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Showing posts from May, 2010

Bangladesh, Another Energy Bill, The Witless

We’ve been doing a number of posts about the Deepwater Horizon and how the experience of nuclear energy might act as a useful guide going forward, but let’s look at the actual nuclear energy experience today.We admit to no longer being surprised by news of a country wanting to deploy nuclear energy. Still:Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni and her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov witnessed the signing of the agreement between Russia's atomic energy corporation Rosatom and the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).Bangladesh had requested the Russian authorities to assist in establishing two nuclear reactors with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts each by 2015, the spokesman said.This is an excellent example of a country moving forward with nuclear energy where it might have chosen coal-fired plants to aid in its progress. This way, its people gain the benefits of modernization while avoiding some of the pitfalls. And it sounds like the Bangladeshi really need it:Growing concer…

On Indian Point’s Water Permit Situation

This Week In Nuclear’s John Wheeler has an excellent description of the water permit issue going on between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Indian Point nuclear plant: The NY position on Indian Point is not about protecting the environment; it is about imposing onerous financial burden on the plant to make it less competitive with the end goal of shutting the plant down for good.Don’t worry, he has facts to back up his statement. For instance:It is illogical for NY State to object to the use of wedge wire screens [to reduce the plant’s impact on fish] on the basis that the technology is experimental and unproven. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency wedge wire screens have been successfully tested in a variety of settings in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Florida, and Kansas, and on bodies of water including the St John River and the Delaware River in conditions very similar to the Hudson River. In these examples wedge wire screens e…

The Politics of Regulation

In today's Washington Post, Steven Perlstein shares thoughts on the politics of regulation after Deepwater Horizon. The title gives you his main point: "Time for Industry to End Its War on Regulation."

Perlstein cites examples of oil, coal and financial regulators being too close to, or too cowed by, the industries they oversee. He believes regulation was too lax under the Bush administration and considers it laughable that industry observers would suggest that 16 months into the Obama administration, regulation has already become too tight.

Perlstein describes the value of regulation as helping stave off low-probability events that could have devastating consequences. In the financial sector, he acknowledges that regulation may "trim profits" for the businesses involved, but insists we remember the benefit associated with this cost:

The big flaw in the business critique of regulation is not so much that it overstates the costs, but that it understates its benefi…

Recap of Calvert Cliffs Unit 3’s Environmental Impact Hearing

Rod Adams was there last night and has the scoop. Looks like the hearing was a little thin on opposition but had quite a bit of excellent support:There were several twenty somethings who talked about the plant's importance for their future prosperity and its opportunity to supply clean power for electric automobiles and advanced gadgetry. An expectant mother shared her thoughts about the importance of new nuclear power plants for future generations and growing families. A large group of people representing trade unions who would be supplying some of the 4,000 plus skilled workers who would be building the plant populated the back row wearing high visibility tee shirts with an atomic symbol and a supportive message on the back.I guess I really did not mind being one of the last speakers, it was heartwarming to hear the clear, well-considered messages of support.Not only that, Rod shared a “surprisingly honest” side discussion with one of our frequent commenters from Beyond Nuclear …

Nobelist Suggests an NRC for Big Oil

The other day, we suggested that the Price-Anderson Act might provide a model for similar legislation for the oil industry in light of the BP spill. It turns out we’re not the only one with suggestions based on the nuclear energy industry’s experience, but unlike Burton Richter, a member of the Department of Energy's Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee, we don’t have a Nobel Prize (yet) and he does, in physics.And his suggestion is much more ambitious: create a Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the oil industry. In his view, after the NRC was created:U.S. nuclear reactors went from a typical 60 percent capacity factor to more than 90 percent today, the world's best. U.S. licensing and training requirements are today regarded worldwide as the gold standard. The industry also became more profitable in the years after regulation.Now, Richter is using a comparison of the oil spill to the Three Mile Island accident, calling them “eerily similar.” That’s about as true as it was of th…

They Just Don’t Care

This not very objective comment in the Guardian about a new poll canvassing British attitudes to various energy issues struck us as interesting. After noting that public concern over global warming has drooped, Owen Bowcott continues thusly:The numbers of those interested in where Britain's electricity comes from have also slipped back, according to a survey commissioned by the energy company EDF, demonstrating what appears to be growing consumer complacency in an era of electric-powered gadgetry.Well, we wouldn’t call it complacency, really. Might it be that stirring up the energy pot didn’t generate enough muck to stick to disfavored sources? As if to demonstrate this, the poll, taken by YouVote for EDF, has more alarming news:Among Lib Dems [Liberal Democrats], the coalition party explicitly opposed to new nuclear building – as many as 58% of supporters believe "nuclear energy has disadvantages, but the country needs it to be part of the energy balance", according to…

Updated 2009 Nuclear Stats

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve updated a large number of stats on our website for the curious public as we normally do every April and May. After updating our stats for a number of years, it’s always been interesting to analyze and see how the latest numbers have changed. For instance, US nuclear plants generated slightly less electricity in 2009 than in 2008, yet nuclear’s fuel share increased from 19.6% in 2008 to 20.2% in 2009. That’s simply because electricity generation declined by four percent in the US due to that major economic setback we’re finally coming out of. FERC’s latest state of the markets report noted the following (pdf):This [2009] was the greatest decline in a single year in at least 60 years and, with 2008, the only time electricity demand has fallen in consecutive years since 1949.Below are a few summaries of our latest updates as well as links to new stats that you may be interested in.2009 Production Costs for Coal and Nuclear Tick Up, Gas and Oil Tick Dow…

Around Europe and Asia

Marketwatch takes a look at the resurgence of nuclear energy in Europe and elsewhere. Here’s the gist of it:Overall, the NEA, a division of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, has forecast the number of reactors worldwide growing to between 600 and 1,400 by 2050, from 430 today. That represents necessary investment of between $680 billion and $3.9 trillion, at roughly $4 billion per reactor.That’s a lot of economic activity. When one talks about the cost of building an energy plant, it’s easy to forget how many people and how many allied industries benefit from the project. The article has little in it you haven’t seen before, though we like writer Aude Lagorce’s taste for tidbits:Several European countries are currently building reactors, including Hungary, Finland and Poland. Others are proposing legislation to extend the lifespan of current reactors (Germany) or selecting sites for new reactors (U.K.).Do read and email it to your nuclear reluctant friends. I…

Bad News, Good News

Let’s start with the bad:The Minnesota House has rejected an effort to lift the state's ban on new nuclear power plants. Lawmakers voted 70-62 today to uphold a 1994 moratorium on the construction of nuclear facilities. The vote was an amendment to an energy policy bill. We wrote about this the other day, so thought it only fair to conclude the story – for now, anyway. Minnesota is one of the last states with such a ban in place and lifting it had seemed a near thing. Well, there’s always next year.And next year will bring a new governor. We already know that current Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is not running for a third term, supports lifting the ban – and so do two of the three Republicans running in the primary:The leading contenders for the Republican nomination -- state Reps. Tom Emmer and Marty Seifert -- both support lifting the state's ban on nuclear power.The third Republican contender, Leslie Davis, does not.Among the nine Democrats over in that primary, two support lift…

Perceptions of Risk

Mathematically, risk is expressed as Probability times Consequences. Following a tragic accident, however, public discourse focuses only on consequences. This is understandable - after the accident, we take no comfort in knowing that it was very unlikely to occur. In the case of Deepwater Horizon, which exploded 27 days ago, the consequences have been horrific: 11 souls lost, millions of gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, and millions of dollars in lost income for businesses dependent on the waters of the Gulf. Staggering as this toll is, for the companies and industry involved the damage to reputation and credibility may be just as great.

Against the focus on earthshaking consequences, risk communicator David Ropeik reminds readers of the Huffington Post that:
[F]ocusing on these high profile events...can distract us from greater risks...[We] are creating vast dead zones in the oceans off our urban coasts where runoff laced with fertilizers is feeding the growth of masive m…

Hungry?

Those of you interested in learning more about the myths and reality of "green" energy will want to put the book Power Hungry on your summer reading list. Written by Robert Bryce, editor of the Energy Tribune web site, the book describes the "cold facts" of our power needs. Bryce explores 13 myths about energy on topics ranging from wind and solar to cellulosic ethanol and electric cars.

As others on this blog have made clear, we believe the nation's energy needs require us to pursue all options. Toward that end, we think it important to be clear about the facts and trade-offs involved in energy policy choices. (An illustration of just one of those trade-offs - the amount of land required to replace nuclear generation - is provided on the NEI web site here.) In Power Hungry, Robert Bryce has attempted to share what he has learned about those facts and trade-offs that sometimes does not fit the media "template". We commend it to your reading.

A Wall Stre…

Liabilities Both Oily and Atomic

One of the issues of the oil spill in the gulf has been the issue of liability – that is, how much on the hook should BP, in this case, be for the spill. Currently the figure is $75 million. Here’s what’s been proposed:Bill S.3305, the "Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act" would cap BP's liability at $10 billion, even if damages from the gulf oil spill surpass that figure. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced this in the Senate with 14 co-sponsors. The description above is a bit inaccurate: the legislation is not specific to BP but simply amends the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to raise the amount as stated. In any event, it has now been blocked by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Why?It would be impossible or perhaps close to impossible for any energy company that is smaller than the super majors, smaller than the national oil companies, to operate in the O.C.S. [outer continental shelf]$10 billion in strict liability would preclude their ability to obtain financing…

The American Power Act: Early Support

Although Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) decided not to co-sponsor the American Power Act – a protest against its spot on the Senate’s calendar being usurped by immigration legislation – that does not mean his support for it has waned:"I believe the broad concepts we came up with before are transformational and are the most consumer and business-friendly effort to date in dealing with carbon pollution. Most importantly, they can serve as a framework in allowing America to lead in the creation of alternative energy jobs and significantly reducing our dependency on foreign oil. With these goals in mind, I am interested in carefully reviewing the details of the new proposal. Graham leaves himself an out with that last sentence, but we think he has the right idea. He does enter into contentious territory:"Abandoning drilling and fossil fuels is not a realistic option. However, it is imperative that we pause to find out what led to the historic oil spill in the Gulf and ensure that…

The American Power Act

As mentioned last night in our Twitter feed, the Washington Post has obtained a 21-page draft summary of The American Power Act; the energy and climate bill sponsored by Sen. John Kerry [D-MA] and Sen. Joe Lieberman [I-CT]. The nearly 1,000 page bill contains 12 titles and will be unveiled at a 1:30 pm ET press conference today.

This being Nuclear Notes, our attention is focused on the nuclear provisions and title, which are transcribed below:

Details on Key Provisions

Increasing Nuclear Power Generation
We have included a broad package of financial incentives to increase nuclear power generation including regulatory risk insurance for 12 projects, accelerated depreciation for nuclear plants, a new investment tax credit to promote the construction of new generating facilities, $5.4 billion in loan guarantees and a manufacturing tax credit to spur the domestic production of nuclear parts.We improve the efficiency of the licensing process.We invest in the research and development of sma…

Minnesota, Malaysia, Mcopenhagen

Here’s something we’ve been expecting for quite awhile:The Minnesota House has voted to roll back a 16-year-old ban on new nuclear power plants.The provision was added to an energy bill Thursday on a 73-59 vote. It was the first time the House has approved the proposal, which passed the Senate last year.This has seemingly taken forever – the Senate voted last year – but no complaint from us if the state is proceeding judiciously. Easy enough to put it on a back burner in our mind while waiting for the next step. But, assuming Governor Tim Pawlenty signs it, another state ban gone.---The government of Malaysia has approved the construction of a nuclear power plant with possible assistance from China or Japan. The reactor is scheduled to start operations in 2021 and will help to meet the country's soaring energy needs.  Chin said a nuclear plant was needed to meet the country's increasing demand for energy due to industrialization and to ensure energy security.Chin is Malaysia’…

A Murder of Crows

This isn’t a cozying up to wind post, but rather a how not to use numbers to make an argument post.We were listening to a Senate hearing this morning and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) mentioned that wind turbines kill a lot of birds. He said this as a kind of aside about the problems of  electricity generators other than nuclear. We have no idea why this idea has popped to the fore, but we’ve heard a lot of it lately. Here’s George Will on ABC’s This Week:"By the way, wind farms kill a lot more birds daily than are probably going to be killed in this oil spill."Well, yes and no – windmills don’t cause ecological disasters and those tend to be devastating to the future of a species, bird and otherwise. Will had expanded on this comment in his Newsweek column a few weeks ago:Wind power involves gargantuan "energy sprawl." To produce 20 percent of America's power by wind, which the Obama administration dreamily proposes, would require 186,000 tall turbines --…

Secretary Chu on the Oil Spill and a Clean Energy Future

Before addressing the Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference today, Energy Secretary Chu appeared for the full hour hour on Tom Ashbrook's "On Point." Towards the end of the show [42:20 mark] he was asked about the future of nuclear energy in the U.S. Click here for the full audio. A rush transcript is below.
Tom Ashbrook: Here’s a question from the Web, Mr. Secretary: “Does the oil spill have any implications for nuclear’s future expansion in the US? France has obviously shown it to be effective, but are there still the same low probability, high impact consequences associated with nuclear that come with drilling for oil a mile beneath the ocean surface.” You’ve pushed for more nuclear. What about the risks that come with it?

Sec. Chu: Well, here again, I think, when...we want very much to restart the nuclear industry. The nuclear reactors today, we believe, are far safer than the ones that were built 20 and 30 years ago. The really old style of reactors, for example t…

The Great Chinese Fuel Switch

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu.  Here’s an interesting item on China’s shifting energy mix. Sometimes the statistics on energy growth in emerging economies can be staggering and China is no exception. “China’s endless power-plant construction boom has accounted for 80% of the world’s new generating capacity in recent years and will continue to do so for many years to come, says Edwin Chen of Credit Suisse, an investment bank. Capacity added this year alone will exceed the installed total of Brazil, Italy and Britain, and come close to that of Germany and France. By 2012 China should produce more power annually than America, the current leader.”That’s a lot of power and through emissions—or lack thereof—China’s energy choices will affect the whole world. So, it’s interesting to see that China is attempting to diversify into cleaner fuels. “The use of power derived from coal will continue to grow…

This Generation’s TMI?

As with the Massey coal mining disaster, we have next to no comment about the whys and wherefores of the BP Energy disaster – well, except the energy sector has had too many incidents that can be described as disasters. The media is already too jammed with commentary about something that will not be fully explained for awhile and not fully understood until awhile after that. So why add to the static?But one minor meme made the nuclear radar hum and that’s the comparison of the BP spill with Three Mile Island. In practical terms, the comparison is not at all apt. The Three Mile Island accident had no environmental impact and no one died. Neither can be said of the oil spill (though no one has died due to the oil itself – the 11 rig workers, sadly, got caught in the explosion leading to the spill).Stephen Dubner at the New York times’ Freakonomics blog gets this about right in a post titled (sigh!) “Will the Gulf Oil Spill Be This Generation’s Three Mile Island?”While other countries s…