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Commissioner Tim Echols, GA PSC: Why Nuclear Matters

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

By Tim Echols

Just when we thought nuclear power might be on a comeback, well, stuff happened.   Only time will tell if Georgia and South Carolina can “jumpstart” a nuclear renaissance.  Let’s hope we can because low-cost baseload energy is a key to economic growth.

This was illustrated dramatically for me while I was in Germany this summer meeting with numerous officials including an economic minister for the country. As he told me how BMW was having their upcoming light weight electric car carbon-fiber body manufactured in South Carolina, he said, “The United States is about to enjoy mass re-industrialization because of your cheap energy prices.”  I couldn’t help but smile. He went on to tell me of other European companies setting up shop in the United States for the same reason.

But reality is that “new” nuclear power continues to sputter.  Remember back about five years ago?  States were working hard with private utilities to possibly build new commercial reactors.  Then, we had the accident at Fukushima which brought more regulatory uncertainty.  At the same time, our economy was in recession with natural gas prices continuing to drop primarily due to “fracking.”

Meanwhile, in our “Silicon Valley of Nuclear Power,” the work continued because a course had been charted.  Georgia was building two new nuke units at Plant Vogtle.  SCANA was building two identical units at V.C. Summer Plant, near Jenkinsville, South Carolina.  And in between them sat the 310 square-mile Savannah River Site, a highly protected federal facility run by the Department of Energy, where a special MOX facility is being constructed amidst a sea of other national security related projects.

There are three good reasons we need to complete each of these projects, despite the cost issues each are experiencing right now.

First, anything remotely related to nuclear means jobs—and many of them good paying jobs. 12,000 people work at SRS, 800 private sector jobs at V.C. Summer and another 800 at Vogtle. The last two figures will double once the new units come on line.  Add to that the cumulative construction jobs which should peak out at more than 7000, and the impact is enormous. Remember, jobs let you buy houses, cars, clothes and widgets—and cheap energy is a magnet for manufacturing these as the Germans testified.

Second, nuclear power is a great investment for southeastern states especially.  It gives us 24/7 base load power, provides grid stability, serves as a hedge against volatile natural gas prices—and all this without any of the emissions associated with conventional fuels.   The two new Vogtle units represent $4 billion in economic value for Georgia ratepayers over the next best available option—fracked gas, and you know how cheap that is.

Third, nuclear recycling and reprocessing allows us to convert the plutonium that once powered cold-war nuclear warheads into fuel that ultimately powers our homes.  What a trade-off! That is where the SRS MoX site comes in and why President Obama should not end the funding for it as he is threatening to do.

The mixed-oxide fuel factory, or MoX, will recycle weapons-grade plutonium into material that can be used in nuclear power plants to generate electricity.  And not too far away, the famed “H” Canyon facility as it is called at SRS, demonstrates reprocessing taking old nuclear waste and making usable material from it. These successes might help launch similar commercial facilities that can be built to handle the large inventory of commercial waste we currently have around our country. We need to take this step.

But the President is getting cold feet on this.  The MoX facility, which admittedly is way over budget, was started in 2007 and is the only one of its kind in the U.S.  Thought the cost is high, the benefits are immense as we evaluate the best way to handle these nuclear materials. We must move forward responsibly.

We can’t turn our back when it comes to nuclear power.  We have smart people who can solve the difficulties associated with this incredible resource.  Let’s move America forward.

U.S. Court of Appeals – D.C. Circuit Consideration of NRC Yucca Mandamus Action: 2086 days 13 hours 14 minutes 59 seconds

Message from Secretary Moniz and Deputy Secretary Poneman on DOE Reorganization

Monday, July 22nd, 2013


Subject: Message from Secretary Moniz and Deputy Secretary Poneman on DOE Reorganization

Message from Secretary Moniz and Deputy Secretary Poneman on DOE Reorganization


Dear Colleagues,

Earlier today, we shared with you the plans for a reorganization of the Department's management structure that is designed to achieve several of our key priorities and those of the President. Successful implementation of the President's Climate Action Plan, "all of the above" energy strategy and nuclear security agenda require the appropriate alignment of management functions and strengthened management throughout the agency.

We wanted to take this opportunity to share some additional details of the reorganization, which consolidates the mission support functions of the Department in order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of Departmental operations.  The reorganization also brings together the management of our science and energy programs, which will improve the integration of these two key areas of the Department's mission.  Finally, we are also establishing a system of Departmental Councils to improve coordination of issues that cut across Departmental organizational lines.

The reorganization will affect the organization of the Department at the Under Secretary level.  First, we have established an Office of the Under Secretary for Management and Performance to manage:

*Office of Management and Administration (MA)

*Office of Chief Human Capital Officer (HC)

*Office of Chief Information Officer (CIO)

*Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (ED)

*Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA)

*Office of Environmental Management (EM)

*Office of Legacy Management (LM)


In addition to bringing together the Department's primary support organizations, it will also include the Office of Environmental Management and Office of Legacy Management.  This is consistent with our objective of improving project management and performance in these two key areas and across the Department.  There is also a new organizational unit, the National Laboratory Operations Board that will report to the Office of the Under Secretary for Management and Performance, and will enable us to tackle the administrative issues affecting the laboratory system using an enterprise-wide approach.  Worker health, safety, and security continue to be critically important priorities, and we are in the process of reviewing how to strengthen our capacity to meet these challenges within this new structure.

Second, the current position of Under Secretary for Science is expanded to encompass both science and energy.  The resulting Office of the Under Secretary for Science and Energy will manage:

*Office of Science (SC)

*Office of Fossil Energy (FE)

*Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)

*Office of Nuclear Energy (NE)

*Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE)

*Office of Indian Energy  (IE)

*Office of  Technology Transfer Coordinator


We must have the ability to closely integrate and move quickly among basic science, applied research, technology demonstration, and deployment. The innovation chain is not linear, but rather one that requires feedback among its various elements.  This is particularly the case with regard to clean energy as we work to implement the President's Climate Action Plan.  This Office of the Under Secretary for Science and Energy will provide us the framework to make further improvements in this regard.  In addition, the majority of our national labs will reside within this organizational unit.

The Under Secretary for Nuclear Security continues to be a dual-hatted position as Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Finally, in order to better address important policy issues that affect a number of programs across the Department, we are establishing the following Secretarial Councils:

*An Energy Council

*A National Laboratory Policy Council

*A revised Credit Review Board

*A Cyber Security Council


We also are reactivating and restructuring the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB), with the restructured SEAB having four standing sub-committees to address each of the major Departmental mission areas.

Finding additional ways to improve the management and performance of Departmental programs is a continuing challenge that will remain a high priority.  Last week, for example, the President asked all of his Cabinet Officers to develop an agenda of further management initiatives to guide the Administration over the next four years.  We have several additional study efforts underway, and we hope to be able to move forward with additional initiatives in the near future.  One area is a review of our energy policy and analysis capabilities, where some consolidation would enable the Department to take a better systems approach to policy analysis.  This will be very important for the Department in supporting the planned Quadrennial Energy Review called for by the President in his Climate Action Plan.  Another area under review is our oversight of security, where we are looking at ways to enhance line managem ent responsibilities and improve accountability for securing the complex.  We plan to report further on these items soon, following appropriate consultations.

We would like to highlight a number of senior personnel who have joined the Department in the past few months.  Many of you have already met my Chief of Staff Kevin Knobloch and our two deputy chiefs of staff, Erica De Vos and Jonathan Levy.  Erica is also serving as Director of the Executive Secretariat.  Additionally, Ed Bolton recently joined the Deputy Secretary's Office as Chief of Staff.

Among our new program leadership are Bruce Held, Acting Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration; Peter Davidson, Executive Director of the Loan Programs Office; David Klaus, Deputy Under Secretary for Management and Performance; and Jonathan Pershing, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Climate Change Policy and Technology.

A number of senior advisors have also joined us in the Office of the Secretary:  Melanie Kenderdine (leading efforts on energy policy and systems analysis), John MacWilliams (clean energy finance and other issues), Jeff Hughes (national security and intelligence), Elizabeth Connell (environmental management), Adam Cohn (cyber security), Alison Markovitz (departmental operations), Dmitri Kusnezov (NNSA issues), Skila Harris (PMA issues), and Mary Louise Wagner (nuclear energy policy).  Please join us in welcoming our new senior personnel to the Department. We are also working assiduously to advance excellent candidates to fill vacancies that require Senate confirmation.

Obviously this will continue to be a work in progress, and we are grateful for everyone's patience and support as we implement the reorganization.

We recognize the last few months have been a challenging time as we have adjusted to new and familiar faces, coming and going.  There have been a number of vacancies, and so far, we are extremely impressed with the way so many people–career and appointee alike–have stepped up and delivered.  We are deeply appreciative for the hard work you put in to contribute to the mission, and we continue to be honored to serve with you.



Secretary Moniz and Deputy Secretary Poneman

EDWARD DAVIS AND DAVID C. BLEE: NRC’s Waste Confidence ‘Moratorium’ – Carpe Diem

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

By Edward Davis and David C. Blee

The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) August 7, 2012 order to defer any final agency action approving the issuance of new reactor licenses or to grant new license renewals for existing operating reactors — in response to a Federal Appeals Court remand of the agency’s existing waste confidence rule — does not represent the draconian “Full-Stop” that the some of the industry’s opponents claim. 

Under the order, the agency will continue with its technical and licensing reviews while holding any final decisions in abeyance until the NRC has developed and completed its work responsive to the Court’s remand.  Accordingly, the Order could impact very few, if any, near-term combined license (COL) applications.  Moreover, under the NRC’s rules for license renewals, no operating plant would be directly affected where a timely renewal license application has already been submitted to NRC. Current spent fuel storage is certainly safe and not in question.  

Notwithstanding, there have been only rare occasions where similar orders have been issued by the NRC. Among them was the Calvert Cliffs Federal Appeals Court Decision in 1971 to require compliance with the newly enacted National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the preparation of environmental impact statements to accompany new reactor licensing and following the Three Mile Accident (TMI).

Moreover, any failure to resolve the waste confidence issue in a timely manner has the potential to delay new-term COLs, cloud license renewals and chill investor confidence in U.S. nuclear energy at a pivotal time. 

As such, the NRC’s Order and the Court’s remand are matters to be taken seriously.  At the same time, they offer a window of opportunity to chart a path-forward to resolve the back-end of the fuel cycle dilemma, which has plagued U.S. nuclear energy since its infancy.  The Reid-Jaczko four-year walk-in-the-wilderness prescription of just-leave-the waste-where-it-is was myopic at best.  Given the stakes involved, a head-in-the-sand approach in light of this new challenge would be equal folly.

For over four decades, the industry has operated under a series of interlocking court and regulatory decisions that have benefited and fostered the continued use and development of nuclear energy in the U.S. Starting in the early 1970s, a number a significant legal actions were taken to force the NRC to make a determination when licensing new plants that the spent fuel and nuclear waste could be disposed of safely and permanently.  In a 1979 Court of Appeals decision, known as Minnesota vs. NRC, it was found that the NRC was not required to find that such disposal capacity actually existed at the time of licensing of a new plant, only that a finding was necessary that NRC had “confidence”  that a permanent repository would eventually be available when needed.

The Court in the Minnesota decision referenced the NRC's 1977 order denying a National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) petition for a "confidence" rulemaking:

"It is neither necessary nor reasonable for the Commission to insist on proof that a means of permanent waste disposal is on hand at the time reactor operation begins, so long as the Commission can be reasonably confident that permanent disposal (as distinguished from continued storage under surveillance) (emphasis added) can be accomplished safely when it is likely to become necessary. Reasonable progress towards the development of permanent disposal facilities is presently being accomplished. Under these circumstances a halt in licensing of nuclear power plants is not required to protect public health and safety."

However, the Minnesota Court case did give rise to what has been enshrined as the Waste Confidence Rule, which the NRC updates from time to time.  The significance of this generic rule is that interveners cannot raise any questions in individual licensing proceedings as to whether the nuclear plant with its accumulation of spent fuel might one day become a de facto repository after its license expired because the Federal Government failed to successfully develop a repository. 

In addition, by virtue of another generic rule, the so-called Uranium Fuel Cycle Rule and its related Table S-3, one that was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, opponents cannot question the environmental releases assumed from a repository in individual plant environmental impact statements because NRC has assumed a “zero release” assumption as part of these assessments.

Despite these regulatory protections, the NRC under pressure did concede, as it does today, that the NRC will not continue to license reactors if it does not have reasonable confidence that spent fuel and nuclear waste can and will in due course be disposed of safely. And, specifically, this codified policy commitment relates to permanent disposal and not temporary surface storage. 

The linkage between progress towards permanent disposal and continued reactor licensing is at the heart of today’s nuclear waste confidence impasse — one that cannot be resolved through efforts to site temporary storage facilities, notwithstanding how desirable those efforts may be in terms of moving spent fuel from nuclear power plant sites.

When the Obama Administration disbanded and defunded the DOE’s nuclear repository program while seeking to terminate the Yucca Mountain project,  former NRC Chairman Gregory Jazcko pushed through an update of the Waste Confidence Rule based on the flawed premise that despite the Administration's efforts to terminate the only repository program that the nation has had over the past 30 years, the NRC still had "confidence” that somehow, some way a repository would materialize precisely  when needed.  In the meantime, the NRC found that spent fuel  could be stored onsite safely for a total of 120 years — 60 years during operations followed by an additional 60 years after license expiration for the repository to become available.

Two states seeking to block license renewals and anti-nuclear groups who have had a long running feud with NRC over this issue saw an opportunity and pounced on this update and its “predicative” finding of confidence as a bridge too far and sued the NRC over the revised rule. 

As a result of the Federal Appeals Court’s June 8th remand, the NRC must now go back and develop an environmental assessment of the implications of not having a repository.  Based on oral arguments, Petitioners are seeking an expansive, multi-century analysis of the uncertainties, costs and effects of a repository and its potential failure and related consequences as well as the onsite effects of indefinitely storing spent fuel at reactor sites across the country. Such an assessment is analogous to the Environmental Protection Agency’s one-million-year repository dose standard for Yucca Mountain that took nearly a decade to address. 

Ironically, the DOE in its 2002 Yucca Mountain EIS submitted to the NRC in connection with its license application did in fact make such an assessment of the potential environmental effects in its “No Action” Alternative and found that potential consequences of not having a repository could be quite significant.

This confluence is manifest destiny for the anti-nuclear community, which now believes it has finally opened up a Pandora’s Box that will force the NRC’s hand not to license new nuclear plants without a repository or even with just the reasonable prospect of one.

In writing the Court’s unanimous opinion in the Waste Confidence case, Chief Judge David B. Sentelle summed-up the paradox:

“The Commission apparently has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository. If the government continues to fail in its quest to establish one, then SNF will seemingly be stored on site at nuclear plants on a permanent basis. The Commission can and must assess the potential environmental effects of such failure.”

He also highlighted this dilemma during oral argument in responding to a suggestion by an NRC lawyer that the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) recommendations were a basis of renewed confidence that there would be a repository sometime in the not too distant future:

“You just related the history of the law, the Congressional resolutions had required the construction of the Yucca Mountain site, and then you tell me that we should reason from the fact that the President killed the Yucca Mountain site and put in some other Commission that therefore there’s going to be a solution. If anything it sounds like this is one more time that the frustration of the Petitioners reflected reality. “

In short, without a repository, there can be no nuclear energy resurgence. What is required now is a concerted action not only by the NRC but also the Administration and the Congress to address the root cause of the waste confidence impasse and put the U.S. nuclear waste program back on track.  

A good start would be for the NRC to restart the Yucca licensing process and not wait for a Court mandamus order to do so. Such action is supported by the recent vote 326 members of the House of Representatives to provide additional funding for the Yucca licensing process. In addition, the DOE should re-standup the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management in order to refocus efforts and develop a repository restart plan. Congress should appropriate the necessary funding to put the program back on track.

Progress on these fronts and on Yucca Mountain provides confidence that a repository can and will be available.  It also provides a demonstration that there is a political will to resolve the siting issues and to carry out the law that Congress established

Mr. Davis is President of the Pegasus Group and a former President of the American Nuclear Energy Council. Mr. Blee is a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy and Executive Director of the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council. 

William Tucker Goes to the Movie: Heritage’s New Movie “Powering America” — Real People and Nuclear Virtues

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Review of Heritage Foundation’s “Powering America”

By William Tucker

The Heritage Foundation has decided to keep abreast of the generation that doesn’t read anymore by producing a 40-minute documentary, “Powering America,” touting the virtues of nuclear energy.  It probably won’t be playing soon at a theater near you but the film will make a powerful tool for policy groups trying to convince Americans that nuclear must be part of our energy future.

“Base load power” – that’s the message “Powering America” conveys and we’re going to need plenty of it.  Even the most conservative predictions say we’ll need at least 25 percent more electricity by 2035 – which happens to be the exact time when our current generation of reactors, built in the 1970s and 1980s, will be reaching retirement.  So it’s not just a matter of providing more electricity.  We’re going to have to replace the 20 percent of our electricity that nuclear energy already provides.  It’s a big task and building one or two new reactors per decade – the rate we’re currently achieving – isn’t going to come close to solving the problem.

So what’s holding us up?  Mostly fear of radiation and accidents.  On radiation, the Heritage filmmakers note, most people are inclined to think it was invented in 1945 with the introduction of atomic weapons.  In fact radiation is just energy in motion.  It constantly bombards us on all sides.  Next to what we absorb from outer space, from rocks, from food, from our own bones, the radiation emanating from a nuclear reactor is less than trivial.  Living next to a reactor for fifty years would give you about the equivalent of one dental x-ray.

“Powering America” illustrates all this with real people and that’s the film’s great strength.  We meet hardhat workers, male and female, who have spent their lives in the nuclear industry and know the score.  As with everyone who gets close to the technology, they both understand both the dangers and appreciate the excruciating care the industry takes in dealing with them.  They are not afraid.  We meet Abby Rodriguez, a dosimeter specialist at Plant Vogtle who says she hasn’t picked up a trace of radiation exposure in 2-1/2 years of work.  We meet Daniel and Dani Hackman, a couple who have run Red Hill Farm within sight of the cooling towers of Three Mile Island for a generation and have no worries.  “There was a guy here yesterday who wanted to take samples – they come every couple of weeks,” they say.  “If there was something in the atmosphere, they would definitely find it in the plants.  But they’ve never found anything.”  

Things being what they are, however, “Powering America” feels compelled to take on the three major accidents – Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island – and that occupies much of the film’s time.  It’s a reassuring walk-through but after fifteen minutes you begin to wonder whether there is anything to nuclear energy except potential accidents.  But host John L. King eventually gets around to explaining the tremendous advantages of nuclear – mainly its incredible energy density.  One fuel pellet the size of a pencil eraser produces as much energy as 150 gallons of gasoline, a ton of coal or17, 000 cubic feet of natural gas.  And don’t even think about wind and sunshine.  Matching the output of just one nuclear reactor – as Jim Hopson of the TVA’s Watts Bar station tells us – would require covering the Great Smokey Mountains National Park with 45-story windmills.  

“Powering America’s” great strength is that it introduces us to the forgotten players in the nuclear debate – the men and women who work with it every day.  Who else could be more knowledgeable about its benefits, more informed about its assiduous safety measures?  Strangely enough, though, I think the film could have benefitted by giving a little camera time to some of the more highly exaggerated and uninformed personalities of the anti-nuclear movement.  What better contrast with the sober, ground-level assessments of nuclear workers than Pete Seeger glibly telling us that a nuclear reactor can blow up at any moment, Dr. Ernest Sternglass recounting the thousands of babies who have been murdered by reactors or noted renewable energy advocate Mark Z. Jacobson of Berkeley recounting how it doesn’t matter if the wind doesn’t blow all the time because somewhere the sun may be shining.  

But these are minor quibbles.  The important thing is that Heritage has taken the common-sense case for nuclear energy and turned it into a glossy, contemporary documentary that will have something to say to people of all persuasions.


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