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 lking@kingpublishing.com.

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 lking@kingpublishing.com.

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 lking@kingpublishing.com.

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 lking@kingpublishing.com.

Time for DOE to Complete Its Part 810 Nuclear Export Reform

By Margaret Harding

Ms. Harding is an independent nuclear energy consultant at 4 Factor Consulting, LLC.

In August 2, 2013, DOE published a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNOPR) regarding revisions to 10 CFR Part 810, its regulation controlling nuclear exports. The SNOPR was the culmination of years of effort by DOE and industry to modernize a regulation that was based on Cold War era nuclear proliferation policies, politics, and trade patterns. The process is made more complex because the underlying law – The Atomic Energy Act was written during the Cold War and has not been updated either.

DOE’s first proposed revision of Part 810 met with strong adverse comments from across the industry because it failed to address the significant burden of its slow, opaque export approval process placed on US companies seeking to compete in the large and growing markets in China, India, Asia and the Middle East. In response, DOE promised to implement a process improvement program (PIP) and revised the proposed regulation to address a number of substantive issues raised by commentators.

Public comments on the SNOPR have been fairly supportive. Most have supported the SNOPR in whole or in part. Virtually all have supported the PIP.   The comments filed by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) were an exception to the constructive approach taken by the other commentators. In a comment, that was significantly longer than the SNOPR itself, NEI recommended that DOE withdraw and republish the SNOPR, continuing the current Cold War era approach to the classification of nuclear trading partners.

Although it supported many of the changes in the SNOPR and made some reasonable proposals for further changes, NEI called the SNOPR “arbitrary and capricious”, said it does not provide a “rational connection between the facts found and the choice made” and that it violates the law because” it does not adequately support either the numerous significant and high-impact changes to the existing Part 810 rule”. The NEI comment also alleged that that DOE selectively chose data to support its own conclusions while disregarding data that would undermine its own arguments.

NEI’s primary complaint is that the SNOPR replaced the Cold War system of classifying about 75 nuclear trade partners on a list of restricted or “bad” countries where proposed transactions had to be specifically approved by DOE with a list of about 45 “generally authorized” trade partner countries where no specific approval was required. NEI is upset that as a consequence of this approach, future transactions with 77 counties that were not on the restricted list will require specific authorization when the SNOPR takes effect. DOE explained this decision in the SNOPR and provided an economic impact analysis showing the reclassification would have a negligible impact because the affected countries had little or no nuclear business today and were unlikely to have business for a decade or more.

In support of its position that DOE should withdraw the SNOPR and continue to generally authorize nuclear trade in 77 countries, the NEI comment does not identify a single country, project, end user, transaction or US company that would be adversely burdened by the specific authorization requirement currently facing U.S. companies doing business internationally.

The NEI comment is sadly out of step with the real concerns of industry. The reclassification has no adverse impact on nuclear trade because there is no significant nuclear trade with the 77 reclassified countries. Only one of those countries, Jordan, has an active plan to construct a Nuclear Power Plant. The State Department is actively working toward a 123 agreement, which will help move Jordan onto the generally authorized list.

Instead of quibbling with NEI about the impact in the 77 countries, DOE needs to improve its authorization process to facilitate trade where there is nuclear business: China, India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

DOE needs to complete the Part 810 Rulemaking, so industry can begin operating under a 21st Century export control regime. Stopping the rulemaking process now would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Trade with 77 countries that are almost universally NOT interested in nuclear business is not worth the cost of delaying this rule any further.

Llewellyn King: Britain’s Power Peril and Its Lesson for the U.S.

By Llewellyn King

In Britain, they are talking about "the year the lights will go out." The metaphor is based on the 1951 film "The Day the Earth Stood Still."

There are those who believe they can pinpoint the year: 2023. It is the year 
that all but one of Britain's 16 operating nuclear power reactors will have 
been withdrawn from service because of their age.

Britain commissioned its first nuclear power plant back in 1954. For decades, Britain was at the forefront of the development of nuclear energy.

Then came natural gas. Discoveries in the North Sea coupled with improvements in gas turbine technology caused a boom in gas-powered electricity generation. At one point, it looked as though 50 percent more gas-fired electricity generation would be installed than needed.

The next surge of generating enthusiasm was for wind. Under the Labor government of Tony Blair, Britain planned to lead the world in wind generation, both on shore and off. Wind, as elsewhere, was subsidized because it was politically lovable. What better source of energy for a windswept island with a stormy coastline than wind, wind and more wind?

But the high cost of wind-generated electricity, coupled with intermittent availability, began to turn the country off wind. While the Conservative government of David Cameron is still pushing wind through subsidies, it has been forced into a painful re-think to avoid catastrophe.

Coal mines — the engine of the Industrial Revolution — began to be phased out under Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government partly because of continuing labor problems, but primarily because its cost was rising as mines became less productive. Britain became an importer of coal.

Nuclear just languished; the fabrication capacity declined, the design shops closed up, and the universities turned out fewer graduates in the nuclear sciences.

Then came the gas boom of the 1980s and '90s. The North Sea was full of it, the plants were cheap to build and operate, and the emissions were half those of coal.

But gas began to peak in Britain's North Sea fields in 2000, and gas imports began to rise. The jig was up for cheap, non-controversial energy.

Cameron's government, looking toward the day when the lights will fail, has supported an aggressive nuclear building program — none of it designed or built by British companies. The French government-owned utility, Electricite de France (EDF), will build the Britain's first new reactors; the technology will come from Areva, the French nuclear plant builder, and some of the construction funding will come from China.

But to lure EDF, a mechanism called the “strike price” had to be negotiated. Under this deal, the British government guarantees a floor price for the electricity generated at the new nuclear plants. The strike price for the EDF deal is $154 per megawatt hour, or about twice the current wholesale price of electricity in Britain.

British industry is screaming that it will be driven offshore, particularly chemicals. The European Union is screaming that this is a subsidy by another name. And British consumer groups are screaming that it will kill off old people, who will not be able to afford the Gallic electrons.

The Cameron government has its fingers in its ears, because it knows the screaming will be far worse if the lights do go out.

Across the Atlantic, a sequel to the year the lights will go out in Britain may be in production. We are already shuttering nuclear plants; the total down from 104 to 99 with many more endangered as the plants either become uneconomic, as a result of competition from our gas boom, or too old. Four big new nuclear plants are under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, but they are all that are likely to be built in the foreseeable future.

Currently, nuclear plants contribute 19 percent of our electricity, about the same percentage they contributed in Britain in the 1990s before plant retirements began. The numbers are being kept up by extraordinary operating efficiency gains and by upgrading– called “uprating” in the industry — the plants.

How long the gas boom will last is a matter of conjecture. The lifespan of the new hydraulically fractured fields is not known, but it is expected to be about one-third that of conventional fields. The full environmental consequence is not known either. Yet the euphoria of gas abundance is boosted by multi-million-dollar campaigns from the oil and gas industries, led by the giant American Petroleum Institute.

These advertisements give the impression that gas is forever in America. The way it was in the North Sea?

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

LLEWELLYN KING: Sorry, But There Are Areas Where We Need More Government — Advanced Reactors

By Llewellyn King

Who is going to finance advanced drugs? Who is going to guarantee the electric supply in 30 years? Whisper this: It will be the government.

In these two areas and others, the risks are now so large that private enterprise — so beloved in so many quarters — can't shoulder the risk alone.

When development risks run into the billions of dollars, the market won't sanction private companies taking those risks.

Drug companies, among the richest of corporations, are running up against the the realities of risk. To develop a new drug, the pharmaceutical industry — known collectively as Big Pharma — has to commit well over a billion dollars.

It is a long and risky road. A need for the drug has to be established; a compound developed, after maybe thousands of failed efforts. Tests have to be conducted on animals, then in controlled human trials. If the drug works, the developers have to get it certified by the Food and Drug Administration. Then they have to market it and buy hugely expensive insurance — if they can get it — because it is almost a rite of passage that they will be sued.

Under this regime complex diseases, that may require multiple drugs, get short shrift not because the developers of drugs are greedy, but because they honestly cannot afford that kind of research.

The result is that the pharmaceutical companies increasingly look to universities and individual researchers — sometimes in teaching hospitals — to find new therapies; research that is paid for by the government through grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), even from the Department of Defense. Even so, drug research is lagging and NIH is turning down eight out of 10 grant requests.

In electricity supply, too, there is trouble ahead.

The electric utilities, since deregulation, have become risk averse. Only two utilities, the Southern Company of Georgia and Scana Corporation of South Carolina are building new base-load nuclear power plants. These may be the last of the large nuclear power plants to be built in the United States. They are both located in states where electric utilities are regulated and where they can anticipate their costs being recovered in the rates, even during construction. The states are taking some of the risk.

For the rest of the country, and particularly the Northern and Western states, deregulation has had an unintended result: It has increased the risk of new construction and in so doing has set the utilities down the path of least resistance. They have turned to natural gas and — because of subsidies and tax breaks — to wind power, which has meant more gas power has to be installed to compensate for variance in the wind.

Coal is being edged out of the market for environmental reasons. So the electric utility industry is being pushed into a strategic position it has always
said it wanted avoid: over-reliance on too few sources of power.

A kind of gas euphoria has gripped the nation as supplies from horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have shot up. When the 99 reactors now operating go out of service, as they get to the end of their lives, there will be nothing comparable to replace them.

Many companies, some of them small, are working on new reactor designs that would put the United States back into world leadership in nuclear, while answering criticism of the big light water plants of today. Most of them would even burn nuclear waste.

In a time of deficits, the government tends, both with new electrical generating systems and in medical research, to scatter money in the hope that this will lead to the huge private commitments that are needed.

Sadly, this creates a dynamic in which companies rush in to consume the seed money without being able to bring the product to to fruition. It is a push rather than a pull dynamic.

Government works well, even efficiently, when it establishes a pull dynamic, as in the space program and in supercomputers, or most military procurement. The Pentagon does not issue funds for companies to experiment with weapons systems: It commissions them.

The government may have to commission new drugs and new power technologies in the high-risk future.

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

LLEWELLYN KING: Conquering Radiation Fear, the Big Challenge

By Llewellyn King

Can we learn to love radiation? Maybe not, but if we understood it better, we might not be so damned scared of it – a fear that has cost us in many ways, from where reactors are sited to how hospitals handle life-saving nuclear material to the benefits of eradicating deadly bacteria in food.

There's a lot of data on the long-term effects of ionizing radiation, ranging from that which was generated by studying the health of survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings to the environment on the Bikini Atoll, where weapons were tested in the 1950s, to conditions at the Chernobyl meltdown site in Ukraine. The big news is that the data doesn't support the idea that cancer and mutations will follow as night and day after exposure to high doses of radiation.

Now the battle has been joined by a Harvard researcher and lecturer in public health, David R. Ropeik. He doesn't suggest that we rush out and encourage dentists to be even more promiscuous in their use of X-rays than they are already, but he does draw attention to the epidemiological data over the past 68 years and what it says: The linkage between very high radiation exposures and cancer and mutations isn’t there.

For years, it's been postulated that radiation leads to cancer axiomatically. The data says otherwise.

This glimmer of light, this pinprick, this faint glow could be the beginning of a new day in nuclear, or at least encourage a new look at radiation and its effects. It comes at a time when the American Nuclear Society (ANS), the professional society for nuclear scientists and engineers, is planning a more active public role.

The ANS president this year, Donald P. Hoffman, is a hard-driving nuclear advocate, who, in 1985, created the nuclear services company which he still heads, Excel. He'd like to see the 12,000 members of ANS step forward and provide honest witness in disputes about nuclear, believing that the professionals would be more believed than corporate people.

He'd also like to boost public knowledge of the uses of nuclear outside of generating electricity, especially in medicine, where it is growing. Already, about one third of hospital patients benefit from nuclear through CAT scans and X-rays to the direct application of radiation to cancer cells. This evolving therapy is less debilitating than chemotherapy or large-area radiation.

Hoffman says, “We are seeing nuclear science deployed in new ways,” including non-destructive testing, food irradiation, medicine, space exploration and many more. He believes the uses for nuclear technology are only in their infancy.

Outside of the hospital and the laboratory though, the big impediment to nuclear is the fear of radiation or, as popular phenomenon author Malcolm Gladwell would argue, the “fear of fear.”

In a recent New York Times piece, Ropeik salutes the Environmental Protection Agency for beginning to take a different look at how we should respond to a nuclear accident or even a terrorist “dirty bomb.” For example, because most radiation can be stopped easily, it may be better to go indoors than to begin a frenzied and hazardous evacuation.

As many as 30 years ago, Dr. Mortimer Mendelssohn of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, whose life’s work has been studying the populations around Hiroshima and Nagasaki, told me that the cancers and mutations he expected simply had not occurred. “They’re just not there,” he said.

At Bikini Atoll, the Pacific test site, marine life goes on. The vegetation has concentrated some long-lived radionuclides, but the marine life is healthy. At Chernobyl, the worst nuclear accident site, wildlife is teeming among the radioactive ruins.

Towns within the radiation belt around Fukushima, which are now safe for their populations to return, remain deserted. The Japanese population is in the grip of a national psychosis of fear — not of earthquakes and tsunamis, but of radiation. The earthquake and tsunami that damaged the reactors at Fukushima killed some 18,000 people but radiation killed no one.

The fear of fear is a social construct, as Gladwell and before him, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, pointed out — a mighty challenge for Hoffman and his ANS.

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

LLEWELLYN KING: The Scramble for a New Nuclear Reactor

By Llewellyn King

You can build a car with three or four wheels. But mostly, you would want to do so with four for stability and marketplace acceptance. Basically, you need a wheel at each corner, after which you can do what you like. Flexibility comes in how you use the vehicle.

For nuclear power, the reverse of that truism applies. There are many, many ways of building a reactor and fueling it. But its purpose is singular: to make electricity. And making electricity is done in the time-honored way, using steam or gas to turn a turbine attached to a generator.

Around the world, some 460 reactors are electricity makers. Even allowing for events like the tsunami which struck Fukushima Daiichi, they are statistically the safest and most reliable electricity makers.

Yet they are large and built one at a time; one-offs, bespoke. They rely predominantly on two variations of a technology called “light water,” originally adapted from the U.S. Navy. This has left no room for other designs, fuels and materials.

Now there is a new movement to design and build smaller reactors that are not as wedded to the light water technology, although that is still in the game.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration calculates the demand for electricity will double by 2050, which means that the demand for nuclear-generated electricity with its carbon-free attributes should soar.

To understand the heft of a nuclear plant, which range from about 900 to 1,600 megawatts of electrical output (MWe), one needs a visual comparison. Most of the windmills that are now seen everywhere generate 1 MWe, or a little more when the wind is blowing. So it takes 1,000 or more windmills to do the job of just one nuclear power plant. That stark fact is why China, in environmental crisis, has the world’s largest nuclear construction program.

But the days of the behemoth light water reactor plants may be numbered.

The challenge comes from what are known as small modular reactors (SMRs), rated at under 300 MWe. Stimulated by a total of $452 million in matching funds from the U.S. Department of Energy, the race is on for these smaller reactors. Call them the new, improved, front-wheel drive reactors.

The future for these is so alluring that eight U.S.-based manufacturers are competing for seed funding from the DOE for reactors that range in size from 10 MWe up to 265 Mwe. Other countries are also revved up including Argentina, China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and South Africa.

Whatever the design, one of the big advantages the new entrants will have is that they will be wholly or partly built in factories, saving money and assuring quality.

Some designs, like those of Babcock & Wilcox (which won the first round of funding) and Westinghouse, are sophisticated adaptations of light water technology.

Others, like General Atomics’ offering, called the Energy Multiplier Module, or EM2, are at the cutting-edge of nuclear energy. It relies on a high operating temperature of 850 degrees Centigrade to increase efficiency, reduce waste, and even to use nuclear waste as fuel. It is designed to work for 30 years without refueling, relying on a silicon carbide fiber ceramic that will hold the fuel pellets.

“The ceramic does not melt and if it is damaged, the material tends to heal itself,” says John Parmentola, senior vice president at General Atomics, which developed the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle and the electromagnetic launch system for aircraft carriers, which replaces the steam catapult.

Others designs include thorium fuel instead of uranium, the use of molten salt as a moderator and coolant. Three of them, including General Atomics' design are so-called fast reactors, where a moderator is not used to slow down the neutrons as they collide with the target atoms. Think fission on steroids.

It is as though nuclear designers have thrown off the chains of legacy and are free to dream up wondrous new machines, similar to the start of the nuclear age.

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

Commissioner Tim Echols, GA PSC: Why Nuclear Matters

By Tim Echols

Just when we thought nuclear power might be on a comeback, well, stuff happened.   Only time will tell if Georgia and South Carolina can “jumpstart” a nuclear renaissance.  Let’s hope we can because low-cost baseload energy is a key to economic growth.

This was illustrated dramatically for me while I was in Germany this summer meeting with numerous officials including an economic minister for the country. As he told me how BMW was having their upcoming light weight electric car carbon-fiber body manufactured in South Carolina, he said, “The United States is about to enjoy mass re-industrialization because of your cheap energy prices.”  I couldn’t help but smile. He went on to tell me of other European companies setting up shop in the United States for the same reason.

But reality is that “new” nuclear power continues to sputter.  Remember back about five years ago?  States were working hard with private utilities to possibly build new commercial reactors.  Then, we had the accident at Fukushima which brought more regulatory uncertainty.  At the same time, our economy was in recession with natural gas prices continuing to drop primarily due to “fracking.”

Meanwhile, in our “Silicon Valley of Nuclear Power,” the work continued because a course had been charted.  Georgia was building two new nuke units at Plant Vogtle.  SCANA was building two identical units at V.C. Summer Plant, near Jenkinsville, South Carolina.  And in between them sat the 310 square-mile Savannah River Site, a highly protected federal facility run by the Department of Energy, where a special MOX facility is being constructed amidst a sea of other national security related projects.

There are three good reasons we need to complete each of these projects, despite the cost issues each are experiencing right now.

First, anything remotely related to nuclear means jobs—and many of them good paying jobs. 12,000 people work at SRS, 800 private sector jobs at V.C. Summer and another 800 at Vogtle. The last two figures will double once the new units come on line.  Add to that the cumulative construction jobs which should peak out at more than 7000, and the impact is enormous. Remember, jobs let you buy houses, cars, clothes and widgets—and cheap energy is a magnet for manufacturing these as the Germans testified.

Second, nuclear power is a great investment for southeastern states especially.  It gives us 24/7 base load power, provides grid stability, serves as a hedge against volatile natural gas prices—and all this without any of the emissions associated with conventional fuels.   The two new Vogtle units represent $4 billion in economic value for Georgia ratepayers over the next best available option—fracked gas, and you know how cheap that is.

Third, nuclear recycling and reprocessing allows us to convert the plutonium that once powered cold-war nuclear warheads into fuel that ultimately powers our homes.  What a trade-off! That is where the SRS MoX site comes in and why President Obama should not end the funding for it as he is threatening to do.

The mixed-oxide fuel factory, or MoX, will recycle weapons-grade plutonium into material that can be used in nuclear power plants to generate electricity.  And not too far away, the famed “H” Canyon facility as it is called at SRS, demonstrates reprocessing taking old nuclear waste and making usable material from it. These successes might help launch similar commercial facilities that can be built to handle the large inventory of commercial waste we currently have around our country. We need to take this step.

But the President is getting cold feet on this.  The MoX facility, which admittedly is way over budget, was started in 2007 and is the only one of its kind in the U.S.  Thought the cost is high, the benefits are immense as we evaluate the best way to handle these nuclear materials. We must move forward responsibly.

We can’t turn our back when it comes to nuclear power.  We have smart people who can solve the difficulties associated with this incredible resource.  Let’s move America forward.


U.S. Court of Appeals – D.C. Circuit Consideration of NRC Yucca Mandamus Action: 716 days 3 hours 2 minutes 17 seconds