Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dream Beneath the Desert Sky

victorville The Victorville (Calif.) Daily News writes something we basically agree with:

Monday the Wall Street Journal reported that a Korean-led consortium has won a landmark contract, valued at about $20.4 billion, to build four nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates. U.A.E., remember, is awash in oil, yet has opted to build the reactors. Why? U.A.E.’s leaders are not fools. It’s cheaper (and ultimately safer if one considers that nuclear reactors do not emit any of those pollutants enviros consider unsafe to human health and the planet, such as CO2) to build the plants so the oil saved can be sold elsewhere.

But the editorial this appears in is not really about nuclear energy. Instead, it dings Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) for wanting to make national monuments out of about one million acres of Mojave desert so as to block development of wind farms and solar arrays. We looked around to see what this was about:

The area of concern to Feinstein is between the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park, off old Route 66 between Ludlow and Needles. The area includes desert tortoise habitat, wildlife corridors, cactus gardens and the Amboy Crater -- an inactive volcanic crater where portions of the 1959 movie "Journey to the Center of the Earth" were filmed.

"That section of the road is as pristine as it was when travelers came across it in the 1920s and '30s," said James Conkle, chairman of the Route 66 Alliance.

And:

Feinstein said in a Capitol Hill interview Tuesday that she was sending her staff to the desert -- and would probably visit the area herself next month -- to consider what areas should be made off limits to green-energy projects and where they should be permitted.

And then of course, she has to convince a bunch of other senators to support her effort. And that might be tough if the effort is less about monuments than about blocking economic development. (On the other hand, keeping the desert pristine is a life’s mission for many more people than only environmentalists.) The Victorville folks, who would benefit considerably from a “green” project, are not pleased:

This is all so typical, and reflects the not-in-my-backyard stand on energy development taken by liberals, captives of the enviro-activists.

Well, actually, NIMBY is pretty non-partisan, depending on whose backyard we’re talking about (though we think Captives of the Enviroactivists could be pretty exciting at the multiplex). Since Feinstein supports renewable energy sources (you can see a roundup of her views here), we tend to trust that her goal here is to prevent overbuilding on what is, after all, land that has been as it is – well, pretty much forever – even desert towns like Victorville are widely spaced and individually fairly compact. (We admit we’re prejudiced, as we love desert landscapes.)

Given Victorville’s support for nuclear energy, perhaps this will make them happier:

Areva SA announced Tuesday that the French company plans to work with Fresno Nuclear Energy Group to develop new-generation reactors in the Central Valley of California, according to Associated Press.

Nowhere near the desert, so no immediate impact on jobs or the tax base there, but capable of bringing a good deal of low cost electricity to all parts of California. (AREVA must think the state’s ban on new construction will fall.)

Desert sky; Dream beneath the desert sky; The rivers run, but soon run dry; We need new dreams tonight – U2 – The Joshua Tree.

Looking down Quartzite Mountain toward Victorville.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

“Because Nuclear Power Is Less Costly"

uae_spaceport_02 Reuters has put up an interesting “Fact Box” detailing which countries in the middle East and African want to knock together a few nuclear energy plants. It includes countries we’ve discussed here but a fair number we haven’t, including Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Libya, Namibia, Niger, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and UAE.

Some of these are in very early stages of planning and the list is not free of red flags ready to spring up. But it’s a great overview and it’s interesting to see countries with significant supplies of uranium pursue nuclear energy. That’s energy security writ large, something uranium-rich, nuclear-free Australia should consider.

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There have been a few news stories about the Japanese reluctance to work with India on the latter’s nuclear efforts, but we admit we steered around it because we didn’t quite get the gist of it – India has plenty of partners without worrying about Japan. But apparently, it’s important to the two countries, as this Indian story indicates:

Japan is set to be India’s new ally on civil nuclear energy,  with Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama expressing a willingness to collaborate with India’s civil nuclear energy program. This hint by Hatoyama is a shot in the arm for India’s campaign for energy security and power diversification to meet the ever growing demand of both industry and farm sectors.

We cleaned up the poor translation here, so visit the original for the full flavor. Anyhow, we still wonder if this is an historical and cultural landmark rather than a political one. The story hints at this:

India not signing the comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT) has been the biggest stumbling block for exploring full-fledged partnership with Japan on civil nuclear energy front.

And that treaty, for we hope obvious reasons, is very important to Japan. But word from India seems tepid:

[Indian Prime Minister Manmohan] Singh said: “Should the US and China ratify the CTBT, a new situation will emerge.”

And yet it looks very likely that Japan and India will make an agreement over nuclear technology. Especially where this dips into cultural waters, we really have no comment – that would be presumptuous - but in practical terms only, it seems a potential win for both sides. We’ll have to see if this deal consummates or withers after Singh and Hatoyama meet for talks. (Any elucidation on this from our Japanese and Indian friends welcome.)

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And here’s an interesting story from Emirates Business – we expect the whole Dubai World story has caused them some sleepless nights – on just why UAE is considering nuclear energy:

"These are very important and strategic long-term projects, which will contribute to saving the UAE's hydrocarbon wealth and at the same time boosting its crude exports as nuclear power will partly offset the rise in the UAE's energy consumption… this in turn will allow the UAE to increase revenue," said Mohammed Asumi, a Dubai-based Gulf economist.

"I also expect these projects, when commissioned, to depress electricity generation costs in the UAE because nuclear power is less costly."

Well, we knew money had to play a part somewhere in this, but we were happy to see Asumi note that a nuclear plant will bring down costs. Presumably, UAE could also export some of the nuclear generated electricity to neighbors such as Oman and Qatar.

As a business story, this goes a bit into the weeds, but is very well done ( by Nadim Kawach) and comprehensible. Well worth a read.

A UAE spaceport. See here for more.

Local tourism was not attractive enough that UAE’s other lesser known state of Ras Al Khaimah is now the venue for the 30 billion USD Spaceport. Space Adventures is developing commercial spaceports in this region.  They are the pioneers of space tourism.

Or something. We admit we make fun of the grandiosity of UAE every time we write about it, perhaps in part out of discomfort over what it takes in resources and human capital to maintain that grandiosity and definitely because the line between grandiosity and pomposity is thin. We can’t pretend to know what will now happen in UAE in the wake of Dubai World – and not just or even primarily its nuclear ambitions - but it does make the fun rather ashy and dry.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Shutting Off the Power at Ignalina

IgnalinaNPP Some bits and bytes from the radiant world around us:

Hoh Kui-seek provides an almost poetic overview of the nuclear half-century before settling on his point: the rise of his native South Korea as a supplier of nuclear technology:

This is the valuable fruit of Korea’s 50-year effort to develop nuclear energy technology, including the sacrifices of the local residents who spent their careers working in nuclear power plants, the sweat of scientists and the dream of former presidents. I send a big round of applause to the people who worked hard to nurture Korea’s nuclear energy development.

We do, too. (He’s talking about the sale of a plant to UAE.) Not a substantial piece, but it has an individual quality we really liked.

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At Good.is, Cyrus Wadia wonders where the heck solar energy is and comes up with free reasons for its lag:

(1) the cost is still too high for most geographic regions
(2) issues of scale
(3) the sun sets every day

These are all legitimate concerns, but Wadia remains optimistic:

I am extremely encouraged by the technology and manufacturing progress we've seen over the last 10 years, and I fully expect that we will get there in the foreseeable future.

A man after our own heart. After all, solar has moved a fairly far distance on scraps of funding – now that it’s more in the energy spotlight, miles may turn into yards into feet. (For some reason, we’re reminded of the well wisher who advises The Graduate - in the 1967 movie - to go into plastics. These days, that might better be batteries.)

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It starts off badly:

Lithuania will wake up Jan. 1 with 40 percent less generating capacity….

And then it gets worse:

On top of that, Lithuanians will pay more for electricity at a time when their economy is in a deep recession.

“We’ll have to pay two or three times more for energy, and our competitiveness in European markets will be damaged,” said Bronislovas Lubys, CEO of the Achema Group, a chemical consortium.

And why should all this be?

To Lithuanians, however, the twin concrete reactor blocks of the Ignalina [nuclear] plant, rising amid lakes and oak forests near the country’s eastern border, have been a symbol of energy independence since the small Baltic country regained its freedom after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Not unreasonably, the European Union would like not to have a plant much like Chernobyl operating within its sphere. But the Chernobyl accident happened 24 years ago and Ignalina has operated safely for an equal number of years. (Well, unit #2 has – unit #1 opened in 1983 and closed in 2004, also without incident.) But as we said, not unreasonable.

However, where does it leave not just Lithuania, but its Baltic neighbors, too. The words “energy independence” above tell the tale:

They now face the prospect of importing energy from Russia, considered an unreliable energy partner by many after its state-owned gas company shut off supplies through Ukraine last year and in 2006 over price disputes.

So there you go. There’s more to the story, reported by the AP’s Gary Peach in the St. Petersburg (Russia) Times – surprisingly, the distaste for importing energy from Russia is not softpedaled in this acccount – and it’s a good read – a spiraling series of ironies that leaves Lithuania worse off than before.

And all because a nuclear energy plant leaves the grid – for not unreasonable – but not therefore good reasons.

The Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Someone Else’s Top Ten

oasys_x220 We know it’s getting to be top ten time of the year (and decade), but we’ve never really enjoyed these summary wrap-ups. After all, time like the tide is rather fluid and what seemed most important in the short term of a year fades before much more time has passed. Even the top ten movies or albums seem vagrant, the results of a passing fancy.

So, speaking for ourselves, we’ll probably bypass the mania for top ten and move right on to passing you along to someone else’s top ten list. It both confirms and spoils our potted formulation.

It is Greentechmedia’s Top Ten High Concepts of 2009. We actually like it because it focuses on items that may not come to fruition at all, but simply demonstrate the good work that goes on in industry and university labs all the time. The great thing about such projects is that they can be quite valuable even when not workable – the lessons learned can be quite instructive.

Take, for example, number 3:

Osmotic Pressure Gradients: In OPGs, fresh water passes through a membrane, drawn through by an inherent attraction to a vat of salty water on the other side. As the volume of water increases in the salty tank, pressure builds, which can be used to crank a turbine.

We’d have to read more about this to see how it decreases the pressure or what you do with the salinated fresh water – can’t put it back where you got it, presumably – but pretty neat.

But despite the interest in this and other entries like Instant Oil and a Solar Air Conditioner, we were interested in the first and second entries. Number 1:

Nuclear Goes Mod(ular): NuScale Power, Sandia National Labs, TerraPower and Babcock & Wilcox discussed plans to build and/or license small reactors that could produce 45 to 125 megawatts of power.

We’ve written about these a fair amount and they’ve picked up tremendous interest – both here, where a couple of bills encouraging their development are moving through Congress, and overseas, too, where their potential could be enormous.

If anything holds them back, it’s that no design has been approved by the NRC – none submitted, mind you, but still, such design licensing can take years and be a real business inhibitor. Hopefully, Congress can move on that, too, and provide resources so the NRC can review these units quickly.

And number 2:

Fusion: Livermore National Labs showed off a system in which 192 high powered lasers focused on tiny capsule of hydrogen could generate fusion power.

When we’ve written about fusion, it’s usually to make fun of it – not that it shouldn’t be taken seriously, even by us. But it’s been around long enough that it has inspired a fan base that has followed its travails for years and years (and inspires hobbyists to make their own fusion reactors). Maybe it’s that there’s a faint whiff of alchemy around fusion, as it takes the electricity generation of a small country to light a bulb. We joke, but getting the resource-to-result ratio right is a big stumbling block.

Here’s the next sentence in the entry on fusion: “Scientists hope to show it can work in 2010 or 2011.” As we always do (and have for years and years), we wish them luck.

Read the whole thing – lots of fun technology.

An osmotic pressure plant. Osmotic pressure works the other way, too, desalinating water.

[Oasys] is using what it calls engineered osmosis. Unlike conventional desalination systems, the Oasys system establishes an osmotic pressure gradient instead of using pressure or heat to force water through a purifying membrane. The approach exploits the fact that water naturally flows from a dilute region to one that's more concentrated when the two solutions are separated by a semipermeable material, thereby saving the energy normally needed to drive the process.

So, to answer our question above, we presume you can do a two way osmotic pressure exchange that both salinates and desalinates water. See here for more.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do ‘The Simpsons’ Distort People’s Perceptions of Nuclear Power?

I’ve watched ‘The Simpsons’ cartoon since their inception and have never been fazed about their misleading depictions of nuclear power. Interestingly enough, others may have. Here’s what a philosophy professor says about the show:

Dr. Bill Irwin, a philosophy professor at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., says Homer - the bumbling main character in The Simpsons who works at a nuclear power plant - has perhaps helped to put a negative spin on nuclear power by doing such things on the show as trying to stop a meltdown by randomly pressing buttons on a console.

He also points out that the owner of the nuclear power plant in The Simpsons, Mr. Burns, is portrayed as a cold-hearted, greedy industrialist. But the show's most intelligent character, Homer's daughter, Lisa, is portrayed as a staunch environmental advocate.

"She's very eco-friendly and very much against nuclear power and the nuclear power plant run by Mr. Burns," Irwin said during a recent interview on a Saskatchewan radio talk show.

Probably the reason why I’m not fazed about The Simpson's depictions is because I’ve seen them put a negative spin on other technologies such as wind. This episode between Itchy and Scratchy comes to mind.

It’s tough for me to say if they’ve negatively impacted perceptions of nuclear power. I would have to say no but check out the survey at the top right to tell us your answer.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Voices from Copenhagen: Obama and Jiabao

xin_4803021411059783118412 At the COP15 conference in Copenhagen, President Barack Obama did not seem very pleased:

So America is going to continue on this course of action [toward carbon emission reduction goals] no matter what happens in Copenhagen. But we will all be stronger and safer and more secure if we act together. That is why it is in our mutual interest to achieve a global accord in which we agree to take certain steps, and to hold each other accountable for our commitments.

And perhaps a little doubtful of the outcome of the conference:

We know the fault lines because we've been imprisoned by them for years. But here is the bottom line: We can embrace this accord, take a substantial step forward, and continue to refine it and build upon its foundation. We can do that, and everyone who is in this room will be a part of an historic endeavor -- one that makes life better for our children and grandchildren.

Or we can again choose delay, falling back into the same divisions that have stood in the way of action for years. And we will be back having the same stale arguments month after month, year after year -- all while the danger of climate change grows until it is irreversible.

Not precisely the speech Obama wanted to give, we suspect.

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Another portion of Obama’s speech appears to be rapping China’s knuckles:

We must have a mechanism to review whether we are keeping our commitments, and to exchange this information in a transparent manner. These measures need not be intrusive or infringe upon sovereignty. They must, however, ensure that an accord is credible and that we are living up to our obligations. For without such accountability, any agreement would be empty words on a page.

China has not notably wanted such a mechanism. We took a look at Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s speech to see if he responded to or at least addressed the same issue. Answer: not really, though this glances against it:

Concrete actions and institutional guarantee are essential to our effort on tackling climate change. The international community should make concrete and effective institutional arrangements under the Convention and urge developed countries to honor their commitments, provide sustained and sufficient financial support to developing countries, speed up the transfer of climate-friendly technologies and effectively help developing countries, especially small island states, least developed countries, landlocked countries and African countries, strengthen their capacity in combating climate change.

And that’s not a very close glance. (The nice thing about these international conferences is that leaders with drastically different approaches to governance can say the same kinds of things – call it generic poli-speak.)

We’ll let the conference and its results shake out over the weekend and see where it all ended up on Monday. Our hunch: on to Mexico City and COP16!

Wen Jiabao. We’ll reduce emissions this much if you reduce them that much.

NRG’s Recent Cost Estimate Increases for STP 3&4 Due to a Weaker Dollar?

By now I’m sure most readers here have heard that NRG’s cost estimates to build two new reactors at South Texas Project increased around $4 billion just recently. Apparently quite a bit of the increase was due to a weaker dollar. From the Wall Street Journal:

Dollar weakness helped drive up cost estimates for two new reactors NRG Energy Inc. (NRG) is planning in Texas with Toshiba Corp. An NRG executive said last month the cost of equipment and materials from Japan climbed 13% to an estimated $2.5 billion compared with a 2007 estimate, mostly due to declines in the dollar.

Currency risk is just one variable for developers. Scana and Southern already have taken steps to eliminate the risk by using dollar-dominated contracts. For other projects, currency fluctuation typically is viewed as part of the larger issue of construction costs. Developers are trying to balance the massive cost and lengthy construction timetable with a tricky outlook for power demand and prices. Additionally, any decision by the U.S. government to place limits on carbon-dioxide emissions could heavily impact the economics of nuclear projects, since reactors become more competitive when a cost is placed on CO2.

It’ll be interesting to see what NRG and Toshiba agree on for the new cost estimates which were asked to be determined by the end of this year.

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

The latest is up, below are some useful nuggets about gas that happened last week:

Gas at the Henry Hub jumped $0.76 to $4.92/MMBtu for the week. Over the past four weeks, gas prices have increased nearly $2/MMBtu. The gas rig count rose by nine to 757. “Traders worked prices higher with demand on the rise as temperatures dropped across key heat-consuming regions, driving up demand for fuel to feed power generators called upon to meet increased customer heating load” (SNL Energy, pages 1 and 3).

Studies, Studies and Mo' Studies with Nuclear

Actually, there are only just three recent studies/reports I'd like to bring to your attention. The first comes from Ted Rockwell (pdf) at Learning About Energy.

Colleagues:
Attached is a list of purported facts about the use of nuclear energy for generating electricity, and purported facts about the principal, post-fossil alternatives: wind, solar and biofuels. There are no conclusions or recommendations here, just facts. Just real-world facts, no predictions or estimates or opinions. I don’t know of any other document that performs this function.
In it, there are some interesting safety stats on wind (p. 8) that I was unaware of and Mr. Rockwell includes some commentary on Amory Lovins' way of life that makes for some good reading. Definitely will be a useful document.

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Next study to check out comes from the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency. Earlier this week, NEA released a document on the perspective of nuclear energy and how it can address climate change (pdf).
Scenarios for future electricity supply prepared by the International Energy Agency, based on a reduction of CO2 emissions to around half of 2005 levels by 2050, show that nuclear power has a vital role to play, alongside improved energy end-use efficiency, a major expansion of renewable, and carbon capture and storage (CCS) from fossil fuel burning. These scenarios envisage a nuclear capacity of around 1,250 GWe by 2050, compared with 370 GWe today – an expansion of over 300%. This would require the completion of around 20 large nuclear plants (of 1.5 GWe each) per year during the 2020s, rising to 25 to 30 plants per year in the 2040s. In its Nuclear Energy Outlook (2008), the NEA found that nuclear capacity could reach 1,400 GWe by 2050 under its high scenario, through an even stronger expansion in the 2040s.
Oy, quite a task ahead.

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And the last recommended study comes from the Energy Information Administration. On Monday, they released their preliminary numbers in their AEO 2010 on what the energy and electricity trends look like for the US out to 2035. There isn't too much love for nuclear, i.e. they only project 8,400 MW of new capacity will be built by 2030. But EIA does project that no nuclear plants will retire by 2035 (this assumes that 41 nuclear units (32,000 MW) will operate beyond 60 years). Below is a table we put together from EIA's data tables that shows what is projected to be built by each electric source and their different fuel shares based on existing laws and regulations:

Interesting how gas is projected to build the most capacity yet its fuel share remains practically the same...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

UAE, India and The Cable Car in Copenhagen

Yvo_de_Boer We wondered if the Dubai World debt problem was going to affect the nuclear ambitions of its fellow UAE member, Abu Dhabi. That would require more knowledge than we have of the financial interconnectedness of the seven emirates that make up the UAE.

Reuters reports that the IMF answers that question in the affirmative – sort of:

Masood Ahmed, director for the IMF's Middle East and Central Asia Department, told reporters the IMF was looking at revising down its forecast for the UAE's non-oil gross domestic product to "significantly lower" than the 3 percent it had projected in October. That would still be higher than the close to zero forecast the IMF has forecast for the UAE in 2009.

And we don’t even want to try to fathom the IMF’s forecasts. However:

Despite the turmoil surrounding the Dubai crisis, Ahmed said he did not anticipate the UAE would need any financial support from the IMF and could easily deal with the fallout with its own resources.

That sounds guardedly positive. And it gives more heft to this report:

The United States and the United Arab Emirates are expected to sign a deal, Thursday, to make the Gulf kingdom the first Arab nation to have its own nuclear program. … The cooperation is being done in conjunction with the International Nuclear Energy Agency (IAEA).  … UAE leaders claim that nuclear power is needed to meet future energy demands.  

We agree. This is the culmination of the 123 agreement between the US and UAE, which will allow trade of nuclear technologies between the countries. Since Congress has not raised an objection to the treaty, it takes force today. So welcome to the family, UAE.

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123 refers to the section of the Atomic Energy Act that allows for nuclear trade between other countries and the US. An earlier one was finalized and signed by the Bush administration and India. The treaty doesn’t carry any kind of exclusive arrangement. Thus:

India and Canada has concluded negotiations on a Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement through which the countries will collaborate on how to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

And India has been busy making such agreements all over the globe:

India has reached civil nuclear cooperation agreements with France, USA, Russia, Namibia, Mongolia and Argentina. Prior to this decision, civil nuclear cooperation with India had been hampered by the NSG's Guidelines for nuclear transfers first elaborated in 1978," stated an official release.

NSG is the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which issued approval for India to engage in such trade. (Important because India’s a non-signatory to non-proliferation agreements, usually a prerequisite to such a decision from the NSG.)

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These various agreement help us to remember that nuclear energy is zipping right along – with exceptional potential to help India meet its greenhouse emission gas reduction targets.

And speaking of such reductions, COP15, which would provide guidelines for them, has become so – well, chaotic is too strong. Let Yvo de Boer, the chief UN climate official, have a go at it:

[de Boer] admitted Wednesday evening that negotiations had unexpectedly stalled and said that the next 24 hours would be crucial.

That’s a little blah, especially since de Boer often has a nice way with words. Ah, here we go:

"The cable car has made an unexpected stop," De Boer told journalists. On Monday he had said that the "cable car" was halfway up the mountain and that the rest of the ride would be "fast, smooth and relaxing."

Well, we can hope – might yet be some frayed cable that needs replacing to prevent a steep plummet into an abyss.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is currently in Copenhagen, with President Obama following tomorrow. More on that at the link.

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Speaking of COP15, NEI’s Paul Genoa has participated in a podcast with Lloyd’s Register. This was recorded in Copenhagen but focuses much more on nuclear energy’s role and potential in this country. Well worth listening to as a state-of-the-industry primer – a transcript is available, too. Lloyd’s Register is doing a whole series of podcasts. See what else interests you while you’re over there. (These are basic mp3s, by the way. No iPod required.)

Yvo de Boer. We know Mr. de Boer is good at what he does, but we do wonder if he’s ever tempted to put his head down on the podium for a good, rattling cry.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Apathy in Canada, Catering to Nuclear

Mount_Edith_Cavell,_Jasper_National_Park,_Alberta,_Canada Alberta doesn’t care about nuclear energy; it doesn’t care at all. But if someone has a plant they might like to put up…

"We're not in the debate on one side or the other that the nuclear energy industry needs to be supported or needs to face a moratorium," said Mel Knight, minister of energy. "We are not proponents of nuclear energy, we're not working with any company to build a nuclear energy (facility), what we are saying is 'we need power' and proponents who want to build in the system in Alberta are welcome to do so. What we're doing here is saying we don't choose fuel source."

This elaborate indifference is somewhat poll-driven:

The key findings of the report, said Knight, was that 45 per cent of those polled preferred that proposed nuclear developments be considered on a case-by-case basis. Nineteen per cent said the province should encourage nuclear proposals and about 27 per cent said the province should oppose nuclear proposals.

That’s not exactly even steven – we expect even those who want the province to encourage a nuclear plant would want it to review the proposal – which, of course, it will do anyway. Even the poll seems to emanate a sort of “Fine. Fine. Do what you want” attitude. We can’t complain, of course, but it’s surely the oddest stance we’ve seen to date.

Bruce Power would likely be the entity to build such a plant, but it’s also been swept up in the non-committal wave.

“It's encouraging to see the door remains open for us to demonstrate we can bring value to the province and help Alberta meet its future energy needs without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions,” [Duncan Hawthorne, Bruce Power's president and chief executive officer] added in a statement.

We’d consider following this story if we could just care about it a little more.

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Here’s a headline from the New York Times:

Senate Climate Road Map Caters to Nuclear, Offshore Drilling Proponents

Feeling the love yet? Us, either. The story, about the Lieberman-Kerry-Graham framework we wrote about earlier, is judicious enough, but we feel an icy editorial finger at the small of our back.

Mount Edith Cavell in Alberta Canada. We doubt views like this inspire apathy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Linking Electricity To Human Life

Paul Genoa, NEI’s Director of Policy Development, has posted to The National Journal’s Copenhagen Insider blog. This is the entire post, but do pay a visit over to The National Journal for all the latest at COP15. Here is Mr. Genoa’s post:

Reducing poverty and human suffering in the least developed countries is the right thing to do from an ethical/moral perspective, and it is in everyone’s own strategic self interest. Throughout human history, extreme poverty has led to war and environmental destruction. Lands are deforested, top soil eroded and villages plundered.

It is in the interest of the developed countries to do what they can to avoid these environmental and security threats through effective development assistance. Because climate change will only make a bad problem worse for most of these countries, we need to step-up our global greenhouse gas mitigation efforts and help these countries adapt to future changes in the world’s climate.

There is a direct correlation between access to electricity and both the quality and longevity of human life. Electrification directly alleviates poverty through providing clean drinking water, refrigeration of food and medicines, and by expanding education and productivity. In many developed nations, the transition to clean electric technology began in the 1970s when they significantly expanded nuclear energy as one response to the Middle East oil embargo. This effectively displaced the use of oil in the electricity system for many of these countries.

The United States and other developed countries can help developing nations most by first reducing their own GHG emissions by rapidly deploying a portfolio of clean energy technologies, including nuclear energy and renewable energy. Electrification in the least developed countries can be accelerated through distributed renewable resources.

In addition to the humanitarian benefits, development assistance to these countries should be thought of as a long-term business development opportunity. We can build sustained trading partnerships over time, exporting U.S. clean energy technology while creating quality jobs at home. As they say, we can do well by doing good

Monday, December 14, 2009

COP15: Walk-outs, Protests, Madness

copdemo2 Well, we can’t say the Climate Change Conference has been dull. On Friday we noted that Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the negotiator for the G77, a group of 134 mostly developing countries, walked out of the conference. Since then, a good many of his members followed suit:

African countries have refused to continue negotiations unless talks on a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol agreement are prioritized ahead of broader discussions involving non-Kyoto parties, such as China and the United States.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change executive secretary Yvo de Boer said an open-ended informal consultation was being convened by the Danish presidency for ministers and officials to resolve key issues.

We’ll skip chatter of the conference collapsing unless it actually does collapse – it’s what you hear every time anyone gets dramatic at one of these things. Instead, let’s see what the African group wants:

The cracks have appeared because one negotiating bloc wants to extend the Kyoto Protocol, which includes legally-binding targets, while other countries want to merge the protocol into a new, single accord.

The Africans (and, more broadly, the developing nations represented by Di-Aping) are the first group; the developed nations are the latter.

What the developing nations fear is that their ability to develop will be severely curtailed because the weight of carbon reduction goals will fall upon them. Beyond this, and not much stated, there are echoes of colonialism in the behavior of the developed countries that’s bound to rankle.

Some poorer nations have taken the position that because the industrialized world is responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere — in effect exhausting the environment’s capacity to cope with carbon — rich nations must pay “damages” or “reparations”. These payments presumably would be used by emerging economies to cope with the climate changes that already are devastating some of them, and to increase their standards of living while minimizing their emissions.

“Reparations” – for past harm – has a certain grim ring to it in this context.

On the other side of the equation, the U.S. and other countries found Kyoto problematic and presumably still do:

The United States withdrew from Kyoto over concerns that it would harm the U.S. economy and that China, India and other major greenhouse gas emitters were not required to take action.

So there are reasonable grievances – or negotiable points – on both ends of the spectrum

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Lo, there shall be no conference collapse:

Poor countries ended a boycott of U.N. climate talks Monday after getting assurances that rich nations were not conspiring to soften their commitments to cutting greenhouse gases, European officials said.

Well, ok, but we do wonder whether a conspiracy would really need to be at the root of such an effort. There does seem a genuine difference in goals here. But in any event:

Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Fund said "this is all part of the negotiating dynamic, especially as you get closer to the end game."

So there you go.

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If you’re keeping up with protests, Saturday was a big day:

An estimated 100,000 people took to the streets of Copenhagen on Saturday and marched from Christiansborg Slotsplads to Bella Center – a distance of six kilometers – demanding climate justice. In one of the strongest messages ever sent to world leaders to be serious and make a ‘real deal’ in the negotiations going on at United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15), people from different countries marched in the cold winter weather of Copenhagen.

“One of the strongest messages ever.” Well, you work with what you’ve got and it never hurts to add emphasis to what you believe. But this is an instance where the protestors and protestees seem to be substantially on the same page. Check out the pictures on this page for some exceptionally tasteful color-coded protesting. Maybe it’s a European thing – we expect more scruff over here.

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In one of those heavily “researched,” thinly sourced diatribes brought out by fringe political figure Lyndon LaRouche and his mob, this popped out in a screed against COP15:

Apart from all sorts of profiteers, who see the C02 emissions trade as a new opportunity for ripping off the population, it is essentially the policy of the British Empire, or, more precisely, of Prince Philip, who has repeatedly said publicly that he wants to be reincarnated as a virus, so as to more effectively contribute to population reduction.

That Prince Philip makes Lex Luthor look quite the piker in the evil scheme department.

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We realize that the nuclear notes have been a little thin at COP15. We may take a break and bring you some interesting nuclear doings.

That banner! Those balloons! And all in red, too. This is an awfully tidy protest. So –so – Danish modern.

Financing the “Nuclear Renaissance” and Why California Should Be More In the Game

Expert attorneys in the finance field at the law firm Latham and Watkins in California have been chewing on ways that advance the thinking and research of how to finance the construction of new nuclear plants in restructured markets (pdf). For the finance nerds out there (me being one of them), the document is definitely worth thumbing through to find some of the latest ideas on how to use project finance (instead of rate-base) to pay for building these large nuclear beasts. Since the authors of the report are from California, they provided insights on how and why the west coast state should be more involved in the nuclear discussion. Below are a few snippets worthy of your attention:

p. 497 - To effectively promote private financing of what some have termed the nuclear renaissance under a financing model that internalizes these unique risks rather than relying on ratemaking for risk mitigation, federal incentive programs should be re-evaluated in accordance with these structuring considerations and state level programs should be implemented to fill in the gaps in federal incentive programs, particularly in restructured energy markets.

p. 498 - California’s involvement in the nuclear dialogue could focus part of that conversation on a principal topic addressed in this article: how to best structure federal and state programs to promote the development of new nuclear power facilities by both utilities and independent power producers under a project finance model that does not necessitate the ability to pass developing costs on to ratepayers irrespective of cost overruns or failures to successfully commission a new project.

p. 506 - This article is written from the perspective of discussing financing structures under which nuclear power can be privately financed applying the Independent Development Model, and what this means for our traditional ways of approaching project finance.

p. 545 - We write this article with a full awareness of the sensitivity that surrounds the nuclear power question. However, we write with an assumption that California’s policy makers will ultimately conclude, in the face of the scientific evidence and policy discussions cited above, that California must inevitably pursue new nuclear energy projects or else fail to meet its goals.

p. 546 - While the energy industry is touting a nuclear renaissance in the United States, there is little evidence of it in California. If California does choose to pursue new nuclear power as part of the answer to clean base load power, then unless California acts quickly, the emergence of the nuclear renaissance may be no more to California than a sign post to read California’s existing moratorium as a lost opportunity to achieve California’s energy goals.

p. 547 - California may well decide that the moratorium on nuclear power development should stay in place because nuclear power as a concept is not an acceptable solution to the state’s power needs. But with high fiscal and energy policy stakes, this decision should not be made inadvertently because of a 1976 legislative moratorium that has effectively forestalled thoughtful discussion in California while the rest of the nation embarks on a nuclear renaissance.

p. 550 - The failure of California to engage in the dialogue on new nuclear power to ensure that federal programs fit the State’s energy market paradigm has the danger of creating a real and enduring shortage of power and a lost opportunity to capture billions of dollars in federal programs at a time when the state is working to develop green industries to meet its economic needs and energy policy goals for reducing carbon emissions.

Don’t let me give you the impression that the 56-page document is all about California. It’s not. The nuggets highlighted above are just some of the more provocative statements in an other-wise dry and detailed subject. Check it out.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Checking in on the Washington Capitals and the NHL

Heading into tonight's tilt against the [Progress Energy-sponsored] Carolina Hurricanes, the Washington Capitals sit atop the Eastern Conference and are tied with the San Jose Sharks in the race for the Presidents' Trophy. The Caps have posted a franchise-best record through 30 games (19-6-6) and lead the NHL in goals (108) and power play scoring (24.2%). It's been quite a start to this 2009-10 season.

Can't make it out to Verizon Center this evening? Not to worry, the game will be broadcast on Comcast in HD here in DC and FS Carolinas in NC. And WFED, as always, will have the radio call streaming live here. (Be sure to tune in between the second and third periods [approx. 8:15 pm] to hear NEI's VP of Communications, Scott Peterson, talking pucks and energy with Steve Kolbe.)

A few additional notes:

  • Through the first 14 home games, attendance has increased 2.7% over last year.
  • Local TV ratings for Comcast/Caps broadcasts are up 9% over same time period last year.
  • The most-watched game on Comcast to date this season was the NY Islanders @ Washington on Veterans Day. (Special plea to NHL schedule makers: if the biggest TV audience is going to be on a holiday, can we please have more of a marquee match-up?)
  • Pond hockey has been at the center of NEI's print, web and radio ad campaigns with the Capitals. And it's the focus of the NHL's TV campaign to promote the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park. Check out the ad released this week by the league:



  • More pond hockey news! A big thank you to Ted Leonsis and Snag Films, for making the 2008 documentary, Pond Hockey, freely available to the World Wide Web. Two thumbs up. Way up!



COP15: A Draft Proposal, A Walk-Out, Detainment

Michael-Zamiit-Cutajar On the fourth day of the COP15 conference, it entered what we might call its melodramatic phase, with various parties wanting to make points as strongly as possible. If you follow anything day-to-day – like, say, the health care bill – you know that up can become down very quickly and then back to up just as quickly. (Soap operas, speaking of melodrama, rest on this principle, but even they have a basis, however tenuous, in real life.)

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Most importantly, the Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action, the negotiators charged with producing a final document, has released a draft agreement indicating some key goals. The Washington Post has the details:

The Cutajar draft [Michael Zammit Cutajar is chairman of the group] stipulates that the world should seek to keep global temperatures from rising beyond a ceiling of either 2.7 or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. It offers several possible targets developed countries could use for cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, compared to 1990 levels: by a range of 25 to 40 percent; by 30 percent; by 40 percent; or by 45 percent. The draft also says that major developing countries should cut their carbon output by between 15 and 30 percent in the same period, compared to business as usual.

This is, so to speak, the end of the beginning:

Now a whole new round of lobbying will begin: the conference's Danish host may unveil their own revised proposal Saturday.

Revised, no doubt, because of the item just below this one. And the story mentions a group of island nations that has issued its own document. Read the whole story for more.

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Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the negotiator for the G77, a collection of 134 developing nations, walked out of the conference:

‘Things are not going well,’ he said after walking out from an hour-long negotiation. ‘It’s very problematic that there’s a different agenda running alongside the official UN process,’ Di-Aping told Politiken newspaper.

When asked to elaborate on those comments, he said:
’Your prime minister has chosen to protect the rich countries, and that’s not ok,’ referring to Denmark’s Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

This likely refers to the leaked Danish document that Di-Aping thinks too heavily favors developed nations. He’s stuck around anyway, so we’re not sure why he chose this moment to leave. Will he return? Tune in tomorrow.

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Protesters get a taste of Danish hospitality:

Danish police last night raided a climate campaigners' accommodation centre in Copenhagen, detaining 200 activists and seizing items including paint bombs and shields which they claimed could be used for acts of civil disobedience.

Now, note that the government provided this space to advocates, so the police knew exactly where to find them. Hint to advocates: don’t accept gifts from a host government.

Here’s what’s coming:

Activists estimate that between 30,000-40,000 protesters may arrive over the next couple of weeks. Hundreds of small-scale actions are planned, and three large-scale peaceful protests are also due to take place on Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday.

Police have said that although they will facilitate peaceful protest, they fear that an international extremist network may come to Copenhagen to join the peaceful protests then break away to commit acts of violence.

That “international extremist network” can cover a lot of ground if you want to cover it – and police can certainly take a expansionist tack. If Denmark wanted to host this conference, and it did, wiser to take a light hand with the attendees – all the attendees.

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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is at COP15:

“Carbon pollution is putting our world and our way of life in peril,” Ken Salazar warned in his keynote address. “The places we love; the resources on which we rely; the peoples of the world who are most vulnerable, are all at risk if we do not act.”

Well, almost anybody at the conference could have said that. Salazar has a special brief though. Since wind and solar energy benefit from huge tracts of land, Interior has a role in allocating that land and ensuring a balance is found between energy needs and, um, human needs.

“These renewable energy resources hold great economic promise; by one estimate, if the US fully pursues its potential for wind energy on land and offshore, wind can generate as much as 20% of our electricity by 2030 and create a quarter-million jobs in the process,” he explains. “It's a win-win: good for the environment, great for the economy.”

Not bad, though it sounds a bit DOE-ish to us. Here’s a little more:

During his trip to Copenhagen, Salazar toured the Middelgrunden wind farm and announced that his department’s Minerals Management Service will establish a new regional office next year to support renewable energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf off the Atlantic seaboard.

Hmmm! Maybe Salazar did speak on land use issues and it wasn’t reported, but we would expect that Interior wouldn’t lead with all the ways it can fill up the land and sea with stuff. Maybe it is just the nature of the beast – this is the place to tout what Salazar is touting – as we generally have no beef with Interior.

Michael Zammit-Cutajar. He’s Maltese, for the record – we were curious about his last name.

Programming Notes

NPR's Richard Harris talks to former NRC Chairman Dick Meserve, EPRI's Tom TerBush and Union of Concerned Scientists' Ellen Vanko in his balanced piece on nuclear energy on this morning's Morning Edition program.

And here is an excellent interview with Exelon CEO and Chairman John Rowe on CNBC this morning discussing, in part, how Exelon's investment in nuclear energy has the company well positioned to tackle the climate change challenge.

Listen, watch and learn.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Framework for Climate Change and Energy Independence Legislation

6a00d83451586c69e201053590aa09970c-800wi A bipartisan trio of Senators presented a framework on climate change. The framework is focused on energy security and job creation and is admirably broad based in its energy approach. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) aim to create legislation that can find a broad coalition for support. Time will tell how that works, but the start can only be considered successful.

So what’s it all about? Here’s the bullet point our eyes zeroed in on:

Additional nuclear power is an essential component of our strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We strongly support incentives for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, but successful legislation must also recognize the important role for clean nuclear power in our low-emissions future. America has lost its nuclear technology manufacturing base, and we must rebuild it in order to compete in the global marketplace. Our legislation will encourage the construction of new nuclear power plants and provide funding to train the next generation of nuclear workers. We will make it easier to finance the construction of new nuclear power plants and improve the efficiency of the licensing process for traditional as well as small modular reactors, while fully respecting safety and environmental concerns. In addition, we support the research and development of new, safe ways to minimize nuclear waste. We are working with our colleagues to create incentives for low-carbon power sources, including nuclear, that will complement the Energy and Natural Resource Committee's work to incentivize renewable electricity.

And here are the other bullet points, with notes here and there:

Better jobs, cleaner air; Securing energy independence; Creating regulatory predictability – Given the news of the last week, consider the framework’s response:

“By failing to legislate, Congress is ceding the policy reins to the EPA and ignoring our responsibility to our constituents. We are working with our colleagues, the Administration and outside stakeholders to strike a sensible balance and determine the appropriate way to provide regulatory predictability.”

The Senators really do not want to cede this effort to the EPA.

Here’s the rest of the bullet points: Protecting consumers; Ensuring a future for coal; Reviving American manufacturing by creating jobs (listen to this: “In addition to employing thousands in the building trades, our envisioned development of nuclear and wind power will also mean jobs and growth for our steel industry. It is time to regain our leadership and create the jobs of the future here in America.” This is the first time we remember wind and nuclear being so explicitly linked as partners. We like it); Creating wealth for domestic agriculture and forestry; Regulating the carbon market; Climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution; Building consensus.

We present all this to you – and encourage you to read the whole thing (it’s only four pages) – to show how much ambition can be generated by serious legislators. While they are quite explicit in positing this, in part, as a response to the EPA’s endangerment finding, they say they’ve been working on this for weeks. (But they also knew the EPA would act sooner or later.) But it’s a lot more than a simple response.

The Senators introduced this as a letter to President Obama. Let’s see how he responds.

We’ll have a lot more on this in the coming weeks.

Sen. Joe Lieberman. He looks such the picture of gloom in so many snaps, we were happy to find something sunnier.

COP15: Nuclear Energy, Reparations and Gov. Palin

US-ENVIRONMENT-WHALING-IWC-PALIN Well, almost a decade. The Kyoto Protocol did not have much use for nuclear energy and excluded it from favored energy sources. However, the leaked Danish accord – which seems unlikely to become the final document – see our post below for more on that – does not try to pick winners and losers:

The international community can only be fully successful in addressing climate change if it is able to effectively develop, diffuse and deploy existing climate friendly technologies and rapidly innovate new and transformational climate-friendly technologies.

World Nuclear News picks up on the nuclear thread:

In a comment piece in the OECD Observer Luis Echavarri, head of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, complained about nuclear power's exclusion from two Kyoto Protocol flexibility mechanisms - the Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism - despite 'negligible' emissions compared to fossil fuels and its potential for direct foreign investment and technology transfer from rich to poor nations. He  wrote that "it is now time to recognize the value of nuclear energy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the legal and institutional framework to be developed in Copenhagen and beyond."

We agree, but see the connection here as somewhat tenuous. If the final report remains as non-committal as the Danish document, nuclear energy – and every other energy source – will take care of itself. Echavarri is not engaging in special pleading; he’s worried that nuclear energy will get the same backhanded treatment he feels it got in Kyoto.

We wonder, though, whether the passage of time (let’s use Chernobyl as Year Zero in this configuration) is taking care of that – nuclear advocates have made the strongest possible case in the last decade and countries are moving forward with new plants (or, like Germany, drastically rethinking how long to keep nuclear energy around). We appreciate Echavarri’s frustration, but feel more sanguine about nuclear energy going forward.

We’ll all know more next week.

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The problem with any U.N. conference are the competing interests of various countries or groups of countries – with COP15, the interests, in broad terms, are those of the developed and developing world, since the latter doesn’t want to bear the brunt of severe industrial upheaval while they’re trying to, well, develop.

The top American envoy to climate talks here flatly rejected arguments Wednesday by diplomats from poor lands that the United States owes a debt to developing nations for decades of American emissions that contributed to global warming.

The diplomat, Todd Stern, may have had these words fall on deaf ears:

“I actually completely reject the notion of a debt or reparations or anything of the like,” he said. “For most of the 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, people were blissfully ignorant of the fact that emissions caused a greenhouse effect. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon.”

What he’s missing here is that the developing world didn’t enjoy an industrial revolution – it’s what they’d like to have now and what they worry they will have to miss.

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To be honest, we can’t help but wonder if Stern is being pilloried unfairly in the New York Times account by Andrew Revkin and Tom Zeller, as most of his quotes in this story seem exceptionally tin-eared. For example:

Mr. Stern also demurred at a persistent proposal among some larger developing countries that the United States and other major emitters of long standing provide financial aid to emerging economic powerhouses, particularly China, to shift to cleaner energy technologies.

“China has $2 trillion in reserves,” said Mr. Stern, whose arrival in Copenhagen on Wednesday suggested that the talks, which run through Dec. 18, were moving into a more significant phase. “We don’t think China would be the first candidate for public funding.”

Is it really China (or India) that’s the issue? We imagine Africa and Southern Asia are the areas that stand to be big losers. We also think Stern knows that. The story raises a lot of flags in our mind – we’ll file this one under Subject for Further Research.

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The Washington Post put up an op-ed by Sarah Palin yesterday that takes a very odd approach: instead of choosing one argument to promote her view that Copenhagen has the potential to create economic chaos, she uses two arguments that are mutually exclusive.

Here’s the first:

What's more, the documents [the stolen emails from the University of East Anglia] show that there was no real consensus even within the CRU crowd. Some scientists had strong doubts about the accuracy of estimates of temperatures from centuries ago, estimates used to back claims that more recent temperatures are rising at an alarming rate.

Which seems to mean that the jury is out as to whether global warming is occurring.

Here’s the second:

That's not to say I deny the reality of some changes in climate -- far from it. I saw the impact of changing weather patterns firsthand while serving as governor of our only Arctic state. I was one of the first governors to create a subcabinet to deal specifically with the issue and to recommend common-sense policies to respond to the coastal erosion, thawing permafrost and retreating sea ice that affect Alaska's communities and infrastructure.

But while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes.

So global warming is happening and Palin responded to it responsibly (we don’t quite understand “one of the first governors to create” since one is either first or not first), but human beings are not contributing to it.

Palin’s core argument is that the East Anglia emails are determinative and should dictate the outcome of COP15.

In his inaugural address, President Obama declared his intention to "restore science to its rightful place." But instead of staying home from Copenhagen and sending a message that the United States will not be a party to fraudulent scientific practices, the president has upped the ante.

This is a very expansive reading of the emails – and a rather drastic response to them. No one has shown the emails to demonstrate fraud – pettiness and backbiting, sure – so this represents for us a way to use what’s available – the emails - to press home a dubious series of points – global warming is not happening, is happening but not due to human activity or is happening but the science is too tainted to draw conclusions.

Call it a rush to non-judgment.

Sara Palin wants you to know.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

COP15: Leaks, AREVA and Tree People

20091208131 Our impression reading the daily news wrap-ups about COP15 is that everyone is holding their breaths over the arrival of the world leaders next week and that this first week has more the trappings of a, um, conventional convention – that is, trade show displays, break-out meetings on different topics, people dressed in Styrofoam tree costumes giving out flyers – that kind of thing.

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Probably the element gaining most attention is a leaked version of the final document, or at least Denmark’s version of same, which appears to heavily favor the developed over the developing world. (You can read the leaked document here and decide for yourself.) As you can imagine, this has gone over poorly:

[Chairman of the G-77 Lumumba Stanislaus] Di-Aping, a Somali by birth, is reported to have told an urgently-called, closed meeting of 100 countries that the draft was tantamount to asking the G-77 to ‘sign a suicide pact,’ adding that the Danish draft was ‘worse than no deal’ and urging attending countries to firmly reject the proposals.

We suspect that even if second thoughts didn’t emerge over the document and it was presented next week in this leaked version, developing countries would be as angry then as now and would not vote for it – extremely inopportune. So better to give it an airing now – perhaps why it got leaked in advance.

“If Copenhagen ends as a fiasco, the entire Scandinavian multi-lateral tradition will be in jeopardy. What your prime minister is doing runs contrary to the spirit of development aid that Denmark and the Danes have provided for Africa for many years,” Di-Aping says.

That’s pretty angry.

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The Council of Foreign Relations has done an interesting round-up of some of the countries involved in the conference and their various negotiating points. There’s one explicit mention of nuclear energy, in the entry for South Korea:

The government previously signaled (Korea Times) it will work toward achieving this reduction through the promotion of bio- and nuclear energy, energy efficient technologies, and possibly through the introduction of daylight savings.

But it’s all quite interesting and well sourced and gives you a nice scorecard to use in judging the who what where when as the final document comes together next week (assuming it isn’t the Danish one, of course).

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Where you have a conference, you have protesters. Treehugger provides a nice slideshow of some of the fun stunts and costumes activists of various stripes have utilized to make their points. We like Treehugger’s attempt to keep a balanced view:

As COP15 moves into day two things are starting to heat up a little bit on the protest side of things. Perhaps heat up is too strong. Things are starting to come to a simmer. Yesterday saw a couple activist stunts, by the likes of Avaaz. Today saw a string of them, plus a bed-in in honor of John Lennon's assassination anniversary.

That’s going to be pretty arcane to younger people, but fine. The slideshow includes the tree people, my favorites so far.

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AREVA is following the conference on its blog. As a nuclear “pure play” company, AREVA is allowed to be unconflicted about various climate change efforts, but it could also be neutral and is not.

AREVA has long been a corporate voice championing large-scale global transitions to CO2-free clean energy, and that the planet needs to wean itself off of older dirtier fuels of our past. We hope to be a vital presence at the event. And will post our thoughts and progress here.

Good stuff, even if you take your corporate shades off.

Tree people. A shame they don’t have apples to give out.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The EPA, Copenhagen and Climategate

lisa_jackson Obama administration officials claim that the EPA announcement and the opening of the Copenhagen Climate Conference are "coincidental."
Except that the administration knew when the conference was starting so could have chosen to hold the announcement. Not choosing to wait is a pretty good definition of “not a coincidence.” However, the EPA’s announcement has been long expected – and dreaded in some quarters – and identifies six gases for regulation:
The Obama administration had signaled its intent to issue an endangerment finding for carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride) since taking office in January. Ms. Jackson announced a proposed finding in April and has since taken steps to draft the rules needed to back it up.
And that’s what happened yesterday.
Jeff Holmstead, head of air policy at the E.P.A. under the administration of George W. Bush and now an industry lobbyist, said the finding was mainly symbolic.
“It does not have any immediate effect and does not impose any regulations or requirements on anyone,” he said. “Today’s announcement comes as no surprise and is clearly designed to set the stage for the Copenhagen conference.”
The EPA acted because the Supreme Court essentially demanded it in 2007. There was a first stab at it then, but the Bush administration would not allow EPA to release its findings.
Holmstead is exaggerating that the EPA has not indicated what the rulemaking might include. Let EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson tell you:
Earlier this year, EPA established this country’s first … nationwide greenhouse gas emissions reporting system. Next month, large emitters in the U.S. will begin working with EPA to monitor their emissions. Beginning in 2011, large emitters will … submit publicly available information that will allow us to meaningfully track greenhouse gas emissions over time.

And starting next spring, large emitting facilities will be required to incorporate the best available methods for controlling greenhouse gas emissions when they plan to construct or expand.
That sounds like a plan. We don’t quite understand how facilities can incorporate anything before the greenhouse gas emission figures go public in 2011 – presumably when they expect to have the bugs worked out - but let’s put that to the side for now.
Whatever else is true, announcing the inevitable clears the deck on a long simmering issue and indicates to industry that something will happen to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, whether Congress passes climate change legislation or not. That means there are two paths forward. And no fork in the road.
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And if this was or wasn’t a coincidence, how did it go over in Copenhagen?
“This is very significant in the sense that if (…) the Senate fails to adopt legislation (on emissions), then the administration will have the authority to regulate,” Yvo de Boer, head of the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), comments, according to Reuters.
As you’d expect from de Boer, that’s pretty diplomatic. We might have to wait until the President’s trip next week to get a better reading on this.
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We noticed in the comments that we were dinged for failing to mention Climategate, the emails and files from Britain’s University of East Anglia that were put on the internet – we read that they were “stolen” but might also be a whistle blowing effort, which we might consider stealing with an asterisk. We just don’t know for sure.
However, like email in general, the posted material generates enough ambiguity to make it most useful as a Rorschach test. We haven’t seen anyone on either side of the global warming debate change their minds based on this email, which indicates that there’s nothing there compelling enough to change minds. (We admit we don’t like efforts to keep raw data proprietary, especially for no good reason. Information is better free.)
But there are some investigations going on. See here for a little more on that. Let’s wait for the results and then let’s choose sabers or pistols.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

With and Without Nuclear Energy in Denmark

MEDIAARCH_0004477_1 Now, Copenhagen is hosting the COP15 conference but Denmark is not the guiding force behind it – the U.N. just likes to put its big meetings in different member countries (COP14 was in Poland, for example.) Still, we were curious to know where the Danes are with nuclear energy and happily, well, unhappily as it turns out, the Danish Ministry of Climate and Energy has posted an article to the COP15 site (the minister is Lykke Friis, but she doesn’t sign the article).

Risø is situated on a peninsula at Roskilde Fjord. The location was chosen because from its inception in 1958 the research plant was intended as a research station for nuclear power.

Didn’t happen.

Despite the oil crisis, with its expensive heating and car-free Sundays, the popular and political opposition to nuclear power had increased and was blocking the use of nuclear power in Denmark.

Instead

The cooperation between research, industry and politics created a basis for growth that allowed the fledgling Danish wind turbine industry to survive the sector’s substantial decline at the end of the 1980s, when the vast majority of foreign producers went bankrupt because of discontinued subsidy schemes in the American market, which had propelled development.

Well, we can’t blame the Danes for promoting an industry they’ve excelled in – it’s an investment that’s paid off over time. The Danes really like wind energy – check out the home page of the Ministry – it’s like Wind City.

But clapping your hands over your green bona fides introduces a couple of problems. First, Denmark is a tiny country which is part of multi-country electricity grids. This can have benefits in the renewable sphere:

The wind turbines depend heavily for their effective utilization on 27 GWe of hydro capacity in Norway, over 1 GWe of which can be dispatched when wind power is unavailable in West Denmark. With good winds, power can be exported back to Norway and there conserve hydro potential.

But also (and you knew it was coming):

The power imported from Sweden (1.7 billion kWh in 2006, 7.6 billion kWh in 2005) is almost half nuclear and half hydro, the power (4 billion kWh in 2006,  0.6 billion kWh in 2005) imported from Germany is largely generated by brown coal and nuclear power (Germany itself imports 15 to 20 billion kWh/yr from France, which is 80% nuclear).

Which only means you can only control what you can control and if Denmark needs to import electricity, what else can it do? Its hands are clean even where its feet are a bit muddy.

And that might be all to the good:

Public opinion on nuclear power has shifted dramatically in the last two years as the energy source is increasingly viewed as a way to mitigate climate change, reports Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende.

A Gallup survey conducted for the newspaper indicates a majority want nuclear energy used to reduce CO2 emissions. In a similar survey in 2007, only a quarter of respondents were willing to accept electricity produced by nuclear power plants. The latest survey shows 54 percent in favor.

That’s a huge change in such a short time and we can’t help but wonder if Denmark’s public efforts on energy issues hasn’t created this result. An unintended consequence? Perhaps – but when climate change becomes paramount, as we’ve seen here, nuclear energy’s benefit spring right to the fore. Consider this a demonstration.

The Forsmark nuclear plant in Sweden.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The U.N. Climate Change Conference

377852-Nyhaven-Canal-Copenhagen-0 Have you heard?

A much-anticipated global meeting of nearly 200 nations — all seeking what has so far been elusive common ground on the issue of climate change — began [in Copenhagen] on Monday with an impassioned airing of what leaders here called the political and moral imperatives at hand.

This is the United Nations Climate Change conference (or COP15), being held today through the 18th. We expect to have a lot more to say about the conference as it rolls along. In addition to our posts and our tracking events through Twitter (see our right-hand column if you don’t want to add us to your twitter feed), we will also receive dispatches from Paul Genoa, NEI’s director of policy development, who is on the ground in Copenhagen. Mr. Genoa will also be posting over at The National Journal’s Copenhagen Insider blog.

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To get started, though, let’s point to some resources you find helpful in following the conference,

The Conference home page and a direct link to its news page. Here’s the top news right now:

An official says President Barack Obama plans to talk with former Vice President Al Gore at the White House on Monday as the president prepares for his appearance at a major international climate summit in Copenhagen.

Apparently, though, this is a private meeting – it makes sense that they’d talk, given that Gore won the Nobel Prize for his work on climate change.

Here’s the U.N.’s official page.

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Here is the U.S.’s official Web site. It’s a little bare, but does include a page that allows you to follow the conference via the current most popular networking sites. The Twitter feed for the conference is here, although currently Twitter is suffering a bit of an outage.

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For some video, take a look at the Clean Skies Network and OneClimate.net, both of which are covering the conference.

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And finally, there’s NEI’s pages on Copenhagen. We’ll be posting various additional links and relevant nuclear info as it becomes available.

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There! That’ll get you started.

The Nyhaven Canal in Copenhagen. If you follow some of the links you’ll see a lot of shots of the conference center, so we chose something else. After all, the Danes expect a lot of strolling around their lovely city – why not start at the Nyhaven Canal?

Some Light (and Heavy) Nuclear Isotope Readings You May Have Missed Over the Past Week

If you’re not too busy during this second week of my favorite holiday month, there are a number of readings on nuclear energy I recommend (in no particular order).

First is from Brian Wang who’s the main writer at Next Big Future. Brian, in a rebuttal to Michael Dittmar’s series at The Oil Drum claiming the “world’s uranium supply situation is unsustainable,” is making a small bet with Dittmar about who will be wrong in their nuclear generation and uranium forecasts out to 2020. The two have been really duking it out in the comments section which has made for quite the entertaining read.

The second piece comes from This Week in Nuclear’s John Wheeler who discussed the incident at the Kaiga nuclear plant in India where a worker contaminated his fellow employees’ drinking water with tritium. After all the facts were presented, John expressed his beef with the inaccurate reporting from the media of this incident:

What REALLY caught my eye about this story was the irresponsible and inaccurate way the event was characterized in the press around the world. Almost every major news outlet called it a “radioactive leak” that “sickened workers.” It was not until hours later that a few started to carry scaled back headlines with more accurate accounts. I really have to wonder if any of these international news services have anyone on their staff with a clue about nuclear energy. If they did, and that person did just a small amount of legwork and fact checking they could have easily reached a correct conclusion: there was no leak, and workers were not sickened by radiation.

The third recommended piece is from Steven Andrew at the Examiner who is making a case to build a prototype fast reactor, and the fourth is an audio piece from UK’s BBC discussing the US debate on building new nuclear plants. The BBC piece pulled a few quotes from several US anti-nuclear folks that we’re already familiar with here at this blog.

And last but not least comes from Barry Brook’s seventh piece from his series on “thinking critically about sustainable energy (TCASE).” In his latest analysis, Barry found that the ratios of materials/land requirements, for an equivalent solar thermal plant compared to a nuclear plant (both calculated at 90% capacity factor) was: Concrete = 15 : 1; Steel = 75 : 1; Land = 2,530 : 1.

Needless to say, for concrete and steel — two of the most carbon-intensive products embedded in any power generation facility — this amounts to a large difference in the embodied energy and associated greenhouse gas emissions of the capital infrastructure. As such, the additional mining, required to deliver the limestone and iron ore needed to produce the construction materials for solar thermal versus nuclear, must be set against uranium mining (until Generation IV reactors are standard, that is). Anti-nukes who raise the mining objection against nuclear power, but ignore the mining associated with solar (or wind) construction, are presenting a false comparison. They can’t have it both ways.

Hope you check some of these out, enjoy!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Stormy Weather and Energy Myopia

myopia After receiving flowers and surviving a hail of flash bulbs, new IAEA chief Yukiya Amano officially began his four year term and made a short statement (there’s a video there, too, and Amano speaks in English):

"The situation surrounding the Agency is stormy now. We have a lot of difficult challenges, but I would like to do my best. I would like to address the global issues that include non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, enhancing nuclear security, addressing the energy need, providing good health care, and water management, among others. I will try to be an impartial, reliable, and professional Director General."

He isn’t kidding about stormy, but for now let’s allow Amano his flowers and photo ops. Plenty of time for the storms.

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We found this op-ed at the Wall Street Journal by Richard Lester, head of the department of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, interesting and a little troubling.

Despite his title, his interest here is in determining what it might take to achieve the greenhouse gas emission reductions envisioned by President Obama and expected to be reiterated by him at the U.N. Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. That would be 83% by 2050. Here’s Lester’s calculation:

Here is a recipe that would work: Add 30,000 megawatts of new wind turbines every year between now and 2050 (this is nearly four times what was added in 2008, a record year). Add another 35,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity annually (more than 100 times what was added last year—a record year for solar, too).

That's just the beginning. Now multiply the nuclear reactor fleet fivefold by midcentury. Retrofit all existing coal-fired power plants with carbon capture and storage technology. And build twice as many new plants, also with carbon capture. Natural gas could substitute for coal, but only with carbon capture too. By 2050, the electric power system would be four times bigger than today. Two-thirds of the car and truck fleet would be powered by electricity, and the rest would run on advanced biofuels.

The argument seems to zero in on doing nothing since doing this much is unrealistic, but he does not say any such thing directly. There is this:

Yet falling short on any of these decarbonization measures would require even more of the others, or even greater energy efficiency gains. Failing that, the only way to reach the 83% reduction goal would be through slower or even negative economic growth, i.e., lower living standards. This is a matter of arithmetic; it cannot be wished away.

Which seems to raise the power of impossibility to infinity. But we don’t want to be unfair to Lester. We just don’t know – read it and see what you think.

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Yesterday, we took a swipe at the Los Angeles Times for an editorial we thought ill-argued. We’re not alone:

But the paper’s stance on nuclear power is of a piece with the myopia of America’s most influential environmental activists.

This is from Energy Tribune’s Robert Bryce. To be fair, Bryce is using the Times’ editorial primarily as a jumping off point to ding environmental activists, Amory Lovins and “The Left” for their energy myopia.

We’re not sure we’d blow the editorial out to rope in an entire political class – liberal lawmakers and even some environmental activists are finding nuclear more and more to their taste – but we like Bryce’s take-no-prisoners approach and good research. Even when you disagree with him, he argues his positions well. Visit his home page while you’re there – lots of interesting energy blog posts.