Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Holisitic View

In the world of Washington politics, one man's incentive may be another man's subsidy or boondoggle. A Wednesday afternoon posting on the Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog reported the Senate's rejection of an attempt to extend tax credits given to renewable energy projects. The posting describes the on-again/off-again life of renewable energy tax credits and the punishing effect their uncertainty has had on investment in wind energy projects. Each time the production tax credit has lapsed, investment in wind energy has fallen off sharply, roiling the wind industry:

The U.S. has never had long-term clean-energy subsidies in place; usually they are renewed for a year or two at a time. Lots of people in the industry blame that unpredictability for the stop-and –start pattern the clean energy industry’s developed over the last two decades. New projects generally come to a standstill the year after tax credits expire. The American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, lambasted the Senate and pointed to “116,000 jobs and nearly $19 billion in investment at risk.”
Whatever your political or economic beliefs, we think it important to look at government incentives holistically. Incentives stimulate the development of asset-intensive projects that induce economic activity for engineering, procurement and construction services early in life. Project expenditures for construction, operations and maintenance can add high paying jobs to neighboring communities and increase the amount of payroll and income taxes paid to local, state and federal government. Depending on state and local tax laws, plant operations may contribute substantial additional property, sales, inventory, or other types of tax payments to government coffers, to say nothing of the non-economic benefits resulting from creation of each new energy facility. (Studies of the economic benefits of various U.S. nuclear power plants are available on the NEI web site.)

To illustrate this point, GE Financial Services recently released a study of the net effect of the production tax credit given to wind energy projects. The study found that the net effect on the U.S. treasury from installation of 5.2 gigawatts of wind facilities supported by the production tax credit would be a return of $250 million - not a loss. The study is available at the GE Financial Services web site and worth perusing as Washington weighs policy options for stimulating the development of new energy sources.

The Republican Mistake


We don’t always find ourselves agreeing with Thomas Friedman at the NYT, but that’s the job of a columnist, isn’t it? – sometimes he’s on the ball, sometimes not; after all, we’re always on the ball, right?

But we did agree with this:

Anyone who looks at the growth of middle classes around the world and their rising demands for natural resources, plus the dangers of climate change driven by our addiction to fossil fuels, can see that clean renewable energy — wind, solar, nuclear and stuff we haven’t yet invented — is going to be the next great global industry. It has to be if we are going to grow in a stable way.

His subject is the Republican Party’s use of offshore drilling as an answer to all energy woes. The reason the party does this is because it works in the polls, but it risks replacing a relatively important subject – how do we move our energy policy forward? – with a relatively petty one – how do we make voters think gas prices can be lowered?

One thing we know, offshore drilling isn’t it – not in the short term, as even the Republicans acknowledge, likely not in the long term. After all, in the long term, the importance of petroleum will most likely recede. (Let’s see how the Prius does before using definite articles.)

But Friedman does overstate a bit – a reason he’s not our favorite columnist; he overstates a lot. The Republicans and Democrats are both stressing messages that can fit a 30-second TV ad, and, admittedly, gasoline sticker shock fills the bill. McCain does aim for a broader energy portfolio withal, and neither party bases their energy policy on a single element. In campaign ads, however, all is Panglossian utopia if you vote for me, Lovecraftian nightmare if you vote for the demonic other.

Just to be fair, Friedman also dings the Democrats for stressing Afghanistan as a “good” war, but that falls outside our brief. You can read the whole thing for the full pox-on-all-houses flavor of his piece.

Picture of Friedman. He does look a bit like he’s campaigning – big finger point there – but for what? Next captain of a starship?

Russia's Nuclear Energy Investment

Russia-NuclearThe English-language news site Russia Today is reporting that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will invest $40 billion (US) in the country's nuclear energy industry over the next seven years.

After that he [Putin] expects the industry will become self-financing.

...Prime minister Vladimir Putin says Russia's budget, boosted by high oil revenues, has enough cash to finance expansion of the country's nuclear power sector.

A terrific amount of money - more than 40 billion dollars - is to be allocated from the state budget for development of the nuclear energy sector and the nuclear industry by 2015. We’ll have to build 26 major generating units in Russia in the next 12 years - about as many as were built in the entire Soviet period.
Some financial context:
At today's exchange rate, $40B (US) = 937 billion Rubles.
937B Rubles / 7 = 134B Rubles invested per year.

According to the IMF, Russia's GDP in 2007 was $1.3 trillion (US) or 30.2 trillion Rubles. Based on 2007 GDP numbers, the Russian government's annual investment in the nuclear industry translates to .44% of the country's GDP.

And what does .44% of the 2007 US GDP look like? $61 billion.

[Edit: That $61 billion outlay would be per year, though GDP is obviously a volatile variable. The point of the number crunching was to establish a benchmark comparison: what would a like capital investment mean in the U.S.]

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Xcel Energy Plans for Monticello Expansion

Xcel EnergyMedia's raison d'etre—especially television—is to document events; answering the whowhatwherewhywhen of something happening, somewhere. It's remarkable, then, to see press coverage of a nonevent. From the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune,

As Xcel Energy makes plans to begin storing spent nuclear fuel in dry casks at its nuclear power plant in Monticello next month and pursues hopes of launching a $100 million expansion of the generating capacity at the 38-year-old facility next year, one element is missing:


Xcel's plans have not triggered the superheated attacks from critics that usually accompany attempts to increase nuclear power production. There's been none of the outcry that occurred in the early 1990s, when the power company sought to increase radioactive waste storage at its Prairie Island nuclear facility.

One reason, some observers say, is that concerns about global warming, high energy prices and increasing demand for electricity are producing something of a global nuclear renaissance. As a result, even some lifelong environmentalists are starting to wonder if being anti-nuclear is such a clear-cut choice anymore.
Perhaps we're seeing the first signs of the spent fuel issue becoming ordinary?

Monday, July 28, 2008

And How Are Things in Lithuania?


Swimmingly, as it happens, since, like France, Lithuania gets almost three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear energy. Slovakia gets a little over half and Bulgaria between a third and a half. Add to these Hungary and the Czech Republic among those who fulfill more of their electricity needs via nuclear energy than does the United States. These tidbits, and more, can be found at Reuters Factbox about nuclear energy in central and southeastern Europe (meaning former Soviet satellites and Turkey.)

While one may retain an image of the bad old days in those countries as gray industrial sumpholes, nuclear plants did not contribute to the smog of Budapest nor rip up pristine Baltic landscapes. Consequently, most of these countries are extending the life of their current plants and planning more. Neighbors that hadn’t any plants, like Albania, are now on board. Only the Czechs (with the Green Party as part of the governing coalition) are hesitating, but we’ll see what happens there after the next elections. A few links for the curious:

Czech Nuclear Forum

Introduction to the Slovak Nuclear Society

The Lithuanian International Nuclear Safety Center

Institute of Nuclear Research (Hungary)

Picture of the Hungarian institute. Well, it certainly has that look the world came to know and love in the Soviet bloc days – 70s suburban jail. Personality not desired.

T. Boone Pickens Energy Plan

Pickens Energy PlanThe Washington Times editorial board weighs in on the Pickens Plan,

At minimum, it is good to see an oil magnate thinking big thoughts about petroleum overdependency. All the real alternatives - nuclear, natural gas, wind and more - should be on the table. For that reason it is disappointing that Mr. Pickens is not beating the drum more loudly on nuclear energy. Mr. Pickens says he is for all the energy options. That is well and good. But why not expend a comparable effort to push this clean and efficient technology?
It's a Wash Times nuclear energy twofer today - syndicated columnist Jack Kelly also writes about the Pickens plan in "Right Idea, Wrong Fuel."
Mr. Pickens has the right idea, but the wrong fuel. A tenfold increase in wind power would meet only about 7 percent of our electricity needs. But nuclear power could both supply rising demand for electricity, and substitute for natural gas in its production.
(h/t to Notes reader Mitch for passing along the Kelly link.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Energy 101 Quiz on Oil and Gas

Check out this quiz over at the American Petroleum Institute to see how well you know nuclear's competitors. I scored nine out of ten.

A tip of the hat to Nick Loris.

Best Analogy for the Linear No-Threshold Theory

Many NEI NN readers here know that there are two competing theories on radiation: linear no-threshold (LNT) and hormesis. For those who don't, the LNT theory basically says that there is no safe dose of radiation whereas the hormesis theory says small doses of radiation are safe and that there is a threshold before radiation becomes harmful. Both are highly debatable but the latter makes a stronger case - at least in my opinion. (US nuclear plants, however, are regulated under the LNT theory.)

One of the best analogies that explains the LNT theory comes from a comment made by DV82XL over at Physical Insights:

If the LNT were applied to falling as it is to radiation, we might note that 100 percent of those falling onto concrete from 100 feet are killed, but only 50 percent of those falling from 50 feet die. With these data we would linearly extrapolate to say that 10 percent falling from 10 feet and one percent of those falling from one foot would die. Armed with this “linear no-threshold falling theory,” we could confidently assert that jumping rope should be banned on all school playgrounds since statistically anyone making 100 one-foot jumps would die.
Hat tip to Luke Weston.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

India Comes in from the Cold


India has been suffering as a nuclear rogue state over the last several years, as it has not signed the non-proliferation agreements and has in fact built nuclear weaponry – from their perspective, to ensure parity with neighbors Pakistan and especially China. India has a policy of never using nuclear weapons offensively but only if nuclear missiles are hurled its way – seems very cold war, doesn’t it?

But the Bush administration has been looking for a way to fold India back into the international batter and has succeeded in pacting with the country to ensure that India primarily pursue civilian uses of nuclear energy and accept house calls from the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is an agreement that has been struck with other countries that aims to open trade routes in nuclear materials and technology. (Thorium, which India has in abundance, may well prove interesting going forward. Look here for some more information.)

The vote on the treaty in the United State was fast and easy (with just a little mischief in the form of India having to align its views on Iran with those of the U.S. A similar agreement with Russia has stalled over the big bear’s meddling in Iran).

The vote in India’s parliament yesterday looks like it was a near thing, with the Communists completely out of sorts. This popped out in the coverage:

In the end the vote was won comfortably – with a majority of 19 – partly because MPs [members of parliament] were brought in from hospital on trolleys and others convicted for murder were released from prison to attend parliament.

Were, um, a lot of MPs in prison for murder? And still voting? If true, the wild west is alive and well in the east. Nineteen votes seems a pretty comfortable margin, but that’s in an assembly of 534 members. A lot of arm twisting likely took place. (This was actually a confidence vote – if the ruling Congress Party had lost, it would have had to call elections and that would have been the end of the treaty. This was a big worry, and the party put on a literal fireworks show when the vote went its way.)

However, there might have been more than arm twisting going on:

For the first time in the annals of Indian Parliament, the Prime Minister [Manmohan Singh] had to table his reply on the confidence motion as the determined Opposition including the Left parties raised slogans demanding the response of the Government to use money power to secure MPs to win the confidence vote.

In other words, money crossed hands to secure votes – or so says the opposition. Investigation to follow – if this goes badly, it still seems unlikely to derail the vote, even if it ought to.

There’s still more to come before it’s a done deal:

The deal has to be approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which monitors sales of nuclear technology. Most big powers have backed the deal, although Pakistan has raised objections.

Pakistan’s reaction is understandable under the circumstances and if parliament is really as described, the IAEA will likely take a hard look, but in sum, this is good news even within a disquieting context. Both the U.S. and India affirm that India has a clean proliferation record.

Better news would be India abandoning its nuclear arms – Brazil, for one, had to do this to get on the good side of the non-proliferation argument. We assume that India’s rapidly rising economic and geopolitical standings motivate the U.S. desire to get this issue out of the way and to accept terms that are less than ideal.

Let’s see where the IAEA takes this.

Picture of an Indian jail. It’s not as though American politicians avoid this fate – we’re looking at you, James Traficant (House member from Ohio who ran for office from his jail cell in 2004 and lost) – but it adds an interesting wrinkle, doesn’t it?

Patrick Moore Interviewed on CNN

In case you were watching The Wheel and missed it, Patrick Moore, co-Chair of the CASEnergy Coalition and co-founder of Greenpeace, appeared on CNN's Glenn Beck Program last night. The pull quote,

Hopefully, by 10 years from now, the first new nuclear plants will be coming online and, hopefully, by then we will have built more wind power so that we can turn the gas off when the wind is blowing.

But wind can only provide a small percentage. Denmark gets 15 percent of its energy from wind, and the people there realize now that they went a little overboard on wind, because it stops for three or four days at a time. The sun doesn`t shine at night or when it`s cloudy. These technologies have no storage capacity to be able to tide it over, so you have to back it up with something.

We should be building the backups, in other words, the continuous reliable power sources, such as nuclear and hydroelectric and biomass and geothermal and plug-in cars. But it doesn`t make sense to charge a plug-in hybrid on a coal-fired power plant. Therefore, we should be moving our electricity from 50 percent coal, 20 percent nuclear to 50 percent nuclear, 20 percent coal. We could do that in a 25- to 30-year period if we went at it like a moon shot.
The full transcript can be read here. James Meigs, Editor-in-Chief of Popular Mechanics, also appeared in the segment with Moore. Not discussed, unfortunately, was this remarkable article from the August issue on portable nuclear reactors.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Indian Government Receives Vote of Confidence

Manmohan Singh Vote of ConfidenceIndian state television, Doordarshan, is now reporting that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has received a vote of confidence by Parliament. The vote was close: 253 for, 232 against, with 2 abstentions. Had Singh's administration failed to receive the vote, early elections would have been called for this fall, likely scuttling the nuclear energy agreement made between the United States and India in March.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Nuclear Energy, Terrestrial Energy: WSJ

Terrestrial EnergyIn the Op-Ed pages of The Wall Street Journal today, William Tucker provides as normalizing an explanation about nuclear energy production as I've seen in the general interest press.

If we are now going to choose nuclear power as a way to resolve both our concerns about global warming and our looming energy shortfalls, we are first going to have to engage in a national debate about whether or not we accept the technology. To begin this discussion, I suggest redefining what we call nuclear power as "terrestrial energy."

Every fuel used in human history -- firewood, coal, oil, wind and water -- has been derived from the sun. But terrestrial energy is different.

Terrestrial energy is the heat at the earth's core that raises its temperature to 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than the surface of the sun. Remarkably, this heat derives largely from a single source -- the radioactive breakdown of uranium and thorium. The energy released in the breakdown of these two elements is enough to melt iron, stoke volcanoes and float the earth's continents like giant barges on its molten core.

Geothermal plants are a way of tapping this heat. They are generally located near fumaroles and geysers, where groundwater meets hot spots in the earth's crust. If we dig down far enough, however, we will encounter more than enough heat to boil water. Engineers are now talking about drilling down 10 miles (the deepest oil wells are only five miles) to tap this energy.

Here's a better idea: Bring the source of this heat -- the uranium -- to the surface, put it in a carefully controlled environment, and accelerate its breakdown a bit to raise temperatures to around 700 degrees Fahrenheit, and use it to boil water. That's what we do in a nuclear reactor.
The likelihood of "terrestrial energy" catching on as popular phrase? Not very. (BTW, would nuclear fusion be considered extraterrestrial?) That said, Tucker's Op-Ed, Let's Have Some Love for Nuclear Power, is well worth reading.

Extra Bonus: The author has built his own site, Terrestrial, to promote his forthcoming book and comes complete with a good-looking and informative slideshow.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Funny

From NY Newsday, a political cartoon by the Pulitzer Prize-winning, nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist Walt Handelsman.


Al Gore, the Vexatious One

Al_Gore_17_Jul_2008 At the risk of inflaming everyone who visits this blog, we have to say that Al Gore has proven to be an extraordinarily impressive political figure, genus ex-vice president, subgenus freelance public servant. Democrats seem to corner the market in high-profile freelancing – think Jimmy Carter, heck think Eleanor Roosevelt – so their priorities tend to get a boost when a directive issues forth from their perches.

We see nothing wrong with this (aside from wanting analogous Republican figures, though Reps may bridle at the showboat aspects of it) – we always hope politicians have public service in mind when they stand for election and there’s no reason at all for them not to continue in service after their terms are over. We’re even fairly sanguine about those who represent a constituency without ever having been elected – think Jesse Jackson or even Elizabeth Edwards. If the downside is the potential of demagoguery at worst and mischief otherwise, the upside is that a Gore or Jackson can say and do impolitic things in order to promote issues otherwise ignored or shunted to the side. (Yes, yes, we know, speaking of impolitic, about Jackson’s recent comments.)

How, then, do you spell success for a freelancer? With Gore, it was with a movie and a Nobel Prize, the former overriding his fabled woodenness with a genial if urgent approach to climate change issues and the latter conferring enormous credibility.

All this is prelude to point you at Gore’s energy speech, praise for it from candidates McCain and Obama, and any of the 1000+ news stories written about it in the last day (no link: put “Gore energy speech” into your search engine of choice).

We’d actually recommend you visit the New York Times Dot Earth blog for an annotated version of the speech. Lots of nuclear energy mentions there, if only in the annotations. You can even add your own annotations. In the speech, Gore, as always, mentions nuclear energy, er, never. But later, speaking with the AP’s Dina Capiello:

[Gore said] his plan counts on nuclear power plants still providing about a fifth of the nation's electricity while the U.S. dramatically increases it's use of solar, wind, geothermal energy and clean coal technology. He said one of the largest obstacles will be updating the nation's electricity grid to harness power from solar panels, windmills and dams and transport it to cities.

Nuclear energy still inflames at least some of the groups Gore wants to speak to, so he slides it a bit under the table. We don’t find Gore’s wanting to mix nuclear with wind, solar and the rest objectionable at all. We’d just like to hear him say it out loud and in front of an audience – after all, it is part of his plan, even if his preference would be to see nuclear decline as photovoltaic cells dot the landscape and windmills remind people what it’s like to live near an airport.

Is Gore a dangerous figure for increased use of nuclear energy? We don’t think so – Gore resides in the realm of advocacy and influence, but practical solutions will be implemented by government and industry. Nuclear energy accomplishes much of what Gore wants to do without pulling the rug out from other carbon-free energy industries. This pleases enough different constituencies to allow all a seat at the table (or a place at the trough, depending on your perspective) and still gives Gore significant credit (or discredit, again depending etc…) for causing the issue to hop to the top of the pops. We do owe him that.

Picture of himself. It’s all Gore all the time on Meet the Press this Sunday. Check your local listings.

Apollo, Manhattan Project A Marshall Plan for Energy

Apollo-Project-for-energyWorking in the online space, rarely do I find myself printing up a document that can be read on the Web. (What is thing you call paper?) It happened this week, after seeing Richard Lester, a professor at MIT, deliver the keynote address at a National Governors Association conference in Philadelphia.

Lester likes nuclear ("Nuclear power is the only carbon-free energy source that is already contributing on a large scale and that is also expandable with few inherent limits."), but it was his coining of a new metaphor (new to me, anyway) to describe the global energy challenges that made me want a hard copy of his illuminating speech.

Some are calling for a crash program by the federal government - a Manhattan Project or an Apollo Project for energy innovation.

These calls helpfully communicate the urgency and the scale of the challenge. But in another sense they are a distraction because, if we take them literally, we will end up solving the wrong problem.

In both the Apollo and Manhattan Projects there was a single, clearly-defined (though high-risk) technical goal. There was also just one customer – the federal government. Success meant achieving a single implementation of the new technology. In both cases this took just a few years to achieve. And cost was essentially no object.

Not one of these things applies to the case of energy. Here we have multiple and sometimes conflicting goals (lower prices, reduced carbon emissions, increased security). We have many different kinds of customers – from individual tenants and
homeowners to giant industrial energy users. We have multiple time-scales, from a few years to many decades. Success will come not from a single implementation but only if the technology is adopted by many firms, or by many more individuals. And finally, energy is a commodity, so cost is crucial.

In this last sense, the upcoming energy revolution is not only not like the Manhattan project, it isn't even like the digital revolution, to which it is sometimes also compared. It is actually much harder. Because energy innovations, unlike many digital technologies, usually must compete against an incumbent technology in an existing market, and this imposes tough, non- negotiable requirements on cost competitiveness, on quality, and on reliability from the very beginning.
And so, to conclude, it is long past time for serious federal leadership on energy innovation. But it is also time to move beyond the Manhattan/Apollo Project metaphor. A better metaphor might be a domestic Marshall Plan for energy innovation. The original Manhattan project involved a relatively small number of people working in secret. The original Marshall Plan took everyone, working together, to rebuild the broken European economy.

Let us recapture that inspired exercise of American leadership at home. As we did once before on foreign soil, let us combine a vision of what can be with a command of hard facts and data to build an effective system for energy innovation in every one of our United States.
Full text is available here and video of the conference can be found here. (Thank you, C-SPAN.)

The Q&A after the presentation was equally interesting.
Gov. Ed Rendell (PA-D): Let me ask you, put you on the spot a little bit. If you woke up tomorrow morning and found yourself president-elect, what's the first thing you would get started on to build the type of energy infrastructure the country needs?
Lester: Can I do two things?
Rendell: Sure. Two things. You're the president. You can do anything you want.
Lester: ...I think I would focus, first of all, on getting a program for commercializing carbon capture and sequestration that would be substantially larger, and I would hope more effective, than anything we currently have in place. The second thing I would do is to take a new look at our - and a fundamental new look - at our program for high-level waste, nuclear waste disposal. I think I would do those two things right away.
In an exchange too long to transcribe, Gov. Jon Corzine's (NJ-D) question at 34:52 in the clip also merits attention.

Waste Wanted

wasteNo, we're not talking about chambers of commerce pitching for the building of temporary storage facilities in their districts; we're talking about NASA...and a different kind of spent fuel. From the AP, via Slashdot:

Space program contractor Hamilton Sundstrand is seeking urine from workers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, as part of its work on the new Orion space capsule that eventually would take astronauts to the moon, according to an internal memo posted on the Web site

The need is voluminous: 30 liters a day, which translates into nearly 8 gallons. Even on weekends.

Designers of the Orion, which will park unoccupied in space for up to six months while astronauts work on the moon, have to solve a pressing issue of getting rid of stored urine, said John Lewis, NASA's head of life support systems for Orion.

...NASA has a long-standing tradition of collecting samples from its workers to help design better space toilets because "you can't make fake urine," Lewis said.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

What Becomes a Morlock Most?

eloimorlocks-02 A fascinating article in the Guardian by sociology professor Ulrich Beck points up an interesting tidbit about the future risk of Yucca Mountain (or any used fuel repository) far into the future. That is, how do you do you tell people of the far future that there might be danger?

The anthropologists recommended the symbol of the skull and crossbones. However, a historian reminded the commission that the skull and crossbones symbolised resurrection for the alchemists, and a psychologist conducted an experiment with three-year-olds: if the symbol was affixed to a bottle they anxiously shouted "poison!", but if it was placed on a wall they enthusiastically yelled "pirates!".

The commission mentioned here was appointed by President Bush to explore this issue. The notion of pointing forward 10,000 years and assuming that Yucca Mountain’s purpose will not be well enough understood by people then is of course in the realm of science fiction.

While it certainly could be true that Eloi and Morlocks will inherit the remnants of civilization and not understand any of it, it seems more likely that civilization will move along the path it has been on since the notion of civilization crossed some ancient synapses. But really, we could say anything about this and be proved wrong by a giant meteor or the Andromeda Strain or any scenario that one could dream up. The world of the future is a fiction written into truth as it happens.

Professor Beck’s larger point is that the risks associated with climate change have overawed the risks of nuclear energy, though we’d argue that the nuclear renaissance picked up steam well before climate change became a cultural given and that the risk of nuclear energy was always about nine parts perceptual to one part real.

Seen in this light, the actors who are supposed to be the guarantors of security and rationality - the state, science and industry - are engaged in a highly ambivalent game. They are no longer trustees but suspects, no longer managers of risks but also sources of risks. For they are urging the population to climb into an aircraft for which a landing strip has not yet been built.

Er, we’d say those lines got crossed long before the first atom got split. Comparing the risk of getting behind the wheel of your Pinto versus that of irradiation from your local nuclear energy plant would lead you to walk to your job at the plant. Unsafe at any Speed was written a long time ago and it wasn’t about nuclear energy. And that’s just a random example.

See here for the NRC’s discussion of risk assessment. Basic, but you’ll get the idea.

One thing Professor Beck mentions  - and which we agree with – is that risk is relative to other risk.

In the case of nuclear power, we are witnessing a clash of risk cultures. Thus the Chernobyl experience is perceived differently in Germany and France, Britain, Spain or Ukraine and Russia. For many Europeans, the threats posed by climate change now loom much more largely than nuclear power or terrorism.

I love that linking of nuclear power and terrorism – rather saucy, Professor Beck. But we might note that Chernobyl no longer weighs heavily in the world imagination because it happened nearly a quarter century ago and nothing has followed it to act as a new fear magnet. Those who dislike nuclear energy have been foiled in their search for scary iconography for a long time. (And given some of Russia’s moves in the nuclear energy arena, we’d say their fears are well and truly put to bed, too. We’ll give him Ukraine – maybe.)

We’ve giving short shrift to Professor Beck’s full argument to have some fun, so do read the whole thing. We disagree with all of it, and it is written as though a lot of academic freight got pulled out of it somewhere along the line, but it is very interesting.

From the 1960 movie of The Time Machine. Actually, Yucca Mountain might have more trouble from the Morlocks (that’s it on the right), since they live underground and build tunnels than from the Eloi (embodied by Yvette Mimieux – good to see Max Factor made it to the far future), who live in wine-and-cheese comfort when not being eaten by the Morlocks.

The NRC Licensing Process

In case you missed it: NEI's Sr. Director of New Plant Deployment, Adrian Heymer, appeared this afternoon on CNBC's Street Signs to discuss the licensing process with Michael Johnson, the NRC's Director of New Reactors. The entire segment can be seen here.

Heymer is optimistic that the application process can be significantly shortened:

Once the first applications have gone in and they've gone through the process and we've incorporated lessons learned and the industry sticks to standardization - a cookie cutter approach - we believe that the licensing process can be done in 'round about 27 months.

Californians Becoming More Favorable to Nuclear Energy

That's according to the San Francisco Chronicle:

In a sign that record-high gas prices are changing the way Californians think and live, a new poll shows that state residents are losing their long-held hostility to nuclear power and may even reconsider their opposition to oil drilling off their scenic coast.

For the first time since the 1970s, half of Californians support building more nuclear plants in the state, according to the latest Field Poll, to be released today...
Excellent! The article is generating a lot of positive comments too.

Great Discussion about Nuclear Energy Over at NewTalk

What's NewTalk? Well, according to their About page:

NewTalk presents focused discussions by experts on the most important domestic topics shaping American society today. We bring together experts in theory, policy and practice—from academics and lawmakers to admired practitioners—to share their diverse perspectives on pressing domestic issues.
Two days ago they asked the question: Is Nuclear Power Essential to Addressing Climate Change and Energy Independence? Eleven experts from both sides (pro and con) have so far chimed in with their thoughts. Some of the experts include Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy; Doug Chapin, MPR Associates, Inc.; and Chris Crane, VP at Exelon Corp.

The discussion is only set to last until 5 PM today so get your comments in if you have any to make.

Hat tip to Eric McErlain for the link to the discussion.

Nuclear Power On the Hill, Day 2

On Tuesday it was the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources holding a nuclear energy-related hearing, yesterday the Committee on Environment and Public Works served as Senate host.

The webcast of the hearing, “Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Licensing and Relicensing Processes for Nuclear Plants,” can be seen here.

Appearing before the committee:

  • Dr. Dale Klein - Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Dr. Gregory B. Jaczko - Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Dr. Peter B. Lyons - Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Ms. Kristine L. Svinicki - Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Mr. Hubert T. Bell - Inspector General, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Mr. David A. Christian - President and Chief Nuclear Officer, Dominion
  • Mr. Anthony R. Pietrangelo- Vice President for Regulatory Affairs, Nuclear Energy Institute
  • Mr. Richard Webster - Legal Director, Eastern Environmental Law Center
  • Dr. Joseph Romm - Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
  • Mr. H. John Gilbertson Jr. - Managing Director, Goldman, Sachs & Co.
Tony Pietrangelo wasn't the only NEI employee discussing nuclear energy in DC yesterday: Carol Berrigan, NEI's Director of Industry Infrastructure, appeared at a U.S. Energy Association forum at the National Press Club. C-SPAN's video of the event can be seen here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Little Lesson in Public Relations

Now, many nuclear power plants sit off in the middle of nowhere-in-particular creating those little jolts of electric goodness in relative private, but some roost much closer to population centers. They are seen by people driving by on the highway or zipping by in boats or, in general, going about their business. And one of the more disquieting aspects of the plants are their cooling towers, because the image of cooling towers was so prevalent in the Three Mile Island days and became the dominant image used henceforth in raising fears of nuclear energy.

We can guarantee that any filmmaker can make an audience tingle by showing cooling towers in the distance with steam coming out of them (darkened, of course, to make it satanic) and violin driven chords thrumming under the image. Time has done a lot of the job of softening the image of the towers and will continue to do so, but oh, so much more could be done.

For example:


We’re not sure we love the neon blue ring at top, but otherwise, it’s a winner. This was not done by a utility, but by Hennie van der Most, who bought Schneller Brüter, a plant constructed by Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands but never opened. The park he converted it into is called Wunderland Kalker – the link points to its about page but you can tour around their site from there and make reservations if you want. The tower sits in Kernie’s Familienpark, the amusement park section of the Wunderland, and (we’re not positive about this) is used to house a water splash ride.

No, we’re not suggesting amusement parks at nuclear power plants, though people on all side of the nuclear argument can find many jokes to make about the possibility. But using the towers as a canvas and installing creative lighting to show off the result is without question community friendly, image enhancing and individual.

We spotted this tower in the great Der Spiegel writeup on nuclear energy. Head over there for a package of stories. Looking for a fuller shot, we found this at Rick Wezenaar’s site. Visit his site to see some more of his work and by all means hire him for your upcoming shoot if you’re in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tell It on the Mountain

nevada.yucca.mountain Yucca Mountain, that is, which has been getting something of a rough treatment lately. Fears about storing tons of used nuclear fuel there have been unfounded, and though the Department of Energy has submitted a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Agency for the big brown mound, political support for it has drained away a bit. The end of the tale is not yet written, of course, and what wanes can also wax.

So it is heartening to see some editorials emerging that explicitly supports Yucca Mountain. This one comes from the Daily News, “serving the lower Columbia,” meaning Washington state:

Senate leaders, in particular, have shown a determination to block the construction of a national repository for nuclear waste near Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. Last week, a Senate panel cut the administration’s fiscal 2009 budget request for the project from $494.7 million to $386.5 million. If the lower figure holds, it will mark the second straight year that Congress has sliced more than $100 million from the Yucca Mountain budget. And, given Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s support of the cut, it likely will hold.

Senator Reid, in most respects a strong supporter of nuclear energy, takes his political cues from his constituents in Nevada and in Reid’s view, they don’t want Yucca Mountain.

The government’s promotion of more nuclear power is on a collision course with Congress’ failure to move forward on the construction of the waste dump in a more timely manner. As a practical matter, members must know that there can be no revival of the U.S. nuclear industry until and unless the completion of this project is assured.

The editorial is entitled “Yucca Mountain stalling only delays inevitable nuclear power push,” and we like (and agree with) that word “inevitable”. Congress is looking at ways to complement Yucca Mountain as a storage repository, so we’ll refrain from wholeheartedly endorsing the “stalls” part. But it’s an on-target editorial.


Well, (at least today – as far as we can tell), we know John McCain is in favor of Yucca Mountain and Barack Obama against it. How is that playing in Nevada? According to SurveyUSA, McCain is leading by four points (45-41). That’s within the margin of error and really suggests nothing other than that Nevadans are not single issue voters. (Bush took the state by three points in 2004.) For all the passion the Nevada delegation puts behind blocking Yucca Mountain, the issue does not create a decisive shift in votes nor even move the needle much.

Map might be a little hard to read. Yucca Mountain is that dot north of Las Vegas. If you find your way from a hangover and ill-advised marriage in Vegas to the inevitable divorce in Reno, by all means wave at Yucca Mountain en route.

New Nuclear Plants Okayed in Florida

A Florida regulatory agency, the Public Service Commission, has unanimously endorsed Progress Energy's proposal to build two new nuclear reactors on a site in Levy County. If approved by state and federal regulators, the two reactors could begin operations by 2016-2017.

Earlier this year, the Public Service Commission expressed unanimous consent on Florida Power & Light's request to build two new reactor units at its Turkey Point plant in Miami-Dade County.

Simple By Comparison

As the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and others have documented, solving the energy-environment challenge today requires contributions from every sector and pursuit of all options. For a perspective on one of those options, carbon capture and storage (CCS), read the piece by Jeff Goodell in the Yale Environment 360 blog. Goodell summarizes a few of the challenges in moving CCS from concept to commercial scale operation. On the size of sequestration facilities needed, Goodell says:

Right now, there are three major carbon capture and storage projects in operation in the world (at one of the projects in Saskatchewan, Canada, the CO2 is used to enhance oil and gas recovery; storing the CO2 is secondary). The most significant is the Sleipner Platform in Norway, where StatoilHydro, a big Norwegian oil and gas company, has been pumping nearly one million tons of CO2 into a reservoir beneath the North Sea each year since 1996. It is an enormous engineering project, deploying one of the largest offshore platforms in the world. But compared to the engineering effort that would be required to stabilize the climate, it's nothing. It would take 10 Sleipner-size CO2 storage projects to offset the annual emissions of a single big coal plant.
He also discusses the potential environmental effects of underground storage of such quantities of CO2 and the legal and institutional framework needed to handle liabilities if escaping CO2 harms people nearby. Makes building a new nuclear plant sound simple by comparison.

Nuclear Power On the Hill

Who says DC is sleepy in the summertime? With two nuclear energy-related hearings scheduled for 10:00 am, the Hill is a busy place this morning. Click on the links below to view webcasts of the testimony.

Financing for Clean Energy Technology
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Witness List:

  • John Denniston - Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
  • Jeffrey Eckel - President & CEO, Hannon Armstrong
  • Jeanine Hull - Counsel, Dykema Gossett PLLC
  • Alexander Karsner - Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy
  • Dan Reicher - Director, Climate Change & Energy Initiatives, Google.Org
Next Steps toward Permanent Nuclear Waste Disposal
House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality
Witness List:
  • Shelley Berkley - U.S. Representative, Nevada, 1st District
  • Marvin Fertel - Executive Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer, Nuclear Energy Institute
  • B. John Garrick - Chairman, U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board
  • Anne George - Commissioner, Connecticut Dept. of Public Utility Control
  • Robert Myers - Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Office of Air and Radiation
  • Edward Sproat - Director, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, Dept. of Energy
  • Michael Weber - Director, Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards

Monday, July 14, 2008

Great Britain Okays Nuclear Energy


Once, it was dead.

A White Paper on energy, released in 2003, described nuclear power as an "unattractive option" and included no plans to replace existing reactors when they closed. Although it left a tiny door ajar open to more nuclear plants, Friends of the Earth said the policy sounded "the death knell" for nuclear power in Britain.

One thing you learn in life is not to declare something dead unless there’s no evidence of breath on the mirror.

The Prime Minister [Gordon Brown] will set "no upper limit" on the number of nuclear plants that will be built by private companies. That would mean nuclear, which provides about 20 per cent of Britain's electricity, could meet a bigger share after the new generation of nuclear stations come on stream over the next 15 years.

This comes via the Independent’s Andrew Grice. While Brown says the sky’s the limit, the number being contemplated currently is eight. Why is this happening now? Well, Tony Blair, the previous prime minister, had already laid the groundwork by advocating for nuclear energy against that 2003 report, and it may be that Brown is seeing his options narrow a bit. Why should this be? The Guardian’s Michael White writes:

Ministers want the private sector to make the running, but fear that the parallel contraction of the UK's coal and oil-fired generating capacity, on environmental grounds, will trigger a serious energy gap unless the government moves decisively.

(I think “to make the running” above means “to make it happen” in Amurrican. We’ve noted the government’s attempts to exit the energy business in recent weeks.)

We might add to this formulation that Great Britain has a set of aging plants expected to be retired in the next 15 years and these new ones will likely act as more robust replacements.

Some of the “she said” in the he said she said reporting paradigm are getting pretty tired.

John Sauven of Greenpeace said: "This is bad news for the fight against climate change. Nuclear power cannot get us out of the carbon hole.”


The Liberal Democrats also warned that a switch to more nuclear energy would do nothing to solve the immediate problems caused by the doubling of oil prices over the past year.

It makes you think Liberal Democrats have the life span of mayflies and think only in terms of tomorrow or perhaps next week. (Granted, politicians everywhere and across the ideological spectrum think too much in terms of now – you might argue that we wouldn’t be where we are “now” if more thinking was done about “now” when it was “then.”)

As for Greenpeace, well, it’s not as though you can’t count on them for a tart quote when you’re doing a nuclear story, so there it is.

But in sum, this is terrific news. Europe is quickly moving toward a nuclear solution, with Asia on its heels . We’ll be looking to see how industry in Britain responds to this vote of confidence.

Picture of alliums in the cancer research garden at the Chelsea Garden Show in London.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Nuclear Makes A Worldwide Comeback: Der Spiegel

Spiegel on Nuclear Energy[Intentional?] Typo aside, a great package on nuclear energy, The Atomic Age Enters a New Dawn, has just gone online over at Der Spiegel.

Other pieces include:

(Hat tip to Notes reader Joe on the heads-up.)

Shaw Group Announces Record Q3 Earnings

Shaw Group shares popped nearly 10% yesterday after the company announced record third quarter earnings - $53.9 million for the quarter ending in May. Shaw also set quarterly records for revenue ($1.8 billion) and project backlog ($16.4 billion). According to an AP report, Wall Street analysts are bullish,

In a note to investors, Citi Investment Research analyst Brian Chin was upbeat on Shaw's results, particularly its nuclear power segment, which he said should see new awards in the next 12 months.

He also said the company should witness "interesting activity" in its nuclear segment from international customers, particularly after a recent agreement allowing sales of civilian nuclear power technology from the U.S. to India.

"Shaw's real opportunity is in South Africa, the (United Kingdom), India and China," Chin wrote. "All four regions could award potential contracts in the next 12 months."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

RNC TV Ad on Energy Gets Factchecked

Barack Obama on Nuclear EnergyOn Monday I posted on the RNC's first TV ad to be released during this presidential campaign. Today,, the nonpartisan group funded by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, takes a look. An excerpt from their article, "A False Accusation About Energy"

No to "Nuclear"?

We’ve been through this. Obama has not said a flat-out "no" to nuclear, as the ad claims. Instead he has said he is in favor of nuclear energy if it is clean and safe, saying in his energy plan that "it is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power from the table." But it’s true McCain is more aggressive in his support of nuclear power, giving it a prominent place in his energy plan, with the goal of creating 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030 and as many as 100 total. Obama’s energy plan contains no such initiative.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Amory Lovins and His Nuclear Illusion - Final Thoughts

This is my final post (and the longest) in the series that discredits Amory Lovins’ and the Rocky Mountain Institute’s “Nuclear Illusion” paper (pdf). Hopefully this series has opened many eyes to the flaws and inconsistencies of RMI’s claims. Let me briefly summarize the previous posts.

Part One found that “micropower” is primarily made up of decentralized coal and gas plants, the generation from “non-biomass decentralized co-generation plants” (RMI’s main plants for “micropower”) was grossly exaggerated, and the “stunning performance” of nuclear’s “true competitors” was not backed up by RMI’s own sources.

Part Two showed that RMI’s “micropower” data don’t fit their own definition of “micropower”. Not only that, small plants aren’t the only way to go especially since bigger power plants in general yield greater efficiencies and economies of scale.

Part Three explained that energy efficiency and “negawatts” will not necessarily reduce demand and in fact strong evidence suggests it will most likely increase demand.

Part Four proved that RMI cherry-picks cost components in their paper and, as the anonymous commenter stated, “[RMI] is leaving the territory of cherry-picking to bravely enter the la-la-land of making things up.” Part Four also showed that planned new nuclear plants have become economically competitive (or superior in one case) versus other generating technologies.

And Part Five demonstrated that nuclear plants are a reliable source of electricity, contrary to RMI’s claims.

I have a few more issues I would like to address before I conclude this series such as the current contribution from nuclear energy, world electricity demand now and projections for the future, studies that show nuclear has to be a part of the mix, and final criticisms of RMI’s work.

What’s the Current State of the Nuclear Industry?

Here’s what RMI believes on page 1 in their paper:

nuclear power is continuing its decades-long collapse in the global marketplace…
This quote is hilarious. Mr. Lovins began making these claims in the 1970s (pdf), yet according to the data below from the World Nuclear Association, world nuclear generation has increased substantially since the 1970s (hat tip to advancednano and bw).The share of world electricity produced from nuclear energy has remained around 16 percent for two decades. According to many studies that I discuss further down, though, nuclear generation is projected to have a greater role if the world wants to reduce emissions while meeting demand.

The World’s Demand for Electricity

If one is going to dismiss a particular technology, they should at least provide some perspective as to what our electricity situation will look like with and without the particular technology. RMI is so focused on dismissing nuclear energy that they completely fail to explain the big picture of our electricity consumption.

Right now, hydro and nuclear are the only emission-free sources of electricity that provide a meaningful contribution to the world’s electricity demand - 16 and 15 percent each in 2005. If nuclear wasn’t generating electricity, fossil-fuels simply would be filling the gap which means an additional two billion metric tons of CO2 would be emitted each year.

According to EIA’s International Energy Outlook 2008, world electricity consumption “nearly doubles” over the 2005 to 2030 period. As well, total installed electric capacity increases from about 3,900 GW in 2005 to 7,000 GW in 2030. The graph and table below show that world electricity generation will continue to be met by coal and gas.Here’s a table of each fuels’ capacity (GW) in 2005 and projected for 2030.Also, total world CO2 emissions (EIA did not breakout emissions by sector) are projected to increase from 28 billion metric tons in 2005 to 42 billion metric tons in 2030 – the increase comes mainly from non-OECD countries like China and India. Nuclear and hydro, the largest emission-free sources of electricity as stated above, only avoid four billion MT of CO2 each year.

So what do these projections tell us? First and foremost, our demand for electricity is huge and is rapidly increasing. And second, enormous amounts of capacity are needed from nuclear and renewables (and sequestration if possible) if we want to curb emissions.

The nuclear critics laugh, saying that the world won’t be able to build a lot of nuclear capacity to make a difference. Well, according to the data above, the power plant capacity is going to be built no matter what. So it all depends on which fuel source is chosen. More and more studies are showing that if the world really wants to reduce emissions while continuing to meet growing demand, nuclear has to be a part of that mix.

Which Studies Show that Nuclear has to be Part of the Mix for the Future?

Nuclear power plants have two particular attributes that make them stand out from most other energy sources. They can generate a large supply of reliable electricity and can do so without emitting significant pollutants. Over the past few years, many studies have come to recognize these two attributes and have stated that nuclear will therefore have an important role to play in the future. Below are summaries of several such studies.

The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2007 reference scenario shows that world nuclear capacity will increase to 415 GW by 2030 from today’s 368 gigawatts – not much. IEA, however, also produced an Alternative Policy Scenario where nuclear increases to 525 GW by 2030. Not only that, IEA developed a “450 Stabilization Scenario” that shows world nuclear capacity more than doubling to 833 gigawatts by 2030 if the world were to attempt to stabilize the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Under the 450 Stabilization Scenario, nuclear’s electricity fuel share increases to 22 percent by 2030 from today’s 16 percent (pages 211-213).

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s (PNNL) Joint Global Change Research Institute has conducted climate change research and analysis for nine years, and is one of the few analyses that look beyond 2030 - out to 2100. The Global Energy Technology Strategy Program (pdf) identified nuclear energy as one of six energy technologies and technology systems with the potential to play a major role in a climate-constrained world. Without any CO2 constraints, nuclear energy is projected to increase seven-fold by 2100 from today’s levels. In a world where CO2 is constrained, nuclear power deployment increases thirteen-fold by the end of the century (page 78).

Last year, McKinsey & Company (pdf) published an assessment that “analyzed more than 250 options, encompassing efficiency gains, shifts to lower carbon energy sources, and expanded carbon sinks” that would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear energy was one of the options and McKinsey found in their model that by 2030, nuclear increases by 13 gigawatts in their low GHG abatement case, 29 GW in their mid abatement case, and 53 GW in their high abatement case (page 19).

Since January 2007, EIA has conducted six analyses of various legislative proposals that seek to control CO2 emissions in the U.S. In virtually all cases, nuclear plant construction speeds up in a carbon-constrained world. In some cases, like the analysis of the Lieberman-McCain Climate Stewardship Act (S. 280) and the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2007 (S. 2191), the model forecasts more new nuclear capacity than could realistically be built in the U.S. (145 GW and 268 GW by 2030, respectively).

The Electric Power Research Institute’s PRISM-MERGE analysis (pdf) found that U.S. nuclear capacity increased by 64 GW in their Full Portfolio scenario in order to reduce CO2 emissions. The Full portfolio includes an aggressive implementation of carbon capture and sequestration, nuclear, renewables, coal plant thermal efficiencies, plug-in hybrids and end-use efficiency. In EPRI’s alternative scenario (Limited Portfolio), nuclear capacity does not expand significantly. Instead, emissions reductions require large reductions in electricity demand, which places severe constraints on economic growth. The Limited Portfolio scenario also requires a significant amount of fuel-switching to natural gas to meet emissions targets. This drives up the price of natural gas and the cost of electricity.

What’s also implied in all of the studies mentioned above is that there’s no single energy source that’s a “silver bullet.” They all found, however, that nuclear energy has a significant role to play if the world wants to reduce emissions while meeting growing demand.

Everyone Who’s a Proponent of Nuclear Energy is Deceived – At Least According to RMI

Page 1 from RMI’s paper accuses the nuclear industry of misleading everyone about the benefits of nuclear power, “including four well-known individuals with long environmental histories.”
Professor James Lovelock CH CBE FRS (the venerable 88-year-old ecologist who proposed the Gaia hypothesis), Dr. Patrick Moore (a prominent Greenpeace organizer and officer in the 1970s), Peter Schwartz (once head of Shell Group Planning and a former Trustee of Rocky Mountain Institute), and his Global Business Network cofounder and colleague Stewart Brand (creator of Whole Earth Catalog and CoEvolution Quarterly). All are good people and the latter two are my longtime friends. Schwartz has been an energy expert. Regrettably, all four seem unaware of, or unable to deal analytically with, the realities described here…
RMI’s second rebuttal to my posts also claims that Robert Bryce, myself, and Dr. Peter Huber and Mr. Mark Mills (authors of the Bottomless Well) are all wrong when it comes to the Jevons Paradox and energy efficiency. RMI should also add Bill Gates, the Wall Street Journal, LA Times and Business Week to that list because they all thought Huber and Mills’ Bottomless Well was brilliant (as stated on the cover of the book). And RMI should also include the IEA, EIA, EPRI, McKinsey & Company and PNNL to their list because, as demonstrated above, they all find that nuclear capacity will likely have to increase in the future.

So what does that say about RMI’s work when prominent writers, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, and institutions all disagree with RMI’s conclusions? Also, how ridiculous is it to accuse the nuclear industry of coordinating an “intensive global campaign” to “spin” the benefits of nuclear energy? RMI is basically assuming that people can’t think for themselves. How insulting is that?

RMI, Welcome to the New World of the Internet and Blogging

RMI’s first rebuttal to my posts made this interesting statement:
Prof. Tufte coined the pejorative term "chartjunk" to refer to ink that conveys no news. Mr. Bradish misapplies it to a clean and clear graph conveying news he finds unwelcome. That's blogjunk.
Unwelcome news is not “blogjunk.” Blogjunk is writing disorganized, confused and rambling responses to your critics and then not even sticking around to defend them in the comments section.

I’ve clearly shown that RMI’s claims don’t stand up to scrutiny. I hardly expect, though, for RMI to change their conclusions. What I do expect and already see happening, is that more and more bloggers will continue to call out RMI on the flaws in their analyses. What starts in the blog world will then become mainstream as more and more readers, pundits, journalists, politicians and so on begin to realize the flaws in RMI’s work.

The Internet has tremendously opened up our knowledge capacity. I’m sure most everyone reading this will attest that bloggers keep everyone honest. Why? Because nearly every bit of information is now at our fingertips. When a blogger is incorrect, other bloggers will jump on that person’s postings to make sure they get it right. This is the new reality and RMI is going to have to face this and defend their work.


The energy market has changed dramatically in favor of nuclear energy this decade. Oil and gas prices have increased substantially; the U.S. and world are increasing their energy and electricity appetites; and the need for emission-free, reliable sources of power is greater than ever. RMI and Amory Lovins continue to say the same old thing and have failed to keep up with the changing times. It’s not that the rest of the world sees an illusion in nuclear power; it’s that RMI holds fast to the illusion of their claims from the 1970s.

NEI has always said that nuclear energy is not the be-all, end-all solution to our energy woes. Nuclear, however, provides one tremendous amount of energy that is reliable, affordable, and emission-free.

To all who have been reading this, thanks for the support and comments. This has definitely generated a lot of discussion and debate and I hope you all enjoyed the series!

For further reading, here are some recent critiques from other bloggers on Amory Lovins and RMI’s latest work. If I missed any, let me know.

Что такое АТЭЦ?
Why Gas Is Not Our Future
The Misadventures of Amory Lovins, Fossil Fuel Apologist

Nuclear Green (Charles Barton):
Amory Lovins, Fount of Disinformation
Amory Lovins' business
Don't Pay Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Atomic Insights (Rod Adams):
Amory Lovins, the "Chief Scientist" who could not complete a degree program, is at it again
Lovins and His Nuclear Blindness
Non-Combustion Energy Source Growth

Next Big Future (bw):
Amory Lovins distorts nuclear energy and promotes air pollution

Physical Insights (Luke Weston):
Nuclear discussion quote of the day.

Seeking Alpha:
Economics of Nuclear Energy

FutureJacked (Flagg707):
Using Excel to Kneecap Nuclear Power

Blog Traffic

A big thank you to NEI Notes readers for making June a record setting month for traffic. Compared to May, Unique Visitors were up 42% and Page Views rose 27%.

The fact that such a spike occurred during a month where Internet usage sees a seasonal decline is all the more remarkable.

June's Top 10 most-read posts:

1. Obama's Energy Address in Las Vegas
2. Amory Lovins and His Nuclear Illusion – Part One (The Art of Deception)
3. The Wall Street Journal Energy Report
4. The Sunshine Patriot
5. John McCain’s Energy Speech
6. Lieberman-Warner: "Leave No Fuel Behind"
7. Barbara Boxer Embraces Nuclear Power
8. The Truth About Government Subsidies for Energy Sources
9. How many nuclear plants does it take to meet the world's energy needs?
10. Germany, Merkel Rethinking Nuclear Power

Pro-Nuclear vs. Anti-Nuclear Websites: Who's Getting More Traffic?

Check out the answer at Depleted Cranium!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Obama Surrogates on Nuclear Power

Obama surrogates Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D-MI), and Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA) discussed the RNC's "Balance" ad with reporters in a just-completed conference call. Below is a transcription of the final question asked during the Q&A.

Hi, it's Susan Demas, again, from MIRS newsletter. The ad says that Senator Obama is against nuclear power and I was wondering what his position is on nuclear and I was also wondering if an increase in nuclear power could help your states with providing jobs.

This is Josh Earnest with the [Obama] campaign. I can take the first part of that. As you point out, that is a very misleading attack against Senator Obama's proposals. What he has said is that he wants to work to find a safe way to store the waste that is generated by nuclear energy production. And once we can do that, he would be supportive of considering expanding nuclear options to increase our energy capacity in this country.

I'll leave it to somebody else if they want to talk about the impact on local economies.
Granholm: His [Obama's] position papers online state very clearly that it's unlikely we're going to meet these climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power from the table. So he does not oppose nuclear energy. What he wants to do is, what's [been] suggested, is find a way to store it and make it secure.

Obama, McCain on Nuclear Energy: The TV Ads

As an admitted media-obsessed political junkie, I enjoy watching any political ad; if there were campaign ads out there by candidates running for dog catcher, I'd probably watch 'em. With advertising budgets a bit bigger and the stakes a whole lot larger, the presidential campaign ads are, for me, must-see viewing.

The first RNC TV spot to be released, "Balance," has really caught my eye. Perhaps it was just pure nostalgia - that 1970's Social Studies class filmstrip aesthetic really took me back. (Here's a helpful Wiki link to "Filmstrip" for those under the age of 30.) More likely it was the ad's claim that Obama has said "No to Nuclear Power." The creators cite a Newton, Iowa Town Hall event from Dec. 31, 2007 as the source for quotation.

A couple of quibbles: the event happened on Dec. 30th, not the 31st. More significantly, the full transcript shows Obama supporting nuclear energy at the end of his response to the questioner.
I have not ruled out nuclear as part of that package [alternative energies and creating clean technologies]...
At a more recent event, a June 20th, 2008 meeting with U.S. governors, Obama had this to say about the role of nuclear energy in America's future
I've said this before, I don't think nuclear power is a panacea but I also think that given that it doesn't emit greenhouse gases, for us to invest some R&D into seeing whether we could store nuclear waste safely or reuse it...I mean these are all areas where the market interacting with a clear set of rules by the federal government and billions of dollars devoted to research and development can, I think, trigger the kind of economic growth we haven't seen in this country in a long time.
Obama's support for the nuclear industry has not been as full-throated as McCain's - he's not called for the building of 45 new reactors by 2030 - but to claim he's said "No to Nuclear" is inaccurate, at best.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Pushmi-Pullyu of Nuclear Politics

pushmi-pullyu Not here, where roses bloom and politics is the sport of gentlemen </snark>, but Germany. We noted the other day (scroll down – lots of good reading) that Germany was experiencing some buyers’ remorse over its decision to pull the plug on nuclear energy and that the prime minister, Angela Merkel, was beginning to signal a turnabout in policy.

But politics is politics. Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrats, are roughly comparable to America’s Republicans – that is, conservative leaning - and the Social Democrats to Democrats – liberal leaning, perhaps a bit more toward classical socialism than the Dems. Smaller, single-issue, regional and fringy parties usually form coalitions with the more like-minded of the big two. So, the Greens, the enviro-(friendly/extreme – your choice) party, usually works with the Social Democrats.

However, the governing coalition now consists of both big parties, rather like the Dems and Reps hanging out together.  The result would please Dr. Dolittle.

So here’s the story, via Reuters:

Germany's Social Democrats are preparing to propose taxing nuclear power generators as they prepare for next year's federal election campaign, a move which will pit them against their conservative coalition partners.

And why do they want to tax nuclear plants now?

[The Social Democrats] said the largely written-off equipment was highly profitable while nuclear operators did not have to pay any carbon avoidance costs and benefited from favorable arrangements for insurance and decommissioning costs.

Huh? Isn’t that the benefit of nuclear power plants, that they run long enough to amortize their costs, don’t emit carbon dioxide and are safe enough to do well on actuarial charts? It’s hooey through and through, but really, has more to do with this:

[Christian Democratic] politicians argue Germany must run its nuclear power stations beyond 2021 as they provide one third of the country's electricity needs which cannot be immediately replaced by renewable energies or thermal plants burning other fuels.

And, we’d add, not as inexpensively. The efficacy of nuclear energy seems to have put the Social Democrats in a knot. The thought here seems to be that if new taxes pass costs on to consumers, the value of nuclear energy diminishes. It’s hard to think of anything in American politics as utterly harebrained – well, okay, shortsighted - as this and that’s going some.

But there’s a however:

Relations are already strained in the coalition and utilities have stepped up calls for a nuclear rethink.

Fritz Vahrenhold, head of the renewable business unit RWE Innogy of the RWE group, Germany's largest power producer, said on German radio the tax idea was out of the question as Germany was heading for power supply gaps.

We can’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of German politics and it may be that this coalition is constantly in pushmi-pullyu mode on a whole range of issues. One could easily imagine the electorate surging further left or right just to do away with the arrangement. Regardless, the more we look at the German responses to nuclear energy – especially as regards the current sense of urgency – the deeper into the back alleys of cuckoo land it goes.

We can’t hazard a guess on the next move, but it’s fascinating to watch play out. Stay tuned.

I’d hoped to find a picture of the pushmi-pullyu from the (dreadful) 1969 Rex Harrison movie. This version was used in a revival of the stage musical in England. I suspect if things go well with the donkey, the verdant fields of England will be rife with camels and anteaters.