Friday, June 29, 2012

Another Call for Nuclear Advocates

A few weeks back, we asked our readers to participate in an LA Times poll on the continued operation of the San Onofre nuclear power plant. Earlier today, the San Diego Union-Tribune posted their own poll on the ultimate fate of the facility:

If you support the continued operation of the plant, please take a moment to vote.

Enhancing U.S. Nuclear Trade

The Third Way’s report on the future of nuclear energy, which we excerpted yesterday, focuses a good deal on trade issues and how to  ensure that the United States retains its primacy as a exporter of nuclear technology, goods and services.

Bolstering that subject, NEI’s Everett Redmond has offered a blog post to Public Interest Report that tackles some of the thorny issues involved in trading American nuclear energy technology and goods with other countries.

Bilateral agreements on nuclear energy cooperation are vital to advancing global nonproliferation and safety goals as well as America’s interests in global nuclear energy trade. A 123 agreement, named after section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, establishes an accord for cooperation as a prerequisite for nuclear energy trade between the United States and other nations. The agreement contains valuable nonproliferation controls and commitments.

123 agreements are not in themselves particularly controversial; still, they are not the right mechanism for every policy goal.

Some U.S. leaders are proposing a prohibition on uranium enrichment and reprocessing as part of all bilateral nuclear energy agreements for cooperation. Ensuring enrichment technology and reprocessing technology are used only for peaceful purposes is a paramount goal for government and industry.

Paramount, yes, but implementing nonproliferation goals through 123 agreements can run at cross purposes to the agreement’s purpose. Why? It asks countries to give up some sovereign rights, which they will not do. Instead, they will simply go elsewhere to fulfill their needs – Russia, France, etc. There are better means to achieve the same end.

Promising mechanisms include the decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency to establish a uranium fuel bank, potential nuclear fuel lease/takeback contracts, and other multilateral, institutional nonproliferation arrangements. In addition, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (an international body of 46 nuclear technology supplier nations that sets standards for commercial nuclear trade) recently adopted new clear and strict criteria for the transfer of nuclear energy technology.

Multilateral, consensus-building policy making ensures that all countries agree to and follow the same rules. The outcome may seem much the same, but it makes trade less complicated.

U.S. suppliers are vying for business around the world – including China, Poland and India. Continued U.S. leadership in global nuclear safety and nonproliferation matters go hand-in-hand with a strong presence in the global marketplace. Both are critical to our national and global security. We must continue to participate in worldwide trade and nonproliferation policy discussions, or cede leadership in these areas to other governments and industrial competitors.

To put it mildly, the whole thing is worth a read. It’s an important topic.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Third Way Recommends New Strategy for the Future of U.S. Nuclear Energy Industry

Earlier today, the Washington think tank Third Way issued a major public policy paper on how government and industry can work together to support the nation's global leadership position in nuclear energy. To shed some additional light on the paper, we asked Robert Walther, a Senior Policy Advisor in Third Way's Clean Energy Program, to write a guest blog post concerning the paper and the future course it outlines.
A Strategy for the Future of Nuclear Energy in the U.S.

Today’s nuclear energy technologies offer our nation a resource that can safely provide around-the-clock energy at affordable prices while minimizing emissions. One in five American homes is powered by clean nuclear energy. But the future of this vital energy source is dependent upon an interwoven set of decisions made by the public and private sectors. On one hand, private industry must make business decisions about constructing and operating nuclear facilities which involve expensive up-front investments, despite uncertain government policies and regulations. On the other, the policy goals of the government—the production of safe, affordable, and clean base-load energy—cannot be achieved without private sector cooperation and investment.

This industry is at a crossroads. Cheap natural gas has become the fuel of choice for electric utilities, while the Fukushima accident has forced nuclear plant operators to once again win the confidence of policymakers and consumers, despite their track record of safe operation. While we struggle with these issues in the U.S., other nations are rapidly ramping up their nuclear investments, threatening to diminish our authoritative role in issues of nuclear technology and safety.

Despite these challenges, nuclear energy remains a proven source of reliable, clean energy. The public and private sectors, working together, can and must address these concerns and craft policies that will attract private investment to the nuclear industry and maintain America’s role as the pacesetter for nuclear energy.

To develop a strategy for addressing these needs, Third Way and the Idaho National Laboratory convened the New Millennium Nuclear Energy Partnership in December 2010. This bipartisan group of elected officials and experts from industry, government, academia, technology, and finance has spent the last year and a half tailoring a series of recommendations. These address the following five topic areas:
  • General: Offers insights on the vital role of nuclear energy in national energy policy and the need to develop a politically sustainable national energy policy through a Quadrennial Energy Review.
  • Public-Private Partnerships: Recognizes the value of public-private partnerships in meeting challenges and identifies crucial elements for developing successful partnerships.
  • Financing New Nuclear Energy Projects: Provides options that will enable initial and long-term financing for this capital-intensive industry. Recommendations address issues relating to revenue insufficiency in the construction of new plants, financial risk mitigation, and project finance challenges.
  • Infrastructure Development: Considers the importance of rebuilding the U.S. nuclear industrial infrastructure and positioning U.S. industry to continue to be a leader in the global nuclear energy marketplace.
  • New Nuclear Energy Technology: Investigates technological advancement issues that could provide new advanced reactor designs for electricity generation and for industrial use, the regulation and licensing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of new nuclear energy technologies, and options for a sustainable nuclear fuel cycle.
It is our hope these recommendations can be thoughtfully reviewed by policymakers and industry representatives, and later form the basis for a consensus strategy that will allow the U.S. to continue to reap the benefits of nuclear energy for many years to come.
Just a few moments ago, NEI President and CEO Marv Fertel issued a statement praising the report, calling it, "[A]n excellent, consensus approach to capitalize on the significant economic and environmental benefits of nuclear energy at home and abroad ... The Nuclear Energy Institute welcomes the opportunity to explore this positive contribution to U.S. energy policy in greater depth with federal policymakers.”

Click here to read the paper right now.

The Latitude that Fervency Allows

FerventOne thing about advocacy groups that can be admirable is their fervency about their causes. As long as it doesn’t tip into fanaticism or destructive behavior – and it usually doesn’t – then the passion expressed can be a highly effective recruiting tool. But how much latitude does fervency allow? How useful is it in directing policy?

Some, if truth also informs your passion.

I was reading a press release the other day about a group that wants to motivate its members take action to push renewable energy to the policy forefront. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but the release had a lot of fervent writing that led it astray. For example:

More than eight out of 10 Americans (83 percent) – including 69 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Independents, and 95 percent of Democrats -- agree with the following statement: “The time is now for a new, grassroots-driven politics to realize a renewable energy future. Congress is debating large public investments in energy and we need to take action to ensure that our taxpayer dollars support renewable energy-- one that protects public health, promotes energy independence and the economic well being of all Americans.”

That’s a lot of Democrats! First, I doubt any pollster ever asked this question because, second, the statement has too many moving parts. You could easily agree with, oh, 75 percent of it, but how would a pollster score that? Third, it tries to shame a respondent into saying yes. Who doesn’t want to protect public health? 

Let’s try one more:

More than three out of four Americans (77 percent) – including 70 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Independents, and 85 percent of Democrats -- believe that “the energy industry's extensive and well-financed public relations, campaign contributions and lobbying machine is a major barrier to moving beyond business as usual when it comes to America’s energy policy.”

I’m sure AWEA (the wind energy association) and SEIA (ditto solar) will be amused to read this, not to mention all the energy concerns that have renewable energy in their portfolios. Their lobbying “machines” – and those of many environmental groups – certainly like to get their views in front of lawmakers’ eyes – and have considerable success in doing so.

It’s convenient to pretend that you’re not doing what your perceived opponents are doing – if you fervently believe in what you’re doing – but you risk sacrificing your claim to the high ground. If you are doing exactly the same thing and let the truth slide away from you, you’ve already ceded it.

There can be a considerable downside to fervency. In the advocacy sphere, it is an effusion of how strongly one feels about one’s own views – and that’s great – but when it guides policy, it can seem both naïve and overheated. And not very effective.

The pull-outs come from the Environmental Working Group, but I mean it as an example rather than any particular comment on their doings. You can read the whole thing here.

The Fervent Years is about the Group Theater, which produced a number of highly socially engaged plays during the 1930s and introduced a number of figures who would be key shapers of the American theatrical scene for decades afterward – Elia Kazan, Clifford Odets, Lee Strasburg and the author of the book, Harold Clurman. Highly recommended for fans of theater.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

EIA Estimates Positive Growth for Nuclear Energy In Latest Annual Energy Outlook

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that electricity generated by nuclear energy in the United States is projected to increase 10 percent by 2035 over 2010 totals if current laws and regulations remain unchanged. This scenario, deemed the “reference case,” is one of the EIA’s 30 scenarios released this week in its Annual Energy Outlook 2012 that project varying levels of change in the energy sector due to market and policy influences.

Richard Myers, NEI’s vice president for policy development, said:

“The Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook is an important tool for policymakers—not because it describes a single future, but because it illuminates the range of futures that might develop given certain business and policy conditions. It’s worth remembering that the Annual Energy Outlook’s reference case in the mid-1990s forecast the premature shutdown of approximately one-half of U.S. nuclear generating capacity, in the belief that many nuclear power plants would be unable to compete in a deregulated electricity market. In retrospect, that forecast was wildly pessimistic, and the 104 nuclear power plants that now provide 20 percent of America’s electricity are always dispatched when available, thanks to their low production costs.”

The reference case in this year’s report estimates that 15.8 gigawatts (GW) of new nuclear generating capacity will be added between 2010 and 2035 due to the construction of new nuclear plants (8.5 GW) and power uprates at existing nuclear energy facilities (7.3 GW). Other scenarios in the report found that U.S. nuclear capacity in 2035 could range from 77.9 GW in the low-nuclear case to 225 GW in a case where carbon emissions are controlled at $25 per ton. Current nuclear generating capacity stands at approximately 100 GW.

The other two major scenarios outlined for nuclear energy in the report during the 25-year time period include:

  • “High-nuclear case” – In this scenario, electricity generated by nuclear energy in 2035 is 10 percent higher than the reference case and nuclear energy’s share of total U.S. electricity generation is 20 percent. This scenario assumes that all current nuclear plants under construction and the ones with active license applications before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are built, and that all operating nuclear plants receive their second license renewals to operate through 2035. These assumptions project an additional 6.2 GW of new nuclear capacity on top of the reference case will be added to the electricity grid.
  • “Low-nuclear case” – In this model, electricity generated by nuclear power in 2035 is 30 percent lower than the reference case, reducing nuclear energy’s share of total U.S. electricity generation to 13 percent. This scenario assumes that 30.9 GW of nuclear capacity will be retired after 60 years of operation.

EIA_AnnualEnergyOutlook2012

Other notable nuclear energy-related findings from the report include:

  • Compared to the reference case, the high-nuclear case in 2035 assumes that the real average electricity prices for consumers decreases by 1 percent, demonstrating the value of America’s operating nuclear plants to electricity consumers. In the low-nuclear case, EIA estimates an increase in these prices by 5 percent compared to the reference case.
  • Compared to the reference case, a high-nuclear case in 2035 assumes carbon emissions from the power sector decrease by 1 percent, highlighting the role nuclear energy facilities play in reducing America’s greenhouse gases. In the low-nuclear scenario, EIA estimates that these emissions could increase 3 percent compared to the reference case.
  • While nuclear plants may be expensive to build, they still present an attractive option to utilities looking to diversify their fuel mix. This could be an important element if potential greenhouse gas emission regulations are put into effect or natural gas prices increase.
  • As industry research on managing long-term reactor operations and aging management issues continues, companies may soon be able to extend their licenses to operate beyond 60 years, which could be an important factor in nuclear energy’s future outlook. The report states that “the first application seeking to operate for 80 years is tentatively scheduled to be submitted by 2013.”
  • Although some governments—including Japan, Germany, Switzerland and Italy—have slowed or halted nuclear energy production as a result of the Fukushima accident, EIA predicts that overall production will likely expand since countries still face the same challenges over energy security and reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. These challenges highlight the important role nuclear energy plays in providing domestic, carbon-free, baseload electricity.

For more information on the scenarios outlined for nuclear energy, see the EIA’s report (pages 50-52, 74 and 89).

Image credits: The chart can be found on page 89 of the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2012.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Trust and Turning On the Nuclear Facilities

We haven’t looked at editorial punditry lately, but there have been some thoughtful entries lately. The Washington Post  weighed in on the restart of two of the reactors at Japan’s Ohi site over the weekend. The Post editorial is largely about trust and how the nuclear energy here and abroad depends on the trust of the people:

Japan has begun to address the mistrust [after the government’s handling of the Fukushima Daiichi accident] with legislation to overhaul the nuclear regulatory agencies and with revised safety standards. In recent days, [Prime Minister Yoshihiko] Noda has decided to restart two of the 50 commercial Japanese reactors taken offline for inspection after Fukushima, but he faces great skepticism. The Three Mile Island meltdown and Chernobyl disaster showed that, once lost, public trust is extremely hard to regain.

A little more:

Nuclear power evokes suspicions that run deeper than other technology hazards, social researchers say. In today’s globalized digital universe, the scenes of chaos and fear at Fukushima spread quickly. Germany decided to close eight of its 17 nuclear power plants. Although U.S. views of nuclear energy were not shaken as dramatically, the need to build and sustain public confidence can’t be taken for granted.

But:

In the fight against global warming, nuclear power remains a vital low-carbon energy source and very well may be for a long time to come.

Read the whole thing – it’s an interesting editorial, much more exploratory in approach than judgmental. It doesn’t really take a side – except in favor of building trust in nuclear energy through good regulation and reasonable government behavior. That’s not controversial, but in this instance, it feels more directed to the Japanese than to Washingtonians, which is odd for an Washington paper. If The Post is in an international mood, and feeling judicious, maybe it can do an editorial on Germany’s freak-out on nuclear energy. Not very trusting there, the Germans.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Road to Visaginas

lithuania_3081_600x450Consider this: when Lithuania closed its nuclear plant in 2009, it lost access to a whopping 70 percent of its total electricity generation – enough to allow it to be a net exporter of electricity, especially to its Baltic neighbors, Estonia and Latvia. The reason one nuclear plant could so dominate the energy conversation is that Lithuania has an exceptionally small population – 3.5 million people.

And though the three Baltic states point their destinies westward, so to speak, there are enduring – or at least well-understood - ties to Russia. Consequently, Russian natural gas now fills in for Lithuania’s lost nuclear energy – reversing the previous arrangement and making the country a net energy importer - a situation the country is very eager to change.

But how to do that?

"I am happy a very important historic decision allowing the further development of nuclear energy in Lithuania ... has been made," {Prime Minister Andrius] Kubilius told reporters at parliament, which backed the concession deal with 74 out of the 141 seats in the house.

That’s how. Concession doesn’t mean conceding, it means that the parliament granted Hitachi the nuclear energy concession.

There are storm clouds:

But the main opposition Social Democrat Party, which leads opinion polls ahead of the election, boycotted the vote in protest at the cost of the project, estimated by the Finance Ministry at up to 6.8 billion euros ($8.64 billion).

Lithuania wants Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia, to share the cost together with Hitachi as a strategic investor.

That’s a lot of cash, especially for such a tiny country, but the benefits are exceptionally many. Aside from the obvious ones we mention here all the time, Lithuania really wants to set its own energy destiny. Yet – it’s a lot of cash.

PM Kubilius makes the case:

“This is a very wise and prudent decision. I am happy that the Seimas [parliament] has said yes to a further development of nuclear energy in Lithuania, to the development of the VNPP [the proposed site is called Visaginas] and thus to a possibility of having cheaper electricity in a decade or so, at the same time attracting substantial investments and creating many new jobs in the period of construction.”

That’s the argument that could be made almost anywhere about a big project – but it happens to be true.

PS: There is some movement on the renewable energy front, too, though pretty tiny so far:

The target capacity for 2010 is 200 MW from wind farms, 33 MW from biomass plants, and 132 MW from hydro power plants.

See here for more.

Lithuania’s capital city, Vilnius.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Plant Security Foils Attempt to Smuggle Explosives Inside Swedish Nuclear Plant

When I first got into the office this morning, the headline that jumped out at me immediately was the news the security team at the Ringhals nuclear plant in Sweden had foiled an attempt to smuggle explosives into the facility.

The bottom line here: plant security functioned exactly as it should have. As NucNet reported: "The explosive did not enter the facility and there was no risk of an explosion because there was no detonation device." According to Vattenfall, the operator of the plant, the amount of explosives that were found were too small to cause any meaningful damage. Nevertheless, alert levels at Sweden's two other nuclear plants, Forsmark and Oskarshamn, have been raised, and Swedish police are currently investigating the whereabouts of the fork lift before it arrived at the plant.

America's nuclear plants have always been secure, and are among the best protected pieces of industrial infrastructure in this country -- and that's all the more the case since 9-11. For more information on exactly what the industry has done since 9-11 to enhance security at America's nuclear power plants, click here to watch a video we shot last year with Exelon Nuclear President and Chief Nuclear Officer Mike Pacilio.

Photo of Ringhals by Vattenfall.

The U.S. Energy Department Should Consider Washington State for Small Reactors, Lawmakers Say

SmallReactor_gregoire_tricityheraldNine U.S. congressional leaders from Washington state penned a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu this week to urge the federal agency to consider the state as a possible location for small nuclear reactors. The letter, signed by both of the state’s U.S. senators and seven U.S. representatives, comes only weeks after Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) submitted a similar letter to the energy secretary, further signaling that the state’s lawmakers are serious about wanting a stake in the upcoming public-private partnership to develop up to two small reactors in this country.
The lawmakers said in the letter that the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hanford site, a facility used mainly during World War II to create plutonium for America’s defense program, could make a perfect location to develop a small reactor since it could boost the environmental cleanup efforts at the site and create jobs. The Tri-City Herald quotes from the letter:

A small modular reactor in the Tri-Cities could help offset the loss of jobs as Hanford environmental cleanup progresses, according to the letter from the congressional delegation.
"Under current regulations, economic development consideration should be given to weapons complex communities experiencing a downturn in federal employment," the letter said.
Other local leaders have said that a 70-megawatt small reactor could be used to supply the Hanford site’s vitrification plant, a waste treatment facility that converts nuclear waste products into a glass or a glassy substance so that it can be safely stored in a repository. A 30-megawatt small reactor could also be used to help power DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, located in Richland, Wash.
The congressional leaders in the letter also emphasized that the Tri-Cities is home to the Pacific Northwest’s only nuclear energy facility, the Columbia Generating Station, which originally had planned for two more full-scale nuclear reactors to be located at the site. The Tri-City Herald reports:
The infrastructure developed for those reactors could be used for the construction of new small modular reactors, the letter said.
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"The site is leased land located squarely within DOE's Hanford Site, which would also prove of benefit to the department in moving this new technology forward," the letter said.
Not only does the Evergreen state have a few locations that could benefit from small reactors, but developing the technology in the state could bring opportunities for U.S. exports, a key point that the governor made in her letter a few weeks ago.
"Small modular reactors, once developed, become a very exportable product that can be of great benefit to China, Korea, Japan and to developing countries around the world," she said. "Hanford and the Tri-Cities could be a keystone to such manufacturing with direct access to ocean-going barges, major interstate highways and railroads."
The Pacific Northwest state has a supportive community, a knowledgeable work force and suitable sites already vetted for nuclear production, said the Tri-City Herald in an editorial yesterday. Given the many benefits this new technology could bring to the United States, DOE should work swiftly and with a sense of urgency over the next few months in making its decision. The editorial continues:
Nothing else on the horizon has the potential to reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by the extent that the scientific community says is needed to halt global warming -- or to meet the world's growing demand for energy.
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It's crucial to put any modular reactor on the best possible path for success.
The letter submitted this week to Secretary Chu was signed by members of both political parties, including: Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell; Republican Reps. Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dave Reichert, and Jaime Herrera Beutler; and Democratic Reps. Norm Dicks, Adam Smith and Rick Larsen.
To read more in small reactor news, see my blog post from earlier this week that highlights a couple of other states that have come forward in announcing their interest in developing this new technology.
Photo: Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire speaks at the Columbia Generating Station in celebration of the plant’s recently renewed license extension to operate until 2043. (Photo credits: Richard Dickin at the Tri-City Herald.)


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June 25, 2012 update: Full text from the letter is below.




Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Germany and the Cost of Moving Fast

black_forestWe promise not to beat the horse until it starts beating us – and we’re probably close to that point – but say, how is that shift to renewable energy going in Germany?

The country’s third-largest aluminum producer, Voerde Aluminium GmbH, filed for bankruptcy amidst trade groups advocating affordable power. Ulrich Grillo, president of Germany’s non-ferrous metals association, views Voerde Aluminium’s insolvency as proof that the metal manufacturing industry in Germany is endangered by high electricity costs, which are no longer competitive on the international level.

By point of comparison:

Electricity prices for industrial use are 41.7 percent lower in France than in Germany. If similar inefficiencies begin to surface in steel and other critical manufacturing industries, the impact on the German economy will be significant.

Let’s be fair: Germany generated (in 2010) about the same amount of electricity via nuclear energy – about 22 percent – as the United States does and half the nuclear plants there are still chugging along until 2022. Germany gets about 43 percent of generation from coal. It’s move to renewable energy is meant to impact the coal percentage as well as get nuclear to zero. What’s hurting here the impact that move is having on ratepayers and, obviously, the industrial sector.

In an interview with Uranium Investing News, Edward Kee, vice president of NERA Economic Consulting, offered his opinion on the current policy dynamics, commenting, “before all German nuclear plants are permanently closed, the policy will shift and some of these nuclear power plants will remain in service. However, this view is based on fundamental economics and not by the less-predictable politics.”

Anyone can say anything, of course, but that doesn’t mean we can’t like some of what they say – NERA doesn’t seem to have any particular ideological or pro-nuclear inclination, so it’s just making an economic assessment. We’ll see in a decade or so how that works out.

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The German decision to close its nuclear plants was bound to cause problems: raise the price of electricity and create various kinds of spirals, ripples, even plummets in their economies, all at a very bad time for any of that to happen. Reporters, of course, always latch on to those spirals and plummets because there is drama in them. The real trick is to determine where the German experience will take the country and its people if its energy transition does exactly what it says it will do.

This Reuters story talks about Germany’s energy plans and produces this lovely bid of analysis:

More variable power prices could be a forerunner of a new kind of market, where centralized and inflexible plants, including new nuclear, cannot compete in a more dynamic, connected, modular approach to energy generation.

When they say “centralized and inflexible,” they mean 24/7 electricity production. “Dynamic, connected, modular” – not. Still, it’s a very attractive formulation for doing away with your baseload energy. Read the article to understand the implications of “more variable power prices.”

There was never any question that Germany was going to increase its commitment to renewable energy and revamp its grid to accommodate it. It intended to do so before the accident in Japan and even intended to close its nuclear facilities – at some point. (See this Christian Science Monitor story for more on this.)

So, it is doing hat it had planned to do – but more quickly and in an iffy economy. To be honest, if you leave nuclear energy out of the equation, it’s what has to happen if a country hopes to end its dependence on fossil fuels and get ahead of climate change. Even if the nuclear facilities stayed open, it’s a breathtakingly expensive undertaking.

(You might say: what about an all nuclear solution? But that should make one hesitant on energy diversity grounds.)

The firs of the Black Forest (or Schwarzwald if you’re in it). What, you wanted another picture of a German nuclear facility?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Local, State and International Leaders Turn Their Attention to New Reactors, Both Big and Small

South Carolinian and Missourian leaders came forward this week to tout the economic benefits of new nuclear reactors, a sign of their growing support for further developing new plants in their states. The positive statements come at a time when the bidding continues to heat up for investment funds from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to participate in the first public-private partnership to develop and deploy small nuclear reactors (SMRs).

Today, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley held a joint press conference with representatives from Holtec International, SCE&G and AREVA on how small reactor technology could bring additional jobs and manufacturing to the Southern state. The Aiken Standard reports:

Deployment of SMRs at SRS [Savannah River Site] would "offer South Carolina a unique opportunity to become a leader in the next generation of nuclear reactor manufacturing," according to a press release from the governor's office.

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions’ spokesperson Barbara Smoak applauded the governor’s response.

“We are really excited because we really do think South Carolina is where they [small reactors] should be deployed,” Smoak said. “We’re excited that the state and the governor are supporting us, too.”

The governor indicated that South Carolina “will fight for federal grants that could make the state a hub for the next-generation nuclear technology,” WRDW reports following the press conference.

In the Midwest on Sunday, Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune columnist Bob Roper also voiced his support for the Ameren Missouri and Westinghouse Electric partnership to develop small reactor technology at the Callaway nuclear plant site. Calling small reactors a “game changer” for the nuclear industry, Roper writes:

I have always believed one of the great attributes of nuclear energy is the simple concept of scale: the tremendous amount of energy that can be produced by small amounts of uranium as compared to what is required of other sources of energy. In the past, the problem was nuclear power had to be generated via huge, and hugely expensive, power plants. The SMRs change that, which is why this looks like that "game changer" to me. After all, someday cities might be able to get their power from SMRs, at least in part. And surely other potential uses abound.

Citing the economic benefits that would come from participating in the demonstration project in Missouri, including creating jobs and solidifying the manufacturing base, Roper states that developing the new technology:

Will be hugely beneficial to our nation, our state, our region and the University of Missouri if it all comes to fruition.

Elsewhere in new nuclear energy news, The State (S.C.) had a great article this week on the long-term benefits already being felt in the Palmetto State from the construction of two new Westinghouse Electric Co. AP1000 nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station:

Ramping up education and tapping into specialized job training are the surest ways for Fairfield County and its 24,000 residents to reap the economic, social and civic benefits of having one of the largest construction projects in the country in its backyard, area leaders say.

Not only will the projects help to build careers for local workers, it will also enhance the communities. The article continues:

In addition to job creation, the project will increase the tax base and could lead to more economic development, broadband availability, tourism promotion and added attention to existing businesses, Vickers [the Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce president] said.

france2Meanwhile, further south in Georgia this week, DOE officials and the chairman of France’s Atomic Energy and Alternative Energy Commission toured the Plant Vogtle site, where two other AP1000 reactors are under construction. The French Commissioner Bernard Bigot hailed that the construction project is “a symbol of America’s reawakened nuclear program.” The Augusta Chronicle reports:

“If something is going well here, all nations benefit,” said Bernard Bigot, who toured the Burke County site Monday with U.S. Energy Department officials. “And if something is wrong, everyone shares.”

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“The U.S. has been the first nation to move on with nuclear, and it has the largest fleet,” he said. “It is a time when you need to show to the public that we can move on.”

More information from Bigot’s visit, including video, is available on WRDW’s website.

Visit NEI’s website to learn more about new nuclear energy facilities.

Image: Bernard Bigot, chairman of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, led a delegation of French energy officials on a tour of Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle on Monday.

Public Poll: Nuclear Advocates Needed

There is an unofficial poll being conducted by The Los Angeles Times regarding the future of San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station. If you support the continued operation of San Onofre nuclear plant, please click here, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and vote to: "Reopen them and seek a new license to keep them running until 2042."

Here’s a look at the poll:

image

Though the poll is unofficial, these polls can still influence readers, so your participation is greatly appreciated.
 
Please note that polls can be taken down at the newspaper's discretion so please vote today, and feel free to share this link with family and friends that support San Onofre.

Thank you for taking the time to show your support for nuclear power.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Price Point in Japan

fourth-reactor-building-ohi-nuclear-power-plant-433250Outside Japan, it seemed inevitable:

Japan has given final approval for the restart of two nuclear reactors, a move that will end a total shutdown of the atomic power sector caused by safety fears raised by last year’s crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Inevitable because the Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda worked hard to get the approval of the prefecture (state) officials because all signs were that Japan would suffer brownouts and blackouts without the Oi (I’ve also seen it as Ohi) reactors in Fukui Prefecture. In any event, though the announcement is notable, it will still take awhile to get the reactors back online.

Kansai Electric said that further tests and checks were required for the two Oi reactors, but it expected to be able to start generating electricity with the No 3 unit in early July, with No 4 following later in the month. It would take each reactor a few days after being restarted to reach full output, the company said.

Which sounds like good timing. The Japanese, much like Americans, appreciate air conditioning. More seriously, Japan’s industrial sector stands to be seriously hemmed in, though the story says this particular restart is more about the air conditioning, allowing Kansai Electric to just about meet its forecast of need output for the summer.

But it’s just the beginning.

Japanese media said leading candidates [to be brought back online] would be a reactor at Shikoku Electric Power’s Ikata plant in Ehime prefecture and two units at Hokkaido Electric Power’s Tomari plant on the northern island of Hokkaido.

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Japan has not yet released in energy roadmap, expected sometime this summer. But it has already taken a larger interest in renewable energy sources.

Industry Minister Yukio Edano approved the introduction of feed-in tariffs (FIT), which means higher rates will be paid for renewable energy. The move could expand revenue from renewable generation and related equipment to more than $30 billion by 2016, brokerage CLSA estimates.

Whatever happens to the nuclear reactors, it certainly isn’t a bad idea to use what resource-poor Japan has on hand. The problem is that nuclear energy is relatively (a lot) less expensive.

The scheme requires Japanese utilities to buy electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal at pre-set premiums for up to 20 years. Costs will be passed on to consumers through higher bills.

We can’t guess what Japan will do with its energy mix. Using nuclear, wind and solar energy in tandem and shutting down fossil fuel plants will allow Japan to lower its carbon emissions. Other combinations will not.

Odd detail:

Wind power will be subsidized at least 23.1 yen per kwh, compared with as low as 4.87 euro cents (6 U.S. cents) in Germany.

That doesn’t tell you anything, does it? In fact, 23.1 yen is 29 cents – not good at all. This story from World Nuclear News provides some sense of relative cost within Japan:

Cost estimates made in 2004 by a Japanese government sub-committee put the cost of nuclear generation at ¥5.30 ($0.07) per kWh, by far the cheapest means of generating electricity, with oil at ¥10.70 ($0.14), coal at ¥5.70 ($0.07), gas at ¥6.20 ($0.08) and hydro at ¥11.90 ($0.16).

According to the story, the accident at Fukushima Daiichi raises that cost by, at most, another two cents per kWh. That makes coal and natural gas more competitive, but not renewable energy sources – wind energy not at all – certainly not with those subsides in place.

The O(h)I facility.

Winning Nuclear Joke Is Announced

Felix_the_Cat_laughingNEI held a friendly Facebook contest last week to see who could tell the best nuclear energy-related joke. With more than a dozen people submitting entries and many others voting on their favorite jokes, NEI revealed late Friday afternoon that the winning entry came from Mark Reed, a research and teaching assistant from MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering.

His joke:

What do you call a group of nuclear engineers doing sit-ups and crunches?

The core development team.

Congratulations to Mark Reed who has won a nuclear energy water bottle! Also, thank you to everyone else who participated in the contest. We are always happy to see the hidden talent that lies within the nuclear energy industry.

To read all of the other joke entries and to stay up-to-date on the latest nuclear energy news, visit NEI’s Facebook page.

Image credits: Felix the cat from SodaHead.com.

Friday, June 15, 2012

James Lovelock on Germany's Nuclear Phaseout

James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia Theory and a prominent pro-nuclear environmentalist was interviewed by the Guardian today. He was as provocative as always, and had this to say about Germany's planned phase-out of nuclear energy:

"It looks to me as if the green ideas they have picked up now could be just as damaging. They are burning lignite now to try to make up for switching off nuclear. They call themselves green, but to me this is utter madness."
How mad is it? Click here for a piece from Brad Plumer of the Washington Post.

Will Friends of the Earth Drop Their Opposition to Nuclear Energy?

I got a surprise this morning as I opened my email: the news that the U.K. affiliate of Friends of the Earth (FOE), one of the world's leading environmental organizations, may drop its long-time opposition to the use of nuclear energy.

The word comes from author, journalist and climate activist Mark Lynas, who recently had a phone conversation with Mike Childs, the head of climate change with the organization. Apparently, the organization is about to do an extensive scientific review of the positions for and against nuclear energy. Here's Childs from the interview:
[S]o we’ve commissioned the Tyndall Centre in Manchester to lead the review. They’ll go through a process of pulling together the arguments for and against nuclear power, both new nuclear power stations, extending existing stations, and some of the fast breeder ideas on the table. They’ll synthesise that and do a peer-review with proponents both for and against, to see whether they’ve got those arguments properly synthesised and understood. They’ll then do some further work around that, looking at the robustness and quality of those different arguments, and come forward with recommendations.
Very, very interesting (for more thoughts on the possible change, visit Rod Adams). It's too bad that this reconsideration of policy came too late for Rev. Hugh Montefiore, an Anglican bishop who was forced to leave the FOE board in 2004 for his support for nuclear energy. Rev. Montefiore passed away just eight months later.

One point that needs to be made here: this policy review is only taking place in the U.K. As Childs himself points out in the interview, each local affiliate of FOE is allowed to chart its own policy course, which I guess has Arnie Gundersen breathing a sigh of relief -- at least for now. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Another point that Childs made during the interview: the nuclear review won't disrupt any current anti-nuclear activities so as not to prejudice the result. Hence, we'll keep seeing stuff like this for a while. Our apologies, that link actually leads to a complete refutation of the Lynas piece. Guess the answer is no.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Productively Discussing Used Nuclear Fuel

wippAn interesting comment by NRC Chairman-designate Allison Macfarlane at her confirmation hearing yesterday – which was very uncontentious, by the way – was the comment that only the United States has a deep geologic repository for nuclear materials – The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, N.M., which stores transuranic waste from defense sources.

WIPP figured prominently in the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission, because it was a working example of the consent-based approach for siting a used fuel repository – meaning that its community wanted it there, clearing the way for an uncontroversial opening and operation of the facility.

Consent-based siting of consolidated storage facilities is a feature of the commission’s report that has gotten attention in Congress. That’s partly why Senators wanted to talk about it with Macfarlane, who served on the Blue Ribbon Commission,  even though the NRC’s role beyond licensing interim storage facilities would  be limited. (You can watch a Senate hearing about interim storage sites here.)

Here’s a bit from an editorial in The Washington Post about the blue-ribbon commission and used nuclear fuel (and interim storage sites and Yucca Mountain):

The Yucca project, which still ought to be saved, is the object of ongoing litigation, and some in the House are trying to restore its funding. But a national blue-ribbon commission on nuclear waste recently pointed out that Congress can do a lot of good in the absence of a final decision on Yucca. Lawmakers should create a new, independent ­nuclear-waste authority with access to the billions of dollars the government collects from electricity customers to deal with spent fuel. That authority should have the power to develop interim, centralized storage sites that use dry-cask storage, which is safer than cooling pools. At the same time, it should apply a new method of siting permanent disposal projects — more than one will probably be needed — and include local officials in the process.

That’s how ideas get traction.

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Still – WIPP the only such repository?

It is, but others are coming.

Finland has already started to build Onkalo, which is designed to take waste over a period of 100 years and then store it for at least 100,000 years, safe from population, fire, flood and other risks. France plans a similar project in Bure in the country's east.

The story has some interesting details on Onkalo:

Construction workers at Onkalo have nearly finished the 5 km tunnel that will spiral down to a depth of about 400 meters to a network of repositories that will start storing waste from 2020.

Posiva, owned by Finnish utilities Fortum and Teollisuuden Voima, is due to apply for its final stage of construction this year. Its total costs are estimated at 3.3 billion euros ($4.1 billion).

Bure is less far along, but the story points out that opposition to the French repository has dimmed over time. And there is a section on Yucca Mountain. Macfarlane herself wrote a book in 2006 making a geologist’s argument against the repository, but the NRC’s role in the repository is to license it, not set policy regarding it. So we’ll see how that goes. Interesting article – good job by Terhi Kinnunen (handling the Finnish side of things, I’d guess) and Muriel Boselli.

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This paragraph was amusing:

Most Finns are either supportive or neutral on nuclear energy. Analysts say pragmatism, a tradition of consensus politics and the Finnish parliament's decision to outlaw the export and import of nuclear waste have kept the nuclear policy on track.

That sounds a little begrudging, doesn’t it? – “supportive or neutral” – but we’ll take it. Finland means to add three more reactors to the four it has already. It generates about 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy. A Gallup poll taken in 2010 (before the accident at Fukushima Daiichi) showed 48% of Finns had a positive view of nuclear power and only 17% were negative – I guess 35% are the neutrals. See the World Nuclear Association page on Finland for more.

There’s actually a fair amount percolating on the used fuel front, which had become quiescent after Yucca Mountain shuttered. We can credit some of that to the Blue Ribbon Commission

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Who Can Tell the Best Nuclear Energy Joke?

Since I came to the nuclear industry five years ago, I have heard my fair share of nuclear energy-related jokes (I used to keep a running tally to see how many I’d hear in a day!). Inspired by a joke we saw by NRC Commissioner Kristine Svinicki, posted in today’s Environment & Energy Daily, we decided we’d launch a friendly Facebook contest to see who could tell the best joke.

Here are the contest’s terms:

image

To enter and/or vote on the submissions, please visit NEI’s Facebook page. While there, don’t forget to ‘like’ us.

We know there is a lot of great hidden talent out there (as proven in our haiku contest from April), so we are eager to see what people submit this time!

And, since I know you are waiting on the edge of your seat to hear Commissioner Svinicki’s joke, here’s the passage from the article that made us chuckle:

"A neutron walks into a bar, and the bartender says, 'What'll you have?'" the 45-year-old Nuclear Regulatory Commission member said, her small frame tucked behind a wooden lectern at a hotel in downtown Bethesda, Md. "The neutron says, 'I think I'll have a beer, but how much is it?' and the bartender answers, 'For you, no charge.'"

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ask the Dust (at Calvert Cliffs)

102320765-7dde5b05-8412-4c8f-88d0-4dba3aa026a1This is called overselling your story:

Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Facility in Lusby, Maryland recently began a lengthy roof replacement process, due to take over a year. During such renovations, it is common for dust and debris to become a menace, quickly covering all the surfaces in the building below. While such a mess is often a nuisance, in the case of a nuclear facility such as Calvert Cliffs, it can become a serious safety hazard. The tiniest wood splinters, or the smallest nails, could fall into the turbine’s mechanical openings and cause a nuclear accident. For this reason, the services provided by ShieldWorks are absolutely invaluable.

Well, no, it could likely not even cause a turbine accident. What’s supposed to happen? – all the nuclear electricity backs up from the broken turbine, overloads the reactors and causes untold grief? It’s like a nuclear Rube Goldberg machine.

A bit of a shame, really, because the story about ShieldWorks is pretty interesting. Nuclear facilities are really big industrial plants and ShieldWorks has found a unique niche for itself – making sure dust does not fly all over the place during construction projects – though the article would benefit from more explanation of the actual process. Trade secret, maybe.

When I first read the term ShieldWorks, I thought radiation. Nope. Dust. Worth a read, if the breathless disasters of the first paragraph don’t throw you.

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The shooting took place on May 7 in Genoa, Italy, and responsibility was claimed (in a letter sent to a newspaper) by a group calling itself the Olga Nucleus of the Informal Anarchist Federation, or IAF. The victim, Roberto Adinolfi, was the CEO of a nuclear energy firm owned by the Italian State Defense group, Finmeccanica.

[…]

Adinolfi may have been an easy target, but in the letter they warn that this attack is just the beginning and that Finmeccanica will be targeted a further seven times, one attack for each of the Greek anarchist members of the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei currently in prison.

Adinolfi was not killed. I doubt we need to tell anyone that this line of action basically kills all support for whatever it is being supported. Terror is terror, whether directed at nuclear energy concerns or political enemies. The Italians have been through this kind of thing before – I’m old enough to remember the Red Brigades and Aldo Moro – and I expect they can dispatch these creatures pretty quickly.

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International Herald Tribune headline:

Who Will Be Next to Call Nuclear Energy Indispensable?

All together now: Me! I’ll be the next!!

Roberto Adinolfi.

You're welcome, Mr. Lochbaum

One of the blogs we regularly monitor is All Things Nuclear, the blog on commercial nuclear energy sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

It was impossible to miss this passage in a post published there yesterday by David Lochbaum. He wrote the following after participating in a panel discussion on industry safety at the 2012 Nuclear Energy Assembly:
Before closing, I wish to express my appreciation to Marv Fertel, Tony Pietrangelo and NEI for including me on this panel. They knew beforehand that my views would not align with theirs and could have easily and justifiably not invited me to the panel. I applaud Marv and Tony for soliciting a broader spectrum of viewpoints.
You're welcome, Mr. Lochbaum.

Roger Bezdek Returns to Energy Subsidies

Over the years, Dr. Roger H. Bezdek has become the leading authority on the issue of federal energy subsidies. In the most recent issue of Public Utilities Fortnightly, Dr. Bezdek has returned to the subject and provides an important reminder that the conventional wisdom isn't all it's cracked up to be:
[T]he refrain is often heard, "The fossil industries are being given huge federal financial incentives, while renewable energy is being starved."

The data show that this conventional wisdom is wrong. In fact, there's a huge imbalance in recent federal energy incentives; however, the imbalance is strongly is strongly in favor of renewable energy (RE) especially when the contribution to energy supply of the different energy technologies is considered.
While the report is for subscribers only, our archive of content on Dr. Bezdek's work remains free.

Monday, June 11, 2012

NEI's Marv Fertel on Where the Industry Stands on Used Nuclear Fuel

Today at the National Journal's Energy Experts Blog, the magazine is taking a closer look at how the nation will have to confront the issue of long-term storage of used nuclear fuel:

What safety, environmental, and economic factors should Washington consider as it debates the future of its nuclear-waste policy? Should Yucca Mountain be revived, or should Congress stop debating that repository site once and for all? How does the uncertain future over spent fuel affect the nation's dependence on nuclear power, which provides the nation with 20 percent of its electricity?
Marv Fertel, NEI's President and Chief Executive Office, has posted a response. Here's an excerpt:
The nuclear energy industry agrees with many of the common-sense recommendations in the Blue Ribbon Commission’s final report, which was developed after nearly two years of fact-finding, public interaction and intense study. In particular, three proposals should be given high priority:
  • prompt efforts to develop one or more consolidated interim storage facilities at volunteer sites,
  • assured access by program managers to revenues generated by payments and interest earned in the Nuclear Waste Fund,
  • establish a quasi-federal organization dedicated solely to implementing the used fuel management program, with access to the Nuclear Waste Fund.
[...]

The recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the Department of Energy failed to justify continued payments by consumers of electricity from nuclear power plants into the Nuclear Waste Fund should also help to drive the dialog. While the court did not order DOE to suspend the fee payments, the court rejected DOE’s bases for continuing to collect the fees and ordered it to conduct a complete reassessment of this fee within six months. Considering DOE has yet to move one fuel assembly as it was required by law beginning in 1998, the industry sees no justification for further collection of funds until a functioning used fuel disposal program is in place.

[...]

Now, 30 years after Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the development of a long-term solution to managing used nuclear fuel is long overdue. It’s time for policymakers to reexamine the program and develop a new roadmap that will meet these obligations to consumers.
For more on the safe storage of used nuclear fuel, please visit our NEI.org.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Fun Fusion For Friday

TokamakOur fusion fan friends will need to let us know how consequential this is:

UT [University of Tennessee] researchers have successfully developed a key technology in developing an experimental reactor that can demonstrate the feasibility of fusion energy for the power grid. Nuclear fusion promises to supply more energy than the nuclear fission used today but with far fewer risks.

It’s not (just) that I’m automatically dubious about fusion projects – if it’s fusion it’s just around the corner - but this one seems very early:

UT researchers completed a critical step this week for the project by successfully testing their technology this week that will insulate and stabilize the central solenoid—the reactor's backbone.

That feels like step two of a process with many, many steps. Read the rest of the story and decide – break out the champagne or let it get – a little more – aged?

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China Daily offers a little fusion doings:

Russian academic Evgeny Velikhov was in Hefei, East China's Anhui province, to attend the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Training Forum & Second Workshop on Magnetic Fusion Energy (MFE) Development Strategy, which was held on May 30- June 1 at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC).

But it appears the reporter didn’t have much to report from this meeting.

Velikhov's visit to USTC was significant in promoting the development of Chinese nuclear fusion and strengthening extensive cooperation and thorough exchanges between China and Russia.

I guess that’s something. Velikhov is a founder of ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, which is based in France and also involved with the Tennessee work. The world of fusion is fairly tightly knit.

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Here’s the pitch:

Nuclear fusion is a seemingly ideal energy source: carbon-free, fuel derived largely from seawater, no risk of runaway reactors and minimal waste issues.

A lot of good, dedicated people all over the world want to make it work. The problem has always been the amount of energy necessary to achieve fusion – the sun, after all, doesn’t care much about economics – and the joke has always been that it takes a town to power a light bulb.

Even if you can make fusion work – that is, become a net generator of electricity - doing so is only the beginning. You have to scale it up to production level, you have to get reactor designs licensed and you have to generate a model to market it and fund facilities. Those are all time (and money) consuming activities. But – for now – let’s hope - the path to a working fusion reactor may be a little shorter.

From ITER: Work on the Seismic Isolation Pit is finished: the basemat, retaining walls, and seismic plinths and pads are in place. See here for more.

On Nuclear Energy and Public Opinion

Earlier this week, Michael Mariotte of NIRS posted a critique of public opinion polling on nuclear energy over at The Daily Kos.While I found some of his conclusions to be interesting, I thought it might be a good idea to share his piece with Ann Bisconti of Bisconti Research. After passing Mariotte's piece to Ann, she shared the following response with me:

A recent discussion about public opinion on nuclear energy by Michael Mariotte, a representative of the antinuclear advocacy group, NIRS, makes some valid points but reaches the wrong conclusion.  I would like to offer a different perspective from Bisconti Research. 

Our studies of public opinion on nuclear energy include nearly 100 national surveys conducted over a 29-year period.  Each survey asks 20 to 30 questions about various aspects of public opinion on nuclear energy. Some of these questions are open-ended to let us hear from the public in their own words. The result is a unique resource for examining long-term trends in public opinion, as well as trends among demographic groups.  The resource also allows analysis of why people feel the way they do on the issues.

Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) sponsors this survey program.  An entire industry depends on this data resource for an accurate and unbiased view of public opinion to inform business decisions.  This is a responsibility we take very seriously.

Where is Mr. Mariotte correct? We agree that the public prefers solar energy to nuclear energy. That’s been true for at least the past 30 years. Questions that pit nuclear energy against solar energy will find solar energy the “winner” every time. However, what Mr. Mariotte misses is that the public does not want to put all their eggs in one basket. That is prudent.  Solar energy, for all its appeal (I would have solar panels on my roof if my house were less shaded), produces just 0.04 percent of U.S. electricity and is not a 24/7 energy source. The prevailing public view is that nuclear energy should be part of a balanced, diverse low-carbon energy mix.

Here are a few of the opinions expressed by the public in our February 2012 national public opinion survey conducted with GfK Roper: 81 percent believe that nuclear energy will play an important role in meeting the nation’s future energy needs, 82 percent support license renewal for nuclear power plants that continue to meet federal safety standards, and 58 percent agree with definitely building more nuclear power plants in the future.  Also, 82 percent agree 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. 

One reactor provides a lot of power. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, in a recurring spot on MSNBC, some important projects like the Hoover Dam are just too big for private companies to build without government support. Each new reactor now being built in the U.S. will generate twice as much power as the Hoover Dam. 

Because one new reactor provides so much electricity, new nuclear power plants will not be built in every community.  They will be built where they are needed and wanted. The most likely sites are where existing plants are an integral and positive part of the community.  Our biennial surveys of nuclear plant neighbors assess that openness to new plants. Last June‘s survey found that 86 percent of nuclear power plant neighbors nationally have a favorable impression of their local plant and how it has operated recently, and 67 percent would find a new reactor acceptable at the nearby plant site if a new power plant were needed.  Those national numbers are lower in some plant communities and higher in others.
NEI publishes Ann's work regularly in Perspectives on Public Opinion. Click here for the May 2012 edition.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Amir Adnani and the Future of Uranium – And Nuclear Energy

AdnaniOakshire Financial talks to Amir Adnani, chief executive of Uranium Energy Corp. Most of the chat, as the name of the site implies, is about the price of uranium. I’ll let you discover (most of) that part for yourself – whenever I read something like this, I imagine a movie tycoon yelling into the telephone, “Buy Chilean copper!! Sell Nigerian manganese!! What do you mean I’ve lost everything?!!!”

But Adnani also keeps an eye on nuclear energy – that’s his marketplace, after all – and he has some interesting insights.

The growth in the nuclear industry is going to come from exactly where it was going to come from pre-Fukushima. The countries and the economies that are expanding most rapidly are the ones that really need more power. The growth isn’t going to come from the West. In fact, only 3% of the reactors that are under construction right now—there are about 65 reactors under construction—are in G7 countries. The top four markets are China, Russia, India and South Korea. Saudi Arabia plans to build 16 nuclear reactors, which is a $400 billion program. Chinese officials have reiterated the country’s plans to grow its nuclear capacity to about 70 gigawatts (GW) by 2020. India plans to get to about 60–63 GW of installed nuclear capacity by 2030 and it further aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.

I guess that can sound discouraging to western ears, but the water isn’t all cold.

Having said that, there is incremental growth in the developed world, too. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved four licenses earlier this year for operating nuclear reactors to come on-line in Georgia and South Carolina. They are the first licenses of this type to be issued in the U.S. in almost 30 years. Even in the United Kingdom there have been announcements to build seven or eight new nuclear reactors. It is very positive to see those developments post-Fukushima.

It certainly is. I admit that there’s nothing really new here – the uranium stuff is actually more enlightening if you’re interested in commodities – but I like how Adnani puts a lot of data together to make his points. For example:

There aren’t too many metals that have a gap of about 40 million pounds (Mlb)/year (demand weighs in at 180 Mlb/year versus 140 Mlb of annual mine production). That gap is only going to widen next year due to the expiration of the Megatons to Megawatts program, a secondary source of supply, in which uranium is derived from dismantled Russian nuclear warheads. That’s about 15% of the global uranium market. Of course, demand is going to grow because 65 reactors are going to be coming on-line in the near future and another 100–150 reactors are at various stages of planning and permitting. The supply-demand fundamentals in uranium are very compelling.

I’ll take his word for it. He’s a uranium guy, so of course he’s bullish on it – but he’s also very clear-eyed at the same time. Really worth a full read.

Amir Adnani.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Revisiting Nuclear Energy and Cooling Water

Earlier this week, the journal Nature Climate Change published a study concerning how warmer weather and reduced river flows might impact electricity generation at nuclear and coal-fired power plants. Here's how Reuters reported the findings:

In a study published on Monday, a team of European and U.S. scientists focused on projections of rising temperatures and lower river levels in summer and how these impacts would affect power plants dependent on river water for cooling.

The authors predict that coal and nuclear power generating capacity between 2031 and 2060 will decrease by between 4 and 16 percent in the United States and a 6 to 19 percent decline in Europe due to lack of cooling water.
The nuclear energy industry isn't unfamiliar with the topic. Here at NEI Nuclear Notes, we first dealt with the issue during the Summer of 2006 when a heat wave struck Europe and forced a number of nuclear plants to reduce power.

Back then, our points were pretty clear: the industry was well aware of the situation and that there were a number of adaptations that could be implemented in order to mitigate it. When we revisited the issue in response to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists back in November 2011, I turned to one of our policy experts, Bill Skaff, to handle the question. I spoke with Bill again this week about the latest study, and he passed along the following note to me:
Environmentally conscious regulators and companies are already taking into account flow, discharge temperature, and intake temperature projections when locating and permitting new power plants and other industrial facilities. The Nature study’s time parameters remind us that gradual change allows time for adaptation. Additionally, there are engineering solutions being implemented today that can mitigate climate change impact. For instance, Browns Ferry is building small cooling towers to pre-cool discharge water.

Sustainable development will require electricity for quality of life and a mix of energy sources to generate that electricity—renewable, nuclear, and fossil. We must balance all environmental, social, and economic factors and make trade-offs when considering what energy source or cooling system to deploy at each of our diverse ecosystems around the country.

Wind and solar energy use very little water, but their electricity output is variable and intermittent. An electricity grid can only balance a limited amount of these electricity shortfalls, limiting how much renewable energy can be accommodated by a grid before it becomes unstable and black outs occur. Moreover, the variable, intermittent output of these renewables is usually balanced by fossil plants, which emit carbon dioxide and air pollutants.

The electricity grid requires steady, reliable baseload electricity—the output of nuclear and fossil plants. Nuclear power plant water use is comparable to coal plants. Natural gas uses less water, but produces half as much carbon dioxide as a coal plant as well as nitrogen oxides, which contribute to ground level ozone formation, a cause of respiratory ailments. By contrast, nuclear power plants produce no greenhouse gases or air pollutants during operations.
--------------------------------------------------------------
EPRI, Water & Sustainability, Vol. 3 U.S. Water Consumption for Power Production, 2002, p. viii. National Energy Technology Laboratory (G. J. Stiegel, J. R. Longanbach, M. D. Rutkowski, M. G. Klett, N. J. Kuehn, R. L. Schoff, V. Vaysman, J. S. White), Power Plant Water Usage and Loss Study, August 2005, revised May 2007, p. xiii.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Turkey Wants Reactors – But How Many?

sinopWe have nothing to say about Germany today, but we know what it could do with its nuclear plants if it really wants to close them down:

Turkey is determined to have its own nuclear power plants and aims to build "at least 23 nuclear units by the year 2023,” the Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Taner Yildiz said on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum held in Istanbul.

The minister said the ambitious plan involved establishing nuclear power plants in three regions of Turkey.

“We are a country without a nuclear power plant. However, we are determined to have nuclear power plants,'' Yildiz said.

I’ve cleaned this up a bit from the story in Nigeria’s Business Day, but that’s what it says – 23 reactors. When you read something you don’t believe, then don’t believe it. Find out the truth.

So let’s see if anyone in Turkey would like to confirm this data. We think we can reasonably say that Turkey really does want to build some nuclear plants.

The constitutional court’s recent decision not to cancel a law permitting the construction of a nuclear plant in the south of Turkey is an important response to opposition criticism on the issue, according to Energy Minister Taner Yıldız.

Yildiz goes on to say that this is important because it means building plants will not be a tossed between an approving legislature and disapproving judiciary and makes it less vulnerable to legal challenge.

With the decision, nuclear plants have become a state policy and the attitude will not change with shifts in government, Yıldız said, while thanking the Supreme Court for the decision.

That’s a good outcome but not 23 nuclear plants. Ah, here we go, from the Hurriyet Daily News:

Research on nuclear physics, electronics and even space studies will be carried out in the [particle accelerator] facility, according to [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan. Turkey is committed to build two nuclear plants by 2023, in a move to lessen its dependence on carbon fuels and generate cheaper electricity, he said. “In 10 years, the consumption of electricity will be doubled. Unfortunately, parallel to the increase of our energy consumption, energy prices are rising. That’s why we prefer nuclear plants.”

Much more plausible. I think the Nigerian source mixed up 2023 with 23. Regardless, Turkey wants to join the nuclear club and is making moves to have this happen sooner rather than later. I have to give Hurriyet reporter Umit Enginsoy credit – he’s really keeping his readers up to date on what’s happening in the nuclear sphere. This story, for example, discusses the competition between countries to build Turkey’s first reactors:

“Kepco is much keener about the Turkish deal than it was two years ago, when we could not reach a deal at the last moment,” the South Korean official said. “Kepco has desisted from requiring the treasury loan. It also has agreed to help Turkey find a loan in the international credit markets.”

China, Canada and Japan are also looking to build the reactors. So it’s two reactors (or four, depending on the deals Turkey makes), not 23. But we’ll take it. Turkey is clearly quite serious. Maybe Germany could spare two – or four.

Sinop Province, where Turkey will build its first nuclear reactors.