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Showing posts from June, 2008

Waiting Too Long to Make a Mistake

A few bits of news show the nuclear renaissance colliding with the problems besetting the world these days – and demonstrating its value every time. And by value, we mean the jingle in the pocket as well as the zap in your sockets. --- Germany, as you may know, was an early supporter of nuclear energy that changed course, at least partly, because its governing coalitions usually include the Green Party, and doing away with nuclear energy is an article of faith for the Greens. But now, with energy plants having to shut down due to legislation, feet are growing colder : RWE AG. said delaying a planned nuclear energy phase-out in Germany would help ease pressure on energy prices, adding that it welcomes renewed talks by lawmakers in the country over a possible delay. Extending nuclear power plant operation in Germany by 25 years to between 50 years and 60 years could yield an additional economic value of 250 billion euros, the company said in a statement. Well, an energy c

The Wall Street Journal Energy Report

In the unlikely event you've missed it today, The Wall Street Journal has published a special package on Energy and nuclear is the cover girl/boy. WSJ editor Michael Totty has written the lead article, The Case For and Against Nuclear Power . (Janus-like, Totty sees, and provides, both arguments.) Sidebar materials include a podcast interview with Eileen Claussen , president of the nonpartisan Pew Center on Global Climate Change . Interesting exchange at the 8:44 mark, Totty : What's your assessment? Will the [nuclear] industry succeed? Or will nuclear power, at least in the U.S., slip in importance over time as other energy sources come up? Claussen : Well, if you look at the mix of sources that we now have—I think coal is about 50% of electricity generation, nuclear is about 20%—renewables, for all the growth we've seen, particularly in wind, is still in the single digits. So even if we worked really hard to increase the share of renewables, we're still going to ne

Dan Yergin on The Charlie Rose Show

Credible, dispassionate, informed: Dan Yergin on The Charlie Rose Show , Friday, June 27, 2008. Dr. Daniel Yergin is the Chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates ( CERA ), a preeminent source of independent analysis and information on the global energy picture. In Friday's appearance on Charlie Rose, Dr. Yergin gave a nearly hour-long interview on the current energy situation. Dr. Yergin explained the combination of factors that have given us $140/bbl oil. He described the urgency of expanding our use of energy efficiency to help in the short-term. He suggested the most important energy problem our leaders should focus on is natural gas. With so much natural gas used to produce electricity, we are growing dependent on imported natural gas, which suffers from the same pricing and political risks we see in our dependence on imported oil. Our prodigious consumption of natural gas for electricity generation links electricity prices to the vagaries of natural gas, spreading the

Amory Lovins and His Nuclear Illusion – Part Five (Nuclear Plant Reliability)

We are now on part five in the continuing series that seriously looks at RMI’s latest nuclear bashing paper. RMI tries extremely hard on pages 21-26 in their paper to show that nuclear plants are unreliable. Sadly for RMI, a widely publicized set of data refutes their claim: capacity factors. A capacity factor is the amount of electricity a power plant actually produces in a period of time divided by the amount of electricity the plant is rated to produce during that same period of time. A high capacity factor implies high reliability. From RMI, page 24 (pdf): Though micropower’s unreliability is an unfounded myth, nuclear power’s unreliability is all too real. In arguing that nuclear plants are unreliable, the RMI paper brings up a Union of Concerned Scientists’ report on long outages , refueling outages, heat waves , the shutdown of seven Japanese reactors due to an earthquake , and the 2003 Northeast Blackout. Other than the Japanese shutdowns, the four issues RMI brings up are al

China's Nuclear Energy Program Accelerating

According to Caijing magazine, China is considering a revision to its nuclear energy development program: now targeting 5% of total capacity by 2020 instead of the 4% called for in a plan released just last year. Zhao Xiaoping, deputy director of NDRC ’s energy bureau, earlier said China may revise its development plan because “the country is capable and needs to accelerate development of the nuclear power industry.” NDRC’s 2007 plan gave priority for developing nuclear stations to coastal provinces such as Guangdong, Zhejiang, Shandong and Jiangsu. These new facilities would complement the 11 nuclear power plants now operating in China, all in coastal areas. But Caijing learned that three nuclear power projects – one each in central China’s Hubei, Hunan and Jiangxi provinces – are now awaiting NDRC approval. Indeed, several regions in central and southwest China – including Sichuan, Chongqing, Hubei, Henan and Jiangxi – had been lobbying the government for permission to launch proj

John McCain: Running From or To Nuclear Energy?

Because most of Washington’s television needs are served by local outlets and Washington is not a battleground for the presidential candidates – all that action’s over in Virginia – we don’t see as many of the presidential ads that many of you have endured. So it struck us as odd to read the following   from the invaluable about a new energy-focused ad from the McCain campaign: Yet the imagery in the ad of solar technology and windmills might lead viewers to draw some false conclusions about McCain's energy policy. McCain has been less than enthusiastic about the development of wind and solar energy. The Politico points out that McCain's favored source of alternative energy, nuclear reactors, did not make the cut for visuals – there are no shots of a cooling tower in the ad. Here’s the ad in question: And here’s an earlier ad in which does include nuclear in its litany, though a bit separate from its renewable cousins:

Governor Corzine on Nuclear Power in NJ

Jon Corzine [D], current Governor of New Jersey and former U.S. Senator, appeared earlier today on CNN's American Morning . The interviewer was John Roberts (no, not that one ) and the transcript/video can be seen here . The pull quote: Roberts : On that subject of nuclear energy, would you be prepared to see more nuclear plants built in the garden state? Corzine : Well, we actually have an energy master plan where we're working on the safety and security and the storage of waste. If we can come to positive conclusion on that, I absolutely would. We already get about 50% of our energy from nuclear power here in the state. We have four plants. They're aging and we're going to have to think about whether we want to renew that. I'm not arguing that's the only step. We need to be in wind, solar, biofuel, all of those other areas. And Senator Obama is talking about spending $150 billion in the next ten years in those kind of production activities coming from a cap a

The History Channel's Mega Disasters "Glow Train Catastrophe"

The History Channel's "Mega Disasters" series ran an episode last night showing the "potential disaster" of trains transporting used nuclear fuel in dry casks. Dr. Buzz0 (aka Steve Packard) over at Depleted Cranium saw the episode and thought it was "just sickening." Here's what he had to say : [The] theoretical “Mega Disaster” was not a nuclear weapon being used on a civilian population, but rather the idea of a train carrying nuclear waste somehow derailing or colliding with another train and thus causing a massive disaster, possibly wiping out Las Vegas or some other city, while en route to the Yucca Mountain Federal Waste Repository . The show starts off with one of the worst examples of bad science I’ve seen in a long time. It notes that the trains carrying the nuclear material have been dubbed “glow trains” by anti-nuclear groups. Of course, we have dealt with the stupid “glow” issue before , but it gets worse. After this mention, the show

Obama's Energy Address in Las Vegas

We expected that nuclear energy policy would be in the mix during this presidential campaign, we just didn't expect it to be so soon. From Senator Obama's just-concluded energy address to 100 invited guests at Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, NV: Meanwhile, the oil companies already own drilling rights to 68 million acres of federal lands, onshore and offshore, that they haven’t touched. 68 million acres that have the potential to nearly double America’s total oil production, and John McCain wants to give them more. Well that might make sense in Washington, but it doesn’t make sense for America. In fact, it makes about as much sense as his proposal to build 45 new nuclear reactors without a plan to store the waste some place other than right here at Yucca Mountain. Folks, these are not serious energy policies. They are not new energy policies. And they are certainly not the kind of energy policies that will give families the relief they need or our country the oil independ

What I Did Missed on Summer Vacation

Go away for a few days to a wireless-less island and nuclear goes boffo in the general interest press. (Clearly this is a sign that I should go on vacation more often.) Stephen Dubner, author of Freakonomics , looks at the possibility of nuclear power providing the electricity for plug-in hybrids. (Not the first time this week we've heard that idea.)...In its cover story package, The Future of Energy , The Economist identifies nuclear's place at the table.... Investor's Business Daily puts the DOE's loan guarantees in context ... The New York Times Magazine profiles Duke Power CEO Jim Rogers... The New York Post publishes an Op-Ed by NEI president and CEO Skip Bowman. Anything else I missed?

Dishwasher or No Dishwasher? That Is the Question.

Honestly, we like the folks in the environmental movement a lot, even if their more zealous activities can make some of them easy targets for fun and snark. Maybe it's that environmentalism has a high appeal to younger folk who get their first taste of activism and run wild with it. Maybe it's that the green sands are so shifty it can be hard to maintain ideological purity without tipping into a sandals-and-earnestness trap. Nothing like being hip and a bore at the same time - you can find yourself alienating all your friends at once. But fair is fair, and we think The New York Times is being signally un fair when it weighs in on green overload : Two years after “An Inconvenient Truth” helped unleash a new tide of environmental activism, green noise pulses through the collective consciousness from all directions. The news media issues dire reports about disappearing polar bears; Web sites feature Brad Pitt arriving at a movie premiere in his hydrogen-powered BMW; bookst

The Heritage Foundation on The Costs of Energy

Our friends over at the Heritage Foundation have been developing quite an interesting portfolio of papers about nuclear energy over the last few months. Their latest is called Critics of Nuclear Power's Costs Miss the Point and addresses the relative costs of nuclear power and its pals in the renewable Club of Heroes, solar and wind. Writers Jack Spencer and Nick Loris make points we've made here several times over but do a good job of summarizing why it might be that nuclear energy, despite up-front costs that give pause, remains the energy source to favor for emission-free electricity generation (almost sounds like a sale pitch). Here's what they say about some of those up-front costs: Today, it is very expensive to produce nuclear-qualified components and materials because steep overhead costs are carried by only a few products. Additional production will allow these costs to be spread, thus lowering costs overall. Further savings should be achieved by applyi

Amory Lovins and His Nuclear Illusion – Part Four (Costs of New Nuclear Plants)

We’re now on our third week of posts seriously looking at Amory Lovins’ and the Rocky Mountain Institute’s latest paper that bashes nuclear energy. Today’s post deals with the paper’s claim that nuclear energy’s “true competitors” (according to RMI) are cheaper and therefore “produce” more “climate solution” than nuclear. I will show that RMI relies on weak sources, no sources, and cherry-picked data for their cost assumptions to exaggerate their claims. From page 19 in RMI’s paper (pdf): Every dollar spent on new nuclear power produces 1.4-11+ times less climate solution than spending the same dollar on its cheaper competitors. For a power source merely to emit no carbon isn’t good enough; it must also produce the least carbon per dollar… To come up with the above statement, RMI’s paper takes the cost assumptions for each technology from their graph below, inverts them to get kWh per dollar, finds each technology’s “CO2 emissions displaced relative to coal,” multiplies the kWh per d

GM's Plug-in Plugging Into the Grid

Obligatory hat tip to NEI Notes reader Scott for pointing us to this Seattle Times story about GM's plans for its plug-in hybrid vehicle, the Chevy Volt . Scheduled to launch in 2010, the Volt will run up to 40 miles on a single charge. That 40 mile threshold is key, as, according to GM, 78% of U.S. commuters drive 40 miles or less daily. How would a fleet of electric cars impact the pump and the grid? (Here's where it gets really interesting.) Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), a prominent Boston consultancy, estimates that if the entire U.S. vehicle fleet suddenly became electric, gas consumption would drop 70 percent, and electric-power consumption would jump about 17 percent. "It's not that big a hit for the electric-power industry," said CERA consultant Patricia DiOrio. What electricity source could respond to that demand? General Motors vice chairman and head of product development, Robert Lutz , has an answer, The only real option is nuclear e

John McCain’s Energy Speech

Here’s the whole transcript . You don’t have to filter it through our observations. As you might expect, McCain addressed the issue du jour, high gas prices. People are hurting, small farmers, truckers, and taxi drivers unable to cover their costs, small business owners struggling to meet payroll, the cost of living rising and the value of paychecks falling. All of this, in large part, because the price of oil is too high, and the supply of oil too uncertain. These citizens believe their government has a duty to finally assure the energy security of this country, and they are right. As you might expect from a very political speech, McCain has to both answer to and challenge industries and the electorate in order to gain support for a change in public policy. Sometimes, that can lead to too many circles getting squared, but we'll put aside the partisan aspects - since the hot air of political discussion could displace all other energy sources with enough left over to po

U.S. Senate Candidates on Energy

The Denver Post today has an Energy Q&A with Senate candidates, Bob Schaffer (R) and Mark Udall (D). Good news for the nuclear industry: both support its expansion. Do you support the expansion of nuclear energy? Schaffer : Yes. Bob Schaffer supports safe and environmentally responsible expansion of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is cost-effective, efficient and just one plant can produce a great deal of energy. France, for example, depends on nuclear for 75% of its energy. Nuclear can and should be part of America's strategy to achieve energy independence. Udall : Yes. Given our nation's energy crisis, its effects on our national security, and the threat of global climate change, I think nuclear power has to be "on the table" in the mix of power sources we look to for the 21st Century. Schaffer and Udall are running for the seat vacated by Wayne Allard (R). The RealClearPolitics average currently has Udall up by 8.3%.

McCain on Cap-and-Trade

Senator John McCain, in response to a question, made a curious comment about cap-and-trade yesterday: Sure. I believe in the cap-and-trade system, as you know. I would not at this time make those - impose a mandatory cap at this time. But I do believe that we have to establish targets for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions over time, and I think those can be met. We guess his idea is to get the EPA up to speed on administration and an infrastructure in place for auctions (if there are auctions – and assuming cap-and-trade eventually makes it through Congress – both McCain and Obama favor it), but it seems peculiar not to have the initial caps and a schedule for them in place when the program is ready to go. Otherwise, no market for carbon credits is created. We’ve noticed McCain’s penchant for comments so terse there may be nothing at all or a universe of detail behind them. It’s not a bad politician trick, and McCain may be trying to signal industry not to worry so much

How Much Is that Pony in the Window?

The purchase of a major asset, whether a car or a new power plant, frequently involves a trade off between the purchase price and operating costs. A column by Joseph B. White published in The Wall Street Journal's Eyes on the Road column on June 16, 2008 titled, " Still Waiting for Hybrids to be the Smartest Buy ", updates us on the trade-off between the higher purchase price and lower fuel costs of hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius . White shows that, even with gasoline at $4 per gallon, a typical consumer would have to drive the hybrid vehicle for more than seven years to begin to realize net savings compared to the non-hybrid alternative. Said differently, if the consumer expects to keep the vehicle for more than seven years, purchasing the hybrid could make sense economically. Interestingly, the article also mentions some of the non-economic reasons buyers offer to explain their willingness to pay a premium for a hybrid. Among them are a desire to be "greener&qu

Where the Hot Wind Blows: Some Odder Ends

The Guardian has an interesting article about the harder look being taken at microgeneration: British buildings equipped with solar, wind and other micro power equipment could generate as much electricity in a year as five nuclear power stations, a government-backed industry report showed today. Commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Regulatory Reform (DBERR), the report says that if government chose to be as ambitious as some other countries, a combination of loans, grants and incentives could lead to nearly 10m microgeneration systems being installed by 2020. Apparently, Germany is investing the euros necessary to jump start the industry, but Germany is also roaring along economically and most European countries are not. The upfront costs of microgeneration are gasp-inducing and fall on builders and owners retrofitting their houses. Other possible incentives include 50% grants to help people meet the high initial cost of equipment and installati

In the Tank for Nuclear Energy? John McCain and Subsidizing New Plants

Over at The Atlantic, Matthew Yglesias takes a look at John McCain’s energy plans. He notes McCain’s refusal to consider subsidizing any form of alternative energy source except for nuclear energy. McCain, we noted during our week of Lieberman-Warner, was unhappy with the bill only in that it did not include subsidies for nuclear energy. Yglesias concludes : That's the kind of position you would expect a lobbyist for the nuclear energy industry to take -- not someone who's serious about reducing carbon emissions. Anything that puts a price on carbon, whether or not in includes explicit subsidies, will be good for the nuclear energy industry. And if additional subsidies on top of that are the price it takes to convince unprincipled Senators -- like, apparently, John McCain -- to vote for an overall good bill then that's a price worth paying. It’s an interesting post, even with the drive-by swipe at McCain, so be sure to get the full flavor there. We don’t really

Gordon Brown's Energy Policy and the Fourth Estate

Is there anything more tedious than hearing someone rant about media bias? (Of course there is, but for the sake of this blog post, the answer to the rhetorical question is, "no.") And while I'm sure those who call in to C-SPAN's Washington Journal to expose the agenda of the moderator* are certain they are saving the Republic, I'm not one of 'em. That said, this lede from The Scotsman , caught my eye: A THOUSAND new nuclear power stations are needed across the world to tackle the oil crisis, Gordon Brown warned yesterday. Warned? Here's how London's Independent wrote the story, Gordon Brown has signalled he wants Britain to play a major role in the race to build an extra 1,000 nuclear power stations across the world as part of his vision for ending the global "addiction to oil". And The Guardian , Brown also suggested it would be necessary to build 1,000 nuclear power stations worldwide to combat climate change and end what he described as

Barbara Boxer Embraces Nuclear Power

Not all was lost in the Lieberman Warner bill debacle; Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has publicly stated her support for nuclear energy. From MSNBC's Morning Joe on Wednesday, Scarborough :...Let me ask you, this is one that you may disagree with me on, but France, a [sic] 75% of its energy coming from nuclear power. Europe is moving in that direction and they are doing it because they believe that's the best way to cut carbon emissions. Why can't we figure out a way to safely regulate nuclear power so we could cut all those greenhouse gases overnight? Boxer : There's no question that nuclear is going to be part of the solution. The thing is, we have got to get an answer to disposing of the waste. That is a big question mark. But I went to France to see what they do and Joe, it's amazing. Because they have no other way to get energy, you are right. They rely on this. They have put the whole power of the government behind the safety question. Here, we don't do tha

Amory Lovins and His Nuclear Illusion – Part Three (Energy Efficiency and “Negawatts”)

So far I have written two detailed posts on Amory Lovins’ and the Rocky Mountain Institute’s latest nuclear critique. My third post discusses energy efficiency and Amory Lovins’ coined term “negawatts.” There is this widely held belief that becoming more energy efficient means that we will consume less energy. At first glance, that notion seems correct but digging further, I found there’s much more to it. In the case of energy efficiency, RMI overlooks a fundamental effect of efficiency on the energy marketplace. From RMI’s condensed version : An even cheaper competitor [to new nuclear plants] is enduse efficiency (“negawatts”)—saving electricity by using it more efficiently or at smarter times. There are several misperceptions about what energy efficiency really contributes. Here’s what Robert Bryce has to say in the Energy Tribune : The final – and most important – area in which Lovins has been consistently wrong is his claim that efficiency lowers energy consumption. And when it c