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Posts Tagged ‘Steven Chu’


Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

November 30, 2010
Nuclear Townhall
From the Editors
U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said America has reached a “Sputnik moment” with regard to advanced technology in an address before the National Press Club yesterday.

"When it comes to innovation, Americans don’t take a back seat to anyone – and we certainly won’t start now," Chu told his audience. "From wind power to nuclear reactors to high speed rail, China and other countries are moving aggressively to capture the lead. Given that challenge, and given the enormous economic opportunities in clean energy, it’s time for America to do what we do best: innovate.  As President Obama has said, we should not, cannot, and will not play for second place."

In particular, Chu noted that China is now in the process of constructing 30 of the 50 reactors being built worldwide. It is also moving rapidly toward fourth generation technology, where integral fast breeders will extract nearly 97 percent of the fuel potential from uranium, vastly extending uranium supplies and all but eliminating the problem of “nuclear waste.”

Of particular interest was Chu’s mapping of the process of “import substitution” whereby China has first bought technologies from other countries and turned them around so that within the space of a decade they have become exporters. Chu used the example of supercritical coal combustion, which increases the conversion efficiency of coal plants from 40 to 49 percent. China originally bought plants from Generl Electric in 1994 but within ten years was able to reverse-engineer the technology and begin exporting its own design to Turkey. This is significant because China first started importing nuclear reactors in 2005 and is now poised to start exporting its own design of reactors by 2013 – accelerating the schedule. When they do, it will change the international playing field dramatically. France is already conerned that its ambitious nuclear export program would be wiped out by Chinese competition. The U.S.?  Well, the only question for us is whether we’ll be importing from France, China, Korea or Japan.

It would be wrong to say that Chu’s speech revolved around nuclear. It did not. Nuclear played only a small role. There was much talk about more efficient solar panels and improved biofuels and high speed rail. China’s introduction of the world’s fastest supercomputer last month has also had an impact.

But perhaps the most amazing statistic Chu put forth is this:  The two largest suppliers of PhD engineering students at American universities are Tsinghau University and Peking University, both in China. If current trends continue, America may have to be content to play Athens to China’s Rome – a source of high culture and educational excellence but a fading rival in the economic and military realm. It’s a noble historical role, but probably not what most Americans would desire.

See Chu’s PowerPoint presentation for the National Press Club


Upton Blitz Continues: Queries Chu on Stimulus Results — ‘Will You Stop Using the Term Shovel-Ready’?

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010




Friday, September 24th, 2010

GE CEO Jeff Immelt warned yesterday that the United States is falling far behind in the development of nuclear technology, blaming government inaction for the trend.
"The rest of the world is moving 10 times faster than we are," Immelt told Gridwise Global Forum conference in Washington. "This is a great country. But, you know, we have to have an energy policy. This is just stupid what we have today."
Immelt was particularly caustic about the slow pace of the Nuclear Renaissance in the U.S.  "The industry’s most important output these days is press releases," he said.
"There should be a nuclear renaissance in this country," he added. "The nuclear industry is here because government supported it in the United States. This notion that government is not a catalyst in this industry has no basis in fact."
Immelt particularly praised China’s state-dominated energy effort and contrasted it to the regulatory regime in this country, which he called "a relic of 1860."  He said that conflicting state and federal regulatory authority had stymied upgrades of our "antiquated grid."  He said business and government had not yet decided whether the so-called "smart grid" was going to be "a business or just a hobby."
Immelt’s comments did not win complete approval from his audience.  Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said the Chinese model of a state-run energy industry would hurt innovation. Laura Ipsen, general manager for smart grid at Cisco Systems, agreed. "There are some potential downsides to having one national utility," she told The Wall Street Journal, saying it could produce over-commitment to what turns out to be poor technology.
GE has had modest gains in the global Nuclear Renaissance, with contracts to build only two of the 27 new reactors proposed in the U.S. and limited business abroad.  Westinghouse and AREVA now have front-runner status in the prospective U.S. market — and Korea and Russia are moving swiftly abroad.  "Essentially, we’re competing against other countries," Immelt has complained previously.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal


Friday, September 10th, 2010

Last week the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission directed the NRC staff to produce a plan on how to integrate the use of risk insights into the review of small modular reactor applications. The commissioners set a deadline of six months.
The move is seen by some as a potentially promising harbinger that the NRC is beginning to feel a ramped-up sense of urgency with regard to commercial nuclear technology license reviews. NRC Monday-morning quarterbacks maintain that the commission has taken a laissez-faire approach to new technology licensing — operating under the assumptions that NRC licensing is the world’s “gold standard” and America is still at the forefront of the world in nuclear technology and safety.
Yet this paradigm may be rapidly evolving. Last March Secretary of Energy Steven Chu suggested American companies might be able to find a technology niche in the world market by championing small modular reactors (SMRs). In the short time since, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia have all announced plans to pursue their own SMR designs and several are already in active development. Meanwhile, initial commercial deployment in the United States is not currently envisioned until 2020 at the earliest – in large part because of anticipated licensing schedules and ques.
So the question arises – should the NRC embrace more time limits and/or date certain targets in its licensing application procedures?  Britain, in beginning its nuclear revival, has given its Health and Safety Executive – the equivalent of the NRC – schedule parameters to complete license reviews on reactor proposals.
Could or should the U.S. do the same?  Will schedule definitization compromise safety or the “gold standard.”  Or should the U.S. stay the course with the current open-ended process, where reviews are ball-parked at five years and little is likely to get deployed on the U.S. Renaissance front in this coming decade?


Friday, July 16th, 2010

By William Tucker
Last April, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu sounded an optimistic note in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal.  While the U.S. is challenged in the manufacturing of full-sized reactors market, he said, an opportunity was opening in small modular reactors in the range of 75 to 150 megawatts.

“Small modular reactors  . . have compact designs and could be made in factories and transported to sites by truck or rail. SMRs would be ready to "plug and play" upon arrival. . . . Their small size makes them suitable to small electric grids so they are a good option for locations that cannot accommodate large-scale plants . . .. If we can develop this technology in the U.S. and build these reactors with American workers, we will have a key competitive edge.”

The article caused a flurry of excitement in the nuclear industry where a bevy of companies — ranging from established competitors Babcock & Wilcox (B&W), GE, Westinghouse and General Atomics to emerging companies such as NuScale and Hyperion — were advancing new SMR initiatives.  The government was becoming a proponent for serious nuclear energy innovation.  Legislation was introduced in the Congress to spur development and $40 million proposed in the President’s FY2011 budget request. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission followed suit projecting approval of a design as early as 2017.  TVA announced its interest in SMR deployment. Experienced manufacturers such as Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman were at the ready. And this week, Bechtel jumped on board the SMR express.  

Notwithstanding the U.S. awakening in this arena, the rest of the world is moving ahead rapidly.  Toshiba has a 10-MW “4S” (Super Safe, Small and Simple) reactor it offering to give to Galena, an isolated Alaskan village, as a demonstration.  Russia has a modular reactor it is floating into Siberian villages on barges.  Two weeks ago the Koreans announced they are entering the field as well.

Ironically we’ve been building “small modular reactors” for 50 years.  They go on U.S. Navy nuclear submarines. The reason B&W has a technical domain in SMRs — and related U.S. manufacturers have expertise in this market — is because it already has a business supplying them to the Navy.

But at the current pace of NRC design and licensing approval, it may be the better part of a decade before anybody can get something out the door in the U.S.  By that time, agile Japanese and Korean competitors may have moved out front in the global market.

So is it realistic to think America can compete in this field international?  And if not, what can we do about it?


Thursday, July 15th, 2010

From the Editors:
The drive toward smaller modular reactors took a big step forward this week with word that Bechtel, the San Francisco engineering giant, is signing on with Babcock & Wilcox in a joint venture to develop them. The move would put huge momentum behind the effort to develop small designs and get them through approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

B&W announced its “mPower” reactor, a 125-MW design, last summer.  To date, however, the NRC has told vendors of small reactors, such as Hyperion, of California, that it in effect does not have time to look at their designs.

Bechtel, the most experienced nuclear construction and engineering firm in the world, has done work on 64 of the nation’s 104 operating reactors.  “They don’t do science projects,” Christofer Mowry, president of B&W, told the Wall Street Journal in indicating Bechtel intended to devote serious effort to the job.

“We’ve got 5,000 engineers with the word `nuclear’ on their resumes," Jack Futcher, president of B&W told Journal reporter Rebecca Smith.  “We think we’re the premier contractor.”  

The mPower reactor and others like could change the entire game of nuclear construction.  Instead of huge on-site efforts that take a minimum of five years, the reactors could be built in factories and shipped by rail to the site, where multiple units could be assembled like Lego blocks. The strategy introduces standardization, cuts construction costs and allows utilities to add additional capacity in bite-sized portions instead of betting $5-10 billion on a project that may not produce electricity for close to a decade. 

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu endorsed the SMR concept in a The Wall Street Journal editorial last April and suggested that American companies – more or less out-competed in the construction of giant reactors – might find a niche in the international market.  Even so, the Russians, Japanese and Koreans have already entered the field with small reactor designs.  With the glacial pace of NRC approval comparatively and the reluctance of American companies to become involved in the nuclear industry, it appeared that Secretary Chu might be overly optimistic.  Today the landscape looks a lot more promising.


Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

By Nuclear Townhall Staff
The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future runs into potentially choppy waters today as it kicks off a two-day meeting in uncharted territory in Kennewick — the largest city in the state of Washington’s Tri-Cities area near the Hanford nuclear site.  The meeting is the third meeting of the full Commission, which held its two previous meetings in the relatively comfortable confines of Washington, D.C. officialdom.

Following a morning tour of the Hanford site, which includes a visit to the Columbia Generating Station’s independent spent fuel storage installation, the panel will convene a three and a half hour afternoon session with key Hanford site, state and local government officials.  Energy Northwest Chief Executive Vic Parrish will also offer 20 minutes of testimony.

The volume is expected to escalate significantly on Thursday, which features a morning session headlined by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and representatives from the offices of U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell as well as Congressman Doc Hastings.  Senior Washington Assistant Attorney General Mary Sue Wilson will testify on behalf of  Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is leading a multi-party legal effort to overturn the Obama Administration’s termination of the Yucca Mountain program.

In a June 30th statement, Gregoire said:  “It would be a mistake, at this late stage, to abandon Yucca Mountain as the national nuclear repository. Here in our state, the federal government’s construction of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant, which began in 2001, is nearly halfway done.”

Senator Murray and Congressman Hastings released a July 6th letter signed by 91 Members of Congress to Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu urging the Administration to immediately halt all actions to dismantle operations at Yucca Mountain at least until legal action regarding the withdrawal of the application is resolved.  

“We are deeply disappointed that the Department has overstepped its bounds and has ignored congressional intent without peer review or proper scientific documentation in its actions regarding Yucca Mountain,” the lawmakers noted in the letter.

Click here to read a copy of the Murray-Hasting letter signed by 91 Members of Congress.

The final BRC agenda for the web-cast two-day session can be found here.


Friday, July 2nd, 2010

By William Tucker
This week’s rapid-fire developments have once again focused the discussion back on that perennial issue – and anti-nuclear trump card – “What do you do with the waste?” Now we’re back to square one. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has rejected Secretary of Energy Steven Chu’s proposed Yucca Mountain license withdrawal and posed the question that a lot of people thought should be asked in the first place: “Where’s the scientific basis for closing the Yucca Mountain repository?”

Obviously, the withdrawal was just a political decision. But the reversal of the Obama Administration’s efforts, which include kicking the can down the road via a Blue Ribbon Commission, may only lead us back into a labyrinth. Some entity is certain to challenge any outcome in court (cases are already filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals). That will lead to a long judiciary proceeding that will take years to resolve, maybe even leading up to the Supreme Court. Whatever the outcome, it is not likely to be based on the science.

Meanwhile, to the extent that you link new or current nuclear plants with resolution of the back-end, the future of nuclear hangs twisting in the wind. So maybe it’s time to pose another question, “Why are we having this discussion in the first place?”

How did we ever get to the point of digging a $90 billion hole in the ground to bury valuable material when other countries are embracing recycling technologies that greatly reduce the footprint of a repository? Why we got into the argument in historical terms is well known.

In 1972, a New Yorker writer named John McPhee living in Princeton met an eccentric former Defense Department bomb designer named Ted Taylor who also lived in Princeton. After designing the Davy Crockett and other battlefield weapons, Taylor had become somewhat conscious-stricken and decided if he could design a bomb in his garage anyone else could as well. Taylor convinced McPhee that stealing plutonium out of an American reprocessing plant would be easy and that by the 1990s “hundreds of explosions” of homemade nuclear weapons and terrorist bombs would going off in American cities. McPhee packaged all these fears in The Curve of Binding Energy (which still sells well on Amazon) and the rest is history. America’s abandonment of recycling under President Carter’s Administration is the reason for Yucca Mountain.

So is the project worth pursuing? Or, contrarily, is it worth following Secretary Chu through the “not-invented-here” exercise looking for some way to recycle that doesn’t simply duplicate the French?  Or, once again, does at-reactor dry cask storage offer such a clear and obvious bridge — as also suggested by Secretary Chu –that we don’t have to think about this for another 50 years? What’s your opinion?


Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

By Steve Hedges
Yesterday's decision by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board was a stunning defeat for the Obama Administration’s unilateral effort to terminate the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage program.

The ruling was not just a stark reversal of the attempt by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and President Obama to shut Yucca down. It also called into question their methods and the power of the executive branch, noting that their actions have been driven by political will and are contrary to the stated wishes of Congress.

Specifically, the board ruled that the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, “does not give the Secretary the discretion to substitute his policy for the one established by Congress.”

Instead, the board advised that the project, “merits decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the construction permit."

That sharp language — and the ruling in its entirety — marks a significant victory for both the rule of law and science. It also represents a turning point in the efforts to keep the Yucca program alive.

While the licensing board’s ruling doesn’t ensure that the Yucca Mountain project will be revived – the administration and Reid have already said that they will continue to oppose it before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission – it raises a raft of intriguing political and legal questions.

First, it is now up to the NRC – not the administration, Reid or Chu – to decide if Yucca will proceed. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, a former Reid aide, has already said that nuclear waste can be safely stored where it is right now, on site at nuclear power stations. But many states don't want that, and Congress, in passing the NWPA, has already promised states a national waste repository.
For the five NRC commissioners, there are some other snags.

The licensing board, for instance, noted that the Department of Energy has conceded that "the Secretary's judgment here is not that Yucca Mountain is unsafe or that there are flaws in the application, but rather that it is not a workable option and that alternatives will better serve the public interest".

In other words, DOE is allowing that Chu's view on Yucca is subjective — or even political — and not scientific.
In addition, DOE acknowledged that it cannot withdraw the Yucca construction application if that would be contrary to the statutes passed by Congress.
Those admissions seem to give DOE little to stand on if it hopes to kill Yucca on scientific merit.  The NRC will also have to consider that more than $10 billion has been spent on Yucca so far, and that lawsuits from utilities and states that expected a national waste repository by 1998 are piling up. Indeed, the federal government has already paid more than $500 million in legal settlements, by some estimates.

The licensing board’s Yucca ruling also puts Chu in a difficult spot. Chu once expected Yucca to proceed, but has sided with the Obama administration policy to shut Yucca down as a political favor to Reid.

That politics are at the heart of the Yucca controversy is a given. Reid, in a tough re-election battle this year, has already proclaimed that, “Yucca Mountain is dead, it will never happen.” He argues that having a waste facility so close to a top tourist destination like Las Vegas – it’s 90 miles away – is a threat to tourism.

The board’s decision Tuesday, however, inflicts some political damage to Reid’s re-election bid. His opponent, Republican Sharron Angle, has more wiggle room on Yucca — and Reid is already being publicly second guessed by state officials.

In fact, the ASLB decision may reinvigorate Congressional support for Yucca Mountain at a critical time, when funding for the next fiscal year is under discussion. House appropriators have already mentioned renewed funding for the project.

In addition, Tuesday’s ruling bolsters the claims of states and utilities that have filed suit in federal court to keep Yucca alive.

Finally, the ruling brings into question the work of the administration’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, co-chaired by former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana and former National Security Adviser Gen. Brent Scowcroft. The commission is tasked with finding Yucca alternatives.
The final decision on DOE’s bid to cancel Yucca now rests with the NRC. The panel will have to soon make a decision in a manner that either preserves its scientific credibility or allows politics to leach into its deliberations.


Friday, June 18th, 2010

Three months ago, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal arguing that, while the U.S. had dropped the ball on large reactor construction, we might find a niche in building mini-reactors.
Well he’d better tell it to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission because by the time the NRC gets around to licensing an American reactor the whole international market will be gone.
South Korea this week announced it will produce a 100-MW reactor designed for industrial sites and “distributed generation” and market it abroad, particularly to underdeveloped countries. The Koreans have already proved their mettle by entering the large reactor field only ten years ago and recently beating out Areva and Westinghouse for the $20-billion contract to build four reactors in the United Arab Emirates.
At the rate the Koreans do things, they’ll have a product ready for delivery in five years. At the rate we do things, in five years the NRC will be making preliminary plans to expand its staff in order to receive license applications. When Hyperion Power, the California company, brought a 70-MW reactor to the NRC two years ago, the bureaucrats told the company to go away – it didn’t have time for such small stuff.
One of these days somebody in Washington is going to have to realize we’re living in a competitive world.