Archive for April, 2010

YUCCA JOHNNY: NRC OFFICIALLY ABANDONS YUCCA

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Today, the Commission affirmed its vote to vacate the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board's April 6, 2010 Order suspending briefing and consideration of the withdrawal motion from the Department of Energy.  The Commission also directs the Board to establish a briefing schedule on DOE's motion to withdraw and issue a decision on that motion no later than June 1, 2010. Per the Commission, the Board should continue case management and resolve all remaining issues promptly.

Read the entire release here

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C-SPAN GIVES STUDENTS ‘THE POWER’

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

If the future depends on the inclinations of the younger generation, nuclear power may be in great shape.

This year’s C-Span “StudentCam” contest has been won by three middle school girls from Racine, Wisconsin who did their eight-minute video on – the virtues of nuclear power! 

Madison Richards, Samantha Noll and Lauren Nixon did a marvelous job of gathering old TV footage, speeches by Senator Lamar Alexander and Skype interviews of such important figures as Patrick Moore, Helen Caldicott, Tom Meston of Westinghouse and former NRC Commissioner Dale Klein.  They presented both sides, conducted surveys and asked intelligent questions.  They even got children from their school to perform a playground routine illustrating the principles of nuclear fission.

But in the end the message is clear:  “Perhaps the sun is setting on fossil fuels,” says narrator Madison Richards, “and a new light is being shed on nuclear power for our future power needs.  Will the people of the United States accept this challenge?”

Anybody want to hire these girls for their marketing department?

See the video at C-SPAN

Then come back to Nuclear Townhall and give us your take

William Tucker

Russia to invest ‘several billion dollars’ in Argentina’s nuclear energy sector

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Russia continued to solidify its foothold in developing nuclear reactors for Latin America by signing a multi-billion contract with Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner yesterday.

The deal was signed as President Dmitry Medvedev swung through South America after attending the Nuclear Summit sponsored by the Obama Administration in Washington.  Russia is already in the process of building a reactor for Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

The Argentinean deal calls for the Russians to invest several billion in nuclear infrastructure plus help with construction of Argentine’s fourth nuclear reactor. The country already has two reactors, the Atucha I NPP near Buenos Aires and the Embalse NPP in the central Cordoba province, plus a third, Atucha II, under construction.

While the U.S. worries about the proliferation of nuclear material, we are going to find it very hard to catch up with the lead other countries are establishing in the international market.

Read it at Rianovosti

Then come back to Nuclear Townhall and give us your take

William Tucker

NPR: The threat of global warming might be the best thing to happen to nuclear energy

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

“The threat of global warming might be the best thing to happen to nuclear energy.”

That bit of wisdom comes from National Public Radio, where reporter Christopher Joyce of WBUR-Boston recently did a take-out evaluating the nuclear revival.

Naturally, the report decided nuclear might be too expensive but Joyce was at least willing to entertain the idea that it might have a roll to play:  “For three decades, no one built a new plant in the U.S., though some have been built abroad. Now nuclear looks better because it doesn't emit greenhouse gases that warm the planet.”

The report noted that loan guarantees may help the first plants over the financial hump but said that utilities ought to be paying a fee to cover their financial security. With new reactors estimated at $8 billion, the suggestions for fees ranged anywhere from 1 to 10 percent – $80 million to $800 million. The latter figure, of course, would probably be prohibitive.

Charles Forsberg, a professor of engineering at MIT, made a useful contribution:  "The importance of the number of plants in the next 10 years is not total electric production, but what it sets in place," he said. "The licenses, the knowledge, the manufacturing facilities, it enables you to rapidly expand thereafter."

NPR is still unwilling to entertain ideas such as speeding up NRC licensing or allowing foreign governments to build reactors in this country. But the usual fear-mongering about nuclear was notable for its absence.

Read it at NPR

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William Tucker

STOP IN THE NAME OF YUCCA!

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

The project is closing down, workers are being transferred to other sites, yet still the ghost of Yucca Mountain refuses to lie quietly in its grave.

The Department of Energy slowed things down yesterday when it offered a 21-day “time out” to give federal judges the chance to hear several appeals against ending the project. DOE said it would hold fire until May 5.

In a letter filed with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, attorneys for DOE agreed “not to undertake further actions to effectuate a shutdown of the Yucca Mountain Project, including terminating employees, terminating contracts or instructing its contractor to end ongoing work.”

Meanwhile, Jerry Tarkanian, former University of Las Vegas basketball coach and Republican candidate for Harry Reid’s Senate seat, said that although he is opposed to making Nevada the “dumping ground for spent nuclear fuel for the nation,” he would support turning the desert facility into a reprocessing center.

"Yucca Mountain's location is ideal for reprocessing,” said Tarkanian at a campaign stop in rural Pahrump. “It would be a new industry for Nevada and would create thousands of jobs. It would also turn UNLV and UNR into the leading research institutions in this field in the world while generating $500 million in revenues from the government every year.” 

Reid is generally regarded as vulnerable while Tarkanian is a leading Republican contender. Could it be?

Read it at Las Vegas Review Journal

Then come back to Nuclear Townhall and give us your take

William Tucker

THE BIG BOOST?

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

There’s no two ways about it – the 47-nation summit that just wound up yesterday will give a big boost – maybe even permanent momentum – to the world’s conversion to nuclear energy.

Although it wasn’t emphasized at the gathering – and may not even have been President Obama’s intention – the overall impact of the summit will be that the proliferation aspects of spreading nuclear programs can be handled and with proper international supervision and cooperation the diversion of bomb material into the hands of terrorist groups does not constituter a fatal deterrence to civilian programs.

To see how much this represents progress, consider what the paradigm has been to date. I the 1970s, nuclear opponents convinced President Jimmy Carter that the mere handling of spent fuel and the separation of plutonium would be a fatal step that would inevitably lead to bomb material falling into the hands of terrorists or rogue countries. (Ted Taylor, the renegade nuclear scientist who was the subject of John McPhee’s book, The Curve of Binding Energy, predicted confidently that by the 1990s there would be “hundreds” of nuclear explosions in American cities resulting from stolen plutonium. We stopped reprocessing and got the problem of “nuclear waste” instead.

President George W. Bush, Jr. tried to remedy this mistake through his Global Nuclear Energy Partnership – GNEP – and it is amazing how that effort is now completely ignored by press and politicians alike so that it is as if it never happened. Bush proposed reviving the reprocessing industry in this country so that we could provide developing nations with low enriched uranium and then take it off their hands again when it was spent, so they could have nuclear programs without ever developing the infrastructure for handling nuclear material. This is exactly what is being proposed now, except the U.S. no longer plays the central role. (Bush did imagine the current nuclear nations – France, Britain, Canada and Russia – forming a cooperative union.)

President Obama has put the cart before the horse – emphasizing the cradle-to-grave control of nuclear material without specifying who will handle the material or where it will be reprocessed. Kazakhstan has even volunteered since they are the source of one-third of the world’s uranium and developed a reputation for trustworthiness when they surrendered their nuclear weapons after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

But even with the cart before the horse, horse-and-cart are going to arrive at the same destination sometime. Sooner or later, somebody is going to say, “Why doesn’t the U.S. develop the capability for supplying the world with nuclear material and reprocessing it when it is done?”  And then we’ll be on our way.

China Daily, the English language Chinese news agency, ran an article this week, “US Wakes from Nuclear Energy Slumber,” comparing the U.S. to Rip Van Winkle. “A thunder from China has woken up Uncle Sam, like Rip Van Winkle, from a 20-year nap, to a different world. This world is in the midst of a Green Revolution. It is the biggest sea change since the Industrial Revolution, and Uncle Sam has slept too long to take the lead in this new movement.” 

Self-congratulations aside, give credit where credit is due. The Chinese have seized on nuclear and have sprinted ahead of us on the development of new reactors, building the Westinghouse AP1000 and Areva’s EPR when those reactors haven’t yet won design approval in this country.

But remember what they used to say about China when that nation was enduring its long pre-Industrial Age slumber:  “When a sleeping giant awakes . . . . “

Read the various takes on the Nuclear Summit at these sites.  Notice the Christian Science Monitor comes to the exact same conclusion we do – the real outcome of the summit will be to facilitate the spread of civilian nuclear energy.  But it sees this as a bad outcome, not good.

Associated Press

Fox News

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Teachers learn about nuclear energy through ‘Nuke 101′

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

One of the things that makes nuclear energy so apparently forbidding is that it’s so hard to get into a reactor. It leaves the appearance that there’s something horrible going on in there the public isn’t supposed to see.

An Illinois plant engineer have decided to remedy this by instituting “Nuclear 101,” an introductory look around the Braidswood Plant for high school and middle school teachers. Having dispelled some of the aura of mystery around nuclear, Morgan Davis hopes the teachers will take the message back to their students – and perhaps bring them for a visit as well. The local chapter of North American Young Generation in Nuclear is also sponsoring the project.

Nuclear 101 claims to be the first program in the country to offer public school teachers the chance to tour a plant for educational purposes. If so, that’s scary. Lord knows, the young people are already hearing enough from the anti-nuclear side of the story.

If nothing else, exposure to real live reactors should be of assistance to young people in making career choices. Davis herself says she first became interested in becoming a nuclear engineer after touring a plant while still in school.

Read the report in the Morris Daily Herald

Then come back to Nuclear Townhall and give us your take

William Tucker

OPINION: There are advantages in locating a nuclear fuel bank in Kazakhstan

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

As President Obama convenes with the heads of 40 states over the issue of nuclear terrorism, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazerbayev is putting forth his country as a candidate for a world center of fuel development.

The offer isn’t all that crazy, according to an analysis by Richard Weitz in the National Journal. Kazakhstan produced 60 percent of the world’s uranium last year and has rich domestic supplies. Moreover, the Central Asian Republic earned high marks for giving up its nuclear arsenal in the 1990 after the collapsing Soviet regime left it with one of the world’s largest collections of warheads.

Nazerbayev is now proposing that Kazakhstan build a uranium enrichment center and become the honest broker for developing countries willing to take nuclear fuel in exchange for giving up the right to enrich or reprocess fuel themselves. President George Bush, Jr., made the same offer in 2007, of course, as part of his Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) program. But GNEP never seemed to get off the ground and is now virtually forgotten – perhaps because nobody seriously believed that the U.S. would ever be able to build or site a reprocessing center.

Weitz argues that that there are reasons for taking President Nazerbayev seriously and reasons for doubting that Kazakhstan would be up to the job. One of the most obvious is its close relations with Iran, plus the other Islamic states of Central Asia. Also notable is the political turmoil that next-door-neighbor Kyrgyzstan has found itself in of late.

Read the whole extensive analysis here

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– William Tucker

NUCLEAR SUMMIT PROMISES TO ADVANCE CIVILIAN POWER

Monday, April 12th, 2010

By William Tucker
Whatever its success in reducing the possibilities of nuclear war, the 40-nation summit that convenes in Washington today holds great promise for advancing the cause of civilian nuclear power.

Bomb making and electricity generating have been fatefully intertwined, from the moment the first nuclear weapon was dropped in 1945 until the present moment, when the world holds its breath to see if Iran is really making a bomb or just seeking civilian power.

Nothing about Iran’s intentions will be resolved at the two-day conference convened by President Obama. But the summit will obviously help the world industry get its act together and root out sloppy procedures that could lead to a disaster for the industry in the years ahead.

There are dozens of little pockets of bomb-grade material lying around the world relatively unsupervised, the result of the haphazard procedures that have been followed so far. This was highlighted last week when Chile announced it had finally managed to rid itself of 40 pounds of highly enriched uranium created at two research reactors over the last several decades. The attempt to ship the material to the Savannah storage site was delayed twice by damage to transportation facilities in the recent Chilean earthquakes.

That such quantities of HEU and plutonium are sitting around relatively unguarded may come as a surprise to many in the industry, who might assume that countries all over the world are following protocols provided by the great powers. The summit is sure to pick off much of this low-hanging fruit – caches of potential bomb material that have not attracted much notice.

But what may also happen is that the experience of seeing how far along other countries have gotten with reprocessing may convince officials within the Obama Administration that the rest of the world has moved along smartly while the U.S. is lagging behind.

Since the 1970s, non-proliferation in the U.S. has meant not dealing with plutonium – not isolating it, not reprocessing it, not even thinking about it except to lay it all up in some huge repository such as Yucca Mountain. Many nuclear opponents in this country still equate American reprocessing with nuclear proliferation – which is kind of a joke in a time when North Korea, Israel, Pakistan and possibly others have generated their own plutonium, while France, Japan and others have complete plutonium recycling and have not served as repositories for terrorist bombs.

Today’s summit may awaken Americans to the idea that we are no longer in the lead in nuclear technology and we had better give up our 1940s dreams of a nuclear monopoly and start interacting with the rest of the world.

Either way, the long-run outcome of this week’s summit is likely to be that rogue bomb material is a problem with which the world can deal and that fear of clandestine terrorist activities is not something that should stop the worldwide renaissance in civilian nuclear technology.

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NO MORE SERVINGS OF NUCLEAR CHILE

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

In what is being billed as a promising start to next Monday’s Non-Proliferation Summit in Washington, Chile has completed delivery of a batch of highly enriched uranium to the U.S.

“We are happy to see it go,” Fernando Lopez, head of the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission was quoted as saying. The 40 pounds of material had been created over several decades at two research reactors near Santiago. It took six tons of lead lining to shield the material from transport.

The transfer was almost halted when an earthquake hit Chile in February. The research reactors are still without power and port facilities at Santiago were shut down. But another port was found and the material reached Savannah this week. From there it will be transferred to Oak Ridge for blending down to reactor grade.

The Obama Administration says there are dozens of similar sites around the globe where potential bomb material is sitting relatively unguarded. Next week’s summit will convene 47 nations who are signers of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to deal with the problem.

Read it at Global Security Newswire

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William Tucker