Tuesday, December 31, 2013

More of The Best Nuclear Energy News of 2013

1. The 60th anniversary of

Atoms for Peace (and NEI, too) – President Dwight Eisenhower gave the Atoms for Peace speech before the United Nations General Assembly on December 8, 1953. I’ve heard different thoughts about how to date the beginning of the domestic nuclear energy industry – the four light bulbs illuminated by Experimental Breeder Reactor I on December 20, 1951, the first successful use of nuclear energy to generate electricity, is a good candidate – but Atoms for Peace seems correct because the speech makes the moral and ethical, not just a technical, case for nuclear energy. That’s important and it makes 2013 the 60th anniversary of the industry.

Atoms for Peace came about as a response to the rising tide of the cold war and Eisenhower’s perception that the world could embrace “the hopeless finality of a belief that two atomic colossi are doomed malevolently to eye each other indefinitely across a trembling world.”

Against this nihilistic view, Eisenhower proposed a starkly humanistic counterweight:

The governments principally involved, to the extent permitted by elementary prudence, should begin now and continue to make joint contributions from their stockpiles of normal uranium and fissionable materials to an international atomic energy agency. We would expect that such an agency would be set up under the aegis of the United Nations. The ratios of contributions, the procedures and other details would properly be within the scope of the "private conversations" I referred to earlier.

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I would be prepared to submit to the Congress of the United States, and with every expectation of approval, any such plan that would, first, encourage world-wide investigation into the most effective peacetime uses of fissionable material, and with the certainty that the investigators had all the material needed for the conducting of all experiments that were appropriate; second,begin to diminish the potential destructive power of the world's atomic stockpiles; third, allow all peoples of all nations to see that, in this enlightened age, the great Powers of the earth, both of the East and of the West, are interested in human aspirations first rather than in building up the armaments of war; fourth, open up a new channel for peaceful discussion and initiative at least a new approach to the many difficult problems that must be solved in both private and public conversations if the world is to shake off the inertia imposed by fear and is to make positive progress towards peace.

And there it is, the rationale for nuclear energy simple as can be: “the great powers of the earth … are interested in human aspirations first.” (Not to mention the progenitor of Megatons to Megawatts.)

NEI notes its own founding as the Atomic Industrial Forum, also in 1953, here. If 60 is the new 40, we look forward to the maturity and grace of 80, the new 50.

2. The Waste Confidence Rule – In response to a U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit decision that overturned the NRC’s 2010 update to the waste confidence rule, commission staff developed a proposed rule and draft generic environmental study. Published for comment September 13, the proposed rule concludes that used fuel can be safely stored in used fuel pools during the 60-year period following the licensed life for reactor operation and for even longer periods of time in dry containers. The rule also concludes that a repository can be available within 60 years of the end of the licensed life of any reactor to take the used fuel.

The rule answers to the court’s order that the NRC consider the potential environmental consequences of the federal government’s failure to build a permanent repository. The order also required the agency to conduct a more extensive review of the environmental impacts of potential leaks and fires in used fuel storage pools.

The NRC expects to finalize the rule by September 2014. Until then, the agency said it will hold off on issuing final licenses and relicenses for operating reactors and dry cask storage facilities.

3.

The Nuclear Waste Fund fee - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Nuclear Energy ordered the Department of Energy to ask Congress to suspend collection of fees for the Nuclear Waste Fund—which was created to pay for management of the nation’s used nuclear fuel—until the department complies with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act or Congress enacts a new waste management program. The unanimous ruling November 21 reinforces the principle that the federal government is obligated to carry out the law whether or not the responsible agency or the president agrees with the underlying policy.

Congress established the Nuclear Waste Fund expressly to support the development of a repository for used nuclear fuel. Consumers pay one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated with nuclear energy.

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Next up – the wrap up of the wrap up. Small reactors and cumulative impact of regulation, at the least.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Dropping the Ball

NYE2013ballDon’t make the wrong assumption. This is great:

The Citi Bike Pedal Power Station will be located on the Southeast corner of 7th Avenue and 42nd Street. It will be open to New Yorkers and visitors on Saturday, December 28th and Sunday December 29th from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM and on Monday, December 30th from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Citi Bike brand ambassadors will be on-site taking photos of participating riders. Participants will receive a free Citi Bike day pass and they will be sent a digital photo of them helping power the Ball that they can save and share via social media.

The six bikes at the Citi Bike Pedal Power Station will be connected to 12-volt deep cycle batteries. Each bike is expected to generate an average of 75 watts per hour. The Times Square New Year's Eve Ball is lit by more than 30,000 LEDs. Throughout the three-day event, a power meter at the Citi Bike Pedal Power Station will show how much energy has been generated.

A lot of this press release is a super hard sell for Citi Bike, so note that. And actually, the New Years Eve ball will not be powered by kinetic energy. What Citi hopes to do instead is return to the grid the amount of electricity necessary to light up and drop the ball. This is in the first paragraph, so nothing untoward here, and it’s a fine goal, even in the name of sales.

The electricity to light the ball will be coming from sources other than kinetic energy – including the Indian Point nuclear facility. Granted, some coal and natural gas will be there, too, doing the electricity thing, but kinetic energy generated by bicycles sounds pretty cool, much cooler in fact. I couldn’t figure out from the coverage here and elsewhere how Citi determined how much electricity the ball will use so as to generate the same amount from their bikes, but really, who cares? The reality is more banal but of the moment – and will create a dazzling illumination – but this is the future.

The Best Nuclear Energy News of 2013

Your list of the best nuclear news of the year, part 1, and in no particular order. All good news is number 1, right?

1. Pandora’s Promise – There has been a movement by environmentalists to support nuclear energy for some years because of its continued safety record, the inability of renewable energy sources to provide baseload energy and, most especially, the looming spectre of a climate change-driven catastrophe. Robert Stone’s movie Pandora’s Promise made this tectonic shift in attitude manifest for many people. Stone does a lot more than provide talking heads, however, dispelling myths, showing the anti-nuclear movement as driven more by fervor than rationality and facing fully the implications of the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

Still, what a great bunch of talking heads: Gwyneth Cravens, Mark Lynas, Stewart Brand, Richard Rhodes and more. They all articulate their conversions on the road to nuclear energy with great intelligence and humor. For me, Lynas is the breakout star and his visit to Fukushima a highlight of the movie. Theatrically, it’s still working its way around the world, but in the U.S., you can buy it on iTunes if you’re so inclined!

Be sure to check out NNN’s unofficial guide to the movie, an invaluable resource.

2. Yucca Mountain redux – Though President Barack Obama shuttered the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository project in 2009, it never really seemed the last chapter of the story. Yucca Mountain as repository is inscribed into law – The Nuclear Waste Policy Act – and Congressional oversight committees never really bought into any proffered scientific rationale for stopping it. So the fact that the courts are not buying into it either is not surprising – not because its decision clears the way for an inadequate repository but because we can now find out how adequate Yucca Mountain would actually be.

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The states of Washington and South Carolina, Aiken County, S.C., state public utility regulators and others sought a court order to force the NRC to resume its review of the Department of Energy’s license application for the repository. NEI participated in the suit as a “friend of the court.”

In 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the case held in abeyance to give Congress an opportunity to clarify its intent on funding the program and directed the parties to file status updates during this period. However, the court indicated that, given existing statutory language in the Nuclear Waste Act and the funds available to the NRC—approximately $11 million—it likely would order the license evaluation to continue unless the NRC resumed the process or Congress enacted legislation to either terminate it or clarify that no additional funds should be expended on licensing.

In August, the clock ran out.

“Since we issued that order more than a year ago … the [NRC] has not acted and Congress has not altered the legal landscape,” the court said in its Aug. 13 decision. “As things stand … the [NRC] is simply flouting the law.”

The NRC commissioners directed staff to reactivate the license review process. This does not mean in itself that the repository will pass muster or that Yucca Mountain will become the permanent repository. But it doesn’t mean it won’t, either. Look at it as a simple act of fairness and let the process play out to the end, whatever that may be.

[We’ll talk about the suspension of the nuclear waste fee separately – it’s related, of course, but important on its own account.]

3. New build – Five, count ‘em five, reactors are being built in the United States. Four of them are brand new: two each at Georgia’s Plant Vogtle and South Carolina’s V.C. Summer. The fifth, at Tennessee’s Watts Bar facility, was abandoned in 1985 but will now be completed. The important thing about these reactors in 2013 is that they are maintaining their schedules and budgets effectively, a key point for the industry and its regulator. If construction continues apace – and there’s no reason to believe it won’t – then it will show the effectiveness of the Combined Construction and Operating licensing process and the efficacy with which more generic designs – the Westinghouse AP1000 in the case of the four new reactors – can be erected.

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Earlier this year, construction at Vogtle reached a milestone when the 900-ton containment vessel bottom head was placed into the cradle in the reactor 3 nuclear island, the heaviest lift at the site to date.

Upcoming work at reactor 3 includes setting the cavity that will house the reactor vessel in the nuclear island.

At reactor 4, nuclear construction is about to begin; the basemat concrete pour will take place soon.

Next steps for construction at the Summer site include setting the first containment vessel ring and the auxiliary building module for reactor 2 and construction of the containment vessel bottom head support module at reactor 3.

Obviously, the real news will be the generation of electricity. Watts Bar should be first in 2015, with the Vogtle and Summer reactors online beginning in 2017. Sometimes, anti-nuclear advocates complain that getting new reactors on line takes too long. But 2015? 2017? They’ll be here before you know it.

Next up (probably): the nuclear waste fee, the waste confidence rule (a lot went on in the used fuel category in 2013) and small reactors. If there are issues you would like to see included, leave a comment.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Little Presents: NuScale, Germany, Meateasies

minaturepresentsSustainable Business Oregon presents a interview with Pete Lyons, DOE’s assistant secretary for nuclear energy. It’s fine and worth a read – he talks mostly about the NuScale deal – see posts below for more on this.

Lyons does a good job explaining what NuScale offers specifically and what the interest in small reactors may mean generally:

Small modular reactors offer an opportunity for a new paradigm in how we think about nuclear plant construction. In the past we’ve gone to bigger and bigger plants built at a job site. We have realized there are some economies going to these bigger and bigger plants (built) on site. We’re trying to explore a different type of economy by moving down in size to where they can be built in a factory under factory quality assurance standards and moved intact to a site.

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The European Union is investigating the deal between the British government and Electricite de France to build a new reactor at Hinkley Point C. That story will require more attention from us when it ripens a bit more. For our current purpose, another EU inquiry is interesting:

The Commission also announced yesterday that it was launching a full investigation into German subsidies for renewables under its renewable energy act (EEG) to determine whether these subsidies constitute illegal state aid. The investigation is looking at the law's exemptions scheme, which makes consumers pay a green surcharge which funds renewable projects, but exempts heavy industry.

“We received various complaints from consumers and competitors on this and the commission must therefore investigate this particular matter in depth,” said Joaquin Almunia, European commissioner for competition.

I’m not sure how many teeth this commission has or how much of the complaining is pure crankery. It does seem as though Germany has really led its people into a financial sinkhole as it tries to move very rapidly from nuclear energy to renewable energy sources.  It also leads to some very un-holiday-like schadenfreude – but we’ll endure it.

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Some climate change goodness for the vegetarian set:

The analysis also estimates that the greenhouse gas emissions of raising livestock are 19 to 48 times higher than from growing high-protein plant food, such as beans and soy. Last month, a study found that methane emissions in the U.S. were about 1.5 times greater in 2007 and 2008 than previously estimated, and that livestock produced about twice as much methane during that time period than the EPA previously estimated.

The bad news for the vegetarian set is that if the government cannot find a way to grapple with climate change, expecting large swaths of even committed people to abandon meat seems dim indeed. I know from talking with an old 4-H friend that methane mitigation can be done, though still rather theoretically, through feed (see this story from Chemical and Engineering News for more).

The ThinkProgress story suggests that a tax on meat might do the trick, but that’s just silly. Governments like sin taxes because people will pay the tax to maintain their bad habits. But taxing meat as a sin so it becomes prohibitively expensive might well test the elasticity of people’s tolerance for such taxes (meat speakeasies – password “prime rib” – would rise up to feed the protein hungry.) (De)incentivizing behavior through taxation is a tough sell. As we discovered in New York, bans on 32 oz. soda pops to fight obesity doesn’t go over too well, either.

I’d go with the feed idea for now.

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Happy holidays to our NEI Nuclear Notes friends. We’ve had a great year looking at the interesting, inspiring and sometimes odd happenings in the nuclear energy world during 2013 and reading your views in turn. We look forward to a equally illuminant 2014. Next time out, we’ll start a look at the big stories of the past year. Until then, travel safe and stay reasonably fissionable while hanging around the relatives.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Renewable Niche and The Nuclear Shrug

Writer Steven Stromberg, writing in the Washington Post Partisan blog, offers this:

Some environmentalists cheer the closing of nuclear plants, even though it makes the anti-carbon effort tougher, and they argue that the country should put all of the planet’s eggs into the renewables basket. The pro-nuclear crowd predicts that a new wave of innovative technologies will make constructing new nuclear plants much more attractive, technically and economically.

The country — and particularly environmentalists — should hope the pro-nuclear side is right; a renaissance in nuclear technology could offer the country a source of reliable, carbon-free electricity with safer designs than those of decades ago, all of which would be particularly helpful if renewables never burst out of their niche end of the market.

The “pro-nuclear crowd'” (I think I prefer mob or cohort) actually includes a fair number of environmentalists.

This is a pretty good post, though putting an energy option into the category of niche product is uncomfortable. That’s not quite quite right when referring to renewable energy sources. Floating nuclear barges such as Russia is implementing might be called a niche product because they have carefully defined and fairly limited uses. But that’s not true of nuclear energy itself – or solar or wind power or coal or natural gas. What Stromberg really wonders is if renewable energy sources can gather some market share. Well, so far, they’re like electric cars (which, due to their narrow driving range, might be considered niche projects right now) – the technology is almost there to push their benefits to the fore, but not quite yet. In the meantime, they generate electricity – which isn’t a niche activity.

But where Stromberg is exactly right is that nuclear energy deserves more respect that it often gets:

At the least, utilities, regulators and the public should be open to keeping the nuclear plants the country already has, which represent billions in capital investment, for as long as they can be safely operated. A new report from the American Physical Society finds that many of the plants scheduled for closure in coming years could have another 20 years added to their operating life as long as regulators allow it and maintenance remains vigilant.

I guess you could call this the realpolitik of nuclear energy, that these expensive, long-lived facilities might as well be kept operating because they can do some good. But if you remove the resigned cynicism, it gets to the heart of the issue. Even if Stromberg’s point is that nuclear energy should hang around until renewable energy can do baseload energy, the outcome is that nuclear energy hangs around. Stromberg may encourage environmentalists to shrug their shoulders over this possibility, but it’s okay with me.

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In the last post, we noted a Forbes takedown of an anti-nuclear energy screed. Now, it indirectly answers Stromberg’s piece with a look at the recent DOE award to NuScale for its small reactor technology.

Think nuclear energy is collapsing? Think again — now that the federal government is ponying up an additional $226 million to help advance small nuclear reactors. The Department of Energy and NuScale are entering a cost-sharing arrangement to build 100-megawatt modules.

Well, nuclear energy was never really collapsing, certainly not if companies such as NuScale can stay in business. But the sentiment is fine.

Not everyone, however, is sold on those small reactors. NuScale has yet to say from where its private funding will come, says Friends of the Earth. It adds that if the idea truly had commercial appeal, it would be able to stand on its own and be able to secure private funding.

It also says that those smaller reactors may produce expensive electricity while at same time, create more radioactive nuclear waste. The “subsidy” is “misguided as these reactors would still produce nuclear waste, still risk meltdown and have not shown to be economical,” says Katherine Fuchs, with the environmental group. “The fact that private investors are not supporting small modular reactors indicates a rather dim financial future.”

We probably could have avoided the Friends of the Earth paragraphs - having FOE in your story is like finding a snail in your birthday cake – but it can be relied on to find the most sour response imaginable to anything involving nuclear energy. Always fun.

Though the story is framed as NuScale bucking downward nuclear trends, writer Ken Silverstein provides an otherwise balanced and interesting take on the NuScale deal. Worth a read.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Those Irresponsible Physicians

maddoctormarketstGotta love the title of this Forbes article:

Irresponsible Physicians Oppose Nuclear Energy

It’s a play on the name Physicians for Social Responsibility (the rest of the physicians apparently have a different agenda), which issued a report on energy options. The article (and report, apparently) is more about natural gas than nuclear energy, though author James Conca has nothing but contempt for this idea in the socially responsible physician’s paper:

But the most bizarre section of this report is the attempt to paint enrichment of uranium-235 for fuel as more carbon-emitting than gas. The important CO2 emissions calculation not done by McCullough is that replacing CGS with a gas plant would add over 40 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere over 17 years. Instead, McCullough’s report [McCullough Research put it together] has a lame discussion of the nuclear fuel cycle and how uranium enrichment at the old weapons-era Paducah plant (no longer operating) is an important emissions source.

Nothing about this report seems remotely interesting, but Conca’s takedown is worth a read, for entertainment value above all.

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On a sliding scale of actorly achievement, Tom Laughlin (1932-2013) rates much lower than Joan Fontaine or Peter O’Toole. But of the three prominent performers who passed away this weekend, Laughlin wins on sheer entrepreneurial audacity. When his film Billy Jack (1971), which he directed wrote and starred in, got a tepid release from Warner Bros. and tanked, he went to court to reclaim the film, won and re-released it himself by renting out theaters entirely (a method later called four-walling) and barnstorming for an audience. It worked – really well – and the movie became a hit. With its antiestablishment half-Native American antihero protecting an alternative school – it was the early 70s - it held a special appeal to college students. Its sequel, The Trial of Billy Jack (1974), was the biggest hit Warner Bros. had that year (admittedly, a weak year for the studio).

The third film, Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977), is a remake of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), but replacing the dam that will crush a boy scout camp with a nuclear energy plant that will – well, be a nuclear energy plant. That’s enough to make Billy Jack just want to – go – berserk. (Not on the floor of the Senate, though.)

I wrote about this movie here when it came out on video, so I won’t repeat the daft plot outline or out-of-control pontificating Laughlin indulges in. One can appreciate the sincerity of it all while enjoying a good laugh or concocting a potent drinking game (one shot for every time Billy Jack’s girlfriend Jean dissolves into tears perhaps). It is the least effective anti-nuclear energy movie imaginable, but perhaps worth a look for nuclear advocates – once, anyway.

Laughlin left movies after this, tried politics but mostly lived quietly with wife Delores Taylor, who appears as Jean in all three movies. His web site has been replaced by a memorial – worth a visit for fans. If you’re of a certain age, you may find yourself pausing a moment at Laughlin’s passing – he really only had one moment in his career where he became larger than himself (even if as an unusually violent icon of peace) – and one might have to use that pause to remember who he was – but it’s enough. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

DOE Awards NuScale Second Small Reactor Grant


Let’s see what’s behind the headline, via the AP:
The U.S. Department of Energy said Thursday that it has awarded an Oregon company a grant to help it design and obtain federal approval for a kind of nuclear power plant - small modular units that can be built in a factory and shipped to installation sites.
That Oregon company is NuScale, a startup company with strong ties to Oregon State University The first DOE award went to the mPower small modular reactor design being developed by long-established Babcock & Wilcox, a company that has been building small reactors for the U.S. Navy for decades. NuScale’s technology approach is unique and allows capacity additions in 45 megawatt increments. In addition, its safety features directly address the lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. It’s a pressurized water reactor – as is mPower – with a lot of new ideas regarding safety.
[NuScale offers] a smaller, scalable version of pressurized water reactor technology with natural safety features which enable it to safely shut down and self-cool, with no operator action, no AC or DC power, and no external water. Each NuScale Power Module is 45 MW and has a fully integrated, factory-built containment and reactor pressure vessel.
NuScale lists its attributes:
  • The ability to safely shut down and self-cool, indefinitely, with no operator action, AC or DC power, and no additional water, with NuScale's Triple Crown for nuclear plant safety™ .
  • Seven barriers, between the nuclear fuel and the local community and environment, as compared to three for commercial plants currently in construction and operation.
  • A complete containment and reactor vessel module that can be shipped in segments, by rail, truck, or barge, for quick installation at the plant site.
  • Below grade operating bays for the NuScale Power Modules that are enclosed in an aircraft-impact-resistant seismic Category 1 reactor building.
  • Natural circulation, coolant flow residual heat removal and emergency core cooling systems are powered by natural forces, gravity.
  • A common pool that provides seismic dampening and radiation shielding for the NuScale Power Module.
  • A 60-year plant life
  • A projected capacity factor of >95%
Much of this describes the potential benefits of small reactors in general. But some of it, especially its approach to safety, leverages a patent portfolio NuScale has been building. I asked Paul Genoa, NEI’s senior director for policy development, about this:
“Just to be clear,” Genoa said, “all U.S. nuclear facilities exceed the stringent safety regulations of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. However, just like the new Westinghouse AP-1000 plants under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, these new small reactor designs being supported by DOE are increasingly using innovative and elegant approaches to ensuring that safety.”
So there you go.
NEI offers a very good description of the implications of the DOE award:
DOE’s selection criteria focused on reactor technologies that have unique and innovative safety features to mitigate the consequences of severe natural events similar to those at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi. NuScale’s press statement noted that its design’s “unique and proprietary break-through technology” using natural forces of gravity, convection and conduction will allow “safe and simpler operations and safe shutdown.”
And why this is different from the B&W award:
By contrast, DOE’s first solicitation focused on small reactor designs similar to certified large reactors that had the potential to be brought quickly to design certification and licensing. Late last year DOE selected a team consisting of Babcock & Wilcox, Bechtel International and Tennessee Valley Authority to deploy B&W’s 180-megawatt mPower small reactor design by 2022.
You’ll notice the team aspect of the mPower project. That’s true of NuScale, too: it is working with Rolls-Royce (yes, the car people, but they also produce small reactors for the British Navy-see the link), Fluor and Energy Northwest.
More from the AP, with some key dates moving forward:
The company hopes to have the design certified by 2019 and the first commercially operational project working by 2023 at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho, [NuScale Chief Commercial Officer Michael] McGough said.
This is spectacular news. We’ve been hearing about small reactors for years. Now, here they are.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The End of Megatons to Megawatts

MegatonsToMegawatts-IGThis is what it is – or was:

The Megatons to Megawatts Program is a unique, commercially financed government-industry partnership in which uranium from dismantled Russian nuclear warheads has been recycled to produce fuel for American nuclear power plants.  The 20-year, $8 billion program has been implemented at no cost to taxpayers and is arguably the most successful nuclear disarmament program in history. Virtually the entire U.S. nuclear reactor fleet has used this fuel.

And this has been its benefit:

Since 1995, U.S. utilities have purchased this fuel for their commercial nuclear power plants under Megatons to Megawatts, which has helped fuel approximately 10 percent of the country’s electricity during that time. Nuclear energy facilities received this fuel as part of its commercial fuel contract for low enriched uranium with USEC Inc., the U.S. executive agent for the program.

And now, the Russians have sent the last of the low enriched uranium to the United States. The AP notes it briefly:

The final shipment arrived in Baltimore this week. The shipment was loaded last month from St. Petersburg, Russia. It was the last one under a program known as Megatons to Megawatts. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz called the program one of the most successful nuclear nonproliferation partnerships ever undertaken.

That’s putting it mildly. You could almost hear the mechanisms of the cold war disassembling.

It could have continued, but the Russians decided to end the program when the agreement expired. There was no particular given reason for this, but Russia has seen an upswing in its nuclear technology exports in recent years and it has explicitly wanted to make more money from the uranium – according to Agence France-Presse, “USEC has signed a new agreement with Russian consortium Techsnabexport, but fuel provided under the deal will be at market prices, USEC said in October.” So, in a way, it is continuing, but as a more commercial enterprise. Still, it’s 20,000 warheads that became megawatts. That’s as good a definition of Atoms for Peace as any, isn’t it?

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NEI President and CEO Marv Fertel offers his thoughts on the end of Megatons to Megawatts and it legacy on NEI’s YouTube channel. Worth a look.

The great looking infographic used as the illustration above can be found – larger and printable – at the main NEI site.

Monday, December 09, 2013

“Nuclear energy is a sector of the future.”

“Nuclear will always make up at least half of our energy (electricity output)," he was quoted as saying during a Franco-Chinese seminar in Beijing on Friday to commemorate a 30-year partnership in the nuclear sector.

"Nuclear energy is a sector of the future," he added.

That’s Arnaud Montebourg, the French industry minister, speaking, so he knows whereof he speaks. France is building two nuclear reactors in China, which raises an important point – nuclear energy technology is not just a economic boon to ratepayers like those in France but to companies like the French-owned AREVA, which is building the Chinese reactors.

The Reuters story also mentions in passing that the French utility EDF is building a new reactor in England. This is how trade works.

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Which may be why we’re hearing this out of Japan:

In an attempt to overturn the previous administration's pledge to phase out nuclear power, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government will call it an "important source of energy for the country" in its new energy plan.

We mentioned last week (in the post below this one) that a government report signaled a return to nuclear energy in Japan. So it does, as this news attests. The Wall Street Journal has more:

Highlighting the economic necessity of nuclear power, the draft points out that a surge in liquefied natural gas imports to stably supply electricity throughout the country has led to very expensive fossil fuels costs. It also said an overreliance on thermal power has increased the country's carbon dioxide emissions.

The story goes on to report that though nuclear energy has not regained its popularity in Japan, Abe remains quite popular despite these decisions. Polls are polls and can carry a lot of unintended implications, but let’s allow that Abe’s good standing may carry nuclear energy along with it as electricity prices drop and carbon emissions relent. 

Nothing here about trade, really, but Japan does consider nuclear technology an exportable good. I can’t help thinking that that may be playing a part in Abe’s calculations.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Japan: The strongest signal yet on nuclear energy

News from Japan:

Japan should continue to use nuclear power as a key energy source despite the Fukushima power plant disaster, a government panel said on Friday in a reversal of a phase-out plan by the previous government.

Given the turn over in Japanese governments, policy reversals could go on forever, but the recommendation is sound. That doesn’t mean that there will not be significant pushback, though.

The primary example remains the former, much respected, prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who has really gone on a tear against nuclear energy:

In a speech Nov. 12 at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Koizumi said, “I think it will be good (for Japan) to end (nuclear power generation) immediately.”

It was a brutally clear message from the mouth of a person who had long been at the center of political power.

And though he faced a lot of criticism for taking this stand (he was for nuclear energy as PM), his words carry real weight with the public:

In an opinion poll conducted by The Asahi Shimbun last weekend, 60 percent of the respondents agreed with Koizumi. Among the supporters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party [also Koizumi’s party], 58 percent agreed.

Polls being polls, it can be parsed any number of ways, but Koizumi’s influence can be little doubted. 

Which doesn’t mean the recommendation is not good news. It is. Very good news.

Business Week explains why:

Energy costs also are a concern for the government. Power prices in Japan are more than twice those in the U.S. Electricity for industry use costs an average 17.9 cents per kilowatt-hour in Japan compared with 7 cents per kilowatt-hour in the U.S., 12.7 cents per kilowatt-hour in the U.K., and 12.2 cents per kilowatt-hour in France, according to an energy ministry research paper citing 2011 figures.

And:

The alternatives to nuclear power either pollute more or come with a higher fuel cost, limiting Abe’s scope to reshape the energy industry and boost economic growth. Coal use rose 26 percent from a year ago in October. While solar power is taking off, the added capacity is nowhere near replacing what traditional plants supply.

Whatever Japan decided about nuclear energy has always been up to Japan. Whatever arguments could be arrayed to show that it remains the best solution to Japan’s social, economic and energy goals cannot trump the country’s experience after Fukushima Daiichi and the fantastically destructive earthquake and tsunami that precipitated the accident. That’s a national trauma outsiders cannot gainsay. 

And now we need not. Because Japan is close to returning to nuclear energy – current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will need to issue a policy statement – but as Business Week writes, “this is the strongest signal yet that it wishes to keep nuclear energy.”

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

World Bank Toff: “We don’t do nuclear energy.”

So says World Bank President Jim Yong Kim:

“We don’t do nuclear energy.”

Okay.

“The World Bank Group does not engage in providing support for nuclear power. We think that this is an extremely difficult conversation that every country is continuing to have.

“And because we are really not in that business our focus is on finding ways of working in hydro electric power, in geo-thermal, in solar, in wind,” he said.

“We are really focusing on increasing investment in those modalities and we don’t do nuclear energy.”

But the story from Agence France-Presse also includes this tidbit:

In some countries, only 10% of the population has electricity.

Hope there are enough rivers to dam in those places.

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From Scotland:

New nuclear would not play a role in an independent Scotland, according to a white paper published by the Scottish government in November.

The current Scottish government is opposed to the building of any new nuclear power stations in Scotland and will phase out existing stations in Scotland over time, it said.

Scots independence could happen – a referendum is scheduled for 2014 and Scotland would become a new nation in 2016 if the vote is successful – but polling tends to be rather dim on the prospect. See here for more.

So, absent nuclear energy, what then?

The Scottish Government aims to generate the equivalent of 100% of electricity from renewables and thermal sources fitted with carbon capture and storage by 2020.

Yup, that’ll boil the haggis.

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Boy, some days you wake up and no one likes you. Let’s leave it to John Parker, resident of Falmouth Maine, to make the case:

So, if you are one of the fanatics, I urge you to reconsider the issue [of nuclear energy] in a rational manner. We should all promote the only source of power that has no environmental impact and will have enough capacity to start closing down carbon-burning plants. We have many years of total success, our technology and know-how have come a long way since the construction of Three Mile Island, and the blatant errors in Ukraine and Japan can easily be avoided.

Parker makes some overly broad assumptions, but his rough-and-ready defense is a real tonic. Props to the Portland Press-Herald for not polishing his comments into blandness.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Recontextualizing the Nuclear Option

newyorker_logoWhen the Senate changed the filibuster rules to allow judicial and executive appointments to proceed to the floor with 51 votes instead of the 60 the filibuster required, the process was called the nuclear option, a name given it (probably) by Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) back in 2006. The association has always been with weaponry not energy, but the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg goes with energy – in a notably detailed metaphor – and in notably familiar language:

But global warming has changed the picture. Nuclear power isn’t the best way to reduce carbon emissions—that would be wind and solar. For the intermediate future, though, breezes and rays won’t be enough. As growing numbers of environmentalists and climate scientists have come to realize, nuclear power is much, much better than what remains the real-world alternative: fossil fuels like oil and, especially, coal. When it comes to energy, the nuclear option, though not the best of all possible worlds, is better than the one we’re living in.

In Hertzberg’s view, exercising the nuclear option in politics or energy policy is the equivalent of doing the next best thing given the status quo.

There’s a larger point, too, to focus on the experiential nature of political or energy choices. One knows that a simple majority in the Senate might reduce the backlog of appointments. One knows that nuclear energy is carbon emission free and scalable. Hertzberg carries his metaphor no further than that - the quote above is all there is to it. He doesn’t really describe, for example, what the wind and solar energy options for filibuster reform would be – he seems in favor of fully ending the filibuster, even for legislation, so perhaps that’s it.

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The way Hertzberg phrases his support is interesting, too. Take this bit from the open letter recently released by four prominent environmentalists:

Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires. While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power, in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power.

We wrote much more about this important missive here and had an eye out for pickup in the press – we rounded up some of that here – but Hertzberg does not reference it. It’s just in the wind, being lit by the sun. Hertzberg has his mind on a different topic entirely, but I wonder whether his matter-of-fact endorsement was influenced by the letter. 

As for the filibuster rule change, early days. For climate change, getting later every minute. And for the nuclear option? Thanks to Hertzberg, it has a much better metaphorical future.