Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street Journal’

WSJ: ‘EPA HAS TURNED A REGULATORY FIREHOSE ON U.S. BUSINESS AND THE POWER INDUSTRY IN PARTICULAR’

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

November 23, 2010
Nuclear Townhall
From the Editors

In a great bit of investigative reporting, The Wall Street Journal editorial page has mapped out just how pervasive the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans for regulating the economy have become and how they’re already having an impact. “The scale of EPA’s current assault is unprecedented, yet it has received almost no public scrutiny,” write the editors.

In fact Nuclear Townhall has been writing about it for a month, but the Journal does a great job of fleshing out the situation. To date the attention has focused on the new rule that carbon dioxide emissions are a “pollutant” and subject to EPA regulation. Because EPA still works on a 1970s model, this means no new plants can be built in “non-attainment areas” and existing plants will have to impose “best available technology” when they upgrade. The effect is usually to bring everything to a standstill.

What the Journal discovers is that much of this impact is already occurring under regulation of the six other pollutants – sulfur, mercury, carbon monoxide, ozone, particulate matter and lead. “No Administration has ever updated more than two of these rules in a single term, and each individual rule has tended to run through a 15-year cycle on average since the Clean Air Act passed in 1970,” says the editorial.

“Under administrator Lisa Jackson, the EPA is stiffening the regulations for all six at the same time.” The EPA’s new sulfur rules, issued last December, have been written in a way that increases the EPA’s arbitrary authority and has already put a de facto moratorium on new plant construction that will last for the next 18 months. Four states are suing.

The Journal predicts that new carbon regulations will close down one-third of the electric industry’s aging coal capacity by 2016, resulting in a huge stampede into natural gas. Unfortunately, regulatory roadblocks will make it impossible for nuclear to pick up much of the slack.

Where all this is going to lead is anybody’s guess. But it’s sure to be one of the first big confrontations when the 102nd Congress convenes in January.

Read more at the  Wall Street Journal

US VIETNAM TETE A TETE

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Probably nothing is more stark in the world today than the way the United States is falling behind the rest of the world in industrial technology – particularly nuclear power.
 
Yet when the Obama Administration tries to get us back in the game, its efforts draws immediate fire from the non-proliferation crowd in Washington.
 
That’s the gist of today’s front-page story in The Wall Street Journal. The Obama Administration is trying to strike a deal with Vietnam that would allow it to enrich its own uranium. That would allow U.S, companies to get a small piece of the deal that Hanoi already struck with Russia last February to build a 2,000-MW reactor. Yet according to the Journal, “critics on Capitol Hill say would undercut the more stringent demands the U.S. has been making of its partners in the Middle East.”
 
If nothing else, this only shows how out of touch things are on Capitol Hill. The deal the non-proliferationists point to is the Obama Administration’s demand that the United Arab Emirates foreswear enrichment in its plans to build four new reactors in the Persian Gulf. But shortly after, both Korea and France stepped in and struck deals that did not ban enrichment. Korea got the $20 billion contract to build the reactors. Non-proliferationists also point to the demands the U.S. is currently making that Jordan not enrich its own uranium – without mentioning that this policy has strained relations between the two countries worse than any time in the past twenty years.
 
People who think we can dictate the use of nuclear technology around the world are having a hard time accepting that the U.S. has long forfeited its lead in the technology. After all, how many reactors have we built in the last 20 years?  How many have France, Russia, Japan, Korea and China?

DEBATE OF THE WEEK: WILL THE RENAISSANCE BE ECLIPSED WITHOUT A CARBON TAX?

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

The possibilities for any kind of carbon economics within the context of a Senate energy bill now seem over.  The terminology of “cap-and-trade” has become so poisonous that Harry Reid won’t even pronounce the words anymore. As the Senate moves on to a more limited energy bill, however, some nuclear supporters are left wondering if the Nuclear Renaissance may end up in limbo until the subject is revisited – if ever. With the balance of Congressional power expected to change in the mid-term election, it seems unlikely that the issue will resurface anytime soon.

The scaled-back Kerry-Lieberman compromise — which limited cap-and-trade to utilities — rewarded nuclear’s carbon-free electricity and made it more competitive with coal and natural gas. In a letter to Energy Daily this week, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers noted that as the EPA begins to crack down on coal plants -­ 70 percent of which are more than 30 years old – one-third of this aging fleet will probably be replaced with natural gas or nuclear.  “Without a carbon price,” said Rogers, “it is very difficult to justify nuclear power.” 

And as a Wall Street Journal editorial warned this week, while cap-and-trade fades, chances grow that Republicans and Democrats could settle their differences instead by adopting a national renewable energy standard that might exclude nuclear.  The potential result might be billions invested in gigantic solar and wind farms that will require constant backup from natural gas – with nuclear left out in the cold.

Or, if the first wave of early movers proceed on time and on-schedule — with the first unit at Vogtle looming on the horizon in 2016 — and public and Wall Street confidence blooms while new initiatives like small reactors blossom, does the Renaissance need a leg-up from a carbon tax?

Is Jim Rogers wrong? Can the Renaissance proceed without a carbon regime?  Or is a utilities-only Kerry-Lieberman style plan pivotal to the Renaissance?

DEBATE OF THE WEEK: CAN THE U.S. COMPETE GLOBALLY ON THE SMR PLAYING FIELD?

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?

BECHTEL, B&W & SMRS: PERFECT TOGETHER

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.

WHERE IS BIG OIL ON THE BIG SPILL? MIA

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

By Steve Hedges

WASHINGTON — Amid the chatter about the BP oil spill, lost jobs, billion-dollar escrow funds and political fallout, The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Smith notes in a story today something that people in the nuclear industry have been talking about ever since the first hint of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and underwater gushers:
Why doesn’t the oil business have something like the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations – the industry oversight arm that was established after the 1979 Three Mile Island incident?

It’s a good question, especially given the long-lasting effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. Government regulations on tankers and oil operations were revamped after Valdez. But the oil industry itself, as the fallout from the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico has shown, hasn’t done enough to police its own work, especially when it comes to the deep-water technology involved in offshore drilling.
The lackadaisical testing of the blow-out preventers that are designed to stop deep sea gushers is just the start. Until now, most environmentalists might have guessed that the petroleum industry had better internal oversight than America’s nuclear power grid.
They’d be wrong.

As the Journal story notes:

“William K. Reilly, a Republican and former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under the first President Bush, said an organization modeled on ‘Inpo’—the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations—wouldn't be a substitute for stronger federal oversight but could "create the safety culture that's needed" in offshore drilling.
“Atlanta-based Inpo was created in 1979 following the nuclear accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania. Today its inspection teams conduct regular evaluations of nuclear plants and assess training programs. It is credited with improving plant safety and performance. A nonprofit corporation, it is funded by $100 million a year in industry fees.”

The key elements of INPO are that it is industry driven, funded and managed. That, and the fact that it works, as the Journal story notes. People have lost their jobs after poor INPO inspections.

The nuclear industry realized quickly after Three Mile Island that the high stakes of an accident or even a minor incident: the risk of unnecessary and even permanent shutdown, increased and highly-politicized government scrutiny, higher operating and recovery costs and long-lasting damage to community trust.
BP is living that nightmare scenario right now. But the oil industry appears content to have let BP flop around the oily deck of its own disaster. While environmentalist and oil industry opponents are talking about stronger offshore drilling regulations or even halting offshore work for good, few in the business are suggesting something like INPO, an “in-house,” self-regulatory process will make things safer for all oil producers.

As in other industries where safety, technology and regulation meet – Aviation comes quickly to mind – reasonable, industry-wide precautions taken by solid operators can prevent disasters like the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill.

Read more at the WSJ:

Bromwich named to head oil regulator

Obama: BP will pay for the damage it has done

Obama's political oil fund