Thursday, February 25, 2010

Facebook and Small-d Democracy

facebook_pic The internet can be a bit, shall we say, free wheeling, so Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s Facebook page often finds itself awash in ill-considered comment. Or is it so ill-considered?

Case in point: [Energy Secretary Steven] Chu posted information about $8 billion in loan guarantees awarded to two new nuclear reactors. The announcement spurred his “fans” to make more than 93 comments on nuclear energy, which would be great if it wasn’t just a hodgepodge of vacuous opinion and insults — entertaining as those might be.

We’d only add that vacuous opinion aren’t limited to commenters on a Facebook page – it’s not as if cable news and op-ed pages are sterling repositories of intellectual purity – and as the story points out, some folks do bring some rigor to the discussion.

Dr. Chu, congratulations on a good decision. However, I am concerned after reading the comments here that once again, not enough money is being spent on educating the public regarding the facts about nuclear power production and/or its wastes. … Why not use this momentum to start a public education campaign as well?

And even some of the less rigorous comments get to a point.

I agree with .. about regional access to energy sources. And - with the man that understand that there is no “Silver Bullet.” Thorium - plutonium - soy beans -switch grass … Fuse baby fuse.

Even if we’re not sure what the point is.

Writer Kirsten Karosec considers this all unhelpful in the extreme. We’re not sure we agree, as Chu and his staff do soldier ahead to make their case on various issues, and the readership does grapple with it, if not always beneficially.

This is the messy part of small-d democracy and its most fascinating part – the efforts of the governed to come to grips with policy and express an attitude to it, however inchoate that expression may be. It can teach the governing class how to communicate more effectively and figure out ways to engage the pubic on complex issues. Anything that smacks of direct engagement has our vote.

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Some editorials, not necessarily about loan guarantees:

From The {Olympia Washington] Olympian:

We must have baseload generation as the foundation for intermittent, renewable power sources, and nuclear power must be part of that discussion. As a viable, economical and environmentally responsible resource, nuclear energy produces large amounts of clean and affordable electricity.

From Suburban Life [Westchester County, N.Y.) Publications:

Obama called for a “new generation of clean nuclear plants” in his State of the Union address last month and is backing it up with $8.3 billion in conditional loan guarantees to a power company consortium in Georgia and more dollars in his proposed 2011 budget for nuclear energy.

Without nuclear power, a national clean-energy policy is largely window dressing. The opportunity is here to show that the United States can build clean, safe and efficient nuclear plants.

Even where loan guarantees are not the ostensible subject, that’s likely motivating the editorials. But then again:

What more conclusive proof does one need to demonstrate the economic inviability of nuclear power, even in an industry that is 50 years old? Without such a massive financial crutch, private companies and their investors have declined to fund any new nuclear plants for 37 years — not just in the US, but anywhere in the world.

That’s from the Sydney Morning Herald. So we had to go a bit afield to find a negative editorial.

We ran into a British tabloid headline that read “The ladettes who glorify their shameful drunken antics on Facebook.” We won’t link to it, as the story is an excuse to run sleazy pictures – the tabloids thanking their gods for shameful drunken antics - but clearly, the Americans are figuring this all out faster than the British.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nuclear Software Off the Shelf

warp Looking around for software that helps greenify your life, we ran across this.

Announced Monday, one of IBM's new partnerships is with Johnson Controls, a manufacturer of products that optimize energy use in buildings. The two plan to combine Johnson's energy-efficient technologies with IBM's Tivoli software to offer customers a way to monitor and manage power usage, which IBM believes will cut costs. Specifically, building owners will be able to detect wasteful energy use, calculate greenhouse gas levels, and better manage the space in their buildings.

Tivoli is systems management software you wouldn’t see outside a fairly large enterprise – the company was founded in 1989 and bought by IBM in 1996. Interestingly, the name Tivoli has no particular meaning to the company's founders – it was essentially picked from a list – so no Danish connection.

This fits what we were poking around for, but the story goes on to cover some other IBM news:

IBM also said it has added a major customer in the form of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA is now using IBM software to monitor and manage the different power source assets throughout its plants, including fossil fuel, hydro, nuclear, and wind. The utility is using IBM's Maximo Asset Management software, including Maximo for Nuclear Energy.

The Maximo software is designed to integrate supply chain and other business processes to help customers manage all their assets under one roof. Maximo replaces the TVA's older maintenance and supply-chain software and other legacy applications.

Maximo for Nuclear Energy? – that sounds awfully niche. But no – there’s a page for it at IBM’s site. Here are its sale points:

  • Manages assets with a single approach.
  • Manages each asset’s life cycle including acquisition, work management, inventory control, purchasing, and preventive maintenance.
  • Addresses the specialized needs of the nuclear power industry such as – surveillance testing, corrective action, calibration, and procurement engineering.
  • Supports key best practice business processes defined in the Standard Nuclear Performance Model.
  • Built on a J2EE component-based Internet architecture, it easily integrates into most existing business systems.

Apparently, Maximo is also a Tivoli based tool. That last bullet point indicates it runs in a Web browser and can probably roost on any kind of server it needs to – we suspect that would be a mainframe or Unix server. Still, even it this is an adaptation of Tivoli, IBMers presumably had to visit plants to figure out what was needed and then implemented those needs digitally.

Now, this all sounds a bit like a sales pitch, but we have no real knowledge of this software – TVA does, of course – but we do know that plants do in-house software development, so many may code this kind of systems management tool internally. It’s interesting to see a commercial version – and generic implementation - of nuclear plant management. We wonder whether this kind of thing is generally viewed well or with some suspicion.

IBM wanted to hire actor Patrick Stewart from Star Trek: The Next Generation to launch OS/2 Warp in 1994, but when he was unable to do it, the company substituted Kate Mulgrew of the then unseen Star Trek: Voyager. No slight to Ms. Mulgrew, a fine actor, but the awkward switch might epitomize IBM’s problems with marketing software to the end user. It does very little of it anymore.

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.

Some Monday Morning Nuclear Blog Clips to Read

The two big posts everyone was raving about over the weekend come from Depleted Cranium’s Steve Packard and Brave New Climate’s Barry Brook. Steve clearly spent a great deal of man-hours providing a number of reasons Why You Can’t Build a Bomb From Spent Fuel. As well, Barry Brook always gets a heavy conversation going, this time by asking if climate sceptics and anti-nukes matter.

There’s also been quite the discussion lately among many of the nuclear bloggers about natural gas. Depleted Cranium came out with another great piece that refreshes everyone's memories about gas prices by using a colorful graph. Rod Adams, as always, has something to say about gas – his latest on the gas industry’s advertisements and comparing tritium leaks to a methane leak were revealing. And Kirk Sorenson jabs at Climate Progress, the Sierra Club and a little bit at Greenpeace for their lack of acknowledgement of “a catastrophic explosion [two weeks ago] at a natural-gas-fired powerplant under construction in Connecticut.”

It is quite interesting (for lack of a better word) that many of those who are in favor of renewables to reduce emissions have become willing to accept natural gas to achieve that goal (even forgetting that gas still emits). Not only that, they cry foul over any miniscule event about nuclear yet have amnesia when something major happens to their favorite energies as Kirk points out. Well, the nuclear industry is clearly held to higher standards. But I guess that’s a good thing, though, since we definitely work with superior technology.

Hope you enjoy everyone’s posts!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Vermont Yankee Advertising Campaigns Heat up

With a vote by the state Senate on the future of Vermont Yankee scheduled for this Wednesday, residents of the Green Mountain State have seen a steady increase in advertising campaigns about the plant. This print ad from the IBEW Local 300, and signed by 13 labor unions, has been running in newspapers for the last week.


The copy:
This week the state Senate may vote on whether to prematurely close a clean, reliable energy supplier that provides 1/3 of the state’s electricity without producing any greenhouse gases or air pollution. And despite what some might say, the Vermont Yankee nuclear energy facility is safe. The facility ranks at the best level in each of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 16 safety and plant performance indicators.

Members of the Senate should thoughtfully consider all of the issues surrounding operations of the plant and the long-term needs of Vermont’s residents– both the 250,000 residents that depend on the affordable electricity produced there and some 1,300 workers who are employed as a result of continued operations.

In addition to supplying reliable electricity, Entergy generates $100 million annually in economic benefits to the state and provides $400,000 to 100 local nonprofit organizations and the United Way. A vote to prematurely shut down Vermont Yankee sacrifices these benefits at a time when we can least afford it. Keep Vermont Yankee Working For Us.

In the online advertising space, Vermont Public Interest Research Group, a group opposed to Vermont Yankee, has been running a Google AdWords campaign. A Google search for "Vermont Yankee" returns VPIRG's ad [Retire VT Yankee On Time] at the top of the sponsored search results. Interestingly, they are not the lone buyers of this keyword: Vermont's Lt. Governor, Brian Dubie, a candidate for Governor, is also advertising. His message? "More Jobs for Vermont".


Friday, February 19, 2010

Rasmussen Tracks Nuclear Energy

polls-vs-results-feb5 Rasmussen Reports has released a new poll on nuclear energy in the wake of President Obama’s loan guarantee announcement. Bottom line:

49% of Americans favor the building of new nuclear power plants. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are opposed to the idea, and 24% are not sure.

We’ve seen better, but given the mood of the country in general – or at least Rasmussen’s read of it – we’re not terribly surprised. (Last year, Gallup had support for nuclear energy at 59%.) Does this mean support has shrunk – no, at least not necessarily, because Gallup and Rasmussen use different surveys, stress items differently, etc. We’d need more polls and even then, not use them to draw conclusions. The goal for advocates is to see what the trends are so one one can correct public misperceptions or weaknesses in the message. But this isn’t advertising: lies not allowed.

Here’s a few other tidbits:

Sixty-one percent (61%) of adults now believe that finding new sources of energy is more important than reducing the amount of energy Americans consume. Thirty-two percent (32%) say energy conservation is more important. These findings have remained relatively consistent for months.

This strikes us as fairly honest on the part of the polled – who wants to have the big screen TV shut off right before the voting results on American Idol?

The gender gap in energy issues continues – we’ve seen some polls that show a narrowing in this metric. Not Rasmussen, though:

Forty-seven percent (47%) of women say the billions in loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants would be better spent on the development of alternative new energy sources, a view shared by just 36% of men.

We wonder if Rasmussen explained what loan guarantees are – to a lot of people, we’re reasonably sure they sound like a handout, especially with the word “billions” attached to them. Regardless, the negatives still polled under 50% for both men and women, not bad.

So – a mixed bag. We took a look at some other recent Rasmussen findings:

61% Say Government Should Keep Out of Housing Market

Only 21% Say U.S. Government Has Consent of the Governed

28% Say U.S. Heading In Right Direction

34% Favor Raising Taxes On Those Making More Than $100,000

35% Say Stimulus Has Helped Economy, 33% Say It Has Hurt

Those are, shall we say, some very sour results. We’re surprised, in this context, that nuclear energy did as well as it did.

Polls, polls, polls! 35% think cats taste better with mustard, 25% ketchup, the rest undecided.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Concerns From the Left and Right

In what we might call a bid for equal time, we roamed around looking for some stories that took a more critical view of the Vogtle loan guarantees.

It must have been irresistible to The New York Times to see how environmentalists reacted and turned up, among others, our favorite group for reliable nuclear trash talk:

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, whose political arm endorsed Mr. Obama’s candidacy for president, said that Mr. Obama’s recent policy emphasis amounted to “unilateral disarmament.”

“We were hopeful last year; he was saying all the right things,” Mr. Pica said. “But now he has become a full-blown nuclear power proponent, a startling change over the last few months.”

The Times’ John Broder points out that this really isn’t the case:

Mr. Obama has long supported nuclear power, as a senator and as a candidate for president.

That is the case. We would agree with Mr. Pica, though, that one might not have expected Obama to make quite such a high-profile announcement of the loan guarantee announcement.

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Broder also points out that Obama has not exactly ignored core environmentalist concerns:

Mr. Obama moved quickly in his first months in office, producing a landmark deal on automobile emissions, an Environmental Protection Agency finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, a virtual moratorium on oil drilling on public lands and House passage of a cap-and-trade bill.

The climate change bill seems to have hit the back burner, but there’s a fair amount of movement elsewhere.

(Broder also ignores that environmentalists and nuclear energy advocates are not mutually exclusive groups. It’s getting downright silly to pretend they are. Bigger topic, though – we’ll look at that issue another time.)

But it can seem that some environmentalists quoted in the story really only wish that the President had pushed nuclear energy down the road a piece and led with renewables. It may be he’s simply approaching this the other way around than they’d prefer and will come back to favored approach.

But we can scarcely blame FOE and the others in the article for wanting what they want and wanting it now – though they must know the tide is mostly with them lately - and the Times certainly caught them on a bad day. So we’re sympathetic even if just a little condescending.

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We wondered how The National Review would welcome the news. The conservative magazine supports nuclear energy while tilting fairly strongly to Heritage Foundation-like absolutism on free market issues. We wondered which view would take precedence. Answer:

As a result, the nuclear industry is completely dependent on governmental approval, something that has turned it into yet another rent-seeking concern, latching on to the global warming bandwagon as its justification rather than the production of affordable, reliable, sustainable energy. In essence, the industry has happily become a ward of the state. This is not something conservatives should celebrate.

It’s not a terrible point and worth fuller debate, though we think the industry and nuclear advocates have used the “affordable, reliable, sustainable energy” argument plentifully. The fact that nuclear energy also answers to climate change issues seems a poor reason not to “latch onto” it.

No energy source in this country – which are, after all, not bounded by state lines – can be said to be free from government interaction. So the balance between private industry, public needs and safety considerations can always be tweaked one way or another. The editors see this:

The permitting process for getting a new nuclear plant built in this country is longer and more arduous than in most of the rest of the world. Litigation by environmental activists is a certainty. Construction also takes a long time (the new plants are predicted to be operational in 2016 and 2017, which is quite fast). Add these together and it can easily be 20 years from beginning the permitting process to turning the switch on, which makes it impossible to put together the requisite financing package without government loan guarantees.

This state of affairs has held sway through every conceivable partisan combination of President and Congress since the 80s without appreciable change. Obama and a Democratic Congress probably isn’t the combination most likely to look for change in this regard.

That’s also a little too much certainly in the editors’ formulation than we’re comfortable with, as we doubt they would want to exchange our approach with, say, that of China or France or Russia, where nuclear energy is state controlled. But as we say, debatable points. Engage away at the link.

Hot Off the Presses: Editorial Feedback on Loan Guarantees

41I5CKeEvTL._SS400_ How has the editorial response to President Barack Obama’s announcement of loan guarantees been? Good – really good.

Now, let’s acknowledge just for fun that the ink stained wretches of the fourth estate – now byte stained wretches too – remain far more relevant to policy discussion than falling circulation and industry crisis might lead one to believe. While all the enthusiasm may point online, the kind and quality of attention given a subject by the general public – not to mention the news agenda for a given period – is still controlled primarily by print media and its online outlets.

Whether that’s a good or bad thing, or a terribly retrograde thing, we can’t begin to judge – but when opinion begins to form around an issue, your old-fashioned purveyor of comic strips and advice columns provides a powerful voice – and can make or break developing policy of all kinds. Take it seriously or risk missing a key component in how the country understands issues.

So, that out of the way, here’s The Denver Post:

We're heartened to see the Obama administration pledge $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to back construction of two nuclear reactors in Georgia. It is a solid first step. The administration says this will be the first in a slew of commitments to future nuclear projects, which is even better news.

Do read the whole thing – if you’re a nuclear energy advocate, you’ll find it spectacularly warming.

Granted, the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer serves a pretty small market, but we were tickled by this:

The time has come to include nuclear power in a discussion of alternative energy sources, such as solar, wind and biomass. It’s also time to think about additional nuclear energy in Minnesota, in light of failed efforts to build a new clean-coal power plant.

We can only agree.

Here’s the Wilmington (N.C.) Star News:

Done right, a high-tech, safe nuclear power system should be a boon both for power users in our area as well as the many workers the industry employs here.

A lot of these editorials, you’ll note, hit the jobs issue hard – that makes sense in the current environment. The title of this one is “New nuclear power plants could mean lots of new business for area.” We genuinely think that will happen, all over.

And finally, The New York Times:

President Obama’s decision to commit $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to help build two nuclear reactors in Georgia and restart the American nuclear power industry makes good sense.

[…]

From where we sit, the risks are worth taking to get the United States back into the game, for the sake of the climate, this country’s energy future and the jobs a vibrant nuclear technology industry could create.

The title of this one: A Reasonable Bet on Nuclear Power. So Times, that.

It would be a surprise even to us if this extremely well-received move proved to be an item that helped the administration’s poll numbers. Such a result would have been unimaginable not so very long ago, but it certainly seems conceivable – if newspapers still hold some sway.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bipartisan Loan Guarantees and Who Vogtle Was

vogtle So how did Barack Obama’s announcement of the first loan guarantee go with the nabobs of the media world? Well – really well.

But let’s do some grousing and correcting anyway, since we think some media outlets are looking for a hook for the story that the facts on the ground do not fully support. For example, here’s the Washington Post:

Republicans, who have called for building as many as 100 new nuclear power plants, hailed the president's move as evidence that he has accepted their argument. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) called it a "good first step" that would pave the way for progress on climate and energy legislation.

And this is the Post’s headline:

Obama to help fund nuclear reactors : GOP energy initiative

And here’s the New York Times:

The announcement of the loan guarantee — $8.3 billion to help the Southern Company and two partners build twin reactors in Burke County — comes as the administration is courting Republican support for its climate and energy policies.

Now, really, we have no problem with characterizing this as a partisan issue in which Obama is bending to the will of the Republicans – Obama has even used it as an example of reaching across the aisle - but that would be closer to the truth if this were President Clinton instead. Nuclear energy might be said to have had more of a partisan profile in earlier decades, but that isn’t nearly as true anymore.

For example, here’s House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland):

I commend President Obama’s commitment to the development of nuclear energy as a clean and safe energy alternative and today’s announcement of a federally-backed project to build the nation’s first nuclear facility in almost 30 years. Enhancing America’s nuclear capacity is a critical component of our strategy to develop clean alternative energies that create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. 

That doesn’t sound too conflicted, does it?

Now, in sum, we really appreciate these stories – they’re balanced in a way that can seem a little “he said-she said” and the drama of Congressional hyper-partisanism is something we will just have to accept as a narrative even if the reality might be more complex. But the stories do give the news its due – this is a sea change in energy policy.

And it is bipartisan.

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clip_image001A point of curiosity: the loan guarantees have been granted to build two reactors at the Vogtle site in Georgia.

Who was Alvin Ward Vogtle, Jr., after whom the plant is named? According to his 1994 New York Time obituary, he was:

A former president and chairman of the Atlanta-based Southern Company.

Well, that makes sense. But here’s what really caught our eye in the obituary:

Captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Germany, he made four unsuccessful escape attempts. On his fifth try, in 1943, he reached safety by scaling a 14-foot barbed-wire border fence and crossing the Rhine to Switzerland.

That’s dramatic, not to mention heroic. Might make a good movie, no?

Virgil Hilts ([Steve] McQueen's character) was supposedly based on Alvin Vogtle - but while he was at Stammlager Luft III, he did not escape with the other men.

Vogtle’s wikipedia page says this too.

Maybe, maybe not. Our guess: Paul Brickhill, the author of the book The Great Escape, cherry picked elements from several lives to craft his character. If one of those was Vogtle, fine. But Vogtle doesn’t need the boost – he did what he did, and it’s enough. (Still, we hope he was able to say that he was played by Steve McQueen in a movie – why miss the opportunity?)

Further tidbit: the name is pronounced Vogle – silent “t.”

We’ll resist calling this the big dig at the Vogtle site. We love seeing it, though. And Steve McQueen – actor, racing enthusiast – and Alvin Vogtle?

ABC News - A Nuclear America

Last night, ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer led the broadcast with a 3-minute "A Nuclear America: The President is Promoting Nuclear Energy as the Country's Future" describing yesterday's presidential announcement of a partial guarantee on loans that Southern Company and its partners will borrow to construct two new reactors in Georgia.

Say what you will about the networks and broadcast news, Sawyer's program averages 7-8 million viewers. Compare this with the highest rated cable news programs: the Fox Report with Shepard Smith averages 1-2 million viewers.

A lot of people, then, watched ABC's top story, and it was a good one. In the lead-in at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, Sawyer said, "President Obama said today that nuclear power plants are good for the environment, the economy, and jobs."

Correspondent Jake Tapper noted that a lot has changed in America, in the Democratic Party, and in the nuclear power business, since 1979. Tapper cited the 550,000 homes the new reactors will warm and illuminate, the 30 million barrels of oil the new plant will offset – which President Obama said was equivalent to taking 3.5 million cars off the road.

The piece also featured sequential interviews with Patrick Moore, formerly of Greenpeace, who supports today's announcement, and with Jim Riccio, currently of Greenpeace, who does not. Tapper said that besides Moore, many other Americans, some 52 percent, have come around in the past couple decades to supporting new nuclear construction.

DOE’s Response to the 50% Default Rate Myth for Nuclear Plants

Here’s an interesting update to a post at Mother Jones on nuclear’s supposed 50% default rate:

Stephanie Mueller, Press Secretary for the Department of Energy, sent this response on Tuesday evening: "This [the CBO report] is a 7 year old analysis of legislation that was never enacted, and it is not germane to the current project—which has undergone rigorous financial analysis, is conditioned on regulatory approval, uses proven technology, and sets strict financial requirements to protect taxpayers.  Further, the project already has power purchasing agreements in place.  In other words, utilities have signed contracts agreeing to buy power from the plant for many years into the future, ensuring a stream of revenue."

Doubt these actual facts will have any effects on the critics, though. But I guess the more they continue to use this claim and the more it’s debunked, then the less credible the critics become. It’s their credibility at stake so we’ll see how long they continue to latch to this misinformation, though it could be awhile. We just have to keep bopping this myth on its head.

NEI’s VP Alex Flint Debated Beyond Nuclear’s Kevin Kamps on C-SPAN

This morning NEI’s VP Alex Flint debated Kevin Kamps (pdf) from Beyond Nuclear for about 45 minutes.

Besides disagreeing with every issue Mr. Kamps raised, I have to say he was quite smooth with his responses and did an effective job at making his case. But as Mr. Flint pointed out at 42:50, many of Mr. Kamps’ claims were “irresponsible fear mongering.”

Among the topics discussed were CBO’s debunked 50 percent default rate which is not based on past industry experience, Vermont Yankee’s tritium situation, and how loan guarantees reduce the cost of electricity to the consumer (pdf). Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Finally – Loan Guarantees

pln01122 We’ve been discussing loan guarantees for what now seems like years – about five of them in fact, as they were established as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, though guarantees specifically for nuclear energy came along a couple of years later – so it’s about time that we saw a few of them.

Here’s President Obama this morning at IBEW [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers] Local 26 Headquarters in Lanham Maryland:

We are announcing roughly $8 billion in loan guarantees to break ground on the first new nuclear plant in our country in nearly three decades. It’s a plant that will create thousands of construction jobs in the next few years, and some 800 permanent jobs in the years to come. And this is only the beginning.  My budget proposes tripling the loan guarantees we provide to help finance safe, clean nuclear facilities – and we’ll continue to provide financing for clean energy projects here in Maryland and across America.

Why?

Now, I know it has long been assumed that those who champion the environment are opposed to nuclear power. But the fact is, even though we have not broken ground on a new nuclear power plant in nearly thirty years, nuclear energy remains our largest source of fuel that produces no carbon emissions. To meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we’ll need to increase our supply of nuclear power.  It’s that simple.  This one plant, for example, will cut carbon pollution by 16 million tons each year when compared to a similar coal plant. That’s like taking 3.5 million cars off the road.

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The guarantee goes to the Southern Company, which intends to build Vogtle 3 and 4 in Georgia.

Here is Southern Co.’s press release on the loan guarantees. The company is pleased, naturally, but here’s what caught our eye:

Units 3 and 4 are expected to begin commercial operation in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

That’s fast. And, relevant to the concerns of the day:

The additions of units 3 and 4 are expected to to produce approximately 3,500 jobs during construction and an additional 800 permanent jobs once the units begin operation.

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What are loan guarantees?

Loan guarantees represent no taxpayer outlay – instead, they put the imprimatur of the government behind loan applications made to private banks, reducing risk considerably. It’s really the nuclear interests and the banks that pull the financial freight here.

Now, the government would be on the hook if a project went pear-shaped, but there’s no advantage to letting that happen – any potential nuclear renaissance would wither away if the plants cannot be successfully built and the dream of reversing climate change would wither with it.

So the onus falls on the industry to ensure that the projects do not fail. And industry would not put itself willingly into a position to fail.

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And why is the government interested in loan guarantees?

Established under Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Secretary of Energy is authorized to make loan guarantees to qualified projects in the belief that accelerated commercial use of these new or improved technologies will help to sustain economic growth, yield environmental benefits, and produce a more stable and secure energy supply.

So the government promotes these projects for the common good, recognizing that a nudge to the financial sector might get the ball rolling on what can be expensive or untested technologies – nuclear falls in the first category, with much of its costs front loaded in construction, and renewables (tend to) fall in the latter category.

NEI’s Jim Slider did a nice job of explaining this:

In essence, there are some jobs so big they are beyond what the private sector alone can do. Federal support, such as loan guarantees, enables the private sector to attract more capital to the enormous projects needed than would occur otherwise. Without that public-private partnership, the entire cost of these massive projects would be borne entirely by the federal government (i.e., the taxpayers). With federal encouragement, the private sector is willing to bear a fair share of the risk and put its money on the line to contribute to dealing with the nation's energy and environmental needs.

We’ll have more on this later. DOE Secretary Steven Chu will be speaking this afternoon. We hope to get more from Southern Co.’s CEO David Ratcliffe, too. Stay tuned.

Vogtle nuclear plant – breaking ground.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Murkowski Demurs, Obama Concurs

Murkowski Legislature Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources committee gave a speech on the Senate floor the other day:

Let’s start with nuclear energy.  During his remarks two weeks ago, the President indicated his support for a “new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.”  And to the Administration’s credit, it followed through on that one in the budget request. 

That’s pretty good – even though Alaska has no nuclear energy plants, Murkowski has always been in favor of its use. She does note some frustrations, though.

As I’ve said before, allowing the Department of Energy to guarantee more loans for nuclear plants is a step in the right direction.  But I’d remind you – it’s been a year now, and this Administration has yet to help finance a single nuclear project.

[…]

Of course, we also need to make sure America is producing the raw materials used to generate nuclear energy.  Here, again, the Administration took a step backward last year by withdrawing roughly 1 million acres of uranium-rich lands in Arizona.  As a result, our nation has lost access to some of its highest-grade uranium reserves.

These inconsistent policy issues aside, though, Murkowski is generally content with the administration’s approach to nuclear energy.

Murkowski’s contentedness ends when she gets to gas and oil, which are very important to her home state. We’ll let you discover that part for yourself.

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Obama had a rope line conversation with 1Sky’s Gillian Caldwell about advanced coal power plants (she doesn’t like them) that gave a clearer sense of the President’s views of renewable and non-renewable energy sources than anything we’ve seen before:

Caldwell: It’s got to be renewable energy. No more clean coal.

Obama: No, no, no… I disagree with you. I disagree with you. I'm going to defend… We are not going to get all our energy from wind and solar in the next 20 years…

Caldwell: Can't the market do it? Can't the market make the investment?

Obama: They can’t do it. The technology’s not there. I’ve got a nuclear physicist as my Department of Energy who cares more about climate change than anything and he will tell you you can’t get it done just through that – so you’ve got to have a transition period and do all this other stuff. Don’t be stubborn about it!

See the whole thing here.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

Oddities and Counterintuitive Snow Fall

4198063059_e09e430769_o This comment from President Barack Obama struck us as a little odd:

He said Congress needs to pass a bill that includes Republican preferences such as incentives for nuclear energy and "clean coal" technology, as well as Democratic proposals for incentives to develop alternative energy sources like solar, biodiesel and geothermal energy.

"I think that on energy, there should be a bipartisan agreement that we have to take a both/and approach rather than either/or approach," Mr. Obama said.

Obama usually seems exceptionally clued in on partisan premises, but we’re not sure we’d divide the Republican and Democratic energy preferences this way – this formulation seems left over from the 70s.

We think Congress has demonstrated a fairly comprehensive embrace of clean air technology regardless of party affiliation. Maybe the comment seems odd given the President’s own touting of nuclear energy during the State of the Union. Obama usually has this about right. 

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Speaking of odd, here’s a blog post from Chicago Tribune business writer Greg Burns:

The acquisition of Allegheny Energy by rival utility FirstEnergy Corp. shows how far cap-and-trade has fallen from the top of the nation's political agenda.

Allegheny gets 95 percent of its power from coal-fired plants, emitting 45 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, according to the blunt report here that the company prepared when cap-and-trade legislation still had momentum in early 2009. "This is a major challenge," the report concludes.

Apparently it's less of a challenge today. The $8.5 billion deal announced here Thursday includes a roughly one-third premium on Allegheny stock. That likely reflects how the potential threat of a government-sanctioned carbon-trading scheme has receded into the background.

We’re not major business buffs, but Allegheny just got bought by its rival  - which might well be just what happens - after you issue a report noting a tough environment for your company. Even if cap-and-trade fails, EPA rulemaking is still pending. Burns seems to want to make a point his example does not really support. We’ll be interested to see how FirstEnergy means to proceed with Allegheny.

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Well, odd is as odd does – this one just strikes us as assuming something unattractive about the American people:

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said the blizzards that have shut down Congress have made it more difficult to argue that global warming is an imminent danger.

“It makes it more challenging for folks not taking time to review the scientific arguments,” said Bingaman, who as the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee has jurisdiction over energy and climate change issues.

“People see the world around them and they extrapolate,” Bingaman said. “I think that it’s hard to see an economy-wide cap-and-trade [proposal] of the type that passed the House could prevail,” he added, though he suggested a more limited alternative could have a better chance.

On the other hand, the massive snow fall broke records all around, suggesting that something is not well with the weather.

While the frequency of storms in the middle latitudes has decreased as the climate has warmed, the intensity of those storms has increased. That's in part because of global warming — hotter air can hold more moisture, so when a storm gathers it can unleash massive amounts of snow.

Or a lot of rain when temperatures no longer reach 32 degrees. We suspect Bingaman knows this and was making a comment on how people see things in fairly straightforward terms – lots of snow, no climate change. But it’s not precisely counterintuitive to say that bizarre weather patterns accompany changes in the climate.

Time’s Bryan Walsh provides the correct conclusion:

Ultimately, however, it's a mistake to use any one storm — or even a season's worth of storms — to disprove climate change.

Baltimore. The row houses provide the clue.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

TVA and Crossing the T on Yucca Mountain

The other day, we listened to the hearings for the NRC commissioners - there are three open slots - but did not follow up with the TVA candidates later that afternoon. Maybe we should have:

During the hearing, each of the nominees gave a statement and was questioned by the committee members about their suitability for the role. Each nominee said that they backed TVA's use of nuclear energy.
You can read all the quotes - and who said them - at the links but here's a taster:

"In the short run, additional generation needs to come almost surely from new nuclear."
"I am pro-nuclear and I do think it needs to be part of the solution."

To support economic growth, I think we have to have low-cost power, and that additional power may have to be through nuclear."

"We've got some old dirty coal plants and, even if we were to miss the call for increased demand, I think nuclear must be part of our solution."

And that's a clean sweep of the four candidates - TVA has a nine member board.

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The Tennessee Valley Authority is a depression-era creation. The article describes it this way:

TVA was set up by the US Congress in 1933, primarily to reduce flood damage, improve navigation on the Tennessee River, provide electric power, and promote "agricultural and industrial development" in the region. Today, TVA is a federal corporation and the country's largest public power company, supplying the electricity needs of about nine million people.
That's about right. We'd only add that there were meant to be other "valley authorities," but Congress back then balked, so TVA is unique as a federal entity.

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To the credit of Environment and Public Works committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and member Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), these candidates were heard on Tuesday before Washington was snowed under (again!) that night and into Wednesday - they were scheduled for today, which wouldn't have happened. The Tennesseans are probably stuck in town for a bit, but at least they can watch cable TV and swim in the hotel pool now that they've got their hearings out of the way. Not a good time for sightseeing.

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And how did the NRC Commission hearings go? No problems for the candidates that we could pick up. More on this later, but we thought you'd find this exchange interesting (our transcript):

Boxer: I have a question here for all three of you from Sen. [Harry] Reid (D-Nevada) and you could just answer it yes or no: If confirmed, would you second guess the Department of Energy's decision to wirthdraw the license application for Yucca Mountain from NRC's review?

William Ostendorff: No

Boxer: Good. Anyone else?

William Magwood: No

Gregory Apostolakis: No

Boxer: Thank you. I think he will very pleased with that.

We doubt NRC would second-guess this in any circumstance. Consider it a crossed "t."

From one of my favorite movies still not on DVD, Elia Kazan's Wild River (1961), about the early days of the TVA.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Tritium, Tritium, Come and Get It

Besides last week being a busy week on budget proposals, loan guarantees, etc., there was quite a bit of discussion on the Vermont Yankee tritium issue. And Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee has done an exquisite job of keeping up with all of the media reports and facts that are coming out.

As she has found, there are very few times when clear communication is essential and this was one of them.

As I look at the history here, I see many opportunities for miscommunication. Underground and buried...what did these terms mean to the various players? Was Entergy asked about underground pipes, but answered about buried pipes? Did the nuclear engineer use the words buried, underground as if they were synonyms? Is John Wheeler correct about the use of underground and buried? Or is Gundersen correct in his implication that this is semantic obfuscation of a clear situation?

Were there honest communication errors?

Maybe. We’ll eventually find out.

Something that may not be quite honest, though, is Sun Sentinel’s op-ed on tritium from Beyond Nuclear’s Kevin Kamps. As Rod Adams points out, the op-ed:

is a blatant effort to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about the safety of the plant and its positive contributions to the New England environment and economy.

With a spreadsheet and knowing math, here’s what Rod calculated to put tritium quantities in perspective:

A "picocurie" is 1 x 10^-12 curies. Said another way, a picocurie is to a curie as a penny is to $10 BILLION. A curie is not a large unit; a curie of tritium has a mass of just 0.1 milligrams.

Putting all of those numbers in my spreadsheet tells me that 20,000 picocuries/liter is just 0.000000000002 grams of tritium in 1000 grams of water. You could drink that water for a year as your ONLY source of fluid and get a total dose of just 3-4 millirem which is 1/100th of the average annual dose from background radiation in the US.

Yes, there are people who claim that you can never get down to zero risk until you get to zero dose, but there is no such thing here on Earth; it is a naturally radioactive place. The radiation from such low levels of tritium is lost in the noise of natural variation.

Of course, putting risk in context is lost on some people. But as long as we continue to educate everyone on the tritium issue, the masses will eventually understand how to put this in perspective and ignore the doomsayers.

Looking forward to another week of debate, discussion and discovery!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Turkey, India, NYC

bakan-taner-yildiz Enough about the DOE budget, the blue ribbon commission and government stuff! – for today anyway.

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We weren’t quite sure what this meant:

On Wednesday the U.S ambassador met with Energy Minister Taner Yildiz to express the desire of U.S. firms to build Turkey's first nuclear power station.

Government sources have said the license for the Turkish nuclear power station may simply be handed to Moscow, which already supplies 60 percent of Turkey's gas needs, if they can agree over pricing and other technical issues.

Such a move would add to worries over the possibility that NATO-member Turkey's policies are shifting away from Ankara's traditional Western friends.

So Turkey may partner with Russia rather than the U.S. to build a plant. What we don’t get is why this means Turkey is necessarily moving away from the West. It sounds to us – even based on the bit above – that Turkey has long-standing energy ties to Russia (for better or worse) and might want to extend that.

Based on the rest of the story, it appears the worry is that Russia is foreclosing on a lot of Turkish interests and making the investor class unhappy.

Turkey's fast-growing power generation and distribution sectors as well as its gas market, tapped for liberalization, have attracted the attention of numerous investors looking to build power stations and bid for projects.

Which, we presume, is where the U.S. enters the picture. And the situation is not cut-and-dry.

A Turkish-Russian consortium led by Russia's Atomstroyexport had been the only bidder in a 2008 tender to build country's first nuclear power plant. But Turkey's state-run electricity wholesaler TETAS canceled the tender in November 2009.

Turkish Energy Minister Yildiz said that Turkey would reconsider the matter if such companies show interest in nuclear power plant project.

And that’s what the U.S. is doing – showing interest. Looks like this one is in the wait and see category.

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In this story, Craig Wilson, the Executive Director of Safe, Healthy, Affordable and Reliable Energy, makes the case for nuclear energy, although we admit we stumbled a bit when we read this:

Although there is room for these clean sources [solar, wind, hydro], the fate of communities of color, small businesses and neighborhoods overrun with high asthma rates and an abundance of dirty air power plants, relies upon sources that do not emit the dangerous greenhouse gases that contribute to growing asthma rates in New York’s minority communities.

As far as we know, there are no “dirty air power plants” planted directly within a New York City neighborhood much less “an abundance of them,” so the effect of such plants would be equally noxious where ever in the city you happen to be. Really, the whole section seems half-cooked – and the rest of the article weaves between good points and odd ones. We agree with SHARE’s general outlook, especially about the Indian Point plant, so we were a bit disappointed. See what you think.

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India seems to make all the right moves in expanding nuclear trade between itself and the U.S.:

US businesses have complained that despite the promise of the nuclear agreement, they still cannot seal deals in the growing Indian market without resolution of remaining issues.

Oops! Well, let’s see what can be done about that:

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday certified that India has placed safeguards on its nuclear facilities, taking another step toward full implementation of a landmark cooperation deal.

Phew! There are still going to be issues, but this is clearly something the Indian and U.S. governments want to make work. So far, so good.

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Nuclear Energy Budget Redux: The Republican Plan

GOP The Republicans in Congress have put together their own budget plan for nuclear energy for 2011. Here’s what they don’t like about the Obama administration’s plan:

  • Terminating Yucca Application:  Yucca is still by law the nation's solution for spent nuclear fuel, and the President's budget raises questions about how the license can be pulled without exposing the U.S. government to potentially billions of dollars in liability payments. 
  • Sham "Blue Ribbon" Panel: After nearly a year, the Obama Administration finally named its "blue ribbon" Washington panel to study what to do with spent nuclear fuel currently piling up at power plants.  Labor unions and environmental organizations are well-represented on the commission. 
  • Excluding Nuclear from Energy Legislation: The House-passed cap-and-tax energy bill, H.R. 2454, excluded nuclear power (a greenhouse gas neutral technology) from its federal renewable energy standard (RES), which would have made it easier for many States to comply with this costly mandate. 

This is heavily edited, so be sure to read the whole thing. Here is what the party calls its no-cost nuclear plan:

  • Fast Track Regulatory Process:  The bill authorizes an accelerated regulatory process for new reactor applicants, which meet certain conditions, in order to cut the time needed to permit new plants by roughly 50 percent. 
  • Health and Safety: The bill clarifies that nothing would decrease the NRC's ability to maintain the highest public health and safety standards.
  • Yucca Mountain: The bill prohibits the Administration from withdrawing the Yucca Mountain application before the NRC, and repeals Yucca Mountain's current 70,000-metric ton limitation, letting science and technology rather than politics dictate how much the repository can safely hold.
  • Recycling:  The bill requires the Secretary of Energy to use amounts in the current Waste Fund to enter into long-term contracts with private sector entities for the recycling of spent fuel, and prohibits future Administrations from blocking or hindering recycling spent nuclear fuel.
  • Tariff Suspension:  The plan suspends import tariffs and duties on imported nuclear components for five years where there is no domestic manufacturer.
  • Investment Tax Credit:  The bill expands an existing energy investment tax credit for renewable energy equipment to include nuclear and clean-coal equipment.
  • National Nuclear Energy Council: The legislation establishes a National Nuclear Energy Council to help nuclear energy related investors navigate the federal bureaucracy to efficiently bring their products and services into the marketplace.  The Council would also identify ongoing barriers to nuclear energy.
  • Mandatory Hearings for Uncontested Licenses:  The legislation would eliminate mandatory timely and costly adjudicatory hearings for uncontested license applications.
  • Temporary Spent-Fuel Storage: The plan directs the Interior Department to grant all necessary rights of way and land use authorizations needed for proposed spent fuel storage facilities if a State and locality reach an agreement with a private entity

We present this to you without much comment. We think some of the ideas may well gain some traction while others are free-market, anti regulatory items that might have trouble under a Republican administration – because undoing things can take as long as doing them, and the party seems to want to scurry things along. The Republicans are in a position to maintain ideals, though, and that’s to the good. These are ideas not put through the push-pull of a lengthy legislative process nor weighted against other energy priorities. So it’s a pretty clean set of ideas.

So read the whole thing and see what you think.

NEI Executives on Clean Skies TV

Last night, our CEO Marv Fertel discussed a number of nuclear topics with Clean Skies TV's Tyler Suiters. Several of the topics mentioned include loan guarantees, a Clean Energy Deployment Administration, and decreasing from 10 years to 6 years the time it takes to get a plant online through regulatory efficiencies. Plus, he hints at which nuclear station he thinks will be the first one built by 2016 under the NRC’s new regulatory process.

A portion of Marv’s segment will be broadcast on Clean Skies Sunday this Sunday on WJLA, Channel 7 at 9:30 a.m.

 

As well, NEI’s Communications VP, Scott Peterson, joined Clean Skies TV over the past weekend to “discuss Energy Secretary Steven Chu's new Blue Ribbon Panel and how it could affect the NRC and nuclear power.”

Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Small Reactors and Closed Minds

New Picture Here’s a novel suggestion from Stephen Bainbridge: President Obama has a ready source of nuclear knowledge in the government that could turn its attention to the industrial sector:

The Navy already operates dozens of small nuclear reactors in aircraft carriers and submarines, with an outstanding record of safety and reliability. They have an established training program that churns out nuclear-capable officers.

By analogy to the Army Corps of Engineering, we could create a Navy Corps of Nuclear Engineering. It would build and operate dozens of small nuclear power plants around the country. To address security concerns, the first plants would be built on military bases, where the garrison can provide security. Licensing costs would be cut because the government would own and operate the plants.

We can imagine any number of problems with this idea, but many points to Bainbridge for having it. We haven’t heard anything this ingenious in awhile. Be sure to read the rest; we don’t agree with all of his assertions and assumptions, but it’s very interesting.

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Bainbridge’s focus on small reactors finds an echo in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Oleg Deripaska, the chief executive of Basic Element, a Russian industrial holding company. Basic Element appears to invest in a number of companies, but since the government controls the nuclear industry through Rosatom, presumably not a lot of opportunity for him there. But lack of opportunity doesn’t mean lack of ideas:

The small- and medium-sized reactors now in development could help meet energy needs in the more remote areas of the world. They don't run on fossil fuels so their location isn't constrained by access to oil, gas or coal. Nor do they require the expensive infrastructure of national electricity grids.

These new reactors are a further improvement on everything we have learned about reliable, safe and value-for-money power generation. They remove safety problems associated with operator error and equipment failure. Their working lives will be much longer than past reactors thanks to advances in fuel technology, coolants and metal alloys. We also stand on the edge of a breakthrough with new fast reactors that can reuse fuel and leave little waste.

Babcock & Wilcox and other companies working on small reactors must be quite happy that some of the promotion work is being done for them, but we have to admit, these reactors have caught the imagination of a lot of observers. The hard part’s still to come: licensing a couple of designs and building the first units.

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Although mostly an introduction to a link elsewhere, this post from Michelle Malkin caught our eye:

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama purported to reach across the aisle by endorsing a “new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants”…before pushing cap and trade.

The nearly $4 trillion budget he released today exposes his nuclear lie.

It zeroes out funds for the besieged Yucca Mountain nuclear storage facility in Nevada — one of the few, prominent Obama campaign pledges that he looks like he’s actually fulfilling.

This encapsulates why we don’t engage partisan blogs here much. Nothing Malkin says represents an argument or point-of-view – there’s just a determination not to give an inch to a disliked politician (or political view.)

If the nuclear industry has had a good argument – and it has – it would have done itself a disservice by treating seemingly hostile politicians as dismissible or somehow, no matter what they say or do, implacably wrong. Avoiding such a stance has helped the industry while opening minds. Partisan blogs and news outlets (seem to) aim to close minds. And closed minds are the bane of policy development.

A Closed Mind by Alta Alberga.

A Comparison of Loan Guarantee Volume by Energy Technology

Since the President’s support for nuclear was made clear at the State of the Union, our nuclear critics have dramatically ramped up their opposition to nuclear, particularly on loan guarantees.

Besides continuously repeating the debunked 50 percent default rate for nuclear, one detail often neglected by our critics is how much loan volume is proposed as well as currently available for various technologies. Below is a slide used by Jonathan Silver, Executive Director of the Loan Guarantee Program Office, in a briefing on his Office’s 2011 budget.

Currently, efficiency and renewables have $52.3 billion in loan volume, advanced vehicles have $25B, nuclear has $20.5B, and the fossil and fossil/EERE mix have $12.0B. If the President’s budget proposal is passed as is, nuclear will have almost as much loan volume as efficiency and renewables.

Maybe one of the reasons our nuclear critics neglect to mention this fact is because the proposed loan volume for nuclear makes it about equal to their favorite technologies. If technologies are competing against each other, any advantage that one can get over another is part of the game. But in this case, if the US’ goal is to incentivize emission-free technologies, then certainly it should be done in a fair and transparent manner - a fact often lost on the critics.

If anyone is interested in some real facts on loan guarantees, please feel free to peruse (pdf).

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Department of Energy 2011 Budget Request

Or the nuclear elements thereof, anyway. This was written for NEI’s member newsletter, Nuclear Energy Overview, and provides a fairly thorough overview of the nuclear elements of this year’s budget request.

This is just the beginning of the annual process, with the House and Senate due to hold many hearings, grouse about this or that, and vote for more or less money requested by the administration. DOE is not immune from this process, though we wonder whether the nuclear element will not be seen as pleasing to a fairly wide swath of Congress folk. As always, time will tell.

You can pick up a pdf of the budget request here if you want to follow along.

This is original reporting.

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The DOE budget proposal for 2011 requests a tripling of its loan guarantee authority for new nuclear power plants, from $18.4 billion to $54 billion.

At the same time, the budget zeroes out the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository project, as the department expects to pull the license application within the month. DOE on Feb. 1 filed a motion with NRC’s licensing board to suspend licensing review for the project.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the increased loan guarantee authority would provide assistance to seven to 10 nuclear power plant projects.

The industry welcomed the increase and highlighted the potential for job creation. “These loan guarantees will serve as a catalyst to accelerate construction of new nuclear plants,” said Marvin Fertel, NEI’s president and CEO, “creating thousands of high-paying, long-term jobs in the process. By supporting new reactors, loan guarantees also will reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing capability for nuclear energy components.”

The loan guarantee program empowers the energy secretary to provide loan guarantees for up to 80 percent of the cost of “innovative technologies” that “avoid, reduce or sequester air pollutants or anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.”

The guarantees are not an actual appropriation and, therefore, do not represent an outlay of taxpayer dollars when the clean-energy projects are successfully completed. In fact, recipients will be charged a percentage fee. The guarantees are designed to boost investor confidence and allow worthy projects to move ahead with financing on more reasonable terms that ultimately will lower the overall cost of electricity generated by those projects.

Chu said the department “is working hard to restart the nuclear energy industry,” with loan guarantees intended to demonstrate to funding agencies that nuclear energy plants can be built without cost or schedule overruns. He said the government would not need to issue further loan guarantees after the first projects go on line, as they will demonstrate the economic feasibility of funding nuclear energy plants.

While the overall program covers a range of energy projects, it now provides $18.5 billion specifically for nuclear energy projects. DOE has not yet issued any loan guarantees under the program.

Chu also announced that DOE requested no funds in fiscal 2011 for the Yucca Mountain repository program, on direction from the administration to withdraw its license application from the NRC for a construction permit. According to the budget request, “The administration has determined that Yucca Mountain, Nevada, is not a workable option for a nuclear waste repository and will discontinue its program to construct a repository at the mountain in 2010.” 

Chu said that stopping all work on the repository does not abrogate any aspect of the government’s obligations to safely manage used nuclear fuel and radioactive waste under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as “the act only requires a path going forward.” He added that last week’s announcement of a blue ribbon commission to explore alternatives to Yucca Mountain “represents that path.”

Other notable budget items:

  • A reorganization of budget line items, with some projects such as the Generation IV advanced reactor program zeroed out and others included in new categories such as nuclear energy enabling technologies and reactor concepts research and development.
  • The new reactor concepts research and development program would explore ways to extend the life of nuclear energy plants and to study the potential embodied in small, nuclear reactors and of next generation plants to generate process heat for industrial or other uses.
  • Nuclear energy enabling technology, another new line item, would focus on potentially transformative technologies in the areas of reactors, fuel cycle approaches and reducing proliferation.
  • Nuclear Power 2010, an effort by government and industry to develop a new, faster licensing procedure for new nuclear plants has been zeroed out due to “successful completion.”
  • Cuts were made in funding for the Idaho National Labs from $173 million to $162.5 million to reflect the completion of several projects, although the lab received $4 million to process EBR-II used nuclear fuel.
  • Re-Energyse, a new program to encourage students to pursue careers in science, engineering and entrepreneurship related to clean energy, would replace the similar Integrated University Program.
  • A new International Nuclear Energy Cooperation program within the Office of Nuclear Energy would support the department’s international engagements and other commitments relevant to civilian nuclear energy.
  • A grant of $45 million would go to uranium enrichment company USEC while the company prepares to submit a new loan guarantee application for its American Centrifuge project in Ohio.

The Energy Budget Request 2011: Prelude

steve-chu_1203731c The Department of Energy’s 2011 budget request is excellent in recognizing the value of nuclear energy, mostly by simply shifting sums around to favor research a little more and increasing the loan guarantee authority to ensure more plants can be built. We’ll have more details about the budget request a little later today.

In the meantime, we thought we’d provide a little context for the nuclear good news the budget request contains. After all, many nuclear advocates thought Barack Obama’s election would have dire consequences for the growth of nuclear energy in this country. That hasn’t proven to be true, in large part due to the climate change issue, which has allowed the benefits of nuclear energy to shine out, perhaps also in part due to the appointment of the nuclear friendly Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy.

We’ve mentioned before that President Obama tends to revisit an issue several times before settling on an approach (admittedly, we were talking about a short-lived USEC controversy). For most nuclear energy advocates, his somewhat muted support (certainly present but not forcefully expressed) during the campaign caused alarm, especially contrasted with Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) full-out embrace.

But consider Obama’s view now, essentially a follow-up to his unexpected decision to lead off the energy portion of his first State of the Union by extolling the benefits of nuclear energy, expressed during his recent You Tube interview (scroll to the 32 minute mark – this is our transcription):

Nuclear energy has the advantage of not emitting greenhouse gases. For those who are concerned about climate change, we have to recognize that countries like Japan and France and others have been much more aggressive in their nuclear industry and much more successful in having that a larger part of their portfolio, without incident, without accidents. We're mindful of the concerns about storage, of spent fuel, and concerns about security, but we still think it's the right thing to do if we're serious about dealing with climate change.

While the shuttering of the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository (we’ll have more on that later, too) and the long gap between announcing the blue ribbon commission exploring alternatives to Yucca Mountain and appointing its members caused consternation among many advocates (as we’ve seen in our comments), 2009 saw the verbal tone turn strikingly positive. Various administration figures, including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Presidential advisor Carol Browner and Chu himself, gave nuclear its due and not grudgingly, either.

For example, here’s a recent quote from Chu on Bloomberg News:

“We think that [the increased loan guarantee authority] is going to enable industry to invest in 7-10 new nuclear reactors. With that, there should be enough confidence that the private sector can pick this up. That’s always been our plan. To get it started. Show that you can build reactors on budget, on time. And then let the rest be taken up by the private sector.”

That’s actually as good a rationale for the loan guarantee program (which the budget request triples, to $54 billion) as any we’ve seen – and puts the onus for it succeeding on the industry, where it belongs. But that’s what needed and Chu recognizes it.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Pro-Nuclear Bloggers Chat It Up About Last Week’s Major Announcements from the Obama Administration

Last night, seven of us had the opportunity to chat amongst ourselves about President Obama’s State of the Union, the announcement of a blue-ribbon commission, the proposal to increase loan guarantees and Vermont Yankee’s tritium quagmire.

Last week was quite an eventful week for the nuclear industry so for one of Rod Adams’s podcast shows, a number of us were asked by Rod if we could share our thoughts. The five other knowledgeable participants were:

  • Kelly Taylor, a 24 year nuclear industry professional and frequent Atomic Show guest.
  • Meredith Angwin, a physical chemist and small businessperson who has recently started publishing a blog titled Yes, Vermont Yankee.
  • Charles Barton, who blogs at Nuclear Green and Energy from Thorium.
  • Dan Yurman, who blogs at Idaho Samidat, writes for Fuel Cycle Weekly and is the blogger with the highest readership at The Energy Collective.
  • Robert Margolis, a 24 year nuclear industry professional who has operated reactors on 3 continents and is currently working in Florida.

The show is about an hour and fifteen minutes, hope you enjoy. Looking forward to the next one Rod!