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Showing posts from November, 2013

Maybe Yes Maybe No for Nuclear Energy in Bolivia

Add another country to the growing list of those who know there’s something to this nuclear energy thing:Bolivia is on track to develop a national nuclear power program for peaceful civilian purposes that include building electricity export capacity in the country, official media reported. According to the UPI story, this has been percolating since last month, when Bolivian President Evo Morales reactivated a long-delayed nuclear energy program. This has proven mildly controversial because Morales has had fractious relations with the United States – the countries booted out each other’s ambassadors in 2008 - though the relationship has improved in recent years. Whether Bolivia can field a nuclear energy program is guesswork at this time. Bolivia is a relatively small country – with about 10.5 million in population – and poverty alleviation is a priority for the Morales government. While the country might be a prime candidate for clean-energy industrialization, there is a lot of stres…

Absent a Repository, Nuclear Waste Fee Suspended

The nuclear waste fee, established by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, pays for the building of a permanent repository for used nuclear fuel. When the government settled on Nevada’s Yucca Mountain for the repository site, Congress in 1987 amended the act to include it. All that made sense – the industry paid for a repository and the government would take charge of used fuel and put it there. But when President Barack Obama ended the Yucca Mountain project in 2009 with no alternative site envisioned, numerous unresolved problems developed: first, the law stipulates Yucca Mountain and no place else as the repository. And second, how much money should the industry’s ratepayers pay into the nuclear waste fund without an actual repository to fund. Is $29 billion enough? Because that’s how much has been collected. Should the industry keep paying about $750 million per year when the government has no designated repository site to spend it on. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington rul…

The Distraction of Coal at COP19

The Warsaw COP19 climate change negotiations experienced a bit of local competition that proved to be pretty interesting itself: the International Coal and Climate Summit, held at Poland’s Ministry of Economy.Here’s the description:International Coal & Climate Summit will bring together the leadership of the world’s largest coal producing companies, energy & heat producers, coal-consuming industry representatives, senior policy-makers, academics and NGO representatives to discuss the role of coal in the global economy, in the context of the climate change agenda. The industry’s most important event this year will be held at the Ministry of Economy of Poland during climate change negotiations.The keynote address, delivered by Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is notably stark and to the point:Development banks have stopped funding unabated coal. Commercial financial institutions are analyzing the implications of…

The Irrational Now and the Catastrophic Later: Nuclear Energy in a Time of Climate Change

Nathan Myhrvold, the former Microsoft technology office and current venture capitalist with a position on the board of nuclear energy startup Terrapower (whew!), makes the case:Nuclear technology is scary to some people because they fear extremely improbable scenarios while ignoring the virtual certainty of climate issues. Ironically people who argue against nuclear on environmental grounds may contribute to a far greater environmental catastrophe. Unfortunately the physics of climate change makes the here and now danger too easy to ignore. He goes on to explain that the worst impacts of climate change will happen over the course of the 21st century and beyond. He doesn’t say it, but that means many of us won’t be around to experience it and what Myhrvold implies – well, let’s let him say it:This means that if we wait until temperature change becomes an obvious and immediate problem, we’ll only be half way through the warming caused by carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere…

The Right Context for Nuclear Energy

Sometimes, we run into statements about nuclear energy that do not really cry out to be said. It’s not that any number of things, many quite trivial, don’t get said in the course of a given day, it’s that a little more thought might warn one away from speaking. For example:“Sometimes it does but it’s a tricky thing to determine that concept [probably means context]. We can find many instances in which parties have tried to implement nuclear power in the wrong context, which leads to high costs and exposes populations to a greater risk of accident so it’s important to find the right context for nuclear energy.” Okay, I guess, if awfully presumptuous. Let’s start with this and see where it goes.“Nuclear energy has some specific requirements,” he said. “In Bolivia, which is a landlocked nation where it’s relatively arid so there’s no water cooling, it would be very difficult. In some cases, it’s a geographically imposed context. In others, it’s the size, or if a country has bad credit, b…

“I think nuclear will have to be an option.”

Southern Co. has not had a bad time putting up two new reactors at its Plant Vogtle site in Georgia, so maybe they can do a little more of that (behind a pay wall, though you can join for the day for 99 cents – though your email will never see the end of solicitations):The company — convinced natural gas and alternative fuels will not satisfy future demand — is already considering whether to start the process toward another, post-Vogtle nuclear project, a top executive says.“I can tell you that we want to keep nuclear as an option on the table, so don’t be surprised if we start a licensing process to keep that option alive,” President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Bowers said in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “(It’s) a 10-year, 10-to 12-year process to build. So keeping it alive, I think we have to keep that in consideration.”Bowers says the idea would be to consider new build after determining Georgia’s electricity needs in 2025. But what about renewables. Me…

Born Among Goats: Nuclear Energy and the Liberal Project

CNN has been soliciting a lot of op-ed style pieces to promote its showing of Pandora’s Promise. As Eric points out in the post below, CNN has really done a good job gathering this material, though both pro- and anti-nuclear energy advocates often use their space to make clear their talking points, assuming – probably correctly – that many people have not been engaged in their somewhat internecine arguments. Still, Rachel Pritzker, president of the Pritzker Innovation Fund, tries an interesting approach.It is time for policymakers to recognize that nuclear power must be a robust part of our nation's energy plan to reduce carbon emissions.These may seem like strange words coming from a liberal whose family has been active in progressive politics, and who grew up on a Wisconsin goat farm in a home heated by wood fires. Like many of my fellow progressives, I care deeply about the environment and the future of our planet, which is precisely why I do not think we should be reflexively…

With Pandora's Promise in Hand, CNN Shining Light on Politics of Yucca Mountain

I'm a Washington policy professional but also a Washington native, and so over the better part of four decades I've developed a distinct appreciation for how policy in this city is covered by the fourth estate. To cut to the chase: I'm pretty much underwhelmed/infuriated by a wide swath of the Washington press corps on pretty much a daily basis. But not today.

For the better part of the past month I've worked closely and in most rewarding fashion with the producer-reporter tandem of David Fitzpatrick and Drew Griffin of CNN. Tonight of course that outlet is airing the magnificent documentary 'Pandora's Promise.' In support of the documentary CNN has devoted extraordinary resources this fall to informing the public about nuclear energy. In sprawling digital and broadcast news and commentary this week, CNN has covered nuclear's voices pro and con, academic and activist, political and wonkish. Nuclear power in the United States has known both triumph and s…

Climate Change/Nuclear Energy Letter Receives Broad News Coverage

We mentioned the letter by four leading climate change scientists, James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Tom Wigley, and Ken Caldeira, on Monday [the post right below this one] and predicted it would get some pickup in the mainstream press. Prediction fulfilled: next up, this week’s lottery numbers.The stories have included some other interesting information that bolster the notion that nuclear energy can make a decided difference in mitigating climate change. Here’s the Detroit News:Stephen Ansolabehere, a Harvard professor who studies energy issues, said nuclear power is “very divisive” within the environmental movement. But he added that the letter could help educate the public about the difficult choices that climate change presents.One major environmental advocacy organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, warned that “nuclear power is no panacea for our climate woes.”Even the nuclear energy industry doesn’t call nuclear energy a climate woe panacea. I’m pretty sure no one does…

Four Noted Climate Change Scientists Say: More Nuclear Energy, Please.

Four of the world’s top climate scientists issued an open letter urging environmental groups and politicians worldwide to support nuclear energy as a primary way to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions known to contribute to global warming. James Hansen of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and formerly at NASA, Ken Caldeira, senior scientist in the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tom Wigley, a climate scientist at Australia’s University of Adelaide, wrote that renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy cannot by themselves stem the threat of global warming. The letter agrees that:Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires.While the authors say that it is theoretically po…

Nuclear Energy Futures Up at World Energy Congress

Interesting words from the OECD:Luis Echavarri, director general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's Nuclear Energy Agency, told the World Energy Congress that a survey by the intergovernmental organization of industrialized nations found that 25 of its 34 member nations planned to build more nuclear power plants.That is despite some nations, including Germany, Italy and Switzerland, having decided to phase out nuclear power after a powerful earthquake and tsunami triggered equipment failure and a prolonged release of radioactive material at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2011.I’d be less interested if this were a nuclear energy meeting – you expect this kind of thing at that kind of thing – but the World Energy Congress does not have a pro- or anti-agenda – well, sort of, as we’ll see. Still, the speakers are nuclear-specific. It’s how they’re being specific that’s interesting:Danny Roderick, chief executive of US-based nuclear technology a…