Monday, February 22, 2010

Hans Blix, Psychological Tricks, Editorial Picks

hans-blix-main Here’s a story we certainly had no reason to expect:

The United Arab Emirates said Monday it had appointed former United Nations chief weapons inspector Hans Blix as the head of a new nuclear advisory board of experts.

The nine-member advisory board will meet twice a year starting this February and will help the Persian Gulf state develop nuclear energy, the official WAM news agency reports, citing the ministry of presidential affairs.

Blix is Swedish. He ran the IAEA for 16 years, ending in 1998, and later became involved in the run-up to the war in Iraq when his U.N.-sanctioned commission did not locate the bruited weapons of mass destruction in that country (which, we know now, did not exist. Can’t find what isn’t there.)

We haven’t seen any quotes from Blix in the stories about this, so we’re not sure why he took the job – not to imply there’s anything wrong with his doing so, we’re just curious.

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The L.A. Times has an interesting story up around used fuel repositories. If the U.S. wants to do this successfully without running into massive NIMBY issues, as in Nevada, it should adopt the Swedish method for creating a repository.

The key, according to Claes Thegerstrom, chief executive of Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co., was a methodical, deliberate process, with a dash of human psychological insight.

Although that psychological insight makes us think a little trickery might have been involved, not really.

The industry worked closely with citizens groups, local politicians and civic groups throughout the process. It was a marked contrast, remarked one former Yucca engineer in the audience, to the process in the U.S., where the public comment period to review 6,000 pages of federal documents was 60 days.

And:

By the time the choice was narrowed to two sites, Thegerstrom noted, "some basic psychological things played a role. One was to have different options. In our case, we got to the point of having competition. That is a strong driving force."

And:

Thegerstrom said the national government in Sweden, once it enacted a law allowing a repository, maintained a hands-off policy as to its location, allowing industry officials to make the decision, in consultation with local government.

Like the United States, the Swedish nuclear industry is privately owned, so the suggestions work better than if they were coming from, say, France, which has a state controlled industry.

We find Thegerstrom’s formulation a trifle naive, but certainly well intentioned. We’re not sure the industry would want to find a repository itself, since the government has responsibility for used fuel and the industry expects it to live up to its obligations – especially given its spotty history and the fate of Yucca Mountain.

Thought-provoking, though. Take a look.

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We’ll let loan guarantees look after themselves for awhile – after this post. We did a roundup of editorials last week discussing President Obama’s announcement and found most of them remarkably positive. However, we missed The Washington Post, which did not publish an editorial until Saturday – presumably it needed more time than some of its colleagues. The result was another positive editorial:

If loan guarantees for the first batch of new plants help demonstrate that reactors can be built without the delays and cost overruns that have characterized some nuclear projects, capital will come to nuclear without as much governmental support in the future and without taxpayers actually spending much.

That’s about as good an explanation of the reason for government loan guarantees as we’ve seen so far – we’ve been pretty impressed that editorial writers in general have understood them so well.

Sometimes the Post can get itself into a bit of a tangle with dueling priorities:

Ideally, the government should make as few choices as possible about which clean-carbon technologies to promote. The best way to move to a carbon-free economy is to put an appropriate price on emissions and let the market take over.

In other words, the government shouldn’t pick winners. But the Post recognizes that that isn’t happening in this case, and that the goal is to provide a push to the financial community to give the nuclear industry a chance to prove it can build new reactors on time and on budget. The onus is on the industry, where it should be.

So, as far as we’re concerned, this is a pretty complete sweep of major editorials. We’ll take it with bells on.

Hans Blix.

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