So . . . What Do We Do Now?



So . . .  What Do We Do Now?

Charles W. Pennington, MS, MBA

Jeffry A. Siegel, PhD

Bill Sacks, PhD, MD

October 2014

An opinion of what really needs correcting in our industry, and a recommendation on getting "radioactively" involved in that correction today for a better tomorrow!




As members and supporters of  the U.S. nuclear industry, we have experienced a rough and rather traumatic time over the last 6 years, or so. But during the last few months, many of us may have begun to feel that things could be turning our way just a bit. We see that small modular reactors (SMRs) appear to be here to stay and that their licensing is now firmly planned (while also realizing that the first SMR is still at least a decade away). We see that a few large reactors of conventional design have made progress in licensing and even construction (while recalling that several times that number have been cancelled over the last 6 years). We also note that the Waste Confidence political and regulatory brouhaha seems to have been timely addressed and, perhaps, resolved, at least until the next political onslaught to stop nuclear energy. (Reid between the lines here, if you would, please.) But we also recall that some of the regulatory analyses produced to support the NRC's assertion of waste confidence showed that a number of  people could die as fictitious latent cancer fatalities (LCF) due to exposure to ionizing radiation (IR) within a 10 mile radius of a reactor that experiences a spent fuel storage pool fire. These regulatory analyses using highly conservative safety codes included several typical assumptions that are beyond credibility. 


So it still appears that all is not quite right in our industry, and the problem seems to be, at least to some of us, that our industry continues unaggressive action, doing too little about the issue that really controls the present and future (as it has controlled the past) of the safest and most ecologically friendly technology for generating central station electricity: nuclear energy. And that issue, my friends, is public fear – fear of nuclear energy technology, because the more basic fear of uncontrollable releases of threatening exposures to cancer-causing IR is associated, almost uniquely in the public's eye, with nuclear energy.  The history of nuclear power, nuclear energy, and our own industry, from the earliest years, demonstrates the growth of this public fear, fed by the cooperation of bad science, anti-nuclear politics and commercial interests, and the media. Some of this history, with key references, was summarized at the Packaging and Transportation of Radioactive Materials (PATRAM) Symposium in August 2013 in San Francisco (Ref 1). Despite an enviable safety record and no demonstrated LCF impact on the public from nuclear energy, even after an accident, our industry has not been able to overcome a deluge of public fear-mongering.


As an industry, we have nothing to fear . . . (well, you know the rest), but the fear we must fear is that of the public. However, we should also be at least concerned that this fear situation is not static.  It is most dynamic, and in a fashion that is not helpful to our cause. There are many "researchers" that are now publishing extensively on an assortment of new IR fear topics.  It is stunning to see some new "research" actually being peer-reviewed and published using data that are highly questionable in their content or in the assumptions used to mine the data, and then fitting these data to models that already assume a linearity of fit (because the Linear No-Threshold hypothesis {LNTH} is already accepted science, right?). The only best-fit of sometimes questionable data is said to be the best linear fit, two errors in one piece of research.


How the LNTH Is Being Used Against Our Industry


There are many examples of current efforts to demonize IR in peer-reviewed journals and many conclusions or recommendations of these articles find their way to the public, the major media outlets being such effective agents to stoke the fear-furnace within an already fearful public.  For instance, Ref. 2 reports on how CT scans in children may be leading to childhood leukemia and brain tumors. And Ref. 3 purports to show that even exposure of children to natural background radiation can cause leukemia. Both of these studies have produced scientifically invalid results, but have been reported in the media as causes for public concern, and these are not isolated cases by any means. The media are not capable of discerning the truth in such studies, but they certainly know what sells. Such publicized studies survive most scrutiny because they use the LNTH to prove the scary points they make [the LNTH states that a) the relationship of LCFs to dose is linear down to 0, and b) any collective dose to a population produces the same number of LCFs no matter how the dose is distributed]. What happens is people read so much about IR becoming a villain and causing cancer, whether the IR exposure results from good or ill intent, that their fear of IR increases.


Here's a very simple example of how the LNTH can be further used to advance a silly idea that common behavior can cause massive global cancer mortality, and how our industry is treated so differently from non-nuclear industries that produce large public IR exposures annually.  


We know that the foods we eat contain small amounts of radioactivity, such as 40K in bananas (the well-known banana equivalent dose {BED} effect). Likewise, we know that if you sleep with a partner, spend time physically close to your family and friends, or just mingle in crowds, you will be exposed to radiation from the 40K contained within these other persons. The IR dose to a person from exposure to 40K due to an average personal proximity of 10 cm for 8 hr./day from others throughout his/her lifetime is 2.3 mSv (see Note).


This dose is on the order of one additional year of exposure to an average background radiation level in the U.S., a level which has been "proven" to represent a significant cancer risk (see Ref. 3). Given that the entire world’s population of approximately 7 billion is potentially subjected to this additional radiation dose, the number of LNTH-derived worldwide cancer deaths is horrifying. According to the widely promoted ICRP LNTH-derived fatal cancer risk estimate of 0.0115% for this 2.3 mSv exposure, over 800,000 LCFs are expected. If the LNTH is viewed as accepted science, this result should bring about a recommendation to control personal proximity exposure, never sleep with anyone, and perish the thought of getting any closer than 10 cm, even for short periods of time.


But it is worse than that. We have not accounted for additional "deadly" sources of exposure that, per the LNTH, could kill many more of us and, therefore, need to be controlled or eliminated.  We know, for example, that there are many non-nuclear industries in the U.S. that deliver annual average collective doses to the public greater than anything that can result from nuclear energy in the U.S.(and some of these industries generate such doses from technologically enhanced, natural sources). These industries involve such activities as airline travel, consuming potable water, living near or working on farms, living or working in buildings constructed of  natural materials, working with natural construction materials, producing tobacco products, smoking, and providing medical imaging procedures.  None of these industries are regulated with respect to their peak or average doses to the served public, yet their actual annual doses far exceed any possible dose from the nuclear fuel cycle.  Just a select few of these non-nuclear industries deliver more than a billion person-mSv to the U.S. public annually, with a pronounced lognormal distribution that causes millions of Americans to be exposed to IR doses exceeding the worst (first) year of doses from Chernobyl (Ref. 4). Aren't there ethics issues here? If the LNTH is true (or at least appropriate) for nuclear energy, should we not apply the LNTH to these other industries, as well, to reduce  all these additional LCFs from IR exposures in order to be internally consistent with our professional ALARA lifestyle?  And who reports all these LCFs to the public or advocates against such LCFs with all the non-nuclear industries in the U.S. that expose the public to IR? Do we not consider as part of our commitment to nuclear energy that ALARA must be maintained, that low doses of IR have no redeeming qualities? Should we really be allowed to vacation at high altitudes, fly whenever we want, eat/drink whatever we want, have close personal contact, and have medical imaging even when it is needed? Do we accept that nuclear energy IR exposures should be regulated so stringently and be postulated as the greatest threat to the public from IR while all these other (and far greater) exposures get a pass?  


Indeed, does not the LNTH fully answer the vexing question posed by Sir Laurence Olivier as Dr. Szell in the movie Marathon Man:



If we believe in the LNTH and ALARA, and why wouldn’t we after decades of regulatory inculcation, the answer of course is a resounding "no" regarding IR. Or (and this is really the correct answer, based on the evidence that the LNTH is false and that there are threshold doses below which there is no discernable harm) shouldn't nuclear energy be treated more like all non-nuclear industries and activities? None of these industries produce any harm from IR that has been demonstrated with unambiguous scientific research, and they have been examined closely for many years. Such questions and issues must arise from the rigorous application of the LNTH to nuclear energy but not to other industries and activities that are much larger sources of public IR exposure. Sources of the same type and energy of IR exposure, whether from nuclear or non-nuclear industries, are indistinguishable by our bodies. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, "radiation is radiation is radiation," confirming the law of identity; natural and man-made radiations are the same thing, once the photons or particles are on the wing.


To conclude this section, an important observation over several decades is that many, if not most, of us in the nuclear industry do not understand the LNTH and have no concrete idea of the abuse it produces through forcing the conclusion of deleterious outcomes in situations using nuclear technology where no harm can occur. We have learned over the last 15 years or so that the LNTH has no true scientific basis, that it is often excused as assuring conservatism (which has been demonstrated to be false, as seen in the forced relocation-associated deaths in Fukushima and the widespread public fear causing many people to be at a much greater health risk by refusing to undergo needed radiological imaging examinations), and that the bases for adopting the LNTH in the 1940s – 1950s have been found to be flawed and are more likely to have revolved around political issues (Ref. 5 and Ref. 6). In short, there was no credible scientific evidence to support the LNTH then and there is still none up to the present day.  But many in the nuclear industry do not know this and still think that the LNTH application in all of our regulations and in our safety analyses just makes us conservative.


So with this observation, though couched within the previous sarcastic example as it is, what should we in the nuclear industry be doing that is different from what we are doing today?


What Should We Do Now?


As a first step, all of us in the nuclear industry very much need to become far more expert in matters involving sources and effects of IR. We need to learn how a departure from the LNTH can have very positive impacts on the public's understanding of IR and its perception of our industry. There is much evidence demonstrating the flaws, politics, and bad science that led to establishing the LNTH as accepted science, and there is a large body of scientific evidence that shows no discernible cancer threat below a threshold dose and hormetic effects at low doses of IR (on the order of 100-200 mSv, depending on the type of radiation, dose rate, and dosing intervals). The current state of knowledge on the LNTH can be assessed by reading recent peer-reviewed publications on the subject. In PubMed, for instance, the vast majority of recent publications have questioned the validity of the LNTH, giving many reasons, and showing evidence for the opposite of the LNTH, i.e., the IR hormesis model, according to which small amounts of radiation can boost the defenses in our body, including the immune system, reducing cancers and other diseases. The scientists who advocate the LNTH routinely avoid discussing any of the ideas expressed in such articles, and have not refuted the arguments presented. However, the ICRP's Task Group 84 is beginning to raise questions that challenge the foundations of the LNTH (Ref. 7).


Fortunately, there are a great many colleagues associated with the medical field who are involved with studies related to IR source characterization, IR transport, external and internal IR dosimetry, radiobiological effects (both harmful and beneficial), dose-response modeling, IR risk and benefit assessment, nuclear medicine, diagnostic radiology, and radiation oncology, and these colleagues are on the leading edge of the efforts to replace the LNTH with rational science. We also have colleagues within the ANS who are working diligently to have the LNTH reviewed in far more scientific detail by the NAS, without the pressure of political and anti-nuclear fear mongering acting as a suppressant.  For more detail on this ANS effort, see 

At the general level of industry  members and supporters, it behooves us as part of an industry that can advance such a safe and ecologically sound energy source to learn more of what others know and to explore the science that they have worked so hard to advance over many years. One organization that promotes efforts of people in the nuclear industry working with medical and other IR experts is called Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information (SARI). The SARI website ( is highly recommended as an excellent place to begin a learning or a relearning experience related to IR and the LNTH. The authors of this article are members of SARI.


Additionally, the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences is beginning its efforts to scope the next Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) report—the BEIR VIII report—on health risks from exposure to low levels of IR. While such a new BEIR report is not yet funded, industry members and supporters should be following this closely and participating actively whenever we might be called upon.


In conclusion, then, this cartoon poses a good question for all of us to consider regarding the LNTH:



The opinion of the authors here is that the nuclear industry and the people that make it run must actively take a role in saying that the LNTH is not acceptable because it is a flawed, maladaptive defense against a nonexistent threat and without foundation in science, rather than continuing to smile agreeably while saying "yes" to this hypothesis and going along to get along.  One of the great Mahatma Gandhi’s quotes seems most appropriate here and reflects what the industry  should be doing now: "A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble."




Assumptions: Personal proximity exposures occur at an average distance of 10 cm from at least one other person for 8 hours a day, every day of life; the average lifespan is 75 years; the content of 40K in the average individual is approximately 5 kBq; the exposure rate constant for 40K is 0.779 R cm2/mCi h. Calculation: Dose (mSv) = (0.779 R cm2/mCi h * 10 mSv/R * 5 kBq * μCi/37 kBq * mCi/1000 μCi *

8 h/d * 365 d/y * 75 y)/100 cm2  = 2.3 mSv




  1. C. W. Pennington:  'Advancing US public acceptance of spent fuel storage and transport: proposed  outreach services for ionising radiation education support', Packaging, Transport, Storage & Security of Radioactive Material, 2013, 24/3, 95 – 107
  2. M.S. Pearce, et al.: 'Radiation exposure from CT scans in childhood and subsequent risk of leukaemia and brain tumours: a retrospective cohort study,' Lancet, 2012, 380(9840), 499-505. 
  3. G. M. Kendall, et al., 'A record-based case-control study of natural background radiation and the incidence of childhood leukaemia and other cancers in Great Britain during 1980–2006', Leukemia, 2013, 27(1), 3–9.
  4. C. W. Pennington, 'Nuclear Energy Safety: Comparative Assessments of Radiological Impacts on the Public from the Commercial Nuclear Fuel Cycle in the U.S.', in: Acosta MJ (ed.) Advances in Energy Research. Volume 5, pp. 1-54; ISBN 978-1-61761-897-0. Nova Science Publishers, Inc.: Hauppauge, NY.
  5. E. J. Calabrese, 'The road to linearity: why linearity at low doses became the basis for carcinogen risk assessment', Arch Toxicol, 2009, 83: 203–22
  6. E. J. Calabrese, 'How the US National Academy of Sciences misled the world community on cancer risk assessment: new findings challenge historical foundations of the linear dose response', Arch Toxicol, 2013, 87(12), 2063-81.
  7. A. J. González, et al., 'Radiological protection issues arising during and after the Fukushima nuclear reactor accident', J. Radiol. Prot. 33 (2013) 497–571.


Jeffry A. Siegel is president and CEO of Nuclear Physics Enterprises, an international radiological physics consulting firm specializing in quantitative radiological/nuclear medicine imaging, internal and external dosimetry, clinical trial design, translational research, radionuclide therapy patient release, and relevant FDA and NRC/Agreement State regulations. He has Masters degrees in Chemistry and Physics and a PhD in medical physics. He has held both academic and hospital appointments and over the past 18 years has been involved in pre- and post-FDA approval of the radionuclide therapy agents Bexxar, Zevalin and Xofigo. Dr. Siegel holds 5 patents and has authored more than 330 publications.

Bill Sacks is a former professor of physics turned radiologist.  After teaching college physics for a dozen years, and after his medical training, he subsequently engaged in almost two decades of clinical radiology.  He interrupted this career to spend a number of years as a medical officer in the FDA’s medical device approval section, specializing in the evaluation of radiological and other diagnostic devices.  In more recent times, and for a number of years, he has made a special study of nuclear energy and radiobiology, particularly focusing on the biological effects of low-dose ionizing radiation.  He has taught a number of classes and given a number of talks on these topics over the last few years, as well as contributing to a number of essays and short articles, for the lay public.  He is now retired and spends full time on this research, writing, and volunteer teaching.

Charles W. Pennington is a Senior Fellow at the Nuclear Infrastructure Council (NIC) and a private nuclear industry consultant, with academic degrees in mathematics, nuclear engineering, and business administration. He has served the nuclear industry for 47 years, and over the last 3 decades has held senior management/corporate officer positions in spent fuel storage and transport businesses. He has been in leadership roles in the development, licensing, deployment and operation of more than a dozen spent fuel storage/transport technologies, many hundreds of which are now in operation at numerous global reactor sites.  He holds 5 patents in nuclear technology and has authored a number of papers and publications involving nuclear technology and comparisons of IR exposure among nuclear and non-nuclear industries.

Llewellyn King: When Ralph Nader Was the Consumer’s Hero

Llewellyn King

Ralph Nader is to blame. It's that simple. I'm not talking about the election of 2000, where his candidacy was enough to hand the presidency to George W. Bush and all that has followed. I’m talking about when Nader went AWOL as the nation’s consumer conscience.

In the space of a week, three U.S. flights have been diverted because of passenger disturbances over reclining seats. Would this have happened if Nader of old were on the case?

In the mid-1960s and early 1970s, Nader was the nation’s bulwark against corporate excess. He may have gotten it wrong — as many have claimed — about the safety of the Corvair, the rear-engine compact car, manufactured by the Chevrolet division of General Motors, that was to have rivaled the Volkswagen Beetle. No matter. Nader’s 1965 book, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” launched him as the consumer's knight in shining armor.

For nearly a decade, we felt that Nader was on our side and those big, faceless monsters like insurance companies, banks, airlines, consumer credit outfits and appliance manufacturers could be brought to heal by invoking the one name that would strike fear, trembling and rectitude into the hearts of the titans of corporate America: Nader.

It was a halcyon time for those who wanted, like actor Peter Finch in the 1976 film “Network,” to shout, and be heard, “I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!”

Nader was a figure of mythical omnipotence. You didn’t have to take your troubles with a faulty car or broken contract to Nader, you simply had to threaten; the words “cc Ralph Nader” at the bottom of a letter were enough. Corporations quaked, the earth moved, and restitution was forthcoming.

We delighted in learning little details about Nader the aesthete, who lived in one room somewhere in Washington, had no creature comforts, partners, or trappings, but always wore a suit. People happily believed he slept in it, ready to rush to court to slay a dragon of corporate excess.

Journalists loved Nader. We learned that he kept a secret office in the venerable National Press Building in Washington and would sneak up to the National Press Club on the 13th floor to peruse the press releases, which were then displayed near the elevators. One presumed he was looking for evidence of consumer abuse in false corporate claims.

The Vietnam War was raging, and the nation was divided on every issue except the wonder of the man who was called “consumer advocate.” The nation had never had one before and we loved it.

Oh, yes, love is not too strong a word. We went to bed at night knowing that if the mattress wasn't what had been promised by the Divine Mattress Company, Nader would fix it.

Jimmy Carter promised that when he was elected president, he would have a direct telephone line to St. Nader. That was the zenith of Nader’s consumer advocacy power.

But Nader and his acolytes, known as Nader’s Raiders, had already begun to pursue broader political aims and to embrace the extreme reaches of the environmental movement. Nader, our beloved consumer advocate, saintly and virtuous, was becoming a partisan — a partisan of the left.

It was an extreme blow for those who had followed along behind Nader’s standard because we believed he was the unsullied, virtuous supporter of the individual against the institution. The voice that could be heard when, as often, politics had failed.

Over the years, I had battles with Nader. We argued most especially over nuclear power and a raft of related energy issues. I and the late physicist Ralph Lapp, together with the great mathematician Hans Bethe, put together a group of 24 Nobel laureates to support nuclear. Nader assembled 36 Nobel laureates against, and won the argument on numbers. He has always been a tough customer.

Poor Ralph. He had it all – and so did we — when he fought for the common man against the common enemy: those who stole our money or shortchanged us.

Deep in my heart, I think he is to blame for high bank fees, payday loans, tiny aircraft seats, high Amtrak fares, and the fact that corporations won’t speak to us – they have machines do that. Ralph, it could have been so different if you had just stayed at your post.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His e-mail is

Edward Davis, USNIC: In the Matter of Waste Confidence, We so Deem

By Edward M. Davis

In the last somnolent dog days of August, the members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) gathered themselves for a final vote on a regulatory policy issue that will no doubt have far reaching implications for the future of the U.S. nuclear industry and the continued use and future development of nuclear energy in the U.S.

In a session that took only thirteen minutes in which reportedly the chairman had to cut short her summer vacation and which was necessitated by the imminent departure from the agency of another commissioner, NRC approved a final rule on the aptly named “Continued Storage of Spent Fuel Rule” as a replacement for the decades old predecessor rule known as the “Waste Confidence Decision (WCD)”.

The genesis of the NRC WCD dates back to the late 1970s when NRC’s continued licensing of nuclear plants without a demonstrated final solution to the disposal of spent fuel was challenged in the courts. In response to significant court decisions at that time, the NRC devised the WCD which incorporated several important findings including a finding that permanent geologic disposal was technically feasible and that spent fuel could be safely stored at reactor sites or away from reactor sites in the meantime. The WCD also incorporated a predictive finding of a timeframe of the availability of repository. Over the course of several decades, the NRC has periodically reaffirmed the critical findings of the WCD but also at the same time extended the predictive timeframe in which the repository would become available.  In its final WCD update, the NRC eliminated the incorporation of the predictive timeframe altogether and asserted simply that a geologic repository would become available when necessary.  This 2010 revision of the WCD is what prompted another round of litigation over the contentious issue of spent fuel storage and its timely disposal.

This week’s action by the Commission and the adoption of a newly formulated rule is responsive to a 2012 U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the New York vs NRC in which the Petitioners alleged, among other arguments, that the NRC did not properly evaluate the environmental effects of continued storage at reactors beyond their operating licensed lifetimes in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Court vacated the Commission’s Waste Confidence Decision and associated storage rule on NEPA grounds and ordered the Commission to conduct a fully complaint evaluation of the environmental impacts of continued storage of spent fuel, including the case of indefinite storage of spent fuel  because of the Federal Government’s failure to construct a geologic repository for disposal.

The Court’s decision and remand is only one of several cases in which the Court has strongly expressed its continued and increasing frustration with the Federal Government failure’s to effectively implement a national nuclear waste management program under duly enacted laws requiring the Federal Government to provide for a permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.  An earlier decision by another D.C. Circuit panel found that the NRC had violated the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) by prematurely terminating its regulatory review of the Department of Energy’s Yucca Mountain license application and ordered the agency back to work on the application using existing congressional-approved carryover funding. And in a more recent case, another three-judge panel of the same Court ordered the Department of Energy to suspend the collection of NWPA required fee payments unless and until the DOE resumes implementation of the NWPA or Congress passes an alternative nuclear waste program. 

So mindful of this growing impatience, the NRC dutifully conducted a comprehensive evaluation over the past two years, and developed a generic environmental impact statement that analyzes the environmental impacts of continued storage of spent fuel at reactor sites beyond their licensed operational lifetimes, resulting from the continued lack of availability of a geologic repository for permanent disposal.

The NRC’s GEIS evaluates effects of continued storage over three timeframes, a short-term where the fuel is stored at reactor sites for 60 years beyond the operating licensed lifetime, a second long-term timeframe in which spent fuel is required to be stored for an additional 100-year period and then finally a third timeframe in which spent fuel is stored indefinitely.

In all three cases, the NRC found that the environmental impacts of continued storage of spent fuel at reactor sites were “small” and with no significant impacts, even for the case where the spent fuel was stored indefinitely because of unavailability of a repository. In no small measure, the result, especially for the case of indefinite storage, was driven by the NRC’s staff assumption in all three cases that there would continue to be institutional controls throughout each timeframe, i.e., regulatory oversight and monitoring, ensuring therefore that there would be no adverse effects to the environment.

As structured, the approved rule now allows the Commission to move forward and resume final agency licensing decisions which have been held in abeyance for over two years while the NRC staff developed the GEIS and associated rule. When the rule goes into effect 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register, the GEIS is incorporated by reference in individual licensing proceedings and therefore any related challenges regarding the long-term effects of continued at-reactor storage cannot be raised because they have been “deemed” to have been addressed and found to have no significant consequences.

The importance of the assumption of continued indefinite institutional controls to the outcome of NRC’s analyses of no significant impact cannot be overstated. In fact, Chairman Macfarlane’s partial dissenting comments highlights its importance and touched off a sotto voce debate within the industry and elsewhere. Chairman Macfarlane referred to  “the elephant in the room” was the concern that by adopting the rule and GEIS, essentially affirming conclusion of  no significant environmental impacts of indefinite at-reactor storage, that NRC might be inadvertently tipping the balance and creating the enabling regulatory conditions under which a repository might never come to pass. Macfarlane continued her partial dissenting comments by suggesting that she would have preferred that the GEIS have included additional scenarios of indefinite storage without institutional controls.

But, the NRC staff in the GEIS had already acknowledged that without institutional controls, the case where spent fuel is stored indefinitely could have severe consequences similar to what the DOE had determined in its Yucca Mountain Project EIS in the “No Action” Alternative found in Appendix K.

As discussed in the GEIS, NEPA does not require agencies to consider “worst case” scenarios and the NRC staff made a persuasive case that that the most reasonably likely assumption is that indefinite storage would be accompanied concurrently with continued institutional controls, thereby ensuring no significant effects to the environment.  

Over the past 50 years, the nuclear industry, under the oversight of NRC and its predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, has amply demonstrated its capacity to safely manage and store spent fuel. Moreover, the nuclear industry should not be penalized or held hostage to the vagaries of the Federal Government’s “off-again, on-again” approach to the implementation of the NWPA and the pursuit of the establishment of a geologic repository. Nor should application of nuclear technology be further restrained due to the dysfunction of the Federal Government efforts. Nuclear energy is too important to the nation, because it provides 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and over 65 percent of our clean, carbon free electricity while providing 24×7 around-the-clock reliable electricity to the national grid.

The Waste Confidence Decision, now the Continued Storage Rule, was always an act of “regulatory deeming” or the proverbial leap of regulatory faith dressed up exquisitely in regulatory parlance.  Now it will be up to the Courts to uphold the NRC’s action and, if not, the matter will have to be addressed by Congress.

On one final note, Chairman Macfarlane is absolutely right to note that “deep geologic disposal is necessary” and “… that the only suitable end point for high-level nuclear waste is permanent isolation in a deep geologic repository.” 

This is an immutable fact and the enduring reality since real “waste confidence” can only be derived from the successful demonstration and implementation of a national nuclear waste management program culminating in the startup and operation of a geologic repository.


The writer is a Senior Fellow for the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council ( and the former President of the American Nuclear Energy Council.  His views represent a consensus of the Council but do not necessarily represent the views of individual members. 




Edward Davis, Senior NIC Fellow: EPA’s Proposed Clean Power Plan Needs to Strengthen The Role of Nuclear Energy Emission Free Generation

By Edward M. Davis

Senior Fellow

U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council

Last week, EPA held public meetings around the country on its recently proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP) that seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil plants by 30 percent by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. While the EPA proposed Clean Power Plan recognizes nuclear energy’s potential contribution in providing zero-emission generation, the EPA Clean Power Plan does not do enough to incorporate a strong role for nuclear energy in achieving future CO2 emission reductions. 

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan sets individual state specific emission reduction rate targets that states must meet beginning in 2020 based a formulaic approach known as “Best System of Emission Reduction” that incorporates four building blocks. These building blocks include: 1.) Improving coal plant heat rates; 2.) Switching generation from coal plants to more efficient natural gas plants; 3.) Increasing generation from zero emission sources, such as renewables as well as a limited amount of nuclear generation; and 4.) Increasing energy efficiency measures.

The EPA Clean Power Plan Building Block #3 includes a provision for what EPA calls nuclear plant capacity “at-risk” which is defined as 6 percent of installed nuclear capacity as of 2012, or approximately 5,800 MWe. EPA states that this “at-risk” capacity represents the amount of installed nuclear capacity that may be prematurely shutdown based on EIA projections that is over and above the recently announced and planned nuclear plant shutdowns. By adding this element into the EPA BSER, EPA has established a modest incentive for states to take measures to retain installed and operating nuclear capacity, since if a state were to allow some portion of its “at-risk” nuclear capacity to be shut down during the compliance period, the state would be obliged under the EPA BSER to undertake compensating measures to achieve the EPA state specified risk reduction rate goal.  In addition, EPA also included in the BSER Building Block #3, new nuclear capacity presently under construction at Vogtle 3&4, at 2,204 MWe in Georgia, Summer 2&3, at 2,204 MWe in South Carolina and Watts Bar 2, at 1,180 MWe in Tennessee. 

Under the EPA Build Block #3, nuclear energy contributes about 90 million MWh, and this emission free generation contribution remains fixed throughout the compliance period unlike the contributions from renewables and energy efficiency will increase every year throughout the compliance period. Overall, by 2030, renewables are credited with 525 million MWh of zero carbon generation and energy efficiency about 425 million MWh equivalent carbon free generation, as based on EPA’s Technical Support Goal Computation Document.   Along with the nuclear energy contribution, these zero carbon sources taken together provide over 1 billion MWh, however, nuclear energy contribution amounts to no more than 8.6 percent.

Rather than an “All of the Above” energy strategy, the EPA Clean Power Plan would anoint some clear winners. Under the approach as proposed, natural gas would become the backbone of the Clean Power Plan contributing by EPA’s own estimates an overall BSER CO2 emission reduction of 31 % — by far the largest of the four building blocks.  A recent preliminary assessment of the EPA proposed plan by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) reported up to a 40 percent potential increase in the consumption of natural gas would occur during the compliance period under the EPA proposed rule than what otherwise would have been the case. 

Such a large increase and reliance on any one source of fuel raises questions about grid reliability as a recently released study by IHS Energy, titled “The Value of US Power Supply Diversity”.  This study which examined a reduced diversity case scenario where natural gas contributed up to 61.7% of the generation mix found that such a lack of diversity in the electric generation mix could increase wholesale power prices by about 75% and retail power prices by about 25%.

Moreover, the EPA’s proposal for reliance on renewables and energy efficiency functionally operates as a de facto national renewable and energy efficiency portfolio standard, albeit with a small carve-out for “at-risk” nuclear generation capacity.

Fortunately, under the EPA Clean Power Plan, states must submit a state implementation plan that specifies the policies, programs and actions that the state is committed to undertake during the compliance period in order for the state to achieve the EPA state-specific emission reduction rate by 2030.

Unlike the detailed and specific EPA BSER Building Block formula, EPA does not provide an exact formula that each state will be required to use when demonstrating that the state has met its required emission reduction rate goal. Further, EPA identifies numerous options that states may take advantage of in order to achieve its emission reduction rate goal. 

As part of these recognized options, EPA identifies the continued operation of existing “at-risk” installed nuclear capacity and under construction nuclear capacity. In addition, the construction of new nuclear generating units as well as the uprating of existing nuclear units is identified as approvable emission reduction measures. 

The EPA Clean Power Plan should include nuclear energy as an important part of the overall clean energy portfolio that is to be relied on to achieve emission reduction rate goals. The nation needs new nuclear capacity as part of any plan to provide reliable, efficient and affordable emission free electricity. 


Mr. Davis is a former President of the American Nuclear Energy Council and senior fellow for the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council (  The USNIC is the leading business consortium for new nuclear energy and engagement of the U.S. nuclear supply chain globally.

While Mr. Davis’ views represent the consensus views of the Council, they do not necessary represent the opinions of individual USNIC member companies and organizations.

Llewellyn King: Nuclear Waste Disposal — The French Connection

By Llewellyn King

MARCOULE, France – In times to come, sociologists may well puzzle on America’s attitude to nuclear energy. We love our nuclear defense capacity:  its weapons, its submarines, and its aircraft carriers. But we have a kind of national anxiety about the use of the same science, under the most controlled conditions, to make scads of electricity.

Equally perplexing is our duality of opinion about nuclear waste. At every turn, those who dislike nuclear power — often with pathological disaffection — raise the issue of nuclear waste as a reason to give up on nuclear power. However, they do not have the temerity to suggest that we abandon nuclear aircraft carriers, subs, and even weapons.

The point is that whatever happens to the faltering nuclear power program in the United States, it will have nuclear waste aplenty — in addition to the waste which already exists – from the 100 civil reactors now in operation, and all of the military applications.

One step toward reducing nuclear waste is well underway here in France; in fact, it has been part of the country’s nuclear program for 40 years. The French recycle the waste from many of their reactors, along with the waste from six other nations.

Using technology developed decades ago in the United States, the French recycle nuclear fuel cores in a production chain that begins at the La Hague plant in Normandy – the northwestern region known for its orchards and Calvados, an apple brandy — and ends at the Marcoule nuclear site in the southeast, near Avignon, on the banks of the Rhone — famous for the vineyards that produce Cotes-du-Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines.

When a nuclear power plant operates, it produces some plutonium, but only burns a small amount of valuable uranium 235, the fissile isotope at the heart of the nuclear power process. The French extract these fissile products at La Hague. Then they ship the plutonium to the Melox plant on the Marcoule site, where they are made into a new fuel for civil reactors. This fuel, which is made from plutonium oxide mixed with uranium oxide, is known as MOX.

The United States was set for world leadership in recycling when President Jimmy Carter pulled the plug; he believed it would lead to nuclear proliferation. France forged ahead, and now China is going to do likewise in a major way.

The United States may not be as enthusiastic about burning plutonium from civil nuclear reactors, but it is, or was, building a state-of-the-art facility near Aiken, S.C., to make MOX, in order to burn up plutonium from disassembled nuclear weapons. In 2000, as part of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians, the United States committed to decommission many nuclear warheads, releasing 34 metric tons of plutonium and to making this into MOX to be used in civil reactors. The Russians pledged to burn up in their reactors an equivalent amount of plutonium from weapons once aimed at the United States.

Now the Department of Energy wants to put the 60- percent-complete Aiken facility into a kind of limbo that it describes as “cold standby.” Contractors fear this is the beginning of the end of the project, and that it will neither be revived nor will the supply chain be there to go on with it in the future. The department only requested enough money in the 2015 budget for the cold standby not for the completion of the facility. So far $3.9 billion has been spent, and the project is an important employer in South Carolina.

Congress, mindful that the Obama administration did considerable damage to the concept of safekeeping of used nuclear fuel when it abandoned the $18-billion Yucca Mountain, Nev., waste repository as it was about to open, wants none of this. Used-fuel cores are piling up at civil reactors, their future uncertain. So Congress, on a bipartisan basis, is seeking to put the funds for the South Carolina facility back into the budget.

The House and Senate have voted to do this. The message is clear: Not again, Mr. President.

No word from the White House.

Here in France, they are hoping that the lessons learned from burning plutonium will evolve into even more elegant solutions to the nuclear waste problem. The one certain thing is that nuclear waste will keep coming, and the administration has so far frustrated efforts to deal with it.

Llewellyn King is the executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His e-mail is

Llewellyn King: Ocean Power, the Other Alternative Energy, Is Coming

By Llewellyn King

Tens of millions of us will flock to the beach as summer rolls on. As we frolic along the shore we will also be awed by the relentless, eternal power of the ocean.

This power has been tantalizing engineers since the dawn of the electric age in the 19th century. Those great tidal havens, the Bay of Fundy and the Bay of Biscay, have had electrical entrepreneurs salivating down through the years.

Yet harnessing the ultimate renewable energy resource has lagged its two big renewable competitors, wind and solar. Both of the latter are now mature alternative energy generating sources, picking up an increasing part of the electricity market without producing any greenhouse gasses.

Sean O’Neill, executive director of the Foundation for Ocean Renewables, says the technology has not been ready for large deployment, but it soon will be. There is increasing use of first-generation machines around the world, he adds.

In the United States there are complex legal hurdles from activists, who worry that beaches could be impaired and their recreational value diminished, to the fascinating challenge of who in government is responsible for licensing this new use of the ocean. Contenders include the Department of the Interior, the Navy, the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which controls the electric markets.

What about fishing? The states will want a say with their coastal commissions. What about offshore shipping lanes and even recreational boating? The oceans are vast and they already are invaded by drilling rigs, wind turbines and undersea military activity, to say nothing of traditional marine uses like shipping, fishing and boating.

Yet, so far, the problems have been technological rather than governmental. The sea is a great resource, but it is a hostile environment for mechanical and electrical equipment. At present, the nascent ocean energy industry is still sorting through a galaxy of devices for making electricity from ocean kinetic power. These show engineering imagination run riot — gloriously so.

As many as 100 machines for harnessing the ocean are being developed around the world. They can be described as gizmos, widgets, gadgets, devices, or dream machines.

Machine design for ocean kinetic power is at the stage that flight was in the 1920s, and the devices are spectacular in a Rube Goldberg kind of way, at least to the eye of a non-engineer. There are big hinges, designed to flap in the waves, and buoys that pop up and down with the waves, generating electricity through a mechanism like one in a self-winding wristwatch. Just as a person jiggles a wristwatch and it winds, so too the waves jiggle the buoy and it turns a turbine, which makes electricity.

There wildly diverse approaches including one, called an oscillating water column, that uses compressed air from wave action to turn a turbine. Another set of machines is destined to work on tides and can consist of helical turbines, which look like gigantic eggbeaters, or machines that look like wind turbines, but they are sunk in the tidal path or on strongly running rivers. The latter are being tested in New York City’s East River. Anadarko, an oil company, wants to put turbines miles deep in the Gulf Stream.

Ireland and Scotland – the latter the world leader in the ocean power race – are generating electricity from the ocean on a small scale. At East Port and Lubec in Maine and Yakutat in Alaska, small plants are being installed.

As solar power was first used in remote locations, the immediate appeal for ocean power is for remote locations, too. Settlements and villages in Alaska have the costliest electricity in the country.

The Foundation for Ocean Renewables’ O’Neill estimates that tidal will be the salvation of many of Alaska’s remote villages; unlike wind and solar, it would be there 24/7 — in the dead of winter and in high summer.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His e-mail is

LLEWELLYN KING: Earth Day 2014 — Only Two Cheers, Please

By Llewellyn King

April 22 is Earth Day and you can look forward to scattered celebrations, warnings about the future and self congratulations. The environmental community regards the first Earth Day as the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

But the real birth of modern environmentalism may have come in 1962, with the publication of Rachel Carson's book “Silent Spring.” It was a detonation heard around the world, and it greatly affected the way a whole generation felt about nature. Its central finding was against the use of the powerful pesticide DDT.

The first Earth Day was the brainchild of the late Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisc.). He provided leadership for a burgeoning environmental movement fed not just by a love of nature, as had earlier movements, but by a deep anger at the trashing of natural systems. DDT was killing off wild birds by altering their metabolism in a way that resulted in thin eggshells; West Virginia, and other parts of Appalachia, were being mutilated to extract coal; and the Cayuga River in Ohio had caught fire many times because it was so choked with pollutants.

There was an abundance of anger in the 1970s, most of it inflamed in the 1960s. That troubled decade was not just about drugs and flower power, Woodstock and free love. It was about what had become of America and where was it heading. The movements were for civil rights, against the Vietnam War and for women.

An environmental movement in the 1970s fit right in; it was inevitable because it was needed. Some of the anger of the decade that had just finished informed that first Earth Day and all those that followed.

Because the modern environmental movement was born in anger, at times it has been unruly and counterproductive. Will we quickly forget the hysteria created by the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) 1989 report on the use of the pesticide Alar in apples? Or Greenpeace's admission in 1995 that it had bullied European governments into disposing the Shell Brent Spar oil platform and reservoir on dry land when it should have been dropped into the deep ocean? Or the uncritical enthusiasm for wind power without regard to the environmental impact of wind turbines on birds and bats, or the noise they generate. In New England there are claims of adverse health effects from wind turbine, to say nothing of the adverse visual impact.

The modern environmental movement differed from previous conservation movements because it knew how to harness the power of the courts. Litigation was the core of this movement, and it remains so. NRDC's Web site boasts the availability of 350 lawyers.

The movement that flowed from Rachel Carson's book and the first Earth Day is global; it is as strong in Europe, if not stronger, than in its birthplace, the United States. It is a large part of the political fabric of Germany, and its policies have played a role in leading that country into a dependence on Russian natural gas.

Opposition to the Keystone Pipeline may be another error of environmental enthusiasm. No pipe means more trains carrying oil; ergo more accidents and environmental degradation.

To my mind the biggest error the environmental community made was the relentless, even pathological, opposition to nuclear power. It has been an act of faith since the first Earth Day and it may be the one most at odds with environmental well-being. The public has been frightened, but the math says it is the safest way to make electricity.

Now a new generation of young idealists is beginning to look past the orthodoxies of the anti-nuclear movement. Richard Lester, head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, said this week that many of his students are studying nuclear because of its environmental advantages, and its value in generating electricity without air pollution.

The environmental movement of the 1970s has grown old, but it hasn't grown thoughtful. I wish it a happy birthday, but I can only muster two cheers. I hope it enters a period of introspection and comes to realize that its rigidities can be as counterproductive as those of its industrial antagonists. It remains needed.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His e-mail is

LLEWELLYN KING: Always His Own Man — A Remembrance Of The First Energy Secretary Jim Schlesinger

By Llewellyn King

James Rodney Schlesinger was assistant director of the Bureau of the Budget, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, director of the CIA, secretary of defense, secretary of energy , chairman of The MITRE Corporation, managing director of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., and my friend. He was a colossus in Washington; a great Sequoia who towered in the forest.

Schlesinger, who died on Thursday, more than anyone I've known in public life including presidents, prime ministers and industrial savants, knew who he was. From that came a special strength: he didn't care what people thought of him. What he did care about were the great issues of the time.

He was a man of granite, steel and titanium and he could take abuse and denunciation – as he did, most especially, as the first secretary of energy. He also had extraordinary intellectual ability. No name, time or date evaded him, and he understood complex issues, from geopolitical balances to the physics of the nuclear stockpile.

Les Goldman, a key member of Schlesinger's circle in government and in life, said his genius was in capturing huge quantities of information and synthesizing it into a course of action. He also had phenomenal energy, going to work very early in the morning and staying up late at night. During his tenure at the Department of Energy, he had to testify on Capitol Hill almost daily, so he checked in at 5 a.m. to get the work done. His relaxation was birdwatching.

Schlesinger was a great public servant; someone who venerated public service without regard to its rewards. He drove a VW Beetle for years and lived in a modest house in the suburbs. Even as secretary of defense, a post from which he could order up airplanes, ships and limousines, he kept an extraordinary modesty. Pomp was not for him.

But he was a tough customer. Schlesinger spared none with his invective and regarded the creation of enemies as part of the normal course of getting things done.

And getting things done was what he was good at — rudely awakening somnolent bureaucrats, angering whole industries and unsettling cliques, as he did at the CIA. Wherever he was in charge, he applied his boot to the sensitive hind regions of the complacent, the lazy and the inept. He punctured the egos of the self-regarding and kept military men waiting, tapping their feet and examining their watches.

Once at the CIA, Schlesinger and I were engaged in a long conversation about the British Empire – a favorite subject – when his aide, who had been hovering, came back for the second or third time and said, “Sir, the admiral has been waiting for an hour already.” “Good,” said Schlesinger. Then, as an aside to me, he said, “It's good for admirals to wait.”

On another occasion, when I was part of a press party traveling with Schlesinger after the opening of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve site in a salt cavern in Louisiana, Schlesinger sent his trusted and well-liked press chief John Harris back to the reporters to say that Schlesinger wanted to talk to me. I went forward to the executive cabin, where the secretary of energy was playing the harmonica.

“I'm taking requests,” he said.

I blurted out the few songs I knew, and he played on — and on and on.

After about half an hour, Harris came forward again to say that the other reporters, including Steve Rattner, who was to become a billionaire Wall Street investor, but was then a reporter with The New York Times' Washington bureau, wanted to know why I was getting an exclusive interview.

They wouldn't be mollified with the assurance that I was listening to the great man play the harmonica. Rattner in particular, believed that I had some big story that I'd publish in The Energy Daily and embarrass him and The Times.

The Energy Daily, too, had involved Schlesinger. I reported on nuclear power for the trade publication Nucleonics Week, which is how I had met him at the Atomic Energy Commission. But at night, I worked as an editor at The Washington Post. Quite suddenly, President Richard Nixon nominated Schlesinger to replace Richard Helms as director of the CIA, and The Post op-ed pages were flooded with articles about Helms, but not a word about the new man in Langley. I asked Meg Greenfield, the storied editorial page editor, why she didn't publish something about Schlesinger. No one, she said, knew anything about Schlesinger.

I avowed as I did, and the result was a longer-than-usual piece that she published on a Saturday. It became the “go to” archival resource for a generation of journalists writing about Schlesinger. But it cost me my day job, as my editor didn't think I should be writing in The Washington Post. So I started what became The Energy Daily.

The trick to friendship with James Schlesinger was disputation. He'd like people he could talk to and especially argue with. I argued — over Scotland's most famous product — about American exceptionalism; the uses of force; the limits to power; the Gulf War; the Saudis; obscure points of grammar, as he was strict grammarian who always found time to telephone me, and later e-mail me, to correct my slippages.

We argued for more than 40 years and loved every syllable of it.

We also argued vigorously over Bill Clinton. I was Schlesinger's guest at the legendary Alfalfa Club dinner in Washington and I fell into conversion with the president, Bill Clinton. When I returned to the table, looking pleased, Schlesinger exclaimed, “You've been talking to him!” — as though this was some huge betrayal.

He also didn't like Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford, the latter having fired him.

Schlesinger admired what he called “intellectual structure.” But I could never get him to define it.

Close to the end of Schlesinger's life, my wife, Linda Gasparello, and he were engaged in a complicated and loving dispute over Henry II and Eleanor of Provence. He loved that kind of thing.

Journalists are ill-advised to care too deeply for the men they write about. Schlesinger was my treasured exception.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His e-mail is

Obama Scuttles Another Nuclear Waste Solution

By Llewellyn King

Naked goes the president to the Netherlands.

President Obama plans to attend the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on March 24-25. He has long professed a keen interest in reducing the threat from nuclear weapons. In 2009, in his notable Prague speech, Obama declared, “The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the cold war.” He vowed “concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.”

Rhetorically, at least, Obama has stayed the course. But some of his actions suggest that, in reality, he is very prepared to alter course for political and budgetary reasons.

One of his first actions as president was to start the abandonment of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in Nevada, in a political nod to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

But spent fuel from civilian power reactors does not pose as great a threat of proliferation as plutonium, the man-made fissile metal that is at the heart of a modern thermonuclear weapon. And it is plutonium that worries experts like former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who heads the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Plutonium is basically forever: it has a half life of 24,100 years. There is a terrifying amount of it in the world, mostly the result of decommissioning warheads. Some of it is stored; some is still in warheads waiting to be decommissioned.

The United States and Russia have been working on that problem, in what has been a successful collaboration. Under a treaty signed in 2000, and amended in 2010, the United States and Russia have agreed to get rid of 34 metric tons each of plutonium that has come from a reduction in weapons stockpiles.

The United States agreed to do this mostly by burning it as fuel in civilian power reactors, something the French already do. This fuel, known as mixed oxide, or MOX, blends plutonium with uranium to make new fuel for the reactors. The Russians are developing fast neutron reactors to burn up their plutonium.

To keep our part of the bargain, a fuel fabrication facility is under construction at the government's Savannah River Site, near Aiken, S.C. As buildings go, it is a marvel with concrete walls 5-feet-thick and huge quantities ultra-high-quality steel, welded with the greatest precision. The whole structure could last for thousands of years – just remember that Coliseum in Rome was made of concrete 2,000 years ago.

But the project — which has more than 4,000 suppliers in 43 states and 1,800 directly employed workers — is suddenly being put on “cold standby,” a euphemism for abandoned. The explanation from the U.S. Department of Energy is that the project is costing too much.

South Carolina is suing the U.S. Department of Energy, claiming the shutdown is unconstitutional because money authorized and appropriated for construction this year will be used to terminate the project. The facility is 60-percent complete and $4.5 billion has been spent; it is estimated that shutdown will cost a further $1 billion.

Seven senators — including Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chair of the Senate Energy Committee, and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — have protested the abrupt and unexpected change of policy on plutonium disposal.

In the early days of Obama's first term, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told me that the administration was shutting down the Yucca Mountain site for “scientific reasons,” after the expenditure of $18 billion.

On March 12, I asked Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a top Obama non-proliferation aide, to explain the change of policy on MOX. Echoing Gibbs, she said that the administration was expecting to find better scientific solutions.

But what about the joint agreement with the Russians that MOX was the way to go, after considering 40 options? In fact Obama has changed course for budgetary reasons, and possibly to appease anti-nuclear forces in his base.

It would seem that when it comes to straightening out the nuclear waste issue, Obama is compromised by his own hand.

So what will he say at the summit in the Hague? Will he have the effrontery to commit the United States again to an aggressive anti-proliferation policy? This despite the fact that he scuttled Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository, and now has scuttled the chance of burning up plutonium.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His e-mail is

War on the Roof: Solar Power Has Grown Up

By Llewellyn King

A warning light is flashing for the nation's electric utilities — and it is getting more persistent. The utilities, big and small, for- and not-for-profit, are facing serious disruptive technology. The old business models are in danger.

The unlikely disruptive technology that is causing the trouble is rooftop solar power.

Back in the energy turbulent 1970s, solar was a gleam in the eye of environmentalists who dared to dream of renewable energy. It looked like a pipe dream.

Very simple solar had been deployed to heat water in desert homes since indoor plumbing became the norm. Making electricity from the sun was many orders of magnitude more complex and it was, anyway, too expensive.

The technology of photovoltaic cells, which make electricity directly from the sun, needed work; it needed research, and it needed mass manufacturing. Hundreds of millions of dollars later in research and subsidies, the cost of solar cells has fallen and continues to go down.

Today, solar certainly is not a pipe dream: It is looking like a mature industry. It is also a big employer in the installation industry. It is a player, a force in the market.

But solar has created a crisis for the utilities.

In order to incubate solar, and to satisfy solar advocates, Congress said that these “qualifying facilities” should be able not only to generate electricity for homes when the sun is shining, but also to sell back the excess to the local utility. This is called “net metering” and it is at the center of the crisis today — particularly across the Southwest, where solar installations have multiplied and are being added at a feverish rate.

Doyle Beneby, CEO of San Antonio, Texas-based CPS Energy, the largest municipal electric and gas utility in the nation, said, “The homes that are installing solar quickly are the more affluent ones.” The problem here, he explained, is that the utility has to maintain the entire infrastructure of wires and poles and buy back electricity generated by solar in these homes at the highest prevailing rate — often more than power could be bought on the market or generated by the utility.

Steve Mitnik, a utility industry consultant, said that 47 percent of the nation's electric market is residential and the larger, affluent homes — which use a lot of electricity, and generally pay more as consumption rises — are a critically important part of it. Yet these are the ones that are turning to solar generation, and expect to make a profit selling excess production to the grid.

But who pays for the grid? According to CPS Energy's Beneby, and others in the industry, the burden of keeping the system up and running then falls on those who can least afford it.

The self-generating homes still need the grid not only to sell back to but ,more importantly, to buy from when the sun isn't shining and at night.

For some in the utility industry, net-metering is just the beginning of a series of emerging problems, including:

Big investments are needed in physical security after the sniper attack last October at PG&E Corp.'s Metcalf transmission substation, which took out 17 huge transformers that provide power to California's Silicon Valley.
New investment is needed in cybersecurity.
Improved response to bad weather is a critical issue, especially in some Mid-Atlantic states.

Beneby believes the solar incursion into the traditional marketplace might be the beginning of more self-generation — such as home-based, micro-gas turbines — and utilities will and must adjust. He is something of a futurist and points out that in telephones, once a purely utility service, disruption has been hugely creative.

Environmentalists are as disturbed as the utilities. Some are calling the imposition of a surcharge on rooftop generators, as in Arizona recently, an attempt by the greedy utilities to stamp out competition. But many are seeking alternative solutions without a war over generating, and without punishing those unable to afford their own generation.

Brian Keane, president of SmartPower, a green-marketing group with solar-purchase programs in Arizona and many other states, has looked for cool heads to prevail on both sides of the issue. “I don't have an answer,” he said, calling for dialogue. Also the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group, has been talking with the National Resources Defense Council.

It isn't your father's electric utility anymore, or your hippie's solar power.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His e-mail is