Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rowe; TVA; Debating; Dark and Stormy Nights

darkandstormy Exelon chief John Rowe isn’t very worried about new regulations on the company’s nuclear energy facilities:

"We're not in any panic at all," John Rowe, chairman and CEO of Chicago-based Exelon Corp. told investors on an earnings call.

Well, why not?

Rowe said the company's "worst fears" -- changes to the nuclear licensing process; mandates that would increase security personnel; or standards that would lower the amount of time spent nuclear fuel can be stored in cooling pools -- (all potential big ticket items for Exelon) so far haven't surfaced.

"We don't at the moment see anything that has a major impact on the economics of these plants," he said.

He’s referring to the findings and recommendations of the NRC’s 90-day review report of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. It’s still early in the process of learning all the lessons that the accident will teach, and Rowe doesn’t mention that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack motivated a strong push for increased physical security at the facilities, but he’s right enough right now.

"With the challenges ahead for the country's oldest and dirtiest coal plants, I would rather have the challenges of Exelon's nuclear fleet any day," Rowe said.

Rowe is notably blunt – it’s a very appealing quality.

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In a letter to TVA last week several environmental groups — Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team, Mothers Against Tennessee River Radiation and Center for Health, Environment and Justice — asked that the utility remove consideration of the project [the Bellefonte facility] from its agenda.

The letter noted that the NRC is still evaluating the Japanese nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, called the Bellefonte reactor design and the future of nuclear energy questionable, indicated it believes the decision is cost prohibitive, and claimed that the site is located in an earthquake zone with numerous sinkholes. It also reminded TVA that litigation attempting to block the plan is still in the early stages.

Doesn’t give you much to hang onto, does it? I’m sure TVA is just shutting everything down.

TVA is moving forward with strengthening its nuclear power plants against threat of natural disaster, and improving safety and emergency preparedness as it maintains its commitment to operate and expand its fleet of reactors in the Tennessee Valley.

Well, so much for the questionable future of nuclear energy. TVA is finishing construction of a reactor at Watts Bar in Tennessee. But what about Bellefonte?

Despite opposition, [TVA] has a plan to complete one of two unfinished reactors at the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant near Scottsboro.

"Yes, it will be," McCollum said when asked if the TVA Board of Directors will consider a recommendation on Bellefonte. "It will be on the August board agenda."

There you go. We’ll check in next month and see if the board decides to go ahead.

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Here’s something we could use more of:

Three Green Luminaries squared off at Berkeley’s David Brower Center on July 21 during a contentious debate over the future of nuclear energy. The so-called “Fix It or Nix It” debate pitted Native American activist (and two-time Green Party vice-presidential candidate) Winona LaDuke against Stewart Brand, legendary founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue and, more recently, a vocal advocate for nuclear energy.

Debates are always good. You may not have any luck converting hard core advocates on either side of an issue, but there is a broad middle that has not given much thought to or made a decision about nuclear energy – as about many other things, when you come down to it.

Brand proceeded to describe new technology as a value-neutral process that was innocent of intent — simply a process of discovering “cool new ways to do things.” So “don’t over-interpret” technology, Brand warned.

That’s part of the argument. Here’s the other part:

Brand dismissed anti-nuclear concerns as “techno-paranoia.” As an example, Brand quoted David Brower himself who once proclaimed: “All technology should be assumed guilty until proven innocent.”

Based on the coverage at the Berkeley Daily Planet, which heavily favored LaDuke, it does seem as though Brand and LaDuke took up radically different approaches that seemed unlikely to find a middle point:

Winona LaDuke countered with a calm insistence on “intergenerational justice,” as informed by the Native American concept that today’s decisions must be guided by a concern for the impacts our choices will have on the next Seven Generations. (This may have been the earliest formulation of the “Precautionary Principle.”) Winona expressed dismay at a world in which “science is the new God” and offered her own spin on Brand’s line: “We are not as Gods,” she said, “We are as children.”

Love that calm insistence! But we might have to conclude that LaDuke and Brand are debating, if anything, the value of science and perhaps the nature of progress.

Brand was asked by the moderator whether the accident at Fukushima Daiichi has changed his mind about nuclear energy:

Not at all. Brand responded by running down the statistics. Sure, there were three multiple reactor meltdowns and a spent fuel pool blown to smithereens in an explosion [whoops! Nothing like this happened] but, while 20,000 were killed by the tsunami [true], “no one died as a result of nuclear power.” [also true]Brand then recalled the e. coli outbreak that killed scores and sickened thousands in Europe. “But you didn’t hear anyone demanding that organic farms should be shut down!”

“I don’t believe all these things are equal,” Winona replied. She mentioned the dark history of Monsanto, Dow, and Agent Orange. “I don’t have amnesia,” she said, adding that “some people are living in an Oil Bubble.”

I don’t have amnesia, either, but I’m hard pressed to find a parallel between Agent Orange and nuclear energy.

Well, you can read the rest yourself. Most college environments would probably find Brand’s arguments more appealing – science and all - but Berkeley? Regardless, good for Brand and LaDuke for doing this.

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The winner of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest rather amusingly tried an atrocious energy-related metaphor:

Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

Quite dreadful.

The winner of the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is Sue Fondrie, an associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh who works groan-inducing wordplay into her teaching and administrative duties whenever possible. Out of school, she introduces two members of the next generation to the mysteries of Star Trek, Star Wars, and--of course--the art of the bad pun.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton was a nineteenth century writer and politician who contributed a fair number of phrases that still have currency to the English language: “the great unwashed" and "the pen is mightier than the sword" are two.

But the award, started in 1982 at California’s San Jose State University, depends on the first line of Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Paul Clifford:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

The - shall we say - rich prose is violently over-yoked, but of course, it is the first seven words that became famous – via Peanuts’ Snoopy – and inspired the contest. You can read the rest of the novel here.

You can read more about Bulwer-Lytton – he had a very busy life – here. As for the libel against wind energy – I’m sure nuclear energy could inspire some pretty ghastly prose, too. (And yes, I know I’m asking for it.)

Anne Stuart’s A Dark and Stormy Night. I have no idea what “More than Men” means.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rowe has been closely associated with Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod (Unicom PECO / Exelon merger attorneys and Obama staffers), and has a Chicago based corporation.

No, I wouldn't sweat regulation changes, either.

Duh.