Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Nuclear Costs are Down and Performance is Up … Again

Michael Purdie
The following is a guest post by NEI's Michael Purdie.

In 2015, total generating costs for U.S. nuclear generation declined to $35.50/MWh from $36.35/MWh, a two percent decrease (2015 dollars).  Total generating costs are the “all-in” costs that include fuel, capital, and operating expenses.

As the table below shows, the costs decreased roughly evenly between fuel ($0.31/MWh), capital ($0.22/MWh), and operations ($0.33/MWh).   While the costs declined in 2015, performance improved.  The nuclear industry operated at 92.2% capacity factor, which was an increase from 2014 (91.7%) and 2013 (89.9%).

The nuclear industry is fighting to be valued properly in the electricity markets.  Not only do nuclear plants provide electricity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, they provide clean energy, grid reliability, price stability, and fuel diversity.  Each of these attributes provides value that is not always priced into the market.  In a challenging economic environment, the industry is working to lower its cost profile while maintaining safe and efficient performance.

Recently, the nuclear industry and NEI has undertaken a program called Delivering the Nuclear Promise.  The goal is to reduce total generating costs across the industry by 30%.  In taking a holistic look at costs through Delivering the Nuclear Promise, the nuclear industry is building upon improvements shown over the last three years to accelerate nuclear energy’s competitiveness in electricity markets.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Conversation the Director of Meltdown Doesn’t Want to Have About Nuclear Energy

Tom Kauffman
The following is a guest blog post by Tom Kauffman, NEI's Director of Media Relations.

Over more than three decades since the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear accident, claims that radioactivity from the plant caused negative health effects have been refuted time and time again. In over twelve studies, not one found any detectable impacts. Any claim that cancer or other diseases have been caused by the accident doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.

That holds for the industry as a whole too. In research conducted for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Dr. James Hansen concluded that the use of nuclear energy has saved 1.8 million lives that otherwise would have been lost due to burning of fossil fuels.

Despite this compelling scientific evidence, a former resident of the area, Jill Murphy Long, is trying to distort the truth with a new film, Meltdown. In her conversations with the press, Long has said, "I think this conversation needs to happen. I'm not a lawyer; I'm not a scientist. We'll introduce people who need to talk. That's what I am, a facilitator of conversation."

If Long really wants to have a conversation, I’m ready for it. I’ve been a resident of south-central Pennsylvania my entire life. For 39 years I have lived in one of the counties adjacent to the facility, and from 1977 to 2000 I worked at TMI. During the accident I lived in Dauphin County where the plant is located. Today I live in a house in York County that is adjacent to TMI and can see the plumes of water vapor rising from its cooling towers.

I was at TMI Reactor Unit 2 the day of the accident on March 28, 1979. That morning, for hours, I was within a hundred feet of the reactor. I worked at the plant throughout the ten-year accident recovery. After 12 years in operations, I shifted to site communications working from a building right beside the plant.

My total radiation exposure over the 23 years I worked at TMI (including the accident) was less than a person would get from three CAT scans. The risk of cancer associated with that low level of exposure is next to nothing. And if you compare risk factors, traveling to and from work is by far the most dangerous thing I’ve done associated with more than 30 years working in the nuclear industry.

After more than a half-century of radiological monitoring and medical research, there is no evidence linking any U.S. nuclear energy facilities to negative effects on the health of the public or workers. Claims that radioactivity from TMI caused negative health effects have been debunked by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which concluded that no deaths or long-term health effects were connected to it.

More than a dozen independent studies came to the same conclusion including: the National Cancer Institute; a commission appointed by President Jimmy Carter; a commission established by Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh; the National Institute of Health; the Columbia University School of Public Health; the Committee on Federal Research into the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation; the Pennsylvania Department of Health; and others supported by various state and federal agencies.

Cancer is a horrible disease, one that has taken the lives of many millions of people. I know others who are struggling against it, and they deserve not only our sympathy, but our help. But that help needs to start with medical and scientific research, research that has already shown that radiation from nuclear power plants has had nothing to do with the development of the disease.

I’m sure that Ms. Long feels she’s doing the right thing in making Meltdown. But the fact is, she’s not going to help anyone. If she convinces the public of this untruth, she will harm the expansion of a source of energy that has already proven to have saved many lives, and has the potential to save millions more here and around the world.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How Advocacy Helped Repeal Wisconsin’s Nuclear Moratorium

Jon Breed
The following guest post is from Jon Breed, manager of state and federal advocacy at NEI.

On April 1st, 2016, Governor Scott Walker signed a bipartisan bill ending Wisconsin’s 33-year moratorium against building new nuclear energy facilities. After signing the bill, Walker said that “nuclear energy sustains Wisconsin’s economy two ways, both in employing a skilled, well-paid workforce to run a nuclear plant, and in providing the affordable, reliable source of emission-neutral power on which all businesses and employers rely.”

The passage of the bill is a testament to the power of coalitions and grassroots advocacy and will serve as a model for how pro-nuclear advocates drive policy outcomes in the future.

A lot has changed in American politics in the past fifteen years. The age of shoe-leather lobbying has been supplemented by a new kind political influence: the power of coalition advocacy. This shift began with the rise of the internet and was refined by groups like Organizing for America and Heritage Action.

Understanding this change in political winds, NEI saw an opportunity to activate nuclear energy advocates when Wisconsin State Representative Kevin Petersen introduced a bill to repeal his state’s nuclear energy ban last October. This set off a chain of events that ultimately led to the bill’s passage.
Before getting involved, however, we asked ourselves three very basic questions:

  • Does it advance NEI’s policy priorities?
  • Is there a path to success?
  • Who are our allies on the ground and how do we get them engaged?

The first question was easy. The initial ban on new nuclear energy was put into place in the 1980s and NEI has worked for years to repeal the moratorium.

Next we looked for a path to success. Our initial analysis revealed a state political system that was deeply divided. Despite the fact Wisconsin has a Republican Governor and Republican-controlled legislature, the volatile political landscape has created bitter partisan divide.

However, the industry views nuclear energy as a bipartisan issue capable of bringing people together. As a result, we set out to build a coalition of Wisconsin advocates dedicated to communicating nuclear energy’s value proposition.

In October, NEI’s State Outreach and Advocacy Team came together to formulate a deliberate and comprehensive plan that would best leverage the power of grassroots advocacy. After taking an inventory of potential allies, we executed a broad outreach initiative that included local politicians, policymakers, unions, business coalitions, student groups, academics, small businesses, environmentalists and electric industry experts. What resulted was a sizable coalition that effectively engaged both sides of the aisle.

Despite this precarious political landscape, the strategy worked. After countless phone calls, emails, letters, social media engagements and office visits, we saw an issue, that has historically failed, gain real traction.

So much traction, in fact, that the Wisconsin Assembly passed the bill unanimously and the Wisconsin Senate passed it with a large bipartisan majority: 23-9. Shortly thereafter, Governor Walker signed the bill into law before a large audience of nuclear advocates at the University of Wisconsin.
Signed, sealed and delivered.
As NEI continues to explore the future of advocacy, we will study this victory. What a coalition of nuclear advocates accomplished in Wisconsin in just six months demonstrates the power of grassroots activity and underscores just how much the American political landscape has shifted. As NEI moves forward – there are 12 more states with moratoriums on nuclear energy – we will continue to develop our strategies , and work hard to keep pace with the ever-changing nature of politics.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

On Bernie Sanders, Nuclear Energy & Carbon-Free Electricity

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Senator Bernie Sanders, who doesn’t like nuclear power anywhere, now also doesn’t like it at Indian Point Energy Center. This shouldn’t surprise anybody, but Mr. Sanders is also against climate change, and against fossil fuels. The positions are impossible to reconcile.

We’re not the only ones who have noticed.
A persistent idea is that energy from wind and sun will replace fossil and everything else. And for years, New York has had an aggressive plan to use more renewable energy.

But it is just a plan. According to a national survey by the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, released earlier this month, New York aimed to have about 9.5 million megawatt-hours of renewable electricity by the end of 2014. But actual production was only around half that. (That’s the “main tier,” produced at utility scale. There’s a “customer-sited tier,” basically rooftop solar, and that was at 96 percent compliance, but the target for that was far smaller, less than 1 million megawatt-hours. )

When it comes to NY & renewables, the numbers don't add up.
More renewables would be good for New York. But there are good reasons why it’s hard to build them there. The wind is strong in the western part of the state, but the load is in the southeast, and the transmission grid that links them isn’t up to big electricity transfers.

So sometimes western New York is flooded with more electricity than it can use, and prices fall to zero or below, limiting the enthusiasm of builders to pick that area. Meanwhile, prices are much higher in the New York City region, where Indian Point is located, but it’s not a good place for huge wind farms.

And even if New York were on target to achieve its renewable goal, the goal is about 33% less carbon-free electricity than Indian Point produces. And besides being better located, Indian Point’s 24/7 production includes peak hours, including summer afternoons and evenings when there is not much wind, and the sun is low in the sky, or down.

When the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor, in Senator Sanders’ home state, closed at the end of 2014, New England replaced it with natural gas. That is the likely replacement if any of New York’s reactors close. More broadly, the question isn’t whether New York can meet its goals for renewables, or the longer-term goal of an 80 percent cut in carbon emissions by mid-century.

Recent history makes clear this will be very tough. For the near term, at least, the question is whether New York wants to miss its goals by a little or a lot. A state that closes a reactor now is like a ship captain who, at the first sign of rough weather, decides to jettison the lifeboats.

And if the threat of climate change seems distant or abstract (which is not the case in New York, at least not since Sandy) losing Indian Point would have a more immediate impact on electricity bills. Electricity sales in New York are competitive, and when you remove a competitor, prices will rise. That’s bad for households, businesses, and government agencies.