Archive for the ‘Llewellyn King’ Category

Llewellyn King: The Carbon Solution Obama Won’t Take To Paris

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

By Llewellyn King

The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1783 by representatives of King George III of England and the fledgling United States of America in a Paris hotel, ended the Revolutionary War.

Next month, another document will be signed in Paris: the climate agreement. It will be signed by about 200 countries, and will commit the signatories to meaningful reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions, mostly carbon.

And it will be as seminal in its way as the one recognizing that the colonists of America would no longer be subject to the rule of England.

My point is not that this treaty of Paris will be perfect, or that every signatory will abide by its terms, but that it will do something that is vital, if climate change endeavors are to prevail: It will establish globally a kind of carbon ethic.

The concept of an environmental ethic started with Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” back in 1962. Since then, the world has known it should examine the environmental impact of major actions. After Paris, it will consider the carbon impact in a new way.

President Obama’s supporters will be jubilant when the signing starts in Paris. But Obama does not deserve all the praise that will come his way from Democrats and environmental organizations.

If the Obama administration were as concerned with the reduction in greenhouse gasses, particularly carbon, as it says it is, it would not have given the back of its hand to nuclear power. Nuclear produces a lot of electricity and no greenhouse gasses. Zero.

Yet the administration, yearning for a carbon-free future, has done nothing to address the temporary market imbalance that cheap natural gas has produced. Get this: a nuclear plant has a life of 60 years, and new ones may last 80 years. What we have now is a short-term price advantage in natural gas forcing the closure of nuclear plants, even though gas will cost more over the decades.

The administration leans heavily toward wind and solar power, understandably against coal and almost ignores nuclear. For example, nuclear does not get the support it deserves in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan: its blueprint for carbon reduction. Nuclear is an also ran, not a central plank.

The nuclear project needs updating. It needs a revision of the standards for radiation protection which were enacted when nuclear science was young and radiation little understood. They need to be reevaluated and almost certainly lowered in the light of today’s science. This would help across the nuclear spectrum from power plants to medicine to how nuclear waste is handled.

The administration declares itself in love with innovation and has offered partial funding for new, small modular power plants. But it does this without regard to the dysfunctional nature of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This bureaucracy is so sclerotic, pusillanimous and risk- averse that it has priced new reactors out of the possibility of being built in the United States. Because the NRC is a fee-collecting agency, it is estimated that to license a brand new reactor — a better, safer, cheaper reactor — would cost $1billion and 10 years of hearings and submissions. That is a preposterous inhibitor of American invention.

If the Federal Aviation Administration acted as the NRC does, we might well be flying around in propeller aircraft, while the agency studied jet engines and, for good measure, questioned the ability of wings to provide lift.

Certainly, the NRC should be protected from outside pressure that might impinge on safety, but it should not be so ossified, so confined in a bunker, that it cannot evaluate anything new.

Yes, something big is going to happen in Paris: Those big polluting nations, China and India, but especially China, are going to lay out their ambitious plans to reduce carbon — with nuclear.

Champions of the president will cheer Paris as a big part of his legacy, but his achievement is less than it should be. And nuclear power, like so much else that America led the world in, is headed overseas where it will evolve and probably flourish as the carbon-free champion of the future. Shame on the administration.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His e-mail is lking@kingpublishing.com. He wrote this column for the InsideSources syndicate.

LLEWELLYN KING: U.S. Loves Engineers, Treats Them Badly

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

By Llewellyn King

We need more engineers. Go forth and study engineering for the future of the nation. Math and engineering are the keys to maintaining our place in the world and keeping the Chinese, and a few others, at bay.

That is the urging of our political class, whether they are appointed public officials or elected politicians; or whether they are members of the thinking and writing class. Taken collectively, they might be called “the exhortationists.”

But there is a problem: We do not treat engineers very nicely — at least not those who are federal employees or contractors. The very politicians who lead in exhorting our young to become engineers are those who treat engineers as disposable workers.

The government starts many projects and finishes few. A change of administration, a shortage of money, or some other excuse and the government shelves the project.

The impact on engineers is devastating. They have often relocated their families to the site of the project and — wham! — it is canceled.

It is not only that this rough treatment has a huge impact on families – and engineers are not that well-paid (median income is $80,000, and petroleum engineers are the highest-paid) – but also the psychological damage is considerable.

Engineering a new project is exciting but also demanding. Men and women throw themselves into what is a giant creative undertaking, eating up years of lives, demanding the most extreme effort. It is shattering when there is a sudden political decision to cancel a project.

To look at a bridge or a locomotive and say, “I built that,” “I made a difference,” is much of the engineer’s reward. Marc Goldsmith, a fourth-generation engineer, who has worked on 16 projects in nuclear power which have been canceled, says that many engineers get so frustrated they leave the profession and go into law or finance, and never face a logarithm again. He says the government treats highly educated engineers like day laborers: expendable.

Goldsmith, a former president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, says the heartbreak of a canceled project to the engineers is terrible and destructive of the can-do engineering culture.

The hundreds of engineers involved in a big engineering project do not do their job just for the money, but for the satisfaction that they solved a problem and made a thing that worked, whether it was a mega-passenger aircraft, a spindly skyscraper or a flood-control gate.

We now live in a world of project ghosts, where public policy (politics) has said “go,” and has said later, with the same passion, “abandon.”

Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the genius founder of the Lockheed secret division of engineers, dubbed Skunk Works, in Burbank, Calif., told me before he died in 1990 that some of the starts-and-stops and abrupt cancellations of military projects made him sick. The Skunk Works, which brought us such legends as the U-2 and the SR-71, to name a few, was also instructed by the government to eradicate any trace of other projects that were far along. “Not only were they canceled, but they had to be expunged,” he told me.

Nuclear has been especially hard hit by government policy perfidy. In today’s shame roster, Yucca Mountain, the nuclear waste repository and the pride of thousands of engineers, was abandoned by the incoming Obama administration in a deal with Harry Reid, the Democratic senator from Nevada and Senate majority leader. Good-bye to $15 billion in taxpayer money; good-bye to a nuclear waste option; and goodbye to all that intricate engineering inside a mountain.

Now the administration is taking its policy sledgehammer to another engineering project: one it supported until it didn’t support it anymore. It is trying to end the program to build a plant to blend surplus weapons-grade plutonium with uranium and burn it up in reactors as uranium oxide, or MOX, as it is known.

The contractor – a consortium of Chicago Bridge & Iron Company and Areva, the French firm – says the plant is 67-percent complete and employs over 300 engineers, out of a total workforce of some 1,800, at the Department of Energy site near Aiken, S.C. Now this big engineering project, which is another way of dealing with nuclear waste, is in the government’s sights.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His e-mail is lking@kingpublishing.com. This commentary was distributed by the Inside Sources news service.

Llewellyn King: Keystone XL, Yucca and Obama — Who Is Calling The Shots?

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

The Environmental Voices in Obama’s Ear

By Llewellyn King

In the South they ask, “Who’s your daddy?” In the North, “Where did you go to college?” 

In Washington we ask this very real question, “Who’s advising him?” Washington believes in advisers, who are often the authors of big decisions made by others.

When George W. Bush was running for president the first time, I raised the question about his lack of knowledge in foreign policy. One of his staunch supporters countered, “He’ll have good advisers.” 

Advisers come in all shapes and sizes in politics. A trusted aide may shape a senator’s understanding of an issue, and set the legislator on a path that later might be regretted but cannot be reversed. “Flip-flop” is a deadly accusation in public life.

When President Obama makes a decision, one wonders on whose advice? Who started the locomotive rolling down the track? 

This week, one wonders who led Obama to endlessly delay a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, which should have been a rather mundane issue until he was backed into vetoing a congressional effort to move the project forward?

There are 2.5 million miles of pipe buried in the ground in the U.S.,190,000 of which carry crude oil. The Keystone XL pipline would have carried crude for 1,179 miles. It should have been a no-brainer for the State Department, which has jurisdiction because a foreign country, Canada, is involved. It is not hard to make a pipeline safe, and this one would be engineered as no other has. 

But a core of dedicated environmentalists saw it as a wedge. Their target was not then and never has been the pipeline, but rather the Alberta oil sands project, where much of the oil would originate. By cutting off deliveries of the oil to the U.S. market, they hoped to wound the project and eventually close it down.

I am no fan of the oil sands – which used to be called “tar sands” – project. I think it is abusive of the earth. It involves massive surface mining and has so scarred the region that the great pit can be seen from space. It is also a contributor to air pollution because the sands have to be retorted with natural gas. 

It is not a pretty business wringing the oil from the sands. However, not building the pipeline will not close down the oil sands project as environmentalists have hoped. Only low prices can do that. 

The Canadians are angry. They feel betrayed by the White House and stigmatized by outside forces like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has been a relentless antagonist of the pipeline and the oil sands project.

The question is who persuaded Obama? In November 2011, Canada's minister of natural resources, Joe Oliver, told me at an energy meeting in Houston that he had been told privately that the pipeline deal was done, and he was expecting Obama to sign off on a State Department decision in weeks.

But it did not happen. One or more people in the White House – Obama takes advice from a small circle of advisers in the White House rather than his cabinet secretaries — was able to sow doubt in the president’s mind about the pipeline.

The results: More oil moves by rail car which is resulting in accidents in Canada and the United States. An ally is offended, and there is bad blood that will affect other trade issues. Thousands of construction jobs in the Midwest are lost. Obama looks bad: the captive of a very small part of the constituency that elected him. 

There is an echo here of the folly of the president in abandoning the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. On the surface, Obama bowed to the wishes of Harry Reid, then Senate majority leader. It has been accepted by the nuclear industry as a cold, hard political gift to a vital ally. 

But as time has gone on, the nuclear spent fuel has piled up at the nation's power plants, as the cost of the abandonment has risen – it stands at $18 billion. One has to wonder whether one of Obama’s advisers, with an agenda of his or her own, did not whisper to the president, “Harry Reid is right.”

There are no winners on the pipeline issue, just as there were no winners on Yucca Mountain, except those who are celebrating in places like NRDC. On sparkling, organically grown apple juice, perchance?

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

Llewellyn King: Those Were The Days – The Life and Times of Former AEC Commissioner Wm. Doub

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

By Llewellyn King

William O. Doub, former Maryland Public Service commissioner, member of the Atomic Energy Commission, international lawyer and enthusiastic booster of the U.S. Energy Association, has died at the age of 83.

Bill was my cherished friend for more than 40 years, and one of the kindest men I have ever known. I have always thought of him as a man who woke up in the morning thinking,“What can I do for my friends today?”

He rendered me, through all the years of our friendship, little and big kindnesses in every way – from seeing that I was included in “Who’s Who” to assisting me in establishing the publication, The Energy Daily.

As a public servant, Doub was a tough but nonpartisan utilities regulator. When he became chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC), he shook up the old-boy world of Maryland regulation. I sat through hearing after hearing when he bore down equally hard on the companies under his jurisdiction and the public interest groups.

Initially, there was consternation in Maryland utility circles. Here was Doub, by birth a Maryland aristocrat and a former Republican candidate for state attorney general, dealing magisterially in public with issues that, in the prevailing culture, were settled between “gentlemen” over drinks in a club.

Gradually, the public and interest groups came to respect and revere their new chairman as a man who put the public good first.

As a commissioner of the then-mighty Atomic Energy Commission, Doub sought to find answers. The opposition to nuclear power was just emerging, and one of its most vociferous leaders was Ralph Nader. In those days, Nader was a god-like figure to many. Doub took it upon himself to reason with Nader. As I recall, he held a series of 5 a.m. meetings with Nader — a time decided by Nader. They did not reach a meeting of the minds, but Doub had the small satisfaction of having tried. It was his way: Try reason. All it takes is time and effort.

Spiro Agnew propelled Doub into public life. Doub, a lifelong Republican (as one might say of the old school), ran for Maryland attorney general on the same ticket that Agnew (whose middle name was Theodore and, in those days, liked to be called “Ted”) ran for governor.

Agnew won an unlikely victory in predominately Democratic Maryland because of the racist stands of his Democratic opponent. Doub lost and Agnew appointed him to the PSC.

Later, when Agnew became Richard Nixon’s vice president, Doub joined the Atomic Energy Commission – then the promoter and regulator of nuclear power. He brought in his friend, Manning Muntzing, to run the regulatory side of the agency.

When the AEC was dissolved, Doub and Muntzing formed a boutique energy law firm with clients in Japan and pre-revolutionary Iran. Their firm merged later with a larger firm, Newman, Reis & Axelrad. In time, that firm split up and the regulatory lawyers moved to Morgan Lewis & Bockius.

Doub was not happy with big, Washington law firm culture with its emphasis on billable hours. He was a man of friends; his clients were friends first and clients second.

Bill found an outlet in volunteer work. He played a critical role in improving the fortunes of the U.S. Energy Association — a unique organization that supports all energy sectors, but does not lobby.

Bill enjoyed a party. I was lucky enough over the years to party with him in Geneva, London, Madrid, Vienna, and all over the United States. The energy industries have a penchant for holding their meetings at the best resorts. We went willingly.

We got a great deal of laughter out of each other's company. Bill’s wife, Mary Graham, and my wife, Linda Gasparello, joined in the frolics. We laughed, we drank and we made up elaborate stories about one another and our ancestors. Although the Doub family was French originally, we thought an Irish surname, O’Doub, suited Bill’s buoyant temperament.

I met Bill when I was working for McGraw-Hill and The Washington Post. I arranged to interview him somewhere, and described myself as balding and fat. “We should find each other,” he averred. “That’s a description of me.” It took no more to launch a long relationship. Later, he was proud of controlling his weight.

When I founded what became The Energy Daily early in 1973, Bill telephoned me from the AEC to find out how he could help. I said it would help if the agency bought a handful of subscriptions. He went to work with the brilliant controller John Abbadessa; they delivered not a handful of subscriptions, but 140, and a whopping check of $35,000 – a veritable fortune in 1973.

Bill was one of the men-of-the-hour in the energy crisis that unfolded at the end of 1973. For those of us involved, the crisis delivered something that few enjoy: the sense of working on something really important, of being of real value.

In later years, Bill and I rued the way the energy industries had changed: how money and politics had come to dominate in an age of overpaid, under-talented executives; how the national interest had become subjugated to the personal one.

That was not Doub. He withdrew and spent his days worrying about his friends from his family farm in Keedysville, Md., and his house in Naples, Fla.

When idealism becomes subservient to money, there is no place for nobility. Bill was noble in public service, in the practice of law and, above all, in friendship. I owed him when he was alive, and I will always owe him.

In the end, the kindness is what we remember of people, of lives. William O. Doub’s kindness was monumental. He will be remembered.

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

Llewellyn King: The Uber Effect on Electricity

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

By Llewellyn King

Leon Trotsky said, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” The same thing might be said about disruptive technologies.

The U.S. electric system, for example, may not be interested in disruptive technology, but disruptive technology is interested in it. What Uber and Lyft have done to the taxi industry worldwide is just beginning to happen to the electricity industry; and it could shock consumers – particularly the less affluent – as surely as though they had stuck their finger in an electrical outlet.

The disruptive revolution is not only happening here, but also in Europe, as Marc Boillot, senior vice president at Electricite de France (EDF), the giant French utility, writes in a new book.

Ironically in the United States, disruption of the otherwise peaceful world of electric generation and sale last year was a bumper one for electric stocks because of their tradition of paying dividends at a time when bond yields were low.

The first wave of disruption to electric generation has been a technology as benign as solar power units on rooftops, much favored by governments and environmentalists as a green source of electricity. For the utilities, these rooftop generators are a threat to the integrity of the electrical grid. To counter this, utilities would like to see the self-generators pay more for the upkeep of the grid and the convenience it affords them.

Think of the grid as a series of spider webs built around utility companies serving particular population centers, and joined to each other so they can share electricity, depending on need and price.

Enter the self-generating homeowner who by law is entitled to sell excess production back to the grid, or to buy on the grid when it is very cold or the sun isn't shining, as at night. The system of selling back to the electric company is known as net metering.

Good deal? Yes, for the homeowner who can afford to install a unit or lease one from one of a growing number of companies that provide that service. Lousy deal for the full-time electricity customer who rents or lives in an apartment building.

There’s the rub: Who pays the cost of maintaining the grid while the rooftop entrepreneur uses it at will? Short answer: everyone else.

In reality, the poor get socked. Take Avenue A with big houses at one end and apartments and tenements at the other. The big houses — with their solar panels and owners' morally superior smiles — are being subsidized by the apartments and tenements. They have to pay to keep the grid viable, while the free-standing house – it doesn’t have to be a mansion — gets a subsidy.

It's a thorny issue, akin to the person who can't use Uber or Lyft because he doesn’t have a credit card or a smartphone, and has to hope that traditional taxi service will survive.

The electric utilities, from the behemoths to the smallest municipal distributor, see the solution in an equity fee for the self-generating customer's right to come on and off the grid, and for an appreciable difference between his selling and buying price. Solar proponents say, not fair: Solve your own problems. We are generating clean electricity and our presence is a national asset.

EDF's Boillot sees the solution in the utilities’ own technological leap forward: the so-called smart grid. This is the computerization of the grid so that it is more finely managed, waste is eliminated, and pricing structures for homes reflect the exact cost at the time of service. His advice was eagerly sought when he was in Washington recently, promoting his book.

While today’s solar may be a problem for the utilities, tomorrow’s may be more so. Homeowners who can afford it may be able to get off the grid altogether by using the battery in an all-electric car to tide them over during the sunless hours.

The industry is not taking this lying down: It is talking to the big solar firms, the regulators and, yes, to Elon Musk, founder of electric-car maker Tesla Motors. He may be the threat and he may be the savior; those all-electric cars will need a lot of charging, and stations for that are cropping up. There’s a ray of sunshine for the utilities, but it's quite a way off. Meanwhile, the rooftop disruption is here and now.

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

Llewellyn King: The Loud Silence from Islam

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

By Llewellyn King

A dark shadow passed over Paris, the City of Light, on Wednesday, January 7. Well-organized, well-trained killers murdered 13 people in the name of Allah. As Shakespeare said 500 years earlier, about the heinous murder of King Duncan by Macbeth, “O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart cannot conceive nor name thee.”

Indeed, recent horrors in the name of Allah have been so gruesome it is impossible to conceive the mutilated reason, the perverted concept of God’s will, and the unvarnished rage that has subverted the once admired religion.

The killers are ruthless and depraved, but those who inspire them are evil and those who tolerate them are guilty.

In 2005, when a Danish newspaper published 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed and riots were stirred up against the publishers, a meeting was arranged at a community room in the basement of The Washington Times. It was not organized by the newspaper but, as I recall, by an interfaith group. There were several fringe “let’s be nice” speakers before the main event.

The main event was the Danish ambassador and, to a lesser extent, myself. The ambassador spoke about life in Denmark and what the Danish government would do to understand and listen to the concerns of the Muslim community. My role was to defend and explain the Western concept of freedom of speech and the place satire. The overflow audience, which by dress and appearance was dominated by emigrants from Pakistan, was implacable.

I have spoken to some hostile audiences in my time, but this one was special: No compromise, no quarter. Nor interest in cultures other than their own. Ugly and insatiable rage came out in their questions.

They did not want to know about the values of the country that had given their brethren sanctuary, education, healthcare and a decent life. My audience only wanted to know why the blasphemers in Denmark and Norway (the cartoons were reprinted there) were not being punished. For good measure, they wanted to know why the American media was so committed to heresy against Islam. No thought that they had moved voluntarily to the United States and were enjoying three of its great freedoms: freedom to assemble, freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

They wanted absolute subjection of all Western values to the dictates of Islam. They had been fired up and they were angry, self-righteous and obdurate.

In 2009, I was invited to a conference of world religions in Astana, Kazakhstan. There were maybe 100 religions present, but at a featured session the conference degenerated into an Islamic diatribe against sexuality and the treatment of women (mostly in advertising) in the West. No dialogue. No discussion. Absolute certainty.

I mention this because of the reaction to the barbarity in Paris, and to a string of other barbarous murders across the world, from Muslims has been so muted.

“Je Suis Charlie” said millions of people in dozens of countries in sympathy with the murdered journalists and with their fight for press freedom. From Muslim leaders in the West, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations in the United States, there were statements of condemnation but no sense of outrage. From the bulk of the followers of Islam there was nothing. There never is. Not when innocent children are shot in their schools, or when aid workers are beheaded, or when or when satirical journalists are executed. The Muslim multitudes have acquiesced to evil.

When will those who believe deeply in Islam take to the streets to denounce the excesses of the few? After the horror in Paris, British Muslims took to the BBC to mildly criticize the murders, but more to vigorously demand a better deal for Muslims in Britain.

The medieval certainty of the leadership of Islam is endorsed by the silence of its congregants. The silence of the millions gives a kind of absolution to the extremists, intoxicated with fervor and hate. It will all go on until the good Muslims stand up and are heard. The guilt of silence hangs over Islam.

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

Llewellyn King: When Ralph Nader Was the Consumer’s Hero

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Llewellyn King

Ralph Nader is to blame. It's that simple. I'm not talking about the election of 2000, where his candidacy was enough to hand the presidency to George W. Bush and all that has followed. I’m talking about when Nader went AWOL as the nation’s consumer conscience.

In the space of a week, three U.S. flights have been diverted because of passenger disturbances over reclining seats. Would this have happened if Nader of old were on the case?

In the mid-1960s and early 1970s, Nader was the nation’s bulwark against corporate excess. He may have gotten it wrong — as many have claimed — about the safety of the Corvair, the rear-engine compact car, manufactured by the Chevrolet division of General Motors, that was to have rivaled the Volkswagen Beetle. No matter. Nader’s 1965 book, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” launched him as the consumer's knight in shining armor.

For nearly a decade, we felt that Nader was on our side and those big, faceless monsters like insurance companies, banks, airlines, consumer credit outfits and appliance manufacturers could be brought to heal by invoking the one name that would strike fear, trembling and rectitude into the hearts of the titans of corporate America: Nader.

It was a halcyon time for those who wanted, like actor Peter Finch in the 1976 film “Network,” to shout, and be heard, “I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!”

Nader was a figure of mythical omnipotence. You didn’t have to take your troubles with a faulty car or broken contract to Nader, you simply had to threaten; the words “cc Ralph Nader” at the bottom of a letter were enough. Corporations quaked, the earth moved, and restitution was forthcoming.

We delighted in learning little details about Nader the aesthete, who lived in one room somewhere in Washington, had no creature comforts, partners, or trappings, but always wore a suit. People happily believed he slept in it, ready to rush to court to slay a dragon of corporate excess.

Journalists loved Nader. We learned that he kept a secret office in the venerable National Press Building in Washington and would sneak up to the National Press Club on the 13th floor to peruse the press releases, which were then displayed near the elevators. One presumed he was looking for evidence of consumer abuse in false corporate claims.

The Vietnam War was raging, and the nation was divided on every issue except the wonder of the man who was called “consumer advocate.” The nation had never had one before and we loved it.

Oh, yes, love is not too strong a word. We went to bed at night knowing that if the mattress wasn't what had been promised by the Divine Mattress Company, Nader would fix it.

Jimmy Carter promised that when he was elected president, he would have a direct telephone line to St. Nader. That was the zenith of Nader’s consumer advocacy power.

But Nader and his acolytes, known as Nader’s Raiders, had already begun to pursue broader political aims and to embrace the extreme reaches of the environmental movement. Nader, our beloved consumer advocate, saintly and virtuous, was becoming a partisan — a partisan of the left.

It was an extreme blow for those who had followed along behind Nader’s standard because we believed he was the unsullied, virtuous supporter of the individual against the institution. The voice that could be heard when, as often, politics had failed.

Over the years, I had battles with Nader. We argued most especially over nuclear power and a raft of related energy issues. I and the late physicist Ralph Lapp, together with the great mathematician Hans Bethe, put together a group of 24 Nobel laureates to support nuclear. Nader assembled 36 Nobel laureates against, and won the argument on numbers. He has always been a tough customer.

Poor Ralph. He had it all – and so did we — when he fought for the common man against the common enemy: those who stole our money or shortchanged us.

Deep in my heart, I think he is to blame for high bank fees, payday loans, tiny aircraft seats, high Amtrak fares, and the fact that corporations won’t speak to us – they have machines do that. Ralph, it could have been so different if you had just stayed at your post.

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

Llewellyn King: Nuclear Waste Disposal — The French Connection

Monday, June 30th, 2014

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

Monday, June 16th, 2014

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

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

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.