Friday, January 28, 2011

Ready for Anything

Fusion Georgia Power opened what it calls a joint information center near but not at its Plant Vogtle site:

The two-building complex adjacent to Georgia Power Co.'s offices in Waynesboro would serve as a media and information center if a serious accident or emergency were to occur at the power plant, situated 20 miles away on the banks of the Savannah River.

Planning for a problem and having a problem are two different things and Georgia Power has set things up so that any problem that might develop can be communicated quickly and efficiently.

Joint information centers are well understood in the emergency planning field. Here’s a good description from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico:

In the unlikely event of an emergency, the WIPP Joint Information Center (JIC) serves as a central control point to coordinate multi-agency efforts to issue timely and accurate information to the public, news media and project employees.

What’s interesting about Georgia Power’s effort is that it is exceptionally well thought out. They’ve gone a fair distance to make the center responsive for the people who will use it:

In addition to an auditorium and briefing room, the center includes a newsroom with desks and other facilities for reporters; and offices for local emergency officials, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other agencies that would be involved in such an emergency.

This is a very good idea, with the only possible downside being that Georgia Power never finds much use for it. The story at the Augusta Chronicle doesn’t mention it, but perhaps the center could be used for other public outreach efforts.

I have to say I appreciated writer Rob Pavey for this paragraph:

Plant Vogtle has an excellent safety record in Burke County and is expected to maintain that record as the first commercial reactors to be built in the U.S. in 30 years are constructed alongside the existing ones, said Jim Miller, Southern Nuclear's chairman and CEO.

True – well, the part that can be known, the plant’s safety record – but especially wise for people might think that such thorough planning portends a problem. Actually, just the opposite is true – the new center forestalls problems.

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Uh-oh:

Italian physicists Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi have invented a cold fusion reactor which fits on a table and requires no unprocurable components. According to the authors, such a device installed at a factory has been warming up water day and night over the last two years, producing 12,400 watts of heat with an input of just 400 watts.

Anyone who remembers the Martin Fleischmann/Stanley Pons cold fusion story from 1989 – no one could reproduce their results and claims of a nuclear reaction with byproducts did not prove out - will feel that it’s deja vu all over again.

Especially since, as always, there is no plausible way to bring about fusion at this scale. Rossi and Focardi haven’t shared how they went about doing it – through a fusion of hydrogen and nickel - and they self-published their findings on the internet after being rejected by scientific journals. These are other very severe warning signs:

Based on this lack of even a theoretical basis for the device’s function, a patent application was rejected. Their credibility isn’t helped by the fact that Rossi apparently has something of a rap sheet, which allegedly includes illegally importing gold and tax fraud.

And these:

Nonetheless the reactor showed off by Focardi and Rossi is beyond the research stage they say, and reports quote the scientists saying they plan to start shipping commercial devices within the next three months and start mass production by the end of 2011.

So color me unconvinced. The premise of cold fusion is that it will produce far more energy than it consumes, which will allow for very cheap electricity generation. If it were possible, it would come close to an energy panacea – and that’s the biggest reason to be dubious of claims for it. It’s like alchemy, perpetual motion or having bigfoot in your basement freezer.

I’ve run into this story at several sites and most, though not all, writers have taken a dim view of it. In any event, handle this one with tongs.

The blue box is the purported cold fusion device.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The State of the Union Address

laika2 Did President Barack Obama mention nuclear energy during last night's State of the Union Address? Why yes, yes he did.

This is our generation's Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the Space Race. In a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We'll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology - an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Here’s the first mention of nuclear energy.

Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they're selling. So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all - and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.

And a little more.

At the California Institute of Technology, they're developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they're using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities. With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

Not bad. You might be disappointed that there was not a paragraph devoted to nuclear energy, but that's okay. Nuclear energy is right where it should be - among its cousins in the energy sphere.

We’ve got the energy portion of the speech up on our YouTube channel here.

Laika, the first living creature sent into space. Unfortunately, the Soviets made the mistake of personalizing Laika for the purpose of raising interest in Sputnik, but never intended to bring her back, setting off considerable consternation. As seems all too typical of those days, the Soviets were not truthful about how long Laika lived and she probably died about seven hours into the flight. The lesson was learned, though, and the Soviets never sent another dog up without plans to bring it back to Earth. You can read more here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It’s National Nuclear Science Week!

NMNSH Did you know it’s National Nuclear Science Week? Just the same time as last year.

National Nuclear Science Week is a national, broadly observed week-long celebration to focus local, regional and national interest on all aspects of nuclear science. Each day will provide for learning about the contributions, innovations and opportunities that can be found by exploring nuclear science.

That means more than reactors:

Nuclear science plays a vital role in the lives of Americans…and the world. Consider these facts:

• 18 million nuclear medicine procedures are performed per year among 305 million people in the United States

• 104 operating nuclear reactors in the US employ an average of 700 people to operate them in the 31 states that have nuclear power generating plants

• 20 percent of our nation’s electricity is generated by nuclear power

• 436 nuclear power plants are operating in 30 countries, supplying 14 percent of the world’s electricity. Fifty-three new nuclear plants are under construction in 14 countries.

All true. As it says above, different topics are addressed each day. Today is about Careers, tomorrow Generation (that’s NEI and its membership, broadly speaking), Nuclear Safety is Thursday, and Nuclear Medicine on Friday. Take a look – there’s a nicely designed web site with a lot of activities – it’s a great way to introduce young folks to nuclear energy.

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As you can see, National Nuclear Science Week has a strong educational component. Our blog friend Rod Adams over at Atomic Insights gets into the spirit of the week with profiles of Tammy Davis Sayko, assistant director of the Nuclear Power Institute (NPI) at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas and For Jennifer Reichert, senior program manager at CRDF Global, a nonprofit organization that promotes international scientific and technical collaboration through grants, technical resources, and training.

Here’s a bit of what NPI is up to:

Through the NPI, the university has partnered with two- and four-year educational institutions and has developed degree programs, certificate programs and courses to educate the existing nuclear work force. NPI is reaching even farther into the educational system through a comprehensive outreach recruiting program at the middle and high school levels to encourage and sustain students’ interest in science, technology and mathematics disciplines.

Do read the whole thing.

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National Nuclear Science Week is overseen by The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, the nation’s only congressionally chartered museum in its field. It’s located in Albuquerque, so before you make a wrong turn there (as Bugs Bunny invariably did on the way to Pismo Beach), stop by. Good Web site, with a lot to explore, and some interesting items in its gift shop.

The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. I’ve been to Albuquerque and it does seem as if everything is baking.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nixon and Franken on Nuclear Energy

20090126_al_franken_33 Hard not to be pleased by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s decision to support a new unit at the state’s Callaway nuclear plant, announced a couple of months ago. But at his state of the state address, he went much, much further:

Every business in Missouri needs reliable, affordable energy to grow and prosper.

And every Missouri family needs reliable, affordable energy to heat and cool their homes.

In November, I announced a historic agreement that will transform the economy of our state - creating thousands of jobs and benefitting millions of Missouri consumers of electric power.

That agreement put the wheels in motion for the construction of a second, state-of-the-art nuclear power plant in Callaway County.

Missouri has some of the lowest electric rates in the nation. That's attractive to businesses and families. But as our energy needs grow, we need to be looking now for new sources of clean, abundant and affordable power.

Building a second nuclear plant will create thousands of good-paying jobs for all our construction trades: iron and sheet metal workers; carpenters and cement masons; boilermakers and bricklayers; plumbers and pipefitters; teamsters and laborers; electrical workers and operating engineers.

They built Callaway One. And they will build Callaway Two.

As we move ahead on Callaway Two, we must make sure that we protect the interests of Missouri ratepayers - and their pocketbooks . That is why my budget includes more funding for a strong office of public counsel.

Building the next generation of nuclear power plants. Advancing the frontiers of biotechnology. The 21st Century economy is knowledge-based, and the best jobs will belong to those with the best education.

Wow. Keep an eye on NEI’s YouTube channel. If we can grab this speech, we will.

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And if that didn’t impress you, I bet this will:

A discussion with former Vice President Al Gore caused Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D) to change his opinion on nuclear power.

During a meeting with the Post-Bulletin editorial board last week, Franken said that during the 2008 campaign his position was that there needed to be a solution to nuclear waste storage before nuclear power expanded. That's changed.

Franken said he asked Gore about the issue. Gore told him he believes that advances in technology can keep up with increased use of nuclear power and lead to better ways to monitor and store the waste.

A little more:

Franken went on to say this "represents something of a change for me." He said there are certainly pros and cons to the nuclear issue, but he believes expanding nuclear power will help solve global warming.

"Nuclear has to be a part of the solution to that," he said.

Uh, double wow?

Al Franken in his Washington office.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Visit from China

Sanmen plant The state visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to these shores last week proved to be quite consequential in the nuclear sphere:

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China that paves the way for the establishment of a radiation detection training center in Qinhuangdao, China.

The NNSA linked this to its Megaports initiative, which aims to mitigate proliferation concerns by squelching any smuggling of nuclear materials – and that means detecting radiation at ports. Megaports is currently focussed on Shanghai, but you can see a long list of port cities at the link where it has installed detection equipment. Qinhuangdao, where the training center will be, is also a port city, facing the Yellow Sea.

But wait – there’s more:

The Center of Excellence, to be jointly financed [by the U.S. and China], will be a place where technical information can be shared, training courses can be offered, and collaborations can be promoted to “enhance nuclear security in China and throughout Asia,” the White House says. “It will also help meet the training needs for China’s expanding nuclear sector, and promote nuclear security best practices throughout the region.”

No mention of the IAEA, which would seem to have a role here, but it does no harm for China to pick up tips and tricks from the American industry – safety culture and plant security are big topics here. As China starts to expand its nuclear base – we count 24 plants under construction there – the American experience will only help it.

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But government leaders are not the only ones shaking hands. Westinghouse (and businesses across many different spheres) used Hu’s visit as a way to announce new deals and partnerships in the rising (risen?) economic powerhouse.

Westinghouse Electric Co., a unit of Toshiba Corp., signed a two-year extension of a cooperation agreement with China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. on continued deployment of its third-generation AP1000 reactor.

China’s nuclear plants to date have been built mostly with French and Canadian technology, but Westinghouse’s AP1000 design and technology has proved a big hit.

“AP1000 will account for close to 60 percent of China’s future projects,” said Dave Dai, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Daiwa Securities Capital Markets Co. “AP1000 is also a key stepping stone for China’s goal to create a localized nuclear reactor manufacturing chain.”

That last part sounds like China’s going to do a cheap knock-off, but no. Westinghouse wants to set things up so China can do more of the work on building and supplying parts for the reactors without as much direct involvement with Westinghouse as it has now.

Westinghouse itself noted another deal that has not seen much pick-up in the news:

Westinghouse and China have also announced a series of other cooperative agreements, including a contract also announced today calling for Westinghouse to provide fuel fabrication equipment for the production of AP1000 fuel in Baotou, China. 

And “a nuclear-grade zirconium sponge facility in Jiangsu Province.”

All this sounds like Westinghouse is providing quite an economic boost – for China. I poked around a little bit and found this:

Westinghouse Electric Company has completed preparatory work on fuel for its AP1000 nuclear power plants and manufactured the first four fuel assemblies at the company's Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility (CFFF) in South Carolina.  This fuel will be used at Sanmen Unit 1, located in the Zhejiang Province of China.

So it appears the U.S. is also seeing some stimulative action from Westinghouse’s activities. Good.

Getting started on Sanmen.

Ghana Considers Nuclear, AEHI Responds to SEC

accra Ghana’s turn:

The Deputy Director-General of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC), Prof Yaw Serfor-Armah, has given the assurance that Ghana will continue to promote the peaceful applications of nuclear techniques and biotechnology for the sustainable development of the country in particular and Africa in general.

That’s always good to hear, though it seems unlikely anyone doubted Ghana’s intentions. This was said at a summit hosted by GAEC and the IAEA in Accra, as the country gears up to build its first plant, scheduled to open in 2018.

Ghana? Although the government has implemented a plan to move its economy to a point that it can sustain a middle class by 2015, right now it is quite poor, with a per capita annual salary of about $700. But if Ghana succeeds in creating a middle class – and even if it doesn’t - it will certainly need more electricity.

The high dependency on rain-fed hydro power, which accounts for 65% of installed capacity has led short falls in electricity supply in case of drought.

More than just “in case of”:

In 2006 and 2007, the nation experienced its third and worst major energy crisis as result of [drought].

So nuclear energy is a way to feed a growing demand for electricity, to spell a hydro system that buckles under drought, and to maintain a positive profile on carbon emissions. (Interestingly, the IAEA report from which I borrowed the above details, recommends a small reactor for Ghana so as not to stress the electricity grid.)

So it seems a reasonable pursuit and Ghana is pursuing it. Time feels a little short for flipping the switch on a plant by 2018, but let’s see what happens.

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Not that there are not reasons for Ghanese to worry if they’re so inclined:

Personally, I wonder what America would do if Ghana ever pursues nuclear energy. Would America sanction Ghana, or would she plan an attack?

This writer is afraid the U.S. would treat Ghana like Iran. That seems highly unlikely – Ghana is in good standing at the IAEA – but it suggests some of the concerns that can gain currency on the affected side of the planet.

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A couple of weeks ago, the Securities & Exchange Commission accused Advanced Energy Holdings, Inc. (AEHI) of fraud. You can read the previous post on this news here. As you might expect, AEHI believes it has done nothing wrong:

"They're wrong about the pump. They're wrong about the dump," said AEHI's attorney Richard Roth. "And it's not even... this is not a close call. It's not as if they're right about something. There are no allegations that I've seen in the complaint or the motion that are accurate."

The reference to “pump” and “dump” is to the alleged scheme to raise money to build a new plant in Idaho (the “pump”) and use the proceeds to enrich themselves through the sale of stock (that would be the “dump,” with the shares as the dumped).

As for the alleged stock dumping, AEHI's attorneys say the two people in question did give the CEO money they got from selling stocks, but it wasn't a funneling scheme.

There’s an explanation for this, which you can read at the link. The point here isn’t to make a case for AEHI, which can take care of itself, but to indicate that making an accusation, as the SEC did, is only a first step. AEHI’s response is the second. There will be many more steps to come. Only at the end of them will we know what, if anything, AEHI may have done wrong.

At the crossroads in Accra.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Nuclear Matters in America

granholm Michigan Live talks to for EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. We already know Whitman because she is the co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which is a grassroots organization supporting nuclear energy.

But what about Granholm?

For Granholm, the energy portfolio of the future would include wind, solar, lithium ion battery, biofuel, nuclear and some measure of fossil fuel generation.

She’s especially enthusiastic about solar energy and battery technology, likely due in part to the car industry centered in her state, but, like Whitman, her broad based energy interests avoids putting too much weight on one technology.

The writer, Kirk Heinz, a local radio personality, decides that Whitman’s focus on nuclear energy suits him better.

I share Granholm’s enthusiasm for other green energy technologies, especially solar and battery, but I have come to the conclusion that we need to invest more resources in the rapid expansion of nuclear energy production.

I’m not sure it’s an either/or proposition – and reasonably sure neither Whitman nor Granholm think it is – but it leads Heinz to lay out the case for nuclear energy:

*Nuclear energy plants emit virtually no greenhouse gases; in fact, nuclear energy already provides 75% of the U.S.’s emission-free energy.

*You would have to live near a nuclear power plant for several lifetimes (even centuries) to get the same amount of radiation exposure that you get from one diagnostic medical x-ray.

He lists more points, but you know them all by now. Heinz hosts a show called “Greening of the Great Lakes” and interviewed both Whitman and Granholm on it. This page has a little more about his conversation with Granholm, but I didn’t find it very enlightening. I wonder if Granholm, like Whitman, will maintain an interest in energy issues in post-political life.

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Speaking of Christine Todd Whitman and CASEnergy, the latter has started up its own blog and Twitter feed. The blog is called Clean Energy Buzz, which you can find it here. Still early days, so not a lot of content yet, but that’ll change as it goes along. The new Twitter feed’s been a little busier. Head over here to see if you’d like to follow them.

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Media Matters for America spends most of its time calling out media personalities for saying things that are not backed up with facts. This isn’t that hard to do, since the give and take of conversation doesn’t allow for a quick check of the Brittanica. But as a way to squelch misinformation, it’s not bad sport.

The reason to mention it in our context was this entry:

On his Fox News show, Neil Cavuto hosted Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to argue against the effectiveness of federal subsidies for the solar industry and claim that there would be no solar industry but for these subsidies. In fact, solar energy receives significantly fewer subsidies than fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

Let’s not worry about what Media Matters counts as subsidies. Instead, let’s look at the fact set that it uses to knock back the argument about solar power:

In 2008, Biggest Beneficiaries Of Federal Energy Subsidies Were Oil And Gas Industry. According to a 2008 Nuclear Energy Institute study titled, Analysis of Federal Expenditures for Energy Development:

The study is here, by the way.

  • Oil and gas received approximately 60 percent ($436 billion) of federal spending to support energy since 1950. Oil alone received more than three-fourths ($335 billion) of this amount.
  • Coal received approximately 13 percent ($93 billion) of federal spending.
  • Nuclear received approximately 11 percent ($81 billion) of federal spending. Hydro received approximately 11 percent ($81 billion) of federal spending.
  • Wind, solar and geothermal received approximately 7 percent ($50 billion).

I’ve mentioned various times in the past that an organization such as NEI cannot expect to have its arguments regarding nuclear energy believed if it is perceived to be “cooking the books” for its own benefit. But if Media Matters, which similarly must not combat bad information with more bad information, considers NEI a source for good information, that’s good, too.

And NEI is a good source of information. Browse around.

Jennifer Granholm.

35th Carnival of Nuclear Energy – Bullish Views, Big Perspectives and Burgeoning Economies

This week is the 35th week the nuclear carnival has been going on and our fourth time hosting.

Always staying up with the latest technology disruptions, Brian Wang at Next Big Future reported on an important research breakthrough on fusion. From the press release:

The [UK] researchers used large scale computer simulations to confirm a longstanding prediction by US researchers that high energy alpha particles born in fusion reactions will be key to generating fusion power in the next planned generation of tokamaks. 

In the same post, NBF also highlighted that all 58 of France's nuclear power reactors were currently connected to the grid at the same time for the first time in six years. And last from Brian is how he sees the world reducing CO2 in comparison to Joe Romm’s latest “revelations.” While Romm says nuclear will contribute about one wedge of CO2 reduction (an increase of 700 GW of nuclear worldwide by 2050), Brian is much more bullish and thinks the world could have 1,800-2,200 GW of nuclear by 2030.

Steve Packard at Depleted Cranium gave us the big perspective that even though times are tough for many, there are plenty of things to be appreciative about in 2011. Here are a few:

You have all the fresh, clean water you could ever want. Water is pumped to you of a purity so high you can drink it, and in quantities large enough that you can bathe in it every day. It even comes out heated.

You can be reasonably certain that the food you buy at your local market or restaurant will not kill you. Even the cheapest canned meats or corn is generally free of dangerous pathogens.

It is possible to travel at near supersonic speeds through the air to any city across the world. Doing so is extremely safe, about as safe as you could ever hope for a form of transportation to be. Not only that, but it’s affordable enough that even the lower middle class can afford to take a trip by air from time to time.

No matter how cold it is outside, you can be comfortably warm.

imageNext, Suzy Hobbs, who contributed to ANS’ Nuclear Cafe, noted that nuclear needs to update its appearance at the plants:

Nuclear energy is a little bit like an overly qualified job candidate in a bad suit. That is to say, despite being the best contender for the job of creating clean energy, no one wants to hire it because it needs a hair cut and a good tailor.

Also at the Nuclear Cafe, Margaret Harding uses the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as an excellent case study for a future engineering leaders class to examine crisis management and communications. Her list of media communication no-nos from BP’s oil spill response is well worth reading for the nuclear industry.

Published by the American Physical Society, Energy From Thorium highlighted a piece by Robert Hargraves and Ralph Moir where they reviewed “some of the history, potential advantages, potential drawbacks, and current research and development status of liquid-fueled reactors.”

Jack Gamble at Nuclear Fissionary took on a comment from a nuclear critic who believed that nuclear energy will leave our children with doom and gloom. In it, Jack refuted the critic who claimed that nuclear neglects the costs of its entire fuel cycle and our children will hate us for “contaminating the world.” Oy, good thing smart nuclear folks already know how to manage the fuel cycle responsibly.

At Cool Hand Nuke, Dan Yurman reported on Duke’s and Progress’ $14BN merger with a combined six Westinghouse AP1000 reactor license applications pending with the NRC. Over at his own blog, Dan reported on Areva’s monthly blogger call where CEO Jacques Besnainou said the Calvert Cliffs III reactor project is alive and well. Areva’s CEO also talked about clean energy parks and gave advice for the Blue Ribbon Commission on recycling spent nuclear fuel.

image

As well, at Areva’s blog you can find the latest pictures of the EPR construction of Taishan 1&2 in China (pic to the right). 

Rod Adams at Atomic Insights held a lively discussion on how even power uprates attract opposition. Two Wisconsin organizations, one claiming to be dedicated to consumer protection and one claiming to be focused on clean air and water, came together to file their opposition to NextEra Energy Resources’ proposal to increase the output at the Point Beach nuclear plant by 17%. Even though 63% of the electricity generated in Wisconsin each year comes from burning coal, these two groups claim that Wisconsin does not need any more electricity from nuclear - even if the project would not add any new facilities.

Slightly diverging from nuclear, Gail Marcus at Nuke Power Talk brought up a report from Germany saying that the explosion of solar due to “generous feed-in tariffs” is seriously stressing the country’s aging power grid. Gail’s message is that “the German experience is just the latest cautionary tale that we really need to learn to do a better job of anticipating the potential impacts of all technologies.”

And Steve Aplin at Canadian Energy Issues talked about why China is eating, and will keep eating, our lunch. Aplin notes that cheap electricity from coal is fueling China’s economy and that its plan to add at least a hundred thousand megawatts of new nuclear generation capacity will ensure electricity stays cheap. He contrasts that with the electricity policies of western countries, including the US and Canada, which seek to make electricity expensive. Will western economies with rising electricity costs be able to compete with this burgeoning eastern economic force? We’ll see.

Have a great MLK weekend and be sure to stop by and check out everyone’s posts.

BP Spill Commission Recommends Self-Regulator for Oil Industry Based on Nuclear Model

The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling has released its final report. For those of you with enough time and the inclination to delve into reports, there’s an interesting nuclear angle to this story

Borrowing an idea from the nuclear power Pres. Obama Inspects the Damageindustry, the oil-spill commission backs the creation of an industry-run organization modeled on the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations that was created after the Three-Mile Island disaster. That organization helps establish best practices and technology for reactors.

Well, I have to admit, my first reaction when I hear the words “self-regulating industry body” are not always warm and fuzzy. But with INPO, the nuclear industry has shown how it can work as a supplement to existing government regulation. As the report notes:

Nor is there anything casual about an INPO inspection. It is thorough and careful, extending for five to six weeks: two weeks of preparation and analysis of pre-delivered data from the site, two weeks on the site, a week of internal review and report writing by functional and cross-functional sub-teams, and perhaps another week reviewing with the INPO president.

Of course, there’s nothing written in stone here, and no official agreement that the oil industry will create an INPO-like body. However, that’s what one of the co-chairs, former Sen. Bob Graham, would like to see:

Our commission is urging the offshore oil and gas industry to follow in the path of other high-risk industries such as nuclear power and chemical, which have established industry organizations to assure the highest standards of safety and complement effective governmental regulation. Each of these organizations was established in the wake of a disaster — Three Mile Island and Bhopal. It is an open question as to whether the offshore industry leaders will see Deepwater Horizon as a similar mandate and opportunity to act.

Time will tell. However, there was an interesting tidbit in a press release from the American Petroleum Institute in response to the commission’s report:

API has begun the process of creating an industry safety program for deepwater operations that will build on API RP 75 [API’s “safety and environmental management standard” for offshore operations] and help to further drive a culture of excellence throughout the offshore industry. That program will draw from the best practices in the nuclear and chemical industries and use independent, third-party auditing to measure performance.

This much is certain: INPO has been an effective tool in complementing NRC regulation and enhancing the industry’s safety culture. It’s nice to see them get recognition for a job well done in the form of a recommendation to use their organization as model for enhancing safety in the energy industry.  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Wedge of Nuclear Pie

PrairieIslandResized It’s a start:

A move to undo Minnesota's 17-year-old ban on new nuclear power plants easily cleared its first committee Tuesday as Republicans who run the Legislature make the proposal a priority.

Now, it’s worth noting that overturning the ban does nothing but allow Minnesota to consider nuclear energy among its options going forward.

While the Bloomberg story chooses to focus on this as a Republican issue, it isn’t really so. Appearing to give testimony before the committee were both union and business representatives, which covers a fairly large swath of a given electorate.

“Currently, the Department of Energy has more than twenty applications for construction of nuclear power plants throughout the United States. These plants would supply carbon–free, low–cost base load power for the energy grid as well as creating good paying jobs both during construction and in the operation of the plants,” said Harry Melander, President of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades.

And a little more from Mr. Melander:

“We feel that Minnesota should lift the moratorium on nuclear power plant construction and that nuclear energy should be part of a balanced Minnesota energy policy that curbs greenhouse gas emissions and addresses global climate change.”

As you can see, he not only wants Minnesota to be able to consider building plants but he wants the building to start, and now.

And on the business side:

Bride Seifert, an energy policy specialist with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, argued the focus of the bill was not to immediately build a nuclear power plant but have all energy options open.

I’m not going to say it was a feast of love – certainly, there were voices raised in objection – and the bill could, of course, die on its way through other committees or in the Senate or on the governor’s desk. All true.

Because Minnesota is one of the last states that doesn’t allow nuclear power to be part of the energy discussion, this little success carries more weight than it would normally. So let’s keep an eye on it.

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Over at Climate Progress, Joe Romm has up an interesting post on how to contain carbon emissions. Generally speaking, I don’t expect much from that quarter – Climate Progress is a project of the Center for American Progress, not a very nuclear-friendly venue – but Romm is usually a very interesting and engaged writer, if sometimes wrapped in too much certainty.

Humanity has only two paths forward at this point.  Either we voluntarily switch to a low-carbon, low-oil, low-net water use, low-net-material use economy over the next two decades or the post-Ponzi-scheme-collapse forces us to do so circa 2030.

The Ponzi scheme is the global economy. I suspect the infrastructure investment needed to change the profile of the energy sphere would not be possible following economic collapse, but who knows? In any event, Romm uses the idea of energy wedges that might stabilize carbon before (climate not economic) disaster strikes.

And what is a wedge? In this context, it’s a very specific idea:

Physicist Professors Robert Socolow and ecologist Stephen Pacala, Co-Directors of The Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton University have come up with a surprisingly clear-cut way to approaching the dilemma of global warming called stabilization wedges. The theory aims to demonstrate how global warming is a problem which can be solved by implementing today's technologies to reduce CO2 emissions.

And each technology, if it passes muster, gets a wedge or at least part of one. And what does that mean?

A wedge represents an activity that reduces emissions to the atmosphere that starts at zero today and increases to 1 giga ton per year of reduced carbon emissions in 50 years, a cumulative total of 25 giga tons of emission reduction over 50 years.

Al Gore uses wedges in An Inconvenient Truth, though, sadly, nuclear energy did not get a wedge.

But nuclear energy does get a wedge in Romm’s formulation:

  • 1 [wedge] of solar photovoltaics — 2000 GW peak
  • 1 wedge of nuclear power – 700 GW
  • 2 [wedges] of forestry — End all tropical deforestation. Plant new trees over an area the size of the continental U.S.

This is just a selection – the full set of wedges is on the site – but electricity generation covers only some of the wedge set and other cultural changes cover the rest (not quite sure how to get consensus on the trees, but fine). That nuclear power gets its foot in the door is the surprise here.

Here’s some more from Romm on nuclear energy:

The 1 wedge of nuclear includes a half wedge of next generation nuclear post-2030.  Why not more than 1 wedge? Based on a 2007 post on the Keystone report, to do this by 2050 would require adding globally, an average of 17 plants each year, while building an average of 9 plants a year to replace those that will be retired, for a total of one nuclear plant every two weeks for four decades — plus 10 Yucca Mountains to store the waste. It is also increasingly unlikely it will be among the cheaper options. And the uranium supply and non-proliferation issues for even that scale of deployment are quite serious.

That’s like the hokey-pokey. One foot in, one foot out. But at least one foot is in.

Do read the whole thing – it’s a bit complicated to grasp but well worth grasping, as stabilization wedges is an idea with currency in the climate change arena. Romm has some notably individual ideas about this, but it’s a good starting point for exploring the issue.

Prairie Island Nuclear Station – about 40 miles from Minneapolis-St. Paul, it’s been puttering along for 37 years without issue.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Duke Energy to Merge With Progress Energy

large_duke-energy That’s the news. Here are some details:

Duke's offer was a 6.4 percent premium over the last 20 trading days, the company said, and the deal would be accretive to Duke's earnings in the first year.

The transaction would create an industry giant with approximately 7.1 million electricity customers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, and 57,000 megawatts of generating capacity.

And here’s what the proposed merged company wants to do:

The two North Carolina companies will serve more than 7 million electricity customers, and will use the opportunity to eliminate redundancies in their service areas to focus on beefing up their nuclear power offerings. Duke and Progress have long been expanding their nuclear ambitions, and say the new combined company will have the largest regulated nuclear fleet in the U.S.

Here are comments from Duke Energy’s Jim Rogers (from Duke’s press release):

“Our industry is entering a building phase where we must invest in an array of new technologies to reduce our environmental footprints and become more efficient,” said Jim Rogers, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Duke Energy. “By merging our companies, we can do that more economically for our customers, improve shareholder value and continue to grow.

“Combining Duke Energy and Progress Energy creates a utility with greater financial strength and enhanced ability to meet our challenges head-on,” Rogers continued.

And Progress Energy’s Bill Johnson (same source):

“This combination of two outstanding companies is a natural fit,” said Bill Johnson, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Progress Energy. “It makes clear strategic sense and creates exceptional value for our shareholders. Together, we can leverage our best practices to achieve even higher levels of safety, operational excellence and customer satisfaction, and save money for customers by combining our fuel purchasing power and the dispatch of our generating plants.

“This merger also provides predictable earnings and cash flows to support our dividend payments to shareholders,” Johnson added. 

As noted above, both companies are headquartered in North Carolina and their nuclear plant holding reflect this. Duke Energy owns Catawba (S.C.), McGuire (N.C.) and Oconee (S.C.). Progress Energy owns Brunswick (N.C.), Crystal River (Fla.), Harris (N.C.) and Robinson (S.C.)

Friday, January 07, 2011

Texas Opens Waste Disposal Facility to 36 States

wcs Here’s the news:

A Texas commission Tuesday set in motion the importation of low-level radioactive-waste from 36 other states, a move long sought by the nuclear-energy industry and long opposed by environmentalists.

The disposal site near Andrews, Texas, is managed by Waste Control Specialists (WCS) and is licensed to process, store and dispose of low-level and mixed low-level radioactive waste (LLRW). Waste Control Specialists became the first American company in 30 years permitted to dispose of Class A, B and C LLRW when the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality granted it a license in 2009. (Others are Barnwell in South Carolina and Energy Solutions in Utah, which each provide similar services for groups, or compacts, of states).

See here for the NRC’s definition of what is represented by the different classes of waste.

Since its inception, the site has been used to dispose of waste from Texas and Vermont (and Maine, too, for awhile), and Vermont still retains exclusive control of 20% of the site’s capacity as part of the deal to allow Texas to take in material from other states.

Why do this now? The answer appears to be economic.

"If the compact site is not economically viable there's no place for that waste to go," [Waste Control spokesman Chuck McDonald] said.

The compact refers to Texas and Vermont, which administer the site together. McDonald isn’t precisely correct – there are other sites – and the two states would doubtless ensure the site’s financial viability - but one gets his point, which is that there is plenty of interest in using the site by other states. As long as there are no safety issues, why shouldn’t Waste Control Specialists want to take it on? It’s what they do.

[McDonald] said that Texas regulators already deemed the site safe, and thus granted a license for the project.

So there you go. I won’t pretend this move is free of controversy – the story gets into that – though a lot of it seems the usual stuff slung around by activist groups as well as the unique qualities of Texas politics. You can judge all that for yourself.

But providing this facility to 38 states in total can only be called a very positive move.

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The headline for the Texas story from the objective minds at NPR: Commission Lets 36 States Dump Nuke Waste in Texas. Sheesh!

Welcome to Waste Control Specialists. They have their phone number on the sign if you need their services.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A Diversity of Opinion

Maudine-Cooper-400 Over in Investors Business Daily, Bernard Weinstein takes positive note of Republican gains in Congress and what he thinks is a concomitant better outlook for nuclear energy, but expands beyond politics:

The case for nuclear energy remains stronger than ever because it is an efficient and environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels that doesn't emit greenhouse gases or particulates. In addition, production costs don't fluctuate as they do with fossil fuel plants.

Public sentiment in favor of nuclear energy has been rising, and even some environmental groups have started to embrace nuclear because of its minimal carbon footprint. At the same time, President Obama has voiced support for a revival of America's nuclear power industry and has also proposed increasing federal loan guarantees for new plants from $18.5 billion to $54 billion.

All true. Weinstein also notes the rise in interest internationally:

South Korea, currently generating 40% of its electricity from nuclear, is adding eight reactors to its power grid. Taiwan is building two new plants to boost nuclear's contribution to 40% of electricity production. Great Britain, Italy, Finland, China and India are also developing new nuclear power plants.

Even countries in the oil-rich Middle East are gearing up to build reactors. France, with the most nuclear-intensive power system in the world at 80%, is now building plants in Great Britain, Italy, Finland, China and India. Meanwhile, the Russians have signed nuclear deals with China, Iran, India, Nigeria and Venezuela.

There are only a few comments on the op-ed so far, but they’re all quite positive and, as important, engaged with the topic. Weinstein is associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute and an adjunct professor of business economics in the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, so he knows whereof he speaks.

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Over at Black Entertainment Television, whose website has a notably interesting news section, former New Jersey Governor and EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and Maudine Cooper, president and CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League, focus on the job opportunities afforded by the nuclear energy industry:

Unlike many sectors that are contracting, there are numerous employment opportunities available in the energy sector, especially in nuclear energy. During the past few years, more than 15,000 new jobs have been created in anticipation of building new nuclear projects around the country. These jobs are well-paying, with university, community college and labor training programs that are preparing the next-generation workforce in many disciplines.

Whitman is co-chairman of CASEnergy, the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which recently hosted a summit concerning diversity in the nuclear work force and which Cooper attended:

There is a broad coalition ready to support nuclear expansion and leverage the benefits derived from more nuclear energy plants. We recently joined more than 50 leaders from business and academia from within the Hispanic and African-American communities along with labor and industry representatives to focus on how safe, reliable nuclear energy facilities can benefit minority communities.

It’s a terrific op-ed, right on point:

Each plant requires 400 to 700 workers to run it. Additional training for some of those jobs can take as little as two years, with the prospect of an immediate payoff.  Average annual starting salaries in the industry range from $65,000 to $80,000. What’s more, unlike many positions in today’s economy, jobs at nuclear plants can’t be shipped overseas. And the nuclear energy industry is hiring now: nearly 40 percent of the nuclear energy workforce will be eligible to retire over the next five years, meaning the industry will need to hire as many as 20,000 workers to replace those that leave.

Of course, these jobs are available to all comers, but there are notable opportunities for minority workers:

New jobs in the nuclear energy sector are available to minority communities through the pursuit of the workforce training and feeder programs available at historically black institutions such as Clark Atlanta University and South Carolina State University. Industry and labor strive for a diverse workforce and supplier network, and programs are in place to help achieve this goal.

That reference to Clark Atlanta University is particularly germane, as Plant Vogtle down in central Georgia is ramping up to build and staff two new reactors in the next few years.

Terrific article – do read the whole thing.

Maudine Cooper.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Sense and Senselessness

nuclear-plant-beijing-tianjin-china Let’s kick off the year with news that has a, shall we say, rather odd tinge to it:

Chinese scientists have mastered the technology for reprocessing nuclear fuel, potentially yielding additional power sources to keep the country's economy booming, state television has reported.

The breakthrough will extend by many times the amount of power that can be generated from China's nuclear plants by allowing the recovery of fissile and fertile materials to provide new fuel, CCTV said.

Well – that’s good news, I guess, though it sounds like fast reactor technology to me.

It gets a little stranger:

Chinese scientists have been working on the technology for more than 20 years, but the details of the process they developed are being kept secret, CCTV said.

Hmmm. This story goes a little further:

China is not the first country to discover this technique. However, China’s discovery of the process is likely to have a far bigger environmental impact than in the other cases.

And a little further into why China is interested in extending the life of its uranium supply (and why it will have an environmental impact):

China is also interested in decreasing its dependence on foreign coal to run its power plants. While its power plants currently consume 47 per cent of coal produced in the world, only 14 per cent of global coal resources are held in China. This means that China must import huge quantities of a substance vital to its economy.

But it has plenty of uranium, which its “new” technique will extend well beyond the 70 years estimated to 3000 years.

It all sounds fantastical, but assuming it’s true, ramping down its coal plants for nuclear is only good for China. I couldn’t find a story that really made much sense of what’s going on here – it’s wise to add a layer or two of verifiability to a controlled society like China before giving its claims any weight – but it certainly bears watching.

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Politico weighs in on the tea party-associated new members of Congress and their views on nuclear energy, but unfortunately, the article is a veritable mess of misinformation and incoherence. The latter comes into play because there is no unified position among new members. Each new Congress person has or hasn’t thought about nuclear energy (or energy issues in general) and may or may not have an opinion about it.

But the article is worse than that, attempting to provide a view not actually supported by facts:

But those loan guarantees are now drawing heavy fire from conservatives looking for places to cut federal spending obligations. Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the National Taxpayers Union have urged Congress to drop additional loan-guarantee funds.

“We have to question those who consider themselves fiscal conservatives [while] supporting nuclear power, which is, essentially, the most heavily subsidized form of power in a heavily subsidized industry,” Ryan Alexander, president of TCS, said in an interview.

First, nuclear energy is far from the “most heavily subsidized form of power.” That would be coal and its fossil fuel relatives.

A recent study analyzed all federal energy expenditures from 1959 to 2006 and found that of the $725 billion that was distributed, 73 percent went to oil, natural gas and coal; 18 percent to hydro and renewable; and nine percent to nuclear.

Secondly, loan guarantees do not represent an outlay by the government:

A loan guarantee provides government backing for a loan that allows companies to access capital at lower interest rates. This reduces the overall project cost, which means lower electricity prices for consumers. All guaranteed loans must be paid back in full, and project sponsors must pay a fee to the government to participate in the loan guarantee program. There is no cost to taxpayers unless there is a default, which is unlikely because of the stringent financial requirements of the nuclear loan guarantee program.

One of the less useful stories I’ve seen lately. Even China’s miracle recycling regime makes more sense.

The Beijing-Tianjen nuclear plant.