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Archive for November, 2010


Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

November 30, 2010
Nuclear Townhall
Is it conceivable that a group of far-left environmentalists and far-right Tea Party insurgents can combine to take on perhaps the most powerful political constituency in the United States Senate, the farm lobby?
Maybe if they have Al Gore behind them.
A diverse coalition that included the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, Freedom Works, The American Taxpayers Union, the American Conservative Union, and the National Chicken Council sent a joint letter yesterday to both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asking them to discontinue the ethanol tax credit when it expires in January.
“Congress has the opportunity to end the $6 billion a year subsidy to gasoline refiners who blend corn ethanol into gasoline,” said the letter. “At a time of spiraling deficits, we do not believe Congress should continue subsidizing gasoline refiners for something that they are already required to do by the Renewable Fuels Standard.”
Conservatives, of course, have long been opposed to the tax subsidy as throwing good government money after a bad idea. Maverick scientists such as Dr. David Pimentel of Cornell have also long argued that ethanol was not even producing any new energy, since it requires large inputs from fossil fuels to grow corn.
Now environmental activists have joined, with even Al Gore admitting last week that subsidizing ethanol was a mistake and that he only did it to curry favor with Iowa farmers during his Presidential campaign.
World food organizations have long been expressing their alarm as well, since competition from biofuels drives up the price of corn. That’s the reason for the Chicken Council – chickens live on corn. In 2007, a UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food condemned biofuels as a “crime against humanity.”
So does all this mean the ethanol subsidy – initiated in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter – will be ending?  Don’t bet on it. Each farm state has two Senators and with over 200 ethanol distilleries up and running in the Midwest there won’t be many votes in favor. And even if the tax credit is eliminated, federal mandates that all gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol will remain.
As the late economics professor Arthur Nelson postulated in Nelson’s 3rd Law, “The more a government subsidy distorts the market, the harder it is to get rid of it.”

Read more about it at the Hill blog


Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

November 30, 2010
Nuclear Townhall
From the Editors

As Russia moves into a competitive position in the international nuclear market, President Vladimir Putin is starting to feel his oats. Yesterday in addressing a group of German businessmen, he mocked German fears about nuclear.

“The German public does not like the nuclear power industry for some reason,” Putin told his audience. “But I cannot understand what fuel you will take for heating. You do not want gas, you do not develop the nuclear power industry, so you will heat with firewood? Then you will have to go to Siberia to buy the firewood.”

Putin has good reason to boast. Russia’s Rosatom is moving ahead smartly in the international market, selling reactors and other nuclear services to India, Vietnam, Iran, Turkey and Venezuela. The Russians have offered uranium supplies to all their clients and have even volunteered to take their spent fuel for reprocessing. “The Russians have a peculiar level of comfort with all things nuclear,” was the comment of on New York Times reporter.

Meanwhile, Germany is struggling to keep its 19 reactors operating in the face of widespread public opposition. Chancellor Angela Merkel has sugar-coated the issue, claiming that nuclear is only a “bridge to the renewable future.”  But anybody who understands renewables knows there is no “renewable future” and the reactors will be around until new ones are built to replace them.

That’s why Putin’s sarcastic remarks are so much to the point. What do the Germans expect to do for energy?  They already import twice as much gas from Russia as does France, since France is 80 percent nuclear. Is burning Siberian firewood next?  It would be “renewable,” wouldn’t it?

Read more about it at


Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

November 30, 2010
Nuclear Townhall
From the Editors
U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said America has reached a “Sputnik moment” with regard to advanced technology in an address before the National Press Club yesterday.

"When it comes to innovation, Americans don’t take a back seat to anyone – and we certainly won’t start now," Chu told his audience. "From wind power to nuclear reactors to high speed rail, China and other countries are moving aggressively to capture the lead. Given that challenge, and given the enormous economic opportunities in clean energy, it’s time for America to do what we do best: innovate.  As President Obama has said, we should not, cannot, and will not play for second place."

In particular, Chu noted that China is now in the process of constructing 30 of the 50 reactors being built worldwide. It is also moving rapidly toward fourth generation technology, where integral fast breeders will extract nearly 97 percent of the fuel potential from uranium, vastly extending uranium supplies and all but eliminating the problem of “nuclear waste.”

Of particular interest was Chu’s mapping of the process of “import substitution” whereby China has first bought technologies from other countries and turned them around so that within the space of a decade they have become exporters. Chu used the example of supercritical coal combustion, which increases the conversion efficiency of coal plants from 40 to 49 percent. China originally bought plants from Generl Electric in 1994 but within ten years was able to reverse-engineer the technology and begin exporting its own design to Turkey. This is significant because China first started importing nuclear reactors in 2005 and is now poised to start exporting its own design of reactors by 2013 – accelerating the schedule. When they do, it will change the international playing field dramatically. France is already conerned that its ambitious nuclear export program would be wiped out by Chinese competition. The U.S.?  Well, the only question for us is whether we’ll be importing from France, China, Korea or Japan.

It would be wrong to say that Chu’s speech revolved around nuclear. It did not. Nuclear played only a small role. There was much talk about more efficient solar panels and improved biofuels and high speed rail. China’s introduction of the world’s fastest supercomputer last month has also had an impact.

But perhaps the most amazing statistic Chu put forth is this:  The two largest suppliers of PhD engineering students at American universities are Tsinghau University and Peking University, both in China. If current trends continue, America may have to be content to play Athens to China’s Rome – a source of high culture and educational excellence but a fading rival in the economic and military realm. It’s a noble historical role, but probably not what most Americans would desire.

See Chu’s PowerPoint presentation for the National Press Club



Monday, November 29th, 2010

November 29, 2010
Nuclear Townhall
From the Editors


One thing you can bet on – no matter how much environmental extremists tell you they are in favor of something, when it comes to building it they will be against it.

That’s what has happened in the California desert, where San Diego Gas & Electric has spent seven years and $100 million trying to start construction on the 117-mile Sunrise Powerlink, a transmission line designed to carry wind, solar and geothermal energy to San Diego.

“Where else in the world in the same area do you have wind, spectacular solar and geothermal?” asks Michael R. Niggli, chairman of San Diego G&E in this New York Times report. But it is exactly this convergence of energy resources that bothers transmission-line opponents. “Our whole area will be transformed into an industrial energy park,” Donna Tisdale, who has filed a suit to block the transmission line, told The Times.

Of course you can’t blame her. Wind and solar take up ridiculous amounts of land. The Stirling Energy Systems’ 700-megawatt solar facility, scheduled for the desert region, will occupy ten square miles. That output represents a midday maximum. The Stirling engine has never been tested in a facility larger than 25 kilowatts. A nuclear reactor, on the other hand, would require only one square mile to generate 1000 MW around the clock. 

With their usual tales for conspiracy, opponents argue that the real purpose of the Sunrise line is to pick up electricity being generated in Mexico from natural gas. “They’re using wind as a cover,” Ms. Tinsdale told the Times. What’s truly amazing is that the utility has been forced to go to Mexico in order to site the liquid natural gas terminals required to supply the plants. Environmental opposition has pushed those facilities out of the country.

In order to court favor with the public, SDG&E has built a $38 million helicopter that will drop the transmission towers into remote locations so that no access roads will have to be built. Even that has not made much of an impression.

The Times’ article cites a recent government study which showed that pushing renewable energy up to 20 percent of electricity – a common goal of state mandates – will require construction of 12,000 to 20,000 miles of transmission lines just like the 117-mile Sunrise Powerlink. If the San Diego experience, it won’t happen any time soon.

Read more about it at the New York Times



Friday, November 26th, 2010

November 26, 2010
Nuclear Townhall

While the mainstream media takes little interest in the Nuclear Renaissance occurring around the world, nuclear bloggers are doing a great job of keeping Americans informed.

Veteran blogger Dan Yurman presents the fruits of these labors on ANS’s Nuclear Café, where he interviews Hamad Al Kaabi, a Purdue trained nuclear engineer who is the UAE’s permanent ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Al Kaabi played an important role the UAE’s decision to go nuclear and gives Yurman the details. “In 2006, a UAE energy working group developed projections for electricity needs. It found that demand would expand by three times the current level of use by 2020. The question was how to meet demand,” reports Yurman.

Despite being one of the world’s leading oil producers, the UAE was actually importing natural gas because gas extraction is tied to oil production, which is limited by OPEC quotas. Nevertheless, the UAE was repulsed by the idea of importing gas for electricity.Nor were renewables a valid alternative.

“Despite abundant sunshine, Al Kaabi said that renewable energy sources are not the answer to the challenges of using fossil fuels. `Even aggressive investment in renewable energy like solar will yield only a small amount of electricity to meet rapidly growing demand. It is not proven that solar can meet base load requirements,’ Al Kaabi said.”

So you’ve heard it from the horse’s mouth. Even the oil-rich Emirates see nuclear as the way to go. Is anybody in the U.S. paying attention?

Read more at ANS Nuclear Cafe


Friday, November 26th, 2010

November 26, 2010
Nuclear Townhall

Does GM’s IPO mean it is finally standing on its own instead of being propped up by the government?  Not according to Bloomberg News.

A report this week says that almost one quarter of all electric hybrids sold in the past two years have been bought by the federal government. The buying has become particularly intense since President Obama took office.

Ford has benefited as well. According to data obtained by the Freedom of Information Act, the U.S. General Services Administration bought 14,500 hybrids in the last two years, about 10 percent of all the agency’s purchases.“The government purchased about 64 percent of GM’s Chevy Malibu hybrid models and 29 percent of all Ford Fusion hybrids manufactured since Obama took office in 2009, the data show,” reports Bloomberg.

“GM stopped making the Malibu hybrid in 2009 after lack of consumer demand. GSA also bought about 14 percent of Ford Escape hybrids.”  The government purchased virtually no Toyota Priuses or Honda Civics.

The drive to prop up hybrid sales comes at a time when consumer demand for the technology seems to be fading. Hybrids are experiencing their third straight year of decline and have peaked at around 2 percent of passenger car sales. “Without a huge gas-price increase or further government demand, the natural demand just doesn’t seem to be there,” Jeff Schuster, director of forecasting at J.D. Power & Associates told Bloomberg.

Now, under government guidance, GM is trying to expand the market by introducing an all-electric model.Anybody want to buy a Volt?

Read more at Bloomberg News


Friday, November 26th, 2010

November 26, 2010
Nuclear Townhall

China and Russia are breaking out of the shadow of the U.S. economy so rapidly that the press can hardly keep pace. In the last two days, a) China and Russia have agreed to drop the U.S. dollar in their bi-lateral trade, and b) China has revealed ambitious plans to start exporting reactors by 2013 and develop an integral fast breeder program that will complete its nuclear fuel cycle.

All this has extraordinarily implications for America’s economic future. Approximately 40 percent of the dollar’s value comes from its use as the world’s international currency. Yet inflation and U.S. debt have eroded that value and China and Russia are catching on. If the world follows their lead in dropping the dollar, every American will lose 40 percent of his or her net worth overnight.

At the same time, both Russia and China are solidifying their economies by charging ahead with nuclear energy, while U.S. concerns remain fixated on tritium leaks and Yucca Mountain. At the China International Nuclear Symposium this week, Zhang Shanjing, president of China’s Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation revealed that the company will probably start selling reactors for export within three years.

Chinese technicians have already reversed-engineered Areva 900-MW reactors built at Daya Bay into the CPR-1000 and have 16 under construction, the first scheduled to open next September. Zhang said that once certain intellectual property issues are cleared up with Areva, Guangdong would begin exporting, probably by 2013.

Chinese engineers are already doing the same thing with the Westinghouse AP1000 as well. Testifying before the French Senate this week, Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon said is it “very worrying” to her company how quickly and efficiently the Chinese are building Areva reactors. Construction of two EPR-1700s at Taishan is ahead of schedule and on budget, while construction of the same reactors in Finland and France are years behind and far over budget.

Lauvergeon said the Chinese versions would come in costing 40 percent less than European efforts. Completion of the reactor at Olkiluoto is now expected to take 86 months and Flamanville 71 months, while the Taishan 1and 2 reactors are being completed in 46 months. Construction at Taishan 1, begun in 2009, is actually being slowed down so it does not overtake construction at Flamanville, which began in 2007, so that lessons learned in France can be applied in China. The implication is, of course, that once the Chinese enter the international market with similar reactors, they will be able to outbid Areva on any project.  

Russia is making rapid headway on nuclear as well. Just this week, Rosatom signed an agreement with Fortum, the Finnish nuclear corporation, to apply Russia’s “nuclear competencies in future nuclear power projects."  Even France’s foothold in Finland may be challenged by the Russian effort.

All this is incredibly important to the future of the U.S. economy, yet it is making almost no news. The Russia-China deal on dropping the dollar has appeared only on Drudge Report. The only U.S. response to China’s export announcement has been a warning from the ever-vigilant Carnegie Endowment for International Peace saying that China’s development of a fast breeder may lead to “nuclear proliferation.”

Read more about it at World Nuclear News


Wednesday, November 24th, 2010
November 24, 2011
Nuclear Townhall
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission public relations chief Eliot Brenner has told the Seattle Times in a letter that the agency has "no deadline to make a decision" on its long pending review of a lower panel’s rejection of the Energy Department’s Yucca Mountain license withdrawal. Brenner also told the paper in a letter to the editor that there is "as yet no final verdict to make public."
While noting that all four eligible NRC members have ‘voted’, Brenner downplayed the significance of the votes calling them "initial" while also characterizing them as "merely the exchange of preliminary views to start internal discussion."
Brenner also signaled that issuance of a Commission order may not be coming anytime soon on the matter advising that "votes can be supplemented, withdrawn and refiled, edited or revised during deliberations."
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board voted unanimously on June 29 to deny the U.S. Department of Energy’s request to rescind the license application. Commissioner Kristine Svinicki was first to file her vote on August 25 with Chairman Gregory Jaczko following shortly thereafter. Jaczko subsequently withdrew his vote and was the last to re-record his vote on October 29.
A Federal court has postponed preliminary hearings on a swath of Yucca Mountain-related issues pending full NRC action on the ASLB ruling.
Incoming House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has asked Jaczko to provide his plans for issuance of a Commission order to the Committee by December 2.
Brenner’s letter was published on November 22 in response to the paper’s editorial charging Jaczko with stalling the vote and playing political games with the Yucca Mountain-related review.


Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

November 24, 2010
Nuclear Townhall
From the Editors

In an energy policy paradigm that could serve as a model for the United States, the Ontario provincial government has put nuclear and renewable energy on equal footing in a plan to dole out $87 billion for new construction. 

The plan calls for building at least two new reactors and refurbishing ten others over the next 20 years. Wind, solar and biomass projects will also be developed. “Our energy will put Ontario at the forefront of clean energy, creating a new industry and new jobs,” Brad Duguid, Ontario’s minister of energy, told Bloomberg News.

The plan won immediate editorial support from the Toronto Star.  To date, the Canadians have relied on their own Candu heavy-water reactors employing unenriched uranium. Recent indications are, however, that they may switch to light-water technology. 

Nuclear energy is to receive the largest chunk of capital spending at $33 billion Canadian, followed by $14 billion for wind power, $9 billion for solar power and $4.6 billion for hydroelectricity. The plan also marked $12 billion for conservation, $9 billion for transmission lines, $4 billion for biomass, and $1.88 billion for natural gas

The plan stands in sharp contrast to U.S. efforts, which are throwing $90 billion into wind, solar and other so-called renewables while leaving nuclear energy mired in lines for above market loan guarantees and licensing inertia. By default, private investment is making natural gas the fastest-growing fuel. 

The Ontario effort would keep nuclear at its current level of supplying half the province’s electricity. Ontario accounts for about one-third of Canada’s total output. Meanwhile, the goal is to retire 6,400 megawatts of older coal plants.


Read more at Bloomberg News


Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

November 25, 2010
Nuclear Townhall
From the Editors

“No great art ever yet rose on Earth, but among a nation of soldiers,” wrote John Ruskin in 1865. And no great community of influential non-nuclear-proliferation experts ever arose except in a nation that had its own robust nuclear program.

This lesson doesn’t seem to be sinking into the non-proliferation chattering classes these days. Even with the possibility that North Korea could lob one of its nuclear weapons into South Korea, the non-proliferation poobahs in the nation’s capital are concentrating on collateral concerns – such as forbidding Jordan from enriching its own uranium or keeping South Korea from reprocessing its own fuel — as a means to an end to avoid more North Koreas.  

Writing in National Review Online, Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, weighs in with yet another worn manifesto that the U.S. must crack down on friendly countries trying to expand their civilian nuclear programs. “[T]he U.S. and other responsible nuclear-supplier states must condition all future civilian nuclear-cooperative  deals with any nuclear non-weapons state upon that country’s willingness to foreswear making nuclear fuel ­ a process that can bring them to the very brink of acquiring nuclear weapons. For the U.S., this means demanding this concession in the nuclear-cooperative deals it is about to cut with Vietnam, Jordan, and South Korea . . .. “

Sokolski continues:  "The U.S. should also put pressure on France, Russia, Japan, and South Korea to adopt such stricter conditions in their own nuclear-cooperative agreements. Most of those states are trying to expand their nuclear business in the U.S. and so are asking for U.S. federal loan guarantees or licenses. Recently, 17 nonproliferation experts on both the left and the right asked the president to require, as a condition of such U.S. assistance, that a firm’s country follow our nonproliferation lead. That’s sound advice.”

In other words, the way to deal with North Korea’s belligerence and the nuclear underground that is emerging among states — that former President George W. Bush once labeled the “Axis of Evil” — is to crack down on Jordan and South Korea and ask France, Russia and South Korea to play along as well.

Somebody has to tell the non-proliferation intelligenzia, that, without any meaningful marketpower in the international arena for civilian nuclear development, the U.S. no longer has much weight to throw around.  If the U.S. withholds uranium from South Korea because they want to reprocess, they’ll simply buy from Russian instead. If you don’t play the game, you don’t make the rules.

Read more at National Review