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Posts Tagged ‘Idaho Samizdat’


Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Dan Yurman has been blogging at Idaho Samizdat on the frontiers of
nuclear science for the past four years. He worked at the Idaho
National Laboratory
for 20 years before heading out as an independent
consultant in 2009.

He recently left Idaho for Ohio, where there are family ties, but is
keeping the brand and staying with us in the fight. We caught up with
him – where else? – online this week.

NTH: You’ve been blogging nuclear probably longer than most others
out there. What has changed most since you began?

YURMAN:  The biggest change is readership. There are more people, and
more different kinds of readers, and in more countries. Another big
change is growing acceptance of nuclear energy.

In the U.S. there is a paradox. California has some of the most
anti-nuclear green groups in the country, but I get more readers on
my blog from that state than any other. BTW: My good friend Rod Adams
is the longest serving nuclear blogger in the U.S. having started
back in the 1990s.

NTH:  The Nuclear Renaissance is taking place in the rest of the
world in spades while nothing much is happening in this country.
People often say it will be like World War II. We may take a long
time to get involved, but when we do we’ll roll over everybody. Do
you think that’s true or do you think things have changed?

YURMAN:  Sad to say I think the U.S. will be a lagging participant in
the global nuclear renaissance for at least another decade unless
Congress gets off the dime and passes additional loan guarantee
authority. Also, the government has to stop pricing the risk factor
for this form of insurance out of reach of the utilities.

Other nations see nuclear energy as a piece of their total energy
picture. We defer to market mechanisms and shoot ourselves
in the foot. Patrick Moore in a recent conversation said it makes no
sense to build and promote electric cars if the juice to run them
comes from coal-fired power plants.
NTH:  Has Congress’s failure to adopt some kind of carbon tax or
cap-and-trade been a setback for nuclear?  Would we have been better
off with a carbon regime?

YURMAN:  Without a tax on carbon, we are likely to see a massive
investment in natural gas plants. It’s a fossil fuel and it produces
CO2 emissions. However, electric utilities, facing the prospects of
no loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors, will build gas plants as
prudent investors. The Obama administration and Congress are, de
facto, choosing to increase greenhouse gases by not moving ahead with
an effective program of loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors.

The U.K. is planning to put a price on carbon that will shift
investment resources from coal and gas-fired power stations to
nuclear reactors. Charles Hendry, the Energy Minister, hasn’t said
what the price will be, but they are heading in that direction and soon.

John Rowe, CEO of Exelon, has said that as few as five new nuclear
will be built in the U.S. as a result of a lack of a price on

NTH:  What about other technologies. Do you think there’s any chance
for small modular reactors?  For integral fast breeders?  For the
traveling wave?

YURMAN:  SMRs that use conventional LWR technology have good
prospects of seeing commercial success by the end of this decade. The
reason is the fuel, licensing, and operational issues are understood
by the regulators and utilities. There are some things to work out,
but they are not long-term barriers to success.

Fast reactors will take more time to come to market because the NRC
is still working on knowing what safety issues have to be resolved
and how. The challenge for the industry will be to find a way to get
the safety reviews done without bankrupting investors to pay for the
NRC to move up the learning curve. Congress needs to provide
appropriated funds to cover licensing costs for all SMRs to help the
nation develop a technological leadership role in global markets. No
one is going to take us seriously in terms of nonproliferation issues
related to transfer of nuclear technologies if we’re not in the game.

The traveling wave reactor has attracted venture capital even though
a lot of the funding is coming from the Gates Foundation. VC firms
don’t have the patience to wait for the completion of science
. They may be able to cash out within three-to-five years if
Intellectual Ventures can find a way to license what it develops to a
large reactor vendor. The licensing route is the business model for
Intellectual Ventures. I expect this is the way the firm will achieve
success with the Traveling Wave reactor design. I don’t see
Intellectual Ventures, or Bill Gates, building one. I think they will
look for a deal with a large reactor vendor, or consortium, as a way
to cash out of their investment in the R&D work.

NTH: The recent MIT study said once again that uranium supplies seem
adequate and there isn’t any need to start a reprocessing effort.
Does this seem shortsighted?  Are uranium supplies the only rationale
for reprocessing?

YURMAN:  No. Uranium supplies are not the major issue as the world
has lots of it. David Jones, an executive with Areva, recently put
the issue in perspective in a conference call with nuclear bloggers. He

"The motivations of other nations, such as France, Japan and the
United Kingdom, to recycle are not purely economic but also are
informed by questions of energy security, resource conservation,
public acceptance and others that reside in the social sciences."

For instance, Japan just started burning MOX fuel in a third reactor.
Energy security is very much on their mind.

NTH:  A lot of things are actually happening under the radar in this
country. Areva has an enrichment plant going in Idaho. It has a
contract to build a MOX reactor. Is it possible that we can move
ahead without building any new reactors for awhile?

YURMAN: We are headed toward building new reactors. Southern has a
loan guarantee to build twin Westinghouse 1,100 MW AP1000s at the
Vogtle site and TVA is completing the Watts Bar plant. Don’t forget
TVA also completed Browns Ferry and brought it into revenue service
on time and on budget for the work that was needed to reopen the
reactor in May 2007.

We’re hanging fire on two new major reactor projects because there
isn’t enough loan guarantee authority to cover both of them and the
government is across the breakers on the risk premium costs since
both Constellation and NRG are merchants. DOE has to work with OMB,
or maybe go back to Congress for legislative changes, to resolve the

On the other hand, Progress and Duke are now saying they may not
build new reactors in North Carolina due to diminished demand for
electricity. Instead, both utilities are looking at taking stakes in
other projects such as Scana’s V.C. Summer Station.

NTH:  The NRC just took eight years to issue a license for a new
uranium mining operation in Wyoming. Is it possible that we can get
anything done operating at this rate? What do you think can be done
to speed things up at the NRC?

YURMAN:  Actually, Uranium One submitted the license for Moore ranch
in October 2007 so it took just three years almost to the day. The
NRC has two more uranium mines pending in Wyoming that may see the
light at the end of the licensing tunnel before the end of the year.
The supplemental environmental impact statements for Moore Ranch and
the other two cleared last spring.

NTH:  One more question. If you hadn’t become involved in nuclear,
what would be your second career choice?

YURMAN:   I want Guy Fieri’s job. He gets to go to the best places to
eat (on the Food Network) and has such a good time doing it. Plus,
there’s that car . . .

NTH:  Thanks very much for your time.


Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Rod Adams is perhaps the original nuclear blogger. Along with Dan Yurman of the Idaho Samizdat, he has pioneered the field. A trained nuclear submarine officer and founder of Adams Atomic Engines, Inc, he began “Atomic Insights” as a web-based nuclear energy information effort in November 1995. In March 2005 he modernized it into an interactive blog and has been fielding responses ever since. With nothing to offer but his knowledge and opinions, Adams has gained a loyal following and become an influential voice in the nuclear industry. Rod will be retiring from active duty in September and seeking new employment.  He isn’t quite sure whether his new job will allow him to continue "Atomic Insights."  We’re hoping it does. Nuclear Townhall caught up with him this week to get his view of the current landscape.
NTH: How would you define the role of bloggers in the nuclear world right now?  Have you been able to establish yourself as an independent voice?
ADAMS: The pro-nuclear bloggers that I have met or talked to are passionate about sharing facts and opinions about nuclear energy. They are playing an important role by putting a face on the hundreds of thousands of highly trained and thoughtful people who have been quietly working in the field for the past five decades. The face the bloggers are showing is not that of Homer Simpson.
Most readers recognize that I am an independent thinker who sometimes takes positions in opposition to the established industry line. For example, I have been trying to encourage the industry to give up on Yucca Mountain for about ten years. I call Yucca "the right answer to the wrong question". It’s only the right solution if you are afraid of used nuclear fuel, never want to reuse it, and believe that it should be put in the most remote corner you can find in the United States of America. That would be Yucca Mountain.
NTH: How has the industry responded to bloggers?  Do you think they give you enough support?  Are you looking for support?  Do bloggers have a role in selling nuclear to the public or would you rather keep your distance?
ADAMS: The response has been mixed. I have been welcomed into dozens of industry gatherings, treated with respect as I ask questions, and had the opportunity to interview a number of recognized industry leaders. On the other hand, some industry leaders do not think that bloggers are worth their time or have any opinions or ideas worth reading.
I have been satisfied with the level of support received so far, but time will tell if the industry starts believing that blogs are a place where they can reach an important audience. I have not seen too many banner ads popping up on pro-nuclear blogs from major nuclear vendors. When that happens, we will know that the bloggers are here to stay because they might actually be making a bit of money to reward them for their effort.
I cannot speak for all of the bloggers, but most of us seem to agree that we want to sell the public on the idea of using nuclear technology to enhance human existence. That is completely different from selling the nuclear industry to the public or being an advocate of any particular project.
NTH: As far as you can tell, where do your readers come from?  Do you have a following within the industry?  Do you attract random readers?  Do bureaucrats within the NRC follow your posts?
ADAMS: “Atomic Insights" readers come from all over the globe. Some months the statistics show representation from more than 100 different countries. On average, about two-thirds of the visitors come from North America but 40 countries had more than 10 individual visitors last month. About one third of the visitors are new but 40 percent came back at least 25 times. Both the NRC and the DOE rank high and there are usually visitors from every major nuclear vendor, quite a few utilities, more than a dozen universities and both NEI and ANS.
NTH: When and how do you encounter anti-nuclear opponents?  Do you go looking for arguments?  Do they come looking for you?  On what matters do you usually end up disputing with them?
ADAMS: In five years of blogging with comments enabled for immediate posting, I think I have attracted fewer than two-dozen anti-nuclear comments. I have several frequent visitors who reliably disagree with nearly every position I take, but even those people still claim to be in favor of nuclear energy. I am pretty active in other people’s forums and on news sites that allow comments. I enjoy a good debate and have engaged in several running discussions over the years.
The topics where disputes arise include costs, life cycle emissions of carbon, the unsuitability of diffuse and weather-dependent renewable energy sources in a modern economy, and, perhaps most frequently, my theory that a major source of anti-nuclear opposition comes from people who are involved in discovery, extraction, financing, marketing and distributing hydrocarbons.
NTH: Without going into any personalities, how informed do you find anti-nuclear opponents to be?  Are they reasonable?  Do they make any attempt to understand the technology?  Or are they just plugging the fear element?
ADAMS: There are some anti-nuclear activists on the web who are apparently working from a list of talking points. They believe they have knowledge but can only recite rather than explain. Many have little technical background that would enable them to understand the technology in any real sense. Most of the more persistent anti-nuclear folks that I encounter these days are not all that fearful, however. They express concerns about cost, time requirements and generally believe there should be no government encouragement for nuclear energy, even if it does not cost any money. They classify programs like Price-Anderson, loan guarantees, and even payments to the ITR fusion program as unfair subsidies for nuclear power, although it is not unusual for the same people to support a myriad of renewable energy subsidies, mandates and set-asides.
NTH: Judging from your interactions with the general public, does the attitude toward nuclear seem to be getting better or worse?  What’s the source of this improvement, if there is any?
ADAMS: I have seen a lot of improvement over the years. When I first started working to share nuclear knowledge, the major topic at industry gatherings was D&D – decommissioning and decontamination. The discussion these days is not if but when the first handful of new plants in the United States will begin to operate. However, we are not just working on a few new plants. There are dozens of additional projects in open or quiet development.
There are many reasons for this improvement, including the work of a lot of independent thinkers who knew the truth about nuclear energy was far different from the public perception. It has also helped that more and more people are recognizing the limitations of competitive energy sources. Another big plus is that industry leaders have worked on operational excellence over the past 20 years and put up numbers that are making investors pay attention.
NTH:  Every journalist’s dream, of course, is to break that one story or offer that one opinion that changes history. Is there anyplace along the line where you feel you’ve really made a difference in the way things turned out over a particular event?
ADAMS: The closest I have come to that was my encounter with John Horgan, a writer who often contributes to Scientific American. He had been very critical of nuclear energy during a Bloggingheads web video discussion with George Johnson and that video captured some attention when The New York Times picked it up. After an email correspondence with Horgan, he invited me to join him for a Bloggingheads debate. By the end of our discussion, Horgan appeared to have changed his mind. He wrote about our debate later on his Scientific American blog. He is scheduled to tour Indian Point with Gwyneth Cravens soon and I believe that came as a result of our discussion.
NTH: Thanks very much for all the great work you’ve done, Rod. We hope that new job allows you to continue blogging at "Atomic Insights."  


Friday, July 2nd, 2010

People who think the Nuclear Renaissance is being driven by some shadowy “nuclear industry” – or that is dependent on government handouts and can’t attract private equity – should look at what’s happening in Utah.
Blue Castle Holdings, which operates out of an office building on South Main Street, Salt Lake City, has entered an agreement with LeadDog Capital, L.P., to raise $30 million toward building two or three reactors generating 3000 megawatts along the Green River. Blue Castle, a newcomer, is solely in the business of building nuclear reactors.
Utah officials are enthusiastic. Emery County has already made zoning changes on the property and Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill last March that included nuclear in a tax credit for all forms of “alternative energy.”  Overall, the state offers a very friendly environment. Remember, EnergySolutions, a Utah company that handles nuclear waste, has its name on the basketball arena of the Utah Jazz.
Blue Castle plans to file a license application with the Nuclear Regulatory in 2011. Going through NRC procedures may eat up the entire $30 million  (remember, it’s the applicant that pays the costs). But Blue Castle CEO Aaron Tilton says his company is confident that once the license is secured there will be investors waiting.

Read more at Idaho Samizdat