Friday, February 27, 2015

The Value of Energy, Nuclear and Non-, in Illinois

lincoln-watertowerThey write letters:

Clinton Mayor Carolyn Peters joined the mayors of Morris, Oregon, East Moline, Braceville and Marseilles in letters sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner and top legislators like House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, stressing the importance of the plants to their cities and towns.

So this would be – the Northwest? (Oregon) France? (Marseilles). No , it’s the apparently broadly settled section of Illinois that hosts nuclear power plants, notably the Clinton station. And Clinton’s mayor isn’t mincing words:

“Illinois nuclear facilities provide thousands of good jobs; the kind of jobs you can support a family on...,” the mayors say in a letter dated Feb. 4. “Part of the upcoming debate in Springfield should focus on what these plants mean to their host communities. From our firsthand perspective, we can tell you that Illinois' nuclear facilities are essential to helping our communities thrive.”

Exelon, which runs all 12 Illinois reactors at 6 sites, has been quite frank that the economics of energy in its market have been a financial strain and could lead to plants closing:

Power-producing giant Exelon Corp. rounded out a phalanx of Illinois lawmakers and business leaders who said Thursday that three nuclear power plants could close unless consumers chip in to reward them for producing environmentally-friendly electricity.

We’ll come back to that phalanx of Illinois lawmakers, but first, let’s note that this is the coarsest possible way of saying that the Illinois legislature wants to ensure that its energy supply supports its goals, notably as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan limiting carbon dioxide emissions comes barreling down the chute. Exelon isn’t exaggerating when it says it could close plants. Kewaunee and Vermont Yankee have already shuttered because their markets failed to recognize their value.

So that phalanx has decided that nuclear energy does indeed have value –but not solely and not at the expense of other energy sources.

The bills introduced in both the state Senate and House over the past week would enact the Illinois Low Carbon Portfolio Standard, helping to reduce carbon emissions, increase renewable energy and maintain a stable and secure electricity supply in the state.

Under the proposed legislation, utilities will be required to purchase low-carbon energy credits equivalent to 70% of the utility's annual retail sales to customers within the state. Qualified sources include energy from solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, tidal, wave and clean coal.

That doesn’t sound like nuclear special pleading to me, but an extension of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy policy. Anything that can pull off the emissions reduction trick is welcome. 

The Chicago Sun-Times explains that this plan isn’t emerging from a vacuum. The state legislature has looked at what the loss of nuclear energy would mean to the state, much as Mayor Peters has done, but with a wider perspective. It’s not pretty:

Specifically, the report found that the closure of Illinois’ at-risk nuclear plants would lead to significant losses, including $1.8 billion annually in lost economic activity, nearly 8,000 jobs lost, decreased reliability, and substantial environmental costs of up to $18 billion stemming from increased carbon emissions. It also concluded that maintaining low and stable electric prices in Illinois was dependent on the continued operation of all existing nuclear generating stations.

The Sun-Times notes that the legislature recommended market-based solutions and that appears to have guided this new legislation. It doesn’t favor nuclear over its renewable or fossil cousins, but the inclusion gives it its due and recognizes that renewable energy sources alone will not get Illinois where it needs to go. After all, virtually all of Illinois’ electricity is made by nuclear (48 percent) and coal (47 percent), so finding a way to leverage them is to its benefit – and, of course, to the benefit of its citizens  as well. Plus, as Mayor Peters points out, it makes a lot of economic sense.

This is very early days for the Illinois legislation. The opening salvos in newspapers have been mixed, but early days for that, too. Including nuclear energy in an energy policy that aims to contain carbon dioxide emissions seems so obvious, yet Illinois may be the first state to codify it. This is a fascinating development and deserves close and continued attention.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Rep. Shimkus: Stop Kowtowing to Sen. Reid on Yucca Mountain

Rep. John Shimkus
In an editorial in today's edition of the Lacrosse Tribune, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), renewed his call for the federal government to fulfill its commitments under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and open a permanent geologic depository at Yucca Mountain:
It’s not just coal that suffers under the Clean Power Plan though. Energy consumers in states such as Illinois will get no credit toward meeting the EPA’s standards from existing carbon-free nuclear power.

For those fixated on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but honest enough to admit the threat drastic cuts pose to baseload capacity, nuclear is a no-brainer. Here again, however, the president’s energy policies are at odds with the majority of America’s elected representatives. By kowtowing to Sen. Harry Reid’s, D-Nev., fear-mongering opposition to a permanent geologic repository for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, the administration denies nuclear power suppliers the certainty they need to continue producing emission-free, baseload electricity.
Rep. Shimkus is one of the most passionate supporters of the Yucca Mountain project, frequently taking to the floor of the House of Representatives to defend it. Here's a clip from March 2013 where the congressman laid out his case for the repository:


Bravo. For more on the safe storage of used nuclear fuel, please visit our website.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Thorium, The Betamax of Nuclear Technologies

Thorium Itself.
Worthly has up a review of different technologies that are “world-changing” and “just over the horizon.” Some seem pretty close by: self-driving cars, for example. Others are new to me, others I’ve heard of, still, the real worth of such round ups is that they allow us to dream of the future as a utopia. That’s why it’s a dream not a nightmare, which could sum up a fair number of people’s view of the present. Once the future becomes the present, the first two self-driving cars in Ohio will crash into each other and all will be normal again.

But one of the featured technologies caught our eye:
Nuclear power can easily solve all of our energy problems, and liquid fluoride thorium reactors could be one of the most promising energy sources that mankind has ever created. These reactors use thorium which is safer, more abundant, and more efficient than current nuclear fuel options. You can fit a lifetimes supply of thorium fuel in your hand, that’s how efficient these reactors are. When we get the technology up to speed, we can realistically create these nuclear power plants on a large scale. People need to get over their fear of nuclear energy, as it is really one of the most important achievements that mankind has ever made. It’s difficult to explain all the details of liquid fluoride thorium reactors, but this video does a pretty great job at hitting all the major details and it will also make you wonder why we aren’t pouring money to fund this.
You can find the video at the link. A fascinating watch.

This is basically a molten salt reactor – which delivers uranium and thorium fuel using molten salt as the medium (thorium needs uranium to start a reaction) – and has been around since the 50s. Granted, the technology hasn’t stood still, but what was known about thorium then is still true now. We even know that the thorium fuel cycle scales up to industrial levels, a key issue with technologies of its kind. But – that’s not the way the industry went.

Thorium became the Betamax of nuclear technology – perhaps superior to the uranium fuel cycle in some ways and with a devoted fan base in the relevant community, but still not the way forward when standardization entered the mix.

Still, as someone who has frequently been a zealot for losing technologies – Betamax, OS/2, HD-DVD - it’s a shame to lose what they offer, even if not officially the “winner.” Sometimes, "losing" technologies prevail, sort of. Look at turntables. And who knows? This is about the future, where potential is limitless.

As always, the hub of the thorium community is the excellent Energy from Thorium blog – or former blog, as it has lately morphed into a foundation dedicated to the element and its limitless potential. If thorium fascinates you, that’s your web destination.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What FERC Does–and What It Can Do For Nuclear Energy

We haven’t written much about FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, because, though it is important to energy markets and electricity transmission, it’s work, by and large, is not specific to any specific source. What it does impacts all energy generators – well, perhaps not equally, as we’ll see, but let’s say so for convenience. Let’s say it’s generator-neutral, at least when it comes to transmission.

Here’s the commission’s description of itself:
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, is an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil. FERC also reviews proposals to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and interstate natural gas pipelines as well as licensing hydropower projects. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave FERC additional responsibilities as outlined and updated Strategic Plan
There’s a lot more at the link – FERC’s mandate is pretty broad - and I guess you could say it has a special, NRC-like interest in hydroelectric plants. One of the things FERC does not do: “Regulation of nuclear power plants … .”

But where FERC’s oversight of energy markets intersects with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, it intersects with nuclear energy. In fact, in this realm, FERC is key:
FERC will play as important a role as EPA in achieving the objectives of the Clean Power Plan—reducing carbon emissions from the electric sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. That goal will be much more difficult to the extent that additional nuclear power plants are closed prematurely due to economic stress caused, in part, by flawed market design.
This is not special pleading. All energy policy – all policy  - is determined by balancing competing and sometimes conflicting goals. If FERC wants to ensure energy diversity and an ample electricity supply, then fine, but it must also account for what the nation wants to do in terms of carbon emission reduction. As it happens, nuclear energy answers to diversity, ample supply and emission reduction – it’s a trifecta of energy policy goals.
There were several reasons for the shutdowns that have occurred—including low natural gas prices, and low growth (or no growth) in electricity demand for several years as the U.S. economy emerges from recession. But these plants’ economic situation was also stressed by out-of-market revenues made possible by federal and/or state mandates, by price suppression that occurs in the energy markets, and by capacity markets that do not fully value the attributes the nuclear plants provide.
FERC last week held the first in a series of technical conferences on the Clean Power Plan, so it’s taking the issue seriously and could effect reforms to ensure that low emissions generators are properly valued. How?
Through its oversight of market design and market policies and practices in the nation’s organized markets, and with appropriate changes to capacity markets and energy markets, FERC could help avert additional [nuclear facility] shutdowns, beyond those that have already occurred. In so doing, FERC would also prevent potential degradation in reliability of electricity service.
These quotes come from a letter sent by NEI to FERC in response to that first meeting. You can read the whole letter here (smallish pdf). Do read the whole thing to get a fuller understanding of the issue. But this is, for many of us, the key bit:
EPA’s proposal is designed to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, and that goal cannot be achieved without preserving the nuclear power plants that provide approximately 20 percent of America’s electricity, and 63 percent of America’s carbon-free electricity.
Maybe if FERC and its stakeholders could figure out something different, that would be one thing. But there is no other thing - the financial stress put on nuclear plants has the clear potential of precipitating a ruinous outcome. FERC doesn’t – can’t – want that. It’s not just a nuclear energy issue; it’s an existential issue.

NEI has a press release up about this. It’s called “FERC Has Important Role in Achieving EPA’s Clean Power Plan”. Boy, does it ever.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cold, Sure, but Nuclear a Reliable Tonic

You’ve probably heard enough from us about last year’s polar vortex (brutal) and the nuclear performance during it (great), so we’ll keep this brief – or at least let others do do the talking. Here’s TVA:
The Tennessee Valley Authority broke an all-time February power demand record Thursday morning with an estimated 32,109 megawatts at 7 a.m. EST, when the average temperature across the region hovered at 7 degrees.
In its 82-year history, this is TVA’s highest ever demand for the month of February. The previous record was 31,045 megawatts set on Feb. 5, 2009, when the Valley-wide temperature was 15 degrees. TVA’s all-time power demand record is 33,482 megawatts on Aug. 16, 2007.
All of TVA’s reactors operated at 100 percent over the last couple of days. The current situation doesn’t have the same quality of the polar vortex – that was fast and cruel while what the country has experienced over the last couple of weeks has been weather writ large – not slow and kind, to be sure, but easier to anticipate its impacts.

To an extent, anyway. Coming from the south, I can attest that that region of the country is never ready for cold weather much less snow and ice. So TVA’s performance is especially noteworthy.
What about the perpetually shivery northeast?
This is corroborated by nuclear’s excellent performance this winter.  On January 8th, in the midst of frigid arctic temperatures in the Northern U.S., nuclear facilities provided 27 percent of the early afternoon electricity demand for the PJM Interconnection wholesale electricity market spanning the mid-Atlantic region and much of the Midwest.  All but one of the 33 plants in this region operated at full capacity.  In the New York and New England independent service operator (ISO) markets, nuclear operated at a 100 percent capacity factor during this time.  No other energy source even comes close to this level of reliability.
As always, we’ll let other energy generators do their own humblebrag thing – I’m sure there are good stories to tell there, too.
Despite nuclear energy’s incredible resilience during extreme weather and these many benefits, some nuclear plants across the country are in danger of shutting down, or already have shut down due to a confluence of economic factors that are working against them.  These premature closures have a variety of negative impacts for the communities and regions they serve.
This is really the point. We could take this from the diversity, reliability or emissions perspectives, but the idea is the same: without nuclear energy, winter is a little colder and a little more polluted. It needs to be valued for what it offers.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Why Nuclear Energy's Loss is Warren Buffet's Gain

David Bradish
Over the 10 years that NEI Nuclear Notes has been in business, we've seen a lot of bloggers come and go, but today, I'd like to note the departure of one of our earliest contributors, NEI's David Bradish.

It's impossible to overestimate the impact that Dave has had on our blog and NEI's digital properties over the 11 years he's worked here. The son of a nuclear plant employee, Dave came to NEI out of Graceland University in Iowa (Dave is generally acknowledged to be the school's most famous graduate next to former Olympic decathlete Bruce Jenner - wink) to work as an economist in our Policy Division. If Dave had done nothing more than simply do his job, he would have been seen as an important contributor. Whenever you read an NEI economic benefits study or study some the industry performance statistics we publish, you're enjoying Dave's handiwork. He's been responsible for the care and feeding of a significant portion of the content on NEI.org, including many of our most popular web pages. Over the years, our media team has come to rely on Dave to help extract real information from reams of industry financial and performance data, as well as more than a few interviews with the press.

Dave and one of his dangerous charts.
But what I'm most grateful for was the work he did here on the pages of NEI Nuclear Notes, where he regularly crossed swords with some of the nuclear energy industry's most vocal critics. Of course, the difference between Dave and folks like Amory Lovins, Helen Caldicott & Michael Mariotte, was that Dave came ready to fight with a calculator in one hand and an Excel spreadsheet in the other. It wasn't long after he arrived at NEI that Dave discovered that most anti-nuclear activists weren't very good at math, something he used to his, and NEI's advantage on these pages 177 times since 2008.

As good as that run was, it ends today, as Dave is packing his bags, wife, son and daughter to head back to Iowa where his kids can be closer to their grandparents. It's the sort of decision that tells you all you need to know about Dave and what's important to him. He'll be working in Des Moines for Wells Fargo (hence the Warren Buffet reference), doing big data analytics for their mortgage division. And while we'll miss him, we can't help but be happy for a friend that's doing what's best for him and his family. Bravo Zulu, Dave. Fair winds and following seas.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Nuclear World of San Luis Obispo

Oh, those kooky Californians.
For the first time in the 40-plus-year history of San Luis Obispo County's only nuclear power plant, individuals gathered Monday to support Diablo Canyon's continued operation rather than oppose it.
"It's always been the adversaries," Ellie Ripley, of Arroyo Grande, said about the several decades worth of protests and public outcry aimed at closing Diablo Canyon Power Plant. "Not all nuclear plants have adversaries."
I like that construction – “San Luis Obispo County’s only nuclear power plant” – it’s actually California’s only nuclear power plant after the closing of San Onofre, but this is in a local newspaper. It’s not just politics that’s local to a local paper – it’s everything.
How did Ripley get involved with a pro-nuclear group? And why?
A voice for those such as Ripley, who led tours at Diablo Canyon for 23 years, was often silenced by the voices against nuclear energy, which is why Orcutt resident Bill Gloege formed the all-citizens group, Californians for Green Nuclear Power, and helped organize Monday's rally, he said.
"I was frustrated by all the false information put out about nuclear power," Gloege said. "I knew it wasn't true."
This is actually, in my experience, pretty rare – not that people support nuclear energy – polls are consistent that it is well supported – but that they’d more-or-less spontaneously group together and make their fondness for the atom known. People are more likely to protest something they don’t like or want, not what they do like and want. It’s a bit unusual for people to use the techniques of anti-nuclear protest in the name of advocacy, but there you are. It can be done.

Now, anti-nuclear groups have scored points here and there, but their arguments, never the greatest to start with, have become increasingly tinny. “Over the years, the nuclear plant [Diablo Canyon] has been at the forefront of numerous government meetings where watchdog groups like Mothers for Peace have repeatedly called for its closure.”

Yet Diablo Canyon has been puttering along for 25 years without incident. Maybe it’s time for a change. Grandmothers for Peace? After all, their children are now grown with children of their own. So if all their calls for closure have not borne fruit – and were never likely to – and all the Cassandra-like portents of doom have come to naught, what does a disappointed mother for peace do? Keep on with it, I guess, with walkers if necessary, until the job’s done.

In this context, it’s nice to have a gang like Californians for Green Nuclear Energy around to pose against the anti-nuclear mob.

But I’m projecting. On the basis of the story, CGNE’s members seem like nice folks standing up for something that’s important to them. It’s a real tonic to know they’re there and, in fact, ever so discreetly, Diablo Canyon should slip them cookies and punch whenever they’re outside the plant. It’s lucky to have them.

Great story with a decided local angle by April Charlton of the Lompoc (Calif.) Record – worth a full read. Be sure to visit CGNP’s Facebook page and like the heck out of them.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Into the Fire(storm) with the Nuclear Man

Firestorm So, in an issue of Superman/Wonder Woman (they’re dating), the heroes are weakened and dumped into an inactive nuclear plant’s containment chamber by the story’s villain. Despite their inability to get out of the chamber, they determine that if Superman can use his microscopic vision to identify an excited atom and Wonder Woman then splits that atom with her extremely sharp sword, then the chamber will explode and the heroes freed. It works, defying credibility.

In Worlds Finest Comics, Seabrook nuclear plant is completely drained of energy, causing a gigantic blackout. Power Girl fears she may have done this via some experiments she’s conducting. This proves to be true, so she flies over to Seabrook and becomes its energy source, spinning the turbines while plant staff replace the depleted fuel rods. Power Girl helps out with that, too.

As you can see, these recent stories have nothing in particular to say about nuclear energy – nuclear facilities, even a real one like Seabrook, are used to provide unique settings and unlikely science. Aside from the fact that Seabrook’s draining causes three states to black out, nothing is made of them being nuclear facilities. They just are. As we’ll see, this is a real change for the better.

Longtime DC hero Firestorm just made his debut in The Flash TV show. His story is still being told, but his emergence reminds me that the original character comes from a time when nuclear energy was heavily disfavored in some quarters. His comic book origin reflects this, making him perhaps the first (even only) superhero to emerge from a flurry of no-nukes fervor.

Created by writer Gerry Conway and artist Al Milgrom in 1978, Firestorm is sometimes called the Nuclear Man, though it should probably be Nuclear Fusion Man.

High school slacker Ronnie Raymond wants to impress a girl by participating in an anti-nuclear protest where she’ll be. He discovers that the head of the protest group means to blow up the plant, a scheme Ronnie tries and fails to stop. Instead, he’s knocked out, and he and plant employee Martin Stein, a Nobel prize winning nuclear physicist, are caught in the blast. They aren't killed, but are fused into one being: Firestorm. Ronnie remains to the fore while Martin is a background voice who basically tells the gormless kid how to use his powers.

Firestorm has the usual super hero accoutrements of flight and strength, but his nuclear nature allows him to turn anything into anything else (transmutation, not alchemy) and he can fire radioactivity from his hands – Conway must have thought better of this idea, because it’s usually just a forceful blast. Ronnie isn’t doing unscheduled x-rays on a regular basis.

The character may have arisen from a distaste for nuclear energy, but the series quickly dropped that angle. After all, the Nuclear Man was the hero and the atomic symbol was used to represent Firestorm about to blast a bad guy. Really, nothing about the concept sells nuclear energy as a negative – it’s the anti-nuclear activist in the first issue who’s the villain. But that was the intent and as a reader in 1978, that’s how I saw it.

Firestorm’s first title ran throughout the 80s – he was one of the most successful new characters from that decade;  DC has kept Firestorm active in the last quarter century, with a new title now and then and frequent appearances in team comics and special events. (The current comic book version drops the original pair for a young man and woman, with the woman in the forefront.)

firestormtv The TV show version, which I don’t believe has told a full origin yet, returns to Martin and Ronnie, but replaces a nuclear plant with a particle accelerator (think CERN) and puts Martin’s mind in charge of Ronnie’s body, probably to avoid the issue of Firestorm constantly talking to an invisible person. He could easily seem psychotic. Nuclear energy, as in recent comics, is a factor, but not demonized or lionized. It just is – as it should be – a thing in the course of events that can create heroes or villains as behooves the writer’s whim – and do all that emission-free electricity generation while it’s at it. What’s not to like? Nuclear energy – fun as well as practical.

Oyster Creek and NRC Inspection Findings

Jim Slider
The following guest post is by Jim Slider, NEI's Senior Project Manager, Safety-Focused Regulation.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently announced disposition of several regulatory issues from Oyster Creek Generating Station’s fourth quarter inspection report. Without context, one might be alarmed by multiple violations in one reporting period, however a thorough understanding of the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process provides the right amount of perspective.

In the United States, the safety of commercial nuclear power plants is assured by several layers of protection. Beginning with robust designs and stringent procedures, plant owners like Exelon enforce high standards on the hundreds of professionals who contribute to the design, maintenance and operation of their plants. Those standards demand compliance with federal safety requirements and more. Constant scrutiny and continuous learning are important parts of those high, self-imposed expectations. When minor lapses in performance occur, it is quite common for the owner (“licensee” in NRC’s parlance) to uncover the problem first, and, as appropriate, report it to NRC and fix it.

Equally important is the assurance provided by a strong, independent regulator. In the United States, that is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) is the agency’s program to inspect, measure, and assess the safety and security performance of operating commercial nuclear power plants, and to respond to any decline in their performance. The ROP includes specified continuous and periodic inspections and performance indicators that are reported to NRC quarterly. The inspection results (“findings”) and performance indicators are graded on a color-coded scale so NRC can more easily combine them to form a whole picture of the plant’s performance. The grading and color-coding also facilitate communicating the NRC’s perception of the plant’s performance to the public, the media, and other stakeholders.

An important premise of the ROP is the understanding that most of the time inspection results and performance indicators will show the desired “Green” grades. Lapses from this high level of performance are expected to be more or less random, and promptly addressed by the plant’s corrective action process. Sometimes, due to the timing of particular NRC inspections or publication of inspection reports, the NRC may seem to be releasing an apparent “cluster” of adverse performance results on a particular plant.
Oyster Creek Generating Station

This can give a misleading impression of a sudden decline in plant performance. To address this “lumpiness” of input data, the ROP framework specifies that the NRC’s comprehensive semiannual review of plant performance should encompass at least 12 months of performance data. In addition, the ROP provides for special inspections to dig deeper into the causes and corrections of individual lapses that are graded as more safety-significant than the random “Green” result. Thus, NRC will mount special inspections to follow up on the White and Yellow inspection findings, as well as the White performance indicator recorded in the third quarter of 2014.

Oyster Creek was judged to be operating at the highest levels of the ROP for most of the past five years. As Exelon responds to the current set of inspection findings and NRC follow-up, we have every reason to expect that Exelon’s response to the findings will underscore their commitment to improve performance in those areas.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What to Say and Who to Say It: A Lesson for Nuclear Advocates in Ohio

akronbj If you want to see where nuclear advocacy can get you, check out this editorial in the Akron (Ohio) Beacon-Journal:

Nuclear power accounts for 14 percent of the electricity used in the state. Lose, say, Davis-Besse, and the task of curbing carbon emissions becomes much harder. The situation differs little for the country, with carbon-free nuclear supplying 20 percent of electricity.

Ideally, the country would be adding further to its nuclear capacity, something that would become more financially feasible under a carbon tax. Yet even if nuclear is relatively expensive its use promises to be less costly than accelerating climate change. A carbon tax would enhance the competitiveness of wind, solar and other alternative energy sources, too. What distinguishes nuclear power is its capacity, running all day and night. It proved key when the polar vortex arrived last winter and other power sources faltered.

Less costly, polar vortex, carbon-free – why, did I write this editorial?

Well, no, but the editorial board is quite upfront as to how it came to these conclusions:

The country needs a strong fleet of nuclear power plants —for reliability and to address the carbon emissions fueling climate change. Thus, it was encouraging to see Carol Browner and Judd Gregg visiting Ohio last week, making the case for keeping open the 10 or so nuclear power plants in the country viewed as most vulnerable to closing.

The former EPA director under President Clinton and former U.S. senator from New Hampshire were part of a forum at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo. They represent Nuclear Matters, an organization that argues, in effect: Let the nuclear industry shrink, and Americans will come to regret it. This isn’t just some nuclear “front group,” as critics contend. Browner, especially, shouldn’t have to prove that she is “green” enough.

“Let the nuclear industry shrink, and Americans will come to regret it.” - the U.S. without nuclear, as Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)talked about last week (see posts below for more on that excitement).

Nuclear Matters is obviously very much in favor of nuclear energy, but there are lots of groups that tout one thing or another and a fair few of them should be, at best, shown the door if they try to cross the threshold. Why does this group carry credibility?

Because of the people involved in it. Browner is frank that she came around on nuclear energy as an energy source after being (more-or-less) opposed to its use. Others represent a cross-section of political views – notably the co-chairs, former Senators Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.). The membership represents interests not specifically nuclear-oriented: Edwin  Hill, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Sean McGarvey, president of the North America's Building Trades Unions cover the unions (read: workforce); and Spencer Abraham, former Energy Secretary  (under President George W. Bush), and Bill Daley, former Commerce Secretary (under Bill Clinton, to keep the bipartisan theme going), have the federal executive branch experience. If you had a judge in there, you’d have the three branches of government represented.

The bottom line is: if you have a compelling message and if you have highly credible messengers, then you run the risk of getting listened to. It’s a lesson a lot of advocacy groups could learn.

Read the whole editorial – it’s a pip and very germane to Ohio’s specific situation.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Waste Control Specialists to Host Used Nuclear Fuel

WasteControlSpecialists Yesterday, we teased that NEI and Waste Control Specialists were having a press conference at the National Press Club. So what’s the deal there?

Valhi, Inc. subsidiary Waste Control Specialists LLC ("WCS"), announced today that on the close of business February 6, 2015, it sent a notification to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ("NRC") expressing its intent to apply for a license for the interim storage of used nuclear fuel at its facility in Andrews County, Texas. 

The need for such a facility arises as a result of the ongoing decades long search for a disposal solution for the nation's used nuclear fuel.  In 2012 the presidential-appointed Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future issued a report recommending that at least one interim storage facility be sited in the U.S., while a permanent disposal site is being developed.

We mentioned the Blue Ribbon Commission yesterday, but I thought a little better of it afterward. What the BRC did was gather up a bunch of ideas and recommend those its members thought might point a direction forward on used fuel storage. As far as I know, it didn’t create any of these ideas, it collated them into a report. I’d heard many of the BRC’s conclusions for years prior to its formation.

Still, the long-disbanded commission has informed the discussion about used fuel since 2012, when it issued its report, something Nasdaq is picking up on here.

"This will be a community supported, consent-based facility - just as are our current nuclear disposal facilities," Lindquist said.

That’s BRC language, so WCS seems well aware that it is operating within a framework that has found broad support. That’s pretty smart.

Why WCS? Well, storing radioactive material is in its wheelhouse and if you have a business, you look for ways to expand it.

"This is a unique opportunity for WCS to provide a viable solution to the industry's needs," said William J. Lindquist, Chief Executive Officer of WCS.  "We already offer the only one-stop shop for low-level radioactive waste ("LLRW") storage, processing and disposal and with this development we will be in a position to provide a comprehensive solution for the entire range of waste produced in the nuclear fuel cycle."

---

Speaking of consent-based, how are Texas leaders receiving this news? The Texas Tribune takes a look:

Several Texas officials have welcomed the idea of bringing the waste to Texas. That includes former Gov. Rick Perry, who last year wrote, “We have no choice but to begin looking for a safe and secure solution for [high-level waste] in Texas.”

Last year, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, instructed lawmakers to study the economic potential of storing highly radioactive nuclear waste in Texas.

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, told The Texas Tribune in a statement that he continues to support the Yucca Mountain project but “while we continue to debate the topic in Washington we need to develop interim storage facilities.”

“I think putting one of these facilities in Texas is a good idea, as long as the community and its leaders, including city council and county commissioners, welcome it,” the statement said.

That’s not bad. Andrews County is represented by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas). I couldn’t find anything about this at his site, but EENews has it covered:

WCS appears to have support in the Lone Star State. Last month, Andrews County commissioners unanimously passed a resolution in support of WCS's efforts. House Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway (R-Texas), whose district includes the site, said WCS offers the "ideal workforce, geography and geology" for an interim solution that could lead to an ultimate resolution.

That’s pretty darned consent-based. I was a little concerned that the actual citizenry (about 17,000 strong in Andrews County) is not heard from in the stories I surveyed, but they certainly have recourse and can throw the bums out if bums they become. There’s little evidence of it, though, and WCS is well-established in the county. I doubt the NRC will stint on public hearings, where everyone can have a say on what will be, after all, a first-of-its-kind facility. 

Conaway also mentions the workforce opportunities – the average salary in Andrews country is about $34,000, so I expect (though I don’t know for sure) that these will be among the higher paid jobs in the county.

EENews also gives some inches to this:

Environmental groups and consumer advocates continue to raise questions about the site's hydrogeology.

Which is fine – questions should be raised. WCS will have to come up with an environmental report for the NRC, so we’ll understand a lot more then. (And honesty, we understand a lot now. From NEI’s press release: “The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality subsequently analyzed the challenges of developing a consolidated storage facility. It concluded in a 2014 report that such a facility in Texas would, as stated in the county’s resolution, ‘offer electricity consumers significant savings compared to storage at each nuclear power plant’ and that a facility is “not only feasible but could be highly successful.’”)

---

All in all, this is spectacular news – not a complete solution for used nuclear fuel, but a very important step toward that solution. If Congress follows the BRC (more-or-less) in crafting a nuclear energy policy, then what WCS is doing will be right in the groove. Even if Congress chooses a different direction, this interim storage facility still promises to be a significant contribution to one of the thornier issues involving used fuel. We can’t wait for this project to move forward.

---

WCS has set up a Web site on this. NEI, which hosted WCS at the Press Club, has a press release. And NEI will post some videos later this week on its YouTube channel. If you haven’t subscribed to it, you really should – it’s been very active lately with all the interesting events taking place. Lamar Alexander, WCS, the IEA report – and it’s only February!

Monday, February 09, 2015

Back to and Away from Yucca Mountain

Generally speaking, any viable solution for used nuclear fuel deserves attention. The Blue Ribbon Commission went for interim storage units and a permanent repository, aiming to avoid the kerfluffle over Yucca Mountain by suggesting that these sites be consent-based – that is, the federal government and/or interested operators get the site approved by local communities and states. This process wasn’t used in choosing Yucca Mountain back in the 80s and look where that got us. Opposing the repository became as much an article of political faith in Nevada as protecting the Chesapeake Bay is in Maryland, with no particular partisan difference. But that’s not the end of the story

The release of the final two volumes of the Safety Evaluation Report for the Yucca Mountain project, which was court-ordered, found Yucca Mountain a sound choice for a repository. Hands in the air for Yucca Mountain! But actually using the site, although dictated by the Nuclear Waste Act, is still up to the federal government and the Obama administration has shown little interest in pursuing it. As long as Nevada’s four electoral votes remain important in Presidential politics, thus will it (probably) be for the foreseeable future.

But that doesn’t mean pressure cannot be brought to bear.

For decades, the plan was to open a permanent, geologically isolated storage facility in Yucca Mountain, Nev., in which canisters of dry waste would be stored behind layers of rock and titanium barriers. The federal government spent more than $15 billion researching and developing the site. Until, that is, not-in-my-backyard opposition from Nevada leaders such as Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D) prevailed. In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama promised to pull the plug on the Yucca project. After Mr. Obama took swing-state Nevada in the presidential election, his Energy Department ended funding.

Actually, I’ve never heard a candidate say otherwise at a Nevada-hosted debate – not the Democrats in 2008 nor the Republicans in 2012.

But why is this Washington Post editorial picking up the theme now?

This means, firstly, that opponents of nuclear power who raise the spectre of radioactive waste haunting humanity hundreds of thousands of years from now wildly exaggerate the difficulty of the problem. Nothing is risk-free, but there are ways to make the risks extremely small. Nuclear power, meanwhile, is likely to play a part in responding to a much more important environmental threat: climate change.

We’d replace “play a part” with “play a super-important part”, and perhaps we’d hesitate to put nuclear energy and climate change on a sliding scale of risk, but all good.

The NRC report’s conclusions also show that Nevadans’ intense opposition to the Yucca project is unreasonable, unambiguously harmful to the country and should end. In a rational world, the NRC’s report would result in Nevadans backing down, Congress restoring funding and the Obama administration pushing Yucca along.

The Post is implying that we don’t live in a rational world, but I’d say most of the decisions that can be detected regarding Yucca Mountain seem to be motivated by pragmatic considerations - not very good ones, but pragmatic.

So, Yucca Mountain should go forward; the consent-based siting is a good idea that should be pursued; maybe another BRC idea to develop an independent government agency to manage used fuel can be developed.

But the bottom line of the Post’s editorial: nuclear energy isn’t going anywhere because it is valuable as a climate change mitigation agent. So let’s get cracking on used fuel. It’s way past time.

---

You could consider this post a prologue. This afternoon, NEI and Waste Control Specialists will be hosting a press conference at the National Press Club. WCS is a Texas-based outfit that, as its home page will tell you, “has emerged as the nation’s leading provider of treatment, storage and disposal services for low-level radioactive waste, mixed low-level radioactive waste, and hazardous waste.”

Low-level now, perhaps, but always? Anyway, we’ll check up on this and report back tomorrow. I suspect it’ll be very interesting in light of this discussion.

Friday, February 06, 2015

“Nuclear will have such a significant role…”

IEAreport From Scientific America:

The International Energy Agency and the Nuclear Energy Agency suggest in a report released Thursday that nuclear will have such a significant role to play in climate strategy that nuclear power generation capacity will have to double by 2050 in order for the world to meet the international 2°C (3.6°F) warming goal.
You’d expect that from NEA, but the IEA? That’s something. The SciAm story gives a good rundown of the report, but obviously, nothing beats the report itself. After noting the slowdown following the Fukushima Daiichi accident, the report notes, as we have done, that global progress continues apace:
However, in the medium to long term, prospects for nuclear energy remain positive. A total of 72 reactors were under construction at the beginning of 2014, the highest number in 25 years. According to the 2D scenario, China would account for the largest increase in nuclear capacity additions from 17 GW in 2014 to 250GW in 2050 and, by 2050, would represent 27% of global nuclear capacity and nuclear power generation. Other growing nuclear energy markets include India, the Middle East and the Russian Federation.
And this probably says something about former NRC Commissioner William Magwood being chief at the NEA:
Nuclear safety remains the highest priority for the nuclear sector. Although the primary responsibility for nuclear safety lies with the operators, regulators have a major role to play to ensure that all operations are carried out with the highest levels of safety.
You can take the regulator out of the agency, but … (joking aside, it’s a good point).
And this seems targeted directly at the U.S., though that may be my own provincialism showing:
Governments that have not yet finalized their strategies for managing nuclear waste, should do so without delay. For high-level waste, deep geological disposal (DGD) is the recommended solution.
Which sounds a lot like Yucca Mountain, doesn’t it?
Here’s a key takeaway:
Nuclear energy currently contributes to a reduction of CO2 emissions from the power sector of about 1.3 to 2.6 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 every year, assuming it replaces either gas- or coal-fired generation. It is estimated that since 1980 the release of over 60Gt CO2 has been avoided thanks to nuclear power.
The avoided CO2 emissions were calculated by replacing nuclear generation by coal-fired generation. would result in annual CO2 emission reductions of 2.5Gt CO2 in the 2DS compared with the 6DS. Globally, this represents 13% of the emissions reduction needed in the power sector with the contribution in different regions varying from as high as 24% in the Republic of Korea to 23% in the European Union and 13% in China. Nuclear clearly plays an important role in providing reliable, low-carbon electricity in most regions of the world.
The DS refers to the report’s different scenarios – that is, what is needed to achieve a 2 degree reduction by 2050 and 6 degree.
I won’t go through the whole report, but it’s a spectacular offering and worth attending to. You don’t have to cherry pick from it to get interesting data from it; it’s a complete cherry tree.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Mr. Alexander Goes to NEI

Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-Tenn.) speech at NEI outlined the reasons he thinks nuclear energy needs to be bolstered in the United States. He started with climate change, and interestingly, he imagined a United States without nuclear energy by looking at two countries that have foresworn it and one that has embraced it.

The three-term senator, who also served as Governor of Tennessee through most of the Reagan years, compared the German situation with that of the UAE, which included a number of factoids I hadn’t seen put together quite this way:

In just 12 years after notifying the International Atomic Energy Agency of its intent to install nuclear power, the Emirates will have completed four reactors, which will provide nearly 25 percent of its annual electricity by 2020. This is a nearly three-and-a-half times faster increase in emission-free green power than Germany has accomplished with wind and solar.

It is true that four reactors at one site will change UAE’s emissions profile from its electricity sector considerably for the positive and that the best Germany can expect – and it’s a lot to expect - is a one-to-one swap on carbon emissions – that gobbles up a lot of land - and at a miserably high cost to ratepayers.

And Japan:

The cost of generating electricity in Japan has increased 56 percent since they began shutting down their reactors in 2011. In June 2014 three major business organizations – the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) – submitted a written proposal to the Industry Minister seeking an early restart of the nuclear reactors. “The top priority in energy policy is a quick return to inexpensive and stable supplies of electricity,” they said.

It sort of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? And I have to give credit to Alexander for his knack for finding colorful detail:

A Wall Street Journal article said the Japanese have turned their air conditioners up to 82 degrees in order to cut back on electricity use – which would be fine except thousands of people have gone to the hospital with heatstroke. The emperor and empress have even been wandering around the Imperial Palace at night with flashlights and candles.

Alexander’s plan for U.S. nuclear energy is perfectly sensible and a reasonable roadmap. We’ll have to wait for legislation and hearings and votes to see how it all works out, but it’s worth the work. Here’s the outline of Alexander’s plan:

No. 1) Build more nuclear reactors

No. 2) Solve the nuclear waste stalemate

No. 3) Relieve the burdens of excessive regulation – we should note that this is not a stalking horse for any anti-regulatory zeal on Alexander’s or the industry’s part. NEI has argued that regulation needs to  focus on public and plant safety and that the NRC’s capacity to regulate beyond those issues can sap resources where they are needed most – which is, of course, public and plant safety.

No. 4) Stop picking winners and losers

No. 5) Double energy research

No. 6) Encourage energy diversity – we’ve been making this case using last year’s polar vortex as a demonstration of diversity’s value. Alexander takes a broader approach: “Historically, natural gas prices have a way of going up and down, sometimes abruptly, and experienced utility managers generally prefer more than one way of producing reliable, base-load power.” Choice equals options and options in the energy sphere is a natural good.

You can watch Alexander’s speech in the post below and on YouTube. You can also read the transcript of the speech here. I understand the senator will be sitting for a few additional questions for an NEI-produced video. Keep an eye for that on the YouTube page – subscribing to NEI’s feed makes that easy, as YouTube will send you emails when the page updates – and we’ll let you know here when it’s posted. NEI has posted a press release here.

Sen. Lamar Alexander at NEI Thursday (BUMPED)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post was originally published on February 4, 2015. Senator Alexander's remarks have been appended to the bottom of the article.

From 2010:

And nuclear plants occupy a fraction of the land required for wind or solar. For example, 20 percent of U.S. electricity comes from 104 nuclear reactors on about 100 square miles. Producing the same amount of power from wind would require covering an area the size of West Virginia with 183,000 50-story turbines as well as building 19,000 miles of new transmission lines through scenic areas and suburban backyards.
Nuclear fuel is available in the United States and is virtually unlimited. We don’t have to drill for it. We don’t have to mine it nearly as much as we do for coal. And thanks to technology, we can safely recycle “nuclear waste” and turn most of it into more fuel. After recycling, the French are able to store all of their final waste—from producing 80 percent of their electricity for 30 years—in one room in La Hague.
That’s Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), one of the best friends an energy source could have. His comments from 2010 have always stuck me as one of the strongest pro-nuclear statements from a congressman, but he has commented on nuclear issues regularly. Here’s an index from his Senatorial Web page – it runs to something like 800 entries.

In any case, we have a rare chance to find out together what the senator means to do going forward, because Sen. Alexander is visiting NEI’s offices. He plans to give a major speech on nuclear energy and record a video offering his views on several issues. He is a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, so his comments will carry considerable authority. Significantly, he is also chair of the committee’s appropriations subcommittee on energy and water. We should note too that the ENR committee chairman is Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), also a nuclear energy proponent. This promises to be an exceptionally interesting year for the atom in Congress.

NEI is streaming Alexander’s comments on YouTube. You can watch his comments there (or below) beginning at 9:00 o’clock tomorrow morning, and I’m sure we’ll have more comment after that. This is really something to look forward to.



UPDATE: Here's the full text of Senator Alexander's remarks as they were prepared for delivery.

The United States Without Nuclear Power

I’m here today to talk about the day the United States is without nuclear power – a day we don’t want to see in our country’s future.

That may seem like a distant and unlikely scenario to some. In fact, it’s a real threat to our economy and way of life. According to a 2013 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, up to 25 of our 99 nuclear reactors could close by 2020.

I want to discuss what difference this would make in the everyday lives of Americans. This is best told in the stories of other countries, but first a few facts to consider:

No. 1: The United States uses about 25 percent of all electricity in the world to power our industries, our computers, our homes and most everything else we depend upon.

No. 2: Our 99 nuclear reactors provide about 20 percent of that electricity. This is electricity that doesn’t turn on or off when the wind blows or the sun shines and is available 90 percent of the time. It is cheap and reliable and safe – we’ve never had anyone die in a nuclear accident at any of our commercial reactors or on our naval fleet.

No. 3: At a time when the world’s leading science academies and many Americans say climate change is a threat – and that humans are a significant cause of that threat – nuclear power provides about 60 percent of our country’s carbon-free electricity.

We’re about to take a year-long look at all this. Our subcommittee will begin expanded oversight with budget hearings in February and March, and then in April we’ll turn toward a series of hearings about the future of nuclear power in our country – and what it would be like for the United States to be without it.

Three Stories

The best way to imagine what the United States without nuclear power might be like is to look at the stories of three countries: Japan, Germany and the United Arab Emirates.

First is Japan, and the many lessons from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011. We know what the safety problem was: the utility ran out of water to cool the reactors. Perhaps the more important lesson is what it might look like for a country like ours – Japan is the largest economy that is most like our own – to be without nuclear power.

After Fukushima, Japan began shutting down its 48 nuclear reactors, which provided 30 percent of the country’s electricity. Things have changed, but not for the better.

The cost of generating electricity in Japan has increased 56 percent since they began shutting down their reactors in 2011. In June 2014 three major business organizations – the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) – submitted a written proposal to the Industry Minister seeking an early restart of the nuclear reactors. “The top priority in energy policy is a quick return to inexpensive and stable supplies of electricity,” they said.

This is especially important in an economy that, like ours, depends heavily on manufacturing for jobs. According to the World Nuclear Organization, a local mayor said that if Japan doesn’t keep these reactors operating, “Japan’s economy will wither. Our young people will move abroad, leaving the country with only grandpas and grandmas.”

A Wall Street Journal article said the Japanese have turned their air conditioners up to 82 degrees in order to cut back on electricity use – which would be fine except thousands of people have gone to the hospital with heatstroke. The emperor and empress have even been wandering around the Imperial Palace at night with flashlights and candles.

Our second example is Germany. I traveled there recently, and what I found was an energy mess.

Germany, until March 2011, obtained one quarter of its electricity from nuclear energy, using 17 reactors. Then the government decided to replace nuclear power with wind and solar as part of an expensive cap-and-trade policy – like the one proposed here in the past – that deliberately raises the price of certain types of energy as a way of achieving clean energy independence.

The cost of attempting to replace nuclear power with wind, solar, and accompanying infrastructure is estimated by the German government at 1.2 trillion U.S. dollars, and Germany is facing new problems that hinder its efforts to pursue clean energy.

One problem is the subsidies for wind and solar are very high in order to encourage enough production. In a BBC News article, “Can Germany afford its ‘energy bender’ shift to green power?” a minister for economics in Germany says that Germany’s “law on renewable energy will not only lead to increased electricity prices, but it is also a non-market, planned system that endangers the industrial base of” the German economy.

Another problem is Germany does not produce enough reliable, base-load energy for an important manufacturing economy. So, while closing its own nuclear reactors, Germany is buying nuclear power from France, buying natural gas from a very unreliable partner, Russia, and – in a remarkable turn of events – Germany started building coal plants.

So what’s the result? One is that the Germans have become energy dependent on countries like Russia. Germany is on track to get nearly 55 percent of its base-load electricity capacity from other countries by 2020.

Another is the cost of electricity in Germany has skyrocketed. According to The Wall Street Journal, the average electricity prices for companies in Germany have jumped 60 percent over the past five years because of costs passed along as part of government subsidies for renewable energy producers. Prices are now more than double those in the U.S., and Germany has among the highest household electricity prices in the European Union.

During my visit, when I asked an economic minister what he would say to a manufacturer concerned about energy costs in Germany, he said, “I would suggest he go somewhere else.”

Finally there is the United Arab Emirates, which is a different kind of story. While Germany was closing its nuclear plants, the United Arab Emirates was building nuclear plants.

In just 12 years after notifying the International Atomic Energy Agency of its intent to install nuclear power, the Emirates will have completed four reactors, which will provide nearly 25 percent of its annual electricity by 2020. This is a nearly three-and-a-half times faster increase in emission-free green power than Germany has accomplished with wind and solar.

What the United States Needs to Do

So, what would it take to avoid the path of Japan or Germany?

No. 1) Build more nuclear reactors – I have proposed that we build 100 new reactors, which may seem excessive, but not with the Center for Strategic and International Studies saying up to 25 of our 99 nuclear reactors could close by 2020.

Add to this a projection by the U.S. Energy Information Administration that about 20 percent of our current capacity from coal is scheduled to go offline by 2020. If that were replaced entirely by nuclear power it would require building another 48 new, 1,250-megawatt reactors – which, by the way, would reduce our carbon emissions from electricity by another 14 percent.

No. 2) Solve the nuclear waste stalemate – There is renewed hope under our Republican majority that we can solve the 25-year-old stalemate on what to do with waste from our nuclear reactors – and Yucca Mountain can and should be part of the solution.

Just last week the Nuclear Regulatory Commission completed its safety evaluation report. It said that Yucca Mountain met all of the safety requirements for “individual protection, human intrusion”, and “protection of groundwater” through “the period of geologic stability.” The NRC and the Environmental Protection Agency define the “period of geologic stability” as one million years. To continue to oppose Yucca Mountain because of radiation concerns is to ignore science – as well as the law.

Later this year, I also plan to again introduce bipartisan legislation that would create both temporary and permanent storage sites for nuclear waste by making local communities, states and the federal government equal partners in the process. We will still need these sites even after Yucca Mountain is open, because our existing nuclear waste, which is stored on site at reactors around the country, would more than fill up Yucca Mountain.

No. 3) Relieve the burdens of excessive regulation – We want nuclear power to be safe, but we don’t want to make it so hard and so expensive to build and operate reactors that you can’t do it. We should be examining regulation of the nuclear reactor licensing process to make sure it’s not an undue burden. This year our subcommittee will hold an additional hearing to discuss the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s budget and conduct some much-needed oversight.

No. 4) Stop picking winners and losers – We need to end policies that pick winners and losers in the marketplace, the most conspicuous example of which is the wasteful wind production tax credit, which has been in place for 22 years. Extending this wasteful wind subsidy for one year costs taxpayers more than $6 billion. The subsidy to Big Wind is so generous that in some markets, wind producers can literally give their electricity away and still make a profit. This phenomenon is called “negative pricing,” and it has the effect of making nuclear and coal plants less competitive and more likely to close.

Sometimes the Obama administration’s national energy policy seems like a national windmill policy. But that’s not a sound plan for America’s future.

Even after 22 years and billions of dollars of subsidy, wind only produces 4 percent of our electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and that’s when the wind blows. It would take a line of windmills stretching the length of the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, to replace just eight nuclear reactors. And you’d still need nuclear, gas or coal when the wind doesn’t blow.

And until there’s some way to store wind power – which can only be produced when the wind is blowing, often at times we don’t need it – it would be dangerous for a country our size to rely on wind. Relying on wind when nuclear plants are available is the equivalent of going to war in sailboats when nuclear ships are available.

No. 5) Double energy research – One of our biggest challenges is the need to increase government-sponsored research. It’s hard to think of an important technological advance since World War II that has not involved at least some government-sponsored research, which is why I’ve proposed to double energy research.

Take for example our latest energy boom, natural gas. The development of unconventional gas was enabled in part by 3D mapping at Sandia National Lab in New Mexico and the Department of Energy’s large-scale demonstration project. Then our free enterprise system, and our tradition of private ownership of mineral rights, capitalized on the research.

Another example is the work being done on small reactors, which would allow nuclear power to be produced without as high of capital investment and to be accessible in more places.

No. 6) Encourage energy diversity – Historically, natural gas prices have a way of going up and down, sometimes abruptly, and experienced utility managers generally prefer more than one way of producing reliable, base-load power. This is yet another reason why we need nuclear energy to be a major part of how we power our 21st-century economy.

That’s why I wanted to come here today, to talk about the fact that a United States without nuclear power – or with very little nuclear power – is a very real possibility. It’s a possibility we should not want, if we want a strong country and a strong economy.

So, we need to prepare now, by building more reactors, ending the stalemate on what to do about nuclear waste, stopping Washington from picking winners and losers in the marketplace, pushing back against excessive regulation, fueling more free-market innovation with government-sponsored research and encouraging energy diversity.

If we do these things, the United States will not see a day without nuclear power. And our energy future will be bright.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

An Arizona Highway to Thorium and Recycling

arizona_highways.17231 So, what’s up in Arizona?

The Senate Committee on Water and Energy narrowly passed SB 1134, a bill that classifies "nuclear energy from sources fueled by uranium fuel rods that include 80 percent or more of recycled nuclear fuel and natural thorium reactor resources under development" to be a renewable-energy source.

That’s pretty specific, since Arizona’s nuclear plant Palo Verde uses neither recycled nuclear fuel or thorium – in fact, no American nuclear plant does. And about labeling nuclear renewable: while it does some of the same things that hydro, solar and wind do, it’s not renewable. Rather, it’s sustainable, meaning that uranium is not depleting at a rate that’s worth worrying about, but it’s not (essentially) infinite, either. It makes sense to consider nuclear energy as part of a “renewable” energy plan, because they are focused on an energy source’s emissions profile, but the semantics can get a little knotty if you let them.

Anyway, the specifics of the bill suggest a bit of micromanaging, but it really isn’t a directive to Palo Verde at all. The goal here is different. Note the second paragraph:

As it stands now, the Arizona Administrative Code R14-2-1801 says nuclear and fossil fuels are not renewable resources. But Senator Steve Smith, a Republican from District 23, and the main sponsor of SB 1134, would like that to be changed.

He told the committee that by not recycling nuclear fuel rods like some European countries do, Arizona is missing out on a lot of potential energy. "Basically we just want to burn that energy twice," he said, and should Arizona decide to incorporate that technology in the future, this bill would allow us to count that as a renewable energy source.

Smith definitely has the right idea here, but it’s more aspirational than practical currently and I’m not sure using recycled fuel or thorium is any more helpful to reaching the goal Smith is pursuing than what Palo Verde does now – recycling can be a goal in itself, of course, but that doesn’t seem to be the main idea. Ensuring that Arizona pushes the EPA to include existing nuclear energy plants in the agency’s carbon emissions rules would be more of the moment (which may be happening, of course). Still, support for expanding nuclear energy is always welcome and Smith’s effort is certainly welcome. Let’s see what happens with this.

Monday, February 02, 2015

DTE, ESBWR, NRC, COL – Your Monday Acronyms and How They Fit Together

On Wednesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a hearing on the combined construction and operating license (COL) for DTE Energy’s proposed Fermi 3 reactor.

This is notable for at least two reasons. It is the first license application that uses GE Hitachi’s ESBWR reactor design as its basis(the ones under construction at Vogtle and Summer are Westinghouse AP1000s.). This design was itself approved last September. And since there was a patiently waiting queue of COL applicants using this same design, it is now moving. ESBWR stands for Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor.

Assuming all goes well on Wednesday, does this guarantee a new reactor in Michigan? Well, guarantee might be a bit strong. To be judicious, let’s say for now that it opens the door to a new reactor – or should we say reactors.

DTE Energy will be followed in the queue by Dominion (for Virginia’s North Anna), NextEra (Florida’s Turkey Point) and South Texas Project. Any or all of these companies may decide the time is right to build a reactor or prefer to wait until electricity demand increases – or the markets more correctly value nuclear energy for its emission-free qualities – or any number of issues that could impact their businesses. We’ll have to keep up with the press releases to see who’s building what when.

Above, I gave two reasons why this hearing is notable. There’s a third, too. The other day, I read an anti-nuclear screed that said after the five reactors currently under construction go on-line, the nuclear energy industry will go into an inevitable death spiral. I may have snorted outwardly, but I certainly did inwardly. Because this NRC meeting was about to happen. And, besides, it’s just silly. Add the upcoming rush of NRC hearings to the interest in small reactors and you’ve got an exceptionally vibrant nuclear industry. So – piffle.

---

Here’s a bit from the NRC’s press release on the meeting:

DTE Electric Company is applying for permission to build and operate an Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) at the Fermi site, adjacent to the company’s existing reactor. The company submitted its Fermi COL application on Sept. 18, 2008. The NRC certified the 1,600 - megawatt ESBWR design following a Commission vote in September 2014. More information on the ESBWR certification process is available on the NRC website.

The NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS) independently reviewed aspects of the application that concern safety, as well as the staff’s final safety evaluation report (FSER).

The committee provided the results of its review to the Commission on Sept. 22, 2014. The NRC completed its environmental review and issued the final impact statement for the proposed Fermi reactor in January 2013.

The NRC completed and issued the FSER on Nov. 19, 2014.

---

If you want to watch the hearing, you can. It starts at 8:30 est at NRC headquarters and you can get information about the webcast here. Brew a pot – no, make that two pots – of coffee. It will end at 5:00.