Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Swiss Turn Ever So Slightly Back to Nuclear

beznau
Switzerland's Beznau NPP
Switzerland’s energy profile is one of the cleanest in the world, with virtually no fossil fuel output in the production of electricity. About 55 percent is hydroelectric, 39 percent nuclear (from five reactors) and most of the remainder renewable energy. That profile also highlights problems going forward, as the Swiss would like to end their involvement with nuclear energy by 2034. There’s some more potential in their hydro resources, but shuttering the reactors will hurt. The decision to close the reactors is part of an energy policy and, as we’ve seen in Japan, those can change.

So whither the Swiss? Nuclear or no nuclear?
“It doesn’t make sense to burn one bridge when the other one does not yet exist or is not yet in the process of being built,” said Michael Schorer, spokesman for the Nuclear Forum Switzerland. “We reject the ban on building new nuclear power plants and urge the federal council to devise an additional scenario that includes nuclear energy.”
In this regard the Nuclear Forum is at one with business associations which have objected to the general ban on nuclear energy contained in the government’s Energy Strategy 2050. The on-going consultation procedure ends on January 31, 2013.
That’s one side of it, the side for which the Japan accident has faded in significance and the industry and regulatory responses seen as reasonable.
The Green Party has collected 109,000 signatures in support of a people’s initiative that would require caps on the lifespans of existing nuclear power plants, with decommissioning after an operating period of 45 years. If Swiss voters approve the initiative, the newest nuclear power plant, in Leibstadt, would be decommissioned by 2029.

The Green Party launched the initiative following the catastrophic earthquake and nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, in March 2011.
That’s the other side, which would prefer you sort of skip from Fukushima to today and ignore all that has happened during the two years between the two – or, maybe, to be be fair, sees industry efforts as inadequate. It could work – the Swiss, anecdotally anyway, are not big fans of nuclear energy. But there’s some doubt.
The initiative is a means of pressuring the government and the parliament “to ensure that the withdrawal from nuclear power does not end up sidelined again,” Urs Scheuss, a Green Party expert on the environment, energy, and transportation, told swissinfo.ch.
Which suggests, at the least, that the Greens feel a moment slipping away and are determined to pin it in place. If the initiative comes off – essentially a referendum – the Greens could find they’ve lost their moment.
But Schweiger believes the initiative will not be approved at the ballot box.
“The problems that are seen as significant, such as the upcoming gap in supplies, will occur much sooner than anticipated. It’s likely that the pragmatism of the voters will play a rather large role.”
Schweiger is Rolf Schweiger, president of the nuclear energy-friendly Campaign for Sensible Energy Politics. If he wants to call the Swiss pragmatic, it saves me from perpetuating a cliché. But there it is.

Let’s say Schweiger and Scheuss have now introduced their dogs into the fight. If the Swiss don’t follow the Bulgarians (see story below) and walk away from the atrocious dogfight, we’ll see. I hadn’t imagined the Swiss might reverse their policy – now I can at least imagine it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Taking the Nuclear Marbles and Going Home

VoteNoSo how did that vote in Bulgaria go? We mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Bulgaria had a referendum coming up on whether to continue to build more nuclear facilities.
So how did the vote go? Well, you can’t win ‘em all even when you, um, win ‘em all.

60.5 percent of Bulgarians who took part in yesterday’s national referendum voted in support of the development of nuclear energy. Some 6.9 million people had had the right to vote, out of which a mere 1.5 million voters went to the booths. According to the estimates of the Central Election Commission the activity was almost 22%.
Which to my mind means, nuclear energy won – by a lot. Even if 1.5 million qualifies as paltry, it’s still 1.5 million who cared enough about the issue to cast a vote. Everyone else could have voted and abdicated sharing their view by not doing so – insofar as the non-voters had any view at all. That’s how it should work, right? Well, no.
The rules of the election foiled it.
Constitutional rules mean that the referendum would only have been valid had turnout reached the same level as the last general election – around 60 per cent.
But even if it had attained that level, it’s uncertain how the government might have preceded. I’m going to guess that the referendum itself might have been rejected by people largely because it seemed a political play rather than a democratic exercise.
The referendum was forced by the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) after the right-wing government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov scrapped the construction of the 2000MWBelene NPP on the Danube last year.
This isn’t how this subject is arrayed politically in other EU countries. but there you go. Bottom line:
“In a nutshell: there was a lot of fuss but right now we are back at square one. The direction of further development of the Bulgarian nuclear program is still not clear.”
That comes from Tomasz Daborowski, an energy analyst at Warsaw’s Centre for Eastern Studies. I guess we’ll leave it there. You win some – and sometimes it doesn’t mean a thing.

NEI's Richard Myers on the Wall Street Journal Story on Natural Gas and Nuclear Energy

NEI VP Richard J. Myers
The following statement concerning today's story on nuclear energy and natural gas ("Can gas undo nuclear power?") that appeared in the Wall Street Journal can be attributed to Richard J. Myers, NEI's Vice President, Policy Development, Planning and Supplier Programs:
Electricity production issues are not quite as cut-and-dried as portrayed in the article, certainly not from the vantage point of energy companies who must evaluate an array of factors to determine what their future generating mix will and will not be. A nuclear energy facility produces benefits well beyond the electricity it generates. They include economic benefits like jobs, taxes and procurement; grid reliability benefits in the form of voltage support and ancillary services; the environmental benefit of avoided emissions; and the energy security benefits of an electricity source that adds diversity and forward price stability to the electricity supply portfolio.

It also bears noting that extremely low natural gas prices in the United States are not sustainable. Low natural gas prices are caused by a combination of reduced demand for natural gas (due to subpar economic growth), abnormally mild weather for the past several winters and a major increase in supply (due to improved drilling techniques that have unlocked vast reserves of shale gas). As the result of low gas prices, producers of natural gas have already slowed drilling: the number of rigs drilling for natural gas in the United States has dropped approximately 50 percent in the past 12 months. At the same time, the historic volatility of natural gas prices continues to be seen in the spot market. Just last week, natural gas prices in New England and New York City topped $30 per million BTUs, the highest level seen this winter, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. For New England, this was actually the highest level seen since January 2004.

Judgments about the viability of any given nuclear power plant are business decisions made by individual utilities based on economic circumstances unique to the facility. The Nuclear Energy Institute’s long-term belief is that, beyond the ongoing construction of five reactors in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, new nuclear energy facilities will be built once electricity demand rebounds. Demand for electricity in the United States has not yet returned to the level seen in 2007, before the financial crisis.
For those who might have missed it, here's a table from the Energy Information Administration's Northeastern Winter Natural Gas and Electricity Alert that highlights those dizzying spot prices Richard referenced in his response.

For our earlier post on the story, click here.

Some Thoughts on the Wall Street Journal Story on Natural Gas and Nuclear Energy

Cheap gas? Not last week in the Northeast.
Yesterday evening, the Wall Street Journal published a story by Rebecca Smith that asked the question, "Can Gas Undo Nuclear Power?" It's a question that's been asked often, especially in the wake of the announced closing of the Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin by Dominion last October. Here's what NEI's Richard Myers had to say about it at the time:
In 2005, when Dominion bought the plant: (1) power prices in the Midwest were in the $40-50/MWhr range; wellhead gas prices were in the $6-10 per million Btu range; and U.S. electricity demand was growing.

Today: (1) power prices in the Midwest are in the $30/MWhr range: gas prices are in the $2-3 per million Btu range; and (3) the U.S. has had 5 years of no growth in electricity demand, thanks to the worst recession in 80 years.
Near the close of 2012, NEI's President and CEO, Marv Fertel addressed the natural gas issue head on when it came to building new nuclear energy facilities. The following exchange with Steve Dolley of Platts came during an NEI-sponsored press briefing that took place in December (page 12):
Steve Dolley, Platts: Thanks Marvin, thanks for taking the time today. If you’re not expecting any new plants to be built over the next five or ten years, what are the industries other priorities with the nuclear regulatory commission? I know obviously plant safety is the number one priority for the industry and for NRC, but specific things that you’re hoping to accomplish with the commission over the next year?

Marv Fertel: Well first of all, news flash, we are building four. And we’re finishing Watts Bar, so there’s five new plants both in the pipeline being build. And one of the reasons on new plants, I don’t see us completing any beyond those five in the next - the rest of this decade. [A]s a nation we have not gotten back to 2007 electricity demand rates yet. So our demand is still down. We’re still in this recession. If you go over to financial whatever, we’ve probably increased the recession duration for a while.

So we need demand to come back. And as you all know because of the shale gas game changer (type) situation, we’re seeing low gas prices and low electricity prices right now. So everybody is looking to gas.

I would expect late this decade like into 2020 after we finish Vogtle and Summer that you could see new plants get started in our country. They just won’t be completed this decade. I expect demand will go up and there’s no question the price for natural gas will go up. I don’t expect it’s going to go to $12 or $14, but it will go up. It’s not going to stay at $2 or $3, it’s not even in the futures right now it’s almost $4 next year.

So we’ll see gas go up.
The message here ought to be pretty clear: while natural gas prices are at historic lows today, that can't last forever, especially if, as projected, America begins to export shale gas to international markets. In addition, we're already seeing evidence that industries that rely on natural gas as a feedstock that fled the U.S. during periods of high prices are now returning, driving additional new demand.

Finally, we need to remember that even in times of plenty, the price of natural gas can be awfully volatile. Just a few days ago during a cold snap in the Northeast, day ahead spot prices for natural gas reached $34.25 per MMBtu in New England and $36.00 in New York City.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Energy Plants: An Open and Closed Case

800px-Boardman_Oregon_coal_plant_pano1

Oregon's Boardman Coal Plant

Our friends over at Coal Power have done a real service, taking a look at energy generation plants set to close over the next few decades. While the U.S. grapples with issues of infrastructure, notably roads and bridges, energy infrastructure is mostly the business of utilities.

Anyway, since this is originating from Coal Power, let’s hear that part first:
Coal-fired generation units across the U.S. are an average age of 37 years old, while the average retirement age since 1999 is 48 years. Coal units are not the only fuel type approaching typical retirement age, with natural gas steam turbine (NGST) units possessing the second-oldest weighted average age.
That’s surprisingly more like nuclear plants than one might expect, though it looks like a fair number of coal plants are being kept operational. Utilities are jittery about proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules that may cause some coal facilities to retire early. I think this could even be called the point of the article.
A variety of factors could impact fossil fuel unit retirements. Although the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) was vacated by a federal appeals court in August, many coal-fired units have already installed costly emission controls due to the EPA’s looming Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS), which will come into effect in 2015.
Here’s the takeaway on nuclear energy, which I found a bit contentious:
Nuclear units across the United States are nearing the end of 40-year operating licenses, with an average unit age of 32 years. Licensees are able to apply for a renewal of up to 20 years, subject to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) approval. Although the NRC has readily extended licenses for units, a bill introduced in the House of Representatives in September 2012 looks to curb how nuclear owners apply for renewals. The Nuclear Reactor Safety First Act would limit the advance time period in which a licensee could apply for a renewal to within 10 years of the license expiration date.
The bill referenced here, sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), died in committee. The description is basically the entire text of the bill, an addendum to the Atomic Energy Act. I’m not sure why Coal Power felt the need to refer to it here – maybe writer Neil Powell just wanted to fill out his nuclear coverage or make the nuclear profile a litter dimmer to fit his thesis.

In any event, NEI keeps track of license extensions: currently 73 reactors have been granted 20 year extensions – 13 have applications in at the NRC – and 17 expect to apply. That’s the fleet – presumably, Markey’s bill would apply only to that final 17. (And to be honest, I’m not sure how the bill would trip up the extension process, if at all.)

So, let’s say nuclear energy is pretty well covered – there’s a few new reactors in progress this decade and likely a few more next decade and onward. In Powell’s favor, he does point out that newer forms of generation are still making baby plants.
Several generation technologies largely developed over the past 10 to 15 years are not at significant risk of potential retirement over the decade. Those include natural gas combined-cycle (CCGT), wind, and solar technologies.
Though still nascent, small nuclear reactors have a lot of potential to flesh out the energy fleet, though the main growth may be in the 2020s. Powell does not mention these, but they are still new and not in service yet. The idea, though, is that the industry is not standing still.

So, electricity generation is not in any great danger of disappearing. It may seem as though the sky is preparing to fall to our coal friends, though I wouldn’t underestimate their ingenuity in keeping the sky aloft.

Dr. Robert Peter Gale and Eric Lax Help Demystify Radiation

In the wake of the accident at Fukushima, the world once again got a chance to know Dr. Robert Peter Gale. One of the world's leading authorities on the biological effects of radaition, Dr. Gale first came to prominence in the late 1980s when he coordinated medical and relief efforts for victims of the accident at Chernobyl.

And in the wake of Fukushima, the world turned once again to Dr. Gale when it came to rationally gauging the immediate and long-term health effects of the accident in Japan. Perhaps we should be grateful then that Dr. Gale, along with co-author Eric Lax, has just written a new book aimed at demystifying radiation and its potential health effects. Radiation: What It Is. What You Need to Know, was just published by KnopfDoubleday and is available at Amazon.com and bookstores nationwide. Here's a thumbnail review that appeared earlier today in the New York Times:
Dr. Gale, a leukemia expert who advised governments in the wake of the nuclear disasters at Chernobyl in Ukraine and Fukushima in Japan takes a measured look at the health risks of radiation. He and Mr. Lax, a medical writer explain how mild doses of background radiation may be harmless, while extreme levels can cause cancer. In a twist, Dr. Gale reveals that most of the increase in our exposure in the last half century is not because of nuclear weapons or power but because of medical diagnostic tools like X-rays and CT scans.
Looks like I've got something new to download onto my Kindle.

Friday, January 25, 2013

V.C. Summer: “A major contributor to the local economy.”

WinnsboroSome happy news is always a good way to kick off the weekend.

Fairfield County officials gathered at the county treasurer’s office Jan. 15 to meet with representatives of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant – and receive a check for $23.4 million.
If my local nuclear facility wanted to hand me a few million dollars, that would be a-ok, but this actually speaks to one of the major benefits of having a power plant in the neighborhood.
“We are very pleased that V.C. Summer Nuclear Station continues to be a major contributor to the local economy through property taxes that support schools, roads, and critical public services for the residents of Fairfield County,” said Dan Gatlin, vice president of Nuclear Operations at V.C. Summer.
The article doesn’t say, but I wager Summer is one of the larger employers in Fairfield County, so it has value beyond paying property taxes. And beyond property taxes and employment opportunities, Summer also provides a economic root system for all kinds of offshoot businesses in Fairfield and neighboring South Carolina counties – and I don’t just mean nuclear parts manufacturing. Think eateries and office supplies and businesses that cater to a larger, more diverse population.
Fairfield County Superintendent of Schools J.R. Green was on hand for the ceremony since a large portion of the tax dollars — $12,878,000 — funds education in the county. Just over $20,000 is allocated to the towns of Ridgeway and Winnsboro, combined. Just over $7.7 million goes into the county general fund. Other funding supports the county EMS, fire department and county library.
That $20,000 for two towns could use a little more explanation – seems stingy – but it may be that the county handles most of the general needs for those towns. And if the country improves its infrastructure with increased property taxes, it improves its appeal to other companies that might want to come out their way and set up shop. That nuclear power facility is a good in itself, but it also helps the human ecosystem of an area.

The story skirts around it a bit, but the financial and employment opportunities are only going to get better, as SCANA builds two more reactors at Summer (Nuclear Street has some nice pictures of the construction). That’s a lot of building employment up front and then staffing afterward. So Fairfield County did well in 2012 – but that’s nothing compared to the rest of this decade and beyond.

We’ve made this argument before about nuclear energy plants – that they can represent economic bonanzas for their communities – but it’s really nice to see this demonstrated in a local newspaper – in this case, the Herald Independent, which covers the whole county.

When people want to change direction in energy policy – say, from coal to wind or away from nuclear energy – they do it without thinking of the actual human consequence. But there is consequence – and in a place like Fairfield County, but really anywhere, it would be severe.

Remembering Aleksey Vayner: Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On

Image of Vanyer from Dealbreaker
I was sad to read of the death of Aleksey Vayner. He was a young Yale graduate who became a short lived and unintentional internet sensation in 2006 when his video job application to financial firm UBS emerged on YouTube and showed him as an unbelievably accomplished person. People who knew him at Yale recounted that his abilities ran even deeper than the resume showed. According to the New Yorker:
Acquaintances report hearing that he is one of four people licensed to handle nuclear waste in the state of Connecticut, that he must register his hands as lethal weapons at airports, and even that he has killed two dozen men in Tibetan gladiatorial contests.
One imagines him wearing his gladiator garb, marching into the containment chamber at Millstone and pulling out fuel rods with his teeth.

Here’s the thing, though: that a man who wanted to be seen as a virtual superman thought handling used nuclear fuel would help get him there. Frankly, registering your hands as deadly weapons would do the trick in my book. It’s not something just anyone would come up with, yet was among the stuff from which he built his odd dream persona. I found that an exceptionally strange detail back in 2006 and still do – even to a non-nuclear person, it’s not a particularly exotic detail – at least not at the level of lethal gladiator matches. Yet, he said it and waited for people to be impressed.

Let’s not romanticize this too much – there are troubling aspects to the story beyond the sheer audacity of it – see the Salon story linked above for more. We can appreciate the dream if not always the dreamer and in this case, the dream ended sadly. To paraphrase Shakespeare, life is rounded by a sleep. Let’s hope Aleksey Vayner’s sleep is as peaceful as his dream life was rich and strange.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Some Facts About Station Blackout That David Lochbaum Didn't Tell The New York Times

Some facts UCS left out.

If you were concerned with the safety of America's nuclear energy facilities, I could understand why this blog post from Matt Wald at NY Times Green might cause you a bit of pause. In it, David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists makes the claim that industry and the NRC ignored the possibility of a Fukushima-like incident in the U.S. for decades. His proof: a document published by an NRC analyst in 2007 that posited how a flood, earthquake or other extreme event could cause a loss of AC power at a nuclear energy facility that could lead to multiple reactor meltdowns.

Sounds scary, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the folks at UCS left out a couple of facts when they talked to Wald that might have spoiled that narrative. The fact is, NRC and the industry have been working on the issue for decades. Here's NEI's Steve Kerekes, who left the following in the comment string after the post:
The article fails to cite a number of relevant facts, including these: 1) The Nuclear Regulatory Commission finalized the Station Blackout Rule to provide further assurance that a loss of emergency AC power systems would not adversely affect public health and safety in 1988. That’s a full two decades before the creation of the documents in question. 2) Over the course of the more than 3,500 years of combined reactor operations in the United States, the one and only station blackout in our facilities’ history lasted 37 minutes. That too was decades ago.

Notwithstanding those facts, the U.S. nuclear energy industry – demonstrating its commitment to safe and reliable operations – has made safety improvements on a continuing basis to provide additional layers of defense in depth. These include post-9/11 measures put in place to better equip facilities to respond to explosions and large fires, and the post-Fukushima enhancements (centered on acquisition of portable safety equipment) currently being implemented to improve facilities’ ability to respond safely and effectively to extreme events, regardless of their cause.
Click here to take a look at the station blackout rule that Kerkes refers to in the text. If you scroll down to the end of the document, you'll see the date June 21, 1988 spelled out in black and white.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Weather Caused by Beaver Valley

nuclear-plant-snow
The blue band is Beaver Valley's band of snow
In case you thought weather cannot be affected by human activity:
According to a post on the National Weather Service’s Facebook page, a small band of snow was generated by the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant in Shippingport.

About an inch of snow fell in the Gibsonia and Wexford area between 4 and 7 p.m.

It’s believed the steam from the plant interacted with the cold, which then caused it to snow.
This is all in Pennsylvania. It's a new one on me. The Washington Post has more on the story and a video explaining the (rather straightforward) science behind the weather generating nuclear facility.

Forbes Fumbles Nuclear Football Analogy

Author Peter Kelly-Detwiler published a post for Forbes yesterday making an illogical comparison of sunk costs from nuclear plants to Mark Sanchez (the New York Jets QB). Despite providing a definition of sunk costs, the author doesn’t seem to understand what sunk costs really are.

The article references several examples of new nuclear projects going over budget, but going over budget doesn’t mean the costs are sunk. According to the article, sunk costs are “unrecoverable past expenditures.” Nowhere in the piece does the author give an example of a nuclear plant that hasn’t been able to recover its past expenditures.When nuclear plants were built in the ‘70s and ‘80s in the US, state public utility commissions (PUCs) determined whether all or some of the costs of power plants could be recovered from ratepayers based on whether the costs were spent “prudently” or not. In some cases, the PUCs found that some costs were not prudent and therefore were not recoverable from ratepayers. Yet the Forbes article doesn’t even mention this.

Even if the article were to correctly apply the definition of sunk costs, though, the analogy to Mark Sanchez would still be incorrect with today’s operating nuclear plants. The article states that the Jets pay Sanchez $8.25M a year whether he plays or not and if he doesn’t play then that’s a sunk cost. Well, even if one of the 104 nuclear units have sunk costs, utilities still operate them. In fact, nuclear plants provide nearly 20 percent of the US’ electricity and run more frequently than any other power source. The operation of these plants provides additional benefits such as stable, predictable electricity prices and avoided CO2 emissions equivalent to the amount of emissions from nearly all US passenger cars each year.

Of course, nuclear plants aren’t the only type of power plants that have had sunk costs. Dare I mention Solyndra, Deepwater Horizon, or the many wind turbines, coal plants and gas plants that have been abandoned, bankrupt or shut down prematurely?If the author wanted to apply a correct metaphor for nuclear plants to NFL quarterbacks, a more accurate comparison would be to Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or underrated QB Joe Flacco. Much like nuclear plants are to the electric grid, those QBs are highly productive valuable assets who are the backbones of the teams.
One more thing, Go Ravens!

Pruning Hooks Not Spears

Pruner-lg
It's a pruning hook.
This is from Darryl Wellington of the Progressive Media Project, writing in the Deseret News:
But the nuclear age is a suicidal age. We've had several near misses, the Cuban Missile Crisis being the most obvious. And we've almost had accidental nuclear war when our radar systems (and Russia's) have thought they were seeing incoming nuclear weapons and have prepared to launch nuclear weapons in response. At some point, we won't be able to avert the catastrophe.

Similarly, nuclear power plants may seem to provide part of the solution to our energy crisis. But Fukushima highlighted the dangers of accidents, and nuclear waste can never be truly safely stored.
The incident he’s referring to is the so-called “Norwegian Rocket Incident,” in which Russia prepared to launch its nuclear arsenal at the United States after a Norwegian rocket spooked Russia into thinking that the Americans had fired a missile from a submarine. It was indeed a near thing.

But that transition, “Similarly!” Really? To paraphrase Rocket J. Squirrel, That trick never works. To quote Isaiah, not to mention Joel and Micah, “And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.“ Domestic nuclear energy may use fission as its basis but its outcomes have nothing to do with weaponry. Pruning hooks, not spears.


This one really has got to be retired. Have at nuclear energy on its own terms – guilt by association is never attractive.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Call for Civility and Rationality in Environmental Discourse from the Nature Conservancy

Mark Tercek
Earlier this month, UK-based environmental activist Mark Lynas kicked off something of a firestorm when he gave a speech where he apologized for his previous opposition to genetically-modified foods (GMO). It isn't his first high-profile conversion, as I'm sure many of our readers recall how Lynas changed his mind about nuclear energy.

While NEI obviously doesn't have a position on the GMO issue, we couldn't help but notice that the row stoked by the Lynas speech helped elicit a very level-headed blog post from Nature Conservancy President and CEO Mark Tercek calling for civility and rationality in environmental debates.

You can find the post at the Nature Conservancy's blog,  Cool Green Science:
Since I have become CEO of The Nature Conservancy I have learned that it is our passion and the passion of our supporters that make us effective. But sometimes that passion can be our undoing. So many of us, and others who are not associated with The Nature Conservancy or conservation want the same thing—we want healthy lands, water and air, and we want wild places in which we can find inspiration. But we come to this vision of what we want with different values and beliefs.

[...]

Lynas’s talk and website were swamped with some embarrassingly vitriolic and harsh criticism—because he opened a debate. That should never be the case. We are all stronger if we embrace science even when it surprises us by overturning some of our beliefs, and we are all stronger if we respect one another’s views.

The tone of Lynas’s speech is as important as its content. He is not picking fights or making attacks; instead, he lays out his thinking and the evidence on which it is based. This is a key lesson for the environmental community. Of course we want passionate debate and discussion about different strategies; this can only move us forward. We do not seek nor could ever achieve lock-step agreement, but when the debate loses all connection to science then the environmental movement suffers badly in the long run.
If that argument sounds familiar, you're right. Earlier this week, I shared the news that Dr. Patrick Moore, the co-chair of the CASEnergy Coalition and one of the founders of Greenpeace, was stepping down in order to enjoy a well-earned retirement.

Like Lynas, Dr. Moore was once a die-hard opponent of nuclear energy, but eventually changed his mind when he took a closer look at the science - a process that he described in the following video that was released earlier this week in conjunction with his retirement announcement:


Back in 2009, the Nature Conservancy published a study that concluded that nuclear energy had the smallest footprint of all forms of energy generation. And just as Lynas kicked up a fuss earlier this month with his speech, that study also generated some blow back for the Nature Conservancy, so much so, that they felt the need to tell the press that their study shouldn't be taken as a signal that the organization was endorsing nuclear energy.

Here's more from the Nature Conservancy's Rob McDonald:
On this one metric, nuclear power does have a small spatial footprint, as do several other technologies such as geothermal ... Since our report didn’t consider all those different types of impacts, it shouldn’t be taken as a comment on the overall wisdom of increased nuclear power. That would take another and more thorough, report.
Here's a suggestion: maybe it's time for that new report -- no matter where the science might lead.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Not Stooges of the Nuclear Industry

Here’s a line to perk up a Friday:
These are not corporate stooges of the nuclear industry.
Because heaven knows there are a lot of those out there trying to look legitimate.
To a person, their embrace of nuclear power is motivated by a deep concern about climate change and the conviction that no other carbon-free source of energy is sufficient (and safe) enough to replace coal and gas.
Write Keith Kloor’s story is on a strong topic – the embrace by some environmentalists of nuclear energy. Kloor talks to an impressive number of them, starting with NASA’s lead climate scientist James Hansen and moving on from there:
He’s not the only environmental luminary who is bullish on nuclear power. Last year, Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute, echoed Hansen’s argument. A number of other champions of nuclear power have stepped forward in recent years, from Australian climate scientist Barry Brook to American writer Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World: The Truth about Nuclear Energy. A breakaway group in the traditionally no-nukes environmental movement has also begun advocating passionately for nuclear power. That story is the subject of a new documentary that is premiering this month at the Sundance Festival.
That would be Pandora’s Promise, one of the more interesting cinematic efforts for 2013. About environmentalists, the story misses Dr. Patrick Moore, who recently left his position as co-chairman of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. It makes a bracing argument for the weaknesses of renewable energy:
This is, to put it charitably, wishful thinking. Renewable energy analyst Vaclav Smil lays out the major drawbacks with wind and solar: The energy it produces is intermittent, there is marginal storage capacity, it is still too costly, and it takes too long to scale up to become a meaningful substitute for coal.
These are problems for the industries to sort out, not stopping points. But for now, this is true and makes discussions in places like Germany so much hooey – or, to be kinder, wishful thinking.
But the story aims to be fair and lays out the most dire outcomes for nuclear energy. This is the part that doesn’t make me purr, but that could be the sign of a balanced article:
At this point, if there is going to be a revival of nuclear energy anywhere, it appears it will happen only with the arrival of new technology (what is referred to as "fourth generation" design) that resolves longstanding concerns and is competitive price-wise with coal and gas.
Well, nuclear energy already is competitive with coal and nuclear plants so have a lifespan of at least 60 years, which allows for a lot of depreciation on admittedly very expensive plants. One thing we can say for sure, the current low cost of natural gas will not sustain itself for 60 years.

The article also picks up the Pew argument that it’s not possible to build nuclear plants fast enough to have an impact on climate change – but that misses a large part of its appeal internationally, which is that it can be the first major electricity plant that many developing nations use – the choice of energy producers is much broader now than when the developed world electrified. It’s true that many countries are proceeding with the facilities they have now, but there’s a lot of growth to come – China and India currently (and both invested in nuclear energy) and many more to follow.

Still, a fair and valuable article.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nuclear Power Plant Response to the Cyber Threat

Our nation’s commercial nuclear power plants take the cyber threat seriously.  Our industry has been developing and implementing cyber security programs since shortly after the events of September 11, 2001.  The industry’s efforts culminated in a binding industry initiative to implement a cyber security program consistent with the guidance in a document endorsed by the NRC as an acceptable method for establishing a cyber security program.  All plants implemented this program by mid-2008.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is a strong regulator in this area.  The NRC’s efforts to create a cyber security regulatory framework for the plants began shortly after September 11, 2001.  The NRC issued orders after September 11 that required power reactor licensees to implement interim compensatory measures to enhance cyber security at their sites. These security measures required an assessment sufficient to provide protection against the cyber threats at the time of the orders. Subsequently, the NRC amended the Design Basis Treat requirements to include cyber attacks.  In 2009 the NRC ammended their extensive physical protection program regulations to include specific requirements for a cyber security program to protect systems that, if compromised, would adversely impact safety, security or emergency preparedness.

So what does all of this mean?  What have the plants actually done to implement cyber security protective measures in response to the cyber threat?

Every plant submitted a cyber security plan to the NRC that describes how the plant will implement their cyber security program.  The NRC has reviewed and approved each of these plans.

Each plant also submitted an implementation schedule describing the interim milestone actions toward full implementation of the cyber security program.  The NRC has reviewed and approved each of these schedules.  The interim milestones of the schedule prioritize key activities designed to address the most prominent cyber threats to these facilities.

By December 31, 2012, each U.S. nuclear power plant has:
  • Isolated key control systems using either air-gaps or robust hardware based isolation devices. As a result, the key safety, security, and power generation equipment at the plants are protected from any network based cyber attacks originating outside the plant.
  • Enhanced and implemented robust controls over the use of portable media and equipment.  Where devices like thumb drives, CD’s, and laptops are used to interface with plant equipment, measures are in place to minimize the cyber threat.  These measures include such actions as: minimizing the use of devices that are not maintained at the plant; virus scanning devices both before and after being connected to plant equipment; and, implementing additional measures where the source of the data or device originates outside the plant.  As a result, the plants are well protected from attacks like Stuxnet, that propagated through the use of portable media.
  • Enhanced defenses against the insider threat.  Training and insider mitigation programs have been enhanced to include cyber attributes.  Individuals who work with digital plant equipment are subject to increased security screening, cyber security training, and behavioral observation.
  • Implemented cyber security controls to protect equipment deemed most essential for the protection of the public health and safety.  While full implementation of cyber security controls for all digital equipment requiring protection will take some time, plants have prioritized the implementation to cover the assets most essential to the public health and safety.
  • Implemented measures to maintain the effectiveness of the implemented portions of the program.  These measures include maintaining the equipment described above in the plant configuration management program, ensuring changes to the equipment are performed in a controlled way.  A cyber security impact analysis is performed before making changes to the equipment.  The effectiveness of implemented cyber security controls is periodically assessed, and enhancements made where necessary.  Vulnerability assessments are performed to ensure the cyber security posture of the equipment is maintained.
This week the NRC began inspecting plant’s implementation of these milestones.

The balance of the implementation of the cyber security program is ongoing.  And I look forward to keeping the readers of the blog up-to-speed on advancements.

No cyber security program will be 100% perfect.  These interim measures well position the plants to ensure that the public health and safety are maintained, and that the sites will reliably continue to make their significant contribution to the nation’s electrical supply.

YouTubing Nuclear Energy From Congress

PaulsenHere’s something that works exceptionally well:

Congressman Erik Paulsen [R-Minn.] answered constituent questions in his first installment of Erik's Correspondence Corner of 2013. This week, Paulsen answered questions sent in from Eden Prairie and Bloomington.

Ben, a student at Eden Prairie High School, sent in a letter explaining his thoughts on nuclear energy. Tracey in Bloomington e-mailed in this week with her thoughts on recent legislation to continue the Congressional pay freeze.

Congress folk answer questions from constituents all the time, of course, but Rep. Paulsen puts together a weekly video cast on YouTube, posting a new episode every week answering a couple of the questions he’s been asked. The straightforward video work and Paulsen’s modest manner makes it very charming and even persuasive – old fashioned retail politicking brought up to date. It’s very effective.

Oh, but what about Ben and his question? Ben, it turns out, is not favorable to nuclear energy, though he recognizes its benefits. Eden Prairie, where Ben lives, is about 55 miles from the Prairie Island facility. Meanwhile, Rep. Paulsen certainly does favor nuclear energy. His answer is on point and respectful of Ben’s view.

The issue in Minnesota is its long standing ban against building new facilities. Although Paulsen has moved to the House of Representatives, he came from the state legislature and is clear he’d like the ban overturned. The votes get a little closer every year, but so far, it hasn’t happened. There’s always 2013, though.

And hey, as long as we’re talking about YouTube, visit NEI’s YouTube page, for loads of interesting nuclear related videos. Eric wrote about the FLEX strategy video below, so that’s a good place to start.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Thanks Patrick Moore

Dr. Patrick Moore
Earlier today we got the news that the original "sensible environmentalist," Dr. Patrick Moore, was stepping down as co-chair of the CASEnergy Coalition in order to begin enjoying a well-deserved retirement. The following letter was posted  at the CASEnergy Coalition website:
Dear Clean and Safe Energy Coalition Members:

With more than 3,000 influential members across the nation, the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition has become an important voice in conversations about our country’s energy future. We know that nuclear energy must continue to be part of a solution – not just to our energy challenges, but to our economic and environmental challenges – and the coalition continues to make great strides toward making sure that Americans understand why.

The mission endures, and the coalition is stronger than ever, so it is with mixed emotions that I share with you today my decision to retire as Co-Chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. I will remain an active member, but am at the point in my career where I am ready to step down from a leadership role and spend more time with my family.

In partnership with my fellow co-chair and friend Christine Todd Whitman, I have seen the coalition make great progress in helping Americans make informed decisions about their energy choices. We have seen Americans take a greater interest in this country’s energy resources and become the champions of nuclear energy development.

As my full-time work with the coalition comes to an end, my work as a sensible environmentalist continues. I will continue to be a vocal advocate for nuclear energy and help others understand the clean air attributes of this important energy source as well as the many other benefits it provides to the American public.

I thank the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition for the opportunity to lead this effort, speak on your behalf and learn from you over the past six years. I truly believe that through the coalition, we will help guarantee a clean, safe and reliable energy future. It is up to us to listen, educate and keep the momentum going. Thank you for being a member, and for your support throughout this journey.

Sincerely,

Dr. Patrick Moore
Founding Co-Chair, Clean and Safe Energy Coalition
Like a lot of folks in the nuclear energy business, I'm going to miss Dr. Moore. Back in 2007, shortly after Dr. Moore started working with CASEnergy, I had the opportunity to interview him for one of NEI's first online videos.


Now, six years after he first started working with CASEnergy, it doesn't seem all that out of the ordinary for sensible environmentalists to support nuclear energy. Needless to say, I think you can draw a bright line between his work at CASEnergy, and the growing number of his confederates in the environmental movement who now profess an interest in leveraging nuclear energy to help preserve the plaet.

Monday, January 14, 2013

All Aboard for the Neutron Express!

atom_trainNuclear energy would be perfect for electric/hybrid cars, a potentially gigantic market for electricity that is well-suited to an energy source with a 24/7-profile. We’ve got the nuclear facilities, all we need now are more cars. I haven’t given up on the possibility, and there has been some traction in the kilowatt mobile business, but it’s been a bit of a slog.

Still, a good idea is a good idea, so it’s interesting to see Great Britain explicitly tie their electric trains to nuclear energy.

The majority of Britain's trains will be indirectly running on nuclear power for the next 10 years following Network Rail's agreement to a £3bn deal with EDF to supply electricity to the railways.

“Indirectly running.” That sounds like a nice way of saying, “We cannot know where the electricity is coming from,” which is true, “but a lot of it is nuclear energy,” which is also true. What it really means is that only 50 percent of the train service is electric, though that is expected to increase to 75 percent in 2020.

Still, there is a bit more to it – it isn’t just a symbolic gesture.

EDF Energy operates 14 Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor and one pressurized water reactor, totaling 9548 MWe in generating capacity. It has advanced plans for a new EPR unit at Hinkley Point, which it wants to be the first of four.

EDF owns two coal plants, two natural gas plants and a couple of wind farms – though EDF is not one of the big boosters of renewable energy on the isles – but the focus is definitely and explicitly on nuclear energy, with eight facilities generating about 9000 megawatts, and Network Rail insisting that the electricity it will use must come directly from nuclear energy.

The deal has positive implications for both British Rail and EDF. For Network Rail:

Network Rail will purchase power "up to ten years in advance" under the deal, a privilege which the companies said "helps to deliver greater certainty over costs and significantly reduce exposure to short term, volatile energy prices." This kind of long-term arrangement is made possible by the economics of nuclear power, which feature high costs for construction and capital but low and predictable fuel and operating costs.

Very true. And for EDF:

For EDF Energy, CEO Vincent de Rivaz called the deal "a massive vote of confidence in our nuclear-backed energy." He said, "The deal places nuclear energy at the heart of the UK's infrastructure for the next ten years and serves to underline that nuclear power is part of everyday life in Britain."

I wonder if British Rail will incorporate this into selling the service – something like Atomic Trains to Bramford or Neutron Expresses to Oxford or perhaps it will  just reference its green profile in the literature. I vote for the atomic train.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Nuclear: On Which the Nation’s Fate Rests

We’ve kept an eye on the English versions of some of Japan’s national newspapers to see if they have thawed the nuclear energy deep freeze there. It’s more an issue of curiosity than an overtly partisan pro-nuclear view, because whether Japan begins to feel comfortable with nuclear energy after it implements post-Fukushima safety measures or it doesn’t is something no amount of partisanship can change.

If the Japanese ultimately decide to leave nuclear energy, that’s that – if you lived through something harrowing, far be it from others to to tell you to get over it. The advocate in me might say, well, the danger was minimal and no one died as a result of the accident. That’s an exceptionally low bar to clear when people have been scared badly. There’s an understanding that there is only so much one can do about nature’s vicissitudes – which did kill many in this instance – but nuclear energy facilities? Turn the lights out – done!

But the recent election went strongly for the pro-nuclear party. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already spoken of bringing the nuclear facilities back online and even building new reactors.

Pubic opinion is still rather dire, though, so it’s interesting to see if newspaper editorials will act as bellwethers for a change in attitude.

That brings us to this editorial in the Daily Yomiuri, which praises Abe’s moves on nuclear energy to date:

Revitalizing the Japanese economy will require a stable supply of electricity. This year will be important in that the energy and nuclear power policy, on which the nation's fate rests, needs to be drastically reformulated.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shown his intention to review the "Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment" drawn up by the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration, which set a target of having zero nuclear reactors operating by the end of the 2030s. Abe also expressed support for allowing the construction of new nuclear plants with enhanced safety features. We think his position on these issues is reasonable.

The government should immediately craft a realistic energy strategy that includes the use of various sources of power generation--including nuclear energy.

That’s – impressive. It suggests that the election hinged on what most elections hinge on: economics, especially the pocketbook. Now, this is one editorial, though the most striking change of tone I’ve seen. There have been others. Business newspaper always offer strong support for resuming with nuclear energy and there are some odd sidewise angles on it.

For example, this editorial in favor of accepting fish from Fukushima Prefecture:

Just a few kinds of fish, such as bonito and Pacific saury, which are caught by Iwaki fishermen far away from Fukushima's coast, are unloaded at local ports like Onahama. But it's a sad story. If such fish are unloaded at ports outside Fukushima Prefecture, nobody thinks twice about buying them. But if they are unloaded at ports in the prefecture and then shipped to other places for sale, they attract suspicion because they are from Fukushima Prefecture.

The Japan Times points out that allowing processing to go on in Fukushima provides employment there, a good goal, and makes the case there is no danger in doing so. It should probably be the government saying this, not a newspaper, but it certainly suggests that a clear-eyed view is present and functional.

Even with Abe openly flirting with restarting the facilities, support for doing so is rising only minimally, and newspapers support it fitfully. It isn’t much, I know, but it’s something and there’s been progress. I know this is the advocate in me wanting the Japanese to reclaim nuclear energy as a good, perhaps the best, energy source for their resource-poor, electricity hungry country – but really, that’s not for me to say, is it?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The FLEX Solution: America's Nuclear Industry Responds to Fukushima

Earlier today, the Nuclear Energy Institute released a five-minute video explaining the comprehensive and tailored response strategy that it is implementing across the industry to enhance nuclear plant safety in the face of extreme natural events.

To produce the high-definition video, NEI acquired first-of-its kind footage of the deployment of new emergency response equipment at U.S. nuclear energy facilities. The video also features animation and interviews with industry leaders and technical staff discussing nuclear plant safety.


The diverse and flexible (“FLEX”) response strategy developed by industry addresses the major challenges encountered at the Fukushima Daiichi power station following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami: the loss of power to maintain effective reactor fuel cooling.

Additional on-site portable equipment is being acquired to help ensure that every U.S. nuclear energy facility can respond safely to extreme events, no matter what the cause. The equipment ranges from diesel-driven pumps and electric generators to ventilation fans, hoses, fittings, cables and satellite communications gear. It also includes support materials for emergency responders. For additional information concerning how the American nuclear energy is applying lessons learned from Fukushima, please visit the Fukushima response section of NEI.org.

Going to Mars – and Quickly – With Nuclear Energy


The White House’s petition site, called We the People, has gained some attention over the last couple of months because – well, let’s just say that a wide-open web site that invites citizens to put together petition drives is likely to attract a fair number of cranky malcontents – and that makes for fun news stories.

But there’s some genuinely interesting petition topics, too. Take this one, for example:
Harness the full intellectual and industrial strength of our universities, national laboratories and private enterprise to rapidly develop and deploy a nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) adaptable to both manned and un-manned space missions. A NTR (which would only operate in outer space) will jump-start our manned space exploration program by reducing inner solar system flight times from months to weeks. This is not new technology; NTRs were tested in the 1960s (President Kennedy was a guest at one test). The physics and engineering are sound. In addition to inspiring young Americans to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, a working NTR will herald a speedy and economical expansion of the human presence in the cosmos.
Well maybe it will and maybe it won’t, but no harm asking, right? It certainly has that New Frontier-Atoms for Peace vibe that we wholeheartedly endorse and harks back to the NERVA/Rover projects of the 60s.

MSNBC describes the original programs and their history in more detail:
Back in the 1960s, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and its industrial partners set up Project NERVA, which stands for Nuclear Energy for Rocket Vehicle Application. The idea was to use a nuclear reactor to heat up liquid hydrogen propellant and blast a rocket out of Earth orbit. A trip to the moon would take just 24 hours. Going to Mars? You could make the voyage in just four months.
The article goes on to note that the expense and untried nature of NERVA dampened several projects and eventually enthusiasm – and the budget to fuel it - withered away. But that doesn’t mean it died a nascent, undercooked technology, as this article in Los Alamos National Lab’s National Security science on-line magazine explains:
In 1969, NERVA's successes prompted NASA-Marshall Space Flight Center director Wernher von Braun to propose sending 12 men to Mars aboard two rockets, each propelled by three NERVA engines (Fig. 5). The mission would launch in November 1981 and land on Mars in August 1982.
Although the mission never took place, engines tested during that time met nearly all of NASA's specifications, including those related to thrust, thrust-to-weight ratio, specific impulse, engine restart, and engine lifetime. When the Project Rover/NERVA program was canceled in 1972, the only major untested requirement was that a NERVA rocket engine should be able to restart 60 times and operate for a total of 10 hours.
Pretty impressive. 

The article goes into great detail about the working of the nuclear engine and how it differs from the nuclear reactors we talk about here – that is, those generating electricity. Well worth a read.
The article does not say, but I wonder if the long lead time from von Braun’s endorsement and the launch of a NERVA powered rocket was due to other advances would need to happen to make a 4-month flight to Mars plausible – protecting astronauts and equipment from space-borne radiation, for example, or finding ways to mitigate the disruption of the sleep-wake cycle (the Russians have been playing with this one.)

But never let it be said that any of this should discourage anyone. Aaron VanAlstine, an Army major at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Seattle, set up the petition. And he did it for the best reason imaginable: "I'm just into space."

Last I checked, the petition had 24,297 signatures and needs 25,000 to receive a White House response – I reckon it would come from NASA, but we’ll see. So head on over there if you’re inclined and add your name.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

How Nuclear Energy Helps Canada Snag Data Center Business

Courtesy of the Globe and Mail
Over the holidays, the Globe and Mail, Canada's major national newspaper, took note of a positive business trend for our neighbors to the North -- namely, how more and more companies were locating computer data centers in the country. The trend is becoming so pronounced, that some are openly speculating that the greater Toronto metropolitan area could become a global hub for data center operations.

Among the reasons why: Canada's cool climate means that data centers operating there don't have to spend nearly as much money on energy in order to keep cool. And it doesn't hurt that the nation has access to plenty of affordable and reliable electricity:
Information technology services company Fujitsu Canada is planning to open a facility to take advantage of what Canada has to offer. Free cooling, however, is only part of the picture. Access to cheap, clean, reliable energy is also a magnet for investors looking to build these power-hungry facilities, some of which consume roughly as much energy as a small city.

“The advantage Canada has is it’s far cheaper and easier to bring data to power sources, and vice versa,” says Mike O’Neil, president of IT research firm IT Market Dynamics. “It’s much cheaper to stick your data centre next to a hydro dam.”
Or in the case of Ontario, Canada's most heavily populated province, a nuclear power plant. After all, nuclear energy, along with hydropower, are the two leading sources of emission-free electricity all over the world. According to our friends at Ontario Power Generation, more than 50% of the province's electricity is generated by nuclear energy. Together, the nuclear energy facilities at Pickering and Darlington generate an impressive 6,600 megawatts.

As our Mark Flanagan noted a few months ago, Greenpeace has tried to raise hackles about companies relocating data centers to areas with copious amounts of nuclear energy, but the whole effort hasn't seemed to amount to much thus far. It's too bad the Globe and Mail failed to mention how nuclear energy is helping foster the trend they've identified.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Good Nuclear News by the Numbers

beauty-shotSometimes, among the little controversies and tidbits of news, it’s nice to have a reminder now and then as to what we’re getting newsy about. Nuclear energy is a really strong provider of electricity – “really strong” because it delivers 24/7, often runs at or near 100 percent capacity (take that, renewable slackers) and is very inexpensive to operate.

And in a way, facilities can run higher than 100 percent capacity. Operators achieve uprates by swapping in new equipment or modifying existing equipment (along with maximizing efficiency) with the goal to increase capacity. The NRC determines if a potential uprate might compromised safety, but it’s generally a incidental function of how long lived a facility can be. Uprates are common enough.

I don’t have the number right in front of me, but I believe the capacity increase over the years due to uprates is about the equivalent of six new nuclear reactors. Pretty good for not having to break ground with spade.

Bloomberg spends a whole article talking about recent nuclear energy capacity, using the restart of Minnesota’s Prairie Island (down for refueling) as a jumping off point.

Generation nationwide advanced by 1.1 percent to 93,254 megawatts, or 91 percent of capacity, the most since Sept. 9, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission data compiled by Bloomberg.

The number in 2011 was over 95 percent, but it’s still pretty good given the plants down for refueling or for other reasons. Bloomberg notes that Michigan’s Fermi 2 and Mississippi’s Grand Gulf 1 ramped up output (neither to full capacity) and Watts Bar 1 in Tennessee went to 100 percent capacity.

A little more:

The Northeast increased 0.6 percent to 24,899 megawatts, or 100 percent of capacity, while production in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast states advanced 0.5 percent to 28,891, or 91 percent of capacity. Western U.S. generation increased 0.9 percent to 19,126 megawatts, or 80 percent of capacity.

The western droop likely has to do with San Onofre’s extended outage in California, though the story does not say.

Nuclear energy is very good at maintaining capacity and allows for surer planning. I’ve read some pieces complaining that nuclear energy does not ramp down fast enough to accommodate the intermittent nature of wind and solar power, to which one can only say, Boo-hoo, may all your problems involve abundance.

Seriously, this is something a smart grid could more easily accommodate and, if the will (and money) materialize to build out a smart grid, the issue of renewable intermittence and nuclear energy’s usefulness as a full throttle energy source will reconcile. The Department of Energy has a good introductory paper on the subject – take a look at the environmental improvement section starting on page 14 for more information about renewable energy sources and the smart grid.

But that’s down the road a piece. On our section of highway, the news is generally good. I thought the capacity would go down a bit due to the wild weather and some extended outages, but this is much better than expected.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

An Authentic Replica of a Closed Nuclear Plant

This affects Germany, too, and I suppose any country with a democratic form of government:

One of the first policy victims of Japan's incoming Liberal Democratic Party is likely to be the commitment to phasing out nuclear power. The promise made after Fukushima does not sit well with the pro-business party.

Get it? Every few years, the party in control changes and everything that was certain becomes  uncertain. Can you be sure that the next time the government changes in Japan, the nuclear facilities will not be heading into mothballs?

Now to be fair – and to ding this story a bit – the previous prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, did not get as far as pledging a shut down of the nuclear facilities. He was, if anything, frustratingly vague on that subject.

Abe, who has been in power since December 26, has not said directly what he intends to do with the plants. All but two reactors are currently idled and have been since the 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi. He has been trying out a few statements, though.

But Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, which regained power in elections this month, says it plans to spend 10 years studying the best energy mix for the country. Abe has said he may reconsider the previous government's decision to stop building reactors.

And gotten a good response from the people he would like to appeal to.

The relatively favorable stance toward resuming operations of more nuclear plants has won favor among business leaders worried about power shortages and rising costs; since the Fukushima disaster, Japanese imports of costly liquefied natural gas have soared.

To be honest, the thaw in Japan lurked in my mind as something more likely to happen in Germany. There, the government has said it will close nuclear plants by 2025. That’s far enough down the road that a change in regime could reverse it. That’s still true.

I’ve read that the tax cuts in the current fiscal cliff deal are “permanent.” Really? Permanent? Permanence in government policy is like that authentic reproduction of a Renoir on my wall. Unless Japan or Germany were to bang down the nuclear facilities with sledgehammers and salt the earth, we may expect a similar permanence in their decisions – or at least anticipate the possibility of a complete or partial reversal. Either would be welcome – and good policy, to boot.