Archive for January, 2011
January 28, 2011
From the Editors
Perhaps in keeping with the popular misconception that living near a nuclear reactor is the equivalent of living in the neighborhood with a mushroom cloud, the Augusta Chronicle is reporting that the Vogtle Plant in Georgia has opened an “information center” with emphasis on how to escape the area if something goes wrong at the new reactors.â€¨
â€¨“The two-building complex adjacent to Georgia Power Co.’s offices in Waynesboro would serve as a media and information center if a serious accident or emergency were to occur at the power plant, situated 20 miles away on the banks of the Savannah River,” the newspaper reports. There was no mention of reduced air pollution or other benefits the new plants might bring.
â€¨â€¨The new $2 million headquarters in Waynesboro is designed to be a kind of emergency command center. “[T]he center includes a newsroom with desks and other facilities for reporters; and offices for local emergency officials, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other agencies that would be involved in such an emergency,” says the Chronicle.
â€¨The article emphasizes that Vogtle officials have already held annual emergency drills for the last two decades preparing for the hypothetical disaster scenario. "They’ve done it all," Ken Davis, public information director of the Georgia Emergency Management Association told the Chronicle. "Worst-case, unimaginable scenarios are their specialty."â€¨
â€¨All this is undoubtedly necessary to reassure the public and meet some federal requirements imposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other agencies. But it would be good to note that anti-nuclear activists also use such elaborate precautionary measures as proof positive that nuclear is unacceptably dangerous. At a recent nuclear seminar at the New York Academy of Sciences, one anti-nuclear protestor was carrying forth about Three Mile Island when another participant asked, “How many people were injured at Three Mile Island?” “That’s not important,” the protestor responded. “They had to be evacuated!”
Read more about it at the Augusta Chronicle
Â â€¨U.S. CHAMBER SLAMS OBAMA 2035 ENERGY STANDARD: ‘PROFOUND DETACHMENT FROM OUR ENERGY AND ECONOMIC REALITY’Friday, January 28th, 2011
January 28, 2011
The first dissenting voice to President Obama’s call for an aggressive “clean energy” standard came from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s energy institute, whose Chief Executive Karen Harbert called it an unrealistic approach to solving energy problems. â€¨
“The fundamental problem with the administration’s approach on energy is that it picks winners and losers,” Harbert told The Daily Caller. “Raising taxes on the industry that fuels our lives shows a profound detachment from our energy and economic reality.”â€¨
â€¨The Presidents called for getting 80 percent of our energy from “clean sources” by 2035 in his State of the Union Address and specified putting one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. Lest these goals seem overly ambitious, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu undercut the difficulty of the task yesterday by pointing out that, when nuclear and natural gas are counted as “clean,” we are already halfway there since both contribute 20 percent of our electricity.
â€¨â€¨Harbert takes issue with both interpretations, saying we should be relying on expanded oil drilling for cars and coal for electricity. “This proposal, along with the effort to stall both current and future development of energy in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, will harm our economy and make us even more dependent on foreign oil,” she told The Caller. “Unfortunately, the administration’s clean energy proposal is wholly unrealistic and is more about rhetoric than reality.
”â€¨â€¨The Caller also reports Harbert calls the plan unfeasible because “it would require a drastic increase in the use of renewable energy like nuclear power while at the same time reduce the use of the cheapest and most widely available energy resource – coal.” There may have been a misunderstanding, but if the quote is correct it will be the first time anyone has referred to nuclear as “renewable.”
Read more about it at the Daily Caller
January 28, 2011
The Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCI) has come up with a novel way to deal with local objections to its new reactors – novel for India, at least. Share the profits of the plan.
“We want to build a plant which everybody feels it is theirs’.” CEO S.K. Jain told The Economic Times. “We are in the process of having an intense dialogue with all the villagers as a part of confidence-building measures. . . When the plant starts operating, some percentage of the profit, which will be huge, will be made available exclusively to that area.”
NPCI is in the process of constructing six new reactors around the country to boost the scant 3 percent that India currently gets from nuclear energy. As plans have unfolded, however, resistance has cropped up in the rural villages sited for plants. Villagers in the Mithi Virdi in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat have been protesting attempts to site a reactor in their area for several months.
The process is aggravated by Indian laws that give very few rights to local jurisdictions and allow national companies to take property without compensation. In the U.S., of course, hosting communities share property tax revenues from the reactor and opposition is usually negligible. Studies have found that local support for reactors usually runs about 80 percent, 10 points higher than the general public approval of 70 percent.
Although the protests in India have centered on complaints about possible groundwater pollution and general anxieties about safety, company officials suspect that lack of financial compensation is the real problem. “Some of the villagers . . have been taken to visit operational nuclear facilities in their area, a move aimed at quelling their apprehensions about safety,” said CEO Jain. “Whatever were their apprehensions and fears, we asked them to come with us and take a look at some of our operating plants. The measures were very successful.”
Read more about it at The Economic Times
January 28, 2011
While it hasn’t had much success in issuing licenses for new reactors, the has managed to produce a new manifesto on safety culture that probably won’t be read by anyone but will serve as a legal benchmark for anti-nuclear groups trying to prove that reactors aren’t being operated properly.
The 53-page document, “Proposed Final Safety Culture Policy Statement,” issued this week, was written in response to a 2008 Staff Requirements Memorandum titled, “A Commission Policy Statement on Safety Culture.” The intent, according to this report in The Day, of New London, Connecticut, is to “minimize human error and managerial problems at reactors across the country.”
The document is not “an enforceable regulation, but rather a guide to “expectations" about how reactor employees should conduct themselves to enhance safety and security, NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko told The Day. Read the full report here.
The publication drew immediate criticism from David Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who said the requirements should be mandatory. "Bottom line, the NRC should be an enforcer of regulations that ensure safety, not an encourager of unreliable traits that might lead to acceptable safety levels,” he told The Day. Lochbaum cited a shutdown of the Millstone reactor in Connecticut in the 1990s as a reason for his concern.
Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the NRC, said that regulatory procedures can and do lead to heightened oversight of reactor performance without being mandatory. He cited a recent occurrence at Palo Verde as an example. "If inspectors see a pattern of behavior that doesn’t link up with a positive safety culture, we bring that to a plant’s attention, and that can affect a plant’s overall standing," he told The Day.
The report must receive the approval of the full Nuclear Regulatory Commission before being officially published in the Federal Register.
Read more about it at the Day
January 28, 2011
The first indication that the 112th Congress will give a high priority to nuclear energy has come from the new Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, who knocked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a statement for taking five years to decide on license renewals.
"Today marks an unfortunate milestone for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as the timeline for the reactor renewal process has now doubled without explanation,” said the chairman. He noted that the renewal applications for the Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee reactors “eclips[ed] 60 months with no end in sight. “Gone are the days of reasonable expectations for a stable and predictable regulatory process," continued Upton. "This uncertainty and lack of transparency in the process is needlessly putting plants and thousands of jobs at risk.”
According to the NRC’s own website, “License renewal is expected to take about 30 months, including the time to conduct an adjudicatory hearing, if necessary, or 22 months without a hearing.”
Both Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee are hot-button issues and any decision will be met with huge opposition. A renewal is likely to end up quickly in court.
But the real question said one industry source is "if license renewals seem a problem, what about new licenses?”
"Upton is hitting the right buttons, however, Nuclear energy will never resurge in the U.S. until the NRC licensing process become more accountable and transparently predictable."
Read more about it at the Energy and Commerce website
January 27, 2011
Press reports on the reaction to the President’s call for 80 percent “clean energy” by 2035 are finding a surprisingly tepid response in the renewable energy industry.
“[I]ndustry officials were less than enthused and questioned whether the ambitious targets were even attainable,” reports the Los Angeles Times. "It’s a lofty goal, but it’s like the race to the moon in that it’s generally achievable," the Times quotes John Cheney, chief executive of solar project developer Silverado Power, as saying. "The issue is whether we have the political will and ability to pull together and actually do it."
The reason is not hard to find. Obama’s shift from “renewable” energy to “clean” energy marks a significant turning point since it includes nuclear power and “clean coal.” “[T]he Sierra Club is firmly opposed to the misconception that coal or nuclear power can ever be clean,” said the Club in a press release. “Nuclear energy, with its multi-thousand year wastes, imported uranium, and susceptibility to terrorism,” fulminated Scott Sklar, chairman of the steering committee, Sustainable Energy Coalition, and former executive director, Solar Energy and Biomass Industries Associations. “Attempts to foster coal and nuclear into a CES is another ploy to re-label non-renewable technologies and ooze them into a ‘clean’ brand.”
The ever-reliable Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, weighed in with similar remarks. “Some of the largest environmental and health impacts of nuclear energy and coal will be borne by generations far into the future. . .. In contrast, the modest impacts of renewable energy are borne by the generations that use the energy, so that future generations can replace the facilities with better techniques as they are developed."
Makhijani forgot to mention that renewable sources also produce only modest amounts of energy.
The misgivings of the renewables industry and the loud protests from anti-nuclear activists have one common root. Both know that the President’s goal of 80 percent “clean energy” by 2035 is inconceivable without the inclusion of nuclear power. They also know that wind and solar will require huge subsidies and mandates. Next to them, the loan guarantees needed for new nuclear plants are likely to look modest.
No wonder President Obama’s call for “clean energy” is not meeting much enthusiasm from those who were expected to support it the most.
Read more at the Los Angeles Times
January 26, 2011
From the Editors
Is the President and the rest of the “green energy” crowd ready to accept nuclear power as “part of the mix?” President Obama suggested so in last night’s State of the Union Address, but how this will play out in reality is still up for grabs.
“So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources,” said the President in what was definitely the high point of his address. “Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all — and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.”
So far, so good. The 80 percent goal, of course, is wildly optimistic and – let’s face it – completely impossible if “clean energy” only refers to “renewables” such as wind and solar. California has set itself a goal of 30 percent renewables by 2020 and is already running out of room. All the new wind farms are being built in Oregon and Idaho and at some point these neighboring states are going to start to rebel at being the back rooms for California’s energy plans.
Carbon capture and storage is probably a non-starter. It’s never been done on a significant scale and will involve pumping earth-sized quantities of dangerous carbon dioxide into underground strata the size of oil fields under pressurized conditions. Imagine if these repositories ever sprung a leak. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air and clings to the ground. It would kill every living thing for miles. Advocates gloss over this but as soon as the public finds out, people go nuts – as has already happened in Germany and several other locales.
Natural gas, on the other hand, could easily become our “national energy policy.” It’s already happened in California. Thirty years of pursuing “soft energy” have led the Golden State to a handful of wind farms and 40 percent natural gas – twice the national average. Environmental groups will not object to gas with the same vehemence they object to everything else and so most utilities are saying, “What the heck – put up natural gas and keep them happy. Add a few windmills for public relations.”
Natural gas may have its limits, however. Many analysts believe that current supplies are underpriced and replacement costs will rise far above the current level of $4 per mcf. Then there’s the problem of public opposition. Although environmentalists approve of burning natural gas, they sure don’t like drilling for it. The “fracking” techniques that have unlocked shale gas are coming under fire and New York State just placed off limits its entire portion of the huge Marcellus Shale. The move may seem utterly self-punishing – upstate New York is the most depressed area of the country – but remember the ANWR. Once a region becomes the “crown jewels” it may be hard to open it up again.
And so that leaves nuclear. With Al Franken recently announcing his support – after a conversation with Al Gore! – you’d think the tide might finally be turning. But the problem, as Obama phrased it, is not that “some folks” favor nuclear while “some folk” favor solar. The problem is “some folk” are opposed to nuclear and they have an enormous bureaucracy and legal system ready to reinforce their opinions. If it takes the Nuclear Regulatory Commission three years to decide that the Department of Energy was right when it proved an airplane will atomize when crashing into a containment-structure wall – as the 1990s test proved – then who knows how long it will take the Commission to decide anything else?
The default position on all energy matters has become stalemate. Everybody can stop everyone else’s projects by wrapping them up in red tape. It will probably take the galvanizing influence of the President to break out of this trap somewhere. Will his support of nuclear be vigorous enough to persuade the courts to dismiss the nuisance suits of anti-nuclear opponents or melt the iceberg at the NRC? That will be the follow-up story to this year’s State of the Union Address.
January 26, 2011
Officials at the European Union in Brussels have closed down their Emissions Trading System (ETS) for a week on their carbon emissions after hackers stole $37 million worth of credits from the system.â€¨
â€¨Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece and Poland were reported to be the countries whose accounts were looted – as if Greece didn’t already have enough troubles. ETS officials emphasized that the theft represented only .02 percent of the total emission on the spot market. It was unclear where the hackers would be able to fence their booty.â€¨
â€¨"This closure is a drastic measure as such, but not too dangerous . . .. We have around 14 member states whose registries have not been upgraded when it comes to security measures," said European Commission climate spokeswoman Maria Kokkonen, according to this report from dpa Berlin. The spot market represents only 20 percent of the overall volume in the cap-and-trade system, where countries buy and sell permits in a search for the cheapest way to reduce overall emissions. The remaining 80 percent is transacted in longer-term contracts.
Kokkonen said each country is responsible for its own security measures. "As long as there was no fraud, those (countries) who didn’t have adequate security measures didn’t feel the need … to do anything," she said.
Read more about it at dpa Berlin
January 26, 2011
From the Editors
Remember how the corridor south of San Francisco established its pre-eminence in the computer revolution by dubbing itself “Silicon Valley?” Well the Knoxville-Oak Ridge corridor, which takes in Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee is seizing President Obama’s “Sputnik moment” and calling itself “Innovation Valley.” They’ve even registered the name for a trademark.â€¨
â€¨“Companies are expanding their presence here, others are establishing one,” says Jesse Smith, director of technology for the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley regional economic development group. “We’re seeing the growth of a nuclear support industry here.”â€¨
â€¨Smith points to several developments that suggest the region will be at the forefront of the Nuclear Revival:
â€¨ â€¨- The near-completion of the TVA’s Watts Bar II reactor.
â€¨- The TVA’s plans to construct a new reactor at Bellefonte
â€¨- The Department of Energy’s plans for a massive uranium processing facility at Oak Ridge.
â€¨- The Lab’s selection as the site of the $122-million Nuclear Energy Modeling and Simulation Energy Innovation Hub.
â€¨- The possible construction of one of the nation’s first small modular reactors at the Clinch River site.â€¨
â€¨Private companies are flocking to Innovation Valley to take advantage of the buzz of activity. Among recent arrivals are the engineering firm Merrick and Co., Energy Solutions, SAIC, Analysis and Measurement Services Corp., and USEC, which is developing the next generation of enrichment centrifuges at Oak Ridge.â€¨
Will people identify bucolic region at the foot of the Great Smokies with the Nuclear Renaissance in the same way they identify the Bay Area with computer technology? Stay tuned.