Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Poll, Saudi Arabia, Pueblo

vinyl-banners-pueblo The Hill takes note:

A new poll commissioned by the nuclear industry shows that 71 percent of people in the United States support including nuclear power in the country’s energy portfolio.

And why shouldn't it? This is a survey conducted by Bisconti and Associates for NEI. We know: an industry poll. But Bisconti's methods are fully transparent and it's equally transparent that the findings are in line with other similar polls, though those polls tend to be more interested in a wide range of electricity suppliers rather than nuclear in particular. So consider this a look at nuclear in, er, its particulars.

And the poll doesn't ignore nuclear's cousins. A little more from the Hill's account:

At the same time, the poll shows broad public support for a proposal floated by Obama to get large amounts of the country’s electricity from low-carbon sources. The poll finds that 89 percent of Americans think, “We should take advantage of all low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear, hydro and renewable energy, to produce the electricity we need while limiting greenhouse gas emissions.”

See? What's interesting about this question - to me - is that it shows a tremendous number of respondents concerned with greenhouse gas emissions. I expect that would have gone down, but no. You can review the poll, its questions and a lot more here.

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The Saudis have made a pact:

Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia said Tuesday it signed an agreement with France for cooperation on the development of peaceful nuclear energy.

The agreement, the first nuclear accord signed by the kingdom, "allows Saudi experts to study the French technology options, their financial requirements and implications for developing qualified national human resources," according to an e-mailed joint statement.

The why here is not hard to understand.

Saudi Arabia currently uses 75 percent of its domestic oil for electricity production. According to its population growth trends, Saudi Arabia’s increased electricity demand will require an additional 5 million barrels of oil produced per day within 20 years. This means that the country—whose wealth is based primarily on crude oil exports—will lose its export capabilities within that 20-year window.

And that would be very bad for Saudi Arabia. My first reaction here is that nuclear energy isn't really a swap for oil (barring a big increase in electric cars) in most instances, but that's not true here, as Saudi Arabia generates about 65 percent of its electricity from oil. Natural gas is next at 25 percent.

What nuclear energy can do is put a lot of megawatts online very quickly or at least quickly enough to forestall this problem - and it's cleaner than oil or natural gas, forestalling a rather bigger problem. A multiple win for Saudi Arabia, though it'd be just about perfect if the U.S. were to find a way into that market.

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But what's good enough for Saudi Arabia is good enough for us, yes?

A proposed energy complex outside Pueblo that could include a nuclear power plant has cleared an early hurdle in the planning process.

The Pueblo County Planning Commission voted 5-3 on Tuesday to recommend the county change the zoning from agricultural to planned unit development on nearly 40 square miles, or 25,000 acres, in eastern Pueblo County.

It's just a step. As the article explains, this isn't binding on the county commissioner, so he will need to weigh in at some point. Smart step, though.

Say, isn’t Pueblo the place where all those government publications are housed? – I remember many commercials offering all kinds of brochures one could get by sending an envelope to Pueblo. And so it is, as the Federal Citizen Information Center, a branch of the General Services Administration, distributes its wares through the Government Printing Office’s press site, which is located there. Here’s the web site for the FCIC. It even has a blog, called GovGab.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What's Small Is Big to TVA


The New York Times has come around to nuclear energy slowly, ever so slowly. There have been some very nice editorials and some that almost get to very nice. The editorial yesterday is called The Dirty Energy Party and is mostly about Republican efforts to rein in environmental rulemaking. You can judge that part for yourself. It was this paragraph that grabbed us:
The main area of agreement between Mr. Obama and the Republicans seems to be nuclear power. Both sides support extensive loan guarantees to an industry that hasn’t built a new reactor in years but could supply a lot of clean power if it ever got going.
I’d probably throw the Democratic party in there, too – support has gotten pretty broad based – and in a brief mention, I won’t quibble too much about the Times ignoring the new reactors in progress in Georgia and South Carolina and Alabama. In my mind, that's getting going. In any event, I’d chalk this editorial up as almost very nice.

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A little news from my favorite utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority – why favorite? Read its history some time – it’s exceptionally fascinating. Oh, the news:
Jack Bailey, vice president of Nuclear Generation Deployment at the Tennessee Valley Authority, said his company plans to be the first utility in the US to build a set of small reactors.
Small reactors are a fairly recent enthusiasm. They take advantage of economies of scale to provide as much electricity as some of the first generation of nuclear plants, but are much smaller – and much smaller than a modern full-size plant.
At the same conference, officials from the US Department of Commerce and Department of Energy told the audience that the Obama administration sees big potential in small reactors to boost US competitiveness and re-energize the country's manufacturing base.
That’s good.
The White House's budget proposal, unveiled Monday, has requested $97 million for DOE to accelerate commercial deployment of small reactor technologies.
Even better. In some scenarios, the reactor could be built in a factory and shipped to a site. Most also have a plug-and-play capability – that is, a utility can chain a number of reactors together to incrementally add to their capacity. NEI has an interesting fact sheet about small reactors here, including a survey of the companies that want to produce them and other potential uses for them, including creating process heat for industrial application and helping to extract oil from Canada’s pesky tar sands.

Small reactors have attracted a lot of interest, in government as well as industry. The U.S. government’s International Trade Administration has issued a report about small reactors called The Commercial Outlook for U.S. Small Modular ReactorsIt includes “a series of policy and industry recommendations and, in an appendix, identifies 27 ‘best prospect’ international markets for SMRs.” Worth a look.

I often say that things like this are in early days. Not this time: small reactors have moved to the point where utilities are considering implementation. Consider TVA’s announcement a sort of marker in the story of small reactors.

Arnold Rothstein photographs workers at TVA's Watts Bar hydroelectric plant in 1942.

Friday, February 18, 2011

In the USA (Today) and Spain

spanish Today’s editions of USA Today in many regions of the country include a special section on the nuclear energy industry.  The section includes a foreword by NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel on the value of nuclear energy as well as articles and advertising from many nuclear energy companies. This isn’t online, so it actually requires getting the fingers a little inky to read it. But it’s USA Today – it’s just about everywhere. (If I can get hold of a pdf version, I’ll post it for you.)

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Twenty Greenpeace activists entered a nuclear reactor compound in eastern Spain early Tuesday and several of them climbed a refrigeration tower to protest the use of nuclear power, a Spanish official and Greenpeace spokeswomen said.

There are a fair number of places where this kind of stunt might well make you a martyr to your cause. But as long as no one is hurt, Greenpeace’s little stabs at publicity will fall on fishy eyes that view the merry prankster approach as awfully yesterday. But wait:

A plant security guard was "slightly injured" by the activists as they entered. The guard was treated at the plant medical facility, the government spokeswoman said.

That’s not good at all and a real invitation to trouble. I can’t speak to plant security in Spain but this kind of interaction seems almost inconceivable in the United States – not just going onto the plant grounds without severe trouble ensuing but knocking around a security guard, something that would be greeted very darkly here – and should be.

Protesting si, mischief quizas, injury no.

The town and the plant share the same name – Asco. Spain has nine reactors at seven sites.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Department of Energy 2012 Budget

The DOE budget proposal for 2012 seeks to triple the department’s loan guarantee authority for new nuclear power plants, from $18.5 billion to a total of $54 billion, the same as requested for 2011. The budget also creates a new line item for small reactor licensing.
Because Congress did not pass a budget to cover fiscal 2011, instead opting to fund the government at 2010 levels through continuing resolutions, several new programs included in the 2011 budget request failed to receive funding. Some of these programs have had their requests renewed in the 2012 request; others have been scrapped.
In this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a clean energy standard, with the goal of generating 80 percent of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources by 2035. Nuclear energy, natural gas and clean coal, which have been excluded from previous attempts to create such a standard, are explicitly included in Obama’s standard, joining renewable energy sources as recognized means to reduce carbon emissions. The administration’s clean energy goals are reflected in several places in the DOE budget.
Let’s take a look at a few elements:

LOAN GUARANTEES
Combined with the existing authority of $18.5 billion, the request of an additional $36 billion would provide a total of $54.5 billion specifically for nuclear energy projects. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a news release that the increased loan guarantee authority would cover six to eight nuclear power plant projects, resulting in nine to 13 reactors.
Early last year, DOE issued the first nuclear energy-specific loan guarantee to Southern Co. and its partners to help finance the construction of two new reactors at its Plant Vogtle site in Georgia.
The guarantees are not an actual appropriation and, therefore, do not represent an outlay of taxpayer dollars when the projects are successfully completed. Recipients must pay a fee for the guarantee. The guarantees aim to boost investor confidence and allow worthy projects to obtain financing on more reasonable terms that ultimately will lower the cost of electricity generated by the projects.

SMALL REACTORS
The 2012 budget request provides $93 million to support design certification and licensing assistance for a small reactor design not yet chosen.
Chu said that the 2012 budget request both “secures America’s future” and addresses Obama’s pledge to “make tough choices” in attempting to rein in federal spending. Promoting small reactors—which have a generating capacity less than 350 megawatts—reflects the growing interest in the technology as an exportable item and mirrors efforts in Congress to pass legislation supporting their development.
The budget also includes a request for $125 million for reactor concepts research and development. This funding will support small reactors, a next generation nuclear plant and the light water reactor sustainability program, which manages the long-term, safe and economical operation of current nuclear power plants.

YUCCA MOUNTAIN AND THE WASTE FUND
The DOE budget continues the administration’s efforts to terminate the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository program despite DOE’s continuing legal obligations in that regard.
The repository program would not receive any funds in the 2012 request. However, DOE still would require consumers of nuclear-generated electricity to pay a surcharge on their monthly electric bills into the federal Nuclear Waste Fund to support the program. This would yield an additional $778 million in revenues into a fund that already has a balance of $26 billion, according to the budget request.

DECONTAMINATION AND DECOMMISSIONING FUND
The administration is again proposing to reinstate the tax on the industry to fund the uranium enrichment decontamination and decommissioning fund. The fund was established to decommission DOE uranium enrichment facilities in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.
The current request, if approved, would mark the third time that the industry has been taxed for the fund, even though it has met its statutory obligation and the federal government has not yet done so. The fund currently holds a balance of $4.6 billion.
Other notable budget items:

  •  Nuclear energy enabling technology, another new line item, would focus on potentially transformative technologies in the areas of reactors, fuel cycle approaches and proliferation reduction. Originally introduced in the 2011 budget, the request has been lowered slightly to $98 million for 2012.
  • Re‐Energyse, a program introduced in the 2011 budget request to encourage students to pursue careers in science, engineering and entrepreneurship related to clean energy, was intended to replace the similar Integrated University Program. The program has been scrapped and is not funded for fiscal 2012.
  •  Spending for energy innovation hubs, which are intended to use multidisciplinary research teams to “shorten the path” from basic research to development and commercial deployment of energy-related technologies, is set at $146 million. The funds will support three existing hubs and establish three new ones in the areas of batteries, smart grid technologies and critical materials. Of the existing hubs, the one most specific to nuclear energy uses supercomputer modeling to demonstrate how nuclear processes operate at physical plants and will help in reactor design.
This is original reporting.

Squeaking By in Switzerland


Mühleberg, a town in Switzerland, has a nuclear power plant, it’s beginning to age, the writing is on the wall to shut it down. That’s the end of nuclear energy there, isn’t it? That what the town wants, right? Well, no:
The people of canton Bern have voted in favor of building a new nuclear power plant in Mühleberg to replace the old one there.
Now, this outcome was a little more controversial than that. The state (or canton) of Bern voted for this, but the city of Bern – which is Switzerland’s capital – voted against it. The canton’s vote in favor was narrow – 51 percent – and the city’s vote against rather large – 65 percent. Since the city of Bern is in the canton, the numbers suggest that people outside Bern supported this in rather larger numbers than that 51 percent. That would make sense – it’s the people of Muhleberg and surrounding areas that see the economic benefits from the plant.


In any event, the plant operator is pleased enough:
"It is a positive signal for nuclear power and a healthy mix of energy sources," Axpo spokeswoman Daniela Biedermann told the Swiss News Agency.
And so are people who would rather do without a new plant:
Meanwhile, Roland Näf, president of the Bern branch of the centre-left Social Democrats, was pleased that so many voted against the Mühleberg II project."We can be happy that support for atomic energy is crumbling," Näf told the Swiss News Agency.
So it goes in elections, especially close ones. The vote was to measure public opinion and is non-binding, but it doesn’t show any compelling reason not to build the new plant. So that’s what’s now planned. Good enough outcome for me.


The plant in question.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dutch Winds Die Down

borseleThe Dutch have made a decision:

In a radical change of policy, the Netherlands is reducing its targets for renewable energy and slashing the subsidies for wind and solar power. It's also given the green light for the country's first new nuclear power plants for almost 40 years.

I’m not sure about this. I’d be inclined to think that the two decisions stand separate from one another – nuclear energy does not have to displace renewable energy sources and in fact, nuclear wind and solar are far better as a trio pursued together as carbon emission reduction agents.

For another, The Netherlands is a small country. It’s current nuclear plant, Borssele, generates by itself almost 60 percent of the country’s electricity and will operate until 2034.

Coal is the second largest generator, with about 38 percent. That’s the percentage that wind and solar and a second nuclear plant can target. Even more interesting is the reason given to abandon renewables:

Wind and solar subsidies are too expensive, the Financial Times Deutschland, reports.

This story is reported by The Register in the U.K. so some of that impression of subsidy expense spills over that way:

The UK is expected to urge the installation of 10,000 new onshore turbines, even though some cost more in subsidies than than they produce, even at the generous Feed-In rates.

I wondered about that a bit, as subsidies for windmills shouldn’t extend much further than ramping up a production effort. Over time, even if turbines seem money losers at first, they should more than pay for themselves. Their failing to do that ever would of course be a problem unless the social good overrode issues of expense.

And frankly, The Register has probably overstated this. Here’s a bit from the Telegraph:

Figures were published as ministers promised to crack down on the spending of substantial sums on turbines built in areas without enough wind to make a significant saving.

Well, yes, smart siting certainly can make a difference. But this turbine has a specific purpose:

A spokesman for Ecotricity said: "The turbine is designed to power the business park and has been doing a good job. They are happy with it and we are happy with it."

The article doesn’t say, but I assume that Ecotricity put up the windmill and this is what you’d expect them to say. Still, the evidence of subsidy soaking seems a little thin.

But the nuclear bits are good. If that’s the direction the Netherlands has chosen, good for them. For now, the renewable part of the argument seems questionable.

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China has 25 nuclear power plants under construction and 50 more on the "drawing board," and the United States needs to build new reactors quicker in order to catch up with other countries, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said on Monday.

"We in the United States are falling behind," Blackburn said at the opening of a three-day conference called Women in Nuclear that was held at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

That’s tasty. More please.

However, she said that nuclear power is a "green" technology that should be part of an "all-of-the-above" energy policy, including clean coal as well as hydroelectric, solar and wind power. She said there is bipartisan support in Congress for that approach.

"We feel like it's going to take a little bit of everything to be energy independent," remarked Blackburn, a member of the House's Energy and Commerce Committee.

What I’d wish for the Netherlands push come to shove, but plenty good for this country, too. Blackburn has the right idea – let’s see if she translates it into some legislation. Women in Nuclear is sponsored by NEI and is an affiliate of WIN Global, an international association. You can read more about it – and hey! join if you want, regardless of gender - here.

The Borssele Nuclear plant. It currently sports a capacity of 445 megawatts. Any replacement, I suspect, would double that at least.

Food Versus Energy?

Today's Washington Post presents an op-ed by Timothy Searchinger titled, "How Biofuels Contribute to the Food Crisis". His main point is that the portion of crops devoted to biofuels has grown more rapidly than agricultural production in recent years. As a result, any stress on food production, e.g., drought in China or floods in Australia, leads to shortages or inflation in food for humans. Additionally, rapid economic development in China and elsewhere is increasing demand for meat, further stressing the world agricultural system and increasing the demand for water and energy.

Mr. Searchinger offers a hopeful outlook that the competition between food and energy production can be resolved through adjustments in policy and market responses. From our perspective, his article highlights the beauty of getting energy from a rock (uranium), and gives us another reason why China has 13 operating nuclear power plants and more than 25 under construction. The choice needn't be food versus energy; it can be food and energy.

Pictured: Uranium ore, USGS photo.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

As Gulf Prepares for Peak Oil, It Turns to Nuclear

Personally, I’ve always had my doubts about Saudi oil supplies. Sure, there’s some room for strategic ambiguity here. But when someone is playing their cards too close you always have to wonder if they’re just bluffing. The following article would seem to indicate that’s just what the Saudis have been doing. UAE President Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan meets South Korean President Lee Myung-bak

This morning’s story in the Guardian that US diplomats believed Saudi Arabia to have overstated their oil reserves should ring alarm bells around the energy world.

Every time there is a debate about whether OPEC should raise production to lower oil prices [subscription req’d], many commentators argue it is irrelevant: that the Middle East doesn’t have as much oil as it says and that it can’t raise production enough to bring prices down.

If this is true, it has serious consequences for the oil price. If OPEC doesn’t have the slack to up production and bring prices down, they will have a lot further to go above the $100 barrier.

Simply put, the argument is this: Due to lower oil reserves, Saudi Arabia still has the power to drive oil prices up, but has lost the ability to drive prices down. If this theory holds, it’s rather daunting stuff for the world economy. 

So what is Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf planning to do as oil supplies peak? Switching to renewables and natural gas, right? Almost. How about switching to renewables and nuclear power:

Saudi Arabia is moving forward with plans to produce power from nuclear reactors by 2020 in order to meet domestic power needs and to free up oil and natural gas for export and higher-end uses than direct burn for power generation.

In fact, Saudi Arabia is linking up with its neighbors in a regional power grid that will bring nuclear power from the United Arab Emirates to almost the entire Gulf.

Nuclear fits the bill, because unlike renewables nuclear provides baseload energy that emerging economies need to keep growth on track.

Given domestic consumption and the long-term liquefied natural gas (LNG) export contracts, the country has too little feedstock for electricity generation at seasonal peak times. This shortfall has resulted in service interruptions that have slowed industrialization and economic diversification programs, as well as economic growth generally.

And in a great piece, the UAE’s embassy describes why renewables—while part of the solution—are just not enough.

…Deployment of renewable and other alternative energy supplies, while desirable, would be able to supply only 6 to 7 percent of the required electricity generation capacity by 2020.

Oh, and probably somewhere in the back of their mind is that final fact: that uranium will last much longer than oil. Perhaps much, much longer. At least long enough for the Saudis to sell the last drop of oil under the sand.

Two-Year Educational Institutions Offer Pathways to Good Jobs, Says Harvard Report

A new report from Harvard’s Pathways to Prosperity Project contends that our nation’s strategy for secondary education places too much emphasis on a single career pathway—graduating from a four-year college—while losing sight of the myriad well-paying, skilled careers that require something other than a four-year degree. “The ‘college for all’ rhetoric that has been so much a part of the current education reform movement needs to be significantly broadened to become a ‘post-high-school credential for all’,” the report says.

While 70 percent of high school graduates go on to college, only 56 percent of those who enroll attain a bachelor’s degree after six years, the report says. Even more disturbing is the large number of high school dropouts. President Obama highlighted the concern about the dropout rate in a 2009 speech:

Three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the average high school graduate rate for OECD nations is 80 percent. In the United States, however, the average is 70 percent. Some 1.3 million students in U.S. public schools drop out each year. Why are so many students leaving school? The Pathways to Prosperity Project cites a key factor.
Too many can’t see a clear, transparent connection between their program of study and tangible opportunities in the labor market.
In the same 2009 speech, President Obama emphasized the need for post-high school education, while making it clear that a four-year college isn’t the only way to go.
I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. …Dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country.
The Pathways to Prosperity Project believes that the solution to improving America’s education system lies in developing a broader vision that incorporates multiple potential career pathways—including those requiring training at two-year educational institutions or vocational schools—and an expanded role for employers in support these new pathways.

Some argue that turning away from the goal of college for all would mean that the United States is giving up its quest to regain a leadership position in educational achievement. However, that may depend on how one defines educational achievement. With millions of Americans out of work, and those with high school diplomas or less finding fewer jobs open to them than in the past, perhaps the dual goals of making individuals more employable and meeting the real needs of today’s marketplace should take priority.

Pursuing something other than a four-year degree after high school doesn’t mean settling for less. For example, the Pathways to Prosperity Project found that graduates of the best two-year schools often earn more than some of their counterparts who have four-year degrees.

Nor can college graduates meet all the needs of employers. In the nuclear industry, for example, public awareness of nuclear industry jobs is limited to engineering. However, the industry also needs people to fill skilled craft positions such as welders, technicians, operators and security professions, as well as degreed engineers.

The nuclear industry expects to replace as many as 38 percent of all workers by 2014 as a result of retirements and other attrition. Existing nuclear power plants and new plants under development will require a skilled work force. President Obama’s call for greater use of clean energy sources during his Jan. 25 State of the Union Address will help support the growth of jobs throughout the energy sector.
Tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: By 2035, 80 percent 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.
The nuclear industry is so concerned about the availability of technicians and skilled craft workers that it has developed a program to partner selected two-year educational institutions with companies in the nuclear industry to prepare young people for jobs as maintenance technicians, chemistry technicians, radiation protection technicians and non-licensed operators.

Part of the project involved developing a nationally recognized uniform curriculum guide that specifies the learning objectives required in each of these fields. Industry partners work with two-year educational institutions to choose one or more specialties, rather than trying to teach all of them. Graduates will be ready to enter nuclear industry jobs with little need for additional training, other than site-specific matters. The industry is working to align the number of graduates these programs turn out and the jobs available to them when they complete their training.

The nuclear power plant uniform curriculum program is part of a broader electric power industry effort to develop the work force of the future, coordinated through the Center for Energy Workforce Development. In addition, the Get Into Energy website provides information for those interested in careers in the energy industry.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Nuclear Plant that Wasn’t

NEIAd-20pct.FINAL.Feb2011 Here’s an interesting story about a nuclear plant that didn’t get built in Easton NY in the late sixties (as the name implies, Easton is in far east New York state near the Vermont border):

Town Supervisor John Rymph was [in Easton in 1967, when the plant was announced], and said that he remembered being excited and looking forward to, as many residents did, the plant and the changes it would bring. A comprehensive plan and the town's planning board both sprouted in the aftermath of news of the nuclear facility planned for Grandma Moses' birthplace.

The local paper was excited, too:

An editorial in the now defunct Cambridge-based Washington County Post proclaimed in March that "the atomic age had arrived on the local scene," but continued on to say that the "communities to be affected are far from being ready to meet the challenge."

From this distance, we can’t really know what the Post saw as its community not being ready, as it certainly got itself ready for an economic bonanza:

The Greenwich Journal wrote then that despite the road blocks, the feeling locally for many up to that point was that the project would continue. The town of Easton, Washington County, and Stillwater Central School District were all poised for large tax revenues upon completion of the plant.

And that would happen, in part, because of the jobs the plant would bring with it.

But:

The Hudson River commission's qualms were shared by some locals, the state Historic Trust, and ultimately the National Advisory Commission for Historic Preservation. By mid-1968, the plant seemed in doubt, with an Aug. 8 Greenwich Journal headline proclaiming "Easton Likely to Lose Niagara Mohawk Plant."

And that’s what happened. Reporter Zeke Wright sounds a somewhat plangent note:

Today, the town of Easton's Website boasts of more than 30 farms, making it the "most agricultural town in the region."

So the town is as the town was. Wright is correct in not going beyond the facts – plenty of power plants are sited in rural areas that maintain their character – but still, the feeling of a lost possibility is very strong.

The Web site he refers to may be this one for the Easton Library. Easton has about 2500 people.

It’s a terrific peek into atomic history. Do read the whole thing.

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As you might expect, NEI advertises the benefits of nuclear energy outside just its web site. The main goal is to reach policymakers, but a fair amount of advertising is also done in national newspapers, such as the Washington Post, and in both print and on-line editions. There are also TV and radio spots broadcast largely during pubic affairs programming.

This is a good way to bring out nuclear energy’s virtues to the general public and to a targeted audience that can build public policy.

It is nice to be able to share the effort with anyone interested. I’ve included the print ad above (click for larger) and you can take a look at the radio, TV and print ads here.

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.

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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.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Billions and Billions of Fish

fish-school A number of environmental groups have put together a petition to close down New Jersey’s Salem nuclear plant. Norm Cohen of the Stop the Salem Nuke Fish Slaughter Campaign appears to be the mastermind here and he’s pretty convinced that fish are being killed by the plant. How many fish? A whole lot:

Salem kills over 3 billion Delaware River fish a year, with changed technology they could reduce their fish kills by as much as, or even more than, 95%.

By which he means cooling towers. Not being able to erect mandated cooling towers factored into a decision to shutter Oyster Creek early and Cohen rather disingenuously hides behind cooling towers to shut Salem. Why do I think that?

With the Oyster Creek decision to shut down in 2019 now a done deal, officially sanctioned by the NRC, it is time to focus on Salem Units 1 and 2, and their continued slaughter of billions of fish and other aquatic life because of PSEG's refusal to invest in a closed cooling system (cooling towers) for their two aging nuclear plants.

Now, let’s set aside for a moment the notion of one power plant killing 3 billion of anything in a 365 day period – that about 8.2 million fish a day. Just the practical considerations – not to mention the smell – would be overwhelming. But surely the plant must be doing some notable damage to the aquatic population. That must be true, right?

Not true:

“Available data on the composition of the finfish community in the vicinity of Salem from 1970 through 2004 were analyzed using widely-accepted techniques for measuring species richness . . . and species density . . . This analysis showed that finfish species richness in the vicinity of Salem has not changed since the startup of Salem, and that finfish species density has increased.

Finfish means actual fish. We also often call things like jellyfish and cuttlefish fish, but they are not. There’s more:

During trawl surveys conducted from 1999 through 2004, 27 additional finfish species were collected that had not previously been collected during PSEG’s field surveys.

I wouldn’t credit the plant for that, but it’s not chasing them away or killing them en masse, either, is it?

This study was done by PSEG for the New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System as part of the plant’s renewal process. It would be wrong to say that fish are not killed through the process of drawing water into Salem – whether it has cooling towers or not – but a lot of effort goes into mitigating that harm and clearly the study shows that Salem has done a terrific job and the population abundance has not been impacted

Those who to close a plant should find some legitimate grounds on which to do it first.

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The New York Times has an article called U.S. Pushes, But Reactors Lagging. Matthew Wald does a fairly judicious job reporting the story, though there are not so many threads to really make a compelling case. But – okay.

The one line that stuck out was this one:

But some obstacles are specific to the nuclear industry, like the ballooning cost estimates for construction of reactors, which are massive in scale.

Reactors are certainly expensive, but costs are going up all over. Consider:

Among the sample of projects built in 2009, for example, the capacity-weighted average installed cost was $2,120/kW. This average increased by $170/kW (9%) from the weighted-average cost of $1,950/kW for projects installed in 2008, and increased by $820/kW (63%) from the average cost of projects installed from 2001 through 2004.

A 63 percent increase in half a decade is pretty impressive. Gas? Coal? Let’s give it away:

Since hitting a low point of roughly $700/kW in the 2000-2002 timeframe, average wind turbine prices have increased by approximately $800/kW (>100%) through 2009.

Greater than a 100 percent increase! No ding on wind intended here nor even on Wald. But really, cost increases are not a problem “specific to the nuclear industry.”

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Guess who’s blogging? Yes, The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has taken the plunge. Chairman Gregory Jaczko explains it all:

Staff from throughout the NRC will be posting regularly on the blog, addressing a variety of topics. Just to be clear, the blog is not replacing our usual modes of communicating with and getting feedback from the public. Instead, it is an additional way of communicating with you.

I hope it uses this opportunity to, among other things, shine a light on the world of regulation, which is exceptionally intimidating to many people. It’s a big subject and who better than the NRC staff to explain it?

Not much there yet, but give it time. Early days.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Clean Energy Standard

bingaman The most striking element (from an energy perspective, certainly) of the State of the Union speech was President Barack Obama’s embrace of a clean energy standard. Recognizing that nuclear energy and natural gas can play significant roles in carbon emission reduction took the idea mainstream whereas it had previously been of interest mostly to energy wonks and policymakers.

The change has been noticed. Here’s the Washington Post:

The first is establishing a clean-energy standard expected to require that American utilities derive a certain amount of the electricity they provide from clean sources - the president mentioned 80 percent by 2035. Last year, Democrats opposed including nuclear energy or natural gas in that mix; Tuesday night, Mr. Obama included both.

The Post really isn’t right that Democrats opposed nuclear energy. There was no clean energy standard bill last year and Democrats were not opposed to including nuclear in such a mix. Both major bills in the House (Waxman-Markey) and the Senate (ACELA) in 2009 had nuclear up rates and/or new nuclear in their renewable portfolio standards.

Leaving that little problem aside, the Post editorial board is outlining the two elements it considers to be Obama’s successor idea to cap-and-trade. The second is increased funding for energy research, which you can read about at the link. What’s interesting here is the Post’s reaction to the inclusion of nuclear energy:

If America is to have such a standard, this is the right call. It widens the appeal of the policy to Republicans, but it's also sensible, since nuclear energy produces no greenhouse gases and natural gas produces about half the carbon emissions of coal. A well-designed policy would take advantage of that difference while giving less credit for natural gas than for truly renewable fuels.

Nuclear isn’t renewable energy, either, so this feels a little befuddled – likely, the writer meant that natural gas does produce carbon emissions and thus should not receive full credit.

The New York Times’ ClimateWire gets this about right:

Obama's clean energy outline favors sources like wind, solar and nuclear over "clean coal" and natural gas. Those fossil fuel energies, which emit some greenhouse gases, would receive "partial credits" under a clean energy standard that may allow utilities to trade energy credits earned by using low-carbon power sources, according to a White House fact sheet.

In any event, an important editorial voice for the inclusion of nuclear energy in a clean energy standard.

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I was curious about that White House fact sheet and found that it is not an official fact sheet but something distributed to various opinion makers. I was able to get hold of it - and the nuclear take away mirrors what was said in the speech:

To give utilities the flexibility to generate clean energy wherever makes the most sense, all clean sources – including renewables, nuclear power, efficient natural gas, and coal with carbon capture and sequestration – would count toward the goal.

We’ll see: The Hill newspaper reports that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) is considering bringing up a bill to support a clean energy standard and a brief bit in Reuters reports that Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is bending is warming up to the idea:

The chairman of the Senate's energy panel said on Monday he could support including nuclear power in the White House's clean energy standard for generating electricity as long as renewable energy benefited.

"If we can develop a workable clean energy standard that actually continues to provide an incentive for renewable energy projects to move forward, and provide an additional incentive for some of the other clean energy technologies, nuclear being one, I would like to see that happen," Senator Jeff Bingaman told reporters.

Bingaman is consequential here because he is chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, which will be the first Senate committee to look at any bill that includes a clean energy standard. This will be an interesting story to follow in 2011.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) makes a point so forcefully, the camera blurs his hand a bit.