Llewellyn King: Nuclear Waste Disposal — The French Connection

By Llewellyn King

MARCOULE, France – In times to come, sociologists may well puzzle on America’s attitude to nuclear energy. We love our nuclear defense capacity:  its weapons, its submarines, and its aircraft carriers. But we have a kind of national anxiety about the use of the same science, under the most controlled conditions, to make scads of electricity.

Equally perplexing is our duality of opinion about nuclear waste. At every turn, those who dislike nuclear power — often with pathological disaffection — raise the issue of nuclear waste as a reason to give up on nuclear power. However, they do not have the temerity to suggest that we abandon nuclear aircraft carriers, subs, and even weapons.

The point is that whatever happens to the faltering nuclear power program in the United States, it will have nuclear waste aplenty — in addition to the waste which already exists – from the 100 civil reactors now in operation, and all of the military applications.

One step toward reducing nuclear waste is well underway here in France; in fact, it has been part of the country’s nuclear program for 40 years. The French recycle the waste from many of their reactors, along with the waste from six other nations.

Using technology developed decades ago in the United States, the French recycle nuclear fuel cores in a production chain that begins at the La Hague plant in Normandy – the northwestern region known for its orchards and Calvados, an apple brandy — and ends at the Marcoule nuclear site in the southeast, near Avignon, on the banks of the Rhone — famous for the vineyards that produce Cotes-du-Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines.

When a nuclear power plant operates, it produces some plutonium, but only burns a small amount of valuable uranium 235, the fissile isotope at the heart of the nuclear power process. The French extract these fissile products at La Hague. Then they ship the plutonium to the Melox plant on the Marcoule site, where they are made into a new fuel for civil reactors. This fuel, which is made from plutonium oxide mixed with uranium oxide, is known as MOX.

The United States was set for world leadership in recycling when President Jimmy Carter pulled the plug; he believed it would lead to nuclear proliferation. France forged ahead, and now China is going to do likewise in a major way.

The United States may not be as enthusiastic about burning plutonium from civil nuclear reactors, but it is, or was, building a state-of-the-art facility near Aiken, S.C., to make MOX, in order to burn up plutonium from disassembled nuclear weapons. In 2000, as part of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians, the United States committed to decommission many nuclear warheads, releasing 34 metric tons of plutonium and to making this into MOX to be used in civil reactors. The Russians pledged to burn up in their reactors an equivalent amount of plutonium from weapons once aimed at the United States.

Now the Department of Energy wants to put the 60- percent-complete Aiken facility into a kind of limbo that it describes as “cold standby.” Contractors fear this is the beginning of the end of the project, and that it will neither be revived nor will the supply chain be there to go on with it in the future. The department only requested enough money in the 2015 budget for the cold standby not for the completion of the facility. So far $3.9 billion has been spent, and the project is an important employer in South Carolina.

Congress, mindful that the Obama administration did considerable damage to the concept of safekeeping of used nuclear fuel when it abandoned the $18-billion Yucca Mountain, Nev., waste repository as it was about to open, wants none of this. Used-fuel cores are piling up at civil reactors, their future uncertain. So Congress, on a bipartisan basis, is seeking to put the funds for the South Carolina facility back into the budget.

The House and Senate have voted to do this. The message is clear: Not again, Mr. President.

No word from the White House.

Here in France, they are hoping that the lessons learned from burning plutonium will evolve into even more elegant solutions to the nuclear waste problem. The one certain thing is that nuclear waste will keep coming, and the administration has so far frustrated efforts to deal with it.

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

Llewellyn King: Ocean Power, the Other Alternative Energy, Is Coming

By Llewellyn King

Tens of millions of us will flock to the beach as summer rolls on. As we frolic along the shore we will also be awed by the relentless, eternal power of the ocean.

This power has been tantalizing engineers since the dawn of the electric age in the 19th century. Those great tidal havens, the Bay of Fundy and the Bay of Biscay, have had electrical entrepreneurs salivating down through the years.

Yet harnessing the ultimate renewable energy resource has lagged its two big renewable competitors, wind and solar. Both of the latter are now mature alternative energy generating sources, picking up an increasing part of the electricity market without producing any greenhouse gasses.

Sean O’Neill, executive director of the Foundation for Ocean Renewables, says the technology has not been ready for large deployment, but it soon will be. There is increasing use of first-generation machines around the world, he adds.

In the United States there are complex legal hurdles from activists, who worry that beaches could be impaired and their recreational value diminished, to the fascinating challenge of who in government is responsible for licensing this new use of the ocean. Contenders include the Department of the Interior, the Navy, the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which controls the electric markets.

What about fishing? The states will want a say with their coastal commissions. What about offshore shipping lanes and even recreational boating? The oceans are vast and they already are invaded by drilling rigs, wind turbines and undersea military activity, to say nothing of traditional marine uses like shipping, fishing and boating.

Yet, so far, the problems have been technological rather than governmental. The sea is a great resource, but it is a hostile environment for mechanical and electrical equipment. At present, the nascent ocean energy industry is still sorting through a galaxy of devices for making electricity from ocean kinetic power. These show engineering imagination run riot — gloriously so.

As many as 100 machines for harnessing the ocean are being developed around the world. They can be described as gizmos, widgets, gadgets, devices, or dream machines.

Machine design for ocean kinetic power is at the stage that flight was in the 1920s, and the devices are spectacular in a Rube Goldberg kind of way, at least to the eye of a non-engineer. There are big hinges, designed to flap in the waves, and buoys that pop up and down with the waves, generating electricity through a mechanism like one in a self-winding wristwatch. Just as a person jiggles a wristwatch and it winds, so too the waves jiggle the buoy and it turns a turbine, which makes electricity.

There wildly diverse approaches including one, called an oscillating water column, that uses compressed air from wave action to turn a turbine. Another set of machines is destined to work on tides and can consist of helical turbines, which look like gigantic eggbeaters, or machines that look like wind turbines, but they are sunk in the tidal path or on strongly running rivers. The latter are being tested in New York City’s East River. Anadarko, an oil company, wants to put turbines miles deep in the Gulf Stream.

Ireland and Scotland – the latter the world leader in the ocean power race – are generating electricity from the ocean on a small scale. At East Port and Lubec in Maine and Yakutat in Alaska, small plants are being installed.

As solar power was first used in remote locations, the immediate appeal for ocean power is for remote locations, too. Settlements and villages in Alaska have the costliest electricity in the country.

The Foundation for Ocean Renewables’ O’Neill estimates that tidal will be the salvation of many of Alaska’s remote villages; unlike wind and solar, it would be there 24/7 — in the dead of winter and in high summer.

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

LLEWELLYN KING: Earth Day 2014 — Only Two Cheers, Please

By Llewellyn King

April 22 is Earth Day and you can look forward to scattered celebrations, warnings about the future and self congratulations. The environmental community regards the first Earth Day as the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

But the real birth of modern environmentalism may have come in 1962, with the publication of Rachel Carson's book “Silent Spring.” It was a detonation heard around the world, and it greatly affected the way a whole generation felt about nature. Its central finding was against the use of the powerful pesticide DDT.

The first Earth Day was the brainchild of the late Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisc.). He provided leadership for a burgeoning environmental movement fed not just by a love of nature, as had earlier movements, but by a deep anger at the trashing of natural systems. DDT was killing off wild birds by altering their metabolism in a way that resulted in thin eggshells; West Virginia, and other parts of Appalachia, were being mutilated to extract coal; and the Cayuga River in Ohio had caught fire many times because it was so choked with pollutants.

There was an abundance of anger in the 1970s, most of it inflamed in the 1960s. That troubled decade was not just about drugs and flower power, Woodstock and free love. It was about what had become of America and where was it heading. The movements were for civil rights, against the Vietnam War and for women.

An environmental movement in the 1970s fit right in; it was inevitable because it was needed. Some of the anger of the decade that had just finished informed that first Earth Day and all those that followed.

Because the modern environmental movement was born in anger, at times it has been unruly and counterproductive. Will we quickly forget the hysteria created by the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) 1989 report on the use of the pesticide Alar in apples? Or Greenpeace's admission in 1995 that it had bullied European governments into disposing the Shell Brent Spar oil platform and reservoir on dry land when it should have been dropped into the deep ocean? Or the uncritical enthusiasm for wind power without regard to the environmental impact of wind turbines on birds and bats, or the noise they generate. In New England there are claims of adverse health effects from wind turbine, to say nothing of the adverse visual impact.

The modern environmental movement differed from previous conservation movements because it knew how to harness the power of the courts. Litigation was the core of this movement, and it remains so. NRDC's Web site boasts the availability of 350 lawyers.

The movement that flowed from Rachel Carson's book and the first Earth Day is global; it is as strong in Europe, if not stronger, than in its birthplace, the United States. It is a large part of the political fabric of Germany, and its policies have played a role in leading that country into a dependence on Russian natural gas.

Opposition to the Keystone Pipeline may be another error of environmental enthusiasm. No pipe means more trains carrying oil; ergo more accidents and environmental degradation.

To my mind the biggest error the environmental community made was the relentless, even pathological, opposition to nuclear power. It has been an act of faith since the first Earth Day and it may be the one most at odds with environmental well-being. The public has been frightened, but the math says it is the safest way to make electricity.

Now a new generation of young idealists is beginning to look past the orthodoxies of the anti-nuclear movement. Richard Lester, head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, said this week that many of his students are studying nuclear because of its environmental advantages, and its value in generating electricity without air pollution.

The environmental movement of the 1970s has grown old, but it hasn't grown thoughtful. I wish it a happy birthday, but I can only muster two cheers. I hope it enters a period of introspection and comes to realize that its rigidities can be as counterproductive as those of its industrial antagonists. It remains needed.

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

LLEWELLYN KING: Always His Own Man — A Remembrance Of The First Energy Secretary Jim Schlesinger

By Llewellyn King

James Rodney Schlesinger was assistant director of the Bureau of the Budget, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, director of the CIA, secretary of defense, secretary of energy , chairman of The MITRE Corporation, managing director of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., and my friend. He was a colossus in Washington; a great Sequoia who towered in the forest.

Schlesinger, who died on Thursday, more than anyone I've known in public life including presidents, prime ministers and industrial savants, knew who he was. From that came a special strength: he didn't care what people thought of him. What he did care about were the great issues of the time.

He was a man of granite, steel and titanium and he could take abuse and denunciation – as he did, most especially, as the first secretary of energy. He also had extraordinary intellectual ability. No name, time or date evaded him, and he understood complex issues, from geopolitical balances to the physics of the nuclear stockpile.

Les Goldman, a key member of Schlesinger's circle in government and in life, said his genius was in capturing huge quantities of information and synthesizing it into a course of action. He also had phenomenal energy, going to work very early in the morning and staying up late at night. During his tenure at the Department of Energy, he had to testify on Capitol Hill almost daily, so he checked in at 5 a.m. to get the work done. His relaxation was birdwatching.

Schlesinger was a great public servant; someone who venerated public service without regard to its rewards. He drove a VW Beetle for years and lived in a modest house in the suburbs. Even as secretary of defense, a post from which he could order up airplanes, ships and limousines, he kept an extraordinary modesty. Pomp was not for him.

But he was a tough customer. Schlesinger spared none with his invective and regarded the creation of enemies as part of the normal course of getting things done.

And getting things done was what he was good at — rudely awakening somnolent bureaucrats, angering whole industries and unsettling cliques, as he did at the CIA. Wherever he was in charge, he applied his boot to the sensitive hind regions of the complacent, the lazy and the inept. He punctured the egos of the self-regarding and kept military men waiting, tapping their feet and examining their watches.

Once at the CIA, Schlesinger and I were engaged in a long conversation about the British Empire – a favorite subject – when his aide, who had been hovering, came back for the second or third time and said, “Sir, the admiral has been waiting for an hour already.” “Good,” said Schlesinger. Then, as an aside to me, he said, “It's good for admirals to wait.”

On another occasion, when I was part of a press party traveling with Schlesinger after the opening of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve site in a salt cavern in Louisiana, Schlesinger sent his trusted and well-liked press chief John Harris back to the reporters to say that Schlesinger wanted to talk to me. I went forward to the executive cabin, where the secretary of energy was playing the harmonica.

“I'm taking requests,” he said.

I blurted out the few songs I knew, and he played on — and on and on.

After about half an hour, Harris came forward again to say that the other reporters, including Steve Rattner, who was to become a billionaire Wall Street investor, but was then a reporter with The New York Times' Washington bureau, wanted to know why I was getting an exclusive interview.

They wouldn't be mollified with the assurance that I was listening to the great man play the harmonica. Rattner in particular, believed that I had some big story that I'd publish in The Energy Daily and embarrass him and The Times.

The Energy Daily, too, had involved Schlesinger. I reported on nuclear power for the trade publication Nucleonics Week, which is how I had met him at the Atomic Energy Commission. But at night, I worked as an editor at The Washington Post. Quite suddenly, President Richard Nixon nominated Schlesinger to replace Richard Helms as director of the CIA, and The Post op-ed pages were flooded with articles about Helms, but not a word about the new man in Langley. I asked Meg Greenfield, the storied editorial page editor, why she didn't publish something about Schlesinger. No one, she said, knew anything about Schlesinger.

I avowed as I did, and the result was a longer-than-usual piece that she published on a Saturday. It became the “go to” archival resource for a generation of journalists writing about Schlesinger. But it cost me my day job, as my editor didn't think I should be writing in The Washington Post. So I started what became The Energy Daily.

The trick to friendship with James Schlesinger was disputation. He'd like people he could talk to and especially argue with. I argued — over Scotland's most famous product — about American exceptionalism; the uses of force; the limits to power; the Gulf War; the Saudis; obscure points of grammar, as he was strict grammarian who always found time to telephone me, and later e-mail me, to correct my slippages.

We argued for more than 40 years and loved every syllable of it.

We also argued vigorously over Bill Clinton. I was Schlesinger's guest at the legendary Alfalfa Club dinner in Washington and I fell into conversion with the president, Bill Clinton. When I returned to the table, looking pleased, Schlesinger exclaimed, “You've been talking to him!” — as though this was some huge betrayal.

He also didn't like Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford, the latter having fired him.

Schlesinger admired what he called “intellectual structure.” But I could never get him to define it.

Close to the end of Schlesinger's life, my wife, Linda Gasparello, and he were engaged in a complicated and loving dispute over Henry II and Eleanor of Provence. He loved that kind of thing.

Journalists are ill-advised to care too deeply for the men they write about. Schlesinger was my treasured exception.

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

Obama Scuttles Another Nuclear Waste Solution

By Llewellyn King

Naked goes the president to the Netherlands.

President Obama plans to attend the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on March 24-25. He has long professed a keen interest in reducing the threat from nuclear weapons. In 2009, in his notable Prague speech, Obama declared, “The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the cold war.” He vowed “concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.”

Rhetorically, at least, Obama has stayed the course. But some of his actions suggest that, in reality, he is very prepared to alter course for political and budgetary reasons.

One of his first actions as president was to start the abandonment of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in Nevada, in a political nod to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

But spent fuel from civilian power reactors does not pose as great a threat of proliferation as plutonium, the man-made fissile metal that is at the heart of a modern thermonuclear weapon. And it is plutonium that worries experts like former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who heads the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Plutonium is basically forever: it has a half life of 24,100 years. There is a terrifying amount of it in the world, mostly the result of decommissioning warheads. Some of it is stored; some is still in warheads waiting to be decommissioned.

The United States and Russia have been working on that problem, in what has been a successful collaboration. Under a treaty signed in 2000, and amended in 2010, the United States and Russia have agreed to get rid of 34 metric tons each of plutonium that has come from a reduction in weapons stockpiles.

The United States agreed to do this mostly by burning it as fuel in civilian power reactors, something the French already do. This fuel, known as mixed oxide, or MOX, blends plutonium with uranium to make new fuel for the reactors. The Russians are developing fast neutron reactors to burn up their plutonium.

To keep our part of the bargain, a fuel fabrication facility is under construction at the government's Savannah River Site, near Aiken, S.C. As buildings go, it is a marvel with concrete walls 5-feet-thick and huge quantities ultra-high-quality steel, welded with the greatest precision. The whole structure could last for thousands of years – just remember that Coliseum in Rome was made of concrete 2,000 years ago.

But the project — which has more than 4,000 suppliers in 43 states and 1,800 directly employed workers — is suddenly being put on “cold standby,” a euphemism for abandoned. The explanation from the U.S. Department of Energy is that the project is costing too much.

South Carolina is suing the U.S. Department of Energy, claiming the shutdown is unconstitutional because money authorized and appropriated for construction this year will be used to terminate the project. The facility is 60-percent complete and $4.5 billion has been spent; it is estimated that shutdown will cost a further $1 billion.

Seven senators — including Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chair of the Senate Energy Committee, and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — have protested the abrupt and unexpected change of policy on plutonium disposal.

In the early days of Obama's first term, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told me that the administration was shutting down the Yucca Mountain site for “scientific reasons,” after the expenditure of $18 billion.

On March 12, I asked Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a top Obama non-proliferation aide, to explain the change of policy on MOX. Echoing Gibbs, she said that the administration was expecting to find better scientific solutions.

But what about the joint agreement with the Russians that MOX was the way to go, after considering 40 options? In fact Obama has changed course for budgetary reasons, and possibly to appease anti-nuclear forces in his base.

It would seem that when it comes to straightening out the nuclear waste issue, Obama is compromised by his own hand.

So what will he say at the summit in the Hague? Will he have the effrontery to commit the United States again to an aggressive anti-proliferation policy? This despite the fact that he scuttled Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository, and now has scuttled the chance of burning up plutonium.

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

War on the Roof: Solar Power Has Grown Up

By Llewellyn King

A warning light is flashing for the nation's electric utilities — and it is getting more persistent. The utilities, big and small, for- and not-for-profit, are facing serious disruptive technology. The old business models are in danger.

The unlikely disruptive technology that is causing the trouble is rooftop solar power.

Back in the energy turbulent 1970s, solar was a gleam in the eye of environmentalists who dared to dream of renewable energy. It looked like a pipe dream.

Very simple solar had been deployed to heat water in desert homes since indoor plumbing became the norm. Making electricity from the sun was many orders of magnitude more complex and it was, anyway, too expensive.

The technology of photovoltaic cells, which make electricity directly from the sun, needed work; it needed research, and it needed mass manufacturing. Hundreds of millions of dollars later in research and subsidies, the cost of solar cells has fallen and continues to go down.

Today, solar certainly is not a pipe dream: It is looking like a mature industry. It is also a big employer in the installation industry. It is a player, a force in the market.

But solar has created a crisis for the utilities.

In order to incubate solar, and to satisfy solar advocates, Congress said that these “qualifying facilities” should be able not only to generate electricity for homes when the sun is shining, but also to sell back the excess to the local utility. This is called “net metering” and it is at the center of the crisis today — particularly across the Southwest, where solar installations have multiplied and are being added at a feverish rate.

Doyle Beneby, CEO of San Antonio, Texas-based CPS Energy, the largest municipal electric and gas utility in the nation, said, “The homes that are installing solar quickly are the more affluent ones.” The problem here, he explained, is that the utility has to maintain the entire infrastructure of wires and poles and buy back electricity generated by solar in these homes at the highest prevailing rate — often more than power could be bought on the market or generated by the utility.

Steve Mitnik, a utility industry consultant, said that 47 percent of the nation's electric market is residential and the larger, affluent homes — which use a lot of electricity, and generally pay more as consumption rises — are a critically important part of it. Yet these are the ones that are turning to solar generation, and expect to make a profit selling excess production to the grid.

But who pays for the grid? According to CPS Energy's Beneby, and others in the industry, the burden of keeping the system up and running then falls on those who can least afford it.

The self-generating homes still need the grid not only to sell back to but ,more importantly, to buy from when the sun isn't shining and at night.

For some in the utility industry, net-metering is just the beginning of a series of emerging problems, including:

Big investments are needed in physical security after the sniper attack last October at PG&E Corp.'s Metcalf transmission substation, which took out 17 huge transformers that provide power to California's Silicon Valley.
New investment is needed in cybersecurity.
Improved response to bad weather is a critical issue, especially in some Mid-Atlantic states.

Beneby believes the solar incursion into the traditional marketplace might be the beginning of more self-generation — such as home-based, micro-gas turbines — and utilities will and must adjust. He is something of a futurist and points out that in telephones, once a purely utility service, disruption has been hugely creative.

Environmentalists are as disturbed as the utilities. Some are calling the imposition of a surcharge on rooftop generators, as in Arizona recently, an attempt by the greedy utilities to stamp out competition. But many are seeking alternative solutions without a war over generating, and without punishing those unable to afford their own generation.

Brian Keane, president of SmartPower, a green-marketing group with solar-purchase programs in Arizona and many other states, has looked for cool heads to prevail on both sides of the issue. “I don't have an answer,” he said, calling for dialogue. Also the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group, has been talking with the National Resources Defense Council.

It isn't your father's electric utility anymore, or your hippie's solar power.

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

Time for DOE to Complete Its Part 810 Nuclear Export Reform

By Margaret Harding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Llewellyn King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Llewellyn King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In electricity supply, too, there is trouble ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LLEWELLYN KING: Conquering Radiation Fear, the Big Challenge

By Llewellyn King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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