by Kazakhstan, which produced a total of 8,512 tU. For Kazakhstan, this represents nearly a 30% increase in production compared to 2007 (6,654 tU). Australia’s 2008 uranium production declined to 8,430 tU from 8,577 tU in 2007. After Kazakhstan, the second largest increase in uranium production came from Africa with a total of 7,926 tU (a 20% increase in comparison to 2007)” (UxConsulting, pages 1 and 3).

According to data from Ventyx Velocity Suite, 42,000 megawatts of capacity are currently under construction and expected to come online by the end of 2013. Of the 42,000 MW, 41% is natural gas capacity, 38% is coal capacity, 16% is wind capacity and 5% are other renewables and nuclear capacity. For the first eight months of 2009, the following capacity came online: 7,200 MW of natural gas, 4,400 MW of wind, 2,000 MW of coal, and 650 MW of other renewables (see page 5).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Iran Cracks Open the Door

4cfca8ad-2695-4476-b2ac-f63de53cbae8 Yesterday, we noted that Libyan President Muammar el-Qaddafi followed President Obama’s speech at the United Nations with a speech that ran about an hour over its quota. We didn’t mention that it drifted in from Cloud Cuckooland with a pit stop in Madville. It did prove the perfect introduction to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who went into full-on rant mode about Israel and capitalism. It wasn’t a heart warming performance and a lot of the delegates – Western ones, in particular – walked out.

But after the speech, Iran went as far as it has done so far to open the door to negotiating over its nuclear ambitions.

Iran is willing to have its nuclear experts meet with scientists from the United States and other world powers as a confidence-building measure aimed at resolving concerns about Tehran's nuclear program, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday.

This might be occurring because some of the bigger countries are talking about more severe sanctions:

On the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday discussed the possibility of what Obama called "serious, additional sanctions," while France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, told French television that the "dialogue is achieving nothing. There will be a timeline, a date limit. In my mind, it's the month of December."

Medvedev noted that sanctions are “seldom productive,” but having Russia join in might be very productive, given its involvement in Iran’s domestic nuclear energy program.

There’s more to the story, including Iran’s kitten-in-the-oven tale of woe over needing “enriched uranium needed for medical purposes,” so do read the whole thing. Diplomacy and negotiation invite tremendous cynicism – the game playing is just so intense – then again, Iranian statements invite tremendous cynicism, as the speech at the U.N indicated - so bring a pound of salt when talks get underway October 1.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Not from yesterday – he seems to attend a fair amount of U.N. gatherings and, as far as we’ve read, invites a lot of walkouts.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rhetoric and Action at the U.N.

china-nuclear-plant As you may have heard, President Barack Obama gave a speech at the United Nations about climate change yesterday. Now, just to get it out of the way, he had nothing or next to nothing to say about nuclear energy. If nuclear is there, it is there implicitly only.

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We can assume Obama would like to have come with more to offer – above all, an energy bill that addresses climate change. If the tea leaf readings about cryptic statements from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-Nev.) are correct, there will be no bill this year.

Much of the speech echoed the health care speech Obama gave last week in that it focused on the need for action.

But I'm here today to say that difficulty is no excuse for complacency.  Unease is no excuse for inaction.  And we must not allow the perfect to become the enemy of progress. 

That does sound more directed to Congress than the U.N., but Obama talked to the international community as well.

But those rapidly growing developing nations that will produce nearly all the growth in global carbon emissions in the decades ahead must do their part, as well.  Some of these nations have already made great strides with the development and deployment of clean energy.

Asking developing countries to forego the rewards of cheap fossil fuel based electricity because the developed world created a potential disaster reaping those rewards first has a tinny ring to it.  (Which doesn’t mean Obama isn’t right – renewable and sustainable energy sources give the developing world a head start the developed world did not have.)

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China startled everyone:

China's new national plan on climate change offered few new targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but outlined how it intended to meet the goals it has already set, analysts say.

This includes the use of more wind, nuclear and hydro power as well as making coal-fired plants more efficient, the document outlined.

But:

"China is a developing country. Although we do not have the obligation to cut emissions, it does not mean we do not want to shoulder our share of responsibilities," Ma Kai, chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission, said.

There’s some significant wiggle room in there. And we’re pretty sure this didn’t de-wiggle it:

"We must reconcile the need for development with the need for environmental protection," he said, adding that China wanted to "blaze a new path to industrialization".

But one has to say this knocks the wind out of the argument that China (and India) have to go first if America is to move. Point to China.

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The gap in rhetoric and action between the U.S. and China didn’t go unnoticed.

“China and India have announced very ambitious national climate change plans — in the case of China, so ambitious that it could well become the front-runner in the fight to address climate change,” U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer told The Associated Press on Monday. “The big question mark is the U.S.”  [India announced its climate change plants last year at a G8 summit.]

Gulp! Never doubt the U.N.’s ability to slap the North American beast when it gets a chance. Remember, too, that the administration has the EPA ready to do some heavy duty regulating if Congress gets cold feet.

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Um, so how’s that going?

[Sen. Lisa] Murkowski [R-Alaska] is one of several senators planning to use the measure to limit the Obama administration's authority to regulate greenhouse gases. She may introduce an amendment [to the 2010 EPA funding bill]that would prohibit EPA from regulating heat-trapping emissions from stationary sources like power plants and industrial facilities for one year.

Presumably, that one year ban aims to give Congress a chance to act.  We don’t know how likely such an amendment is to succeed or how Obama might respond to it.

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Today, Obama spoke about North Korea and Iranian nuclear ambitions, but aimed for an overall more conciliatory tone than the Bush administration had done. He also made note that the U.S paid its dues to the U.N., a change from several previous administrations. He was followed by Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, who overshot his 15 minute speaking limit by over an hour. Coming up: Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Interesting times at the U.N.

A Chinese nuclear plant. It’s worth noting that China, India and other countries that adopt nuclear, hydro, etc., are starting with the very latest technology. Not that Europe and America need fear fuel rods crashing through containment walls, but very soon, there will be a notable disjuncture between “developed” countries and “developing” countries when it comes to the latest and greatest technology. We’ll let you decide how worrisome that is.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

E. Coli and Recovering Uranium

Credit:  Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH 
  
Scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli, grown in culture and adhered to a coverslip 
We thought to call this post “Diseased Waste,” but decided it wasn’t only inaccurate but sounded like a death metal band. When we hear E. coli, we think disease, though of course, the critters live in our intestines from about three days after our births onwards and only a few strains of it prove dangerous via food contamination. You can read about E. coli here.

But still, unfairly, the first thought was disease. So we were intrigued by this Science Daily article about the use of E. coli to retrieve uranium from otherwise exhausted mines and even as a vehical to clean up sites. The bacterium isn’t the key here, though – it’s efficacy for this purpose has been known for awhile – it’s the additive.

Here’s how the process works:

Bacteria, in this case, E. coli, break down a source of inositol phosphate (also called phytic acid), a phosphate storage material in seeds, to free the phosphate molecules. The phosphate then binds to the uranium forming a uranium phosphate precipitate on the bacterial cells that can be harvested to recover the uranium.

But previous methods were expensive. Enter inositol phosphate:

The discovery that inositol phosphate was potentially six times more effective as well as being a cheap waste material means that the process becomes economically viable, especially as the world price of uranium is likely to increase as countries move to expand their nuclear technologies in a bid to produce low-carbon energy.

And how cheap is cheap?

As an example, if pure inositol phosphate, bought from a commercial supplier is used, the cost of this process is £1.72 [$2.81] per gram of uranium recovered. If a cheaper source of inositol phosphate is used (eg calcium phytate) the cost reduces to £0.09 [$0.14] for each gram of recovered uranium.

Now, we cannot pretend to understand why it took so long to understand that calcium phytate could be used as an alternate source – its properties seem well understood – but maybe the Birmingham University group that undertook this project to were starting with an idea that had been long abandoned.

Well, if so, abandoned no more. Read the whole thing for a full explanation. Even allow for the usual disclaimer that college work often doesn’t scale well to production level, this has great potential.

Your friend, E. coli.

Nuclear Utility Moves Up in Credit Ratings, Bank is "Comfortable with Nuclear Strategy"

Some positive signs that nuclear utilities can continue to receive positive ratings even while they finance new nuclear plants for the first time in decades:

Wells Fargo upgrades SCANA to Outperform from Market Perform

Wells analyst says, "YTD, SCG shares have underperformed the Regulated Electrics (total return +2% vs. +9%). Shares trade at 11.3X our 10E EPS, a modest discount to the peer group median of 11.8X. We view the valuation as attractive given a comparatively constructive regulatory environment and potential for above-average long-term EPS growth prospects ... Comfortable with Nuclear Strategy. SCG plans to participate in the development of two regulated nuclear units at a cost of $6.3B, raising legitimate concerns regarding financing and construction. We have carefully considered the risks and are comfortable with SCG’s strategy based on a highly constructive political & regulatory environment, manageable financing needs stretched out over 10 years, strong partnerships and a competitive EPC contract."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sen. Lieberman Wants More Nuclear

lieberman Sen. Joe Lieberman [I-Conn.] wants you to know:

“I don’t think we’re going to [pass a bill] without bipartisan support,” Lieberman told POLITICO last week. “And without a nuclear title that’s stronger than in the House climate change legislation, we’re not going to be able to get enough votes to pass climate change.”

This being Washington, putting in such a title may sway some while putting off others and itself may not “be able to get enough votes.”

In an effort to resuscitate some version of the House climate change bill in the Senate, the Connecticut independent is trying to get Republicans and moderate Democrats on board by adding money for coal power and nuclear plants — changes that would infuriate many of the bill’s liberal supporters.

Lieberman calls his effort bi-partisan – Lieberman caucuses with the Democrats – but all the other Senators named as supporters in the article are Republicans. In any event, neither the story nor Lieberman’s Web site say exactly what the Senator has in mind for nuclear and coal – more of it certainly, but through loan guarantees, direct subsidies, mandates, what? We don’t know yet. Nuclear has done pretty well so far, so it’d be interesting to see where Lieberman wants to take it.

The only responses we’ve seen so far is a fairly blistering rebuke from Wonkette and a dismissive one from Think Progress – you can find those yourselves, but neither provides detail, just a blanket disapproval of anything Lieberman might do.

Without knowing details, we agree with Lieberman that a coalition of Republicans and Center/Right Democrats can get a bill together and passed (through Conference Committee and the White House are different matters), but bipartisanship has not been the order of the day so far. If he can swing it, that would be something, but let’s see what he really has in mind. File this under developing.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, pointing. We’re getting quite a collection of pointing politicians on this site.

Barry Brook (and Co.) on Dr. Caldicott's Latest Claims on Radiation From Nuclear Plants

The debate on the effects of radiation from nuclear plants is alive and kicking at Barry Brook's blog Brave New Climate. In his latest post, he takes on Dr. Caldicott's latest junk piece that surfaced in Online Opinion:

The focal claim from Caldicott in this piece is that it is dangerous to live near to nuclear power plants (NPP), because they supposedly increase rates of leukemia.

My basic response to such a claim is quite simple, and I think useful, because it cuts through the somewhat arcane and context-laden epidemiological arguments. It’s this: The additional radiation exposure of those living in the vicinity of NPP is ~0.0002 millisieverts (mSv), versus a background level of 2 to 4 mSv (depending on where you live) — the latter due to everything from cosmic rays, to ground-derived radon emissions, to eating bananas (this last one gives you more radiation than the NPP). So that’s 1/15,000 of your total yearly dosage coming from the ambient levels produced by nuclear power (in the US). Living near a coal-fired power station would give you 100 to 300 times more radiation exposure, and even that is trivial and not the reason coal burning is damaging to your health.

So, here is an apparently straightforward intellectual challenge. Can proponents of such an argument as Caldicott’s explain how something which adds 0.007% to an existing effect (background radiation) is somehow critically important, when adding 100 to 300% (or more) to an effect by simply moving from a house built on sedimentary rocks to one built atop granite, or moving from the state of New York to Colorado, is irrelevant?
And so the debate took off in the comments. Be sure to stop by because on top of Barry's piece, there is also some valuable info from many of our frequent bloggers (DV82XL, Finrod, David Walters and G.R.L. Cowan).

It's been quite a while since we posted anything on Dr. Caldicott's bogus radiation claims, funny enough I thought she disappeared after she received a mediocre reception in the US when she came out with her latest book. Low and behold, she's still around, but I guess we shouldn't be worried, her claims are in an opinion piece.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Happiness and the Pursuit of Energy

r234906_943939 Now, here’s the thing: if you go to a conference about some topic in your field, you’re likely to eat some bad food, catch up with colleagues you never liked and end up with a bag full of plastic from various widget vendors.

So cynical. Listen and you might well also hear some ideas that charm you, some statements that surprise you.

At the 2009 Scientific Forum in Vienna, we heard this from Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA, which sponsors the forum:

This year we have chosen a timely topic: without energy there is no development, and development is life.

Well, that’s not bad – poetic, in fact, a distillation of a truth. Still, it struck us as rather an odd if highly appealing utterance. Then, there’s this:

In his presentation, Ashok Khosla, President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), introduced the concept of Gross National Happiness, which underlies a fundamental shift in the approach to economic development.

And this:

The Forum’s opening session concluded with a presentation by Abeeku Brew-Hammond, Professor at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and Chairman of the Ghana Energy Commission, explaining a multi-track, innovative approach to addressing the technological and sociological aspects of the energy issue.

Hmm – still not bad, with a notably, shall we say, holistic bent. What about this Scientific Forum?

The two-day Scientific Forum, which is organized by the IAEA, coincides with its annual General Conference. Each year, the Scientific Forum concentrates on a different topic.

This year’s participants and speakers will be focusing on the lack of access to modern energy services in many parts of the world and debating whether energy access is the missing Millennium Development Goal.

We may dive deeper into this a little later – we expect the dish gets deeper as the poetry goes prose.

But for now, and on a Friday, we rather like leaving you with a bunch of nuclear scientists talking about happiness and millennial goals, sociology mixed with technology and poetic utterances from the outgoing IAEA chief.

Here’s some links, though: The Millennial Development Goal, Gross National Happiness (via IUCN, where Khosla works – this is derived from the Bhutanese idea); and hey, how about the Scientific Forum itself? Lots of links there for the presentations and other events.

Happiness – among the Bhutanese.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

DOE to Announce Details About the Blue-Ribbon Commission on Used Nuclear Fuel "Soon"

Via Nasdaq:

As part of a long-running rift over how to deal with the nation's nuclear power waste, the Obama administration announced plans this year to cancel the Yucca Mountain waste repository site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Although Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in April he would appoint a panel to determine the country's future nuclear waste policy, there's been no news since of who would be named and when the panel would be convened.

DOE spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller told Dow Jones on Wednesday, "We are planning to make an announcement soon," but declined to elaborate.

The Department of Energy won't say what caused the delay, but some industry officials have said one of the difficulties could be the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which guides how such panels are appointed. The law - designed to ensure an objective and balanced representation of policy options - prevents the administration from stocking the panel with members who would likely reach the same conclusion.

NEI's Energy Markets Report - September 7 - 11, 2009

The latest is up, here's an interesting nugget from our report:

“Year-to-date [through June], total net generation was down 5.0 percent from 2008 levels. Net generation attributable to coal-fired plants was down 12.8 percent. Nuclear generation was up by 1.4 percent. Generation from petroleum liquids was down by 5.0 percent, while natural gas-fired generation was up by 1.9 percent year-to-date. Despite the small drop in wind generation in June, the year-to-date wind generation total was up by 24.4 percent” (EIA’s Electric Power Monthly).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The What Where When of Used Nuclear Fuel

fig43 Ever since Yucca Mountain succumbed – well, almost succumbed – to the Obama administration’s uncertainties about it, the question of  used nuclear fuel has been a bit of a question mark.

Hmmm, maybe that’s misleading. The fuel currently rests in pools or in dry storage casks, mostly at the plants. It’s been doing that for years without issue. A central repository would be ideal, as overseeing one of anything is per se better than overseeing multiple instances of essentially the same thing. (We’re simplifying, of course – radiant matter is handled differently across industries – but Yucca was It for commercial nuclear plants.)

It’s not quite a case of keeping the Brain People of Antares safe when they visit an empty earth a million years from now – they’re tough hombres and can take care of themselves quite nicely, plus they sprinkle their morning cereal with plutonium – but a logistical issue.

And it’ll get taken up again at some point, whether the answer is Yucca Mountain or some other locale. The law more or less requires it – the U.S. has contracts to move the material to a central repository.

But for now, what?

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is proposing to double the period that nuclear power plants can store spent fuel on site to 40 years, as plans to build a permanent federal repository stall.

The rule would formalize a site-by-site exemption the commission has used when nuclear plants, including those owned by Dominion Resources Inc. and Progress Energy Inc., applied to renew waste storage licenses for longer than 20 years.

Which means the NRC is codifying what it’s already doing. It’s not ideal but it is realistic. In terms of plant and public safety, it’s non-controversial. (And there are some non-plant sites that store casks, too.)

If you want to read more about dry cask storage, which is an exceedingly well developed piece of kit, go here.

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We did frown at this a bit:

Energy Secretary Steven Chu has called for a panel to recommend a way forward for the U.S. nuclear waste, looking at potential waste sites and reprocessing the fuel to reduce its radioactivity and volume.

We real-l-l-l-y want to see the kick off of this commission. While most such commissions are, at best, efforts to kick-the-can of a difficult issue down the road a piece, this one has real potential to to remove uncertainties and set a course for the future. And we’ll be exceptionally frustrated if it doesn’t get rolling until the Brain People of Antares can be members of it.

But that’s just us and our impatience: we do expect energy issues, including this one, to start popping again when the climate change bill returns to the fore.

A dry cask. Bigger than you’d think, isn’t it?

Band of Green Brothers

202px-afl-cio1 And Sisters, too, of course. Darn that Shakespeare.

During AFL-CIO Convention proceedings yesterday in Pittsburgh, delegates adopted Resolution 10, entitled “Creating and Retaining Sustainable Good Green Jobs.”  An excerpt from this resolution reads:

In addition to coal plants with CO2 capture, new nuclear generation also will be a necessary component of our electrical energy portfolio. Nuclear power is the only existing base-load generation technology that does not produce CO2 emissions. Using green technology, deploying advanced coal technology, modernizing the electric grid and building a new generation of nuclear power plants can create substantial long-term employment in manufacturing and construction if we make certain that the domestic U.S. supply chain produces the wire, steel, pipes and nuclear vessels that will be needed.

Note that nuclear and coal are not really defined as “green,” but that’s okay. The AFL-CIO recognizes nuclear energy’s role in carbon reduction and job creation – and who better to recognize it than these folks – so we’ll take it.

You can read all of Resolution 10 here (small pdf). Search the AFL-CIO site for the other resolutions.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Things to Come in Iran and Indiana

800px-Indiana-rural-road A fair number of news stories are not about what happened but what might happen soon. The story below about California concerns an as-yet unissued executive order that might (or might not) include nuclear energy. A thing to come.

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A Bad Thing to Come: War in Iran

Iran is ready to defend its nuclear facilities against any foreign attack, chief of Iran's Nuclear Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi said Tuesday.

"Iran has been continuously threatened with attacks on its nuclear facilities ... Tehran is confident of its capacities to defend itself," Salehi told Iran's IRINN state TV channel.

Capacity? Sure. Actual ability? Well…

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A Good Thing to Come to Forestall the Bad Thing to Come: Joint Talks with Iran:

After months of anticipation, the United States, Iran and other world powers on Monday set an Oct. 1 date to meet and potentially discuss Iran's nuclear program, which remains a source of concern to the West and Israel.

While the Obama administration has reversed U.S. policy by agreeing to meet on the nuclear issue without preconditions, Iran has all but ruled out talks over halting its production of reactor-grade nuclear fuel, the West's central worry.

What Iran says now and what it will say in October might well be quite different. But Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, actually has made some promising statements:

"But this does not mean that within a larger framework [of] discussing nuclear issues, disarmament, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, nonproliferation . . . in this regard, yes, we are open to discussion."

Which, if you wanted to be a cynic, might just be setting the table for a failure – easier to blame the United States for a bad outcome if one looks utterly reasonable now. Whether you prefer saber rattling or negotiation, history has shown both approaches have had epic fails and epic successes. So far, stalemate. Let’s see what happens in October.

---

Let’s leave Iran for a truly nice thing to come:

Nuclear plants in Indiana

There are no nuclear power plants in Indiana, but lawmakers are expected to wrestle next year with whether to offer an incentive that could boost prospects for building reactors in the state.

Well, that’s promising. And for a little irony, try this:

The debate centers on whether utilities should be able to charge customers for the cost of building a nuclear plant as soon as construction begins, rather than having to wait until the reactor is operating. Current state law only allows utilities building so-called "clean coal" power plants -- those that release less carbon dioxide -- to charge customers for construction that is still in progress.

So much cleaner, or should we say “cleaner”, than nuclear.

The open road in Indiana. My dad once told me that driving through Indiana was the most boring experience of his life: straight roads through an unchanging landscape and only tub thumping preachers on the radio. (This would have been during the forties – we’re sure it’s lots better now.)

FPL Testimony Rebutting Southern Alliance for Clean Energy's Claims on New Nuclear Plants

It's been two years since Florida Power & Light petitioned (pdf) their public service commission to receive approval to build two new nuclear plants at its Turkey Point facility. And two years later, the debate about the need for those reactors continues on.

Most recently, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy attempted to dissuade the Florida PSC for the need of those reactors in light of today's low natural gas prices, the economic downturn, and the potential passage of the Waxman-Markey climate bill. In response, FPL analyzed SACE's narrow claims and took them to town (pdf):

The purpose of my [Steven R. Sim] rebuttal testimony is to discuss and respond to a number of statements and recommendations made by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) Witness Cooper who has filed testimony in this docket.
...
SACE’s witness Witness Cooper declares there is a high level of uncertainty in the future. Then, when reviewing FPL’s current economic analysis of Turkey Point 6 & 7, Witness Cooper - who does not appear to have any utility system planning or electric generation analytical background or experience - attempts to persuade the state of Florida to discontinue the on-going evaluation of this option which would provide emission-free, fossil fuel-free, capacity and energy at a 90% capacity factor for at least 40 years. He attempts to do so by choosing to suspend his belief in future uncertainty at carefully selected points. At those points he selects a specific futures forecast, or contentious pending legislation, as certain guideposts for how the future will unfold for the next 50 years. Finally, he offers no meaningful economic analysis that contradicts FPL's 2009 economic analyses, nor is he able to support his conclusion that other resources will improve FPL’s system fuel diversity more than new nuclear capacity.

Therefore, Witness Cooper’s recommendation that Florida stop its on-going evaluation of the new Turkey Point 6 & 7 nuclear units does not warrant serious consideration.
The rebuttal gets better from there. After reading it, it's quite apparent how much analysis goes in to deciding which plants get built and which do not. Utilities don't take the decision lightly to build billion dollar nuclear plants and this rebuttal makes that clear. Check it out, it's quite informative (pdf).

The Governor and the Red Heat of Nuclear Energy

govschwarz_art_200v_20090914114447 California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted a bill that would ensure that 33% of the state’s energy would be powered by renewable energy sources by 2020. The legislature delivered just such a bill. The governor now threatens to veto it and impose a solution via executive order instead.

Why?

Environmentalists who have been told about the governor's still-evolving plans said Schwarzenegger also was considering directing the California Air Resources Board to look at broadening the state's definition of renewable energy sources to include large hydroelectric dams and nuclear energy plants.

Right now, this is a comment just in passing. Nuclear energy isn’t renewable in the way the term is understood, so that’s just semantics. And Schwarzenegger hasn’t said, as far as we can find, that he feels the state can’t achieve its goal without nuclear – we’re going to assume it, but we don’t know it.

What we do know is that the legislation had broad support – environmentalist, labor unions, some major utilities, consumer groups – with opposition coming from business and trade organizations.

The latter, which “feared that limiting California utilities' use of energy credits in buying renewable energy from out-of-state generators would restrict electricity supplies and drive up prices,” appears to be where Schwarzenegger’s objections are rooted.

Schwarzenegger, in a letter to lawmakers in May, said he opposed any limitations on imports of green power.

The Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Capital blog agrees with the governor on nuclear energy:

On paper at least, [including nuclear energy] would also make it a lot easier to meet renewable-energy targets, since nuclear power punches above its weight. That is, nuclear power represents only 10% of U.S. electricity capacity, but 20% of its electricity generation. Since all the renewable-energy standards under consideration in Congress deal with the amount of electricity actually generated, that makes a big difference.

Indeed.

The L.A. Times story includes some sabre rattling about the efficacy of an executive order once the executive leaves, but let’s see if the legislature reworks its own bill to make it more appealing – and richer in nuclear energy.

The governor. Still looks like he could rip an alien beast in half. In Red Heat, he of course played a Soviet policeman.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Yukiya Amano Takes Over at IAEA

Yukiya-Amano And here we had just gotten used to Mohamed ElBaradei – we were almost fans:

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Monday formally appointed Yukiya Amano of Japan as its new director general from December 1, succeeding Mohamed ElBaradei.

The 150 member states of the UN nuclear watchdog approved Amano -- who has been Tokyo's ambassador to the IAEA -- by acclamation on the first day of the agency's annual week-long general conference.

And the takeaway on ElBaradei, who served for 12 years:

ElBaradei, 67, has frequently come under fire, particularly from the United States, for being too soft on Iran, which is suspected of seeking to develop the atomic bomb under the guise of a civilian nuclear energy programme.

That’s probably why were fans – he kept the agency’s balance between superpowers to the right of him and developing nations to the left of him. We’re not sure “He didn’t rat out his members” qualifies as retirement card material, but he faced a lot of graceless pushing from the big boys with a fair amount of grace.

Now, what about Amano? Well, let’s look at his IAEA bio.

Mr. Amano has extensive experience in disarmament, nonproliferation and nuclear energy policy and has been involved in the negotiation of major international instruments such as the NPT extension, the CTBT, the BTWC verification protocol, the amendment of the CCW and the ICOC. He represented Japan as a Governmental Expert on the UN Panel on Missiles in April 2001 and in the UN Expert Group on Disarmament and Nonproliferation Education in July 2001.

All that nonproliferation experience is likely to come in handy in the months ahead. Reuters, in a nice “Fact Box,” indicates Amano’s view on Iran:

Amano is close to the U.S. position on Iran, which is under IAEA investigation over Western suspicions that its declared civilian nuclear energy program is a facade for work on atomic bombs, something Iran denies.

We’re not sure facade is the right word, since Bushehr is getting ready to go online, but we take the meaning. His first speech at the IAEA’s annual gathering did not mention Iran explicitly, but as they were probably in the audience, understandable. Huffy walkouts don’t herald a good start, and Amano is a career diplomat. Interesting days ahead.

Himself.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Food for Thought: Belgian Publisher Says Nuclear Industry Should Engage Public on a More Emotional Level

From WNA's World Nuclear News:

A nuclear plant as the setting for a new hit TV series? Popular entertainment media could prove to be more effective at engaging public support and acceptance for nuclear energy than past industry attempts to convince the world of nuclear's merits.

In a special presentation to the World Nuclear Association's 34th Annual Symposium, Belgian publisher and former nuclear engineer Alain Michel exhorted the nuclear industry to make more efforts to engage public support on an emotional level - and popular entertainment media would be the perfect platform to achieve this.

...

After ten years of research on how public opinion of nuclear activities is affected by emotional influences such as television, film or books, Michel is convinced that nuclear communication should be more emotive. Pointing to the success of popular television series on a worldwide scale in raising the profile of certain professions - the CSI franchise and forensic medicine being but one example - Michel suggests that nuclear activities as the backdrop for a television series could simply help nuclear energy to become more familiar to everyone, not just those who happen to live near a nuclear power plant. The role of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors could be the potential subject for such a series, posits Michel...
He may be on to something. It could be entertaining yet informative to see a show where bad guys try to take over a nuclear plant and the plant's security team takes them down. Or maybe to see a show about the emotional public hearings on licensing new plants and re-licensing existing plants. Or maybe to see how nuclear plant operators react when an intense situation like an earthquake or a hurricane hits...

NEI's Energy Markets Report - August 31 - September 4, 2009

It's been a year and a half since I last highlighted NEI's Energy Markets Report on our blog. We've still been writing the reports but it just fell by the wayside on posting the latest here. Since the last time I posted one, the report has become a little more meaty in the text and we've added the Baker Hughes rig count on oil and gas.

I plan to start highlighting the report again on the blog but instead of pasting the whole text like I used to, I'll just throw out an interesting and useful nugget from the report and if you want more you know where to click. Also, if anyone would like to be put on the email distribution list to keep up in case I miss a post or two on the blog, my contact info is in the report. Hope you enjoy!

From 1973 to 2008, total US energy consumption increased 31 percent, gross domestic product in chained 2005 dollars increased 170 percent, and total energy consumption per real dollar of GDP fell 51 percent - EIA’s latest Monthly Energy Review (pdf).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Looking for a Few Good Anti-Nuclear Arguments

3.3.3 We’re always on the lookout for interesting anti-nuclear editorials. These days, the arguments have thinned out considerably – perhaps the fear factor enabled by Three Mile Island and Chernobyl has finally been beaten back by the pummeling of time, maybe the inability to deny the efficacy of nuclear energy in climate change discussions has just knocked the wind out of opponents. So we’re always interested in new arguments.

So, color us giddy when the Pottstown (Penn.) Mercury gave us this:

Every dollar directed to dangerous, polluting, and costly nuclear power in the energy bill is a dollar that won't be available for safer, more sustainable solar and wind power, which can be produced far sooner. Removing hundreds of billions in nuclear power giveaways (past and present), solar and wind power would be far cheaper without the risks.

This is about loan guarantees, which the author(s), billed as the Alliance for a Clean Environment board of directors, don’t seem to understand represents no outlay from the government – loan guarantees back loans that companies then get from banks. Yes, the government is on the hook if a loan defaults, but as we’ve mentioned before, it behooves the nuclear industry not to allow that to happen. (Oh, and wind in particular is having no trouble at all these days. Solar may well have hit a rough patch.)

If, as looks more likely, the energy bill will amp up support for nuclear energy with loan guarantees, it will be due to the way that private industry will be bearing most of the cost – appealing to Democrats and Republicans alike. And you get the benefits of more nuclear plants.

Why should taxpayers pay to transport and/or store the nuclear industry's growing piles of deadly high-level radioactive wastes for hundreds of thousands of years? EPA established a million year health standard. Yucca Mountain, an environmental and financial debacle, was estimated to cost $100 billion ($30 Ratepayers, $70 Taxpayers). If completed, it couldn't even hold all the waste produced by that time.

Well, no, Yucca Mountain was neither a financial nor an environmental debacle. After all, it met the EPA’s million-year standard (which, let’s face it, enters science fiction territory) and it was foiled, at least for now, by politics more than any other factor. Used nuclear fuel sits quietly and without issue at nuclear plants, which isn’t ideal, but causes no environmental issues.

Well, we could go on and on. but you probably know enough yourself to tackle this one. The quality of argument here strikes us as moderate – spinning the fact set as negatively as possible without indulging in outright falsehood. Well, there’s this:

The 9/11 Report revealed terrorists' plans to strike nuclear plants. Prevention is imperative, yet the nuclear industry refuses to guard against air strikes or missiles, leaving regions like ours vulnerable to unthinkable disaster.

That’s false and fear mongering. See here for what we mean.

---

You can visit Alliance for a Clean Environment here. (They may want to update their site a bit – it’s pretty 20th century.) Their focus is on three counties in Pennsylvania (Montgomery, Berks and Chester) and while they don’t like nuclear, their reach is broader – Occidental Chemical seems a  bete noir for them.

State elected officials have ignored the well documented and researched evidence of harm which ACE has repeatedly supplied both to elected officials and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Well, keep it up, ACE. The work is valuable even where we disagree.

The Occidental Chemical company. Chemical plants are as foreboding to us as cooling towers are for others. It’d be nice if industrial structures in general weren’t so often – hulking or inhuman.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Waiting for Coal’s Next Act

Williams_I090831211140 Even if one allows that the coal industry solves outstanding issues with carbon capture and sequestration – and it might - the rising tide of nuclear and renewable energy sources can make the coal industry look, fairly or unfairly, retrograde and outmoded. Although coal has made out pretty well in energy legislation so far, the industry clearly feels vulnerable, which leads to things like this:

The chief executive of coal mining giant Massey Energy blasted supporters of climate-change legislation and other environmental issues affecting the coal industry at a free Labor Day concert and rally in southern West Virginia.

CEO Don Blankenship said he wanted to show people at the event how government regulation is hurting the coal industry, driving up energy prices and making the country less competitive.

Well, Blankenship has to say something, and these are arguable points.

But then:

Headlining the event were Fox News personality Sean Hannity and [Hank] Williams [Jr.], while rocker Ted Nugent served as master of ceremonies and played briefly.

Sean Hannity? Ted Nugent? Uh-oh.

"Barack Obama hates the coal industry. Barack Obama hates the oil industry," Hannity said. "If they shut down the coal industry, we lose America as we know it."

You can see the whole speech on YouTube.

Massey seems have taken politically neutral situations – concern about jobs, the long tradition of coal in West Virginia – and melded them with a highly politicized message.

Massey’s employees and other concert attendees likely range from across the political spectrum (McCain took West Virginia last year 56-43, but that’s still a lot of Obama voters). Coal doesn’t care who mines it, so a 10-minute screed against the Obama administration seems off-point.

Massey should be for something, encouraging people to militate for coal on its virtues – as a lot of Congressional figures and others have done - not solely against those who are for something else. Massey’s tactic seems to start with the premise that coal is indefensible unless all alternatives are obliterated, likely not the message it wants to project. When Blankenship says:

"In Washington, they sometimes say that those of us in Appalachia need help because we're not very smart. Well, we're smart enough to know that only God can change the earth's temperature - not Al Gore."

Massey may as well say it has lost the argument on points and must now depend on Sean Hannity’s brand of demagoguery to hold together the tattered remnants. It just isn’t so – or necessary.

Now, we’re all in favor of people getting just as political as they want in order to make a point – we thought USEC got this about right a few weeks ago – but Massey could have used its rally to focus on jobs and the value of coal. We can imagine a lot of concert goers tuning out while waiting for the next act to come on.

Hank Williams Jr.

News Video of Three Mile Island's Steam Generator Replacement Project

WGAL Channel 8 caught the video and pictures of one of two 510 ton steam generators crawling off the barge in Maryland. Here's TMI's page describing the project:

Exelon Nuclear entered into a contract with AREVA NP Inc., to design and build TMI's replacement steam generators. The cost of replacing TMI Unit 1's steam generators is a $300 million investment into the plant. The replacement steam generators will have numerous material and design enhancements compared to the original steam generators, such as Alloy 690 tubing for reliability and longevity, use of forgings to minimize pressure vessel welds, and improved access for inspections.
By now, both steam generators should be on their 75 mile, 20 day land journey to Three Mile Island from Port Deposit, MD. I wish I could be the driver for those mammoths!

From a Position of Strength: NEI on the Energy Bill

bg_headhill We’d be remiss not to note an exceptionally good op-ed from NEI’s President and CEO, Marv Fertel, over at the Hill. He actually returns focus to the energy bill, which has been hibernating after passing the House while health care took center stage, and proposes some ideas that bolster the nuclear energy industry without breaking the bank at Monte Carlo. The timing’s about right – energy will return to view in the next few weeks – so let’s look at the bullet points:

• Ensure that the volume of loan guarantees available for new reactors is comparable to other carbon-free electricity sources and refining the Department of Energy loan guarantee program in key areas that are slowing implementation of the program;

• Provide new tax stimulus for investment in new nuclear energy facilities, new nuclear component manufacturing and workforce development;

• Expand the existing production tax credit to all new reactors that produce electricity by 2021;

• Reduce the time to market for advanced reactors to six years from nine to 10 years by enacting clarifications to ensure that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing process works as intended; and

• Mandate creation of a blue ribbon commission to re-examine management options for used nuclear fuel, and establishing incentives for state and communities to develop consolidated storage facilities for used nuclear fuel.

And he takes it for granted that the industry provides a plethora of benefits beyond low cost, no emissions electricity. We’ll let you read all that over at The Hill. Well, we will include this:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in its analysis of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, found that the contribution of low- or zero-carbon energy technologies to electricity supply must increase to 38 percent by 2050 from the current 14 percent. An additional 180 nuclear power plants (104 operate today) will be needed to meet the legislation’s emissions targets, the EPA said.

Just in case you wondered how the United States can plausibly achieve ambitious carbon reduction goals and why government should materially acknowledge the nuclear energy industry to achieve those goals.

It also helps explain why Fertel’s bullet points are more aggressive than we’ve seen from other commentators (though, really, no more so than any other energy source advocates, justified or no, would like to see.) Nuclear power is, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, working from a position of some strength these days. Flexing the muscles seems a plausible exercise in policy building.

Okay, okay, we know we’re engaging in a bit of log rolling here, but good is good and This Is The Best Op-Ed Ever. (We’ll take that bonus in small bills.)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Money Trap

turkey_point_3 If we didn’t like nuclear power very much and our arguments against it were running a little thin, we might consider using current events as a wedge. For example, you may have heard that the economy has been struggling. Hence:

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which is opposing new nuclear plants in several states, will ask the PSC to re-evaluate the urgency for new nuclear energy in Florida given the recession and the slowing growth of the utilities' customer base.

This comes from the Orlando Sentinel and nowhere in the story does the SACE say anything about mutated alligators making a meal out of grandma or radioactive sludge in the everglades. It’s all about the money – admittedly a big subject for all power plants, but most particularly for nuclear energy plants. So what is the response?

Progress officials said Friday they have already taken into account the country's economic downturn and its project's construction delays by reducing how much they want to bill customers next year for new nuclear power.

The utility is asking for permission to charge its customers $6.69 a month for the typical consumption of 1,000 kilowatt-hours, spokeswoman Suzanne Grant said. She noted that the utility could have sought more than $12 a month.

We might have advised Grant not to bring up how much Progress could have charged – after all, that’s not an issue here and it sounds petty – we only gave you six lashes instead of twelve, so quit bellyaching. True enough, but pain is pain.

But beyond advice, $80/year above increases Progress might charge in the years ahead might seem, during a recession, a little heady – and require some good justification.

And they have it: SACE isn’t really on a very firm footing – that there might not be sufficient urgency reminds us of the argument that nuclear energy is an old, dusty technology that should make way for shiny new energy sources. It’s as though our time horizon roosts at the beginning or end of the current week.

Florida Power & Light, also in the nuclear building business, put it simply:

FPL, like Progress, contends that nuclear-power plants, though they take nearly a decade to license and build, are an increasingly needed source of electricity that does not contribute to climate change.

"That means working on power plants years in advance, so that they will be ready to provide dependable electric service to our customers when they need it," FPL spokesman Mayco Villafaña said.

Villafana gets it exactly right. While we wouldn’t wish for it, we may well see a couple more sickening drops on the roller coaster that is the economy before any plant (of any kind) can get itself up and running, so that’s no particular reason to bet the energy future on what the economy does or doesn’t do.

Le’s watch this one, though. Politics tends to be nearby any Public Service Commission action and politicians might well see this as an opportunity to demagogue the recession. We’ll see.

Turkey Point, one of FP&L’s plants.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Some Labor Day Weekend Reading: Blogroll Updates and "Unique Reactors"

It's been awhile since we've updated our blogroll and we have quite a few new blogs to add. In alphabetical order we have Brave New Climate from Australia who's author, Barry Brooks, writes about climate change and nuclear power. The quality and detail of his posts have generated a ridiculous amount of discussion and have been quite enjoyable to read.

From the industry we have the NAYGN Clean Energy Insight crew who we've highlighted before and Clean Energy America who's authors speak around the country at college campuses, civic groups, radio stations and other venues.

Then we have Nuclear Power? Yes Please who's authors span from Japan, Netherlands and Sweden. They caught my attention when they blasted a lame Greenpeace argument.

Sad to say, We Support Lee has been permanently deleted, we're going to miss her posts. But the new nuclear plant she advocated so strongly for is still trucking along in the licensing process.

On a different note and for some weekend reading, check out EIA's stellar new page called "Unique Reactors" which takes the reader through fission's birth on Earth all the way to the future of nuclear power on the moon. Hope everyone has a great Labor Day weekend!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

NEI's Field Trip to the PJM Interconnection Hub

Last week about 30 of us from NEI took a field trip to the PJM Interconnection hub in Valley Forge, PA to learn how the electric grid operates. For those who may not know, the "PJM Interconnection is a regional transmission organization (RTO) that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia." PJM is currently the world's largest competitive wholesale electricity market and what I find fascinating about the hub is that it can manage the flow of electricity hundreds of miles away.

When we arrived, we had the fortunate opportunity to listen to PJM's CEO give us an overview of their operations as well as allow us to shoot tons of questions at him. After he finished, our other hosts took us to the control room which was located several floors below ground level. Talk about an IT person's dream (or nightmare). Two video walls totaling about 100 feet wide by 30 feet tall display information on power plants, transmission lines, voltage levels, grid frequency, and more. The video walls provide overall situational awareness and are supplemented by PC displays at each of the three major operating “pits." There are usually about 10 operators at all times in the room working in shifts of five every day.

NEI's Tom Kauffman organized our trip and below are quite a few details Jim Slider and I compiled during the event:

PJM Operations and Costs
PJM has about 600 employees and 600 servers (one server for each employee as the host characterized it). The facility costs $100M per year to operate. The total production cost of the generators in PJM was $21B in 2008. PJM operations were said to cost customers about $0.30/MWh. PJM is the “cheapest regional transmission organization (RTO) going.”

Generation
Of all the electricity generated, only 2% of it is sold in the spot market. The other 98%, however, base their long-term contracts on those prices in the spot market. About 15% of the US’ electricity is generated in PJM. PJM, as their rule of thumb, assumes electricity will grow about 2% every year.

Nuclear Plants
There are about 1,500 generators (units) in PJM and 29 of them are nuclear. The 29 nuclear reactors supply about 35% of PJM's electricity. Both coal and nuclear supply 91% of the generation in PJM. And according to one of their slides, "nuclear plants are 'price takers,' meaning they are the lowest cost producers in the market, and are only tangentially involved with real time market operations."

PHEVs
PJM can currently support 25 million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles if customers charged them at night and PJM controls the car’s electric flow.

Wind
Off-shore wind on the East coast could be a great resource for PJM because of its close proximity to the Eastern load centers. The operating wind farms in PJM, however, are tougher to manage because of the longer distances to meet load on the East coast (most of the wind farms are in Illinois). PJM could accommodate 8,000-10,000 MW of wind before they would have to reconfigure their operations and build new back-up capacity. PJM bases its calculations of useful wind output on a capacity factor of 13%.

Grid Congestion
The Washington-Baltimore area is short on generation and transmission resources, providing one of the enduring challenges to PJM operations. The proposed Allegheny transmission line (pdf) starting in Pennsylvania, going through West Virginia and ending in Northern Virginia is very much needed so reliable power can continue to be supplied to the “new financial center of the world” (DC).

Load
PJM’s record load of about 148,000 MW occurred in early June about 2 years ago. The peak load during the day is typically about 2X the lowest load at night. Below is an example chart showing a company's typical load profile.

Operators
PJM operators take about 5-6 years to reach “master” status. Most of what they need to know they can learn only on the job and in job-specific training. The six year path to mastery involves a progression from an administrative entry role to the generation role and then into transmission. The operating imperatives are: to serve the load, keep frequency within tolerance, and avoid overloading the high voltage transmission links.

Back-Up
PJM has a separate operations center in Milford that serves as a ready back up to the primary center in King of Prussia. In early 2010, PJM will reconfigure the two centers to operate in parallel continuously, so that “failover” from one to the other is seamless and transparent to the operators. PJM acquired a Cold War era bunker recently and is in the process of preparing that for continuity of operations in the event of a disaster.

Grid Frequency
The North American system is a 60 Hertz frequency system and is maintained between 59.95 and 60.05 Hz. When the frequency rises slightly above 60, grid operators know that they will probably have to ramp down plant capacity on the grid. When it falls below 60, operators need to add more capacity. Frequency excursions occur occasionally, outside the above limits, but normally the Automatic Generation Control (AGC) programs can correct the frequency within 5 minutes. Watching the frequency is also how operators know when brownouts or blackouts may occur.

Wrap-Up
Anyone and everyone involved in the policies and regulations of energy and electricity needs to go to a place like the PJM hub. So much goes into maintaining the grid that if policy makers and regulators don't have an understanding on how the grid works, it could become less reliable or more expensive because of poor policies and regulations. What has become more clear to me after this trip is that there are limits and advantages to every energy source and each could have a role to play. If anyone would like more info, check out this 4 minute clip on how PJM operates, enjoy!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Rod Adams Takes On NIRS' Scorecard on the Nuclear Industry's Recent Failures

Last week, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) issued a myopic press release dismissing the recent successes of the nuclear industry based only on how many states overturned their ban on building new nuclear plants. From Rod:

According to NIRS, there have been six attempts in 2009 by the nuclear industry to overturn existing state laws that effectively ban projects to build new nuclear power plants or the collection of construction work in progress payments (CWIP) before beginning to operate plants in rate regulated states. NIRS has claimed that each of these attempts has failed. The six states listed on the NIRS score card are Kentucky, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Hawaii.
Funny enough, Rod found this fact about one of the states that NIRS counted:
I learned something by listening to the conference call and the question and answer session on streaming audio that people who read the press release will not learn - Wisconsin has not even had their legislative session in 2009, so its vote has not yet been taken and certainly should not be counted in the loss column yet.
I guess NIRS' math is different than everybody else's. So is the nuclear industry having a bad year? Here's Rod's tally:
Here is the list so far - I would love to hear from you if I neglected any confirmed victories. (Unlike NIRS, I know that there are still many contests in progress and that this is going to be a long season with some highs and some lows.)
I would also like to add that both the Environmental Protection Agency (pdf) and the Energy Information Administration analyzed the impacts of the Waxman-Markey bill on climate change that passed the House earlier this year and found that nuclear energy will increase substantially in decades to come to help reduce CO2 emissions. Be sure to stop by Rod's post, Mr. Dave Kraft who was quoted in NIRS' press release joined the comments and has definitely added fuel to the debate.