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Showing posts from October, 2010

Time, Liability and the Deutsch Again

TIME Magazine’s Joe Klein offers President Barack Obama some advice on working with Republicans this week. Much of it is a little glib, but how could we not like this:If Obama wants to get a major stimulus program through the next Congress, he should propose the National Defense Nuclear Power Act. And make it big: a plan to blast past the current financing and licensing quagmires and break ground on 25 new nuclear plants between now and 2015.
…The program would be wildly stimulative: 25 new plants could produce more than 70,000 construction jobs. Nuclear energy produces about a fifth of U.S. electricity now; this could raise that figure closer to a third. And the loans will be paid back, over time, by utility customers.Depending on your perspective, you can see this as a little glib – part of Klein’s premise is that this would be popular with Republicans, which feels more than a little outdated. He’s right about the stimulative nature of building nuclear energy plants and who do…

Constellation and EDF Part Ways

We did not follow stories about Constellation Energy and its decision not to accept a loan guarantee on terms offered by the government because no one story really moved the initial news forward. Too much speculation, too little substance can create considerable drama but not much in the way of useful information. But today, the story generated some facts:Constellation Energy settled its dispute with French utility giant Electricite de France on Tuesday, selling its half of a joint venture to develop new nuclear power plants and dropping its threat to exercise an option to force EDF to buy a dozen aging fossil fuel plants.Note the word “dispute.” That’s drama. Note the word “force.” That’s false, as there was a contractual arrangement between the two companies to bring about this result, thus no force required. Beyond that, this Washington Post story makes clear that EDF means to move forward with nuclear energy. As you might imagine, this is a pretty complex parting of the ways. Her…

A Roundtable, A Voice and Death

Interesting roundtable discussion over at Penn Central. Participants include John Herron, president, CEO and chief nuclear officer of Entergy Nuclear; Mark Marano, Areva senior vice president of U.S. new build operations; Danny Roderick, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy's senior vice president for new plant projects; Christofer Mowry, president and CEO, B&W Modular Nuclear Energy, LLC; and Deva Chari, Westinghouse senior vice president of Nuclear Power Plants.Lots of different topics are discussed: here’s a sampling of the questions:There has been a lot of talk about the possibility of a nuclear renaissance globally. What is the outlook for new nuclear projects over the next couple of years, especially given the global recession?How are the dynamics for new nuclear in North America different than they were a couple of years ago?The Department of Energy approved a federal loan guarantee last February for Southern’s proposed units, but nothing has happened since then. Constellation En…

Good Words on Nuclear Energy

John Batchelor hosts a radio talk show known for the variety of topics it covers and guests it draws. The show is broadcast in the evenings here on the East Coast, and podcasts of past shows are available on the show's website. For us, one of the more interesting guests recently was John Moore, CEO of Acorn Energy, who appeared in the fourth hour of the October 15 show (Minutes 0:00-9:27). Mr. Moore has a new book called "The Hidden Cleantech Revolution: Five Priorities for Securing America's Energy Future without Breaking the Bank."

In his Batchelor Show appearance, Mr. Moore spoke about inconsistencies in federal policies towards nuclear energy, contrasting the promise of loan guarantees on the one hand with killing the Yucca Mountain project on the other. Mr. Batchelor remarked on the unreasonably high 11% fee the government would have charged for its loan guarantee on the Calvert Cliffs-3 project. Mr. Moore offered figures showing that nuclear is among the least…

Around the World in 80 Seconds or So

A few quick hits.New or newish to the nuclear party – ChileChile will send 30 professionals abroad to fine-tune their knowledge and expertise in nuclear energy, which is an integral part of government plans to someday decide on building an energy-producing nuclear power plant, the nation's president said Wednesday.The Chileans are moving at a deliberate pace – might be something in the national character, as some other countries want their plants up and running now."Chile has to prepare itself for the world of nuclear energy...The decision won't be made now, not even during our government. But our government has the obligation to prepare our engineers, scientists and technical workers," [President Sebatian] Pinera said, while on tour in Paris, his first official visit to Europe.It does take awhile, but the Yellow Brick Road does eventually get to the Emerald City.---Sri Lanka:The Sri Lankan government is planning to establish a nuclear power plant here to meet the g…

Where Do Your Volts Come From?

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins devoted his weekly column to a critical review of GM's electric car offering, the Chevy Volt. Mr. Jenkins made several important points, but perhaps the most important was recognizing that little will be gained if the electricity to recharge these cars comes from carbon-intensive sources. He notes the irony that "...the Volt rolls out amid news that an investor is abandoning a big U.S. nuclear project" (presumably he is referring to last weekend's announcement about Constellation's Calvert Cliffs 3 project).

We're all for greater use of electricity in transportation. Using electricity produced by clean nuclear power plants, electric automobiles could help reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector and begin to displace some of the oil used in motor fuels. That strikes us as a good thing for the nation and a great way to leverage our expertise in operating nuclear power plants safely and effici…

Venezuela Gets a Pass, Whitman Talks Nuclear

In writing about Venezuela’s nuclear energy ambitious, I wondered what the U.S. response would be. Now we know:"We have no incentive nor interest in increasing friction between Venezuela and the US, but we do think Venezuela needs to act responsibly," [President Barack] Obama told Spanish media at the White House."Our attitude is that Venezuela has rights to peacefully develop nuclear power," he said, adding that as a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty it must also meet its obligations not to weaponize those systems.So there you go. And Venezuela is moving right along:Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez clinched a deal in Moscow on Friday that will see Russia build and operate the first nuclear power plant in his country.You can read the rest of the story for more.---Former EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman weighs in on the renewable electricity standard, which will require that utilities get a percentage of their power from non-carbon-emitting energy s…

Wisconsin Clean Sweep

Awhile ago, we featured a race for the House in New York in which all three candidates offered support for nuclear energy. New York, meet Wisconsin:It could be the most radical yet least discussed policy change coming for Wisconsin. Both candidates for governor  – Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican – said in a recent survey they would support lifting the ban on the construction of new nuclear power plants in the state.No offense to Milwaukee Magazine’s Matt Hrodey, but if that’s the most radical idea coming down Wisconsin’s pike, time to hit the off-ramp. We know Wisconsin isn’t that dull.After all, as Hrodey himself points out, Wisconsin has plants – Kewaunee and Point Beach – and they chug along quite tidily:Nuclear power generates about 20 percent of the state’s power, according to the Public Service Commission.The article aims to produce some controversy, though, so there’s this:Sharing similar concerns about atomic …

The Wind and the Tide

Internet search engine giant Google announced Tuesday that it is investing in a mammoth project to build an underwater "superhighway for clean energy" that would be able to funnel power from offshore wind farms to 1.9 million homes without overtaxing the already congested mid-Atlantic power grid.Why?While the project is outside of Google's normal focus, officials said, "We believe in investing in projects that make good business sense and further the development of renewable energy."Well, that makes enough sense as not to matter. If Google wants to do this, and its shareholders don’t raise objections, why not? It certainly has a good profile.Some of what I’ve read raises questions, though not really about the utility of the project. There’s this:Consumers who would receive electricity through the grid would help fund the project, Mitchell added, although he said at this point, "It's hard to say what will be the impact on the consumer."Mitchell is…

23rd Carnival of Nuclear Energy: Uphill Battles and Spaghetti Regulations

For the third time since the nuclear carnivals began, we have the privilege of hosting this week’s highlights of the pro nuclear blogs. In no particular order, we start with Ted Rockwell at Learning About Energy who contributed a thought-provoking essay on the topsy-turvy world of nuclear energy. Here’s his synopsis:Nuclear means being special. That brings special favors, but we soon learn that it also brings a curse that is hard to shake: no solution that would otherwise be quite adequate is ever good enough for nuclear. People are ready to believe that our competitors’ problems will soon be solved, but for nuclear, we have to promise that we’ll make each succeeding plant safer than its predecessors.Rod Adams at Atomic Insights has been racking up the comments after challenging the regulatory system on excessive costs due to the extremely conservative linear no threshold theory:The regulatory system in the US for nuclear energy is based on the assumption that all radiation, no mat…

Dead Nuclear Plants Walking?

Is the expansion of nuclear energy stopped in its tracks in light of Constellation Energy’s withdrawing from the loan guarantee process?Not so fast. Brain Wheeler at Power-Gen checks in with several companies to see what’s happening. Here’s NRG:Although many may see the Calvert Cliffs 3 and the South Texas Project (STP) as very similar, [NRG spokesman David] Knox said there are in fact more differences than similarities in the two. He said that by selecting a reactor that has already been built … [in Japan], it decreases the amount of risk when building a nuclear plant. NRG expects to receive a license from NRC in 2012 and said that both planned units at STP would cost roughly $10 billion, total.What Knox is getting at is that Constellation and NRG’s projects are different enough to result in a different, better OMB [Office of Management and Budget ] score for STP. This may or may not prove to be true – the major argument to be made here is that OMB uses a formula for calculating def…

O Canada: ElBaradei and the Oil Sands

Mohammed ElBaradei, the previous head of the IAEA, is in Canada to talk about energy security. When I read something like this from him:There is a broader sense that without stability you will not really have energy security," he said in an exclusive interview with the [Calgary] Herald. "You will not have energy security unless you have a global security system that enables everybody to feel that they have enough to have a decent life. If you continue to have sort of an obscene gap between the rich and the poor and the instability, that will definitely have an impact on your energy security. Energy security is just the tip of the iceberg."I remember why I find him an admirable figure – he did a terrific job at the IAEA promoting the needs of smaller countries and tempering some inflammatory rhetoric from a few of the more powerful member countries. The growing interest in nuclear energy throughout Asia and Africa likely owes at least a nod in the direction of ElBaradei…

Constellation Pulls Out of the Loan Guarantee Process

Constellation Energy surprised many by pulling out of the loan guarantee process for the Calvert Cliffs 3 project in Maryland.Senior administration officials said Constellation's decision was "a surprise," but a Constellation Energy spokesman Larry McDonnell said that the administration's loan guarantee terms were "unworkable" and that Constellation had told the Energy Department "we can't move forward."Specifically, Senior Vice-Chairman and COO Michael Wallace said in a letter to DOE’s COO Larry Poneman:As you know, however, as our application went through preliminary credit review during the Summer, we were surprised to be presented with a shockingly high estimate of the credit subsidy cost that we and our partners would have to pay the U.S. Treasury in order to obtain the loan guarantee: 11.6%, or about $880 million. Such a sum would clearly destroy the project's economics (or the economics of any nuclear project for that matter), and …

An Educated Consumer

Let’s call it Partnership Friday:Japan has submitted a bid to construct a nuclear energy power plant in Turkey through the mediation of Toshiba, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yıldız has said.And the Turks seem amenable:“We see this offer from Japan as an important bid in terms of our efforts to construct nuclear power plants in Turkey.However, we told them that we cannot give them a definite answer before concluding our negotiations with South Korea,” Yıldız said.But if the South Koreans lose? Well:Korea signed an agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy with South Africa Friday, completing the necessary procedure to make Korean firms eligible to access the nuclear energy market there.
The announcement came about a month after South Africa announced plans to build more nuclear reactors to cope with soaring demand for electricity.Oddly, South Africa doesn’t seem to acknowledge two Koreas. Maybe the South Koreans call it Africa.And keeping the daisy chain going…

Who’s Got the Solar Panels?

Well, President Jimmy Carter was one. His panels were taken down by his successor, ronald Reagan, and ended up at Unity college in Maine. An environmental activist, Bill McKibben, decided to take them back to the White House last month to see if the current occupant, Barack Obama, might reinstall them. But he had a problem:As McKibben's party made its way from Maine to Washington, D.C., they had just one "nagging concern": They hadn't heard any confirmation from the White House that Obama would see them.But this has kind of a soft human interest angle, so why not?In the end, McKibben and company did end up with a meeting, with two unnamed "environmental bureaucrats," but the Carter panel and the Sungevity donation were refused.Sungevity was going to donate a “full solar system” – I’m not sure what that means – a system capable of running the entire White House? In any event, no go.The response? Not too good:The Obama administration's reluctance to put …

About that Showdown at Yucca Mountain

Issues in Science and Technology is a quarterly publication put out by the National Academy of Sciences, and in its newest issue, out this week, Luther Carter, Lake Barrett, and Kenneth Rogers author a critique of the Obama administration for its re-examination of U.S. policy on the back end of the fuel cycle. In fact, the authors of ‘Nuclear Waste Disposal: Showdown at Yucca Mountain’ [subscription required] don’t acknowledge the legitimacy of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. The essay is a political polemic, and it fails to recognize the strategic advantages associated with centralized long-term management of used nuclear fuel.

Is U.S. policy on the back end of the fuel cycle ideal? Absolutely not. The United States needs a path forward for the long-term management of high-level radioactive waste from civilian and defense programs, but new nuclear plants will or will not be built on electricity demand fundamentals, not the political football that has been, and …

Venezuela’s Nuclear Plans

File it under “Another Country Considers Nuclear” – but with an asterisk this time:Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Monday that his government is carrying out initial studies into starting a nuclear energy program.Chavez brought up the issue during a news conference, saying the South American country needs an atomic energy program.And this isn’t necessarily diabolical. For all that Chavez is viewed as a bad actor, Venezuela certainly needs more electricity and while almost totally dependent on renewable energy sources (62% hydro, 38% thermal), these are tapped – like Venezuela, Brazil has also turned to nuclear energy because it cannot further grow its hydro capacity.Venezuela is largely an urban nation, with 86% of its 26 million people clustered into cities. So a nuclear energy plant could bolster its capacity rapidly – and it needs it; Chavez declared a state of emergency earlier this year after a drought hampered its hydro capabilities. As a result of the drought, it’s band-…

Greenpeace Guns A-Blazin’!

After a series of posts about Germany and its decision to keep its nuclear plants open while transitioning to renewable energy sources– and good luck on that! – it was time to move on to other subjects, however much the Germans had turned that overly tortured episode into an amusing soap opera. However, a soap opera needs a villain to keep the pot boiling and one has to admit that the German effort didn’t have a very clearly defined antagonist. Until now:Chernobyl-like disasters at Germany's most vulnerable reactors could render parts of the country uninhabitable for decades, Greenpeace has warned.For a Chernobyl-like disaster, you’d need, at a minimum, an RBMK reactor, which Germany does not have. (The design is banned in the U.S.) But let’s allow that Greenpeace means this metaphorically – since it’s not going to make distinctions, any energy plant with nuclear on its mailbox is a potential Chernobyl.In the case of a Chernobyl-like disaster at Kruemmel, a reactor south of Hambu…

Terminating the Alien Abyss: A Titanic Endorsement of Nuclear Energy – True, No Lies

James Cameron, the world’s most money making film director, was visiting the Canadian tar sands (which the Canadians call oilsands – I guess we should join them in that, shouldn’t we?) the other day:Peter Mansbridge has a Canadian broadcast exclusive interview with director James Cameron, who visited Alberta to see the oilsands for himself. A native-born Canadian, Cameron has said that he is concerned with the criticisms leveled at Alberta's oilsands operation and is eager to learn whether they are true or not. Tonight, we find out what he learned on his fact-finding trip.And here’s what Cameron said to Mansbridge (our transcript):They [the Canadian government] kept coming back and mentioning nuclear as a possible way to input energy into the system. I personally – this is a little controversial in the environmental world – personally, I wouldn’t have a problem with that because we’re not Russia. We’re not going to have a Chernobyl. We’re smarter than that. And it’s actually one …