Transcript of Harry Reid-Sharron Angle exchange on nuclear energy, Yucca Mountain and energy policy generally from their only debate on October 14, 2010.
Last week the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission directed agency scientists to stop working at Yucca Mountain. This was of course cheered by Yucca Mountain opponents. But this is what Mrs. Angle has said about you, and I’m quoting from the program Face to Face, quote: “Harry Reid has demonized the nuclear industry. There’s a pot of money out there, we have some potential for some job creation and some diversification.”
Question: did we miss a golden opportunity to create jobs and receive benefits from the federal government during a time when we really needed it?
Mitch we tried for 28 years to get something from the federal government, they gave us nothing. Yucca Mountain is not good for the country and it is really bad for Nevada. The most poisonous substance known to man a few miles outside Las Vegas? No.
People said we couldn’t kill it? It’s dead. Yucca Mountain will no longer on the list. We need to use it for something else. But my opponent suggests using it for a nuclear reactor. I – there isn’t enough water in the whole state of Nevada to build a nuclear reactor. The only nuclear generation that uses more elec – more water, I’m sorry – than uh, coal, is nuclear. There’s just not enough water here to do anything about it.
I’m not against nuclear power. I just was totally opposed to trying to bring all the garbage from it to the state of Nevada.
Okay, Mrs. Angle?
Well I’ve always voted against making Nevada the nuclear waste dump of the nation. But the science now has outpaced the need for a dump here in Nevada. We don’t’ want a dump here in Nevada, but we need to quit demonizing the nuclear energy industry. What we have are breeder reactors and submarines that use liquid metal to cool. It isn’t always water that’s required for nuclear energy, and we should look into the potentials for nuclear energy. Certainly we shouldn’t be dependent upon foreign oil, we should be developing all of our resources, and we should also allow coal-fired plants to be built in Ehly, Nevada, which Harry Reid killed, because he said coal makes us sick.
We have to stop with this extreme environmental outlook, catch up to the technologies of the day, and use those things to create jobs here in Nevada.
Thank you. Senator Reid?
I heard my opponent talk about these coal-fired plants. Of course, we have got something much better than the coal plants now. We have a power line that’s worked out between the owners of those power plants from the north to the south. All using renewable energy, except on in Mesquite, which is going to use now, not only natural gas which is our product, an American product, forty percent less polluting than diesel fuel. And it’s going to also be solar.
So we’ve made great progress and I admire and appreciate what NV Energy has done, backing off those coal plants, which even they recognized, hasn’t worked. ** We have created lots of lots of jobs in renewable energy, to match whatever losses from the coal-fired plants.
In an October 27th letter responding to a query from Congressman “Doc” Hastings, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Natural Resources, NRC Commissioner William Ostendorff put more distance between himself and beleaguered Chairman Gregory Jaczko by signaling his belief that the agency’s Yucca Mountain license application review is “required under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.” Ostendorff added: “I firmly believe that the Congress and the American public deserve to have the benefit of the information. In fact, I believe the NRC is obligated to provide it.”
Yucca Mountain plaintiffs have argued in Commission and Federal Court filings that neither the NRC nor the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have the flexibility to arbitrarily discontinue the Yucca Mountain review under the federal law. On June 29th, the NRC’s Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB) agreed — unanimously rejecting the DOE’s request to withdraw the Yucca Mountain license application with prejudice. The full Commission immediately initiated a review of the Board’s ruling, but – with the matter entering its fifth month – it has had little to say about the ASLB finding even in the face of a Jaczko order to stop the agency’s review in early October on budgetary grounds.
In a re-statement of his disagreement with NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko over the latter’s decision to close-out the review, Ostendorff states that the actions ‘contravene the intent of the President’s directive on openness and transparency.”
In the correspondence, the Commissioner confirmed that a key Yucca Mountain review document – Volume III, which deals with critical repository post-closure issues – was being readied for “concurrence and authorization to publish” in mid-July. ‘In light of the recent guidance to NRC staff for the fiscal year 2011 Continuing Resolution, it is now my understanding that NRC staff is no longer working on Volume III,” he said.
In a stunning and remarkable open letter to journalists released late this afternoon, former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Dale E. Klein has rebutted a key assertion made by his successor – current Chairman Gregory Jaczko – with regard to Jaczko’s decision earlier this month “to terminate the ongoing NRC work on the Yucca Mountain license application.” Noting that Jaczko has repeatedly stated that ‘the Commission approved this budgetary approach for fiscal year 2011,” Klein, who was part of the budget deliberations, stated bluntly: “I do not agree with the Chairman’s assertion that his actions are consistent with the Commission’s FY2011 budget policy guidance.”
The Klein letter adds more fuel to an escalating firestorm between the increasingly embattled Jaczko and Congress spurred by the Chairman’s unilateral Yucca Mountain licensing application review stoppage. The action has resulted in a barrage of Congressional queries, the initiation of an investigation by Jaczko’s own Inspector General, legal filings in Federal Court, charges of political gamesmanship favoring Jaczko mentor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and an extraordinary statement by a NRC staff member in an open forum with Commissioners that agency personnel feel “betrayed.”
Klein added: “The FY 2011 budget was developed during the summer and fall of 2009 and ultimately approved by the Commission in January 2010. During that time, there were only three NRC Commissioners. My fellow Commissioner Kristine Svinicki has already publicly expressed her disagreement with the Chairman’s actions. Let me make it clear, there was no intention by the Commission to approve, or even contemplate, a preemptive termination of the high-level waste (HLW) program. Our approach and guidance to agency staff was to sustain ongoing work while maintaining flexibility in the face of the Office of Management and Budget’s directions concerning the HLW program.”
Klein charged that “it is not appropriate for Chairman Jazcko to continue to rationalize his actions as being consistent with the Commission’s FY 2011 budget guidance. Doing so implies that I and Commissioner Svinicki are complicit in authorizing his actions, and that is clearly not the case.”
According to Klein, the continuing resolution budget guidance for the agency’s Yucca Mountain review “should have been handled as a Commission policy matter, with the full participation of the Commission and, most certainly, in consultation with Congress.
“Lastly, having served as Chairman, I believe I have a reasonable understanding of the legal authority of the Chairman’s office to address administrative matters such as budget issues. I would not consider the closeout of the HLW application technical review to be a simple reassignment of personnel or routine reallocation of resources. Rather, the actions taken are the implementation of a major national policy decision that has not been acted on by the Commission or authorized by Congress,” Klein said.
The full text of the Klein letter follows:
Open Letter to Journalists—
As a former Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, I wish to address a particular point raised by the current Chairman, Gregory Jaczko, in the controversy surrounding his decision to terminate the ongoing NRC work on the Yucca Mountain license application. Chairman Jaczko has repeatedly stated that “the Commission approved this budgetary approach for fiscal year 2011”. I served as a member of the Commission during the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget deliberations and was intimately involved in establishing the budget policy referred to by Chairman Jaczko. I do not agree with the Chairman’s assertion that his actions are consistent with the Commission’s FY 2011 budget policy guidance.
The FY 2011 budget was developed during the summer and fall of 2009 and ultimately approved by the Commission in January 2010. During that time, there were only three NRC Commissioners. My fellow Commissioner Kristine Svinicki has already publicly expressed her disagreement with the Chairman’s actions. Let me make it clear, there was no intention by the Commission to approve, or even contemplate, a preemptive termination of the high-level waste (HLW) program. Our approach and guidance to agency staff was to sustain ongoing work while maintaining flexibility in the face of the Office of Management and Budget’s directions concerning the HLW program.
In December 2009, the HLW program was in flux. It was not known if the Department of Energy would request a withdrawal or suspension of the Yucca Mountain license application, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future had not been formed, and the Congress had not engaged on how affected agencies would address their obligations under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. While I may have anticipated some of the unfolding events, I could not have predicted all that has clouded this contentious issue. Clearly the conditions and assumptions that the Commission relied upon in developing our FY 2011 budget approach changed over time, and a recalibration would have been appropriate.
Since the majority of current commissioners chose not to reconsider the budget guidance, the guidance which I helped to create remains in force. It is not appropriate for Chairman Jazcko to continue to rationalize his actions as being consistent with the Commission’s FY 2011 budget guidance. Doing so implies that I and Commissioner Svinicki are complicit in authorizing his actions, and that is clearly not the case. Having served as NRC Chairman during several budget cycles, I believe that the continuing resolution budget guidance for the HLW program should have been handled as a Commission policy matter, with the full participation of the Commission and, most certainly, in consultation with Congress.
Lastly, having served as Chairman, I believe I have a reasonable understanding of the legal authority of the Chairman’s office to address administrative matters such as budget issues. I would not consider the closeout of the HLW application technical review to be a simple reassignment of personnel or routine reallocation of resources. Rather, the actions taken are the implementation of a major national policy decision that has not been acted on by the Commission or authorized by Congress.
The idea that a small, independent company in Idaho with a penny stock can accomplish what Constellation Energy and Duke Power are finding almost impossible may seem far-fetched. But Alternate Energy Holdings is trying.
The company, whose stock sells for 75 cents a share, announced yesterday it has received a Securities Purchase Agreement with Source Capital Group, Inc. for a commitment to purchase of up to 170 million shares of common stock worth approximately $120 million today. The funds would be used to cover payments for land, water rights and engineering work plus pay the application fees to begin licensing procedures before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
AEHI, which bills itself as “the nation’s only independent nuclear power constructor,” is proposing to build two 1700-MW power plants in Payette County, Idaho. The idea may seem quixotic but AEHI has the complete support of Payette County officials and has now managed to convince investors the project has merit.
“We must have baseload electricity, which means large, highly reliable sources of power that renewables can’t deliver,” says CEO Don Gillespie, a 45-year veteran of the nuclear industry. “If we don’t build clean low cost nuclear plants, it will be more of the same – pollution from toxic coal plants that are already being planned because of the current nuclear plant delays."
Payette County is only one of AEHI’s projects. It is also working on the Colorado Energy Park, a combined nuclear and solar power station, and Green World Water, a system that helps developing countries use their nuclear reactors for the production of potable water and other applications. The company also has a subsidiary, AEHI China, headquartered in Beijing, that is developing joint ventures to consult on nuclear development and produce nuclear plant components.
When Your Energy, a wind British developer, proposed putting 12 30-story windmills at Hinckley Point on the Somerset coast, it expected to be greeted by residents with open arms.â€¨
Instead, it has gotten the cold shoulder. “No thanks,” Somerset residents told the company, “we’ve already got our nuclear power plant.”â€¨ â€¨"I didn’t know much about wind farms, but when they try to dump one in the area you represent, you find out about them pretty damn quick," Anthony Trollope-Bellew, a Somerset county councillor who represents the area told the British newspaper, The Independent. "The more I found out, the less I liked them."â€¨ â€¨
Somerset residents soon heard stories about the unavoidable low humming noise and the resulting medical condition called “wind turbine syndrome,” first identified by British physician Amanda Harry. They also believed the huge industrial structures would ruin "one of the few relatively unspoilt stretches of coastline left in Somerset". â€¨
â€¨Residents are also attachment to the Hinckley Point Nuclear Station, first commission in 1965. Although the aging plant was recently downgraded from 500 MW to 221 MW because of corrosion problems, it would still be producing ten times more electricity than the giant windmills. "People had been living with nuclear power stations since 1960 with no problems and the nuclear stations were less visually obstructive,” said Trollope-Bellew.
â€¨â€¨After eighteen months of research, Somerset residents were ready. They easily defeated the windmill proposal. Now they are preparing to welcome what they really want. The British government has just announced it will use the proposed windmill site to build a new reactor at Hinckley Point.
If Republicans achieve their expected gains in next week’s election, probably the first Obama Administration position they will attack will be the coming EPA effort to regulate carbon emissions.
A broad coalition of business and industry groups – including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Manufacturers Association and the American Chemistry Council – fired the first shot yesterday, asking Republican leaders to take on the EPA as soon as the House and Senate reconvene for the lame-duck session. The most likely target is a moratorium on the rulemaking attached to either an omnibus budget or new continuing resolution.
The threat to allow the EPA to start writing carbon regulations was the sword the President held over Congress’s head during his efforts to pass cap-and-trade or some other carbon regime. Many speculated it was only a gambit but now the Administration is obligated to follow through.
Business and industry, on the other hand, argue that the EPA effort would impose “substantial costs and burdens on U.S. jobs and state resources while intruding on Congress’s important leadership role in developing energy policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
The EPA regulations, based the U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared carbon dioxide a “pollutant,” are aimed mainly at stationary sources, notably power plants. Significantly, they will require clearance before any new sources can be added to a state’s air shed. Utility owners are already arguing they will be forced to delay the construction of new capacity, even relatively clean natural gas plants intended to replace old coal plants.
The business and industry group’s letter was addressed to two Republicans and eight Democrats, including Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, all of whom represent states with strong dependence on coal.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Inspector General Hubert Bell has confirmed the initiation of an investigation by his office into Chairman Gregory Jaczko’s early October action to shut-down the agency’s review of the pending Yucca Mountain license application.
Rossana Raspa, a NRC Investigative Team Leader, advised Nuclear Townhall that an investigation has commenced but declined to give more specifics.
In an October 8, 2010 letter to the Inspector General, former two-term (1987-97) NRC Commissioner Rogers requested a review of Chairman Jaczko’s "recent unilateral actions to terminate the NRC Staff’s review of the DOE Yucca Mountain application in order to determine whether any legal or other improprieties have been committed."
On October 19, 2010, senior Republican Energy and Commerce Committee members – Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY) – asked Bell to “convene a formal investigation.”
The text of the Upton-Whitfield letter is below:
October 19, 2010
Mr. Hubert T. Bell
Inspector General of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
11545 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852
Dear Mr. Bell,
Recent news reports have indicated that Chairman Gregory Jaczko is delaying a ruling on whether the Department of Energy has the legal authority to withdraw the license for the Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada. Because of these reports, we are asking you to convene a formal investigation into the Chairman’s recent actions to shut down the project.
As you know, Yucca Mountain was designated as the nuclear waste repository by the United States Congress in legislation signed by the President as part of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA), as amended in 1987. In 2002, Congress passed a Joint Resolution reaffirming the site as the country’s nuclear waste repository. Despite these actions and the fact that Congress to date has continued to provide funding for Yucca Mountain, the actions by the Chairman make us concerned that he has overstepped his authority by making a decision to terminate the review of the license application based on his FY 2011 budget request, which has yet to be approved by Congress. We are concerned that this unilateral decision by the Chairman is undermining the intent of the Congress and possibly the Commission, as it is our understanding that at least on Commission member has issued a memo detailing his objections to the Chairman’s actions.
Countless times Congress has reaffirmed that we must have a permanent storage site to protect the public and the environment, as well as to continue to develop nuclear power in the United States. Nuclear power accounts for twenty percent of our electricity supply and is expected to grow substantially in the next several decades. Additionally, the average nuclear plant generates approximately $430 million in the local community and the operation of a nuclear plant creates 400 to 700 permanent jobs. Any delay to advance nuclear power places our economy and national security at risk. Playing political games with this issue, which has been suggested in the news, has already cost taxpayers $1 billion through lawsuits filed and that number is expected to increase to over $50 billion in the next twenty years, not to mention that the federal government has already spent $9 billion constructing the Yucca Mountain project and this would be wasted money. At a time when we have a nearly $14 trillion debt, these actions are unwise and deserve your attention. Therefore, we appreciate your fair and expedited review of the Chairman’s actions and this situation.
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko has responded to six questions posed to him in a joint Congressional letter taking exception to his Yucca Mountain license application review shutdown action from ranking Republican members of four key Congressional Committees – Energy and Commerce; Natural Resources; Science and Technology; and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
Chairman Jaczko’s October 27, 2010, responses, which offer little if any new information on the action and related activities, follow:
On what legal authority are you grounding your decision to terminate
review of the license application based on a budget request, rather than
Neither the text of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 Energy and Water Development and Related
Agencies Appropriations Act and its underlying committee reports, nor the Fiscal Year 2011
Continuing Resolution provide the Commission with express direction on how it is to expend its
appropriations from the Nuclear Waste Fund for Yucca Mountain activities. In the absence of
an express direction, the approach the NRC is following is consistent with the terms of the
Continuing Resolution, the Commission’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request, the general
principles of appropriations law, and past U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) practice.
The Commission declined to revisit this decision in voting earlier this month.
As you know, in FY 2010, the NRC requested $56 million for its High-Level Waste (HLW)
program. but Congress only appropriated $29 million. The NRC requested an appropriation of
$10 million for the HLW program in FY 2011, or about a third ofthe FY 2010 appropriation.
Both the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Energy and Water Development
subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee approved that sum for FY 2011.
Under these circumstances, the path that the NRC is following is consistent with NRC’s
obligation to spend funds prudently under a Continuing Resolution pending final budget action
by the Congress. See Section 110 of Pub. L. 111-242, 124 Stat. 2607 (Sept. 30, 2010); OMB
Circular No. A-11, §123.2 (2010).
What specific actions have been taken or will be taken to terminate
review of the license application, including all actions related to NRC staff
review of the application?
Pursuant to the guidance issued by the Executive Director of Operations and the Chief Financial
Officer, staff is beginning an orderly closure of the program. No specific actions have yet been
taken to terminate the program. Rather the first step of this process is to preserve the staff’s
work products, and complete and implement a detailed and comprehensive plan for this effort.
The entire process is expected to take at least a year and include documenting the staff’s
review and other knowledge concerning the program by means such as comprehensive
technical reports and videotaped interviews of technical staff.
How does halting NRC review of the license application influence the
pending appeal of ASLB’s ruling?
The staff is following established Commission policy to begin to close out the HLW program.
These actions are separate from our hearing process and any decision the Commission may
make to review the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board’s (ASLB’s) ruling and decide whether to
uphold or reverse their decision concerning the formal status of the U.S. Department of
Energy’s (DOE’s) application.
How will your decision impact future legal challenges to DOE’s motion to
Currently the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has held related
proceedings in abeyance pending NRC action. In re Aiken County, No. 10-1050 (and
consolidated cases)(D.C. Cir.). I am not in a position to specl..Ilate on how this court or any
future court will respond to NRC’s actions.
How are you ensuring that NRC is prepared to resume consideration of
the license application if the commission and courts uphold ASLB’s
The staff is beginning to transition to close out for the reasons outlined above. By thoroughly
documenting the staff’s technical review and preserving it as appropriate for publication and
public use, the agency will be able to respond to direction from the Congress or the courts.
What communication specifically relating to this decision have you had
with the offices of Secretary of Energy Chu, Senate Majority Leader Reid,
or the White House.
Consistent with my role as Chairman of an independent regulatory commission, members of my
staff and I informed the White House and a select number of Members of the Congress,
including NRC’s authorizers and appropriators as well as Senator Reid, on a bipartisan basis, of
the budgetary decision to begin to transition to close out of NRC’s HLW activities. Neither I, nor
anyone on my staff, had communication with the U.S. Department of Energy regarding this
In a letter to the editor made available independently to Nuclear Townhall, former U.S. Department of Energy official Lake Barrett – commenting on a letter widely distributed by U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko to news media outlets in defense of his decision to shut-down the agency’s Yucca Mountain license application review – says “the chairman’s letter has an Alice-in-Wonderland quality to it in which facts are turned upside down and the truth disassembled, requiring any knowledgeable reader to suspend total disbelief.” Barrett served as Deputy Director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management over two decades.
“The inconvenient truth of the matter is that the chairman is stone-walling on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project by sidestepping the commission policy-making process he is charged with upholding. By failing to bring to an orderly closure a timely decision to uphold or reverse the unanimous decision of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) finding that the DOE lacks the authority to withdraw the Yucca license application under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as amended, he is not faithfully executing nor abiding by the oath he swore when he took office,” Barrett said.
Barrett called on Jaczko to release the NRC general counsel’s memorandum “sanctifying” the chairman’s actions. “The reality is that the chairman appears to be wrapped up in the Obama administration’s backdoor attempt to shut down Yucca Mountain through a twisted interpretation of the budgetary process rather than to risk an up-or-down vote in Congress to terminate the project. Chairman Jazcko’s failure to bring a timely up-or-down vote on the ASLB decision appears to mimic the administration’s approach to Congress on the matter,” he added.
Barrett concluded: “The American people deserve better than this. The NRC chairman should understand that he fools no one with his sanctimonious good government and preservation of resources arguments. Rather he should schedule an immediate vote on the ASLB decision and at the same time order the staff to publish their review work. Nothing less is good government.”
The complete text of the Barrett letter is below.
To The Editor:
Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko’s letter to the editor appears to be nothing more than a desperate public relations effort and as such is at best disingenuous and at worst borders on partisan advocacy.
The chairman’s letter has an Alice-in-Wonderland quality to it in which facts are turned upside down and the truth disassembled, requiring any knowledgeable reader to suspend total disbelief.
The inconvenient truth of the matter is that the chairman is stone-walling on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project by sidestepping the commission policy-making process he is charged with upholding. By failing to bring to an orderly closure a timely decision to uphold or reverse the unanimous decision of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) finding that the DOE lacks the authority to withdraw the Yucca license application under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as amended, he is not faithfully executing nor abiding by the oath he swore when he took office.
Moreover, when in the name of good government does it make any sense to suppress the publication of the results of the NRC staff review of the Yucca Mountain license application? Rather, it would seem that in the name of good government, transparency and openness and scientific integrity, the public’s interest would be best served by publishing the results of the NRC staff technical review. Chairman Jaczko’s actions are far from transparent.
As far as preservation of resources are concerned, U.S. taxpayers and ratepayers have paid over $10 billion for the development and characterization of the Yucca Mountain site so NRC can determine whether the project can be licensed. So why in the name of good government would it not be beneficial to publish the results of the NRC staff’s technical analysis of the Yucca Mountain site?
The chairman’s statement that the commission approved "this budgetary approach for fiscal year 2011 almost a year ago" begs the question as to whether the commission is just plain clairvoyant and completely foresaw all of the circumstances of today surrounding this issue and/or whether the other commissioners were consulted at all prior to issuing the direction to the NRC staff to wrap things up. Why won’t the chairman publicly release the NRC general counsel’s memorandum sanctifying the chairman’s actions? One would think the other commissioners would have a right to know at the very least.
The reality is that the chairman appears to be wrapped up in the Obama administration’s backdoor attempt to shut down Yucca Mountain through a twisted interpretation of the budgetary process rather than to risk an up-or-down vote in Congress to terminate the project. Chairman Jazcko’s failure to bring a timely up-or-down vote on the ASLB decision appears to mimic the administration’s approach to Congress on the matter.
At the heart of it, this is the issue presently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit-whether this administration or any other can simply waive the requirements of duly enacted laws of Congress by claiming it has the prerogative of reordering policies through the budgetary process.
As a matter of practice, the court of appeals has deferred to the commission for the moment so as to allow time for the commission to make a timely agency decision on the merits in considering the ASLB decision. It would seem the court has been rewarded by the agency’s chairman engaging in delaying tactics. So much so that it has become a legitimate question as to whether the chairman ever intends to bring an up-or-down vote on the ASLB decision or simply intends to fall back and claim the whole matter has been mooted through his interpretation of the budget process.
The American people deserve better than this. The NRC chairman should understand that he fools no one with his sanctimonious good government and preservation of resources arguments. Rather he should schedule an immediate vote on the ASLB decision and at the same time order the staff to publish their review work.
Nothing less is good government.
Former Deputy Director
U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management
Paul Lorenzini has a long career in nuclear, dating back to 1970, when he was the first PhD to graduate from Oregon State with a degree in nuclear engineering. He worked with Rockwell International’s nuclear division where he was involved in developing safety analysis methods for the design of the Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor. He later became a vice president with the company where he oversaw the clean-up operation at Hanford, Washington. From there he went on to serve as president o Pacific Power & Light and then CEO of PacifiCorps’ operations in Turkey and Australia. He also has a law degree.
Somewhere along the way, he met Dr. Jose N. Reyes, co-designer of a small, 45-MW modular light-water reactor. Enthusiastic about its potential, he combined with Dr. Reyes to found NuScale, with the mission of commercializing the reactor model. NuScale has made a splash but – like all small reactor start-ups – still find itself stalled trying to get through licensing at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. After preliminary meetings with the NRC in 2008, NuScale is hoping to apply for complete design certification in 2012 with the first models up and running by 2018. It’s a long time horizon and frustrating is to see competitors in other countries now starting to catch up with the technology. But Lorenzini is still optimistic that NuScale will be one of the first out the door with the new technology. We interviewed him last week.
NUCLEAR TOWNHALL: Tell us how this idea got started. When did you first conceive of the notion that nuclear reactors could be scaled down to small size?
LORENZINI: Actually the idea was first conceived by Dr. Reyes under a contract with the Department of Energy in 2001. At the time a number of small designs were being developed throughout the world with a view to serving developing countries with small grids and meeting needs in remote locations. The unique feature of this design was its reliance on natural circulation cooling, basically transferring knowledge Dr. Reyes had gained through testing on the Westinghouse AP1000 at Oregon State University. When we took the concept to market in 2007, the truly new idea was the notion of clustering several of these “modules” at a single site to serve utility customers with a plant producing up to 540 MWe.
NTH: What’s been the reaction in the technological community? Where do you find support? Where do you find opposition?
LORENZINI: For years it has been assumed nuclear plants must be large to capture the “economies of scale.” No one believed we could offer a small plant that would be economic. We challenged that idea by arguing there are unique “economies of small” – a new and novel approach to containment design coupled with factory manufacturing of the entire nuclear plant and the simplicity of natural circulation – all of these have combined to give us a plant that is small and economic. What it means for customers is they can build a nuclear plant with significantly reduced financial risks. Frankly, once we get past the economic skeptics, we have found broad support in the technical community. What the technical types seem to like the most is the simplicity and inherent safety advantages that the plant offers.
We have been especially encouraged by growing bi-partisan support at the federal level, both from both Houses of Congress and the Administration through Secretary Chu at the Department of Energy. I think over time EPA will appreciate the role light water, small modular reactors can play in addressing the near term need for non-carbon sources of electricity and that Commerce will also see the jobs and export trade implications for creating a domestic manufacturing industryThere is a growing appreciation of the role light water, small modular reactors can play in addressing the near term need for non-carbon sources of electricity..
NTH: Where do you envision these reactors being deployed. Have you had any success in finding customers?
LORENZINI: Our plan is to pursue the U.S. market first. We believe Certification by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is, in essence, an international “gold stamp” that will automatically open global markets. Ten major utilities have joined our Customer Advisory Board and we are having serious conversations with many of them, as well as others. While we are getting interest from large utilities, the ability to deploy a small, scalable nuclear plant also has attracted interest from many consumer owned utilities like the rural electric cooperatives, which are typically smaller generators.
NTH: The field for small modular reactors is now getting a little crowded. What differentiates NuScale from the rest? Is there anything unique about your design?
LORENZINI: Aside from the commercial importance of being a light water design, our most significant differentiator is the unique NuScale containment design. Rather than the conventional massive concrete structure built on-site, our containment is much smaller diameter vessel that is manufactured at the factory along with the nuclear component. When the module is shipped, it is delivered as an entire plant, including the containment. This means we can add nuclear “modules” incrementally to meet growing customer demands over time once the reactor building has been erected. In this sense we are the only truly “modular and scalable” design in the market today. As a by-product, the containment design also gives us a very simple and reliable system for decay heat removal since it is entirely below grade and under water.
NTH: The big question in everybody’s mind, of course, is whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is going to get around to licensing any of these small reactors in the next decade. How do you view your chances there? Were the preliminary talks in 2008 helpful?
LORENZINI: We have actually moved things along very well with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. When we first approached them I believe we were viewed a bit as a curiosity. But that shifted to active interest rather quickly as some of the safety advantages of the plant became apparent and as market interest grew. Since then the NRC has created a special branch for licensing light water PWRs and we now have a project manager assigned especially to us. We have submitted our first Topical Licensing Reports and have been having regular exchanges with the staff. In August, two of the newest Commissioners, Mr. [William C.] Ostendorff and Dr. [George] Apostolakis, visited our test facility in Corvallis. Because of the simplicity of the design, we will be able to avoid many of the complex analyses that complicate the licensing of larger plants. Right now we’re quite optimistic about our prospects for moving through the licensing process in a reasonable time.
NTH: How did that experimental model at Oregon State University go? Was that a sufficient test of the technology? Are there any plans anywhere for a full-scale model?
LORENZINI: The integral test facility at Oregon State University is a very important asset to us. As a one-third scale, electrically heated, fully integrated test facility operating at temperature and pressure, it models the entire system from the core to the ultimate heat sink. It will allow us to confirm not only the basic operations but also the response of safety systems. We intend to follow an approach very similar to the one taken for licensing and commercializing the Westinghouse AP1000. In that case an electrically heated, fully integrated, sub-scale test facility at Oregon State University served to provide the confirmation necessary to support the design certification of the plant. Given that the basics of NuScale’s nuclear operation and natural circulation are well understood, we believe this facility will provide an adequate basis for licensing and commercialization of the plant.
NTH: How does funding go for a project like this? Have the venture capital firms been interested? Are you still privately financed? Are there people willing to invest in an idea or do they want to see a license?
LORENZINI: To this point we have been funded entirely by venture investors. However, we have had growing interest from potential strategic partners. The long timeline has made it difficult but that has been offset recently by the enthusiastic response of the market.
NTH: What are the possibilities of experimenting or building abroad? Are there any ways you could move ahead without an NRC license?
LORENZINI: We are receiving significant international attention and have had several expressions of interest. Many countries have a well developed nuclear regulatory regime and each will need to satisfy their sovereign regulations independently. That said, there are a number of countries interested in NuScale that lack the regulatory process and for them the NRC certification will be more important. In either case, we do not see a shortcut to licensing. While we may find ourselves pursuing opportunities in other countries, our near term emphasis will be on U.S. markets and NRC approvals.
NTH: Realistically, it appears that the U.S. is rapidly losing its lead in nuclear technology. Particularly in Asia, other countries are picking up the ball and running with it while we still seem stuck on square zero. Japan, Korea and Russia already have their own small modular designs and seem poised to advance much more rapidly. Are you worried that we’re going to be overtaken in nuclear technology? What would be the consequences of that?
LORENZINI: It is discouraging to see other countries moving forward as aggressively as they are while we move much more slowly. In my view it puts an exclamation point on the importance of supporting the commercialization of viable U.S.-based nuclear technologies as they emerge. What we need is a federally backed national initiative to commercialize small modular reactor technologies that could impact the market. As I said earlier, we have been encouraged to believe that view is shared both in Congress and within the Administration
NTH: What’s the most unusual thing you’ve encountered in trying to invent and promote small reactor technology?
LORENZINI: Not unusual so much, but what has been most surprising is how dramatically the alignment has occurred between the market, our regulators, the Administration, and the bi-partisan Congress. People really get it. They understand the need for flexible new nuclear technologies that can open markets and do so with less financial stress here and around the world. They get the clean air implications and they get the domestic jobs and manufacturing benefits. For this alignment to happen in such a short time has been a very special surprise. And while we still have a long way to go, these changes are creating an environment in which I believe SMR’s can become a game changing technology