Friday, October 29, 2010

Time, Liability and the Deutsch Again

Philippsburg nuclear plant TIME Magazine’s Joe Klein offers President Barack Obama some advice on working with Republicans this week. Much of it is a little glib, but how could we not like this:

If Obama wants to get a major stimulus program through the next Congress, he should propose the National Defense Nuclear Power Act. And make it big: a plan to blast past the current financing and licensing quagmires and break ground on 25 new nuclear plants between now and 2015.

The program would be wildly stimulative: 25 new plants could produce more than 70,000 construction jobs. Nuclear energy produces about a fifth of U.S. electricity now; this could raise that figure closer to a third. And the loans will be paid back, over time, by utility customers.

Depending on your perspective, you can see this as a little glib – part of Klein’s premise is that this would be popular with Republicans, which feels more than a little outdated. He’s right about the stimulative nature of building nuclear energy plants and who doesn’t appreciate big thinking, but this doesn’t feel altogether serious to me. See what you think.

---

But then again, when a government changes direction (admittedly, a bigger deal in parliamentary systems than in ours) the winds can blow differently:

Germany may be facing into a winter of discontent following the dismantling of a plan to phase out nuclear energy in just over a decade. On Thursday the center-right majority in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, voted in favor of extending the lifespan of the country's 17 nuclear power plants, overturning a decision made 10 years ago by the then ruling Social Democrat-Green Party coalition to wean the country off atomic energy by around 2022.

Of course, the center-right will yield at some point, but I’m not sure that the Social Democrats – the other big party in Germany – would be so eager to change course again if the Greens are locked out of the coalition. Then again,

Sigmar Gabriel, SPD [Social Democrat] leader and former environment minister, lashed out at the decision, accusing the government of creating advantages for the big four energy companies -- Eon, RWE, EnBW and Vattenvall. The Greens and the SPD warn that by continuing to rely on nuclear energy the development of renewable sources will be neglected.

As we’ve seen before, the big four are also big in renewables, so this doesn’t scan that well. I can’t speculate, of course, but keeping the nuclear plants going does get Germany where it wants to go in terms of emissions reduction targets.

I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a genuinely contentious issue. It is, and the article includes a bunch of excerpts from newspapers right and left on this vote to show just how contentious. It’s a genuinely fascinating look at how another country grapples with a policy decision.

---

A few weeks ago, I wrote this about the India parliament voting to hold suppliers for nuclear energy plants responsible for liability in case of an accident:

The New York Times story is very detailed on the Indian politics behind this terrible legislation. What the story almost gets is that Indians really want trade in nuclear materials with the United States and if this law is as bad as it seems – and it is - it is unlikely to stand. Cooler heads will prevail – hopefully.

The problem here is simple. Too much exposure for liability discourages participation and this decision threatened to halt any progress on nuclear plant construction in India. Even Indian suppliers didn’t like it.

Well, we hoped cooler heads would prevail and prevail they have:

India on Wednesday signed an international convention on nuclear energy accident liability, a move aimed at soothing tensions with the U.S. over the countries' civil nuclear partnership ahead of President Barack Obama's visit here next week.

Now, that international convention has not achieved the force of law yet – to do so, it needs five countries whose combined nuclear capacity equals 400,000 megawatts – and of the signatories to date, only the U.S. and now India contribute substantially to that total.

The Wall Street Journal report is a little too U.S.-centric, but the point is clear enough. And the report does cover a detail that confused me in earlier stories on this development – how does India reconcile the convention and its liability law? Still speculative, but here’s a stab at it:

U.S. officials have said India may be able to write regulations to implement its new liability law that defang the provisions about which U.S. firms are most concerned. U.S. and Indian officials have also discussed a potential country-to-country pact where India would make assurances to insulate U.S. suppliers from lawsuits, people familiar with the matter have said.

Not sure how pleasing this would be to European and Asian suppliers – not to mention Canada, historically a big player in the Indian nuclear industry – but it’s something.

The Philippsburg nuclear plant in (wait for it) Philippsburg. That’s in the German state of Baden-Wurttenberg. If you’re in the neighborhood, well worth the visit.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Constellation and EDF Part Ways

Calvert Cliffs We did not follow stories about Constellation Energy and its decision not to accept a loan guarantee on terms offered by the government because no one story really moved the initial news forward. Too much speculation, too little substance can create considerable drama but not much in the way of useful information. But today, the story generated some facts:

Constellation Energy settled its dispute with French utility giant Electricite de France on Tuesday, selling its half of a joint venture to develop new nuclear power plants and dropping its threat to exercise an option to force EDF to buy a dozen aging fossil fuel plants.

Note the word “dispute.” That’s drama. Note the word “force.” That’s false, as there was a contractual arrangement between the two companies to bring about this result, thus no force required.

Beyond that, this Washington Post story makes clear that EDF means to move forward with nuclear energy. As you might imagine, this is a pretty complex parting of the ways. Here’s how Constellation describes the division:

Under the terms of the agreement, EDF will acquire Constellation's 50 percent ownership in UniStar for $140 million. Upon completion of the transaction, EDF will be the sole owner of UniStar. In addition to sites for Calvert Cliffs 3 and a potential fourth reactor at Calvert Cliffs, which are both held by UniStar, Constellation will transfer to UniStar potential new nuclear sites at Nine Mile Point and R. E. Ginna in New York State. Constellation will provide some contractual services to UniStar to facilitate a smooth transition. With the sale of its share of UniStar, Constellation will no longer have responsibility for developing or financing a new nuclear plant at Calvert Cliffs 3.

UniStar is a joint project between EDF and Constellation to design and build reactors at Calvert Cliffs and the other sites mentioned above. EDF, as a foreign-owned company, can design but not build or operate reactors in this country without a partner to provide a majority stake.

Another detail is that Constellation is the entity that requested and turned down the loan guarantee as offered by the Department of Energy. To date, it has not withdrawn the loan guarantee application and has not closed the door to another DOE offer. That’s another detail.

Further to the terms of the agreement, EDF will transfer to Constellation 3.5 million of the shares that it owns in Constellation and will relinquish its seat on the Constellation board.

Back and forth.

Constellation will terminate its rights under the existing put option and, as a result, will not sell any of its plants to EDF.

That’s the “force” referred to above. It was apparently not contingent on Constellation accepting the loan guarantee, but in any event has become irrelevant. The idea was that EDF would assume ownership of several non-nuclear properties but now will not.

The ownership structure of the companies' existing Constellation Energy Nuclear Group ("CENG") partnership remains unchanged with Constellation holding 50.01 percent ownership and EDF maintaining 49.99 percent partner status.

This is another jointly owned company through which Constellation and EDF own several plants together, including Calvert Cliffs, Nine Mile Point and R.E. Ginna. This joint ownership remains intact, though, as noted above, Constellation has ceded land at each site to UniStar so the latter may build reactors there if it chooses to.

The news creates a new baseline going forward. There will be announcements from EDF and Constellation to explain how each company will proceed consequent to this baseline.

Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Roundtable, A Voice and Death

Bob Guccioni Interesting roundtable discussion over at Penn Central. Participants include John Herron, president, CEO and chief nuclear officer of Entergy Nuclear; Mark Marano, Areva senior vice president of U.S. new build operations; Danny Roderick, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy's senior vice president for new plant projects; Christofer Mowry, president and CEO, B&W Modular Nuclear Energy, LLC; and Deva Chari, Westinghouse senior vice president of Nuclear Power Plants.

Lots of different topics are discussed: here’s a sampling of the questions:

There has been a lot of talk about the possibility of a nuclear renaissance globally. What is the outlook for new nuclear projects over the next couple of years, especially given the global recession?

How are the dynamics for new nuclear in North America different than they were a couple of years ago?

The Department of Energy approved a federal loan guarantee last February for Southern’s proposed units, but nothing has happened since then. Constellation Energy and NRG Energy have both said they will cut back on the amount they are spending to develop proposed units while they wait for federal action. How large of a problem is the delay in federal loan guarantees?

New reports made a big deal over the summer regarding a report North Carolina suggesting that solar is now less expensive to build than nuclear. In the face of that kind of press, what’s the economic argument in favor of new nuclear?

(I found this report very dubious; it’s no surprise these gentlemen do, too. Here’s Roderick: “Well first of all I did read that report and it is very one-sided. It does not compare apples to apples whatsoever.” – a point on which Mowry expands: “Solar is roughly 24 cents a kWh. It is at best three times as expensive as the power that comes out of nuclear and I think you really have to look at the marginal cost because of the kind of power that it is, [in] which case [it] may be five to 10 times more expensive. So that is absolutely not the case.”)

Are you hearing concerns from Wall Street regarding the three years or so of exposure that the capital will face during new plant construction?

As you can see, some of the most contentious issues out there are given a airing. Well worth reading the whole thing.

---

Growing demands for energy around the world have nations increasingly looking to the promise of nuclear power to fuel their growth and development needs.

Nothing to disagree with there, but the notable fact about this little article is that it is published at the Voice of America, the U.S. radio service (TV, too, though not as much) for other countries. So there is a bit of interest in what the American attitude is in the material being transmitted.

With nuclear power's potential however, comes responsibilities. One is that nations developing nuclear energy for civilian uses commit to preventing nuclear technology from being diverted to other nations or groups that might use it to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Other than the term “weapons of mass destruction” losing some of its luster, it’s a fair metric of concern, especially since it is used to promote the idea of a fuel bank, an international entity that will track uranium used at plants and retrieve the used nuclear fuel.

We look forward to working with both nuclear power-capable and developing nations to establish an IAEA Fuel Bank that can help to harness peaceful nuclear power for the benefit of all.

So, as one might expect, an accurate and pointed statement of U.S. interest.

---

I’m not a big reader of obituaries – time for that later – but I do read the New York Times and Washington Post obits of prominent people. Often, these include tidbits of information I did not know or might prefer not to know.

He once hired 82 scientists to develop a small nuclear reactor as a low-cost energy source, but it came to nothing and cost $17 million.

This is from the NYT obit of Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse (and Omni, a pretty good science magazine.), who died last week at the age of 79.

In looking around for more details, I found that Rod Adams at the invaluable Atomic Insights blog had already dug into this topic. Hint: it involves fusion, for all you fans of the sun. Rod will tell you the rest.

Bob Guccioni. That’s one of his own paintings. This page has a gallery showing details of some of his work. It looks like Guccioni became fascinated with early Picasso and pinned his style there.

Good Words on Nuclear Energy

John Batchelor hosts a radio talk show known for the variety of topics it covers and guests it draws. The show is broadcast in the evenings here on the East Coast, and podcasts of past shows are available on the show's website. For us, one of the more interesting guests recently was John Moore, CEO of Acorn Energy, who appeared in the fourth hour of the October 15 show (Minutes 0:00-9:27). Mr. Moore has a new book called "The Hidden Cleantech Revolution: Five Priorities for Securing America's Energy Future without Breaking the Bank."

In his Batchelor Show appearance, Mr. Moore spoke about inconsistencies in federal policies towards nuclear energy, contrasting the promise of loan guarantees on the one hand with killing the Yucca Mountain project on the other. Mr. Batchelor remarked on the unreasonably high 11% fee the government would have charged for its loan guarantee on the Calvert Cliffs-3 project. Mr. Moore offered figures showing that nuclear is among the least subsidized energy sources, contrary to popular perception. He emphasized the importance of a diverse energy supply and warned that the current "romance" with renewables could blind us to the risks in becoming too dependent on one source of energy. He said that pursuing renewables to excess, for example, could result in trading our dependence on foreign oil for an equally problematic dependence on foreign supplies of strategic minerals such as rare earths, used in high-strength magnets needed for wind turbines and in solar cells.

Mr. Moore's book is available for downloading at his web site.
Upper photo: John Batchelor at work.
Lower photo: John. A. Moore, CEO, Acorn Energy (ACFN-NASDAQ).

Friday, October 22, 2010

Around the World in 80 Seconds or So

Sebastian-Pinera A few quick hits.

New or newish to the nuclear party – Chile

Chile will send 30 professionals abroad to fine-tune their knowledge and expertise in nuclear energy, which is an integral part of government plans to someday decide on building an energy-producing nuclear power plant, the nation's president said Wednesday.

The Chileans are moving at a deliberate pace – might be something in the national character, as some other countries want their plants up and running now.

"Chile has to prepare itself for the world of nuclear energy...The decision won't be made now, not even during our government. But our government has the obligation to prepare our engineers, scientists and technical workers," [President Sebatian] Pinera said, while on tour in Paris, his first official visit to Europe.

It does take awhile, but the Yellow Brick Road does eventually get to the Emerald City.

---

Sri Lanka:

The Sri Lankan government is planning to establish a nuclear power plant here to meet the growing demand for power in the country, a government minister said on Saturday.

Champika Ranawaka, minister of Power and Energy said the government had already commenced prefeasibility study.

Unlike the Chileans, the Sri Lankans are already talking to potential partners – France, Russia – and where the Chileans may be answering to a need for more electricity, Sri Lanka is looking to industrialize. Doing this with nuclear energy is a way to ramp up the effort quickly while keeping climate change at bay.

The environmentalist argument has an interesting local tang to it:

But environmentalists warn of dire consequences if the plan goes ahead.

Centre for Environmental Justice spokesman Hemantha Withanage told the BBC that Sri Lanka is "too small" for a nuclear power plant.

"How a country which struggles to manage ordinary household refuse thinks that it will be able safely to dispose of nuclear waste is a very important question," he said.

There is no proper rubbish management in Sri Lanka - residents who live near garbage collection centers continuously complain of unbearably bad odors among other environmental issues.

Sri Lanka has talked to Russia about taking used nuclear fuel, so this is kind of a non-issue.

---

Gulp! Libya:

France wants to do business with Libya in areas including nuclear energy, a French minister said on Thursday on a visit aimed at narrowing Italy's lead in building lucrative trade ties with the oil exporter. [Libya is a former Italian colony.]

Now, note that “including:”

"This agreement will lead to strategic cooperation with Libya in the areas of transport, health, construction, oil and gas and peaceful nuclear energy," he [Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi] said.

Well, he hopes so, anyway.

He did not give details about what form any nuclear cooperation might take.

I’m surprisingly more content than usual that this is vague and indefinite. If this stays vague for an extended length of time, still content. Not that the Libyans are instantly suspect – they’re not – but old hurts die hard and Libya has been notably hurtful.

---

How about something happier to wrap up the week?

Last week, TVA announced an initiative by the Tennessee Valley Corridor to promote the nuclear power industry in Tennessee. The Tennessee Valley Nuclear Energy Coalition, formed from nuclear and economic development organizations through the Tennessee Valley Corridor, will partner with the Deloitte Consulting firm to do market analysis and develop business plans for growing regional nuclear supply chain opportunities resulting in new jobs, exploring possibilities for using new modular nuclear reactors in the region and meeting other goals.

Really just the next step in TVA’s expansion of nuclear energy in its official planning. There’ll be more to say about this in the months to come, but read the whole article for a primer on what TVA is doing and why.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera. Seems a plausible shot for an American politician. Pinera is a businessman and millionaire (he owns a TV network) whose hard won campaign led to the first elected conservative government – by Chilean standards – in some fifty years. It’s a test of a kind – the Chileans suffered badly under Pinochet, and Pinera’s opponents tried hard to make a comparison between the two. Didn’t work. But it will show if Chile can remain stable when the direction of the country changes – not always a sure thing in South America.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Where Do Your Volts Come From?

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins devoted his weekly column to a critical review of GM's electric car offering, the Chevy Volt. Mr. Jenkins made several important points, but perhaps the most important was recognizing that little will be gained if the electricity to recharge these cars comes from carbon-intensive sources. He notes the irony that "...the Volt rolls out amid news that an investor is abandoning a big U.S. nuclear project" (presumably he is referring to last weekend's announcement about Constellation's Calvert Cliffs 3 project).


We're all for greater use of electricity in transportation. Using electricity produced by clean nuclear power plants, electric automobiles could help reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector and begin to displace some of the oil used in motor fuels. That strikes us as a good thing for the nation and a great way to leverage our expertise in operating nuclear power plants safely and efficiently.

More information on the Volt is available from this GM web site.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Venezuela Gets a Pass, Whitman Talks Nuclear

WP528FIRSTPERSON In writing about Venezuela’s nuclear energy ambitious, I wondered what the U.S. response would be. Now we know:

"We have no incentive nor interest in increasing friction between Venezuela and the US, but we do think Venezuela needs to act responsibly," [President Barack] Obama told Spanish media at the White House.

"Our attitude is that Venezuela has rights to peacefully develop nuclear power," he said, adding that as a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty it must also meet its obligations not to weaponize those systems.

So there you go. And Venezuela is moving right along:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez clinched a deal in Moscow on Friday that will see Russia build and operate the first nuclear power plant in his country.

You can read the rest of the story for more.

---

Former EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman weighs in on the renewable electricity standard, which will require that utilities get a percentage of their power from non-carbon-emitting energy sources. Leaving nuclear energy out of the standard has never seemed very on-point since the goal of it is to encourage the production of “clean” electricity. Nuclear does that. Here’s Whitman:

Whitman said in a telephone interview that she'd like to see it broadened to a "green" standard that includes nuclear power. She argued that renewable sources alone won't be able to meet the country's growing energy needs.

This is true, but if the goal is to promote wind, solar, hydro and so on, then perhaps nuclear does not need to be part of it.

"What we want is clean, green energy," Whitman said. "And you should let the market decide which form is going to work the best. If you say renewables, you can't include nuclear, because it does rely on uranium, and that's a finite resource."

Because when you limit the standard to renewable, you’re not really fulfilling the policy goal.

"What we want is clean, green energy," Whitman said. "And you should let the market decide which form is going to work the best. If you say renewables, you can't include nuclear, because it does rely on uranium, and that's a finite resource."

In other words, make the standard broad enough without being too specific about the technologies needed to accomplish the standard’s objective. In that way, government policy and industry policy sync more congenially.

"I get very leery when Congress picks the winners within any band of energy source," she added.

Say it loud.

Christine Todd Whitman. An excellent example of a person who has devoted herself to public service, elective or no.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wisconsin Clean Sweep

Scott Walker Awhile ago, we featured a race for the House in New York in which all three candidates offered support for nuclear energy. New York, meet Wisconsin:

It could be the most radical yet least discussed policy change coming for Wisconsin. Both candidates for governor  – Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican – said in a recent survey they would support lifting the ban on the construction of new nuclear power plants in the state.

No offense to Milwaukee Magazine’s Matt Hrodey, but if that’s the most radical idea coming down Wisconsin’s pike, time to hit the off-ramp. We know Wisconsin isn’t that dull.

After all, as Hrodey himself points out, Wisconsin has plants – Kewaunee and Point Beach – and they chug along quite tidily:

Nuclear power generates about 20 percent of the state’s power, according to the Public Service Commission.

The article aims to produce some controversy, though, so there’s this:

Sharing similar concerns about atomic waste [as Greenpeace], State Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) pledged that he would introduce a bill when the state Legislature convenes in January to ban companies from transporting the waste on state waterways.

I wonder if that happens now. In any event, Rep. Richards will not have a governor who would sign it on that basis alone – frankly, I can see bills like this taking hold due to the sacrosanct nature of the waterways in many states – Lakes Michigan and Superior in Wisconsin, for starters.

For example, here’s Tom Barrett on his web site:

Tom is committed to working to protect our lakes and waterways. He was a forceful proponent of the Great Lakes Compact, and he has always opposed efforts to drill for oil and gas in the Great Lakes.

And here’s Scott Walker:

Two Great Lakes…over 15,000 inland lakes…thousands of acres of forests…the nation’s greatest river. These are a small but significant snapshot of Wisconsin’s fantastic natural resources where Wisconsin families camp, fish and hunt.

See? A lot of state pride is justifiably tied up in the lakes and the natural beauty of the state. Neither candidate says anything about nuclear energy (that I could find) on their sites, but that’s okay – it doesn’t seem to be a bone of contention between them.

The latest roundup of polls at Real Clear Politics shows Walker up by about nine points – it’s an unusual year, though, so we’ll see.

---

I’m not absolutely sure how big a story this is:

Chris Huhne announced yesterday that plans for a tidal barrage green energy scheme were dead in the water - and the UK will get eight new nuclear power stations.

The Energy Secretary was blasted for failing to honor the Lib Dem manifesto vow to scrap nuclear in favor of green energy projects.

Huhne is himself a Liberal Democrat, the minority party of the governing coalition in Great Britain where the majority party is the Conservatives. Huhne decided to stand his ground quite forcefully:

Mr Huhne said: "I'm fed up with the stand-off between advocates of renewables and of nuclear, which means we have neither. We urgently need investment in new and diverse energy sources."

His decision is at odds with the Lib Dem manifesto, which "rejected" a new generation of nuclear plants as a "far more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions than promoting energy conservation and renewable energy".

Huhne gets it about right: he may be in hot water with his party mates (I’m not sure why that tidal energy project went south – presumably, nothing to do with nuclear energy), but he has chosen to do something private industry supports. Austerity is key in Britain right now, so having private interests want to pursue nuclear energy fulfills public policy without the government having to splash out the money.

So, good – I’ll look more into this one – I’m curious about what else Britain wants to do in the energy realm - but this move doesn’t seem all that controversial.

No, Wisconsin politicians do not normally dress in leather jackets and tee shirts. In his role of County Executive a couple of years ago, Scott Walker showed up to unveil a statue of The Fonz, the character played by Henry Winkler on the Happy Days TV show. Happy Days was set in Milwaukee. Honestly, the gear works for Walker.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Wind and the Tide

repower-5mw-wind-turbine Internet search engine giant Google announced Tuesday that it is investing in a mammoth project to build an underwater "superhighway for clean energy" that would be able to funnel power from offshore wind farms to 1.9 million homes without overtaxing the already congested mid-Atlantic power grid.

Why?

While the project is outside of Google's normal focus, officials said, "We believe in investing in projects that make good business sense and further the development of renewable energy."

Well, that makes enough sense as not to matter. If Google wants to do this, and its shareholders don’t raise objections, why not? It certainly has a good profile.

Some of what I’ve read raises questions, though not really about the utility of the project.

There’s this:

Consumers who would receive electricity through the grid would help fund the project, Mitchell added, although he said at this point, "It's hard to say what will be the impact on the consumer."

Mitchell is Bob Mitchell, chief executive of Trans-Elect, the electric transmission company that is taking the lead on the project. It sounds like CWIP, where consumers help pay for construction of a new plant. I assume this needs public utility commission support in the various states it will serve – I’m not sure this has happened yet.

There’s this interesting tidbit in the New York Times:

Yet even before any wind farms were built, the cable would channel existing supplies of electricity from southern Virginia, where it is cheap, to northern New Jersey, where it is costly, bypassing one of the most congested parts of the North American electric grid while lowering energy costs for northern customers.

That’s a net positive and it suggests where some money can be made by Google, Trans-Elect and their partners while the turbine work is done. But the very next paragraph suggests the countervailing force.

Generating electricity from offshore wind is far more expensive than relying on coal, natural gas or even onshore wind. But energy experts anticipate a growing demand for the offshore turbines to meet state requirements for greater reliance on local renewable energy as a clean alternative to fossil fuels.

So those who thought cap-and-trade an energy tax can now call this an energy tax, too. That’s a little snarky, but the truth is that any movement to renewable energy sources is going to imply a higher cost for electricity – whether it is government or industry that powers the move.

And that may be okay by many as long as the cost of electricity remains manageable and as long as carbon emission reduction as a desirable outcome doesn’t hit headwinds. We’ve seen a lot of politicians in the current election cycle deride global warming, which suggests that an interesting dynamic may emerge if they become a significant block of legislators.

And there’s this:

Now, apply those numbers [the cost of the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts] back to Google and Good Energies’ project. In order to produce 6,000 megawatts, they would need about 1,700 turbines, for a cost of over $32 billion. These are some sketchy numbers — nobody’s seriously proposed 1,700 turbines off the coast, nor is it clear where the extra $27 billion would come from.

I think these numbers are wildly overstated – this is a project where you cannot easily separate the turbines from the transmission – but I agree with writer Matthew Shaffer that numbers are flying around with only a vague sense of how to account for them. That may be the nature of a large project, but it will likely lead to some breathtaking financial obligations – for electricity vendors, state governments, consumers. Or maybe not – that Virginia to New Jersey connection noted above may allow for some impressive cost sharing over the span of the project.

None of this should be construed as objections or as a way to sow doubt over a wind project on a nuclear site. Quite the contrary – an infrastructure project this big raises innumerable questions that will find answers as it moves along, but that doesn’t mean it should be stopped or unnecessarily hindered.

There are many angles from which to compare this project to what a nuclear energy plant might offer in contrast. But let’s leave that aside this time. Instead, consider this post some initial scattered thoughts about a very interesting development and add your own thoughts – even if less scattered – in comments. After all, we’re all electricity buffs, aren’t we?

I’d never really seen a picture of erecting a turbine in the water, but it makes sense that it would include cranes on barges. Presumably there’s a community of divers to root them in place, too.

23rd Carnival of Nuclear Energy: Uphill Battles and Spaghetti Regulations

Vogtle nuclear construction For the third time since the nuclear carnivals began, we have the privilege of hosting this week’s highlights of the pro nuclear blogs.

In no particular order, we start with Ted Rockwell at Learning About Energy who contributed a thought-provoking essay on the topsy-turvy world of nuclear energy. Here’s his synopsis:

Nuclear means being special. That brings special favors, but we soon learn that it also brings a curse that is hard to shake: no solution that would otherwise be quite adequate is ever good enough for nuclear. People are ready to believe that our competitors’ problems will soon be solved, but for nuclear, we have to promise that we’ll make each succeeding plant safer than its predecessors.

Rod Adams at Atomic Insights has been racking up the comments after challenging the regulatory system on excessive costs due to the extremely conservative linear no threshold theory:

The regulatory system in the US for nuclear energy is based on the assumption that all radiation, no matter how small the dose represents an avoidable risk. The rules push nuclear facility operators to keep doses as low as reasonably achievable, but the regulators assume a broad definition of a "reasonable" cost for reducing radiation doses.

Nuclear costs would fall if regulators recognized the science showing that there is no harm from doses that are within the normal variations in natural background radiation.

Brian Wang at Next Big Future noted how fast India is increasing its nuclear generation and exceeding its projected targets.

Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat reported on the delay for two new nuclear units in the Czech Republic due to lower electricity demand and possibly Germany’s decision to keep their reactors running longer.

Gail Marcus at Nuke Power Talk liked the World Nuclear Association’s idea of building more attractive nuclear facilities for a “less-intrusive profile”:

There is no reason why much of our infrastructure needs to be quite as unattractive as some of it is. If designed right from the beginning, many facilities could be made more attractive for minimal additional cost.

Margaret Harding at ANS Nuclear Cafe explained the spaghetti of regulations among five different departments regarding nuclear export control. In order to reduce this complexity, Margaret referenced Defense Secretary Gates’ proposal to create a single list, single agency and single IT infrastructure to manage the process.

Charles Barton at Nuclear Green pointed out the number of cost savings that can be achieved from small and advanced reactors.

Steve Aplin at Canadian Energy Issues discussed another go at building new nuclear at Darlington in order to replace 6,000 MW of coal. Aplin pointed out how history has proved that when decision-makers take bogus ideas like Amory Lovins’ ‘negawatts’ seriously, the result is skyrocketing greenhouse gas emissions and a stagnant job market.

Areva’s blog took on Climate Action Progress’ Joe Romm and Richard Caperton’s statements regarding the loan guarantee program:

As the details of all loan guarantees are proprietary, Caperton has no knowledge of the financial protections included in any given transactions, and thus no basis to evaluate whether a credit subsidy cost is “correct”.

Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee wasn’t shy to discuss the Vermont gubernatorial politics. In a debate between anti Vermont Yankee Senator Shumlin and pro VY Lt. Governor Dubie, Meredith took issue with Shumlin’s tactic of describing Vermont Yankee as Entergy Louisiana.

And here at NEI Nuclear Notes, Mark Flanagan pointed out that Constellation’s decision to withdraw from the Calvert Cliffs 3 project doesn’t mean the end of new nuclear.

Picture of the assembly modular building for Vogtle units 3 and 4 with units 1 and 2 in background.

Dead Nuclear Plants Walking?

black Is the expansion of nuclear energy stopped in its tracks in light of Constellation Energy’s withdrawing from the loan guarantee process?

Not so fast. Brain Wheeler at Power-Gen checks in with several companies to see what’s happening. Here’s NRG:

Although many may see the Calvert Cliffs 3 and the South Texas Project (STP) as very similar, [NRG spokesman David] Knox said there are in fact more differences than similarities in the two. He said that by selecting a reactor that has already been built … [in Japan], it decreases the amount of risk when building a nuclear plant. NRG expects to receive a license from NRC in 2012 and said that both planned units at STP would cost roughly $10 billion, total.

What Knox is getting at is that Constellation and NRG’s projects are different enough to result in a different, better OMB [Office of Management and Budget ] score for STP. This may or may not prove to be true – the major argument to be made here is that OMB uses a formula for calculating default risk that is extremely unrealistic – but the desire to move forward remains intact.

And here’s SCANA, with a glance at the Southern Co.:

Like the Southern Co.-led consortium [which received a loan guarantee commitment for its Plant Vogtle project in Georgia], the V.C. Summer expansion is planned in a regulated market. While SCANA is still in the loan application process, the company said a loan guarantee is not absolutely necessary for its new nuclear project. Upon notification from DOE, SCANA said it “will determine if the terms are in the best interest of our customers and our company.”

These are important messages, because you really don’t want to see a narrative like this (from Greenpeace) take hold:

Nuclear power is bad for business, it seems. Renewables on the other hand? After announcing this week that it was investing in ‘in an underwater transmission network that can harvest electricity from wind farms off the Mid-Atlantic coast’ and power ‘nearly two million homes across Virginia, New York and New Jersey’, Google’s share price rose.

You may be sure that stock rises in EDF or falls in Google will not be reported by Greenpeace, as that would demolish their fragile – and silly - edifice. (That transmission network is pretty neat, though, worth more attention.)

Don’t worry! That’s Boris Karloff walking the last mile in Black Friday (1940). He’s sure to come back (alive, dead or undead, makes no difference) and start bumping off the judge, his lawyers, the jury, innocent bystanders and puppies. He’s so misunderstood!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

O Canada: ElBaradei and the Oil Sands

oilsands-cp-5173278 Mohammed ElBaradei, the previous head of the IAEA, is in Canada to talk about energy security. When I read something like this from him:

There is a broader sense that without stability you will not really have energy security," he said in an exclusive interview with the [Calgary] Herald. "You will not have energy security unless you have a global security system that enables everybody to feel that they have enough to have a decent life. If you continue to have sort of an obscene gap between the rich and the poor and the instability, that will definitely have an impact on your energy security. Energy security is just the tip of the iceberg."

I remember why I find him an admirable figure – he did a terrific job at the IAEA promoting the needs of smaller countries and tempering some inflammatory rhetoric from a few of the more powerful member countries. The growing interest in nuclear energy throughout Asia and Africa likely owes at least a nod in the direction of ElBaradei.

The “exclusive interview” is so light on quotes, reporter Shaun Polczer must have caught him on the run. I’ll be interested to see if his speech there is covered.

---

From the same story:

The nuclear industry is well established in Canada, and especially in Ontario, which is home to the lion's share of the counter's nuclear power generation. However, provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan -- which is a major uranium producer -- have toyed with the idea of building nuclear reactors to provide power for oil sands production.

There’s those oil sands again. Although Canada does extract a lot of oil from the sands – it’s a process more akin to mining than drilling - the result is small compared to the potential. In an earlier post, we saw that director (and Canadian) James Cameron suggested using nuclear energy to power the extraction effort and was met by stony silence from officials.

I get that one: building the plant would be beneficial in general but committing one to help with the oil sands wouldn’t work very well economically and probably be considerable overkill. But that doesn’t mean the sands are sitting unmined. The United States gets about 22 percent of its oil from Canada and most of that (by a little) comes from the oil sands.

But the oil sands industry has come under increasing attack from environmental groups who complain about water and ground contamination, high instances of cancer in some communities downstream and the production of three times the amount of greenhouse gases as conventional oil operations.

This is a tough one to wrap one’s mind around. Clearly, the oil sands erect financial, practical and environmental hurdles that seem impossible to clear and still produce affordable – or more exactly, profitable – oil.

But equally clearly, Alberta’s Fort McMurray has become a boomtown as neighbor U.S.A. looks to Canada to help it leave behind middle Eastern-derived oil. (Even before that effort, Canada supplied more oil to America than did Saudi Arabia – 904,914 barrels in 2009 vs. 366,605, in thousands. See here for more. To make it a little more confusing, OPEC in total supplies more than Canada but OPEC includes Venezuela and Ecuador. You can decide how to tote it all up yourself.)

Financial sump hole or boon of the oil industry? Environmental disaster or ecologically responsible? I know what I think is true, but that’s not the same as knowing. This subject falls outside our brief, so further research will be sporadic – but if you’re interested, here’s a good place to start from the corporate perspective (Syncorp, in this case) and the non-corporate perspective (from MapleLeafWeb, which lays out some of the environmental and social impact issues.)

They’re called oil sands. What do you expect, a vista?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Constellation Pulls Out of the Loan Guarantee Process

me_nuke7 Constellation Energy surprised many by pulling out of the loan guarantee process for the Calvert Cliffs 3 project in Maryland.

Senior administration officials said Constellation's decision was "a surprise," but a Constellation Energy spokesman Larry McDonnell said that the administration's loan guarantee terms were "unworkable" and that Constellation had told the Energy Department "we can't move forward."

Specifically, Senior Vice-Chairman and COO Michael Wallace said in a letter to DOE’s COO Larry Poneman:

As you know, however, as our application went through preliminary credit review during the Summer, we were surprised to be presented with a shockingly high estimate of the credit subsidy cost that we and our partners would have to pay the U.S. Treasury in order to obtain the loan guarantee: 11.6%, or about $880 million. Such a sum would clearly destroy the project's economics (or the economics of any nuclear project for that matter), and was dramatically out of line with both our own and independent assessments of what the figure should reasonably be.

That’s the crux of it. NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel expands on this point:

“Clearly, the loan guarantee methodology used by the Executive Branch inflates the credit subsidy cost well beyond the level required to compensate the federal government for the risk taken in providing the loan guarantee. The Calvert Cliffs 3 project was quoted an unrealistically high credit subsidy cost, which ignored the project’s strong credit metrics and the robust lender protections built into the transaction.

“The formula used for all clean energy projects eligible for loan guarantees limits the estimate of recovery rate to 55 percent, significantly lower than the recovery estimate in the credit assessment of the Calvert Cliffs project by an independent rating agency. The 55-percent recovery rate is an arbitrary number, and bears no relationship to recovery rates observed over several decades for regulated electric utility debt or project finance debt.

Fertel goes into considerably more detail here. This is testimony delivered to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in late September, so consider that group up to speed on what just happened. It’ll be interesting to see what Chairman and Ranking Member Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have to say.

---

The fallout? What you’d expect:

Here’s Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley:

A spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said in an e-mail to The Gazette on Monday that O'Malley "is disappointed but remains committed to working with EDF to ultimately save the project, and the thousands of jobs that come with it. The Governor personally lobbied the White House and the President on this project, and remains committed to it."

And Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland):

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Dist. 5) of Mechanicsville said he had spent the last year "working very hard to secure a loan guarantee to enable the construction for a new reactor at Calvert Cliffs that would bring jobs to our area and protect the taxpayer's investment in the next generation of nuclear energy. We were able to ensure that the companies had a full and thorough hearing from the [Obama] Administration."

And:

Hoyer said he will continue to seek resources to get the reactor built. The nuclear industry relies on federal loan guarantees to build reactors because private financing is hard to come by.

Calvert Cliffs. Two reactors for now, not three.

Friday, October 08, 2010

An Educated Consumer

Koeberg_nuclear_power_station Let’s call it Partnership Friday:

Japan has submitted a bid to construct a nuclear energy power plant in Turkey through the mediation of Toshiba, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yıldız has said.

And the Turks seem amenable:

“We see this offer from Japan as an important bid in terms of our efforts to construct nuclear power plants in Turkey.

However, we told them that we cannot give them a definite answer before concluding our negotiations with South Korea,” Yıldız said.

But if the South Koreans lose? Well:

Korea signed an agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy with South Africa Friday, completing the necessary procedure to make Korean firms eligible to access the nuclear energy market there.
The announcement came about a month after South Africa announced plans to build more nuclear reactors to cope with soaring demand for electricity.

Oddly, South Africa doesn’t seem to acknowledge two Koreas. Maybe the South Koreans call it Africa.

And keeping the daisy chain going, what’s up with South Africa?

An ambitious plan to reduce SA’s reliance on coal by almost half by 2030 and to more than double the use of nuclear energy was released by the Department of Energy yesterday, while the contribution of renewable energy technologies is poised for a significant increase.

No complaint here – and the story tells us what that will mean:

In the draft integrated resource plan, the department is proposing that coal contribute 48% to the energy mix by 2030, followed by renewable energy (16%), nuclear (14%), peaking open cycle gas turbine (9%), peaking pump storage (6%), mid-merit gas (5%) and baseload import hydro (2%). These point to a window of investment opportunity mainly in renewable energy and nuclear technologies. The draft plan envisages 52248MW of new capacity in the next 20 years.

That may seem a lot for coal, but aside from the country’s one nuclear plant (which has about 6% of the country’s electric capacity) outside Cape Town, virtually all its electricity is through coal fired plants. This commitment to bring that down couldn’t come soon enough.

Oops! That’s the end of the chain.

---

I’m a big fan of the most vociferous anti-nuclear folk sitting down with the strongest nuclear advocates – and with anyone in between the two poles, too - and hashing out their positions. Talk is always good.

The Institute for Global Education on Thursday sponsored a discussion on the merits and threats of nuclear-generated power in hopes of bringing home the issue.

This is in Grand Rapids, Mich., with John Ellegood, the NRC's senior resident inspector at the Palisades plant outside Covert Township. He adds a touch of the practical to a conversation that might stray too far into assertion. For example:

"Far too often, the industry gets what it wants and, when it comes to violations, it takes so very long for them to be processed," [Corinne] Carey said.

This kind of thing is easy to say, but of course Ellegood works at the plant but not for the plant.

"I'm there every day," Ellegood said. "I interact with the operators every day. We don't just trust what they say. Our motto is 'trust but verify.'"

But Ellegood also showed himself quite agreeable to admitting concerrns. Cleary said, “"Many of these plants are getting extensions to operate far beyond the number of years for which they were engineered to operate."

Ellegood conceded aging plants are a concern. But acknowledging an issue is not the same as using it as a club. The nature of the NRC job implies no rooting interest in whether Palisades or any other plant closes or remains open – the job is to ensure that it operates safely, which Ellgood does. (And the DOE has a program to work on the issue of aging nuclear plants. The article doesn’t say whether this was mentioned.)

The point isn’t that the NRC can trump an anti-nuclear advocate – it’s that local organizations host these discussions and people turn out to listen and comment. Here’s one:

Richard Machado, also of Grand Rapids, noted nuclear power has resulted in far fewer deaths than coal-fueled plants, the emissions from which have been blamed for a range of respiratory illnesses.

"Those are real risks as opposed to theoretical risks," Machado said.

Actually, that’s a real consequence, but good for Machado. As they say in the clothing store commercials, An educated consumer is the best customer.

South Africa’s Koeberg nuclear plant.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Who’s Got the Solar Panels?

President Barack Obama Holds Recovery Act -Qz6cUR_Hy5l Well, President Jimmy Carter was one. His panels were taken down by his successor, ronald Reagan, and ended up at Unity college in Maine. An environmental activist, Bill McKibben, decided to take them back to the White House last month to see if the current occupant, Barack Obama, might reinstall them. But he had a problem:

As McKibben's party made its way from Maine to Washington, D.C., they had just one "nagging concern": They hadn't heard any confirmation from the White House that Obama would see them.

But this has kind of a soft human interest angle, so why not?

In the end, McKibben and company did end up with a meeting, with two unnamed "environmental bureaucrats," but the Carter panel and the Sungevity donation were refused.

Sungevity was going to donate a “full solar system” – I’m not sure what that means – a system capable of running the entire White House? In any event, no go.

The response? Not too good:

The Obama administration's reluctance to put a Carter-era solar panel on the White House roof was understandable, even if repulsively pusillanimous. The last thing the White House wanted to do was to give the right another talking point comparing Obama to Jimmy Carter.

But maybe the administration had its own plan in mind that it wasn’t ready to share with McKibben:

Going the green way, the White House will soon be installed with solar panels and solar heaters, in a reflection of the US President Barack Obama's policy of promoting alternative and clean sources of energy.

Energy secretary Steven Chu said the solar panels and solar water heaters are expected to be in place by early next year at the rooftop of the presidential residence.

I’ve no problem with that – seems a good demonstration of solar energy. Of course, in some quarters, it cues unattractive comparisons with President Carter, but since Carter is now best known by many as an amiable elder statesman who does good works and turns out bestsellers in a variety of genres, that’s likely to help not hurt the effort.

And those who want to make such comparisons need to accommodate President George W. Bush’s own installation of solar panels in 2003:

The Bush administration has installed the first-ever solar electric system on the grounds of the White House. The National Park Service, which manages the White House complex, installed a nine kilowatt, rooftop solar electric or photovoltaic system, as well as two solar thermal systems that heat water used on the premises.

It makes President Carter look downright prescient, doesn’t it? (Though I do wonder if Bush’s system is still there or was taken down when he finished his term.)

In any event, there’s no downside. Solar panels seem right at home at the White House. Come to think of it, a small wind turbine wouldn’t go amiss either.

President Barack Obama and a bank of solar panels – no, not at the White House, but during a speech he gave last year at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

About that Showdown at Yucca Mountain

Yucca MountainIssues in Science and Technology is a quarterly publication put out by the National Academy of Sciences, and in its newest issue, out this week, Luther Carter, Lake Barrett, and Kenneth Rogers author a critique of the Obama administration for its re-examination of U.S. policy on the back end of the fuel cycle. In fact, the authors of ‘Nuclear Waste Disposal: Showdown at Yucca Mountain’ [subscription required] don’t acknowledge the legitimacy of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. The essay is a political polemic, and it fails to recognize the strategic advantages associated with centralized long-term management of used nuclear fuel.

Is U.S. policy on the back end of the fuel cycle ideal? Absolutely not. The United States needs a path forward for the long-term management of high-level radioactive waste from civilian and defense programs, but new nuclear plants will or will not be built on electricity demand fundamentals, not the political football that has been, and to some extent remains, Yucca Mountain. States have moratoria on building new nuclear plants by virtue of the government not having a repository for used nuclear fuel disposal, but there is widespread reconsideration of that ban in a number of those states. Alaska earlier this year overturned its moratorium. Industry’s safe and secure management of commercial reactor fuel is playing a role in this reconsideration by state legislatures.

There’s no denying that the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle is in a state of flux from a federal policy perspective. The future of Yucca Mountain is questionable; meanwhile, the administration’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future is examining a range of policy options.

What is certain in policy consideration is that we will be securely storing used fuel in above-ground facilities for an extended period of time.

The nuclear energy industry supports a three-pronged, integrated used fuel management strategy:

  • managed long-term storage of used fuel at centralized, volunteer locations;
  • research, development and demonstration of advanced technology to recycle nuclear fuel;
  • and development of a permanent disposal facility
Long-term storage is a proven strategic element that allows time to redesign the nuclear fuel cycle in a way that makes sense for decades to come. Meanwhile, NRC’s recent final rulemaking on waste confidence represents an explicit acknowledgment by industry’s regulator of the ongoing safe, secure and environmentally sound management of used fuel at plant sites and or central facilities. Although spent fuel is completely safe and secure at plant sites, indefinite onsite storage is unacceptable.

The Blue Ribbon Commission must take the next step, and recommend forward-looking policy priorities for used fuel management. To date, the commission has demonstrated an awareness of the importance and magnitude of its task. The challenge is to recommend a used fuel management policy that can stand the test of time and enable the nation to take full advantage of the largest source of low carbon electricity.

- Everett Redmond, Director, Nonproliferation and Fuel Cycle Policy, NEI

Venezuela’s Nuclear Plans

Hugo-Chavez2 File it under “Another Country Considers Nuclear” – but with an asterisk this time:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Monday that his government is carrying out initial studies into starting a nuclear energy program.

Chavez brought up the issue during a news conference, saying the South American country needs an atomic energy program.

And this isn’t necessarily diabolical. For all that Chavez is viewed as a bad actor, Venezuela certainly needs more electricity and while almost totally dependent on renewable energy sources (62% hydro, 38% thermal), these are tapped – like Venezuela, Brazil has also turned to nuclear energy because it cannot further grow its hydro capacity.

Venezuela is largely an urban nation, with 86% of its 26 million people clustered into cities. So a nuclear energy plant could bolster its capacity rapidly – and it needs it; Chavez declared a state of emergency earlier this year after a drought hampered its hydro capabilities. As a result of the drought, it’s band-aid time:

Chavez gave further details of specific infrastructure investments, such as upgrades of various thermoelectric plants around the country by 40-80 megawatts, the modernization of a plant in Carabobo state, incorporating 320 megawatts by the end of March, and adding 175 megawatts to Guayana’s supply. Venezuela’s heavy industries, based in Guayana, have suffered large production decreases due to the lack of energy.

I haven’t seen a response to Chavez’s announcement from its neighbors or the U.S., but this editorial from the Augusta (S.C.) Herald provides a foretaste:

Let's see -- an oil-rich country ruled by a deranged despot is moving forward with a nuclear program that it insists is for solely peaceful purposes -- even though it harbors enough enmity against the rest of the world to presumably construct a nuclear weapon of war within striking distance of its enemies.

The use of nuclear energy as a stalking horse for nuclear weaponry rather underestimates how difficult that would be – uranium and its enrichment is very tightly controlled – but that’s what the country can expect the response to be.

---

Still, there’s this:

Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, 75, is said to have claimed that he could help Venezuela achieve a nuclear bomb within 10 years.

That’s not good. However, it’s tempered with this:

The US government said that, in reality, Venezuela had not been seeking US secrets, nor had anyone working for it.

Under Mr Mascheroni's alleged plan, Venezuela would have used a secret, underground nuclear reactor to produce and enrich plutonium, and an open reactor above ground to create nuclear energy.

You can read the rest of the story to see what this is about, but this caught my eye:

After being contacted by the undercover FBI agent, Mr Mascheroni was said to have provided a 132-page document entitled "A Deterrence Program for Venezuela", which allegedly contained "restricted data" on nuclear weapons development.

If that’s real, it suggests the U.S. finds Venezuelan intentions suspect or at least has plans to deter suspect intentions should they develop. So Venezuela and nuclear may well lead to fishy eyes cast its way.

Regardless, I’ve read that Russia and France are snooping around, looking for deals, so stay tuned.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Greenpeace Guns A-Blazin’!

yosemite-sam-with-guns-drawn After a series of posts about Germany and its decision to keep its nuclear plants open while transitioning to renewable energy sources– and good luck on that! – it was time to move on to other subjects, however much the Germans had turned that overly tortured episode into an amusing soap opera.

However, a soap opera needs a villain to keep the pot boiling and one has to admit that the German effort didn’t have a very clearly defined antagonist. Until now:

Chernobyl-like disasters at Germany's most vulnerable reactors could render parts of the country uninhabitable for decades, Greenpeace has warned.

For a Chernobyl-like disaster, you’d need, at a minimum, an RBMK reactor, which Germany does not have. (The design is banned in the U.S.) But let’s allow that Greenpeace means this metaphorically – since it’s not going to make distinctions, any energy plant with nuclear on its mailbox is a potential Chernobyl.

In the case of a Chernobyl-like disaster at Kruemmel, a reactor south of Hamburg, unfavorable weather conditions could render large parts of northeastern Germany, including Berlin, uninhabitable for decades, the group warned.

"An estimated 4.7 million people would have to be resettled in this scenario," Greenpeace writes in a news release.

It’s a very amusing article, based on no evidence whatever that Germany’s nuclear plants are rickety buckets of bolts ready to start flinging fuel rods out the windows. Greenpeace is just annoyed at the German decision and is firing off its guns like Yosemite Sam at Bugs Bunny – that is, loudly yet ineffectively.

To be fair, the article does include this:

Yet while the International Atomic Energy Agency rates German reactors as among the safest in the world, they're certainly not immune to possible problems.

That’s called risk, which is countered by safety standards. That’s as true of any energy source (or, really, human endeavor). Even if the plants themselves are highly unlikely to create a disaster, operators are continuously developing ways to turn a vanishing small risk to an even smaller one. Risk assessment is a huge subject – start here if you want to learn more about it (as it relates to nuclear plants.)

In the end analysis, if this is our villain, maybe there still really isn’t one in this story. Short, ornery and voluble Greenpeace may be in this instance, fair and honest not so much.

Created in 1945 by Friz Frelang to bedevil Bugs Bunny and anyone else he came across, Yosemite Sam proved to be the second most durable gun-toting character in the Warner Bros. cartoon repertory (Elmer Fudd will always be number one.) Though modern parents may think twice about how often cartoon characters get blasted with no ill effect, Yosemite Sam does allow kids a zone where they can be bad-tempered, loud, and obnoxious without driving the folks crazy. Plus, he’s hapless if indomitable, which kids also know a lot about.

Terminating the Alien Abyss: A Titanic Endorsement of Nuclear Energy – True, No Lies

james-cameron James Cameron, the world’s most money making film director, was visiting the Canadian tar sands (which the Canadians call oilsands – I guess we should join them in that, shouldn’t we?) the other day:

Peter Mansbridge has a Canadian broadcast exclusive interview with director James Cameron, who visited Alberta to see the oilsands for himself. A native-born Canadian, Cameron has said that he is concerned with the criticisms leveled at Alberta's oilsands operation and is eager to learn whether they are true or not. Tonight, we find out what he learned on his fact-finding trip.

And here’s what Cameron said to Mansbridge (our transcript):

They [the Canadian government] kept coming back and mentioning nuclear as a possible way to input energy into the system. I personally – this is a little controversial in the environmental world – personally, I wouldn’t have a problem with that because we’re not Russia. We’re not going to have a Chernobyl. We’re smarter than that. And it’s actually one of the cleanest sources of energy out there. There’s no carbon footprint to it at all, other than building the plant in the first place.

So you’re pro-nuclear?

I’m pro-nuclear, yeah, in this particular context, as a bridge to a fully sustainable future. I think the waste problem is a 500 year horizon, I think the warming problem is a 10 to 15 year horizon.

Might have to pop Avatar into the DVD player again.

James Cameron. What’s the point in being a movie director if you can’t have dramatic shots taken of yourself?