Friday, February 04, 2011

North to Minnesota, South to Australia

prairie_island1 The news is good:

No new Minnesota nuclear power plants are planned, but state senators overwhelmingly voted today to lift a 16-year-old moratorium on building one.

“It is not a decision to construct a new nuclear power plant in the state of Minnesota...” Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said about the vote. “It is not a preference for nuclear power.”

And that’s a pretty good rationale for lifting these bans on nuclear energy – about a dozen states still have them – because the safety records and electricity generation capacity of the plants have been good and because current thinking about energy suffers if nuclear energy is wedged out of the conversation. As Koch says, including it in deliberations doesn’t mean anything other than that.

Well, hope springs eternal, never say never, and other similar clichés. Minnesota’s Prairie River and Monticello nuclear power plants (both operated by Xcel) now provide about 23 percent of the state’s electricity capacity, so it’s not as though Minnesota has done badly by nuclear energy (or vice verse.)

And that leads to concern. Try this story from the Mankato Free Press called Environmental Rollbacks in the Works:

The Minnesota Senate passed legislation this week to repeal the moratorium on new nuclear power plants in the state, and the House is expected to do the same next week.

The attempt to lift the ban is only one of a series of bills aimed at rolling back laws aimed at cleaning up the environment and moving the state toward a renewable energy future, according to Rep. Kathy Brynaert, DFL-Mankato.

Really? That’s what this portends? I beg to differ: Minnesota has added would be adding a very powerful tool as it considers how to whittle away at carbon emissions. And let’s note, too, that the Senate vote wasn’t close (50-14) and was a free-standing bill (meaning it wasn’t snuck into a larger piece of legislation) that had broad bipartisan support. So that one’s a complete non-starter.

(Brynaert’s party the DFL, by the way, is the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, essentially the Democrats in Minnesota.)

And just to blow out the last candle on the cake, Kentucky also has started the process of repealing a similar ban.

State Sen. Bob Leeper said his legislation, meant to signal Kentucky's friendliness to the nuclear industry, would put it on "equal footing" with other states if the federal government approves the construction and operation of new plants.

Leeper's bill cleared the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee over opposition from three lawmakers and a leading environmental activist.

Early days on this one, but a sign of the times.


I’ve noted before that Australia, a country that traditionally treats nuclear energy as though it was a filthy rag to be handled with tongs, seems to be edging slightly towards it.

Here’s the latest evidence:

Energy Minister Martin Ferguson says nuclear power is a proven source of clean energy which is likely to become cheaper in the future.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but why else bring it up?

"There will be a very serious debate in Australia at some time in the future as to how we reduce our CO2 emissions whilst maintaining a reliable supply of energy at the cheapest possible cost," he said.

He said the federal government's immediate focus would remain on putting a price on carbon, while researching low-emission technologies.

That’s better. In fact, it sounds like Minnesota, doesn’t it? If nuclear is in the mix, fine. If Australia tosses that rag back into the muck, well, that’s fine too. It will decide what’s right for it.

Greens' nuclear spokesman Senator Scott Ludlam said the government should not only rule out nuclear power but also uranium mining, which he said threatened mine workers, local communities and water courses.

Speaking of who would like to do the tossing. It’s an uphill climb in Australia, maybe Sisyphean, but at least nuclear energy isn’t at the base anymore. I bet that rag is put in the washer and made clean and useful almost before we know it.

The Prairie Island plant.


Finrod said...

Ludlum is the Australian Greens' anti-nuclear attack dog. He had some interesting things to say last year about uranium mining in Australia.

Here's a tellin g quote from the above article:

"Senator Ludlam said he was opposed to the planned $20bn expansion of BHP's Olympic Dam mine, the world's largest uranium deposit. But he said the mining giant should investigate whether the mine could be expanded purely as a gold and copper project."

Anti-nuclear activists have been claiming for ages that the dust from uranium mines carries dangerous radiactive uranium all over the place and is thus a public danger in need of being shut down. It's nonsense, of course. The uranium content of the dust is not dangerous in those concentrations. The interesting thing about Ludlam's position is that he's now happy to have the uranium ore mined at Olympic Dam, thus presenting the same issue it always has, so long as it isn't treated and hauled off for export. It's OK so long as we only take the gold and copper!

The Greens obviously aren't interested in CO2 abatement. They're only interested in shutting down any power source which actually works. No-one with a real interest in protecting the environment should consider voting Green ever again.

Anonymous said...

No-one with a real interest in protecting the environment should consider voting Green ever again.

Sure they could, if they believed everything they see on TV and they majored in humanities instead of engineering.

Jeff Schmidt said...

"And just to blow out the last candle on the cake, Kentucky also has started the process of repealing a similar ban."

Honestly, in States like KY (and WV, WY, etc), I expect the *real* resistance to nuclear to come from the established Coal-related lobbies. I believe Coal is big business in all those states, so I don't see those states really embracing nuclear until they really have to because of larger forces at play (economic trends outside of their control).

It should also be noted that the states with lots of coal also tend to have some of the cheapest electricity prices, so unless something like a carbon tax, or cap-and-trade, happens, I don't see what the economic incentive is for those states to build nuclear plants?

I might be wrong though.