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Amory Lovins and His Nuclear Illusion - Final Thoughts

This is my final post (and the longest) in the series that discredits Amory Lovins’ and the Rocky Mountain Institute’s “Nuclear Illusion” paper (pdf). Hopefully this series has opened many eyes to the flaws and inconsistencies of RMI’s claims. Let me briefly summarize the previous posts.

Part One found that “micropower” is primarily made up of decentralized coal and gas plants, the generation from “non-biomass decentralized co-generation plants” (RMI’s main plants for “micropower”) was grossly exaggerated, and the “stunning performance” of nuclear’s “true competitors” was not backed up by RMI’s own sources.

Part Two showed that RMI’s “micropower” data don’t fit their own definition of “micropower”. Not only that, small plants aren’t the only way to go especially since bigger power plants in general yield greater efficiencies and economies of scale.

Part Three explained that energy efficiency and “negawatts” will not necessarily reduce demand and in fact strong evidence suggests it will most likely increase demand.

Part Four proved that RMI cherry-picks cost components in their paper and, as the anonymous commenter stated, “[RMI] is leaving the territory of cherry-picking to bravely enter the la-la-land of making things up.” Part Four also showed that planned new nuclear plants have become economically competitive (or superior in one case) versus other generating technologies.

And Part Five demonstrated that nuclear plants are a reliable source of electricity, contrary to RMI’s claims.

I have a few more issues I would like to address before I conclude this series such as the current contribution from nuclear energy, world electricity demand now and projections for the future, studies that show nuclear has to be a part of the mix, and final criticisms of RMI’s work.

What’s the Current State of the Nuclear Industry?

Here’s what RMI believes on page 1 in their paper:
nuclear power is continuing its decades-long collapse in the global marketplace…
This quote is hilarious. Mr. Lovins began making these claims in the 1970s (pdf), yet according to the data below from the World Nuclear Association, world nuclear generation has increased substantially since the 1970s (hat tip to advancednano and bw).The share of world electricity produced from nuclear energy has remained around 16 percent for two decades. According to many studies that I discuss further down, though, nuclear generation is projected to have a greater role if the world wants to reduce emissions while meeting demand.

The World’s Demand for Electricity

If one is going to dismiss a particular technology, they should at least provide some perspective as to what our electricity situation will look like with and without the particular technology. RMI is so focused on dismissing nuclear energy that they completely fail to explain the big picture of our electricity consumption.

Right now, hydro and nuclear are the only emission-free sources of electricity that provide a meaningful contribution to the world’s electricity demand - 16 and 15 percent each in 2005. If nuclear wasn’t generating electricity, fossil-fuels simply would be filling the gap which means an additional two billion metric tons of CO2 would be emitted each year.

According to EIA’s International Energy Outlook 2008, world electricity consumption “nearly doubles” over the 2005 to 2030 period. As well, total installed electric capacity increases from about 3,900 GW in 2005 to 7,000 GW in 2030. The graph and table below show that world electricity generation will continue to be met by coal and gas.Here’s a table of each fuels’ capacity (GW) in 2005 and projected for 2030.Also, total world CO2 emissions (EIA did not breakout emissions by sector) are projected to increase from 28 billion metric tons in 2005 to 42 billion metric tons in 2030 – the increase comes mainly from non-OECD countries like China and India. Nuclear and hydro, the largest emission-free sources of electricity as stated above, only avoid four billion MT of CO2 each year.

So what do these projections tell us? First and foremost, our demand for electricity is huge and is rapidly increasing. And second, enormous amounts of capacity are needed from nuclear and renewables (and sequestration if possible) if we want to curb emissions.

The nuclear critics laugh, saying that the world won’t be able to build a lot of nuclear capacity to make a difference. Well, according to the data above, the power plant capacity is going to be built no matter what. So it all depends on which fuel source is chosen. More and more studies are showing that if the world really wants to reduce emissions while continuing to meet growing demand, nuclear has to be a part of that mix.

Which Studies Show that Nuclear has to be Part of the Mix for the Future?

Nuclear power plants have two particular attributes that make them stand out from most other energy sources. They can generate a large supply of reliable electricity and can do so without emitting significant pollutants. Over the past few years, many studies have come to recognize these two attributes and have stated that nuclear will therefore have an important role to play in the future. Below are summaries of several such studies.

The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2007 reference scenario shows that world nuclear capacity will increase to 415 GW by 2030 from today’s 368 gigawatts – not much. IEA, however, also produced an Alternative Policy Scenario where nuclear increases to 525 GW by 2030. Not only that, IEA developed a “450 Stabilization Scenario” that shows world nuclear capacity more than doubling to 833 gigawatts by 2030 if the world were to attempt to stabilize the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Under the 450 Stabilization Scenario, nuclear’s electricity fuel share increases to 22 percent by 2030 from today’s 16 percent (pages 211-213).

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s (PNNL) Joint Global Change Research Institute has conducted climate change research and analysis for nine years, and is one of the few analyses that look beyond 2030 - out to 2100. The Global Energy Technology Strategy Program (pdf) identified nuclear energy as one of six energy technologies and technology systems with the potential to play a major role in a climate-constrained world. Without any CO2 constraints, nuclear energy is projected to increase seven-fold by 2100 from today’s levels. In a world where CO2 is constrained, nuclear power deployment increases thirteen-fold by the end of the century (page 78).

Last year, McKinsey & Company (pdf) published an assessment that “analyzed more than 250 options, encompassing efficiency gains, shifts to lower carbon energy sources, and expanded carbon sinks” that would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear energy was one of the options and McKinsey found in their model that by 2030, nuclear increases by 13 gigawatts in their low GHG abatement case, 29 GW in their mid abatement case, and 53 GW in their high abatement case (page 19).

Since January 2007, EIA has conducted six analyses of various legislative proposals that seek to control CO2 emissions in the U.S. In virtually all cases, nuclear plant construction speeds up in a carbon-constrained world. In some cases, like the analysis of the Lieberman-McCain Climate Stewardship Act (S. 280) and the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2007 (S. 2191), the model forecasts more new nuclear capacity than could realistically be built in the U.S. (145 GW and 268 GW by 2030, respectively).

The Electric Power Research Institute’s PRISM-MERGE analysis (pdf) found that U.S. nuclear capacity increased by 64 GW in their Full Portfolio scenario in order to reduce CO2 emissions. The Full portfolio includes an aggressive implementation of carbon capture and sequestration, nuclear, renewables, coal plant thermal efficiencies, plug-in hybrids and end-use efficiency. In EPRI’s alternative scenario (Limited Portfolio), nuclear capacity does not expand significantly. Instead, emissions reductions require large reductions in electricity demand, which places severe constraints on economic growth. The Limited Portfolio scenario also requires a significant amount of fuel-switching to natural gas to meet emissions targets. This drives up the price of natural gas and the cost of electricity.

What’s also implied in all of the studies mentioned above is that there’s no single energy source that’s a “silver bullet.” They all found, however, that nuclear energy has a significant role to play if the world wants to reduce emissions while meeting growing demand.

Everyone Who’s a Proponent of Nuclear Energy is Deceived – At Least According to RMI

Page 1 from RMI’s paper accuses the nuclear industry of misleading everyone about the benefits of nuclear power, “including four well-known individuals with long environmental histories.”
Professor James Lovelock CH CBE FRS (the venerable 88-year-old ecologist who proposed the Gaia hypothesis), Dr. Patrick Moore (a prominent Greenpeace organizer and officer in the 1970s), Peter Schwartz (once head of Shell Group Planning and a former Trustee of Rocky Mountain Institute), and his Global Business Network cofounder and colleague Stewart Brand (creator of Whole Earth Catalog and CoEvolution Quarterly). All are good people and the latter two are my longtime friends. Schwartz has been an energy expert. Regrettably, all four seem unaware of, or unable to deal analytically with, the realities described here…
RMI’s second rebuttal to my posts also claims that Robert Bryce, myself, and Dr. Peter Huber and Mr. Mark Mills (authors of the Bottomless Well) are all wrong when it comes to the Jevons Paradox and energy efficiency. RMI should also add Bill Gates, the Wall Street Journal, LA Times and Business Week to that list because they all thought Huber and Mills’ Bottomless Well was brilliant (as stated on the cover of the book). And RMI should also include the IEA, EIA, EPRI, McKinsey & Company and PNNL to their list because, as demonstrated above, they all find that nuclear capacity will likely have to increase in the future.

So what does that say about RMI’s work when prominent writers, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, and institutions all disagree with RMI’s conclusions? Also, how ridiculous is it to accuse the nuclear industry of coordinating an “intensive global campaign” to “spin” the benefits of nuclear energy? RMI is basically assuming that people can’t think for themselves. How insulting is that?

RMI, Welcome to the New World of the Internet and Blogging

RMI’s first rebuttal to my posts made this interesting statement:
Prof. Tufte coined the pejorative term "chartjunk" to refer to ink that conveys no news. Mr. Bradish misapplies it to a clean and clear graph conveying news he finds unwelcome. That's blogjunk.
Unwelcome news is not “blogjunk.” Blogjunk is writing disorganized, confused and rambling responses to your critics and then not even sticking around to defend them in the comments section.

I’ve clearly shown that RMI’s claims don’t stand up to scrutiny. I hardly expect, though, for RMI to change their conclusions. What I do expect and already see happening, is that more and more bloggers will continue to call out RMI on the flaws in their analyses. What starts in the blog world will then become mainstream as more and more readers, pundits, journalists, politicians and so on begin to realize the flaws in RMI’s work.

The Internet has tremendously opened up our knowledge capacity. I’m sure most everyone reading this will attest that bloggers keep everyone honest. Why? Because nearly every bit of information is now at our fingertips. When a blogger is incorrect, other bloggers will jump on that person’s postings to make sure they get it right. This is the new reality and RMI is going to have to face this and defend their work.


The energy market has changed dramatically in favor of nuclear energy this decade. Oil and gas prices have increased substantially; the U.S. and world are increasing their energy and electricity appetites; and the need for emission-free, reliable sources of power is greater than ever. RMI and Amory Lovins continue to say the same old thing and have failed to keep up with the changing times. It’s not that the rest of the world sees an illusion in nuclear power; it’s that RMI holds fast to the illusion of their claims from the 1970s.

NEI has always said that nuclear energy is not the be-all, end-all solution to our energy woes. Nuclear, however, provides one tremendous amount of energy that is reliable, affordable, and emission-free.

To all who have been reading this, thanks for the support and comments. This has definitely generated a lot of discussion and debate and I hope you all enjoyed the series!

For further reading, here are some recent critiques from other bloggers on Amory Lovins and RMI’s latest work. If I missed any, let me know.

Что такое АТЭЦ?
Why Gas Is Not Our Future
The Misadventures of Amory Lovins, Fossil Fuel Apologist

Nuclear Green (Charles Barton):
Amory Lovins, Fount of Disinformation
Amory Lovins' business
Don't Pay Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Atomic Insights (Rod Adams):
Amory Lovins, the "Chief Scientist" who could not complete a degree program, is at it again
Lovins and His Nuclear Blindness
Non-Combustion Energy Source Growth

Next Big Future (bw):
Amory Lovins distorts nuclear energy and promotes air pollution

Physical Insights (Luke Weston):
Nuclear discussion quote of the day.

Seeking Alpha:
Economics of Nuclear Energy

FutureJacked (Flagg707):
Using Excel to Kneecap Nuclear Power


Charles Barton said…
Great series David, I note that not only did Lovins fail to follow up on comments to his Gristmill posts, but that he has not added further critiques of your arguments as he stated he would. The RMI bunch seems to be unable to come up with an effective response to the Jevons Paradox issue. My suspicion that Lovins is now frightened, and that he has gone into hiding. Not only Lovins, but his associates David Roberts of Gristmill, and Joe Romm are under attack. And the criticisms are increasingly undermining the credibility of the anti-nuclear party.
Anonymous said…
If the Jevons paradox is true, why wouldn't increasing energy supply have the same effect (i.e., increasing demand) as you claim increasing efficiency does?

Also, looking at overall national energy consumption going up and saying "Hey, efficiency = more consumption" is flawed. You need to look at the level of consumption by those specific consumers who have installed efficiency measures. Right?

Otherwise, the entire claim is fallacious. It's analogous to saying, "I and a bunch of my friends started using birth control, but there were still more births in the US as a whole over the next year. Thus, birth control must increase birth rates."
David Bradish said…
Anon, who says increasing energy supply does not have the same effect as efficiency? The two are intertwined with each other. Generally, if we become more efficient at producing a product, the price of the product becomes cheaper. As it becomes cheaper, people consume more of it and thus supply goes up because it's cheaper to produce. If supply goes up, it's most likely because of being more efficient at producing that supply.

In my Part 3 of this series, I showed a graph comparing US GDP over electricity consumption (efficiency) with electricity consumption per person. By the 1970s, the US started to become more efficient with its electricity (the blue line). Yet consumption per person remained virtually unaffected (red line). If efficiency supposedly lowers demand, it should be clear in the graph I created but it's not.

The Paradox is simple; as a product becomes more efficient, it usually becomes cheaper. When the product is cheaper, people will buy more of it and thus consumption increases.
Anonymous said…
To Charles:

Charles, Lovins intended audience for his papers is IMHO not us, the public, but the media and politicians. That's why I am not surprised that he tucked tail and left in the debate on Gristmill. This intended audience is typically not as knowledgable as some members of the public as you or David and other debaters. Lovins tries to influence the decision makers and public opinion through the back door, not through the democratic or peer review process. He acts, mybe intentionally, maybe not, like a 5th column lobbyist for the oil/gas industry. His intention is definitely NOT research to increase knowledge. With this background it is not worth his time, and is even dangerous, for him to publicly debate. As some members of his intended audience might see the debate and start to ask questions themselves. He cannot risk that and therefore the best course is to end the debate by silence.
Anonymous said…
"The Paradox is simple; as a product becomes more efficient, it usually becomes cheaper. When the product is cheaper, people will buy more of it and thus consumption increases."

But even if this thesis is true, the resulting increased consumption effect cannot be as large as the increment of energy produced from the new source or that saved from the increase in efficiency. Otherwise it would be impossible ever to create a net increase in supply by any means.

I don't understand why this purported paradox is an argument against demand-side decreases such as energy efficiency but NOT also an argument against supply-side increases, such as new reactors.
Anonymous said…
"Lovins tries to influence the decision makers and public opinion through the back door, not through the democratic or peer review process."

So are you saying that advocacy via non-profit groups and the media is undemocratic? So the only truly democratic speech is that from engineers or corporations?
Anonymous said…
David, your reply, which compared overall US electricity demand throughout the entire economy with increases in efficiency throughout the entire economy ignored what I said in my original post:

"looking at overall national energy consumption going up and saying "Hey, efficiency = more consumption" is flawed. You need to look at the level of consumption by those specific consumers who have installed efficiency measures. Right?"

In other words, all our appliances could hypothetically become 50% more efficient overnight, saving untold megawatts of electricity...yet because the nation's population increased, net energy consumption increased.

That DOES NOT MEAN that efficiency does not save energy. It's a fallacy. Recall birth control analogy in my original post.
David Bradish said…
Anons or anon (if you're the same person),

You said:

I don't understand why this purported paradox is an argument against demand-side decreases such as energy efficiency but NOT also an argument against supply-side increases, such as new reactors.

The argument is not against either of those. Maybe I'm not being clear here. I am not saying energy efficiency is bad. What I'm saying is that energy efficiency and “negawatts” will not necessarily reduce demand and in fact strong evidence suggests it will most likely increase demand.

Energy efficiency is what allows us to produce more. And when you produce more, you consume more. It's that simple.

You also said:

David, your reply, which compared overall US electricity demand throughout the entire economy with increases in efficiency throughout the entire economy ignored what I said in my original post:

No, that's not what I said. If you look at the units in the chart I created in the third post, you will see that they are in electricity consumption per person versus GDP over electricity consumption. Efficiency measures are clearly being installed in the electric sector because as my chart showed, GDP over MWh (efficiency) began decreasing in the 1970s. This means we are becoming more efficient.

My chart also showed that electricity consumption per person continued to increase despite the country becoming more efficient. Therefore, efficiency does not mean a reduction in demand. That's my argument.

You said:

That DOES NOT MEAN that efficiency does not save energy.

I agree with you here but would say it differently. Saving energy is conservation. Efficiency, however, is the ability to produce more from the same amount of energy.
David Bradish said…

Let me clarify something. I said "Therefore, efficiency does not mean a reduction in demand. That's my argument." When I said demand I really meant consumption. Sometimes in my head I interchange the two and that could be why you're getting confused about my argument.
Anonymous said…
"Increasing efficiency" necessarily reduces cost, therefore (on a macro economic basis), it can be shown to increase consumption.

"Increasing supply" does not necessarily reduce costs, so it does not necessarily increase consumption.

The next increments of nuclear power, or oil production and delivery capacity (eg the Saudi's current $10 billion expansion of production capacity by >1 million bpd), or gas production (w/ LNG transportation), can be expected to increase costs over current production costs, and should therefore be expected to reduce consumption.

Regards, Jim Muckerheide
[Using 'anonymous' doesn't mean you can't identify yourself. :-)]
Anonymous said…
FYI, Mr Lovins was interviewd by Charlied Rose last night and this morning by Democracy Now.

You may wish to deconstruct his answers which were indentical in both the shows.
Nick67 said…
I suspect your posting here will get a bump soon as Lovins is in the news again. In discussions of CO2 reductions, the Jevons Paradox is something that it is paramount to keep in mind. Many people, including Lovins, simply don't grasp it, and its ultimate implications.

Let's say that we magically, overnight, become twice as energy efficient as we are today, while keeping our same incomes. Cars get 80 mpg, furnaces heat twice the square footage, electronics consume half the electricity and so on. Everything costs much less than it did. We have all this income left over now, that we used to spend on energy to maintain our present lifestyle. Now what?

As a WHOLE, an economy consumes what it produces. If a car costs half as much to drive as what it used to, chances are, it'll get driven twice as much. If a home costs half as much to heat and power per square foot, chances are, over time, the average square footage heated and powered will go up. Once you grasp that, you realize that any revenue-neutral carbon tax will have absolutely no effect whatsoever. The market won't be fooled at all, and what adjustments it makes will come quickly. If, at the end of the day, your gasoline tax goes up, and your income tax goes down, so that your net income stays the same, you just put your bigger takehome pay to use to pay the higher price at the pump. Large consumers may try to cut costs through changes in behavior--but no sustained reductions in CO2 emmissions are going to result--just some income-redistribution effects.

Only a hard cap on emmissions is going to affect emmissions. A hard cap and a clear-cut, inexorable, well communicated roadmap down to zero net emmissions. Relentlessly enforced. No namby-pamby offsets either.

Once that hard cap is in place, the efficiencies that Lovins champions will start to come into play--to offset the increased costs that the hard cap will impose. Nuclear, solar and small scale wind will also play their part. The negative environmental consequences of large scale hydro and wind will likely keep them from playing any significant role - that remains to be seen.

Anyone who wants to debate the issue without fully understanding Jevons Paradox is a fool--and any public policy that doesn't take it into account will be a waste of time, effort and money.
Wind4me said…
having worked in the nuclear industry for 20 years, I feel I can contribute and make a difference here........the USA nuclear program is such a joke compared to the French centralized system and government run its not funny. The USA does not follow anything that we should have learned over the years from France by having one design, one plant interchangeable parts and trained, knowledgeable technicians who are also interchangeable in each identical plant. The recycling of spent fuel , which the French lead again, has to be addressed. And , the most important part NONE of you discuss is the decommissioning (which wont ever be done in the USA) due to the costs and the unfunded decommissioning problems of not being able to return the reactor and tear the contaminated, irradiated components down to their original state.

Having done the Ft St Vrain decommissioning for 7 years, NONE of you have a clue of how difficult it truly is to decommission a large reactor.

Why have I switched over to Wind Power and why will China dominate the future wind power market??? Cause they dont have alot of bloggers who discuss energy!
Anonymous said…
EVERGREEN SOLAR will reach grid parity in a little over one year.
Stockholders meeting quotes $ 0.95
per watt. Who in their right mind can say they would invest in nuclear for the long haul when there is no place to put spent fuel and the $'s it takes to babysit it for many centuries. We are now building new houses that are net energy producers and the technology is just in its infancy.
Goggle gets a high percentage of its electricity at its headquarters from PV and that was just their first installation. Nuclear in the long run - won't.
Ted Rockwell said…
Nuclear advocates are much too timid in their goals. We hope to build a few plants in a few decades. By contrast, in eight years (1953-61), before any other large nuclear plants were built, Admiral Rickover's little group built, and put into fully commissioned warships or commercial power plants, 41 full-scale nuclear power plants, and supporting facilities.

Quoting from the book, Creating the New World (T. Rockwell) page 177:
“The first few years of the 1950s were frantically busy and very confusing for Rickover and his Naval Reactors people, as one challenge after another piled up. President Truman authorized the Nautilus on August 8, 1950, and one week later the Chief of Naval Operations asked us to explore the feasibility of developing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a propulsion plant requiring twenty times the power output of the submarine. That same month we broke ground for the full-sized submarine prototype plant at Idaho, but it was a full year later before we were finally able to sign contracts with Westinghouse for the power plant and Electric Boat Company for the ship and the prototype hull. Two months after that (we’re now up to October 1951), we were asked to study design criteria for a high-speed submarine.”

At that time, no one even knew how to produce the basic materials for a nuclear power plant—-zirconium for the fuel rods and reactor structure, hafnium for control rods, uranium oxide for nuclear fuel, and the special steels for plant systems. Nor had we begun development of the special instruments and components needed for a full-scale nuclear power plant. Then…

“Before the [Nautilus] prototype plant had proved it could produce power, President Eisenhower had already authorized construction of the world’s first commercial atomic power station. Eisenhower wanted this to be a fully commercial program, and he wanted it to have no military flavor whatsoever. But it was clear that no one else was in a position to undertake this task; so on July 9 [1953], with the strong support of [AEC] Commissioner Murray, the newly-promoted Admiral Rickover was assigned the job of converting nuclear power to an unclassified, civilian, commercial status.”

On December 18, 1957, the Shippingport Atomic Power Station started delivering electricity into the commercial grid of the Duquesne Power & Light Company, and by year’s end, four and a half years after the initial go-ahead, full power commercial operation was underway. During one year (1961), 18 new naval nuclear power plants were brought to full power and put into service.

Before 1955, submarines could travel submerged only up to 15 miles per hour max, for about one hour, before having to recharge their batteries on the surface. Five years later, the nuclear powered submarine, Triton, sailed around the world continuously submerged. NR now has reactor cores that last the life of the ship, steaming over a million miles without refueling. The “waste” volume is so small it remains in the fuel rods.

41 nuclear power plants in 8 years, many different reactor types.

During this period we also set up six nuclear shipyards and three naval nuclear design and construction facilities, several training facilities, and worked out with the AEC and its Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, criteria and procedures for evaluating and certifying the safety of nuclear power plants to operate in populous ports world-wide.

Half a century later, surely we shouldn't have to take decades to build and license a handful more.

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