Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Restoring U.S.-Russia Nuclear Cooperation: A Practical Guide for Policymakers

U.S.-Russia relations have been increasingly strained in recent years over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and the allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. An unfortunate casualty of these tensions has been U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation. Despite shared critical interests that range from nuclear safety, security and nonproliferation to research and development in civil nuclear energy, bilateral cooperation has all but ceased.

President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise – welcomed by President Vladimir Putin – to improve bilateral ties. But a closer relationship between the presidents will not be sufficient to overcome disagreements. What is required is a road map for incremental progress, based on mutual national interests. For the critical area of nuclear cooperation, such a road map has just been published.

Developed by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) in partnership with Russia’s Center for Energy and Security Studies, and with contributions from the Nuclear Energy Institute, “Pathways to Cooperation” offers a “menu of potential U.S.-Russian cooperative projects in the nuclear sphere.” The report identifies common principles and lists more than 50 projects in the following five areas of bilateral cooperation:

  1. On nuclear science, expanding research on the effects of radiation, developing advanced radiation detection equipment, and using the two countries’ state-of-the-art research facilities to develop new materials for nuclear applications.
  2. On nuclear energy, jointly developing innovative reactor designs, collaborating across the fuel cycle, and promoting safety and security in nuclear newcomer countries, including through education and training programs.
  3. On nuclear safety, collaborating to standardize reactor designs, to harmonize reactor licensing approaches, to improve regulator-to-regulator cooperation, to strengthen international safety incident response and management, and to ensure the safety of next-generation nuclear technologies.
  4. On nuclear security, developing joint projects to secure potentially dangerous radioactive sources and nuclear materials in Central Asia, to prevent illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials, to improve nuclear security education and training resources, and to expand nuclear security technical cooperation with other countries.
  5. On nuclear environmental remediation, advancing cooperative approaches – such as decommissioning nuclear facilities, including those in third countries – and innovative research and development (R&D) on technologies and processes to remediate contaminated soil and groundwater.
As former Senator Sam Nunn, co-chairman and CEO of NTI, writes in his forward to the report, revitalized U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation provides benefits to the United States, Russia and the world, while helping our leaders “to rebuild the trust critical to putting bilateral relations back on track.”

The above is a guest post from Ted Jones, director of supplier programs at NEI. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

How States Are Taking the Lead to Save Nuclear Energy

A big part of my job is working with members of state legislatures and their staffs. One the most important working relationships I have is with the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). State legislators from all over the country look to NCSL for policy analysis, leadership opportunities, state benchmarks and, most importantly, facts and information to help them shape policies on the issues that they face. 

NCSL’s new report, “State Options for Keeping Nuclear in the Energy Mix,” has all the history, facts and figures to explain why state policies and the electricity markets have created unintended consequences for nuclear power. By introducing price competition and Renewable Portfolio Standards, which are meant to encourage new technologies, policymakers have inadvertently created a math problem that ends up subtracting nuclear. 


It is hardly sensible to subsidize one form of zero-emissions energy in a way that pushes another form of zero-emissions energy out of the market.

In response to the alarming trend in nuclear plant closures, state policymakers have course corrected by starting their own trend: enacting new policies that will fully value the benefits that nuclear brings. The actions taken by Illinois and New York to preserve nuclear plants are explained in the NCSL report. Both states chose to take control of their energy infrastructure planning. Making electricity without emissions has always had a cost, but we have never had to pay separately for it. It’s kind of like how we always took for granted carry-on luggage space on airplanes until we were charged for it. Was it ever really free?  

Although the NCSL report focuses on the preservation of today’s reactor fleet, other states are warming up to new nuclear energy projects. Wisconsin last year repealed a 33-year moratorium on new reactors. In 2016 in Kentucky, the State Senate voted to do the same, and the legislature will take up the question again this year. With almost a dozen other states with the same moratoriums, which state will be next? 

There are many states that would like to be the leader of the pack and create incentives for advanced nuclear technologies. Take for instance New Mexico, which has commissioned a study on the feasibility of small modular reactors. 

We have never had this amount of chatter around nuclear energy at the state level. This is thanks to the states that are taking the lead to keep nuclear energy in the mix for the benefit of their constituents. We look forward to the continued trend of state policies properly valuing nuclear power for providing emission-free, 24/7 electricity to tens of millions of households and businesses.

The above is a guest post from Christine Csizmadia, director of state governmental affairs and advocacy at NEI. Follow Christine on Twitter at @CCsizmadia.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Story NEI’s Maria Korsnick Will Tell Wall Street

There’s a lot going on in our world, and this Thursday at 8:30 a.m. EST, the Nuclear Energy Institute will be making its annual presentation to dozens of Wall Street analysts.

NEI's 2017 Wall Street Briefing

The United States continues to operate the world’s largest fleet of reactors, and is the technology leader. Maria G. Korsnick, our president and chief executive, will talk about how we plan to embrace that leadership role, and how we are part of the nation’s critical infrastructure.

Nuclear power is increasingly recognized at the state level as providing tremendous value, not all of it compensated in the markets. The reactors provide diversity to the system, always-on, 24/7 power, with no air emissions. They are impervious to pipeline glitches, frozen coal piles, droughts and other interruptions. New reactors marching toward completion in South Carolina and Georgia will be part of those states’ energy backbone for a long time, probably the remainder of the century.

We are also moving towards second license renewal, which will allow today’s plants to run beyond 60 years.

We’ve got a start-up with an exciting new concept, a reactor with tremendous safety enhancements. The company, NuScale Power, just filed an application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to have its design approved. It’s a small modular reactor that can be built in a factory and trucked to where it’s needed. Because of its geometry, it’s got much lower demands on the operator – in fact, none at all for the first 30 days it’s online. It opens up new markets to nuclear power.

We’ve got a mature industrial base but we’ve also got a lot of smart, innovative engineers with lots of ideas. Capital is flowing into nuclear start-ups right now.

And the fleet continues to run with extremely high reliability. In addition, its costs are falling.

Ms. Korsnick will give the presentation in New York, with one eye on Washington. We are about to see major turnover at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and we are hopeful about a new determination in Washington to achieve efficient, good-sense regulation.

Catch us live on NEI’s Facebook page or (if you’re over 35 years old) YouTube.

The above is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Monday, February 06, 2017

With Nuclear Plants Closing, Fears Grow for Stability of New England’s Electric Grid

We can’t really say it snuck up on us, but New England’s electricity infrastructure is already prone to supply interruptions and price spikes, and getting more so. And so far the steps to counter the problem have been very limited.

There’s a new warning from the non-profit company that operates the six-state grid, the Independent System Operator – New England (ISO-NE). One easy work-around – building gas plants that can run on oil in a pinch – is getting harder to use, because of air pollution rules, according to the head of the organization, Gordon van Welie, president and chief executive. His warning came in ISO-NE’s annual update on the state of the region’s electric grid.

The result is a loss of energy diversity that threatens the stability of supply and price, according to van Welie, who spoke to reporters on Jan. 30. Among the elements in this unhealthy trend are the premature closings of two nuclear reactors, Vermont Yankee, in December, 2014, and Pilgrim, in Plymouth, Mass., which is scheduled to close in 2019.

Combined with the closing of some coal-fired plants, the system is tilting more and more heavily towards gas, which has already caused major price spikes in periods of cold weather, when the gas is used for heating homes and businesses. According to van Welie, “Inadequate fuel infrastructure, particularly natural gas infrastructure to serve New England’s growing fleet of natural gas-fired power plants, is a current, and growing, reliability risk.’’

Millstone Power Station
In this context, the future of the Millstone Power Station takes on new significance. Generators don’t get paid for contributing to the healthy diversity of the system, but the New England system is more likely to run into trouble because of its reduced diversity, and part of Millstone’s value is that it doesn’t need pipelines or coal trains. In fact, at any moment it’s got months of fuel already on site.

According to the Independent System Operator, diversity protects against “controlled power outages.” These happen if gas generators are sidelined by fuel shortages, if pipelines are congested and oil and LNG deliveries are interrupted by weather or other factors, the region will face “controlled power outages.”

The Independent System Operator says it doesn’t favor any technology over any other, and it doesn’t have financial ties to any particular form of generation. It doesn’t own any generating stations or transmission lines, and can’t order anybody to build either one of those. All it can do is point to emerging problems. And in the electric business, you have to point early, because it takes a while to bring anything new on line.

The ISO market has benefits. Prices are down, because of competition, and because of very low natural gas prices. But the market structure doesn’t consider diversity.

It may be time for some new policy guidance, this time by the legislature in Hartford, where pending legislation would allow Millstone to compete to reduce retail electric rates. If the legislation is passed, Connecticut will reduce retail electric rates and will have the benefits of all of Millstone’s attributes – carbon-free generation, around-the-clock production, and fuel diversity.

The above is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.