Friday, January 29, 2010

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future Arrives

PH2008040201809 And that’s what they’re calling it: The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. Announced today during a telephone conference with Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Presidential Advisor Carol Browner, the commission’s charge is to provide recommendations for developing a safe, long-term solution to managing the nation’s used nuclear fuel.

The commission will be headed by former House member Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana) and former National Security Advisor (to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush) Brent Scowcroft. These men volunteer to chair the commission and show considerable devotion to public service in doing so.

The remaining 13 commission members include:

  • Mark Ayers, President, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO
  • Vicky Bailey, Former Commissioner, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; Former IN PUC Commissioner; Former Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs
  • Albert Carnesale, Chancellor Emeritus and Professor, UCLA
  • Pete V. Domenici, Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center; former U.S. Senator (R-NM)
  • Susan Eisenhower, President, Eisenhower Group
  • Chuck Hagel, Former U.S. Senator (R-NE)
  • Jonathan Lash, President, World Resources Institute
  • Allison Macfarlane, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University
  • Dick Meserve, Former Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Ernie Moniz, Professor of Physics and Cecil & Ida Green Distinguished Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Per Peterson, Professor and Chair, Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California - Berkeley
  • John Rowe, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Exelon Corporation
  • Phil Sharp, President, Resources for the Future

As you can see, this is an exceptionally well-chosen group, with various political, scientific and industrial constituencies included.

Here are some interesting tidbits:

Yucca Mountain will not be considered an option. For all intents and purposes, it’s dead.

Why not Yucca Mountain? Because, said Chu, “science has advanced dramatically” in the 20 years since Yucca Mountain was chosen and a better, safer solution is preferable and now possible.

Chu made it clear, though, that this is not a siting commission – that is, if it settles around the idea of a repository, it won’t suggest where it might be located – and of course a repository may not be one of the recommendations.

The commission is charged with delivering an interim report in 18 months and a final report in two years. The chairmen said they’d like to finish sooner.

Chu does not consider the focus on nuclear energy in President Obama’s State of the Union or the founding of the commission to represent a “betrayal” of environmentalists who supported the President’s election (nor should he – Obama was muted but definite during the election that he supported nuclear energy.)

Chu noted that nuclear energy is baseload, carbon emission free energy and, compared to fusion, for example, is well understood now.

You can see the Presidential memo ordering this commission here.

We’ll have lots more to say about this in the days and weeks ahead, but we thought you’d want the initial news quickly. As they say in the trade, breaking…

Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The State of the Union: The Reaction

s-MCDONNELL-large President Barack Obama essentially led with nuclear energy while discussing energy last night, a move that surprised many, delighted us (and more besides us) and distressed a few. It may prove to be one of the “discussed” points of the speech. Take this bit from CNET’s coverage:

"One surprise that few people would have anticipated only a few years ago: A mention of biofuels and clean coal received moderate applause. What drew the audience to its feet, cheering, was Obama's call for the construction of more nuclear power plants. Wind and solar combined produce less than 5 percent of U.S. electricity; Republicans have been calling on the administration to embrace a goal of authorizing 100 new nuclear reactors over the next 20 years."

Well, we wouldn’t say that’s exactly what Republicans have been calling for – Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) definitely – and it wasn’t only Republicans jumping to their feet, unless Democrats were just getting the circulation going. But we’ll take it.

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Here’s USA Today’s Greenhouse blog:

Is nuclear power ready for a resurgence? President Obama received standing applause, from both sides of the political aisle, when he called Wednesday in his State of the Union address for a "new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants."

To answer that opening question: Yes. The story goes on with some quotes from administration officials in support of nuclear energy. Writer Wendy Koch seems a bit quizzical about it all. Well, good – leads to learning more.

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Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia did the opposition response last night. This is a pretty terrible duty for anyone, because all attention is elsewhere, and McDonnell was a bit hamstrung by Obama’s conciliatory tone. Here are his comments on energy:

Advances in technology can unleash more natural gas, nuclear, wind, coal, and alternative energy to lower your utility bills.

Here in Virginia, we have the opportunity to be the first state on the East Coast to explore for and produce oil and natural gas offshore.

But this Administration's policies are delaying offshore production, hindering nuclear energy expansion, and seeking to impose job-killing cap and trade energy taxes.

Now is the time to adopt innovative energy policies that create jobs and lower energy prices.

See? Obama handled this pretty much as McDonnell did. Of course, McDonnell was charged with striking an overt partisan tone, which seems querulous in context. A thankless job.

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Beyond Nuclear was beyond unhappy:

In a disappointing moment during his State of the Union speech that surely must have alienated many in the environmental movement that helped elect him president, Barack Obama called for the three pillars of pollution to address U.S. energy needs.

Nuclear energy is one of those pillars – they mean used nuclear fuel, although it doesn’t even in the worst possible interpretation qualify as pollution - with oil and coal standing atop the other two. We’re pretty sure most environmentalists grant that renewable energy sources and energy conservation will only get the carbon emission reduction caboose halfway home, if that. For the rest, there may be disagreement whether to favor nuclear or, say, natural gas, but at least there’s a discussion. But if you’re going to call your group Beyond Nuclear, well, that’s the niche.

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We took a look at the Heritage Foundation’s reaction – they’re pretty reliable friends of nuclear energy. Jack Spencer’s take, however, focuses more on Heritage’s free market orientation:

If the President believes that the nation needs more nuclear power, then he should reform the regulatory system that continues to stifle progress in the industry. If he believes that we need to gain access to our domestic energy resource by drilling in our offshore waters, then he should lift the ban on those activities. And finally, if he truly wants to see wind and solar power to be commercially viable, then he must stop subsidizing those activities.

Which, if you agree, is totally right and if you don’t, totally wrong. At the very least, Heritage is “pure” enough not to leave much room for ambiguity. Your choice.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

The State of the Union

PH2010012705272 Here’s the energy portion of President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address. The third paragraph is the keeper: in discussing more jobs – the theme of this year – Obama led with nuclear energy:

Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history, an investment -- an investment that could lead to the world's cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched.

And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year's investments in clean energy in the North Carolina company that will create 1,200 jobs nationwide, helping to make advanced batteries, or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work making solar panels.

But to create more of these clean-energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives, and that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.

It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.

It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean-coal technologies.

And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.

Full transcript and video here. NEI’s response here.

Lord Love a Nuclear Plant

Lord_Hunt Now, we admit we can be a little provincial when it comes to viewing the activities of other countries. We’ve travelled and had longer than vacation-length stays in other countries – still, a little provincial.

So whenever we read a story about a British Lord, we inevitably think of a twit or a criminal rotter hiding under robes and a wig. But consider Lord Hunt:

“We have some fantastically skilled people and in terms of employment new nuclear build offers many opportunities which I want us to take. Nuclear is low carbon, it’s safe and it’s home grown.

Well, that’s about right:

“And the argument for having it in the future is very persuasive. I am very excited at the prospects for people who work in the industry, lots of investment, lots of skilled jobs.”

And so’s that. Who’s Lord Hunt? He’s the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change. We’re not sure where that puts him in the hierarchy of that department – below Secretary Ed Milliband, presumably, and with some responsibilities to the Secretary of State as well. His job description is pretty broad:

Lord Hunt leads for DECC [the Energy Department] on ensuring the UK has a secure, low-carbon and affordable energy supply.

You can look at the page for a full description, but the nuclear parts include:

Low-carbon energy supply: nuclear strategy and delivery

Nuclear safety, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, radioactive waste and international non-proliferation

Currently, he is touring around various nuclear holdings on a kind of listening tour:

“The reason we’ve had this local listening exercises (Braystones, Kirksanton and Sellafield) is because we’re reforming the planning system. It means that for big infrastructure projects like nuclear it is the role of government to set out what the energy policy is, what our needs are, then it will be up to the Independent Planning Commission to make the actual decisions on site applications.”

Seems so – so – sane. We know the British are prone to their own political fireworks, but we really appreciate Lord Hunt’s utterly direct way of stating what he’s doing and why.

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Lord Hunt also has a little blog running to say what he’s up to during this trip – two entries so far – and he demonstrates there the same calm manner as in his quotes.

Back to Penrith with half an hour to spare before setting off to Edinburgh, so plenty of time for a coffee in a nice little cafĂ© by the station. Or so I thought. Had to settle for McDonalds, but I did get to catch up with Simon Virley, my Department’s Director General for Energy, who we caught tucking into a McChicken sandwich before his train back to London.

Probably more information that Virley wanted shared. Lord Hunt further lets us know he bypassed eating and only had a coffee.

Lord Hunt. We could have missed it, but we couldn’t find Lord Hunt’s first name anywhere. He seems to be Lord Hunt all the time.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The More Molybdenum the Merrier

MolyCell4 Yesterday, we mentioned GE Hitachi is putting together a radioisotope reactor to cover the short fall from the temporary shuttering of Canadian and Belgian plants. We also teased the notion there might be more announcements of a similar sort. We didn’t expect the similar sort of announcement to, um, be announced so quickly:

One year after Babcock & Wilcox announced that it would seek to produce medical isotopes in the U.S., the company has received a $9 million boost to that project.

The National Nuclear Security Administration has awarded the grant to the Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Group, one of the company’s operations in Lynchburg [Virginia]. The money will be used to continue developing B&W’s reactor technology for isotope production, B&W announced Monday.

But it makes sense, since the NNSA was also involved in the GE announcement. The government really wants to ensure a reliable supply of molybdenum-99 and it’s clearly willing to seed the market with these grants to make it happen. Babcock & Wilcox’s plan has another benefit:

The project has garnered support from nuclear security interests because molybdenum-99 producers currently use weapons grade uranium. B&W’s project, and a similar project proposed by the University of Missouri-Columbia, would use low enriched uranium.

Better to use weapons grade uranium for this purpose than for weapons – in fact, what could be better? – but we certainly understand wanting to avoid the issue entirely.

In any event, a true nuclear good news story.

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The New York Times tells the tale of the wind:

Despite a crippling recession and tight credit markets, the American wind power industry grew at a blistering pace in 2009, adding 39 percent more capacity. The country is close to the point where 2 percent of its electricity will come from wind turbines.

Let’s note that every single New York Times story could begin “Despite a crippling recession and tight credit markets,” since anything reported in a newspaper will happen despite those things. “Despite a crippling recession and tight credit markets, more cats and dogs were born last year than in 2008.” See? Easy.

We assume this is meant to convey that the wind industry has seen an increase despite elements that would discourage it – and maybe it still has, since that number could be, say, 3 per cent without those elements – but industry and government interest in wind has assured some progress. That’s to the good – and the Times even notices it:

The group [The American Wind Energy Association] said the growth of wind power was helped by the federal stimulus package that passed a year ago, which extended a tax credit and provided other investment incentives for the industry.

But:

“The U.S. wind industry shattered all installation records in 2009, and this was directly attributable to the lifeline that was provided by the stimulus package,” said Denise Bode, the trade association’s chief executive. “The second half of the year was extraordinary. But manufacturers didn’t see much growth because they had built up so much inventory.”

We guess next year, the Times can say write, “Because of a crippling recession, etc., wind capacity suffered a shattering blow” or something similar. Frankly, we think momentum is with the wind folks. Like a turbine, it just goes round and round.

You can see the Wind Association’s press release here.

A Molybdenum cell. ANSTO Health (in Australia) is in the process of commissioning a new plant which will be used to manufacture Molybdenum-99. Molybdenum-99 is used in the basis of 80% of nuclear medicine procedures performed around the world. See here for more.

Monday, January 25, 2010

John Rowe and GE’s Radioisotopes

clip_image001In an interesting story in today’s USA Today, Julie Schmit profiles Exelon’s chairman, John Rowe. He’s always worth attending to on nuclear issues, though the selection of quotes here is, shall we say, a little strange:

"I'm very depressed."

"My dad felt about cows the way I feel about nuclear plants. They're a business, not a passion."

"We're constantly looking for something dead in the plains."

We’ll let you read the article for the context of these quotes – you’re probably curious about what’s dead in the plains.

We will let you know that Rowe is depressed about the prospect for a climate change bill this year, yet confident there will be a bill because climate change concerns won’t end. 

And Rowe insists climate legislation will be good for the environment as well as Exelon, which generates 92 percent of its electricity through nuclear energy.

We always admire Rowe for his very frank assessments and this article captures that quality if a little over-interested in some of the more colorful quotes.

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You may have heard that the supply of radioisotopes for medical use has dropped precipitously due to the temporary closing of two plants in Canada and Belgium.

The shutdown of a nuclear reactor in Canada has caused a shortage of a radioactive isotope used to detect cancers and heart disease, forcing doctors into costlier procedures that can be less effective and expose patients to more radioactivity.

That was from August of last year. As we’ve seen with the climate change bill, it might require a tidal wave over the east coast to spur Congressional action. Well, consider this a metaphorical tidal wave in the world of medical isotopes – and thus the rapidity of a practical solution.

GE said on Monday the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration awarded its GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy unit $4.5 million to develop radioisotopes using a new technology that does not require highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can also be used to develop nuclear weapons.

And what will this plant do?

GE said its technology could meet at least half of the projected supply needs for MO-99.

Technetium-99, a radioactive byproduct of MO-99, is used in more than 14 million nuclear medicine procedures in the United States each year.

And that’s just the U.S. There’s still a lot of questions, such as whether this work will continue once the Canadian plant returns to service (we would say yes, especially since GE has a nuclear medicine unit, so this is right in its roundhouse) and the relative competitiveness of its approach.

We’ve heard that other companies may have announcements in this area as well. The end result may be to free the United States from any need to import this material and, into the bargain, create a market for exports that didn’t exist here before. Both qualify as unalloyed good news.

John Rowe, not looking too depressed.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Union of Concerned Scientists Needs to Do a Bit More Research on Their Nuclear Claims

Mr. Elliott Negin, media director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, published the same jaded piece at Seeking Alpha and Greentech Media on how nuclear power is “Too Costly to Revive.” He begins by painting a somewhat rosy picture of the nuclear industry but then begins to dish it out by discussing the “industry’s Achilles’ heel” (cost of construction).

The nuclear industry likes to point out that it has low production costs, which it does. What it doesn't mention, however, are its rapidly escalating capital costs, those associated with paying the cost of plant construction, including financing.

Well, we like to tout the good cost numbers of nuclear and of course our critics like to point out the not-so-good numbers. So which is it?

According to EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2010 released last month, nuclear’s estimated costs are definitely competitive with other technologies.

If you look at the total levelized unsubsidized costs of the emission-free technologies, nuclear is a little bit more expensive than biomass, gas w/CCS and geothermal. Nuclear comes out ahead, though, of coal w/CCS, hydro, wind and solar. The unsubsidized numbers for wind and solar do not look so pretty.

So according to at least one government source, nuclear is quite competitive. Interestingly enough, in UCS’ Blueprint report that Mr. Negin cites, UCS presents older EIA cost numbers showing nuclear is competitive as well (p. 77, pdf). It appears that Mr. Negin’s “too costly to revive” claims are undermined by UCS’ own report.

The mysterious 50 percent default rate myth

Again, Mr. Negin:

based on the industry's financial track record, the Government Accountability Office estimated that the average risk of default on a federal loan guarantee for nuclear plant construction is 50 percent.

No link was provided to the GAO report mentioned here and when looking into the GAO report UCS referenced in their Climate Blueprint study (pdf), there was no mention of a 50 percent default rate for nuclear (pdf). So where does this come from?

Fortunately, since we’ve been reading UCS’ bunk reports on nuclear for a number of years, it looks like Mr. Negin is referring to this 2008 GAO report on loan guarantees (pdf).

Unfortunately for UCS, the GAO report didn’t make any such 50 percent default claim. Here’s the only mention of the default rate in the report (page 19):

Calculated from table 6 of the Federal Credit Supplement, Fiscal Year 2009. The assumptions presented for the LGP [Loan Guarantee Program] were a default rate of 50.85 percent and a recovery rate of 50 percent, which result in a loss rate of 25.42 percent when multiplied together.

According to GAO, the 50 percent default rate applies only to the loan guarantee program, not nuclear. It gets better.

If we go to table 6 of the Federal Credit Supplement that GAO cites, we will also find in row 46 in the Excel file that the assumed default rate for the loan guarantee program is 50 percent. There’s a note, however, and the note says this about the program on row 138:

Assumptions reflect an illustrative example for informational purposes only. The assumptions will be determined at the time of execution, and will reflect the actual terms and conditions of the loan and guarantee contracts.

Wait, you mean there’s no real data behind the 50 percent default rate? It’s only an “illustrative example”? Hmm, it looks like it pretty much kills UCS’ default claims.

If UCS says it then it must be right?

Back to the UCS Media Director:

The [UCS Climate Blueprint] peer-reviewed study found that a combination of low-carbon energy polices would economically reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation 84 percent by 2030. New nuclear plants would not be an cost-effective part of the generation mix…

Aw shucks. Over here, I guess we’re laboring under the delusion that cost-effective nuclear WILL be a part of the mix. A number of EIA and EPA studies confirm it, EPRI says it and even the National Academy of Sciences agrees, not to forget President Obama and the Secretary of Energy, among others. If one is really seeking alpha (financial value), truth will come in handy.

Steven Chu and The Senators

gatesmain-420x0 Secretary Steven Chu was on Capitol Hill yesterday talking to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. The discussion was wide ranging, but there’s no question the nuclear sections were the most pointed, especially notable in that Chu did not mention nuclear energy in his opening comments.

Now, we should say that Chu is notably nuclear friendly. Energy Daily (which is behind a pay wall) reported that Chu pushed hard against a directive from the Office of Budget and Management that would limit DOE spending on some nuclear technologies, including small modular nuclear reactor and fast reactor recycling of used nuclear fuel.

Asked about this by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chu said “What we … are trying to do is make our best technical assessment, and it’s a bit of a crystal ball, but the best technical assessment of what could be productive. But because it’s research, we do not want to down select. And so what you’re referring to [the Energy Daily story] is a snippet in a time of discussion where things have not been finalized and so this is a work in progress.”

(All quotes are our transcripts.)

That sounds about right while also tamping down hints of intra-administration disagreement, but it shows Chu’s desire not to let nuclear energy take second seat to its renewable cousins.

“The White House supports nuclear,” Chu said. “We see this as part of the solution. Right now, 20% of our electricity is generated by nuclear; at a minimum, we’d like to maintain that and possibly grow that. For that reason, we are working aggressively to help restart the American nuclear industry with loan guarantees, with research over the out years that could lead to more advanced, safer nuclear power. That is the policy of the administration. The details are still being worked out.”

That’s pretty definitive. Chu also answered questions from Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) about the long-promised Blue Ribbon commission to investigate the issue of used nuclear fuel.

“I am pushing as hard as I can [to empanel the Blue Ribbon commission],” he said. “These are complicated issues and there’s a process we have to go through. I’m frustrated that it’s taking as long as it has, but it’s about to happen. And I am not doing a double-talk or slow walking it.”

Corker wasn’t very impressed, but we might add here that, as long as we’ve followed energy issues, DOE is often thought (by Congress people) to be too slow in getting things done. That was true under Samuel Bodman, it’s true under Chu. We’re not saying Corker is wrong here or that DOE is not justified in taking a deliberative approach – but that’s the dynamic. Chu will doubtless hear more about it in future hearings.

The real point that emerged from the hearing is that the administration and the Senate agree that nuclear energy is an important way forward, in terms of energy security and climate change mitigation and increasing electricity capacity. The details change from hearing to hearing, but that reality underlies everything that’s said.

Let’s leave the last word to Chu, who said that nuclear energy “is a very important part of the energy portfolio we will need in the coming century to decrease our carbon footprint.”

You can watch the whole hearing here. If you know your Senators, zero in on Murkowski, Corker and Jim Bunning (R-Kentucky) – who makes a funny comment about France to support nuclear energy – and see what you think.

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We’re a little Mac-centric ourselves, but since Steve Jobs doesn’t have a Web site of his own, we’ll happily settle for Bill Gates’ new Gates Notes. Since retiring from Microsoft, Gates has been working on philanthropic activities and establishing a broader public profile for himself. Gate Notes combines the two activities.

One feature is a series of podcasts, in which Gates is interviewed on energy issues (currently – presumably, he’ll address different topics over time). He’s right up front in his support of nuclear energy:

"Nuclear energy is worth pursuing, wind and solar are good but have limitations, and the government is putting minuscule amounts of money into energy R&D dollars.”

"[Nuclear energy is] the only thing we have today other than hydrocarbons that provides a lot of power and you could build a lot more of it."

Why, yes, indeed you could. CNET has a story about Gates Notes and its goals.

We guess there’s an irony in Bill Gates doing podcasts – shouldn’t they be zunecasts? – but well worth the listen.

Bill Gates. Did you know the first version of Microsoft Excel was created exclusively for the Macintosh? True story!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Daily Kos Diarist Tells What Life is Like Working in a Nuclear Plant

Blubba, an occasional contributor at Daily Kos, began an entertaining series of posts describing the unique experiences that occur at a nuclear plant. Story #4, my favorite, highlights the interesting situations nuclear workers can find themselves in when changing in and out of anti-contamination suits (aka Anti-C):

Around 1987, just a few years out of college, I was given the job of Containment Coordinator for the annual refueling outage at the Acme Nuclear Plant. It was not a well defined job but basically entailed troubleshooting, making sure electrical cords and air hoses were secured and not posing a tripping hazard and making sure everyone was wearing their hard hats and obeying the safety rules. If a worker needed a wrench and nobody else was around I fetched it. I did whatever needed doing to keep things running safely and smoothly. So I became very proficient at dressing in and out. One day the site VP stopped by and asked that I take him on an inspection tour inside, which went well. We had exited containment and were in an area marked off with stanchions and rope where the radiation techs had laid down disposable plastic sheeting to catch any loose contamination. We had shed most of our Anti-C garb except for the shoe covers and cotton glove liners and were waiting our turn to get to the "step off pad", an area with the floor space of a telephone booth (remember those?) where we would take them off and step back into the clean. And so it was that the Site VP and I were standing in our underwear when the delegation of state legislators arrived. I need to explain two things. First, during refueling outages we frequently gave tours to officials to let them see the plant first hand, answer questions, dispel any misconceptions they had about nuclear power and generally show we had nothing to hide. The highlight of the tour was a trip to the refueling floor where they could see fuel that had been taken out of the reactor that glowed blue from the Cerenkov radiation (very cool!). The tour had to pass by the entrance to the containment to get to the elevator. The other thing I need to mention is that the hospital scrubs (called "modesty garments" in the nuclear industry) were not issued to us until about 1990 or so. Before then workers were required to strip down to their skivvies, shoes and socks before donning the Anti-Cs at a dress out area about 30 yards from the containment entrance. So the area looked like one big locker room during outages.

You can tell a lot about a man from the underwear he wears. Things you could do without knowing. I saw everything from raggedy underpants that should have been retired long ago to racy little leopard print numbers.

A few of the members of the tour recognized the VP and waved. He waved back. I was standing next to him, both of us in our tighty whities. One of the legislators or their aids was a middle-aged woman who was trying hard not to let on that anything strange was going on. But yes, it felt strange. I am now a boxer man.

Hilarious, looking forward to the next post!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Scott Brown on Nuclear Energy

4163375103_5229f4c214 Congratulations to Scott Brown (R-Mass.) on his election to the Senate yesterday. We were, as always, interested to know where he stands on nuclear energy. Answer: in a good place.

I support common-sense environment policy that will help to reduce pollution and preserve our precious open spaces. I realize that without action now, future generations will be left to clean up the mess we leave. In order to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, I support reasonable and appropriate development of alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal and improved hydroelectric facilities. I oppose a national cap and trade program because of the higher costs that families and businesses would incur.

We poked around a bit, but didn’t find anything in his stump speeches about nuclear energy. But he supports carbon emission-free energy sources in lieu of a mechanism (like cap-and-trade) to force their use.

You can reduce by conservation, wind, solar, hydroelectric, nuclear,” Brown told me [reporter Fred Thys]. “You can provide a total package and let people have different avenues and different ways to heat and light their businesses. How does government enforce that? They have their hands in pretty much everything. I’m sure there’ll be a role for government — and at some point, government needs to get out of the way, as well.”

We guess cap-and-trade or another approach would be how “government enforce[s] that,” but Brown sees such an effort as a tax. There was this exchange at the last debate.

“You’re in favor of cap and trade, which is a national energy tax,” Brown said to [Martha] Coakley.

“It’s not a tax,” Coakley replied.

“It’s a tax,” Brown insisted.

Well, technically, it’s not a tax – a direct tax on carbon emissions is a tax. Cap-and-trade creates a marketplace for carbon emission credits. The government realizes revenue only if the credits are auctioned by it to get the ball rolling – and perhaps by taxing capital gains on the credits as they increase in value.

But Brown is not the only Congress person to define it this way and he’s right that industry (and the states) have moved in the direction of renewable and nuclear energy sources. So the argument that cap-and-trade or direct government action is not necessary is certainly a defensible position.

That’s what makes elections.

And remember – this is not a partisan blog – here or in the comments.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Helping in Haiti

180px-CVN-70_Seal The USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear-powered supercarrier, steamed over to Haiti last week. It is providing considerable help:

The Vinson had arrived to Haiti loaded with thousands of bottles of water and energy drinks, 8,000 sheets and hundreds of camp beds.

And:

It also brought equipment to purify 100,00 gallons of water a day, by reverse osmosis.

(Our friends over at Pro-Nuclear Democrats have an excellent post about how it does the desalination.)

And, even better:

Since its arrival Friday, the USS Carl Vinson has treated 10 patients -- three Americans and seven Haitians.

One patient, a 12-year-old Haitian girl, even managed to receive brain surgery aboard, carried out by American neurosurgeon and CNN medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, who was in Port-au-Prince to report on the humanitarian catastrophe.

Now, the USS Carl Vinson apparently cannot open itself as a hospital boat – it’s mission here is to deliver goods - but it’s doing what it can.

Uss_carl_vinson_cvn-70 The USS Carl Vinson runs on Two Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors and can go about three million miles before refueling. But really, even with the obvious connection, who cares? It’s the good it can do that matters here.

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Thomas_MalthusWe’ve rarely – well, okay, never – seen nuclear energy tied to Thomas Malthus (1766-1834). Malthus probably doesn’t have the popular cachet he enjoyed in the 70s, when concerns about overpopulation – which he, in a potted summary, thought was inevitable in light of a striving toward egalitarianism and would result in disaster, as Earth’s resources could not support out-of-control population growth. You can read his book on population here.

In movies, these ideas led to population-control scenarios (Logan’s Run (1976) and ZPG (1970) are two) and, of course, the classic people-as-food story, Soylent Green (1973), put a nice capper on the pop corruption of Malthus’ ideas.

Writers Don Peterson and Bill Stratton, both of the the Los Alamos National Laboratory (Stratton is retired), move from the usual Malthusian construction – food will run out – to energy – fossil fuels are running out.

Without some curb [on carbon emissions], Malthus’ prediction finally is slated to come true sometime after 2050. To dodge the prediction again, only advanced nuclear technology is capable of providing the enormous and continually expanding amount of energy needed in time to cushion the impact of population growth and avoid economic collapse.

We’re always extremely dubious when anything is presented as a hedge – even a panacea – against future disaster, especially when they answer to the worries of the day. We’re not to 2020 yet – the year of Soylent Green – but we haven’t started eating people yet either. (We’d also hesitate to give Malthus 250 years lead time on any prediction he may have made.)

The article doesn’t really go as far with its conceit as it could – which is to the good – and contains a lot of interesting information. There’s even a shout-out to our old friend thorium.

Thorium – about twice as abundant as uranium in the earth’s crust – also can be used to fuel breeder reactors different from current designs. Using all the uranium and thorium is the only approach that guarantees vastly increased, reliable, energy availability well into the next millennium.

Worth a read – even if you don’t believe you’ll float toward a giant bug zapper chanting “Renew” at age 30.

U.S. May Be Able to Produce Its Own Medical Isotopes at the Clinton Nuclear Power Station

The NRC just approved a license amendment at the Clinton nuclear plant in Illinois for a pilot program “to explore the production of Cobalt-60… Cobalt-60 is a radioactive material licensed by the NRC for applications such as commercial irradiators and cancer treatment.”

As you may or may not know, there is a medical isotope shortage in the world because the reactor that produces 30-40% of the isotopes (Chalk River) is shut down. This has opened up a large opportunity to see if other suppliers can fill the gap, especially in the U.S. since we don’t have our own commercial isotope production facilities.

NRC:

The amended license allows Exelon to alter the reactor’s core by inserting up to eight modified fuel assemblies containing rods filled with Cobalt-59, which would absorb neutrons during reactor operation and become Cobalt-60. The pilot program will provide data on how the modified assemblies perform during reactor operation. Exelon has informed the NRC it plans to insert the modified assemblies during Clinton’s current refueling outage.

The NRC staff approved the amendment after evaluating the potential effects of the modified fuel assemblies on plant operation and accident scenarios.

If this program is successful, basically every reactor in the U.S. could become a medical isotope producer. Not only would nuclear plants be providing an essential commodity to our society (electricity), but they would also be saving lives. Pretty exciting stuff.

Update, 1/19, 2:00 pm: Here are a few interesting stats from GE Hitachi who's teaming up with Exelon to test the program:

The International Irradiation Association estimates that 15 million cancer treatments are carried out using cobalt-60 each year in hospitals and clinics in over 80 countries. More than 500,000 brain cancer treatments have been performed using cobalt-60.
...
In addition to cancer treatment, cobalt-60 is used to preserve food, decontaminate packaging materials, sanitize cosmetics and purify pharmaceuticals. More than 40 percent of U.S.-manufactured medical devices, including syringes and bandages, are cleaned and/or sterilized using cobalt-60.

Anti-Nuke Hypocrisies

Barry Brook published a great piece on the contradictory thinking of anti-nuclear environmentalists. It was posted a few days ago and is now up to almost 100 comments. He’s found 32 hypocrisies so far (with the help of others) and below is a taste of a few:

1. They claim renewables can replace fossil fuels, then can’t see the problem with leaning on fossil fuel gas to back them up when they fail to do so.

2. They claim nuclear can’t load follow, but ignore the fact that renewables can’t supply on-demand. (They also say nuclear can’t load follow, but forget that nuclear submarines… work).

3. They excuse gas for emitting 50% less CO2 than coal when producing electricity, but won’t accept nuclear, which emits 100% less CO2 than coal.

4. They claim we don’t need baseload power, then eagerly promote renewable baseload alternatives e.g., geothermal and solar with heat storage.

20. If someone like me comes out supporting nuclear power, then I’m no longer worth listening to because I’ve become an ‘uncritical advocate’, whereas if someone like me comes out promoting solar power I’d be one of those brave and righteous voices supporting a clean energy future.

Entertaining and well done!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Wind and The Sound

Cape Wind Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has promised Cape Cod a decision on a proposed wind farm off its coast:

Calling the nearly decade-long review of Cape Wind a "bad process" for everyone involved, Salazar said certainty was now required. U.S. Minerals Management Service — a division of the Interior Department — is the lead federal agency to review Cape Wind, leaving the final decision on permitting the project in Salazar's hands.

After years of following Yucca Mountain, we have no problem brushing off NIMBY arguments – if you’re part of the American community, you should be willing to accommodate larger needs. But Yucca Mountain is essentially invisible – it’s nowhere near people – and Cape Wind will be quite visible. So there is a difference in quality if not kind, though that doesn’t increase our sympathy all that much.

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The effort to turn back Cape Wind has picked up some interesting parties:

Salazar and Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk first met with members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). The tribes have argued that the Sound contains important archeological sites and is crucial to their religious practices. That contention is bolstered by the recent finding of the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the National Park Service that the Sound is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

And we have to say that the Cape Codders have been doing what should be done in NIMBY stories – proposing a workable alternative:

Alliance president and CEO Audra Parker suggested an alternative site for the wind farm south of Tuckernuck Island that was already part of the federal government's review of the wind farm. Salazar said such a move would require the permitting process to begin all over again.

Parker doesn’t agree and we don’t know how the Tuckernuck Islanders (it’s owned by the people who have homes there – about 35 of them – and not accessible to the general public) feel about it, but Parker makes her case in an op-ed in The Boston Globe:

As people committed to the environment, opponents recognize the need to find new, sustainable ways to generate power, but we do not believe that livelihoods and sacred grounds need to be destroyed in the process. That is why we will ask Salazar to help locate an equivalent-sized wind project at an alternative location called South of Tuckernuck Island, in federal waters southwest of Nantucket.

But let’s not assume everyone, even on Cape Cod, find this agreeable:

Make no bones about it: When the Alliance demands that Cape Wind move its wind farm to Tuckernuck Island it is not proposing a reasonable alteration to the project. No, this is a cynical cover for the real goal: To kill Cape Wind pure and simple.

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Finally, The New York Times story on Cape Wind tries a prediction:

Although [Salazar] gave no explicit clue to his intentions on Cape Wind at Wednesday’s briefing, he did say that pushing renewable energy was one of President Obama’s top priorities. And his sense of urgency on reaching a decision on Cape Wind appeared to be a sign that he was leaning toward approving it.

So we’ll see, apparently quite soon.

From 2005: Greenpeace sending a message to Robert Kennedy Jr., presumably on that bigger boat. The sign says “Bobby, you are on the wrong boat. Say yes to Cape Wind.” Well, fair’s fair: here’s Greenpeace’s page on Cape Wind.

YouTube Videos on Ionizing Radiation

Yesterday, a commenter by the name of Georg provided links to seven YouTube videos about ionizing radiation that he and Kansas State University members just created.

After viewing them, I highly recommend for anyone to take a gander on over. The voice of the videos is alluring and the graphics are simple and creative.

For me, the video on Quantities and Units of radiation (below) was the best of the seven. Understanding units of radiation is always tricky for me and I’m sure others. There are Sieverts, there are Rems, there are Becquerels and so on. The video explains it all quite lucidly.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Browner, Korea and the Chamber

Carol Browner arms folded Carol Browner, President Obama’s energy and climate advisor, said some nice things about nuclear energy:

"We have not built a nuclear plant in this country in a long time but we want to work with the industry to make that happen in the not too distant future," Browner said in a live chat on the White House website.

"We have been working with the nuclear industry to understand exactly what it is they need."

This adds Browner to the list of relevant administration figures to endorse nuclear energy (Chu, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, Obama himself), so we’ll take it.

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We were interested to see South Korea make a plant sale to UAE – the country had not seemed a major competitor before then – but the sale has unleashed ambition.

South Korea is aiming to grab at least 20 percent of the global market for nuclear reactors in the next 20 years, the government announced Wednesday.

A lot of ambition.

[Kim Young-hak, vice minister for Knowledge Economy] said by 2030, South Korea should join the United States and France as one of the world's leading builders of nuclear reactors.

The country aims to export 80 nuclear reactors by 2030, he said.

What can we say? Welcome, South Korea.

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce always has the option of staying neutral on a topic when its membership lacks consensus, but has lately taken on some hot topics, notably health care reform. However, we think the chamber has picked just about the right moment for this one, in a story about its 2010 plan:

On energy, [Chamber President and CEO Thomas] Donohue said nuclear power needs to be part of the nation's energy-producing mix. He said he has spoken to many in the environmental movement and senses a thaw in their longtime opposition to nuclear plants, which produce much lower emissions than coal-fired power plants.

We think Donohue has this about right in every aspect, and the Chamber in general has always seen nuclear energy in, shall we say, an enlightened way. So no complaint – maybe any of the chamber’s members who have issues with nuclear energy, will explore the topic more thoroughly.

Correx: We’re sure South Korea would love to sell a plant to India, but the sale was actually to UAE. Corrected. Thanks to reader E. Michael Blake for the catch.

Carol Browner wants you to know.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Pope on COP15

pope In his role as Sovereign of Vatican City, the Pope gives a speech to ambassadors each year to indicate the positions the state holds on various topics. In this year’s speech, Pope Benedict made it clear he was unhappy with the result of COP15:

Speaking in French, he said he shared "the growing concern caused by economic and political resistance to combating the degradation of the environment." The pope expressed the hope that an agreement would be reached to effectively deal with this question before the end of the year.

The President of the Vatican bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, went considerably further:

However, he said that, when applied to environmental issues, nihilism produces "even more serious damage." In this case it leads to the attempt "to solve climate problems - where much confusion reigns - through lowering the birth rate and de-industrialization, rather than through the promotion of values that lead the individual to his original dignity."

We’re not sure this is directly responsive to the conference as it is a fear as to how it could proceed when it reconvenes in Mexico City (as COP16) in December. And even then, it seems a broad stretch. But it’s a fair comment if this were to be the direction of the talks and worth raising as an objection.

Vatican City is not part of the European Union but is a member of the United Nations; it does send representatives to the COP conferences.

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We really like this quote from Pope Benedict during his World Day of Peace speech:

Man's inhumanity to man has given rise to numerous threats to peace and to authentic and integral human development -- wars, international and regional conflicts, acts of terrorism, and violations of human rights. Yet no less troubling are the threats arising from the neglect -- if not downright misuse -- of the earth and the natural goods that God has given us.

A different angle on the issue of climate change, but a very valuable one.

Pope Benedict XVI.

Anyone Listening to Dr. Caldicott Anymore?

Doesn’t look like it. Apparently she’s trying to create controversy with many in the environmental community over nuclear. Maybe nuclear really isn’t as bad as she believes . . .

A Nuclear Tussle in Minnesota

337706694_7c9a799cc3The Duluth News tries a pro-con pair of op-eds on nuclear energy that would have benefitted considerably from a more direct match-up. John LaForge of Nukewatch takes the con and Rolf Westgard, a professional member of the Geological Society of America and of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, takes the pro.

Both writers make points well worth arguing, but since they don’t engage each other, it’s impossible without further research to determine the relative validity of the arguments or how other data points would mitigate the extreme negativity on one side or the extreme positivity on the other. That leads to preaching to the converted and isn’t as useful as the News no doubt hoped for.

Here’s how LaForge kicks off:

Lofty claims about the benefits of nuclear power have been coming from the Nuclear Energy Institute’s lobbyists and others. Yet news journals, financial journals and energy journals all make clear that boiling water with uranium is the costliest and dirtiest energy choice.

Readers of this site or anyone interested in nuclear energy won’t have much trouble with this one. But LaForge knows how to debate: he references outside sources – implying but not saying that every independent source agrees with him – and raising points he really doesn’t intend to go further with – he argues for costliness but not really dirtiness. He tries a bit:

Nuclear is so dirty Germany legislated a national phase-out of its 17 reactors by 2025. That 1998 decision was based partly on government studies that found high rates of childhood leukemia in areas near German reactors. In July 2007 the European Journal of Cancer Care published a similar report by Dr. Peter Baker of the Medical University of South Carolina that found elevated leukemia incidence in children near U.S. reactors.

But this is overwhelmed by many, many studies (and not sponsored by the nuclear energy industry) that do not find such increased incidence – someone directly debating LaForge would bring those up. You can find more on radiation studies here, but you may be sure that this would be a glaring issue for nuclear energy if true and hard to overlook – meaning it doesn’t pass the smell test very well.

On the other side, Westgard puts out reasonable facts that make the case for nuclear energy well. If we had any criticism, it would be that he needed – in this forum – to take on plausible arguments rather than simply make the case.

Meanwhile, we have 103 [actually, 104] nuclear power reactors in the U.S., and they provide cost-competitive electricity to millions. Fifty-five [actually, 59] of them have been granted 20-year operating extensions by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Many more extensions are expected, including for Minnesota’s Prairie Island facility. Once amortized, nuclear plants produce power for 2 cents per kilowatt hour, including fuel.

This is true and worth noting, but also a trifle abstract while LaForge is raising leukemia fears. On the other hand, Westgard’s calm recitation goes a far way to regularizing nuclear energy as another energy source though one particularly responsive to current energy needs.

Why aren’t we in the U.S. building more nuclear plants? Nuclear energy is environmentally superior. It doesn’t emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide or particulates like soot, mercury and sulfur, which make acid rain. There are 435 nuclear electric power reactors operating safely in 30 countries. Our nuclear Navy operates safely. Thirty more nuclear plants are under construction in the world with many others in the planning stages.

Don’t misunderstand – we really appreciate the Duluth News’ goal here, and both LaForge and Westgard give their arguments their full measure. And we don’t think it would take very long for an interested reader to find out who’s closer to having a good fact set. But we always hope for more from newspaper – and especially on the web, the News could easily have had the two gentlemen mix it up more directly.

So – a somewhat missed opportunity.

The Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge. Instead of two sections of bridge inclining out of the way of passing ships, as most bridges do, the entire lower deck rises to the top portion. It takes about three minutes to raise the lower deck.

The Simpsons Turn 20. Happy Anniversary!

If you weren’t among the 13 million viewers who tuned in to watch the Simpsons 20th-anniversary special on Sunday night, here’s a clip containing the nuclear nuggets.



The full episode can be seen on Hulu here.

Congratulations to Matt Groening and James L. Brooks for creating what is now the longest-running primetime program in American television history. And a big thank you to the all of the talented writers who have made us laugh throughout the years – though maybe it’s time for Homer to get a career in a different industry?

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Whole Shocking Truth About Nuclear Energy

motherjones Nuclear Energy is never going to get an awful lot of love from Mother Jones magazine – unless the tide of support it’s seen from more progressives that way. But not yet.

In a small piece, Mariah Blake shows that the nuclear energy industry would really like nuclear energy to be considered amongst other technologies in the energy bills going through Congress – shocking, we know, but true enough – and is even leveraging growing support from Democrats and organized labor to press its cause – doubly shocking, also true.

The industry's efforts began to pay off this fall, as nuclear subsidies emerged as the key to wooing Republican votes for a Senate climate bill—votes necessary to offset defections from coal-state Democrats. Since October, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), one of the climate bill's sponsors, has been holding closed-door meetings with Republicans to craft nuclear language.

None of this is particularly diabolical – none of it crosses any ethical line or aims to suborn the public will through underhanded tactics. The nuclear industry is playing the hand it’s been dealt: It’s a good hand, with positive polls behind it and a growing base of institutional support and government interest. 

Blake isn’t really arguing against the industry’s efforts as much as suggesting that a disliked industry (by her) should not be able to so effectively marshal its resources. Yet it has done so – nuclear energy really can help solve a key problem and its stock has risen accordingly. It’s just not that hard to grasp.

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Mother Jones also named NRC Commissioner nominee William Magwood one of President Obama’s Five Worst Nominees. Why?

Even before Obama took office, Magwood called on the incoming administration to spearhead a nuclear expansion—boosterism that critics say makes him ill-suited for an agency designed to determine the safety and viability of nuclear technology.

Really? Wanting a nuclear expansion necessarily leads one to undermine “the safety and viability of nuclear technology?” That doesn’t make human sense much less logical sense, as such a person would likely be more critical of shortfalls than a more disinterested party.

Perhaps Mother Jones can come up with a “pure” candidate for NRC commissioner – be we suspect it would set a bar, well, not too high perhaps, but too eccentrically composed for anyone to meet.

Mother Jones – Mary Harris Jones (1837-1930) – the “miner’s angel” who worked tirelessly on behalf of miners, for example bringing the issue of child mine workers to the fore in the early part of the last century. Fairly radical by modern standards, her benign grandmotherly mien allowed her views a wide hearing and brought about considerable progressive reform. A fascinating labor figure.

2009 Was a Productive Year for Nuclear Energy

From a new administration in Washington, D.C., to the debate on climate change, 2009 was a busy year for the nuclear industry as the domestic fleet continued to operate at near-record capacity.

The following summary of nuclear energy in 2009 was eloquently written and compiled by one of NEI’s writers, TJ Swanek. Hope you enjoy and find it useful!

BIG CHANGES IN WASHINGTON

At the federal level, many changes took place that will affect the nuclear industry. Steven Chu, confirmed as energy secretary, oversaw increases in funding for long-term nuclear energy research in the budgeting process, including research dollars for advanced fuel cycles and Generation IV reactors.

At the NRC, Gregory Jaczko was appointed chairman, succeeding Dale Klein, who had been serving in that role since July 2006. President Obama nominated George Apostolakis, William Magwood and Bill Ostendorff as NRC commissioners to fill two vacant seats and replace Klein on the commission. If the nominees are approved, they would join current commissioner Kristine Svinicki to create a full five-member commission.

In Congress, legislation to reduce greenhouse gases inched forward with the passage of a cap and trade bill for greenhouse gas emissions in the House. The Senate is set to consider energy legislation in 2010 but has yet to bring cap-and-trade to a floor vote.

ENHANCING THE REGULATORY ENVIRONMENT

In September, the NRC proposed extending the licenses for independent spent fuel storage installations and certificates of compliance for dry casks from 20 years to 40 years.

In October, DOE announced that nuclear utilities must continue paying into the Nuclear Waste Fund as federally mandated, despite a letter from NEI requesting that DOE suspend payments into the fund in light of the administration’s moves to terminate the Yucca Mountain repository project. The Nuclear Waste Fund has a $23 billion balance.

Power uprates—which add generating capacity to existing nuclear plants—and license renewals were granted by the NRC in 2009. One combined construction and operating license was accepted by the NRC.

The NRC approved 20‐year license renewals for units at:

  • The Beaver Valley, Susquehanna and Three Mile Island plants in Pennsylvania
  • The Vogtle plant in Georgia
  • The Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey.

The NRC received applications for license renewals at:

  • The Diablo Canyon plant in California
  • The Salem and Hope Creek plant in New Jersey.

The NRC approved about 56 MW in power uprates for:

  • Calvert Cliffs units 1 and 2 in Maryland
  • North Anna units 1 and 2 in Virginia.

In September, the NRC accepted a combined construction and operating license application from Florida Power and Light for two new AP1000 reactors at its Turkey Point site.

AmerenUE asked the NRC to officially suspend its review of the company’s application for a combined construction and operating license for a new reactor at its Callaway site in Missouri in June.

During the federal budgeting process funding was reduced for the Yucca Mountain repository even though the NRC license process is continuing. The industry is awaiting the Obama Administration’s formation of a “blue ribbon” commission of experts to study alternatives to the repository as the NRC licensing process continues to move forward.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an endangerment finding that allows it to proceed with plans to regulate the emission of six greenhouse gases it identifies as pollutants. EPA’s plans would require “large emitters” of greenhouse gases to start reporting emissions in January 2010 and to use the “best available methods” for controlling them in new construction or upgrades.

Other major regulatory developments include:

State regulators also made some noteworthy changes in 2009:

NUCLEAR ENERGY’S FAVORABILITY GROWS

Policymakers and analysts have increasingly come to see that nuclear energy has a vital role to play as part of a secure, low-emissions energy portfolio, and that trend continued in 2009. Analyses of H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, by the EPA and the EIA demonstrated that substantial increases in nuclear generating capacity are essential to meet the legislation’s carbon-reduction goals.

In the EPA analysis (pdf), nuclear energy increases by 150 percent, from 782 billion kilowatt-hours in 2005 to more than 2 trillion in 2050. Assuming that all existing nuclear power plants will retire after 60 years of operation, this analysis calls for 187 new nuclear plants to be built by 2050.

In the “basic” scenario of EIA’s analysis, 96 gigawatts of new nuclear energy generation would be needed by 2030 (69 nuclear plants). This would result in nuclear energy’s supplying one third of U.S. electricity generation, more than any other source of electric power.

Public support for nuclear power remained strong. A poll in August from ABC News/Washington Post on energy policy showed that support for nuclear power is up, with 52 percent supporting the construction of more nuclear power plants, a 6 percentage point increase from a similar poll in 2001.

Bisconti Research found continued support for nuclear energy in two surveys during 2009. The surveys found:

  • 79 percent of Republicans and Independents think nuclear energy should be expanded as part of a low-carbon energy mix; 71 percent of Democrats think the same.
  • 66 percent of Americans give a high rating to the safety of nuclear power plants.
  • The public believes that solar, wind and nuclear will be the top sources of electricity 15 years from now.

Bisconti Research also found that there is strong support for building new reactors—particularly among residents near the facilities where companies are pursuing licenses for new reactors.

  • 76 percent agreed that the industry should definitely build more nuclear plants.
  • 71 percent said it would be acceptable to add a new reactor at the plant closest to where they live.

PREPARING A NEXT-GENERATION WORKFORCE

The nuclear industry is working with academia, organized labor, and state and federal government leaders to train a new generation of workers for the nuclear industry. Ensuring a well-qualified workforce to sustain operations at existing plants and build new reactors represents a challenge for the near term. Transferring industry knowledge to a new generation of workers will be essential for the continued success of the industry.

This year, major workforce stories included:

URANIUM FUEL SUPPLY

Several major suppliers signed new contracts, and the NRC accepted the first application for a laser uranium enrichment facility:

U.S. REACTORS SUSTAIN EXEMPLARY OPERATIONS

U.S. reactors continued to generate power around-the-clock at near-record capacity factors. The capacity factor of a plant is the ratio of electricity actually produced compared to the maximum electricity a power plant can produce operating at full power year-round. It is an important benchmark for the nuclear energy industry.

While final 2009 figures are not available, through November the average capacity factor for all 104 reactors was 90.5 percent, close to the record of 91.5 percent set in 2007. Also in 2009:

NUCLEAR ENERGY DEVELOPMENT ACCELERATES WORLDWIDE

Internationally, nuclear energy experienced an exciting year. China moved ahead with an ambitious plan to grow its nuclear fleet, while the U.S. opened up to nuclear trade with India and the U.A.E.

Major international stories included:

CHANGES AT NEI IN 2009

Finally, Marvin Fertel was elected president and CEO at NEI in February. NEI also launched a new integrated strategy that leverages resources of both the Institute and its members to achieve common legislative, regulatory and public policy goals.

Let us know if we missed any stories.

Friday, January 08, 2010

2009 Was a Strong Year for Reactor Construction Worldwide

One of NEI’s knowledgeable writers, Chris Charles, tallied up some promising world nuclear numbers in NEI’s weekly member newsletter. Below is his text that you may find useful.

Jan. 7, 2010—The year 2009 ended with two new nuclear reactors beginning operation worldwide and a total of 55 new units under construction, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. In 2009, 11 units began construction, portending a healthy outlook for additions to the world nuclear fleet in coming years.

Of the 11 units that began construction last year, nine were in China and one each in South Korea and Russia. The two new reactors starting up in 2009 were Japan’s 866-megawatt Tomari 3 and
India’s 202-megawatt Rajasthan 5. They both came online in December.

Given an average construction lead time of five years, by 2014 about one new large reactor per month should begin to come on line. In addition, construction was being reactivated on two twin-reactor plants, one in Slovakia and the other a floating nuclear station in Russia.

Picture of the construction of Westinghouse’s Haiyang nuclear plant in China. Westinghouse has quite the deck of pictures to peruse but make sure to check with them for permission if you would like to use them.

Lindsey Graham: As Bold As The French


We were in the mood for cheese, so of course had to look in on Wisconsin, where the mood is cheddery smooth:

A proposal that would relax Wisconsin's ban on nuclear reactors and mandate increasing use of renewable energy began its journey through the Legislature on Thursday, with Gov. Jim Doyle asserting that it could create more than 15,000 jobs.
Apparently, the legislation to do this has a problem which need not be one:

The bill would require that any nuclear reactor built in the state be designed to serve the needs of Wisconsin electricity customers only. That could violate the federal Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution, said Rep. Phil Montgomery (R-Ashwaubenon).
 We're not sure that Rep. Montgomery is right here but wonder why such a provision is even included. In any event, we should note that no electricity producer can be "designed" to do this - it's a matter of transmission, not generation and since Wisconsin, like every state, is part of a multi-state grid, we're not even sure it's really practical. But that's what the bill's sponsors want.

The bill includes language that would nullify all of the nuclear power changes if a court finds the "Wisconsin only" provision unconstitutional.
 All in all, very odd - we're noting some curdy clumps in our queso. This bill has just been proposed - let's see where it goes and what arguments emerge.

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Steve Milloy of JunkScience.com contributes an op-ed to The Washington Times that supports nuclear energy, but is really more an attack on cap-and-trade as a mechanism for controlling carbon emissions. We have no real brief on cap-and-trade vs. a carbon tax vs., well, any other or no mechanism. The world, including the energy sector, will move as it needs to, and how the government decides to apply a push will be subject to review based on its efficacy or lack thereof.

We were more interested in Milloy's rhetoric:

Little discussed is how cap-and-trade is an insidious form of anti-American social engineering.

Cap-and-trade threatens our military preparedness and our national sovereignty.

Seemingly oblivious to how cap-and-trade would force European socialism on America ...

When Neville Chamberlain came back to Britain after negotiating the Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler ...
Next time he comes out against (or for) something, Milloy should really consider pulling out the big guns.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) sees the value of nuclear energy:


Graham wants to see measures in the bill that make it easier for the nuclear power industry to expand in the United States, and he pointed to South Carolina’s considerable assets in the sector. France gets the majority of its power from nuclear, Graham noted.
“Surely we can be as bold as the French,” he said.
Surely. Graham's participation probably isn't necessary as far as nuclear energy is concerned - many Democrats have turned the corner on that issue - but he adds a valuable voice that may give the legislation a chance at a true bi-partisan profile.

He also said any energy and climate bill he would support must have approval for more domestic drilling rights for oil and natural gas. That would be politically palatable in the Senate, Graham said, and could provide a new revenue stream for states that might have considerable offshore deposits, such as South Carolina.
The bill also should have measures to protect from utility price spikes and could be curtailed if emerging economic powers such as China and India do not strive to curb emissions, he said.
We always respond positively to a broad energy outlook and Graham has one.

Sen. Lindsey Graham.