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Showing posts from August, 2010

Nuclear Liability in the Shadow of Bhopal

There’s been a lot of work done to expand the relationship of the United States and India, one part of which allows nuclear trade and technology to flow between the two countries. President George W. Bush’s administration worked through a lot of the issues, culminating in a so-called 123 agreement in 2008 opening nuclear trade. This agreement took so much effort because India has avoided anti-proliferation treaties and harbors nuclear warheads – resulting in a two decade moratorium – so the determinative factor was whether India in the interim had proved to be a good actor on the international stage. Answer: good enough.But one remaining piece of the puzzle was about liability concerns – whether most liability should lie with the supplier (which might be American) or with the operator (most certainly Indian). While every country hoping to operate in India wants to contain liability on suppliers, it’s especially true for the United States, which does not have a state-run nuclear indus…

Union of Concerned Scientists Distorts Nuclear Events in Weekly Blog Series

Last week, Margaret Harding, former GE engineering manager, took on a post by UCS’ David Lochbaum that misstated the nuclear events at two reactors. From Margaret:On August 24th, Mr. Lochbaum posted a story on the Union of Concerned Scientists website about an event in 1988, then proceeded to link it to a 2005 event at a different plant and makes the case that the nuclear industry is filled with screw-ups and near misses. You can read the original article here. As it happens, my career has included learning about these particular events and leading the team that developed some of the solutions that are currently in place to prevent/mitigate the effect. From that, I can say – Mr. Lochbaum got it wrong.To find out how Margaret is correct, stop by for the rest. As well, Dan Yurman has more background to their story. Looking forward to reading more from Margaret, maybe this will turn into a bigger debate between her and Mr. Lochbaum.

Americans Using Less Energy, More Renewables

Lawrence Livermore Laboratories toted up energy use last year (for 2008) and found a marked drop. This year’s version (for 2009) reveals a further drop:The United States used significantly less coal and petroleum in 2009 than in 2008, and significantly more wind power. There also was a decline in natural gas use and increases in solar, hydro and geothermal power according to the most recent energy flow charts released by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.You’d be perfectly within your rights to say, It’s the economy, stupid, and that was the main takeaway from the Labs report last year. Not this time:“Energy use tends to follow the level of economic activity, and that level declined last year. At the same time, higher efficiency appliances and vehicles reduced energy use even further,” said A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst who develops the energy flow charts using data provided by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. “As a result, people an…

Boehner on Nuclear Energy, Arizona Match-Up

Here’s House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) during the Q&A following his economic speech yesterday:QUESTION: The only repository for nuclear waste planned or conceived or developed for this country is Yucca Mountain in Nevada, and it is stopped dead in its tracks by [Sen.] Harry Reid (R-Nev.). If the Republicans can take back Congress, what position would the party take on opening Yucca Mountain so our nuclear reactors have someplace to put their waste?BOEHNER: Most Republicans have supported Yucca Mountain for the twenty years that I've been here and the American people would be shocked to know how much nuclear waste is laying just miles from their home. It's laying at every nuclear plant in the country and why? Because we can't get Yucca Mountain finished because it's not politically correct. We've invested tens of billions of dollars in a storage facility that's as safe as anything we're going to find. Rep. Boehner is 100% correct, utility ra…

Who’s Afraid of Nuclear Energy?

The Patriot-Journal in Pennsylvania sees a solution:We talk and hear a lot about solar and wind power — in fact there are many government-backed programs providing grants and tax incentives for homeowners and companies willing to use these forms of energy production. But another part of our energy equation that is just as important but discussed far less is nuclear power. The only way the United States will ever become less dependent on other countries for our energy is to increase our commitment to nuclear energy. True. And it sees some of the problems with making this happen.Our government has yet to deal with the important issue of disposing of the nuclear waste. Incredibly the federal government has not disposed of any civilian nuclear waste and has no plan for doing so. Estimates show the government is more than 10 years behind schedule in its contractual obligations for waste disposal.And then it offers some advice:When he talks about green energy, President Obama must throw am…

Comparison of Energy Technologies on Economics, Jobs, Land Footprints and More

Last May, Public Utilities Fortnightly published an independent analysis by Navigant Consulting that provided some great comparisons between various energy technologies. One of the comparisons is the number of jobs created on an equivalent basis.To analyze the economic and workforce contributions of various energy technologies, the authors began by reviewing the contribution of permanent direct local jobs per megawatt of installed electric capacity for the most common types of generation technologies…On top of jobs, the analysis calculated the workforce impacts from each technology. Here’s what it said about nuclear:Nuclear plants create the largest workforce annual income based on both large capacity and being a labor-intensive technology (see Figure 3). The average wages in the nuclear industry compare favorably with other power generation technologies. While nuclear power plant operator wages may approach $50 an hour, the large support staff and security force wages tend to lower t…

The Vision of TVA

Even the most solid free marketeer has to have a soft spot for the Tennessee Valley Authority, founded in 1935 by the Federal Government to electrify and perform other tasks in the region.And what a region! The Tennessee valley didn’t get hit by a double whammy in the great depression but by multiple whammies all at once. Not only had farmland become depleted and the timberlands denuded but the area was riven by malaria (about 30 percent of the population). Economically, the area was on par with the poorest of countries, with annual income as low as $100.TVA was set up to deal with all of this – as well as provide electricity – and once officials got local leaders on their side – the people there did not trust bureaucrats - genuinely transformative work took place. TVA worked with farmers to develop different planting and crop rotation methods, developed fertilizers specific to the area, replanted forests, drained fetid ponds – mitigating the malaria – and electrified the region. It’…

Hanford and The Narrative of Nothing

So the AP wanted a story and by hell or high water, it got one:The Obama administration's decision to bypass Nevada's Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository should give Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a boost in his bid for a fifth term. The action is not doing another endangered Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, any favors.That’s because the nuclear waste at Washington’s Hanford site was slated to go to Yucca Mountain and since Murray was fourth in line in the Senate leadership, she should have been able to – do something – about it.In Washington state, Republican rival Dino Rossi is questioning whether Murray has done enough to challenge Reid and President Barack Obama over Yucca Mountain."She's No. 4 in leadership. It's not like she has no power," Rossi said. "She should be able to convince these folks that this is important."This seems a story about nothing at all. I get that Hanford is a perennial issue in Washington, but Ross…

No Controversy About Nuclear Energy

This is amusing:In expressing conditional support for nuclear energy, [Gov. Deval] Patrick joined Republican Charles Baker and Independent Tim Cahill in backing the controversial energy source."I agree with President Obama on this one,"Cahill said. Similarly, Baker said, "I'm glad to see the president decide that this is part of the agenda."“Controversial energy source?” Says who? Not any of the candidates for Massachusetts governor, evidently.---Yesterday, I mentioned some of the consequences of not passing a climate change bill, but forgot one: people get annoyed.Tens of thousands of protesters - and a few skeptics - have taken to the streets across Australia to urge the major political parties to take action on climate change.There’s an election coming up this weekend, so one could call this a last minute push. Interestingly, none of Australia’s parties seem to have gained much support for energy policy.Both Labor and the coalition have failed to take decis…

Global Warming and Sunspots

Scientific American’s John Horgan relates how Gwyneth Cravens and her book Power to Save the World (now in paperback) brought him to realize that nuclear energy has much to offer and not as many pitfalls as he thought. A fair amount of what he writes will be familiar to readers of nuclear energy blogs and other sites, but it is sometimes nice to find some factoids nicely summarized, even if you kind of know them. For example:Nuclear power in the U.S. has grown steadily more efficient and cheaper. Plants now operate at 90 percent of peak capacity (up from about 50 percent a few decades ago) compared with 73 percent for coal, 29 percent for hydroelectric, 16 to 38 percent for natural gas, 27 percent for wind and 19 percent for solar. In 2005 nuclear power was cheaper per kilowatt than any alternative. I knew some of those percentages but not all.If you, as an average American, got all your electricity from nuclear plants, you'd generate one kilogram of nuclear waste during your lif…

14th Carnival of Nuclear Energy: Random Topics and Big Equations

This week we get to host the nuclear carnival for the second time since it began. To start off, Charles Barton at Nuclear Green recruited NNadir (former DKos diarist) to share a post. NNadir back in the day wrote some of the most random but fun pieces about nuclear including bits on cesium, technetium and even lutefisk. In his first piece at Nuclear Green, NNadir discussed a number of topics including “one of [his] favorite things to do”: discredit Amory Lovins (he’s definitely not alone in that passion). Hope to see more from him.Speaking of Lovins, Brian Wang at Next Big Future rehashed and debunked some of Lovins’ old predictions from the 1970s. As well, Wang reported that his bet with another blogger on increased uranium production in Kazakhstan for 2010 and 2011 is “looking very good.” After debunking it two weeks ago, Rod Adams at Atomic Insights continued to “tamp down the spread of NC Warn sponsored misinformation regarding the comparison of solar and nuclear costs”. Also, ch…

A Renaissance Reimagined

Here comes the nuclear renaissance, reimagined. Robin Grimes of London’s Imperial College, with a group of scientists from there and the University of Cambridge, has put together a two-stage plan that aims to facilitate a large scale expansion of nuclear energy beginning in 2030. Stage 1 involves replacing or extending the life of current plants and stage 2 is the expansion beyond countries that now use nuclear energy. If that sounds familiar, it’s because both these stages are happening right now. While I was curious about the ideas behind this plan, it does seem that industry has not waited for him before acting on them. The study will be published in the magazine Science, but a lengthy announcement was published on Imperial College’s site. Let’s see what’s on offer.The researchers also suggest building small, modular reactors that never require refueling. These could be delivered to countries as sealed units, generating power for approximately 40 years. At the end of its life, the…

Hydraulic Fracturing

With the release of the "Pickens Plan" in 2008, natural gas gained added currency as a "bridge" fuel that could reduce our dependence on oil for transportation and displace coal for baseload electrical generation. The appeal was fueled by a rapid rise in the amount of natural gas coming from new domestic sources, primarily gas-bearing shales.

While proponents have talked confidently about the potential for abundant natural gas from shales, others have expressed concern about reports of environmental damage from the chemicals used in extracting gas from shale. Home Box Office (HBO) weighed in this summer with a film full of scare stories about those chemicals. According to HBO, the film, Gasland, features "...interviews with ordinary citizens whose lives have been irreparably altered by hydraulic fracturing." The HBO web site adds, "Part verite road trip, part expose, part mystery, and part showdown, Gasland follows director Josh Fox on a 24-state inve…

The START Treaty Gets a Push

The new START treaty between the United States and Russia (the previous one expired in December) has fallen off the radar a bit since President Barack Obama signed it and sent it to Congress last May. The treaty was not ratified before Congress’ August recess.Here’s what the treaty means to do, in its own words:1. Each Party shall reduce and limit its ICBMs and ICBM
launchers, SLBMs and SLBM launchers, heavy bombers, ICBM
warheads, SLBM warheads, and heavy bomber nuclear armaments, so that seven years after entry into force of this Treaty and thereafter, the aggregate numbers, as counted in accordance with Article I11 of this Treaty, do not exceed:(a) 700, for deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed
heavy bombers;(b) 1550, for warheads on deployed ICBMs, warheads on
deployed SLBMs, and nuclear warheads counted for deployed
heavy bombers;(c) 800, for deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers,
deployed and non-deployed SLBM launchers, and deployed an…

Nuclear in France, Egypt, Germany: Has It, Wants It, Needs It

A company called Research and Markets has put out a report called France Power Report 2010. I couldn’t begin to afford it – almost 600 Euros – but the description includes some interesting tidbits:Nuclear energy is the dominant fuel in France, accounting for 38.4% of primary energy demand (PED), followed by oil at 36.2%, gas at 15.9%, coal with a 4.2% share of PED and hydro-electric power with 5.4%.This is for all power sources, not just electricity generation – France is at about 80 percent there with nuclear energy.And this:The new France Power Report from the analysts forecasts that the country will account for 7.77% of power generation in developed markets by 2014, and to remain a net exporter of electricity to neighboring states. The analyst-developed power generation estimate  for 2009 is 7,152 terawatt hours (TWh), representing a decrease of 4.8% over the previous year. We are forecasting a rise in regional generation to 7,745TWh between 2010 and 2014, representing an increase…

NIRS Article at Daily Kos Needs Reality Check

Last week at Daily Kos, the Nuclear Information Resource Service published an ill-informed essay composed of inaccuracies and wild assumptions about the Calvert Cliffs 3 (CC3) nuclear project. The NIRS essay argues that the CC3 project suffers from a flawed economic model and concludes that all U.S. nuclear power projects and others worldwide are therefore also doomed to failure. Unfortunately, much of what the essay lacked is a basic understanding that building and operating power plants is a business that depends on a number of wide-ranging market forces.For the rest of our response, head on over to Daily Kos. The site generates quite a good number of comments and creates excellent discussions and debates.

Green Lantern’s Light

At Slate’s Green Lantern blog, Nina Shen Rastogi takes a judicious look at nuclear energy, writing a bit like a person trying to understand the pros and cons.:I thought nuclear reactors were an absolute no-go for environmentalists. But I keep hearing them touted as a clean energy source. What are nuclear energy's green credentials?Here’s a pro:For all this, it's worth noting that uranium is a very efficient energy source: One ton of natural uranium can produce the same number of kilowatt-hours as 16,000 tons of coal or 80,000 barrels of oil.Here’s a con:Advocates are fond of noting that nuclear power provides 70 percent of the country's "carbon-free" energy. But nuclear energy isn't really a zero-carbon system, since you still have to build power plants, mine and enrich uranium, and transport processed fuel, all of which typically rely on CO2-emitting fuel sources.But she understands that we’ve got to live in the world as it is and this is how it is. However…

Georgia Nuclear Peachy

Southern Co. is busily working on the site for their two new reactors at its Plant Vogtle site in Georgia, so the Associated Press decided to ask the state’s Republican gubernatorial candidates what they think about nuclear energy in the state.Answer: they’re for it.Here’s former Congressman Nathan Deal:"I believe it is an answer to part of our energy issues," Deal said in a recent interview. "It is a renewable resource."Well, sustainable, anyway, but we’ll take it.And here’s former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel:"I support a diversification of our sources for electrical generation and believe that nuclear power represents a safe and clean option and should continue to play significant role in Georgia's overall power generation supply," she said in a statement.Here’s Handel’s Web site – she won an endorsement from former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, which is right up front. On the issues page, she doesn’t have an energy section, though I may…

Germany’s Nuclear Conundrum

It takes some amount of bravery to admit you need what you do not like and you will suffer it for as long as you need to:The lifespan of Germany's nuclear power plants must be extended "modestly" in order to gradually reach the country's goal of having renewable energy as its main source of energy, German Vice-chancellor and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Wednesday.Which must mean that Germany is very close to that goal, yes?In 2008 the gross electric power generation in Germany totaled 639 billion kWh. A major proportion of the electricity supply is based on lignite (23.5 %), nuclear energy (23.3 %) and hard coal (20.1 %). Natural gas has a share of 13 %. Renewables (wind, water, biomass) account for 15.1 %.These numbers are – not attractive – if the goal is to shut off 23 percent of the clean air electricity produced in the country when nearly 44 percent – 57 percent when you add in natural gas – emit impressive amounts of carbon dioxide – the displacemen…

Nuclear Energy In Increments and In Taiwan

Duncan Currie takes a look at various energy sources and the history of their use – using the books Energy Myths and Realities by Vaclav Smil and Power Hungry by Robert Bryce as a basis – and comes to some conclusions that, at the very least, are true:Compared with solar and wind, nuclear and natural-gas energy boast much higher power density and can deliver far greater capacity. Bryce argues that they are the true "fuels of the future," though he concedes that nuclear plants are extremely costly to build and take a long time to become operational. Therefore, he urges a short-term expansion of natural-gas production and a long-term transition to nuclear.Earlier in the piece, Currie’s survey leads him to conclude that large shifts in energy policy are incremental and thus the run up to a nuclear future need not be immediate to be effective. He exaggerates a bit. Southern Co.’s Plant Vogtle reactors are scheduled to go online in 2016 and 2017, which isn’t all that far off, an…

Is Solar Really Cheaper Than Nuclear?

Based on an anti-nuclear group’s report, the New York Times and its global edition, the International Herald Tribune, published a piece last week claiming that solar is now cheaper than nuclear. Rod Adams right off the bat saw through the bunkum and took the NYT as well as the anti-nuclear group’s report to town. After taking a closer look, we have more to add. The report the NYT references comes from the group North Carolina Waste Awareness & Reduction Network (WARN). Below is the thesis of their 18 page report (pdf):Here in North Carolina, solar electricity, once the most expensive of the “renewables,” has become cheaper than electricity from new nuclear plants.When digging into the foundation of this statement, there’s one key factor in the solar cost assumptions that makes all the difference. As Rod pointed out, it’s that they are based on large incentives. On page 17 of the report, this sentence explains the large solar incentives included in the calculations:A 30% Federal ta…