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Friday, January 28th, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
January 28, 2011

The first indication that the 112th Congress will give a high priority to nuclear energy has come from the new Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, who knocked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a statement for taking five years to decide on license renewals.

"Today marks an unfortunate milestone for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as the timeline for the reactor renewal process has now doubled without explanation,” said the chairman. He noted that the renewal applications for the Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee reactors “eclips[ed] 60 months with no end in sight. “Gone are the days of reasonable expectations for a stable and predictable regulatory process," continued Upton. "This uncertainty and lack of transparency in the process is needlessly putting plants and thousands of jobs at risk.” 

According to the NRC’s own website, “License renewal is expected to take about 30 months, including the time to conduct an adjudicatory hearing, if necessary, or 22 months without a hearing.”

Both Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee are hot-button issues and any decision will be met with huge opposition. A renewal is likely to end up quickly in court.

But the real question said one industry source is "if license renewals seem a problem, what about new licenses?” 

"Upton is hitting the right buttons, however,  Nuclear energy will never resurge in the U.S. until the NRC licensing process become more accountable and transparently predictable."

Read more about it at the Energy and Commerce website


Friday, January 21st, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
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


Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

January 18, 2011
Nuclear Townhall


China may have invented a new reprocessing pathway but it will be at least a decade before it can go into full-scale commercial operation, according to officials with the China National Nuclear Corporation. 

Last week, CNNC announced a technological breakthrough that it said could extend the nation’s uranium supplies for 3000 years. The “breakthrough” is likely just a small tweak to existing reprocessing technologies already commercialized by France and Russia. "The technological breakthrough is a crucial step toward initial practical application, which is likely to happen within a year," Li Tao, a spokeswoman for CNNC, told China Daily. The strategic move toward closing the fuel cycle contrasts sharply with the U.S., where reprocessing has been in limbo for 30 years after being derailed by non-proliferation concerns. Pakistan, Israel, South Africa and North Korea have all developed nuclear weapons in the meantime.

China has set ambitious goals for its nuclear program and is aggressively pursuing them. “According to the World Nuclear Association, China’s demands for uranium could rise to 20,000 tons annually by 2020, more than a third of the 50,572 tons mined globally last year,” reports China Daily. “The nation has more than 170,000 tons of known uranium resources. Industry analysts said two thirds of China’s uranium needs would depend on overseas supplies. Last month, CNNC produced its first barrel of uranium in Nigeria, the company’s first overseas mine. In June, CNNC signed its first long-term contract for uranium ore with Cameco Corp of Canada for more than 10,000 tons over the next decade.”

Read more about it at China Daily


Friday, January 14th, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
January 14, 2011

With the Texas-EPA standoff escalating to national portions, Fred Upton, the new chairman of the House Energy Committee indicated he might step in with Congressional action against the EPA enforcement campaign.

President Obama’s policies have been "job killing," Upton told WorldNetDaily, and said his committee will "take the lead" in the new Congress and "foster a new era of job growth, fight rampant regulations, fortify our energy security, cut spending and reduce the size of government." 

Upton said he is planning a series of hearings this winter and spring that will examine the analysis and data on which the Obama EPA is relying to write its new carbon emission regulations. Rules that do not seem to be reasonable, he said, will be repealed by use of the Congressional Review Act, which enables Congress to revoke regulations within 60 days of their publication in the Federal Register by a simple majority vote.

The battle heating up this as the District of Columbia Court of Appeals turned down Texas’s petition to put a stay on the EPA’s decision to take over permitting January 2. Texas is mounting a full-scale challenge to the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions but isn’t getting much sympathy in the courts. With 167 projects shovel-ready, including extensive oil facilities, a great deal is at stake.

But environmentalists are prepared to stand their ground. “Ten states in the East and Mid-Atlantic region have already committed to a cap-and-trade system within the power sector, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative," Jessica Green, an assistant professor of political science at Case Western Reserve University, told WND 
. "California also unilaterally established a statewide emissions cap (A.B. 32). This push by the Republicans is a procedural play to continue to block action on climate change, action which a number of states are already taking."  But then Texas has become the workhorse of the nation and is gaining population while California and New York are in the doldrums.

The issue won’t be resolved for several months.

Read more about it at the Dallas News and World Net Daily


Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
January 13, 2011
From the Editors

Talk to any of the anti-nuclear activist like the ones trying to close down Vermont Yankee and they’ll tell you the solution to replacing its 600 megawatts is “renewable energy.”  Windmills, small hydro, solar panels and biomass will do the trick. Easy, right?

Well, Vermonters and their neighbors in Western Massachusetts are getting their first taste of renewable energy and they don’t seem to like it at all. Environmentalists, lawyers, schoolchildren and little old ladies in tennis shoes are up in arms over Beaver Wood Energy LLC’s proposal to build a 29.5-megawatt biomass plant in Pownal, in Southern Vermont, on the site of the old Green Mountain Racetrack. The $250 million plant would burn wood wastes from forestry operation in the region. Beaver Wood is also trying to build an identical plant 60 miles north in Fair Haven.

As any environmental literature will tell you, such biomass operations are “carbon-neutral,” only releasing carbon that was taken out of the atmosphere in the last few years. Therefore they represent a critical step toward preventing global warming. Yet somehow members of the Bennington-Berkshire Citizens Coalition – who often seem to bear a strange resemblance to the people opposing Vermont Yankee – haven’t gotten the message. These backward-looking citizens went to the Vermont Public Service Board in December and persuaded its members to stop Beaver Wood from doing site preparation on the grounds that it has not yet been awarded a “certificate of public good.”  The decision was important because starting before January 1 would have qualified Beaver Wood eligible for oodles of stimulus money coming out of Washington.

“Critics of the Pownal plant raise questions of air quality, water consumption, traffic, ash disposal, damage to tourism and property values and the developer’s intentions and trustworthiness,” said a long, front-page story in the Hill Country Observer, a bi-monthly that circulates in the region (but is not available online). “Deeper issues are the impact on the region’s forests – the plants would burn nearly 100 tons of wood a day – and whether electricity generated by burning wood is really effective in reducing the carbon emissions that cause climate change.”  Guess someone from the Sierra Club Natural Resources Defense Council will have to come in and straighten these folks out.

As typically happens, residents in Fair Haven, who will be living right next door to their plant, are enthusiastic about the potential for jobs and tax revenues. But the Pownal proposal has intersected the Bennington-Brattleboro-Williamstown axis where large populations of college-educated citizens find the whole business of producing energy an annoyance at best.

In any case, the good people of the Green Mountain State will have to make up their minds soon. With Vermont Yankee scheduled to shut down in 2014, they will need 20 such wood-burning facilities around the state to make up for the lost electricity.

Read more about it at i Berkshires


Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
January 12, 2011

You didn’t used to hear the nuclear industry held up as a model for safety practices but it’s becoming more common all the time.
Writing in the Tampa Tribune yesterday, former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham told readers that the industry’s safety regime at the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) should serve as a model for efforts to improve safety in offshore oil drilling. Graham now serves as co-chairman of President Obama’s Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
“Our commission is urging the offshore oil and gas industry to follow in the path of other high-risk industries such as nuclear power and chemical, which have established industry organizations to assure the highest standards of safety and complement effective governmental regulation,” Graham told readers. “Each of these organizations was established in the wake of a disaster ­ Three Mile Island and Bhopal. It is an open question as to whether the offshore industry leaders will see Deepwater Horizon as a similar mandate and opportunity to act.”
Graham, a Democrat, did not make a case for expanding nuclear power but did argue that we should replace oil in some unspecified way:  "Unless we develop and sustain a national energy policy which will fundamentally change our petroleum addiction, the only choice our generation will have is whether to leave to our children or to our grandchildren an America totally dependent on foreign oil producers for its national security, economy and way of life,” he concluded. It’s not clear exactly how this can be accomplished, but unless we are to revert to burning even more coal, nuclear is obviously going to be part of the answer.

Read more at the Tampa Bay Tribune




Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
January 5, 2011

In a feature story right from the anti-nuclear playbook (“Flirting with Disaster…Every few years the defenses of the nation’s nuclear plants are tested. What’s scary is how often they fail”), Newsweek magazine reports that “eight times out of roughly 100 attempts over the past five years, … mock terror teams have successfully broken through … defenses” of U.S. nuclear plants.

Right on script, the article quotes a Union of Concerned Scientist spokesman accusing the industry of “hiding behind the 9/11 tragedy to withhold information—like which plants have failed tests and repairs that have been made—that should be available.”

Newsweek surmises that “worries are particularly acute because the nuclear-energy industry is experiencing a new era of growth” – citing positive support from President Obama for loan guarantees and Energy Secretary Chu’s recent public statement that nuclear energy was “clean energy.”
On a positive note, the feature concludes that “advanced technology has virtually eliminated the risk of accidental meltdowns, like the one at Chernobyl in 1986, adding repetitive safeguards that allow the plant to shut itself down if operators can’t.”

But Newsweek warns:  “The bigger problem is the highly radioactive waste that is left over once most of the energy-producing juice has been sucked out of it” – stuff that “will remain dangerously radioactive for about 10 millennia, until the year 12011.”

The features rebuts a pithy quote from American Nuclear Society President Andy Kadak that modern nuclear plants are like prisons opining that “prison breaks still happen from time to time”  and the “security measures that are in place result in very little transparency.”  Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko offers Newsweek a bureaucratic defense saying “we think in the end overall security is best achieved by keeping most of [our security information] protected.”  This prompts another rebuff from Newsweek, which observes that “yet as the Gulf Coast oil spill showed, an industry out of public view can get sloppy.”

Newsweek offers a new rationale not yet floated by the Obama Administration for the termination of the Yucca Mountain project, which it describes positively as “dry, desolate, not prone to natural disasters – the perfect location for a repository” saying the project was canceled “in pursuit of something less risky than concentrating millions of pounds of waste in one place.”

Not to worry, we’re told the Energy Department has a Blue Ribbon Commission “researching other ideas, such as burying it in the oceans, shooting it into space, or finding a new repository somewhere else in the world.” The Newsweek feature concludes with this oddity:  “That site’s defenses, however, would need to be foolproof,” an observation presumably not applicable to an outer-space-based repository.

Read more at Newsweek



Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Nuclear Townhall
December 28, 2010

Throughout the Nuclear Revival, the constant chorus from critics has been, "It's too expensive.  Where will the money come from?  Wall Street will never invest."

The answer may well be, "The money will come from other countries, whose sovereign wealth funds are investing in nuclear all over the world."  After all, if Korea and Japan can build reactors in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, why can't they build them in the United States? 

So it isn't surprising to find this development emerging in the construction of uranium milling in the U.S.  Energy Fuels, Ltd., whose efforts to build a uranium mill in Colorado were featured on yesterday's Nuclear Townhall, says that it will need Asian investment in order to construct the project. 

The federal governments' and utilities' failure to encourage nuclear energy "just about requires us to look overseas (for funding)"' Gary Steele, Energy Fuels' vice president for investor relations, told The Denver Post. "You have to go where the market is. Just pick an Asian country."Energy Fuels has hired a Hong Kong agent to solicit bankers in China and elsewhere.

"The product we provide is essentially totally fungible and can be used at any nuclear facility in the world," said chief executive Steve Antony. "We'd like to see it used here in the United States."  

The integration of America's Nuclear Revival into the Renaissance that is taking place in the rest of the world is sure to bring new cries of opposition from nuclear opponents.  "Why can't we do it ourselves?  We're sacrificing our independence!  What about our national sovereignty?" 

According to an industry source:  "If they want an answer, they need only look at the bureaucratic and regulatory morass that it is making it exceeding difficult for anyone to build anything new in the U.S particularly in an economic downturn and in the face of low natural gas prices."

Read more at UPI


Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Nuclear Townhall
Nuclear Townhall
December 24, 2010

The first shot in the War between the Red and Blue States has been fired. Yesterday the Environmental Protection Administration announced it will seize permitting power for new projects from Texas authorities in order to enforce its new standards regulating carbon dioxide emissions and prevent global warming.
Texas, which has a booming economy and just gained four new seats in the House of Representatives with the new U.S. Census, is not in a mood to comply. "The EPA’s misguided plan paints a huge target on the backs of Texas agriculture and energy producers by implementing unnecessary, burdensome mandates on our state’s energy sector, threatening hundreds of thousands of Texas jobs and imposing increased living costs on Texas families," Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for Governor Rick Perry, told the Dallas Morning News.

The North Korea-South Korea standoff may seem tame in a couple of weeks when compared to the face-off taking shape between Washington and Texas over regulation of carbon dioxide. With nearly 170 construction projects shovel-ready for the New Year, the Lone Star State is now being told to hold the phone – nothing can proceed because of the Environmental Protection Administration’s new campaign to limit carbon emissions.

“This is an arrogant act by an overreaching E.P.A. that is trying to implement new, unnecessary controls on American industry,” Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality tells The New York Times. But the EPA is equally adamant. “The unwillingness of Texas state officials to implement this portion of the federal program leaves E.P.A. no choice but to resume its role as the permitting authority,” said Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A. assistant administrator for air issues.

Here’s the sequence of events that have led to the confrontation. In the absence of any climate bill from Congress, the Obama Administration proceeding with its Plan B effectively turning carbon regulations over to the EPA. The usual procedure is for the EPA to ask the states to draw up their own “implementation plans.”  The Administration set January 2 as the deadline but Texas claims that it is supposed to have a year to comply.

Sensing insubordination, the EPA has said it will step in and take over the permitting process after the first of the year. Several other states have challenged the EPA’s authority and the basis of climate science in court but none are standing up to the EPA in the manner of Texas. The spectacle of EPA troops marching into Texas could become the Fort Sumter of the pending battle between the blue and red states. Texas has by far the nation’s strongest economy. The state is running billion-dollar surpluses and has $7.6 billion in a rainy-day fund.

The state had the largest gain in population in the recently released U.S. Census figures and will add two new members to the House of Representatives this decade.

The contrast between Texas prosperity and the doldrums in the rest of the country is likely to throw heavy-handed federal regulation into stark contrast.   The showdown moves to its second act on January 2nd.

Read more at the Dallas Morning News


Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

John E. Burget is a veteran finance manager whose experience goes all the way back to Seabrook. Now president of Burget Capital Strategies in Houston, he has some good ideas on how to go about financing nuclear projects.
In a two-part series on Nuclear Energy Insider, Burget says that the two methods now favored most – government loan guarantees or Construction While in Progress (CWIP) – both have their limitations and hazards. Government loan guarantees can only cover a few projects. At the same time, “If US state law and Public Utility Commission regulations permit new project builders to pass capital charges on to ratepayers years before project completion [CWIP], it nearly always creates strong opposition.”
Burget recalls his experience as vice president of a highly regarded Wall Street firm involved in the funding of Seabrook. The New Hampshire project was delayed by environmental opposition until the Public Service Company of New Hampshire announced it could no longer proceed without charging construction costs to ratepayers in advance. Popular governor Meldrim Thomson agreed to do it but he was defeated by Hugh Gallen, a relatively unknown businessman who promised to oppose CWIP.

Burget proposed an independent New Hampshire Energy Finance Authority that would have the power to issue tax-exempt bonds to cover finance costs for any private power project. After two years of debate, the proposal almost made it through the state legislature – only to be sunk by Three Mile Island.
“To the best of my knowledge this particular legislation has not yet been adopted in any other state,” writes Burget. “However many US public power systems, and other specialized state agencies such as toll road, airport and port authorities that are not tax-supported, have long used revenue bonds for 100% debt financing of large capital projects without Federal or state guarantees.”
It’s an interesting proposal worth considering. Part II of Burget’s article, which will review the current regulatory environment, will appear today.

Read more at Nuclear Insider