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The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future Arrives

And that’s what they’re calling it: The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. Announced today during a telephone conference with Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Presidential Advisor Carol Browner, the commission’s charge is to provide recommendations for developing a safe, long-term solution to managing the nation’s used nuclear fuel.The commission will be headed by former House member Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana) and former National Security Advisor (to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush) Brent Scowcroft. These men volunteer to chair the commission and show considerable devotion to public service in doing so.The remaining 13 commission members include:Mark Ayers, President, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIOVicky Bailey, Former Commissioner, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; Former IN PUC Commissioner; Former Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Policy and International AffairsAlbert Carnesale, Chancellor Emeritus and Professor, UCLAPete V. …

The State of the Union: The Reaction

President Barack Obama essentially led with nuclear energy while discussing energy last night, a move that surprised many, delighted us (and more besides us) and distressed a few. It may prove to be one of the “discussed” points of the speech. Take this bit from CNET’s coverage:"One surprise that few people would have anticipated only a few years ago: A mention of biofuels and clean coal received moderate applause. What drew the audience to its feet, cheering, was Obama's call for the construction of more nuclear power plants. Wind and solar combined produce less than 5 percent of U.S. electricity; Republicans have been calling on the administration to embrace a goal of authorizing 100 new nuclear reactors over the next 20 years."Well, we wouldn’t say that’s exactly what Republicans have been calling for – Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) definitely – and it wasn’t only Republicans jumping to their feet, unless Democrats were just getting the circulation going. But we’ll …

The State of the Union

Here’s the energy portion of President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address. The third paragraph is the keeper: in discussing more jobs – the theme of this year – Obama led with nuclear energy:Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history, an investment -- an investment that could lead to the world's cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched.And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year's investments in clean energy in the North Carolina company that will create 1,200 jobs nationwide, helping to make advanced batteries, or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work making solar panels.But to create more of these clean-energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives, and that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in th…

Lord Love a Nuclear Plant

Now, we admit we can be a little provincial when it comes to viewing the activities of other countries. We’ve travelled and had longer than vacation-length stays in other countries – still, a little provincial. So whenever we read a story about a British Lord, we inevitably think of a twit or a criminal rotter hiding under robes and a wig. But consider Lord Hunt:“We have some fantastically skilled people and in terms of employment new nuclear build offers many opportunities which I want us to take. Nuclear is low carbon, it’s safe and it’s home grown.Well, that’s about right:“And the argument for having it in the future is very persuasive. I am very excited at the prospects for people who work in the industry, lots of investment, lots of skilled jobs.”And so’s that. Who’s Lord Hunt? He’s the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change. We’re not sure where that puts him in the hierarchy of that department – below Secretary Ed Milliband, presumably, and with some responsibilities …

The More Molybdenum the Merrier

Yesterday, we mentioned GE Hitachi is putting together a radioisotope reactor to cover the short fall from the temporary shuttering of Canadian and Belgian plants. We also teased the notion there might be more announcements of a similar sort. We didn’t expect the similar sort of announcement to, um, be announced so quickly:One year after Babcock & Wilcox announced that it would seek to produce medical isotopes in the U.S., the company has received a $9 million boost to that project. The National Nuclear Security Administration has awarded the grant to the Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Group, one of the company’s operations in Lynchburg [Virginia]. The money will be used to continue developing B&W’s reactor technology for isotope production, B&W announced Monday.But it makes sense, since the NNSA was also involved in the GE announcement. The government really wants to ensure a reliable supply of molybdenum-99 and it’s clearly willing to seed the market with these…

John Rowe and GE’s Radioisotopes

In an interesting story in today’s USA Today, Julie Schmit profiles Exelon’s chairman, John Rowe. He’s always worth attending to on nuclear issues, though the selection of quotes here is, shall we say, a little strange:"I'm very depressed.""My dad felt about cows the way I feel about nuclear plants. They're a business, not a passion.""We're constantly looking for something dead in the plains."We’ll let you read the article for the context of these quotes – you’re probably curious about what’s dead in the plains. We will let you know that Rowe is depressed about the prospect for a climate change bill this year, yet confident there will be a bill because climate change concerns won’t end.  And Rowe insists climate legislation will be good for the environment as well as Exelon, which generates 92 percent of its electricity through nuclear energy. We always admire Rowe for his very frank assessments and this article captures that quality if a litt…

Union of Concerned Scientists Needs to Do a Bit More Research on Their Nuclear Claims

Mr. Elliott Negin, media director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, published the same jaded piece at Seeking Alpha and Greentech Media on how nuclear power is “Too Costly to Revive.” He begins by painting a somewhat rosy picture of the nuclear industry but then begins to dish it out by discussing the “industry’s Achilles’ heel” (cost of construction). The nuclear industry likes to point out that it has low production costs, which it does. What it doesn't mention, however, are its rapidly escalating capital costs, those associated with paying the cost of plant construction, including financing.Well, we like to tout the good cost numbers of nuclear and of course our critics like to point out the not-so-good numbers. So which is it? According to EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2010 released last month, nuclear’s estimated costs are definitely competitive with other technologies.
If you look at the total levelized unsubsidized costs of the emission-free technologies, nuclear is a li…

Steven Chu and The Senators

Secretary Steven Chu was on Capitol Hill yesterday talking to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. The discussion was wide ranging, but there’s no question the nuclear sections were the most pointed, especially notable in that Chu did not mention nuclear energy in his opening comments.Now, we should say that Chu is notably nuclear friendly. Energy Daily (which is behind a pay wall) reported that Chu pushed hard against a directive from the Office of Budget and Management that would limit DOE spending on some nuclear technologies, including small modular nuclear reactor and fast reactor recycling of used nuclear fuel. Asked about this by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chu said “What we … are trying to do is make our best technical assessment, and it’s a bit of a crystal ball, but the best technical assessment of what could be productive. But because it’s research, we do not want to down select. And so what you’re referring to [the Energy Daily story] is a snippet in a t…

Daily Kos Diarist Tells What Life is Like Working in a Nuclear Plant

Blubba, an occasional contributor at Daily Kos, began an entertaining series of posts describing the unique experiences that occur at a nuclear plant. Story #4, my favorite, highlights the interesting situations nuclear workers can find themselves in when changing in and out of anti-contamination suits (aka Anti-C):Around 1987, just a few years out of college, I was given the job of Containment Coordinator for the annual refueling outage at the Acme Nuclear Plant. It was not a well defined job but basically entailed troubleshooting, making sure electrical cords and air hoses were secured and not posing a tripping hazard and making sure everyone was wearing their hard hats and obeying the safety rules. If a worker needed a wrench and nobody else was around I fetched it. I did whatever needed doing to keep things running safely and smoothly. So I became very proficient at dressing in and out. One day the site VP stopped by and asked that I take him on an inspection tour inside, which we…

Scott Brown on Nuclear Energy

Congratulations to Scott Brown (R-Mass.) on his election to the Senate yesterday. We were, as always, interested to know where he stands on nuclear energy. Answer: in a good place.I support common-sense environment policy that will help to reduce pollution and preserve our precious open spaces. I realize that without action now, future generations will be left to clean up the mess we leave. In order to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, I support reasonable and appropriate development of alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal and improved hydroelectric facilities. I oppose a national cap and trade program because of the higher costs that families and businesses would incur.We poked around a bit, but didn’t find anything in his stump speeches about nuclear energy. But he supports carbon emission-free energy sources in lieu of a mechanism (like cap-and-trade) to force their use.You can reduce by conservation, wind, solar, hydroelectric, nuclear,” Brown t…

Helping in Haiti

The USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear-powered supercarrier, steamed over to Haiti last week. It is providing considerable help:The Vinson had arrived to Haiti loaded with thousands of bottles of water and energy drinks, 8,000 sheets and hundreds of camp beds.And:It also brought equipment to purify 100,00 gallons of water a day, by reverse osmosis.(Our friends over at Pro-Nuclear Democrats have an excellent post about how it does the desalination.)And, even better:Since its arrival Friday, the USS Carl Vinson has treated 10 patients -- three Americans and seven Haitians.One patient, a 12-year-old Haitian girl, even managed to receive brain surgery aboard, carried out by American neurosurgeon and CNN medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, who was in Port-au-Prince to report on the humanitarian catastrophe. Now, the USS Carl Vinson apparently cannot open itself as a hospital boat – it’s mission here is to deliver goods - but it’s doing what it can. The USS Carl Vinson runs on Two Westinghouse A4…

U.S. May Be Able to Produce Its Own Medical Isotopes at the Clinton Nuclear Power Station

The NRC just approved a license amendment at the Clinton nuclear plant in Illinois for a pilot program “to explore the production of Cobalt-60… Cobalt-60 is a radioactive material licensed by the NRC for applications such as commercial irradiators and cancer treatment.”As you may or may not know, there is a medical isotope shortage in the world because the reactor that produces 30-40% of the isotopes (Chalk River) is shut down. This has opened up a large opportunity to see if other suppliers can fill the gap, especially in the U.S. since we don’t have our own commercial isotope production facilities.NRC:The amended license allows Exelon to alter the reactor’s core by inserting up to eight modified fuel assemblies containing rods filled with Cobalt-59, which would absorb neutrons during reactor operation and become Cobalt-60. The pilot program will provide data on how the modified assemblies perform during reactor operation. Exelon has informed the NRC it plans to insert the modified …

Anti-Nuke Hypocrisies

Barry Brook published a great piece on the contradictory thinking of anti-nuclear environmentalists. It was posted a few days ago and is now up to almost 100 comments. He’s found 32 hypocrisies so far (with the help of others) and below is a taste of a few:1. They claim renewables can replace fossil fuels, then can’t see the problem with leaning on fossil fuel gas to back them up when they fail to do so.2. They claim nuclear can’t load follow, but ignore the fact that renewables can’t supply on-demand. (They also say nuclear can’t load follow, but forget that nuclear submarines… work).3. They excuse gas for emitting 50% less CO2 than coal when producing electricity, but won’t accept nuclear, which emits 100% less CO2 than coal.4. They claim we don’t need baseload power, then eagerly promote renewable baseload alternatives e.g., geothermal and solar with heat storage.…20. If someone like me comes out supporting nuclear power, then I’m no longer worth listening to because I’ve become an…

The Wind and The Sound

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has promised Cape Cod a decision on a proposed wind farm off its coast:Calling the nearly decade-long review of Cape Wind a "bad process" for everyone involved, Salazar said certainty was now required. U.S. Minerals Management Service — a division of the Interior Department — is the lead federal agency to review Cape Wind, leaving the final decision on permitting the project in Salazar's hands.After years of following Yucca Mountain, we have no problem brushing off NIMBY arguments – if you’re part of the American community, you should be willing to accommodate larger needs. But Yucca Mountain is essentially invisible – it’s nowhere near people – and Cape Wind will be quite visible. So there is a difference in quality if not kind, though that doesn’t increase our sympathy all that much.---The effort to turn back Cape Wind has picked up some interesting parties:Salazar and Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk first met with …

YouTube Videos on Ionizing Radiation

Yesterday, a commenter by the name of Georg provided links to seven YouTube videos about ionizing radiation that he and Kansas State University members just created. After viewing them, I highly recommend for anyone to take a gander on over. The voice of the videos is alluring and the graphics are simple and creative. For me, the video on Quantities and Units of radiation (below) was the best of the seven. Understanding units of radiation is always tricky for me and I’m sure others. There are Sieverts, there are Rems, there are Becquerels and so on. The video explains it all quite lucidly. Enjoy!

Browner, Korea and the Chamber

Carol Browner, President Obama’s energy and climate advisor, said some nice things about nuclear energy:"We have not built a nuclear plant in this country in a long time but we want to work with the industry to make that happen in the not too distant future," Browner said in a live chat on the White House website."We have been working with the nuclear industry to understand exactly what it is they need."This adds Browner to the list of relevant administration figures to endorse nuclear energy (Chu, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, Obama himself), so we’ll take it.---We were interested to see South Korea make a plant sale to UAE – the country had not seemed a major competitor before then – but the sale has unleashed ambition.South Korea is aiming to grab at least 20 percent of the global market for nuclear reactors in the next 20 years, the government announced Wednesday.A lot of ambition.[Kim Young-hak, vice minister for Knowledge Economy] said by 2030, South Korea…

The Pope on COP15

In his role as Sovereign of Vatican City, the Pope gives a speech to ambassadors each year to indicate the positions the state holds on various topics. In this year’s speech, Pope Benedict made it clear he was unhappy with the result of COP15:Speaking in French, he said he shared "the growing concern caused by economic and political resistance to combating the degradation of the environment." The pope expressed the hope that an agreement would be reached to effectively deal with this question before the end of the year. The President of the Vatican bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, went considerably further:However, he said that, when applied to environmental issues, nihilism produces "even more serious damage." In this case it leads to the attempt "to solve climate problems - where much confusion reigns - through lowering the birth rate and de-industrialization, rather than through the promotion of values that lead the individual to his original dignity."We’…

A Nuclear Tussle in Minnesota

The Duluth News tries a pro-con pair of op-eds on nuclear energy that would have benefitted considerably from a more direct match-up. John LaForge of Nukewatch takes the con and Rolf Westgard, a professional member of the Geological Society of America and of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, takes the pro. Both writers make points well worth arguing, but since they don’t engage each other, it’s impossible without further research to determine the relative validity of the arguments or how other data points would mitigate the extreme negativity on one side or the extreme positivity on the other. That leads to preaching to the converted and isn’t as useful as the News no doubt hoped for.Here’s how LaForge kicks off:Lofty claims about the benefits of nuclear power have been coming from the Nuclear Energy Institute’s lobbyists and others. Yet news journals, financial journals and energy journals all make clear that boiling water with uranium is the costliest and dirtiest en…

The Simpsons Turn 20. Happy Anniversary!

If you weren’t among the 13 million viewers who tuned in to watch the Simpsons 20th-anniversary special on Sunday night, here’s a clip containing the nuclear nuggets.



The full episode can be seen on Hulu here.

Congratulations to Matt Groening and James L. Brooks for creating what is now the longest-running primetime program in American television history. And a big thank you to the all of the talented writers who have made us laugh throughout the years – though maybe it’s time for Homer to get a career in a different industry?

The Whole Shocking Truth About Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Energy is never going to get an awful lot of love from Mother Jones magazine – unless the tide of support it’s seen from more progressives that way. But not yet. In a small piece, Mariah Blake shows that the nuclear energy industry would really like nuclear energy to be considered amongst other technologies in the energy bills going through Congress – shocking, we know, but true enough – and is even leveraging growing support from Democrats and organized labor to press its cause – doubly shocking, also true. The industry's efforts began to pay off this fall, as nuclear subsidies emerged as the key to wooing Republican votes for a Senate climate bill—votes necessary to offset defections from coal-state Democrats. Since October, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), one of the climate bill's sponsors, has been holding closed-door meetings with Republicans to craft nuclear language.None of this is particularly diabolical – none of it crosses any ethical line or aims to suborn the p…

2009 Was a Productive Year for Nuclear Energy

From a new administration in Washington, D.C., to the debate on climate change, 2009 was a busy year for the nuclear industry as the domestic fleet continued to operate at near-record capacity.The following summary of nuclear energy in 2009 was eloquently written and compiled by one of NEI’s writers, TJ Swanek. Hope you enjoy and find it useful!BIG CHANGES IN WASHINGTONAt the federal level, many changes took place that will affect the nuclear industry. Steven Chu, confirmed as energy secretary, oversaw increases in funding for long-term nuclear energy research in the budgeting process, including research dollars for advanced fuel cycles and Generation IV reactors.At the NRC, Gregory Jaczko was appointed chairman, succeeding Dale Klein, who had been serving in that role since July 2006. President Obama nominated George Apostolakis, William Magwood and Bill Ostendorff as NRC commissioners to fill two vacant seats and replace Klein on the commission. If the nominees are approved, they wo…

2009 Was a Strong Year for Reactor Construction Worldwide

One of NEI’s knowledgeable writers, Chris Charles, tallied up some promising world nuclear numbers in NEI’s weekly member newsletter. Below is his text that you may find useful. Jan. 7, 2010—The year 2009 ended with two new nuclear reactors beginning operation worldwide and a total of 55 new units under construction, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. In 2009, 11 units began construction, portending a healthy outlook for additions to the world nuclear fleet in coming years.Of the 11 units that began construction last year, nine were in China and one each in South Korea and Russia. The two new reactors starting up in 2009 were Japan’s 866-megawatt Tomari 3 and
India’s 202-megawatt Rajasthan 5. They both came online in December.Given an average construction lead time of five years, by 2014 about one new large reactor per month should begin to come on line. In addition, construction was being reactivated on two twin-reactor plants, one in Slovakia and the other a fl…

Lindsey Graham: As Bold As The French

We were in the mood for cheese, so of course had to look in on Wisconsin, where the mood is cheddery smooth:

A proposal that would relax Wisconsin's ban on nuclear reactors and mandate increasing use of renewable energy began its journey through the Legislature on Thursday, with Gov. Jim Doyle asserting that it could create more than 15,000 jobs.
Apparently, the legislation to do this has a problem which need not be one:

The bill would require that any nuclear reactor built in the state be designed to serve the needs of Wisconsin electricity customers only. That could violate the federal Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution, said Rep. Phil Montgomery (R-Ashwaubenon).
 We're not sure that Rep. Montgomery is right here but wonder why such a provision is even included. In any event, we should note that no electricity producer can be "designed" to do this - it's a matter of transmission, not generation and since Wisconsin, like every state, is part of a multi-s…