Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
Friday, March 25th, 2011
March 25, 2011
Three Republican Senators stepped up to the plate Thursday morning and reiterated their support of nuclear power, despite calls for a moratorium or shutting down reactors in the face of the Fukushima accident.
"We don’t have a form of energy production in the United States with a better record than nuclear power," Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee told a press gathering at the nation’s Capitol. "I don’t think we should be making long-term, domestic U.S. policy based on something that happened in another part of the world," added Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky. "We certainly need to observe it, learn from it."
Senator Alexander has been a leading figure in the effort to revive nuclear, calling for the construction of 100 new reactors over the next twenty years.
Democrats at the press gathering were more cautious. I think we all pause and examine what happened and what these plants look like. Of course, I mean, we need to have a lot more information than we have now," Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio told the audience. "We need to have a way for a complete safety assessment," added Senator Diane Feinstein of California. "I think that’s the important thing, particularly plants that are of vintage, plants that are close to faults, plants that are close together. Seems to be that’s the emerging no-no."
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama warned against a moratorium on the model of oil drilling after the Gulf oil spill. "I am not for delays," he said. "They delayed in the Gulf and they still haven’t started drilling again." Texas Republican John Cornyn added that safety issues in nuclear had already been given extensive scrutiny. "We’ve had a virtual shutdown of new reactors for the last 30 years, so I don’t think we need any more brakes on it, especially if we’re going to make ourselves less dependent on foreign sources of energy," he said.
Although the Senate does not have any particularly nuclear issues before it now, the debate may be joined if the issue of extending loan guarantees or reviving Yucca Mountain come to the floor.
Read more about it at WAMU News Radio
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011
February 22, 2011
From the Editors
Ever wonder where all those legions of young people who believe the world can run on wind and solar energy get their ideas? No need to look any further. The University of Maine has laid it all out for us.
This op-ed, written for the school newspaper by a senior engineering students, describes a recent Renewable Energy Meeting in which faculty and administrators decided what will be taught on the Maine campus in campus in coming years. The lessons will be:
1) Global warming is a world threat
2) China is increasing its consumption of fossil fuels
3) World peak oil may soon be a reality, and
4) “we don’t have the infrastructure to ship and deliver our own natural resources; and the threat of terrorist attacks is too high to trust the far most efficient energy source of nuclear power. “ (Just what terrorists would do with a nuclear reactor besides shut it down is never discussed.)
As a result of all this, wind and solar are the only options and are the only thing that will be taught or discussed on the UMaine campus.
Author Alexander Polk describes one engineering student, Jim LaBrecque, who had the courage to stand up and question all these assumptions. “Before LaBrecque could finish his complete thought, he was rudely interrupted by Evelyn Silver, the senior advisor to UMaine President Robert Kennedy,” writes Polk. “Throughout LaBrecque’s moment on the floor, Silver shook her head and spoke with her neighbors. She was very close-minded on the issue, cutting off all naysayers.”
And for this people are paying $15,000 a year in tuition? A job in the local power plant would provide a better education.
Read more about it at Maine Campus
Thursday, February 10th, 2011
February 10, 2011
All eyes in Washington are fixed on the national debt ceiling and the brinkmanship involved when it has to be extended in the next two months. Will the government shut down or won’t it? But by next March the same attention may be focused Vermont Yankee and the brinkmanship over whether or not New England is going to end up without any electricity.
Senators James Inhofe of Oklahoma and David Vitter of Louisiana pointed to the coming showdown this week when the charged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reviewing license renewals under a “dual standard,” granting them quickly where there is no political opposition but delaying them indefinitely where controversy has arisen. Although they did not mention any specific reactors, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton last week specifically cited the Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim license renewals as having been delayed for five years.
"In cases where local opposition has been minimal or non-existent, the NRC has indeed kept to the average 22-month review schedules,” NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said in a response. “In the cases of Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim and Indian Point, local residents have exercised their ability to legally challenge the renewal applications. The NRC respects their right to do so."
Local residents are indeed campaigning to close down all three reactors, since anti-nuclear sentiment is strong in the Northeast and the area is populated by the kind of professional amateurs who have no idea where electricity comes from or how it is generated. The Vermont governor’s election last year was essentially decided on the issue of Vermont Yankee (the candidate who wants to close it won) and in New York the state attorney general’s office has been laboring long and hard to close down Indian Point. Naturally, the NRC is afraid of being accused that it is “in the pocket of the industry” by relicensing. But at some point somebody’s going to have to figure out how to generate some electricity as well.
The New England Independent Systems Operator, which does know how to generate electricity, has been issuing warnings that losing Vermont Yankee’s 600 megawatts will destabilize the entire New England grid. "Without Vermont Yankee in service, potential reliability issues could include thermal overloads on high-voltage transmission lines and voltage instability, either of which could damage equipment, compromise grid stability, or cause uncontrolled outages," said the ISO in a report last August. The loss would require "emergency generation brought into Vermont temporarily, more expensive generation from outside Vermont and demand side resources" and ultimately new transmission line construction.
Even then, the drama over Vermont Yankee next March will be only a preview to the bigger show as the deadline for Indian Point 2 and 3 approaches in 2014. The two Hudson River plants produce one-quarter of New York City’s electricity. That’s an awful lot of windmills to throw up in so short a time.
Read more about it at Platt’s
Friday, January 21st, 2011
January 21, 2011
Environmental activists showed they are not ready to back down in the face of a Republican House of Representatives by winning a decision in District of Columbia Federal Court to accelerate EPA regulation of air pollution against the EPA’s own wishes.
The EPA, which is already trying to tighten air regulations much faster than previous administrations, had asked for a 15-month delay in imposing a standard of “maximum achievable control technology” on industrial boilers around the country with regard to soot, mercury and other pollutants. The EPA had asked for more time to buttress its findings in preparation for court challenges. A coalition of environmental groups opposed the delay, however, by bringing suit in the D.C. Court of Appeals. The D.C. Court of Appeals has always been a favorite of environmental groups since it sits in Washington and is far removed from the influences of Industrial America.
The decision will put the EPA at a fork in the road with the new Republican House majority, particularly Fred Upton of Michigan, the new chairman of the energy and commerce committee. Upton has already singled out the so-called “MACT” standard as a “job-killing” measure.
Even the EPA said it regretted the judge’s decision. “The agency believes these changes still deserve further public review and comment and expects to solicit further comment through a reconsideration of the rules,” the agency said in a statement. Meanwhile, industry groups reacted with dismay. “[A]ll of industry, universities and district energy providers will have to spend tens of millions of dollars perhaps unnecessarily to prepare to meet the new standards,” said Bob Bessette, president of the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners.
But for now environmental groups are in the driver’s seat. They are pushing the EPA towards an extremely high standard of regulation even faster than the EPA wants. It looks like the next battleground will be Capitol Hill.
Read more about it at The Hill
Friday, December 31st, 2010
December 31, 2010
An unidentified source in a French news story says the Obama Administration may be holding back from awarding a federal loan guarantee to NRG’s South Texas project because it is in the Lone Star State.
"According to one source, the Obama administration would prefer the loan guarantee to go to the Calvert Cliffs project in Maryland, which is a Democratic state, rather than to NRG’s project in largely Republican Texas," says this report from Agence France-Presse. "According to the same source the DoE would also prefer the money go to EDF to avoid the risk of making the US nuclear sector over-reliant on Japanese technology."
The story is a boilerplate review for French readers spelling out Electricite de France’s difficulties in reviving Calvert Cliffs after its partner, Constellation Energy, dropped off the project two month ago. The comment comes far down near the end of the story. Still, it has a ring of plausibility, since the Obama Administration is about to square off with Texas over the authority to issue air quality permits regulating carbon, beginning January 2. On the other hand, it’s hard to see why relying on Japanese technology is any different from relying on French technology. The real problem is that there is very little American technology remaining since the roadblocks to nuclear development erected in the past 30 years have driven most of the industry offshore.
Constellation walked away from Calvert Cliffs after the Congressional Budget Office estimated the chances of a loan default at 50 percent and asked a $700 million fee in compensation. EDF has tried to revive the project but must find an American partner to satisfy a 1950s law saying non-American companies cannot own more than half of a commercial reactor. NRG’s South Texas project has had its own troubles, with the City of San Antonio pulling out of the project when it became too expensive. NRG is attempting to build two Westinghouse Advanced Boiling Water Reactors, a technology that is not the most advanced but has an old approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The more advanced technology, the Westinghouse-Toshiba AP1000, now under construction at four sites in China, is still under review at the NRC after six years. EDF’s Calvert Cliffs project would be an Areva’s U.S. Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR), a duplicate of the European Power Reactor that Areva is constructing in France and Finland. The only remaining U.S. design, General Electric’s Advanced Boiling Water Reactor, is now being marketed in conjunction with Hitachi.
If the Obama Administration wants to promote American nuclear technology, it will have to do more than block loan guarantees at South Texas.
Read more at Agence France Presse
Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010
December 22, 2010
One thing you learn quickly in Washington is that to get any major piece of legislation passed, you have to include something for everybody. Thus, whatever energy bill may emerge from the 212th Congress is likely to include just about everything.
“With Republicans set to assume control of the House and take more seats in the Senate in January, increasing chatter on energy policy has focused on a more comprehensive standard that would go beyond a pure RES to include nuclear and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies,” reports Gloria Gonzalez at OilPrice.com. `“Renewable is out,’ said John Juech, vice-president, policy analysis for consultancy Garten Rothkopf in Washington, DC. `Clean is the new language.’”
But what’s clean? The more appropriate question might be, “What isn’t?”
The standard would work well for nuclear energy, since it would at last put the atom on an equal footing with wind, solar and the other “renewables.” More than half the states now have “renewable standards” and windmill and solar developers are now throwing up huge complexes without any regard to what it will cost consumers or how these intermittent sources will be incorporated onto the grid.
Then last week, J. Wayne Leonard, CEO of Entergy, owner of the nation’s second largest nuclear fleet, argued in The Wall Street Journal that natural gas has to be included in any kind of “clean standard.” So what’s left? Dirty old coal. But you can bet the powerful coal states will find some way to have that grandfathered in as well.
Probably the best thing to do would be to remove all mandates, subsidies and tax incentives and let the market decide. We’d mostly put up natural gas plants but some far-sighted utility executives would also think about making an 80-year investment in a nuclear reactor. Then the problem would be getting a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and wading through the blizzard of lawsuits from nuclear opponents. Sovereign wealth funds from France, Japan, Korea or even Russia or China would probably fund the whole ordeal.
Yet if Gonzalez is right, we may instead get an everybody-on-board “clean energy standard” that instructs utilities to build wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, gas, nuclear, clean coal – take your pick. That will be our new “national energy policy.”
Read more about it at Oil Price
Thursday, December 16th, 2010
December 16, 2010
From the Editors
Anti-nuclear groups have discovered a new way to block the development of new nuclear reactors – call in the Securities Exchange Commission.
This week the SEC suspended trading of Alternate Energy Holding Corporation (AEHI) after the Snake River Alliance orchestrated a campaign to block the company’s plans to build a nuclear reactor in rural Idaho.
In announcing the investigation, the SEC raised concerns about AEHI’s ability to fund construction of a $5 billion reactor plus compensations made to “certain AEHI officers.” "The commission cautions brokers, dealers, shareholders, and prospective purchasers that they should carefully consider the foregoing information along with all other currently available information and any information subsequently issued by the company," the SEC warned.
The probe comes at a crucial point when AEHI appearing to be making substantial progress with its admittedly ambitious plans. This week the Payette County zoning commission voted 10-to-1 to rezone AEHI’s property to accommodate a reactor. Don Gillispie, the Navy veteran who is CEO of AEHI, called the decision “monumental” and said it was “the first decision of its kind regarding a western US Greenfield nuclear site in 33 years and the first rezone ever of a Greenfield site for an independent company.” “We haven’t had any complaints from investors,” he added.
Instead, according to Sun Valley Online, the entire SEC investigation has been prompted by complaints from Snake River Alliance, which has opposed the project from day one. “The Alliance and legions of concerned Idahoans have been urging state and federal securities investigators for more than two years to examine the behavior and financial practices of AEHI,” Liz Woodruff, policy analyst for the Alliance told Sun Valley Online. “This is a company that has been misinforming Idaho investors, county officials, and others almost since arriving in Idaho four years ago today. AEHI President and CEO Don Gillispie has tried to explain away the reasons for his company’s failure to attract legitimate investors and to move this project forward, but he cannot explain away an SEC investigation. It is unfathomable that AEHI can now attract any investors with an SEC cloud over its head.”
“Woodruff, who has worked with local residents in Elmore and Payette County, . . called on Payette County officials to immediately halt their consideration of AEHI’s rezoning application, which just last week received a favorable 10-1 recommendation by the Planning and Zoning Commission to the County Commission for consideration,” the Sun Valley Online report continued. “Woodruff said. `For Payette County, it’s better late than never.’”
What is obviously shaping up, then, is the usual situation where the broad community supports a project but a highly dedicated band of activists with better access to the media and government agencies is able to neutralize popular sentiment. The pattern is seen over and over with reactors, where local support often approaches 90 percent but small, vocal activist groups are able to convince the media that there is widespread opposition. Press reports routinely declare that “NIMBY” opposition is what is holding up nuclear progress but the opposite is true. People who are most affected by reactors are usually most in favor of them.
The SEC may also discover that AEHI’s ambitions are not as impractical as they might seem. Gillispie has no illusions that he will be able to raise $5 billion to build a reactor but says AEHI plans to do all the preliminary work leading to a license application before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and then hand the project over to an established company. Many start-up ventures work this way. Since France, Korea and Japan are all offering funding and loan guarantees to support their domestic nuclear industries, the prospect that one of them might pick up the Idaho project is not all that unlikely.
In addition, although the reactor project serves as AEHI’s shop window, the company has several other potential sources of revenue. AEHI just completed its first full-scale model of an Energy Neutral Home and is planning to franchise their construction. Its Green Water World subsidiary also has an agreement with a Chinese company to market reactors for desalinization of water in the developing world.
Nuclear critics always argue that nuclear technology is completely impractical and is only being forced on the country by some gigantic “nuclear industry.” (The fact that such an industry no longer exists in the United States usually escapes them.) AEHI represents the complete opposite – a small, entrepreneurial venture working from the ground up in an attempt to realize nuclear energy’s enormous untapped potential. It’s nice to know the anti-nukes are opposed to that business model as well.
AEHI will have until December 28 to respond to the charges.
Read more about it at World Nuclear News
Tuesday, November 9th, 2010
The chances that split control of Congress would not degenerate into partisan bickering seem to be diminishing already as Republicans announced they are ready to go after Obama administration environmental officials.
Target number one will be the Environmental Protection Agency’s January campaign to begin regulating carbon emissions at the state level. EPA is already playing a high-stakes game, threatening to block new construction projects until they reduce their carbon emissions, and is likely to meet opposition on all fronts. Texas has already filed suit against the EPA actions and others are sure to follow.
But Republicans are threatening to take their opposition one step further and put the entire climate issue on trial. This week Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the ranking Republican on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, asked the new leadership to keep the committee intact so he can use it as a forum to question the whole theory of climate change. “The threat of the EPA’s reach into the economy is so great that it deserves special attention this Congress, and no panel has developed more experience on these topics,” said Sensenbrenner. Many observers had assumed that Republicans would dissolve the committee when they took over in January.
Not content with stopping the EPA, Republicans are also planning to get personal. In a Human Events article this week, Rep. Fred Upton, the frontrunner to take over the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he specifically plans to target Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change, for her role in promoting the EPA carbon regulations.
Upton accused Browner of having defied a judge’s orders by erasing all her emails upon leaving her former post as head of EPA under the Clinton Administration. “In spite of the judge’s order, outgoing EPA Administrator Browner instructed an EPA technician to erase all of her email and to wipe the hard drive clean. Two years later, a judge ruled against EPA in this matter and held that ‘EPA acted in contempt of the Court’s order.’”
He also noted that, one of Obama’s “czars,” Browner never had to be vetted by Congress. “She was the Obama administration’s point person for a massive economy-killing national energy tax in the form of a cap-and-trade scheme,” wrote Upton. “This circumvention is wholly unacceptable, especially given Browner’s wide-ranging legislative portfolio and influence within the administration.”
As Politico perceptively points out, the real conflict in the Congress is regional rather than political. “[E]nergy policy historically breaks down more along regional lines than partisan ones,” writes Darren Samuelsohn in today’s story. “Come January, it will still be the same coal and Rust Belt lawmakers battling Southern oil and nuclear power interests and renewables advocates from the coasts and Great Plains.”
Yet it’s hard to see how nuclear gets cubbyholed as a “Southern” interest. Chicago-based Exelon is the largest owner of nuclear plants and the greatest concentration of reactors is in the Midwest. It is only recently that the South has become a focus of nuclear development, mainly because it has not deregulated electricity and because of a large concentration of Navy personnel who know the technology.
The real split is between people who understand nuclear and people who don’t and are therefore afraid of it. Hopefully, before Congress tears itself apart with partisan bickering, both sides can unite around the principle that nuclear is the way forward on energy.
Read more about it at Politico and here
Friday, November 5th, 2010
In the outwash of the election, environmental groups are frantically pointing the finger elsewhere, saying their cap-and-trade agenda had nothing to do with the U.S. House Democrats’ historic mid-term elections defeat. Yet one thing emerges as crystal clear. If Greens had embraced nuclear energy in their clean air recipe, they might have had much more success in swinging public opinion behind them.
The battle of reading the tea leaves began almost before the ballots were counted. In a comprehensive analysis today,
Politico reports that environmental groups are already firing off emails saying that cap-and-trade played a role in only a handful of races. “Big picture, [the Natural Resources Defense Council] found that more than 80 percent of the 211 Democrats who voted for the climate bill will be coming back for the 112th Congress . . . . It found troubling results for only two members: [Rep. Harry] Teague [of New Mexico] and Rep. Zack Space of Ohio, who also lost.”
In an amazingly rapid bit of data-crunching, Michael Levi, senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations, claims to have proven already that “Cap-and-Trade Didn’t Kill the Dems.” Levi also maintains that the revolt against Democrats was across-the-board, with cap-and-trade providing no additional correlaiton.
It might seem hard to make this argument in an election where Democratic Governor Joe Manchin of West Virginia sealed his Senate victory by running an ad in which he fired a rifle bullet through the House of Representatives’ cap-and-trade bill. But in all fairness, environmental activists may have a point. Democrats were the target of voter wrath for a variety of reasons – the health bill, the budget deficit, government spending in general. As they point out, 27 Democrats who voted against the bill also lost for re-election on Tuesday.
But this cover-your-base approach misses the most important point — regulating carbon emissions could have had much broader appeal if it had been couched in positive terms, as a way to prime the jobs pump and accelerate the transition to cleaner, cutting-edge nuclear energy.
In a post on Nuclear Townhall, a reader wrote: “All the thoughts about new nuclear construction (including all those license applications) were based upon the premise that there will be a price/limit placed on CO2 emissions at some point. If there are no prospects for such a limit/price. . . . nuclear will remain at least somewhat more expensive than coal, period. ”This sentiment is shared widely throughout the nuclear and utilities industries. Although cap-and-trade was a hot-button issue that divided the electorate, the only places where it appears to have been decisive is in states and regions heavily dependent on coal. A promise to expand the nuclear industry nationwide could have won widespread support and perhaps softened the blow on the coal industry.
But environmental groups could never reconcile themselves to supporting nuclear. The result, as the President said yesterday, is that carbon regulations may be dead for a long time.
Read more at Politico
Thursday, November 4th, 2010
As the smoke clears from the election, one of the energy arena winners may be nuclear energy.
Although the nuclear issue was barely discussed during the mid-term elections (except in Nevada, where Sharron Angle lost to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), early statements from both sides of the aisle signal hope that efforts to advance U.S. nuclear energy may be a big part of a compromise bipartisan agenda – even a subject that Democrats and Republicans can heartily agree upon.
In his post-election press conference, President Obama specifically mentioned nuclear as an area of possible compromise: “There’s been discussion about how we can restart our nuclear industry as a means of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse gases,” he said. “Is that an area where we can move forward?”
In response, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was quoted as saying a promising area of compromise could be “nuclear power and clean coal technology and other things the president said that he’s for and most of my members are for [as well]."
One big exception to this unanimity may be Reid, who may be hesitant to embrace a U.S. nuclear renewal that could potentially re-jumpstart Yucca Mountain. But there are other options on the table. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said that on-site dry cask storage may be acceptable for the better part of a century. And AREVA is about to begin construction in South Carolina on a facility that will fabricate MOX fuel out of plutonium and depleted uranium from military stockpiles. This may be a backdoor opportunity to re-introduce recycling to the backend recipe.
Only a few weeks after the Nuclear Renaissance seemed to be stalling –- particularly with Constellation Energy’s withdrawal from Calvert Cliffs 3-– things suddenly look a lot brighter. There is tremendous pent-up demand for nuclear energy among Republicans – remembering that rousing ovation the President received when he mentioned it in his State of the Union Address.
So the prospects for progress suddenly seem more bullish. Faced with the need to compromise, both Democrats and Republicans may even arrive at the resolution that has been staring them in the face all along – that clean energy solutions that enhance U.S. Jobs and competitiveness are important — and that nuclear energy is a the most viable baseload resource to be central to any solution.
Read more at Platt’s