Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sweden Moves to End Nuclear Moratorium

What do you think of when you think Sweden? IKEA? Volvos? Blonds? Glögg? Smörgåsbords? Socialism? Minimalist design? Efficiency? Environmentalism? 

Nuclear energy?

Oh, yes Sweden gets 42 percent of its electricity (2008 total) (sub req’d) from nuclear power, more than double, as a percentage, the United States. In fact, 34.7 percent of Sweden’s total primary energy supply (2007 total) comes from nuclear, more than other source.

But Sweden also has a Chernobyl-era ban in place on new construction and has come to this point of time with no viable alternative to replace that 42 percent. So, it should be no surprise that last week the government of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt introduced legislation to allow the construction of new nuclear power plants

“…The government’s move to introduce a bill to Parliament this week highlights renewed interest in nuclear power as countries try to reduce their dependence on energy imports and lower their CO2 emissions … coming just six months before Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt faces a general election, it also underscores how confident many governments are in a renaissance of nuclear power. The latest opinion poll shows 52 percent of Swedes now support new nuclear power.”

The bill is scheduled for a vote in June, but the prime minister has made clear in a report where he stands. A “sustainable energy and climate policy for the environment, competitiveness and long-term stability,” released in February 2009, plots a course forward for nuclear energy in Sweden. His attitude is a clear as can be: 

“…Swedish electricity production today is essentially based on only two sources – hydropower and nuclear power. Climate change is now in focus and nuclear power will thus remain an important source of Swedish electricity production for the foreseeable future…”

The paper also has some pretty simple prescriptions on how Sweden can get there:

“…The Nuclear Phase-Out Act will be annulled. The prohibition against new construction in the Nuclear Activities Act will be lifted. An inquiry will be appointed to design nuclear power legislation that enables a controlled generational shift in Swedish nuclear power…”

The goal for Sweden will be to keep their 10 reactors up and running and phase out old reactors as they reach the end of their operating life:

“…The transitional period during which nuclear power will be in use will be extended by allowing new construction at existing sites within the framework of a maximum of ten reactors. It will be possible to grant permits for successively replacing current reactors as they reach the end of their technological and economic life…”

That’s not a full-blown restart of the industry, but it’s a far cry from an outright ban on new build. There’s also a plea in the report for regulatory stability:

“…Swedish businesses and consumers must be able to rely on there being a secure supply of energy. This requires giving energy companies long-term rules and stable operating conditions. Constantly changing rules lead to insecurity and a lack of investment, which in turn lead to high electricity prices and a failure to make the necessary adaption in response to climate change...”

Regulatory stability leading to money saved for electricity ratepayers, that’s music to our ears.

And in a good nod to current economic downturn, Swedes seem to increasingly think nuclear energy is not just good for the environment, it’s also good for the economy:

“…A poll earlier this year quoted by media showed most Swedes favored nuclear energy as the best source to protect the environment and create jobs: 26 percent versus 21 percent for wind power and 18 percent for hydro…”

Oh, and don’t forget the rather attractive long-term levelized cost of nuclear energy:clip_image002

“Some of that increased support [for nuclear energy] may be due to increased electricity prices. Last winter, spot prices for electricity in Sweden soared by up to 400 percent due to scheduled shutdowns of the old reactors and delayed start-ups, underlining what Sweden’s power prices could look like without nuclear.”

This will come to a vote in June and it will be close, so there are no guarantees. But it seems Swedes have more and more reasons each day to reconsider nuclear energy.

Something to think about next time you’re picking out some new furniture at IKEA.     

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

They Write Letters, Don’t They?

2008-04-senator-bernie-sanders Although the Senate bill being drafted by Sens. John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman has not emerged yet, we reported last week on the (leaked, not verified, don’t completely trust it) titles that will be in the bill. Nuclear energy is the subject of one of the titles.

However, we reckon some Senators have gotten a look at it and want to mark out their territory for what they’d like the bill to be. Of course, that’s part of the legislative process, but if some influence can be brought to bear as early as possible, at least favored provisions might find their way into the initial draft. Easier to keep them in if they’re part of the initial bill, perhaps, than to try to get them in later, which requires whipping committee votes

So it is that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) sent a letter to Kerry expressing concern with the legislation:

I have serious concerns about provisions that could harm our environment and provide new federal government support for polluters.

Uh-oh. Well, let’s see what Sen. Sanders would like to see included in the bill first:

  • Retain Investments in Sustainable Energy and Energy Efficiency
  • Add New Sustainable Energy Investments
  • Set A Strong Sustainable Energy Standard
  • Ramp Up Energy Efficiency
  • Provide Green Jobs Training

By sustainable, which usually includes nuclear energy, Sanders means renewable, which does not. But all right, none of this is terrible and surely Sanders just wants to make sure his priorities are not overlooked. But there’s more:

  • Offshore Drilling
  • Coal Plant Emissions

Sanders doesn’t like these.

Or nuclear:

We should not, in the name of addressing global warming, provide even more government loan guarantees and subsidies for new nuclear power, which is actually the most costly form of new energy. Independent estimates are that new nuclear plants will produce energy at 25-30 cents per kilowatt hour, even with Price·Anderson and all of the other government subsidies taken into account.

We suspect Sanders got his 25-30 cent figure from a study done by Joseph Romm at the Center for American Progress, but we can’t say we’d put much value on Dr. Romm’s overall formulations. See here for more on that

We’d probably take a look instead at the Energy Information Administration, since it’s part of the Department of Energy.

The EIA’s estimate took into account construction costs and time, operating and fuel expenses, and the costs of financing. The total system levelized cost for nuclear power was $119 per megawatt-hour (in 2008 dollars). That was lower than the estimate for wind ($149.3), offshore wind ($191.1), solar thermal ($256.6) and solar photovoltaic ($396.1).

“Levelized costs” takes account of construction as well as running costs, hence the higher base figures. Also, megawatts here and kilowatts there.

Bottom line: nuclear isn’t all that vulnerable in cost terms – even less so when one considers that nuclear plants can operate longer than the 30 years used for EIA calculations (But we won’t go there, really – this is very complex stuff). The direct link to the EIA figures is here.

For a Vermonter, Sanders has a very New York way about him – logically, since he was born in Brooklyn and moved to Vermont in 1964 (at age 23). He was mayor of Burlington during the 80s, was in the House during the nineties and most of the 00s and won his Senate seat in 2006. He can be very thundery and, when we’ve seen him in committees, very blunt and very effective at making his points.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Vermont Yankee Stats and Video Animation of Their Underground Piping System

Yes Vermont Yankee linked to some useful stats on VY from a presentation Dr. Robert Hargraves (her friend) gave at a Rotary Club in NH. In it, “Bob covered a quick history of Vermont Yankee, put the tritium issue in perspective, pointed out funding sources of the VY opponents, and demolished the simplistic arguments for replacing VY with renewables. All in less than twenty minutes!”

As well, Yes VY included an engaging “video clip of the Entergy briefing that explained how they found and fixed the leak of tritiated water.”

After much of the hoopla has died down over the tritium issue with VY, NEI’s new polling data found that only 16 percent of US adults heard or read any information in the past year about “recent releases of a very weak radioactive material called tritium from some nuclear power plants” (p. 10). On the other end, 27 percent heard or read that the federal government awarded a loan guarantee for building new nuclear power plants (p. 10).

Would have thought that the tritium issue would poll higher than 16% but I guess it goes to show that we live in a nuclear bubble at times.

Something Wrong With Greenpeace’s Comment Section At Their Anti-Nuclear Blog?

Nuclear Fissionary noted that no-one can submit comments anymore at the Nuclear Reaction blog:

I have left numerous comments on their pseudo-scientific website. I’ve also used the Nuclear Fissionary Page on Facebook to direct our readers to the Greenpeace site to make sure their antinuclear rants don’t go unanswered.

Well, it would appear that Greenpeace no longer has the stomach for debate.

While visiting the site the other day I noticed that my comments were gone. Every blogger knows that deleting comments is unethical, so I thought that GP had just decided to silence me. But then I noticed that there were no other comments either. What’s more, there was no box where readers could add to the ‘dialogue’ of the nuclear debate. The comments were just gone.

Unless there’s a technical issue with the blog, I would say this action pretty much speaks for itself.

Update 3/31/10 - Apparently they suffered a spam attack and the comments are now back on. Hmm...

Friday, March 26, 2010

The End of Cap-and-Trade

smith2 The New York Times sounds the death knell on cap-and-trade as a method for regulating carbon emissions:

Mr. Obama dropped all mention of cap and trade from his current budget. And the sponsors of a Senate climate bill likely to be introduced in April, now that Congress is moving past health care, dare not speak its name.

“I don’t know what ‘cap and trade’ means,” Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, said last fall in introducing his original climate change plan.

We’ve never had much of a brief on cap-and-trade. It’s one method to do something that should be done, but we’re neutral on what Congress (or the EPA) might eventually settle on to bring about a transition to a carbon free future. Heck, industry has already made some moves on its own, doubtless understanding that government will settle on something and trying to get ahead of the curve.

But cap-and-trade – eh!

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That doesn’t mean that it died what one might call a honorable death – it simply means that one side characterized it better than another side.

“We turned it into ‘cap and tax,’ and we turned that into an epithet,” said Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market research organization supported by conservative individuals and corporations. “We also did a good job of showing that a bunch of big companies — Goldman Sachs, the oil companies, the big utilities — would get windfall profits because they’d been given free ration coupons.”

That’s a lot of supposition there – and since oil companies support CEI, you might wonder a bit why it wouldn’t be interested in windfall profits for them. But that’s not the point – the point is that CEI (and others, too, of course) did a good job defining cap-and-trade in the most negative possible terms.

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Here’s CEI President Fred Smith (in 2006) on global warming:

Most of the indications right now are it looks pretty good. Warmer winters, warmer nights, no effects during the day because of clouding, sounds to me like we’re moving to a more benign planet, more rain, richer, easier productivity to agriculture … We’re basically to a world now that’s a lot closer to heaven than hell.

So you can scarcely blame CEI for wanting to squelch climate change legislation if only for those warmer winter nights. CEI supports nuclear energy at least in passing, but its attention is mostly elsewhere. Sourcewatch includes some interesting information about CEI.

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So, onward.

Two senators, Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, have proposed an alternative that they call cap and dividend, under which licenses to pollute would be auctioned to producers and wholesalers of fossil fuels, with three-quarters of the revenue returned to consumers in monthly checks to cover their higher energy costs.

Let’s see how this goes. We suspect that CEI’s work on cap-and-trade may well lead to some interesting ideas, such as this one, but the bottom line seems to be: carbon emissions will almost certainly be regulated because they must be reduced. That hasn’t changed significantly.

CEI President Fred Smith.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

If Wishes Were Nuclear Plants

If-Wishes-Were-Horses-LGE We’re not sure we’re looking forward to the beige box that would be Microsoft Nuclear Plant, but points to former MS CEO Bill Gates for turning his attention this way:

Gates is the principal owner of TerraPower, a spinoff from Seattle's Intellectual Ventures, founded by former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold. The company explores ways to improve emission-free energy supplies through small nuclear reactors.

The principal owner? Last time we checked, Gates characterized his involvement as that of an investor, which at least suggested a smaller stake. In any event, Gates is now looking for a partner:

According to Japan's Nikkei newspaper, Gates could put tens of millions of dollars of his own money into a joint venture with Toshiba.

"There would be demand for this type of reactor in newly developing countries," Deutsche Securities analyst Takeo Miyamoto told the BBC.

Toshiba is taking a rather low-key stance, asserting that they are only looking into TerraPower, not making any commitments at present. So what does TerraPower’s traveling wave nuclear plant do? Everything, and more:

An agreement between the companies [TerraPower and Toshiba] could be a boom to the creation of a traveling-wave reactor that runs on depleted uranium, a waste byproduct of the enrichment process. TerraPower says the reactor could supply the world's energy needs for thousands of years.

That’s the everything. Here’s the more:

TerraPower, a startup that has some funding and backing from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, aims to create small nuclear reactors that would be acceptable and safe for use in homes.

Finally, a flux capaciter! Lots more about TerraPower here.

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Bill Gates isn’t the only one with an interest in nuclear power plants:

Nearly three years ago a group of Fresno investors announced their intent to build a nuclear power plant in the Central Valley, despite a statewide moratorium on building such plants that has been in place since 1976.

That ban still holds, so quixotic, no?:

Members of the Fresno County business community also heard about the plan to bring jobs, technology and round the clock power at [a] luncheon where the head of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation, Steve Giel, says now is the time to act, "Our state can not stick its head in the sand and not deal with the issues the rest of the world is utilizing."

Er, well, this is just a bunch of folks yakking, right?

The group's new partner, AREVA, Inc. has a long track record in Europe and is developing one in the U.S. AREVA's Michael Rencheck told us the moratorium doesn't mean the Fresno Clean Energy Park can't be built now.

Rencheck goes on to say that AREVA could kick things off with some solar power and go nuclear when the ban falls.

What can we say? This is almost a nuclear fairy tale, with a lot of wishes becoming horses. Pretty soon, they won’t need cars anymore in the Fresno area.

Penelope Stowell’s book describes itself this way: “Twelve-year-old Katie Callahan and her beautiful Arabian horse Dancer have a freak accident and switch bodies. Can Andy, Martin, and Lily find a way to change them back to their original forms before it's too late? And will it be science that saves the day—or magic?” As much as we favor science,we think it might be at a bit of a loss here.

You can read more about Ms. Stowell here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Gallup: Nuclear’s Popularity Hits New High

me_nuke7 We’ve wondered whether all the attention given nuclear energy in the wake of the loan guarantee announcement would move polling numbers a bit. Whatever else may be true, President Obama remains a popular figure when he gets in front of an issue and he was front and center on this one.

Gallup begins to answer the question:

A majority of Americans have typically favored using nuclear power to provide electricity for the United States since Gallup began asking about this topic in 1994. Support has edged up in the last two years, eclipsing 60% this year for the first time. In addition, 28% of Americans now say they "strongly favor" nuclear power, also the highest Gallup has measured since the question was first asked in 1994.

We love polls and their “strongly favored” construction. If you don’t care for nuclear energy, it allows you to say that 72% do not strongly favor it. (To be fair, no one we’re aware of really tries out such a tactic – at least, not on this issue.)

The chart on the page is interesting, showing nuclear slowly losing favor from 1994 to 2001 (Clinton-Gore) and rising thereafter (Bush-Cheney, Obama-Biden). We can’t really say that the Presidents (or veeps, in the case of Gore) were determinative in forming opinion – and Gallup doesn’t - but it’s an interesting coincidence. (Another possibility: Chernobyl was still a fairly fresh memory in 1994.)

But where Obama has not been effective on this issue is with his base, Democrats, which has remained at 51% favorable for over a decade. This is an issue that resonates with Republicans and may point to the play Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) gave the issue during the 2008 Presidential campaign and perhaps also to the frequent mention of it in Congress during the energy bill debates. Republican support rose from 61% in 2007 to 74% now.

Still, both groups are over the magic 50% mark, which allows us to continue asserting that this has become (and has been, for quite awhile) a bipartisan issue. Gallup shows it, Congress and the President show that they know it.

USAToday and Reuters have picked up the story, although they don’t really expand it much from the Gallup release.

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Here’s a new way to look at nuclear energy, via our friends at the Guardian:

Like the banks, new nuclear is too big to fail. And like the banks, new nuclear depends on a more or less explicit taxpayer guarantee. Once a nuclear power station is running we will have it for the next 40 years, come what may. No responsible government could ever let a nuclear power generator go bankrupt.

Yes, it’s the old argument in a new bottle and very trendy, too. We’ve never quite heard nuclear’s capacity for running for a generation (or as it’s turning out, two generations) put as a negative. But that’s the Guardian all over.

Calvert Cliffs will run for 60 years – it was the first to get a license extension - and with new reactors, even longer. The horror!

Nuclear Bloggers Interview NRC Commissioner Dale Klein

John Wheeler, Margaret Harding, Dan Yurman, Meredith Angwin and Rod Adams had the great opportunity to interview Dr. Dale Klein who’s leaving the NRC after serving on the Commission for almost four years. The Commissioner shared a few thoughts on his legacy as well as the challenges the three new NRC commissioners face.

One of the most interesting question and comment dialogues was when Rod asked Dr. Klein about FERC Chairman Wellinghoff’s statements on baseload. For those who may not remember, the FERC Chairman stirred up the debate last year when he said that “baseload capacity is going to become an anachronism.” Here’s what Klein said in response:

“He [Wellinghoff] must have a database that’s much different than mine. I think we will have a need for baseload electrical generation for a long, long time. And the facts are the facts. There is no alternative in the near term for anything other than baseload, because for some reason people want electricity at night. They like to keep lights available, and their homes heated if they have electric heat. So I think baseload electrical generation from everything that I’ve studied, and I’ve spent my career in the energy business since the mid-70s, I don’t know how we can have an electrical generation system without baseload. The whole world has baseload systems. It’s not just the US.”

Dan Yurman also has more on Klein written by guest columnist Tamar Cerafici.

Great interviews!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Vermont Yankee Nuggets and Blogroll Update

It’s been awhile since we added anybody to our blogroll. Today we have the pleasure of adding Nuclear Fissionary who Idaho Samizdat introduced several weeks back. Jack Gamble, main contributor at Nuclear Fissionary, has done an informative job of refreshing our memories on costs, capacity factors, Chernobyl and so on.

As well as Jack’s good work, this week has been a great week for pro-nuclear bloggers out there. As many who read here know, the debate about the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is raging on. Atomic Insights knocked out some very useful information about how much total tritium leaked at VY as well as exposed the misinformation from Vermont Senate Pro Tem Peter Shumlin on Vermont Yankee.

Apparently many people in the Vermont state legislature believe solar provides 30 percent of Germany’s electricity; an achievement that gives hope for renewable advocates. Well, Rod and Meredith from Yes Vermont Yankee squashed that false info (solar provides less than one percent) as well as corrected the Pro Tem’s facts on cobalt from VY.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. This error from the Pro Tem has made some press which hopefully will get state legislators thinking a bit more realistically about replacing VY if it’s shut down.

Besides trying to keep up with all the pro-nuclear bloggers’ great content, we’ve made a few calculations on our own about VY such as carbon dioxide implications if the plant shuts down.

VY’s Impact on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

For those who may not know, ten states in the Northeast (Vermont included) have come together to begin reducing CO2 emissions using cap and trade. By 2014, their goal is to have stabilized their emissions and by 2018, hope to have emissions 10% less than the 2009 emissions they budgeted for themselves.

When digging into this, the closure of Vermont Yankee, 620 MW, looks like will have little impact on Vermont with regards to meeting RGGI limits. What’s interesting, though, is that it looks like the state of Vermont planned ahead that VY could be closed and budgeted enough allowances that a gas plant plus a small amount of renewables will be able to meet the lost supply. What’s even more interesting, is that the percent difference between what was emitted over the past three years versus budgeted is the greatest for Vermont (highlighted below). The following table contains data from the RGGI website showing the ten state’s three-year average of CO2 emissions (2006-2008) as well as their final budgeted allowances.

CO2 Data for RGGI States (short tons)

image

Since Vermont only buys 55% of VY’s generation, the state needs to find about 2.7 million MWh per year for replacement power (see calculations below). If a gas plant replaces this power, then it is estimated to emit about 1.3 million short tons per year (almost half a short ton of CO2 is emitted per MWh generated by gas).

To meet RGGI targets by 2018, which is to reduce CO2 emissions by 10% from the 2009 budget (pdf), Vermont will have 1.1 million short tons for allowances by 2018. Thus, conveniently, a gas plant and a little bit of renewables should allow Vermont to satisfy its RGGI requirements. It’s almost like the people involved in the RGGI deal-making for Vermont knew that VY can’t be replaced without fossil-fuels, a fact that all of us in the nuclear community are well aware of.

<Aside> Interestingly enough, the ten states set up the allowance program such that they’re actually allowing themselves to be able to increase emissions by a total of 4 percent by 2018 compared to the average they’ve emitted over the past three years (see table above). Though, since 2000, the ten states have reduced CO2 emissions by 18 percent due to more gas and nuclear instead of coal and oil in New York.</Aside>

CO2 Emissions Increase

A few more nuggets: assuming Vermont receives its replacement power for Vermont Yankee from its US NERC electric region mix, the estimated increase in CO2 emissions for the state would be about 1.1 million metric tons per year, equivalent to adding about 218,000 passenger cars to the road. And that’s for replacing only 55 percent of the plant’s electricity, see below.

Calculations

According to Vermont’s 2005 electric plan (p. 4-6, pdf), Vermont utilities “have a 55% contract-based share of the plant’s power output.” In 2008, VY generated 4.9 billion kWh; 55 percent of the generation is 2.7 bkWh.

The NEPOOL mix comprises of six states that are in ISO New England (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT). These states also comprise of the NERC region called Northeast Power Coordinating Council New England. According to EPA’s 2005 CO2 emissions data (latest available), the NPCCNE has an annual CO2 emission rate of 928 pounds/MWh.

If we multiply 2.7 bkWh times 928 pounds/MWh and convert to metric tons (divide by 2,205 pounds), we find that the CO2 emissions increase for Vermont would be 1.1 million metric tons per year. The metric tons of CO2 released per passenger car according to EPA is 5.19 per year - 1.1 million metric tons divided by 5.19 metric tons equals 218,000 passenger cars.

If you’re not yet tired of reading these calculations, just remember that if you use these for CO2, some in this post are in metric tons and some are in short tons. We at NEI use metric tons for CO2 because EIA and EPA use it as well. RGGI doesn’t, however, so keep that in mind just in case a nuclear critic gets real picky.

Hope you find this useful!

France and Loans, Sweden and Polls

OB-HT929_sarkoz_D_20100308083305 French President Nicholas Sarkozy wants you to know:

I do not understand why international financial institutions and development banks do not finance civil nuclear energy projects," Mr. Sarkozy said. "The current situation means that countries are condemned to rely on more costly energy that causes greater pollution."

So true. And happily, Sarkozy’s in a position to do something about it:

The French president said he would propose to change that situation. "The World Bank, the EBRD [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development] and the other development banks must make a wholehearted commitment to finance such projects," he said.

France knows its beans when it comes to nuclear energy, since it generates 80% of its electricity that way. So Sarkozy might be able to get the ball rolling here – of course, tight lending remains the watchword all over, but perhaps the European Union would benefit from American-style loan guarantees.

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This caught us by surprise:

Separately, Mr. Sarkozy said he wants to boost nuclear expertise through expanding training opportunities. "I have decided to step up our efforts by creating an International Nuclear Energy Institute that will include an International Nuclear Energy School," Mr. Sarkozy said.

The iNEI may sound like an Apple-branded nuclear plant but color us flattered.

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Who would most want to use Sweden as a nuclear poster child, the nuclear energy industry or groups that dislike nuclear energy. Sweden gets a bit under half of its electricity from the atom, so it isn’t quite as entrenched there as in France, and the country has only recently turned away a ban on new construction – although new reactors can only be built on existing sites. (The ban was by referendum, so nuclear became very unpopular, in this instance in the shadow of Chernobyl.)

So a new poll provides at least a few answers:

The poll showed that 52% of Swedes support the continued use of nuclear energy, 30% support the replacement of Sweden's current fleet of power reactors when they have reached the end of their operating lives and 22% think that additional new reactors should be built.

So – a mixed bag, with nuclear just over the magic 50% number. To nuclear advocates, this can only be construed as a net good, as it shows a strong rebound after what must have been notable disapproval when the ban passed in 1980.

The rest needs more numbers and slightly better explication (or we’d need to speak Swedish better to parse it ourselves). As is, we’re not sure the second two numbers are subsets of the 52%. They wouldn’t seem so, but they add together right.

SKGS president Kenneth Eriksson commented, "Although the study was conducted at a time when nuclear power was challenged, following disruptions and high electricity prices, support for nuclear power is strong." He added, "It is reasonable to assume that the support would have been even higher in a more normal year."

If so, perhaps the 2011 poll will show better numbers – but, frankly, we wouldn’t expect Eriksson to say anything different about this one, and his words do suggest disappointment. “Nuclear energy - disruptions and high electricity prices” is not a very good slogan and may not be – is even likely not to be – due to nuclear energy.  (We doubt it could get to 52% in that case.)

The conclusion? Sweden may not be the best go-to place to prove one thing or another, at least from a PR point-of-view. Nuclear energy has majority support and Swedes want to go forward with it, but after that, it’s hard to interpret the tepid numbers except perhaps as soft support. Eriksson might be onto something, though, so it may be worth tabling the discussion until next year to see where the trend goes.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Preview of Graham-Kerry-Lieberman

x5ljciodc5o8yhf9zin7_thumb[1] Some news about the climate change legislation being developed by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) emerged from meetings they had with industry representatives.

According to several sources in the meeting room, the bill will call for greenhouse gas curbs across multiple economic sectors, with a target of reducing emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Power plant emissions would be regulated in 2012, with other major industrial sources phased in starting in 2016.

That’s fairly ambitious and exactly the same amounts as the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the house last summer. The particulars of the bill get a bit of a rehearsal in the story. Not much on nuclear energy, except this:

Overall, the bill will include eight titles: Refining, America's Farmers, Consumer Refunds, Clean Energy Innovation, Coal, Natural Gas, Nuclear and Energy Independence, according to sources.

Normally, we’d wait until the official unveiling of the bill to tell you something about it, but since this has hit the New York Times and mostly been affirmed by Sen. Kerry, it’s worth noting if not yet quite worth discussing. Consider this an early warning – we’ll go over the nuclear title when the legislation is officially unveiled.

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Poland has chosen a site for a new nuclear plant.

The survey identified Zarnowiec, located on the Baltic Sea 40km from Gdansk, as the best location for the first NPP to be built in the country by 2020. This site is near the site of Baltic NPP, which is currently under construction in the Neman district of Kaliningrad.

Poland tried to build a plant here in 1972, but did not finish it. Maybe that’s the site that will house the new reactor.

And why the interest in a new plant?

Nuclear new build will contribute to reducing the country’s reliance on coal, which currently accounts for 90% of Poland’s electricity production. In addition, over the last few years Poland has experienced significant economic growth and electricity consumption is expected to rise by 80%-93% by 2025.

We don’t know where Poland is with carbon capture and sequestration, but the country has determined that a nuclear plant can take over some of the load. And it can.

Quite the toasty buffet offered by this Zarnowiec hotel. For the record, that’s not a nuclear energy plant behind it.

Debating, Constructing, Demanding

jakarta_by_night_-4 Discovery News poses a series of questions to Tom Kaufmann, NEI’s senior media relations manager and Edwin Lyman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. We really like this kind of interaction, but perhaps we could make a suggestion.

Here’s a question:

Often times the topic of Chernobyl comes up when nuclear energy is mentioned. Could a Chernobyl-type accident happen in the United States at a nuclear power plant?

Here’s how Kauffman starts out:

No. A Chernobyl-type accident can’t happen in the United States. It’s physically impossible.

And then Lyman:

The short answer is yes. An accident resulting in a large radiological release to the environment comparable to or worse than that of Chernobyl could definitely occur at a U.S. nuclear power plant.

See the problem? Either Kauffman or Lyman are wrong here or the truest answer is too ambiguous to be definitive. From the story, there’s no way to know except to apply your own tilt (and where might that be for us? Hmmm!)

So that leads to the suggestion: Lyman and Kauffman (or any two debaters) do an email exchange, with Lyman kicking off on one question and Kauffman another. Each writer gets to respond to the other and make his own points. Perhaps there could be two exchanges, then a summing up by each. Since it’s the Web, add in as many links as back up the point. Then, publish the exchanges on the Web. It’d be livelier and packed with useful info. Some minds would be more likely to change, too.

The story is well worth reading, with Kauffman representing the nuclear side of the debate quite well, but we wish someone would go further with this.

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We must say that there are no more countries that would surprise us if they decide to pursue nuclear energy – well, maybe Monaco or Vanuatu – but color us unsurprised when we read this:

Indonesia's House of Representatives gave a green light to the government's plan to build nuclear plants.

That decision Monday came after the parliamentary commission for energy, technology and the environment visited the country's National Nuclear Energy Agency, which is known as Batan, during the weekend.

And why might Indonesia want to do this?

"Indonesia can no longer rely on non-renewable energy sources such as gas and coal to generate electricity in future," said Teuku Riefky Harsya, chairman of the commission, in a statement.

Much of the discussion in the United States and Europe over carbon emission reduction focuses on a mechanism to move industry in that direction, but countries such as Indonesia and UAE know exactly how to go about achieving that goal, without mandates: build nuclear power plants. (We’re being vaguely provocative – we know the issue is much more complicated that that.)

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As you may imagine, a fair number of people are very annoyed with the closing of the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository:

A coalition of leading national and regional organizations -- representing energy and individual taxpayers; state elected and regulatory officials; communities and energy-related businesses -- expressed vigorous support for the continuation of the Yucca Mountain repository program in letters to key Congressional appropriators.

The groups represent large slices of the interested population - National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners; United States Chamber of Commerce; National Association of Manufacturers – and local concerns, too - Alliance for Nevada's Economic Prosperity; Economic Development Partnership of Aiken and Edgefield Counties (SC); Nevadans 4 Carbon Free Energy; and Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce.

So far, this isn’t much more than a press release with demands – we’ll be interested to see where it leads.

In case you associate Indonesia exclusively with Balinese dancers and the like, here’s Jakarta at night.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

And Winning Some More

20070529-GreetingsFromIllinois We won’t run every story along these lines, since it could be come tedious, but we mentioned last week that knocking down nuclear bans has gained momentum, and though there are failed attempts – as in Wyoming – there are successes, too – as in Iowa. Here’s another success, rather oddly introduced by The Chicago Sun-Times’ by Dave McKinney and Steve Contorno:

The Illinois Senate voted Monday to undo a 23-year-old ban on the construction of new nuclear plants in a move one anti-nuclear activist predicted could turn Illinois into a “radioactive waste repository.”

Well, no, not really, but why not lead a successful legislative story with a comment by someone against the legislation? “America will be overrun with dogs and cats,” said an anti-pet activist after a pro-pet legislation passed the Senate. 

Seems a little sour, yes? Especially when you consider this:

The lone dissenter in the Senate, Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston), said Illinois should focus on wind and solar energy production instead of increased nuclear capacity, where “there is a broad lack of consequences.”

One Nay vote? This wasn’t even controversial. (The vote was 40-1.) Now, the legislation moves to the House – if there are two Nay votes, we expect the Sun-Times to quote both of them and none of the supporters. Sheesh!

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This is what Bill Gates said on his blog about 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."

We noted this at the time – pounced on it, as you might imagine – but mostly as an interesting endorsement. But Clark Williams-Derry over at the Daily Score wants us to know Gates didn’t really mean it:

If you watch the whole interview, what's really driving Gates isn't a passion for nuclear power -- it's a passion for energy research.   He believes that that society should ramp up research in all sorts of energy technologies -- carbon sequestration, energy storage, solar, nuclear, you name it -- in search of that game changer that scales globally and radically reduces climate-warming emissions.  He recognizes that most of that research will lead nowhere -- perhaps including his own current project. But if just one idea pans out, it will change the world. (emphasis his)

This is about Gates’ TED talk not the podcast on the Web site, but that describes the podcast, too. Derry-Williams is right enough as not to matter, but we suspect what struck people (and us) is that Gates only identified one technology he put down some of his own money to support and that’s TerraPower’s travelling wave technology.

It’s not that Gates is picking a winner, it’s that he’s interested enough to support the technology.

This is a very minor push back on our part. Derry-Williams makes a number of interesting points, so be sure to read his whole piece.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Winning Some, Losing Some

freudenthal_wy_gov_compressed This is the winning one:

The Iowa Senate approved a bill that would allow an Iowa energy company to raise fees to pay for a study on the feasibility of building a nuclear power plant in the state. The bill is a stepping stone in what lawmakers called a scramble to turn to carbon-neutral energy sources.

In other words, Iowa wants to have a plant if a plant makes sense there. It won handily, too:

The bill easily passed 37-13, but opponents raised questions about the disposal of nuclear waste, why nuclear had priority over other forms of renewable energy and whether lawmakers should back a rate fee hike during the recession. MidAmerican would charge a fee increase of 0.5 percent of its revenues to collect $15 million to conduct the study.

We guess that answers the last one – which means the opponents were pulling arguments out of a hat – and the first belongs to the federal government. The second seems fair enough, so we breezed on over to MidAmerican’s Web site to see what they might be doing in this regard. Answer:

MidAmerican Energy Company, our Iowa-based utility subsidiary, is No. 1 in the nation in ownership of wind-powered electric generation among rate-regulated utilities and has more than 1,200 megawatts of wind energy facilities in operation, under construction and under contract in Iowa.

Landowners who agreed to install turbines on their land receive an annual per-turbine payment from the utility, which provides local agricultural-based economies with a new cash crop.

So as far as we can tell, that’s another one out of the hat. We think the opponents of this bill are sore losers.

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This is the losing one:

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal vetoed three bills, including one that called for creating a task force to encourage nuclear energy production in the state.

And why might he do that?

In his written veto message of the nuclear energy production study bill, House Bill 97, Freudenthal stated it seemed to be focused more at holding meetings and media forums than on real analytical work.

While the bill called for studying nuclear storage issues, Freudenthal noted that the Legislature already had passed a law on the issue in the mid-1990s, giving itself complete authority over siting, construction and operation of storage facilities.

"While such a study may benefit a select few, I fail to see a compelling need to spend time and money on this issue at this time," Freudenthal wrote.

This one is kind of an “eh” outcome – it sounds as though Freudenthal is tossing bills to keep his state’s budget balanced and it may also be he doesn’t care for task forces. (Freudenthal doesn’t seem anti-nuclear per se. See here for more – he really likes uranium mining but has good things to say about nuclear energy, too.)

And of course, the Iowa measure could well be vetoed, too – and the Wyoming veto might be overridden.

The more important point to take away from these two stories is that the states are starting to work with nuclear energy within their energy policies. We’ll see  more bills addressing nuclear energy in the coming few years – much as we’d prefer legislative success, even the failures are for that year only and show forward momentum regardless of local outcome.

So, success, good, failure, less good but fine. We’ll take it all for what it portends.

Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal. He has a bucking bronco on his tie – that probably goes over very well in Wyoming.

Center for American Progress Distorts the Loan Guarantee Program

On Monday, CAP attempted to provide some facts about DOE’s loan guarantee program that needless to say completely distorted the picture. After spending a few days dissecting their analysis, NEI came out with a 13 page response that rebuts CAP and clarifies the facts. Below the rest of this post are just a few snippets from our response.

The Center for American Progress is openly and determinedly anti-nuclear and CAP’s recent paper reflects that anti-nuclear bias. Although it appears to be an objective discussion of credit subsidy fees, careful examination shows that the paper is built on mistakes and misstatements; unsubstantiated estimates of default probability and recovery rates; cost estimates of mysterious origin, lack of understanding about recent nuclear construction experience, and inaccurate descriptions of the DOE loan guarantee program requirements and project structures. An impartial observer could easily conclude that the Center for American Progress hopes to undermine the entire clean energy program, including support for wind, solar and other carbon-free technologies.

A few of CAP’s inaccurate and/or misleading statements are set forth below, accompanied by factual clarification:

Center for American Progress: “Building a nuclear reactor today will involve dealing with tremendous financial uncertainty.”

By the time construction starts; there is, in fact, a high degree of financial certainty – because the design is complete, quantities of commodities and materials are well-known and priced; EPC (engineering-procurement-construction) terms and conditions have been set; liquidated damages agreed to, and contingencies defined, etc.

Center for American Progress: “[T]here’s no way to predict what the final cost will be.”

Public filings and state public service commission analyses and orders in SCANA’s V.C. Summer or Southern Company’s Vogtle projects provide realistic examples of reactor costs. These projects have signed engineering-procurement-construction (EPC) contracts with significant fixed price portions to reduce risk. For the portions of the project that are subject to escalation, contingencies are built into the estimates to mitigate risk. In addition to the owner’s review, the respective state public service commissions have reviewed the contracts and risk-sharing mechanisms to ensure adequate protection for ratepayers.

The new nuclear power plants being reviewed by DOE’s Loan Guarantee Program Office are all under construction or in operation overseas. By the time the U.S. plants receive their combined licenses and close on loan guarantee financing, one design will be in the final year of construction and the others will be operational. The final costs will be informed by this additional data and will be reviewed as part of the financial closing for the loan guarantee.

Center for American Progress: “[T]he generic default rate is 50 percent.”

This assumption is not supported by any factual information or analysis, is unrealistic and irresponsible, and deserves to be ignored.

The assumption of 50% default probability is not credible because no company would pursue a project if credit assessment and due diligence showed a potential default rate of 50%. The companies building new nuclear power plants will have significant shareholder equity ($1 billion or more per project) at risk. The companies would forfeit this equity investment in the unlikely event of default on a guaranteed loan. No electric company could afford a loss of that size.

Center for American Progress: “These assumptions indicate that the credit subsidy fee on a nuclear loan guarantee should be at least 10 percent.”

Two items – probability of default and recovery rate in the event of default – drive the financial model used to calculate credit subsidy costs for federal loan guarantees. Since the Center for American Progress’ assumptions about default probability and recovery rate have no factual or analytical basis, and are not supported by historical data, it follows logically that CAP’s finding about subsidy cost is equally without merit or value. There is no credible basis for this number and it can be safely ignored.

NEI is not a party to the discussions between the Department of Energy and the companies seeking loan guarantees and cannot comment on the credit subsidy fees under discussion. For reference, however, the average fee for all government loan guarantee programs in the 2010 fiscal year is 0.2 percent of the loan amount. The federal government manages a loan guarantee portfolio of about $1.2 trillion. The government-wide average subsidy fee is low because many loan guarantee programs generate more fee revenue for the federal Treasury than they cost, as the DOE loan guarantee program for nuclear energy is expected to do.

Realistic estimates of default probability and recovery rate (i.e., in the 80-100% range) will produce credit subsidy costs approximating the range suggested by Energy Secretary Steven Chu on March 4, 2010, following his appearance before the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee. Asked about subsidy costs, Secretary Chu said: “It’s quite a small subsidy – 1 percent, plus or minus a half percent.”

There’s plenty more so please check out the rest.