Tuesday, June 29, 2010

NRC Panel Denies Request To End Yucca Mountain

Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) has denied the request by the Department of Energy to withdraw its licence application for the nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

From the Associated Press:

Energy Secretary Steven Chu doesn't have the authority to pull the plug on a process that Congress started when it passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982, the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board said in a 47-page order issued in Rockville, Md.

"Congress directed both that DOE file the application ... and that the NRC consider the application and issue a final, merits-based decision," the panel said. It said letting the department "single-handedly derail" the process would be "contrary to congressional intent."

Needless to say, the Energy Secretary Steven Chu and the Obama administration—which announced in March that it would withdraw the application—disagree with the ASLB's finding, and Energy Department officials have indicated that they will appeal the decision.

This ruling is not good news for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev), a longtime foe of the Nevada repository, who is facing a heavily contested election this year for a fifth term in the Senate. Nevertheless, Reid remains undaunted, stating that "the full commission will ... make the final decision." The commission is currently chaired by Reid's former staffer, Gregory Jaczko, who was appointed to this position by President Obama last year.

The fate of the motion to withdraw the license application is particularly important because the Department of Energy, under Secretary Chu, has filed the motion "with prejudice." This means that, if the motion is accepted, the same application cannot be resubmitted by another administration.

In spite of this decision, however, the resurrection of the Yucca Mountain repository is far from assured. The project's funding was zeroed out of the President's budget, and earlier this year, President Obama appointed a commission to recommend alternatives for this particular geological repository.

The DOE motion to withdraw is opposed by several groups, including the states of Washington and South Carolina. However, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla) appears to want the last word on the politics of the situation:

"DOE Secretary Chu has given no reason for the NRC to cease its safety review other than stating that Yucca Mountain is no longer 'a workable option,'" Inhofe said in a statement. "While such comments may serve a political purpose, I'm glad the (NRC panel) has chosen to base its decision on the law."

Monday, June 28, 2010

7th Nuclear Energy Carnival and Blog Roll Updates

Charles Barton once again hosted the carnival for the week. Stop by to see what’s in spent nuclear fuel, the latest on the Jevons Paradox, and near-term uranium production.

imageAlready making a name for herself with her sweet looking artwork and recommended many, many times from fellow bloggers, Suzie Hobbs from Pop Atomic Studios has been added to our blogroll (check out some of her artwork on the right).

Also recommended by all the bloggers and added to the blogroll is Nuclear Townhall managed by Steve Hedges. To kick up traffic, pro-nuke author, William Tucker, started a debate at the Townhall and asks “How damaging would it be to the U.S. nuclear energy revival if [Vermont Yankee, Oyster Creek, Indian Point, Diablo Canyon and San Onofre] were to close? There’s quite a good set of responses basically saying we shouldn’t ever let up on the critics with the facts … do stop by.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Where Are the Nuclear Forgings? Track 29!

image2 During the period that the United States slowed construction of nuclear energy plants, the subsidiary companies that did large forgings for such plants also languished. So American concerns needed to go overseas for replacement pieces, leading to multi-ton pieces to be shipped by boat and ever so slowly delivered via flat bed train and truck to their destinations. Here’s an Insight story about a French-made steam generator and its tortuous trip to Three Mile Island.

Wouldn’t it be nice to make these in the United States? Reviving the steel industry here, for whatever purpose, however tentatively, is something that can only be to the good.

The facility is designed to build the world's largest steam and gas turbines for power plants as well as retrofit existing facilities, according to Alstom officials.

On Wednesday, Alstom brought in about 100 customers for a sneak preview of the plant and to talk about energy, said Amy Ericson, vice president market communications for Alstom's power sector.

And where might this be? Chattanooga. Alstom is a French company – here’s its site for the new plant, though be warned it starts playing a video with music when you go to it. The plant does what you want it to do – offer a number of high-paying jobs:

At Alstom, which expects to hire 350 workers by 2013, the jobs will average $75,000 annually, according to the company.

And it answers to the issue of large forgings:

"[Customers] like the proximity of it very much," Ms. Ericson said. "All up and down the middle corridor of the country are some of the largest nuclear and steam facilities."

Mike Pare’s article also expresses the city’s enthusiastic hope that this plant turns Chattanooga into a center for this kind of operation. What can we say? We do, too.

Alstom factory a-borning.

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Pardon me, boy, is that the Chattanooga choo choo?

Track twenty-nine!

Boy, you can gimme a shine? I can afford to board a Chattanooga choo choo. I've got my fare and just a trifle to spare

-- From Mack Gordon and Harry Warren’s song Chattanooga Choo Choo.

choochooIf you think Chattanooga doesn’t take full advantage of that song, you have another think coming. This is the old train station in town, now converted to stores and a hotel all built around the choo choo theme. See here for more. Could be charming, could be overbearing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Undue Panic, APEC On Board, Nuclear Subsidies (?)

davidcameronatcommons1 Here’s an interesting article from Fortune Magazine: Allan Sloan on why overreacting to the Deepwater Horizon spill is counterproductive, using the reaction to Three Mile Island as a template. We found it a little confused, largely because, as we’ve mentioned before, TMI and Deepwater Horizon are tough to fit together. For example, we were amused to find this in one paragraph:

We panic over horrifying but fluky events like Three Mile Island and Deepwater Horizon, costing ourselves dearly.

And this in the next paragraph:

In an ideal world, BP would make everyone whole for the damage it has caused, its top managers would be fired and impoverished for having failed as stewards, and the company's shareholders would be wiped out in an orderly, controlled bankruptcy that doesn't create worldwide chaos.

All that would be left would be to raze BP’s buildings and salt the earth where they stood. Still, he understands that, despite calling the Three Mile Island accident horrifying, it really wasn’t:

It was a terrifying incident, but it turned out that there was only minimal harm to the environment and probably none to the local citizenry -- other than scaring them half to death.

Or terrifying. And that minimal harm to the environment? Also none.

Hmmm – maybe we didn’t like the article that much. But in fact, we did - he has good points to make:

We certainly shouldn't let industry run itself. Left to their own devices, free markets tend to excesses, followed by collapses. That's how we got the financial meltdown and the Great Recession. But we can't keep running our country reactively.

We agree with this – disasters are best dealt with after they’ve been concluded, when cooler heads prevail - though we only run our country reactively when there’s something to react to and even if cooler heads do prevail, everything will still be a reaction to the disaster. One sure conclusion – the pendulum that swung away from regulation in the aughts will now almost certainly swing back toward it. That won’t eliminate risk, but it will lower it considerably – even proactively.

Do read the whole thing – a lot to chew on.

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Meeting in Fukui, Japan on 19 June, the Apec energy ministers signed a declaration setting directions to advance energy security, improve energy efficiency and increase the clean energy supply in the region.

Apec is Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Here’s its Web site – we were curious to see if Australia and New Zealand were members – they are – as are the larger countries on this side of the Pacific – Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

And what were those directions they set?

The declaration states, "Low emission power sources - renewable, nuclear and fossil-fuels with carbon capture and storage - can allow electricity generation to expand in a sustainable fashion without the risk of needing to be curtailed to cope with climate change; their deployment should be promoted."

And just to gild the power plant:

The statement noted, "Solid financial frameworks, as well as cooperation among member economies and with relevant multilateral organizations, can help to support new nuclear power plant construction consistent with this commitment."

So there you go. This isn’t on the site yet, but here’s an interesting tidbit – the 2009 declaration includes no mention of nuclear energy at all. There’s so much activity among these countries in gearing up for new nuclear, that’s a big miss. Good to see it so prominently featured in 2010.

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We’ve mentioned a couple of times – not very positively, to say the least – the plan in Germany to tax fuel rods to raise revenues from nuclear plants unaffected by a carbon tax  but we’re not sure how we feel when this flows the other way, if rather imperfectly:

[U.K. Prime Minister David] Cameron proposes a CO2 charge triggered when the price of European Union permits falls below a set level. That would raise costs for generating electricity from coal and natural gas, which are more-immediately economical than atomic reactors. The U.K. will propose tax shifts to “support the carbon price” later in 2010, the government said in a budget presented today.

Wouldn’t this benefit all non-carbon producing projects? Nope, at least the article doesn’t say so:

“It’s a way of trying to subsidize nuclear, collecting that subsidy from all electricity consumers,” said Trevor Sikorski, director of carbon markets and environmental products research in London at Barclays Capital.

Well, wait, we’re just not sure about this one. We think we would view the plant with a fishy eye if the revenues were handed over to nuclear energy concerns – the details would matter - but that’s not happening.

This also isn’t cap-and-trade but a direct carbon emission tax and of course its goal is to discourage its production. Nuclear energy certainly benefits for all the reasons it normally would, but even if Cameron said directly that is his specific goal, this tax still doesn’t qualify as a subsidy for nuclear energy. Instead it supports the specific policy goal – which the U.K. has espoused - of moving away from carbon emissions.

This is from Business Week, and they certainly know their business beans, but this is a true puzzler. Where nuclear energy is concerned, there seems no there there. If nuclear plants move forward as a result of it, good; if a wind farms gets a push, good too.

Newly minted British PM David Cameron.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Reid and Angle on Nuclear Energy

sharron-anglex-large One of the most interesting races for the Senate this year will be between Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Republican State Assembly member Sharron Angle. Reid has shepherded a fair number of controversial bills through the Senate and the anti-incumbency mood of the nation (however exaggerated – over 90 percent of incumbents have won their primaries) favors Angle. Some scattered polling shows the two about even, but polling is always iffy at such an early stage, with five months of television ads yet to come. Expect no prediction from us. But Reid is a consequential figure, so the battle to come will be of great interest.

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Our interest, of course, is how the candidates view nuclear energy. We know it’s an article of political faith in Nevada for politicians to oppose Yucca Mountain as a used fuel repository, and Reid has had the heft to do something about that, but he has generally not been negative about nuclear energy. But – there’s a but. Here’s what he says on his Web site:

Angle’s preference for massive expansion of nuclear energy over new, cutting-edge clean energy technologies being delivered by Sen. Reid should come as no surprise. Angle is hell-bent on transporting America’s nuclear waste across Nevada’s highways and through our communities to reprocess it at Yucca Mountain.

And on Reid’s energy page, he does indeed keep faith with renewable energy:

My legislation will require the President to designate renewable energy zones with significant clean energy generating potential. Then, a massive planning effort will begin in all the interconnection areas of the country to maximize the use of that renewable potential by building new transmission capacity.

Reid’s bill is about transmission lines for renewable sources. Read the whole page: Reid is very green. We get that. Nevada isn’t exactly a state where nuclear energy is a big issue – no plants, for one thing. But Reid has generally been fairly sanguine about it – certainly more so than he seems here. For example, here’s Reid earlier this year with Nevada TV reporter Jon Ralston:

Reid replied, "Scientists are now saying leave the nuclear waste where it is, in deep ground storage. And when I say deep ground, (I mean) 10 feet underground. The new nuclear power plants are going to be built, and it's terrific that the president stepped forward on this. I'm not against nuclear power. I'm against bringing nuclear waste to Nevada. Scientists say leave it where it is. That's what we have to do."

We’d like to have a chat with those scientists, but never mind that for now – the point is that Reid has not been opposed to nuclear energy. It does seem that, for now, at least where he takes a position on energy, it’s for energy efficiency, conservation, renewables, and so on.

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Now, you’ll have noticed that Reid tries to pin down Angle as wanting to bring nuclear waste to Nevada – a big problem for Reid if not necessarily Nevada. But that’s not exactly the, er, angle Angle takes. Here’s what she says:

Yucca Mountain has enormous potential for fulfilling the need in America for clean, cost efficient energy, as well as economic diversity for Nevada and much needed jobs for thousands.

Uh, what? Maybe that is her angle:

As your Nevada Senator, Sharron Angle would:

  • Promote Nevada as the nuclear energy capital of reprocessing spent fuels for the United States.
  • Introduce and shepherd legislation that would remove the prohibitions on reprocessing in the United States as well as the executive order agreement with France, which prohibits reprocessing in the US and has strangled domestic reprocessing.
  • Reverse Harry Reid's actions, which have reneged on the contract with the nuclear industry for storage of nuclear spent fuels at Yucca Mountain. This contract should be negotiated in terms of reprocessing those fuels at Yucca Mountain and using those reprocessed fuels to fire nuclear power plants on site at Yucca.
  • Educate Nevadans and Americans, on the safe transportation of nuclear spent fuels since 1954 over 400 million miles without an accident.

Can’t fault her for ambition, that’s for sure. The contract Angle refers to is the Nuclear Waste Act and it would take more than renegotiation to shift it to a recycling regime. Also, Reid didn’t pull the plug on Yucca Mountain – President Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu did, though Reid doubtless pressed the point with them and certainly wanted it.

The idea of using Yucca Mountain as a recycling center is an arguable position; siting nuclear plants there, unless she means research reactors, requires a company that wants to do it and a water supply to cool it. And Nevada wanting it, of course – it’s not a federal issue.

Well, all right, some of Angle’s (and Reid’s) points are polititalk, but Angle clearly and openly supports nuclear energy and wants to see its use expanded, including in Nevada.

Sharron Angle.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Heavy Writers and Deep Thinkers - 6th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Is Here

image Over the past number of weeks, you’ve seen us highlight nuclear carnivals at other folks’ blogs. This week we’re hosting it.

For those new to the blogosphere, a carnival is when a community of bloggers recap each other’s best posts at a different site every week, month, or whenever. The purpose, of course, is to increase traffic at each other’s sites. Not only that, it gets the community more involved and definitely creates great connections. We have some deep thinkers and writers in the nuclear blogging community and the carnivals definitely show it.

To start, Barry Brook at Brave New Climate set the record straight on the world nuclear renaissance:

Despite what some may like you to believe, the nuclear renaissance is upon us. Don’t let anyone get away with telling you otherwise — they are badly misleading you.

How about this for some supporting statistics: 29 new reactors, totalling 26 gigawatts of electricity output (operating at high capacity factors without the need for energy storage/backup), will start operation in 13 different countries in the 2010 — 2012 period – that’s within the next 3 years (average reactor size is 880 MWe).

Brian Wang at Next Big Future (the leader of these nuclear carnivals) took to town the bogus claims made by a Stanford Professor:

In a debate between Stewart Brand (pro-nuclear) and Mark Jacobson (anti-nuclear), Mark Jacobson tries to make the case that we can generate all of the energy that we need without nuclear power (and without fossil fuels) … one of Jacobson's main distortions is that nuclear power is slower to develop than solar and wind.

I am all in favor of building more solar and wind, but it is wrong to say that building a lot of it is faster than building nuclear power. Nuclear power increased by 300% since the 1980s in the United States. Since 1987 the US alone has added 345 TWH of nuclear which is more than the entire OECD has now for solar, wind and geothermal.

Steve Aplin from Canadian Energy Issues logically deconstructed the Floodgates hypothesis on whether nuclear recycling in the US increases the proliferation threat from other countries:

A brief look at the actual history of recycling reveals that the countries to whom recycling made economic sense made use of it regardless of what the U.S. did. France is of course the supreme example. Of the fifty-eight nuclear reactors in the French civilian fleet, 21 are burning recycled fuel as I write this. A further six are capable of it. Another one is authorized to burn it, and the Flamanville 3 EPR, which I visited last week, will also be capable.

He’s also just been added to our blogroll.

Up next and adding to the proliferation dialogue, Charles Barton at Nuclear Green gave us a relevant history lesson of certain countries while explaining the canard of nuclear proliferation through recycling. As well, Mr. Barton provided an update of the various discussions going on at Energy from Thorium. (Excellent new picture heading for your blog, Charles.)

Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat has the latest status of what’s going on with new reactor designs:

Several developers of new reactor designs reported progress this week during the semi-annual meeting of the American Nuclear Society (ANS). The investor looking for something completely different that might make a difference to the nuclear energy industry has three new ideas to choose from this week.

At Yes Vermont Yankee, Meredith Angwin is on top of NRC’s recently released statement exonerating VY. As well, she analyzed the Vermont candidates’ hot air about replacing Vermont Yankee jobs if the plant is to shutdown. Boy, I’d say some of their answers were a bit creative …

Sovietologist has an awesome picture of the inside of the control room of Chernobyl Unit 1.

Semi-nuclear related, Nuclear Papyrus highlighted Star Wars’ next movie trailer for their animated series.

imageAreva’s blog announced a major technological advancement at its La Hague reprocessing facility in France:

CEO Anne Lauvergeon inaugurated the cold crucible, celebrating the first use of this advanced technology. This world first for the vitrification for high-level waste has been under development in collaboration with CEA (Atomic Energy Commission) for more than 25 years.

The principle of the cold crucible is to induce electric currents directly in the glass to raise its temperature without heating the crucible. The advantages of the technology include increased frequency of the vitrification, longer equipment life span, and the ability to vitrify wider range of products and reduce the volume of final waste.

And last but certainly not least, Rod Adams at Atomic Insights recounts his week in France after touring Areva’s nuclear facilities:

There has been a long standing tradition among nuclear professionals to point a finger at "the media" and blame it for some of the negative perceptions held by many. Areva has recognized that nature of media and content production/distribution has changed. It is taking advantage of the growing opportunity for the industry to tell its own story to people who are technically competent and focused on telling compelling stories about their favorite technology. That will allow us an opportunity to lead the conversation rather than always being on the defensive.

Well said. Hope you all enjoyed and keep it up!

Germany Taxes (Fuel Rods), Sweden Axes (Ban)

sweden__nuclear_Bars_32221b We mentioned awhile ago that the German government intends to tax nuclear energy plants because their emission-free nature allowed them to avoid carbon taxes. Here’s how they put it:

It also said that nuclear reactors aren't affected by carbon dioxide emission trade, contrary to other energy sources such as fossil fuels. As a result, utilities that operate nuclear reactors have posted considerable windfall profits, which further justify the levy, the government said.

It sounded a bit extortionate to us and still does. It turns out we’re not the only ones who feel that way:

Utility firms operating nuclear power plants in Germany have no legal basis for a proposed lawsuit that would fight the planned introduction of a new tax on fuel rods, the federal government said on Friday.

The comment came in response to a report by the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine that utility companies are considering legal action over the proposed tax on the rods required to produce nuclear power.

This appears to be the way Germany decided to extract money from the nuclear plants. According to the article, the tax would bring in $2.8 billion a year. 

And as the story notes, there may not be much basis in law to contest the action. But the move has created considerable heat and, as in the U.S., industries can direct that heat:

"It is correct that the German Chancellor will meet with the chief executives of the four large utilities on June 23," another government spokeswoman said. However the meeting--with E.ON AG, RWE AG and Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG and Vattenfall Europe AG--is merely a discussion and no decisions will be taken, she said.

Expect a lively “discussion.” Let’s stay in touch with this one.

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It was a near thing:

The Riksdag [Sweden’s parliament] voted by a narrow 174-172 margin in favor of replacing Sweden's existing 10 aging reactors, overturning a 1980 referendum to gradually phase out the use of nuclear power, and adding to the renewed momentum behind atomic power in Europe as countries try to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

It’s either that or make wreckage of Sweden’s carbon emission reduction goals. Most of these kinds of votes are very close, whether they ultimately uphold or knock down bans, and we appreciate the passion on both sides of the debate, but the twin issues of energy security and global warming, and the growing public understanding of their importance, have nudged the debate just enough to get vote totals over the 50% mark.

So break out the Aquavit and say Skol.

Sweden’s Barseback nuclear plant. A sort of austere view, what you might expect from the land of Ingmar Bergman.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Getting Hotter in Kuwait

Kuwait_City_Liberation_Tower We recently lost our Internet connection and cable TV at home due to a fire that cindered some underground fiber. Since two of the things we do most at home for entertainment is prowl the Internet for picture of nuclear power plants and channel hop in a St. Vitus kind of way, this was a problem.

Generally speaking, we tend to take the presence of those things for granted, and sure, it’s certainly easy enough to do other things – talk to friends on the phone, do some writing and reading, make a more elaborate dinner. But then imagine that the grid overloads and pretty soon, you’re fleeing town for a nearby hotel with air conditioning and a pool.

But even when the electricity disappears, one can reasonably guess it’ll reappear soon enough. But what if electricity use soars to the extent that it necessitates brownouts or precipitates a blackout for a considerable length of time – and the temperature is 130 degrees – and there’s nowhere to go.

Meet Kuwait:

Kuwait is experiencing almost emergency conditions after power consumption hit an all-time high for the third day in a row at 10,921 megawatts at 2:30 pm, which is around 30 megawatts short of maximum production capacity. The record consumption was triggered by record temperatures that reached 51 degrees Celsius at Kuwait Airport, 50 degrees in Kuwait City and as high as 53 degrees at the Abdali border post with Iraq.

53 degrees Celsius is 127 degrees Fahrenheit. Kuwait has asked its neighbors for help:

However, the response received so far is discouraging," said the sources, noting that Saudi Arabia believed that its daily need of electricity is growing, which makes it impossible for it to spare any power and that Bahrain has insufficient production as well.

Qatar has some surplus electricity, but:

…so far it has not promised to provide Kuwait with any power as it needs it for major projects," added the sources, expressing hope that Qatar would at least agree to provide half the amount needed.

The situation argues for delay, Qatar. And course, Kuwait could appeal to its people to dial back all electricity use aside from air conditioning. And it does look like that’s happening:

According to [Ahmad Al-Jassar, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Electricity and Water], there won't be programmed power cuts and everyone must cooperate to save energy.

Programmed power cuts means that the government warns people in an area and then cuts the power there, something it really can’t do in the heat. However,a crisis may have been averted even without Qatar’s help and next year looks better:

"Kuwait will start benefiting from the contract that was signed with General Electronic and Hyundai to build the Subiya power plant next summer. On June 1, 2011 this plant will start operat
ing and will provide an additional 2,000 megawatts to the 11,100 megawatts produced daily. This will cover the power load next summer," {Al-Jassar] said.

Here’s a little information about Subiya (more at the link):

Stage one of the Subiya oil-fired power plant in Kuwait is complete. Eight 300MW boilers and turbines are now producing 2,400MW and up to 12 MIGD drinking water at the $2.2bn Subiya I plant. The 2000MW Subiya II will be gas fired, and should increase drinking water production to 96 MIGD. Bid submissions for the project should finally close in November 2008, after a number of delays.

The gas plant is what Al-Jassar is referring to, though that oil-fired plant must be quite the treat to be around when it’s working to full capacity, as it is now.

Needless to say, we could think of a better solution here, but the point that really needs making is that countries that really should enjoy enough electricity generation to avert disaster do not – note that the reason Kuwait can’t get electricity is that there’s none to spare among its neighbors – and the world that’s coming is going to be hotter. It’s a humanitarian catastrophe that will be hard to perpetually avert.

Kuwait City. That big building on the right is Liberation Tower, the 21st tallest free-standing building in the world, standing 1220 feet. It was built under the name The Kuwait Telecommunications Tower but became Liberation Tower when it was completed in 1993 to commemorate Kuwait’s liberation from Iraq in 1991.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Saudis, Poyry, and The Think Tank Principle

riyadh-4-large We’re not entirely sure how to feel about this:

Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia may mine and enrich uranium to fuel power plants if it embarks on a civilian nuclear energy program, a consultant preparing a draft nuclear strategy for the kingdom said on Wednesday.

Of course, that “may mine and enrich” sounds a lot like a trial balloon to see how others react. And, as writer Amena Bakr points out, neighbor UAE avoided the issue altogether:

Saudi neighbor the United Arab Emirates became the first country in the Gulf Arab region to embark upon a nuclear power generation program last year. But the UAE decided from an early stage to import fuel for the plants, as it sought to reassure the international community it had no military intentions with its program.

So we expect the Saudis may want to evade similar issues. However:

"Nuclear energy in Saudi is really a long term strategy that can span 10-20 years from now, while renewable energy can be deployed much faster," Elkuch told Reuters.

So there’s that.

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Elkuch is Philipp Elkuch, president of the nuclear energy business group at Poyry. We have to admit ignorance as to what Poyry is but a quick trip over to its Web site shows it to be an engineering consultant, largely Europe based. The nuclear page says that it will do just about anything from helping you find a site for your shiny new nuclear plant to decommissioning it when the time comes.

We’ve nothing at all to say about Poyry except There it is.

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Adding to David’s account below of the EPA analysis of the American Power Act, the International Energy Agency and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development decide to use their own crystal ball on the year 2050:

Roughly a quarter of global electricity could be generated by nuclear power by 2050, requiring a tripling in nuclear generating capacity but making a major contribution to reduced CO2 emissions, a report said Wednesday.

Boy, is that true or what? If you make that a half of global electricity generation, nuclear will really make a major contribution to reduced CO2 emissions.

We’ll take a closer look at the report – these aren’t fly-by-night operations - but nothing in the AFP story about it suggests it would be very edifying. After all, anyone can say anything and as long as it’s vaguely on point, voila, a report. Call it the Think Tank Principle. But we think the vapidity here is down to AFP, not the report.

Riyadh at night. In case you wonder why they might want to up their electric capacity.

Key Nuclear Stats From EPA's Economic Analysis of the "American Power Act"

According to EPA’s core policy analysis of Senators Kerry and Lieberman’s proposed legislation released yesterday, nuclear energy is projected to generate 44.2% of the US’ electricity in 2050, more than any other source. Total nuclear capacity is projected to more than double from 101 gigawatts in 2010 to 256 gigawatts in 2050 (assuming 90% capacity factor). This means that if all existing operating plants in the US retire at 60 years, the US will need to build another 253 GW or 181 new plants (assuming 1,400 MW each). There are not many quotes for nuclear in the two reports at the link above, but the good numbers below are found in their data tables in the zip folder.

US Electricity Generation StatsEPA APA Electric Fuel SharesIGCC – integrated gasification combined cycle coal plants, CCS – carbon capture and sequestration, MSW – municipal solid waste, CC – combined cycle gas plants

image

For comparison, EPA’s analysis last summer of the Waxman/Markey House bill projected the need for 262 GW of nuclear power by 2050 (187 new plants if all existing retire at 60). In that analysis, nuclear is projected to supply 41% of total US electricity, more than any other source (data also found in the zip folder).

From EPA’s APA analysis: “Overall, the estimated impacts of the APA are very similar to those of H.R. 2454 [Waxman/Markey]”.

Not much else to say…

Friday, June 11, 2010

Murkowski EPA Resolution Goes to a Vote

Murkowski Legislature You may not know it, but the Senate took its first vote in quite a while yesterday on climate change issues. No, not one of the energy bills – Kerry-Lieberman’s or Lugar’s – but a resolution introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon emissions.

Generally speaking, this is the kind of thing Congress doesn’t do, because the EPA belongs to the executive not legislative branch of government and its operations fall outside the purview of Congress (aside from oversight, of course). So to do this, Murkowski revived a rarely deployed provision of the 1996 Congressional Review Act called a resolution of disapproval that allows Congress to overturn administrative actions.

Here’s the complete text of the resolution:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the endangerment finding and the cause or contribute findings for greenhouse gases under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act (published at 74 Fed. Reg. 66496 (December 15, 2009)), and such rule shall have no force or effect.

That’s the whole thing. During floor debate, the bit that created controversy was the phrase “and the cause or contribute findings for greenhouse gases,” which several Senators, including John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) took to mean would deny the science behind global warming. Murkowski said this is not so:

My resolution does not affect the science behind the endangerment finding, but it will prevent the finding from being enforced through economy-wide regulations.

Her goal was quite different:

We're here today to debate a policy that works against both of those goals: the Environmental Protection Agency's effort to impose economy-wide climate regulations under the Clean Air Act. The sweeping powers being pursued by the EPA are the worst possible option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And why does she think this? Because, in her view, it could be economically ruinous:

There is no question that our recovery is still fragile and very much in doubt. It is also clear that it will take quite some time for millions of unemployed Americans to find jobs and get back on their feet again. These tough facts should encourage us to focus on policies that create jobs and reduce our debt - and at the same time, should encourage us to guard against policies that fail in either or both of those areas.

So why keep up the suspense? How did the vote go?

The Senate voted 53-47 to reject an attempt by Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, to block the E.P.A. from imposing new limits on carbon emissions based on its 2009 finding that such gases from industry, vehicles and other sources represent a threat to human health and the environment.

And it was a bipartisan vote, though not as broad as Murkowski must have hoped. She got all Republicans and six Democrats, but fell four votes short. (President Obama had indicated he would veto the resolution if it passed, so Murkowski would have had a 67 vote mountain to climb to override it.)

There may be more action along these lines – non-binding resolutions to delay the implementation of EPA rules – or the Senate may just move right on to the energy bills. (The House passed its version last year.)

So – let’s wait and see what’s next.

Since we ran a picture of Sen. Murkowski earlier this week, we thought we’d have a lovely view of her state Alaska. But that was a bit of stretch – so consider this Lisa Murkowski week at Nuclear Notes.

LES’ National Enrichment Facility Begins Operation – Nuclear Industry Continues to Gear Up

image A great moment has been occurring the past couple of weeks out in Lea County, Eunice, New Mexico. Last week, Louisiana Energy Services held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for their completed facility which our CEO Marv Fertel and much of New Mexico’s leadership attended.

The final step before operation was yesterday when the NRC gave LES the go-ahead (a big achievement considering this is the first facility to make it through the combined construction and operating licensing process). For more of the story, check out Dan Yurman’s animated account at Idaho Samizdat:

Anyone who thinks there isn’t going to be a nuclear renaissance in the U.S. needs to take a look at the multi-billion bet placed by Urenco at the Louisiana Energy Services plant in Eunice, NM.

The NRC said in a statement it completed the readiness review of the Louisiana Energy in Lea County, N.M., and concluded that the facility can begin operation of the first cascade under its NRC license. A cascade is a series of rotating cylinders using centrifugal force to separate uranium isotopes.

LES CEO Gregory Smith told AP NRC’s approval is a “turning point” for the nation’s nuclear industry. The plant has contracts with Duke, Exelon, Dominion, and Progress Energy, among others, to make fuel for their reactors.

According to a report in Fuel Cycle Week for June 3, NM Governor Bill Richardson said at a ribbon cutting ceremony, "Urenco always kept their word on what they were going to do and what their timelines were."

Do stop by to check out the rest of his piece.

Couple of Reports Illustrating The Big Picture

Yesterday, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, General Electric’s Jeff Immelt and other big name CEOs who are members of the American Energy Innovation Council released a report that makes five important recommendations for US energy policy. Why did they do this?

As business leaders, we feel that America’s current energy system is deficient in ways that cause serious harm to our economy, our national security, and our environment. To correct these deficiencies, we must make a serious commitment to modernizing our energy system with cleaner, more efficient technologies.

Such a commitment should include both robust, public investments in innovative energy technologies as well as policy reforms to deploy these technologies on a large scale. By tapping America’s entrepreneurial spirit and longstanding leadership in technology innovation, we can set a course for a prosperous, sustainable economy—and take control of our energy future.

Is nuclear included as an innovative energy technology? Well of course. The second recommendation in the report is to “invest $16B per year in clean energy innovation” ($1.4B/year for nuclear fission and fusion). The US invests about $5B right now for all energy research and development. Below is the Council’s recommended budget for US R&D to explore all energy technologies (p. 21):

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The other study that gives a broad picture of the energy world (particularly electric) is Edison Electric Institute's 2009 Financial Review. For the numbers geek out there, the report has gobs of figures. For instance, at the end of 2009, the total assets of US shareholder-owned electric utilities who represent nearly 60 percent of total US capacity was more than $1.1 trillion, up 3% from 2008 (pages iv & 16). On the other side, though, operating revenues declined nearly 12 percent for those same utilities during 2009 (p. iv), ouch.

There are also quite a few costs and performance figures to view, even historical capacity additions and projections for plants of all types (see table below and check out nuclear compared to others, p. 56).

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Also useful to know is EEI’s page 65 shown below which details the renewable energy portfolio standards by state (note the lack of standards in the Southeast due to limited renewable resources – this, among many other reasons, is why new nuclear makes an excellent fit for those states):

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There are plenty more left in the reports to check out so enjoy!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Republican Energy Bill

lugar The Republicans put up an alternative to the Kerry-Lieberman energy bill yesterday via Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). For starters, it’s much smaller (112 vs. 987 pages) and has fewer titles (4 vs. 7) than Kerry-Lieberman. It is called the Practical Energy and Climate Plan Act of 2010 vs. The American Power Act. We don’t know if Lugar will have a nice logo drawn up for his bill, as Kerry and Lieberman did for theirs. Lugar has posted a video of his press conference introducing it. See that on his home page, along with a lot of links.

Let’s see what the bill offers:

  • No provisions for mandatory reductions in carbon emissions – that is, no cap-and-trade or carbon tax. Lugar has ideas on how to achieve carbon emission reductions, so hold tight.
  • The bill heavily stresses energy efficiency, especially as regards cars, trucks and light vehicles.
  • And buildings, too. The bill proposes $2 billion to DOE to use as a basis for loans, loan guarantees and other financial tools to help homes and businesses retrofit for energy efficiency.
  • It cuts back on foreign oil imports by encouraging domestic oil production. It’s silent (at least on our first read) on off-shore oil drilling.
  • Coal plants do not need to introduce new technology as long as they close by 2018.
  • Biofuels get a big push, especially algae-based fuel and especially not grain-based fuel. Lugar proposes $250 million per year to DOE over the next five years to seed this effort.

We’re not completely sure we understand the clean energy provisions, but the bill proposes that states can include “clean coal,” nuclear energy (but see below) and energy efficiencies (presumably a national standard) toward carbon emission reduction goals.

Those goals are 15 percent by 2015, incrementing to hit 50 percent by 2050. How different states would accommodate this is where we’ll need further explanation, as the states will start off in drastically different places based on their current electricity production.

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Oh, and what about nuclear energy? There’s strikingly little, with only two mentions in the bill.

Lugar proposes $36 billion in additional loan guarantees for 2011 (for a total of $54 billion), equal to the amount requested in the 2011 DOE budget request.

Only new nuclear plants qualify in the clean air goals specified above. This is also true of hydroelectric plants, though (apparently) uprates to existing hydro count but not uprates to existing nuclear plants. (By uprates, we mean adding capacity.) We don’t get this one at all – it’s as if using existing nuclear energy to further reduce carbon emissions is cheating or too easy.

So that’s it. Do read the whole thing – if we’ve misread a section, let use know in comments and we’ll correct.

Bills offered by the minority traditionally do not gain much traction, but this one may buck that common wisdom a bit by de-stressing climate change issues and anything that could be called a “carbon tax.”

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Energy Secretary Steven Chu sent a letter to Sen. Lugar about his bill. There’s this:

I appreciate your ideas for reducing America's oil dependence - which has taken on greater urgency as a result of the BP oil spill.  I also commend your focus on energy efficiency, which as you have noted is the fastest, cheapest route to our energy and climate change goals.  Even as we focus on efficiency, we also need a broad approach that includes building the next generation of nuclear power plants, deploying technologies to burn coal more cleanly, significantly expanding renewable power generation and a host of other clean energy technologies.

That’s pretty positive. And this:

I continue to believe that to fully capitalize on these opportunities we need comprehensive legislation that puts a price on carbon and makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy.

Oops! Well, Lugar probably expected that.

Sen. Richard Lugar presents his bill.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Head Scratchers and Extorting Nuclear

 lisamurkowski2 Here’s a bit of a head-scratcher:

The federal regulatory agency charged with ensuring that nuclear plants are licensed and running safely could see its funding boosted -- or reduced -- in light of the gulf oil spill, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said today.

"It may be that as a consequence of this, we can ensure that we see additional funding in our other regulatory agencies," the Senate Energy and Natural Resources panel's top Republican told an audience at a nuclear energy conference this morning. On the other hand, she speculated, "It may just be that nuclear will actually be less resourced as we try to move over to the oil and gas sector [in terms of regulatory efforts] as a consequence of [the oil spill]. I would hope that's not the case. It could go either way."

Murkowski’s a big supporter of nuclear energy, so she may well just be worrying, but we find it odd that the government, even when it’s concerned with deficits, would bleed one regulatory agency to fund another. That doesn’t seem a recipe for a safety-oriented regulatory environment, does it?

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Germany, along with many other countries, is trying to pay down its deficit. Generally, that may include austerity measures – and the word austerity certainly does appear frequently in stories about this – and/or raising revenue. Germany is trying both.

Among the revenue raising ideas:

The German government Monday announced plans to impose taxes on nuclear power plant operators and air travel in a bid to rein in public budget deficits.

The government said the levy on nuclear energy will be the price reactor operators will have to pay in return for longer operating lives of the power plants.

We’re sure they didn’t mean that to sound like extortion, but a lot of people tend to think that about taxes anyway.

We were amused by the phrase “price to pay,” that this is a great favor to the industry. Consider these data points, extracted from the story, then decide who is doing whom the favor.

The government has said it plans to extend the operating lives [of nuclear plants] to help achieve its ambitious climate protection targets.

The government also said the duty on reactors will help relieve the federal budget in financing the decommissioning of nuclear facilities.

It looks like decommissioning has been kicked down the road a ways.

It also said that nuclear reactors aren't affected by carbon dioxide emission trade, contrary to other energy sources such as fossil fuels. As a result, utilities that operate nuclear reactors have posted considerable windfall profits, which further justify the levy, the government said.

In other words, nuclear energy’s status as a emission-free energy source, thus freeing it from carbon levies, marks it as insufficiently taxed compared to energy sources Germany would like to eventually shutter to meet “ambitious climate protection targets,” something nuclear energy will help it to do.

We’ve changed our minds. This sounds just like extortion. Sheesh!

Correx: Oops! Don’t ask us why, but we misheard FreedomWorks  President Matt Kibbe’s “national disaster” for “natural disaster” in our transcription. Since that was the point of the post, we listened again to see if we misheard Kibbe. Yup. He said “national.” We’re still  not sure we agree with his comment, but it’s not the comment we commented on and fair’s fair. Our mistake and we’ve removed it. Our apologies to Mr. Kibbe.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Monday, June 07, 2010

Samba Power: A Nuclear Re-Start in Brazil

It’s not often we consider nuclear energy in the Americas outside the U.S., but it’s time to take a peek at some interesting developments down in Brazil. America has the Superdome, Brazil has the Sambadrome.

Much has been made of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and their ascent (or return?) to becoming major players in the global economy. This all comes from a well-known 2001 paper by Goldman Sachs. Of course, there are jitters in the global economy now, but the overall trend has continued.

In our 2001 paper, we argued that the BRIC economies
would make up more than 10% of world GDP by the end of this decade. In fact, as we near the end of 2007, their combined weight is already 15% of the global economy.

And perhaps the number one thing all the BRICs need is energy. They need petroleum for cars, motorbikes and buses and electricity for offices, air conditioning and factories. In their national energy strategies Russia, India and China all have pretty robust plans for increasing nuclear capacity. Just imagine being an energy minister for one of these countries: you need round-the-clock electricity, and lots of it to keep growth humming. You also would like it to be low carbon. It’s not too surprising that these emerging economies are taking another look at nuclear.

But what about Brazil? It has just 2 nuclear reactors that have a combined capacity of roughly 2000 megawatts. The country has always seemed more focused on hydropower and biofuels than nuclear energy. Well, that may be changing.

Last week, Brazilian regulators gave the go ahead to start construction on Angra 3, a 1,350-megawatt reactor.

Plant owner Eletronuclear said this means it can now pour concrete for the reactor's foundation slab, which as 'first concrete' would mark the official start of construction.

Now, it appears Brazil may be joining the other BRICs in embracing nuclear. But what’s changed? Why now?

Maybe one of these imaginary energy ministers in Brasilia has seen that Brazil has gone “all in” with hydropower and wants something to hedge the bet. Brazil gets about 85 percent of its total electricity generation from hydropower. Don’t get me wrong, hydropower is a great renewable resource, but it has some issues: it gobbles up quite a bit of land and is usually generated far away from cities.

Many of Brazil's hydropower generating facilities are located far away from the main demand centers, resulting in high transmission and distribution losses. Brazil’s heavy reliance on hydroelectricity has caused some issues in the past, especially during periods of below-average rainfall.

Two recent events have highlighted some of these problems with hydropower. First, there are ongoing protests against the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant that saw James Cameron of Avatar-fame get involved.

With a proposed operating capacity of 11,200 megawatts, Belo Monte will be the third biggest dam project in the world behind China’s Three Gorges dam and the Itaipú dam Brazil currently runs with neighbor Paraguay.

However, it has caused huge controversy ever since the first feasibility studies were carried out in the 1970s. The 516 square kilometers due to be flooded are on the Xingu River and the amount of earth and rocks to be shifted will surpass that moved in the building of the Panama Canal.

In contrast, nuclear plants are quite compact for the energy they deliver compared to hydro and other renewable resources. That’s right, nuclear reactors could help preserve the global good that is the carbon-producing Amazon rainforest. 

There’s also the question of the 2009 blackout in Brazil. Now, this was not a failure of the massive Itaipú dam, but transmission lines leading to the dam which failed, creating a cascading effect.

…the failure of three transmission lines that deliver power from the plant created a domino effect, cutting off electricity to 18 of 26 states in Brazil, including the country’s two largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Again, our pretend energy minister might think that instead of getting 20 percent of your entire country’s electricity from just one plant, it might be better to have relatively smaller and relatively more local nuclear plants supplying it. I bet it’s a lot less stressful for somebody monitoring the grid to see 1100 megawatts suddenly disappear due to a faulty transmission line than 11,000 megawatts. It must be quite a challenge to try to pull 11,000 megawatts out of your hat. In a phrase, diversify, diversify, diversify. 

And there may be more to follow Angra 3; Brazil’s national energy plan to 2030 has called for more nuclear energy.

  Even the most conservative case calls for the completion of Angra 3, and the construction of four 1000MW new nuclear power plants, two in the northeast, and two in the southeast.

Sounds like Brazil will be joining the rest of the BRICs in boosting its nuclear ambitions.

Crisis Leadership

In addition to the environmental consequences, the political and policy implications of the Gulf Oil spill will unfold across the energy industry for years to come. Thus we read with great interest today The Washington Post's Federal Coach column. It presented an insightful article about leadership lessons from Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen's conduct in response to the Gulf Oil spill. The author, Tom Fox, mentions the following lessons he has taken from Admiral Allen's performance after Hurrican Katrina and now the Gulf spill:

1. Remember who counts - the people affected by the disaster.

2. Fix the problem and don't worry about blame - accountability will come later and is best left to others.

3. Trust but verify - do your own research.

4. Communicate constantly - through every means available.

Tom Fox invites reader thoughts on the response to the spill and on crisis leadership skills at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

NOTE: If you'd like a taste for how clear and plain spoken is Admiral Allen, see the transcript of one of his appearances on last Sunday's talk shows.

Fourth Carnival of Nuclear Energy is Up

Charles Barton at Nuclear Green has the latest best posts and he even added a few “blasts from the past”. Awe, memories … well done Charles!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Release the Kraken: Energy Hubs and Simulation

a06_p09_kraken_med The transition at the U.S. Department of Energy from a business oriented secretary – Samuel Bodman, who also had been Director of M.I.T.'s School of Engineering Practice – to a research oriented secretary – Steven Chu, previously the director of the Berkeley National Laboratory – has, naturally enough, led to an increased stress on research. While DOE always engages in research, Chu’s touting of energy hubs as engines of new ideas, as mini-Manhattan Projects, has been consistent.

He has, however, had some trouble with Congress over them, with the House approving only one of eight proposed and the Senate going for three. It may be that Chu hasn’t sold them aggressively enough, it may be general budget concerns in Congress, but three is the number for now. Two relate to renewable energy sources, the third to nuclear energy. So we were interested to run into this:

The University of Michigan has been named part of a national hub for boosting U.S. nuclear energy research and development.
The Ann Arbor university said nine engineering faculty members will lead its part of the Nuclear Energy Modeling and Simulation Energy Innovation Hub. The hub which includes other academic, industrial and government institutions [sic]. It's led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Well, congratulation to the University but it’s not much. Let’s see if someone has more on this:

Core members of CASL are Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Idaho and Sandia national laboratories; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, and North Carolina State University; and the Electric Power Research Institute, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Westinghouse Electric Co. A dozen other universities, companies and organizations in this country and in Europe also are contributing to the program.

Better. CASL is The Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors. And here’s a description of what this group is aiming to do:

The consortium’s goal is to create a virtual reactor that can be used to improve the performance and safety of existing reactors and to help design the next generation.

And why it’s important:

“Before you go testing a new reactor design, you need to have that design validated against existing reactors,” said Douglas Kothe, director of science at Oak Ridge’s National Center for Computational Sciences and director of the consortium. “What we are building is a modern, high-fidelity simulation tool, rigorously validated, to push the state of the art.”

Here’s DOE’s page about this project and a look at its future:

After five years, the Hub is intended to produce a multi-physics computational environment that can be used by a wide range of practitioners to conduct predictive calculations of the performance of reactors in the future for both normal and off-normal conditions.

In other words, something of value to a wider cohort than only simulation specialists:

The mission focus of the NE [nuclear energy] Hub is to apply existing modeling and simulation capabilities to create a user environment that allows engineers to create a simulation of a currently operating reactor that will act as a "virtual model" of that reactor.

This is a tremendously exciting and (surprisingly) practical project. We’ll have to see if the consortium really makes this user-friendly (well, to those users to whom it applies, anyway); if so, its application would be a boon for the industry.

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This is an area where supercomputers have a place and the project will be using three computing behemoths – two Crays and one IBM – to provide the horsepower. We were amused to see that one of Oak Ridge’s Crays is named Kraken, given the number of times we heard Liam Neeson bellow, “Release the kraken” in previews for Clash of the Titans this spring. Release the kraken indeed.

Kraken itself.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Nuclear Graduates and Safety Rockers

Ted Salem Community College in Carneys Point Township in New Jersey has graduated its first class of nuclear energy technology (or NET) students. This program was created in collaboration with PSEG and students did internships and other projects at the company’s plants. Corporate involvement might raise some hackles, leading an observer to question whether PSEG has helped create a program that solely fulfills its own personnel needs.

Nope.

The prestigious certificate is recognized by all U.S. nuclear utilities as meeting nuclear training requirements. Chattanooga State Technical Community College is the only other school awarding certificates this spring.

Now, NEI is involved with this program, so we certainly like the word “prestigious.” Regardless, the programs represent a real win, both for nuclear plants with aging work forces and student who want a route into the nuclear energy industry with some relevant experience under their belts – as is done with many other fields that might otherwise depend exclusively on apprentice programs. That’s prestigious enough for anyone.

Writer Tracey Wiggins has found Salem’s student body content with the program, interesting particularly because they are the first to experience it.

“Being the first to go through a new program, you don’t have the chance to hear from other students about what to expect,” said [Ryan] Pompper, a Lower Alloways Creek resident. “It was a lot different than what I thought it was going to be; it was a lot more interactive. It definitely exceeded my expectations.”

And we suspect there was an equal desire on the part of PSEG folks to share their knowledge.

“{PSEG employees] welcomed the opportunity to show the students their work on a day-to-day basis and teach them about safety, human performance and professionalism,” [Training Manager Peter] Tocci said. “Overall, both the employee and student gained from the experience.”

We realize this sounds too much like a testimonial – and Wiggins’ article does, too, a bit – so take a look at Salem’s own page for the program and judge for yourself. The first year focuses on standard college coursework, with a stress on the relevant scientific disciplines while the second year is largely given over to nuclear science and plant operations.

It seems a well-balance program – if you decide after the first year that it isn’t for you, you can switch programs without losing a ton of credits. And if you go on, you get a good grounding in both the practical and theoretical aspects of nuclear energy. Worth a look if your high school graduate is casting a net for interesting career possibilities.

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Ted Nugent has developed, unusually for a practitioner of the rock and the roll, a strong profile as a conservative activist. We’ve seen him occasionally espousing gun rights and assumed that represented his main enthusiasm, so we were interested to see him address energy issues in a Washington Times op-ed. He likes nuclear energy:

Nuclear energy is also despised by energy empty heads, yet it is the cleanest, safest and most efficient energy on the planet. America hasn't built a nuclear power plant in more than 30 years because of completely unfounded fears and sleeping bureaucrats, yet the 104 nuclear power plants we do have provide roughly 20 percent of America's energy needs.

Well, points for pugnaciousness, anyway, and he’s got the facts about right. But the overall thrust of the piece is an attempt to mitigate the impact of energy accidents by noting their relative rarity:

Mining for energy has always been a very dangerous and risky business. Future oil spills will happen, and more coal miners will get killed. It's the nature of the beast and also true because man has his imperfect hand involved. We should all be thankful these horrible things don't happen more often. We should thank the energy companies for that.

We agree that it’s good horrible things don’t happen too frequently  and also agree that using a disaster as an opportunity to militate against an entire industry is, er, opportunistic and unhelpful.

Where we part company with Nugent is the notion that Massey Energy and BP should be thanked rather than viewed with fishy eyes. The accidents on their watch must be carefully investigated to avoid similar ones from happening in the future.

But Nugent has no particular use for this approach. Too expensive.

I'm convinced the energy business could make mining for energy virtually risk-free, thereby making the risk of an oil spill very low. Few if any coal miners would ever get hurt or killed again. However, if such a risk-free model were adopted, the cost of energy would skyrocket and kill the American economy.

Well, no, no it wouldn’t. The goal is to implement a safety culture that privileges safety above all other issues. BP and Massey Energy understand safety – and what must be done to ensure it -  but evidence suggests they either made it tertiary to other concerns or tried to corrupt it. And the results were dire.

[BP engineers] went ahead with the [well] casing, but only after getting special permission from BP colleagues because it violated the company’s safety policies and design standards.

Read more here about what this is all about.

"When an MSHA inspector comes onto a Massey mine property, the code words go out, 'we've got a man on the property,"' {Gary] Quarles testified. "Those words are radioed from the guard gates and relayed to all working operations in the mine."

After that, workers are expected to do everything possible to quickly correct problems or divert the inspectors' attention from any issues, Quarles said.

Quarles lost a son to the disaster and the article does not say whether he is a miner himself. Read here for more.

Poke around Google for lots, lots more on how safety was skirted before both accidents and you’ll get a much better understanding of what Nugent calls “the nature of the beast.”

Ted Nugent.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Fossil-Fuel Bias in Indian Point Water Permit Debate?

John Wheeler at This Week in Nuclear keeps hitting hard against New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation:

In my further research on this topic I discovered a damming piece of evidence that proves NY State is giving preferential treatment to fossil fuels while at the same time imposing unfair regulations on neighboring nuclear energy facilities, the largest competitors to fossil fuels.

Stop by for the whole story.

Blog Carnival on Nuclear Energy

image If you haven’t already read on other nuclear blogs, our educated and vocal nuclear community has started a weekly carnival to highlight each other’s best blog posts.

Brian Wang at Next Big Future initiated the carnival, Charles Barton at Nuclear Green kept it going, and Mr. Wang posted the third of the series several days ago. Stop by to check them out, we’ll be hosting a few in the future as well.