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Showing posts from February, 2010

Facebook and Small-d Democracy

The internet can be a bit, shall we say, free wheeling, so Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s Facebook page often finds itself awash in ill-considered comment. Or is it so ill-considered?Case in point: [Energy Secretary Steven] Chu posted information about $8 billion in loan guarantees awarded to two new nuclear reactors. The announcement spurred his “fans” to make more than 93 comments on nuclear energy, which would be great if it wasn’t just a hodgepodge of vacuous opinion and insults — entertaining as those might be.We’d only add that vacuous opinion aren’t limited to commenters on a Facebook page – it’s not as if cable news and op-ed pages are sterling repositories of intellectual purity – and as the story points out, some folks do bring some rigor to the discussion.Dr. Chu, congratulations on a good decision. However, I am concerned after reading the comments here that once again, not enough money is being spent on educating the public regarding the facts about nuclear power producti…

Nuclear Software Off the Shelf

Looking around for software that helps greenify your life, we ran across this.Announced Monday, one of IBM's new partnerships is with Johnson Controls, a manufacturer of products that optimize energy use in buildings. The two plan to combine Johnson's energy-efficient technologies with IBM's Tivoli software to offer customers a way to monitor and manage power usage, which IBM believes will cut costs. Specifically, building owners will be able to detect wasteful energy use, calculate greenhouse gas levels, and better manage the space in their buildings.Tivoli is systems management software you wouldn’t see outside a fairly large enterprise – the company was founded in 1989 and bought by IBM in 1996. Interestingly, the name Tivoli has no particular meaning to the company's founders – it was essentially picked from a list – so no Danish connection.This fits what we were poking around for, but the story goes on to cover some other IBM news:IBM also said it has added a maj…

Hans Blix, Psychological Tricks, Editorial Picks

Here’s a story we certainly had no reason to expect:The United Arab Emirates said Monday it had appointed former United Nations chief weapons inspector Hans Blix as the head of a new nuclear advisory board of experts. The nine-member advisory board will meet twice a year starting this February and will help the Persian Gulf state develop nuclear energy, the official WAM news agency reports, citing the ministry of presidential affairs. Blix is Swedish. He ran the IAEA for 16 years, ending in 1998, and later became involved in the run-up to the war in Iraq when his U.N.-sanctioned commission did not locate the bruited weapons of mass destruction in that country (which, we know now, did not exist. Can’t find what isn’t there.) We haven’t seen any quotes from Blix in the stories about this, so we’re not sure why he took the job – not to imply there’s anything wrong with his doing so, we’re just curious.---The L.A. Times has an interesting story up around used fuel repositories. If the U.…

Some Monday Morning Nuclear Blog Clips to Read

The two big posts everyone was raving about over the weekend come from Depleted Cranium’s Steve Packard and Brave New Climate’s Barry Brook. Steve clearly spent a great deal of man-hours providing a number of reasons Why You Can’t Build a Bomb From Spent Fuel. As well, Barry Brook always gets a heavy conversation going, this time by asking if climate sceptics and anti-nukes matter.There’s also been quite the discussion lately among many of the nuclear bloggers about natural gas. Depleted Cranium came out with another great piece that refreshes everyone's memories about gas prices by using a colorful graph. Rod Adams, as always, has something to say about gas – his latest on the gas industry’s advertisements and comparing tritium leaks to a methane leak were revealing. And Kirk Sorenson jabs at Climate Progress, the Sierra Club and a little bit at Greenpeace for their lack of acknowledgement of “a catastrophic explosion [two weeks ago] at a natural-gas-fired powerplant under constr…

Vermont Yankee Advertising Campaigns Heat up

With a vote by the state Senate on the future of Vermont Yankeescheduled for this Wednesday, residents of the Green Mountain State have seen a steady increase in advertising campaigns about the plant. This print ad from the IBEW Local 300, and signed by 13 labor unions, has been running in newspapers for the last week.


The copy:
This week the state Senate may vote on whether to prematurely close a clean, reliable energy supplier that provides 1/3 of the state’s electricity without producing any greenhouse gases or air pollution. And despite what some might say, the Vermont Yankee nuclear energy facility is safe. The facility ranks at the best level in each of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 16 safety and plant performance indicators.

Members of the Senate should thoughtfully consider all of the issues surrounding operations of the plant and the long-term needs of Vermont’s residents– both the 250,000 residents that depend on the affordable electricity produced …

Rasmussen Tracks Nuclear Energy

Rasmussen Reports has released a new poll on nuclear energy in the wake of President Obama’s loan guarantee announcement. Bottom line:49% of Americans favor the building of new nuclear power plants. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are opposed to the idea, and 24% are not sure.We’ve seen better, but given the mood of the country in general – or at least Rasmussen’s read of it – we’re not terribly surprised. (Last year, Gallup had support for nuclear energy at 59%.) Does this mean support has shrunk – no, at least not necessarily, because Gallup and Rasmussen use different surveys, stress items differently, etc. We’d need more polls and even then, not use them to draw conclusions. The goal for advocates is to see what the trends are so one one can correct public misperceptions or weaknesses in the message. But this isn’t advertising: lies not allowed. Here’s a few other tidbits:Sixty-one percent (61%) of adults now believe that finding new sources of energy is more important than reducing t…

Concerns From the Left and Right

In what we might call a bid for equal time, we roamed around looking for some stories that took a more critical view of the Vogtle loan guarantees. It must have been irresistible to The New York Times to see how environmentalists reacted and turned up, among others, our favorite group for reliable nuclear trash talk:Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, whose political arm endorsed Mr. Obama’s candidacy for president, said that Mr. Obama’s recent policy emphasis amounted to “unilateral disarmament.”“We were hopeful last year; he was saying all the right things,” Mr. Pica said. “But now he has become a full-blown nuclear power proponent, a startling change over the last few months.”The Times’ John Broder points out that this really isn’t the case:Mr. Obama has long supported nuclear power, as a senator and as a candidate for president.That is the case. We would agree with Mr. Pica, though, that one might not have expected Obama to make quite such a high-profile announcement of…

Hot Off the Presses: Editorial Feedback on Loan Guarantees

How has the editorial response to President Barack Obama’s announcement of loan guarantees been? Good – really good. Now, let’s acknowledge just for fun that the ink stained wretches of the fourth estate – now byte stained wretches too – remain far more relevant to policy discussion than falling circulation and industry crisis might lead one to believe. While all the enthusiasm may point online, the kind and quality of attention given a subject by the general public – not to mention the news agenda for a given period – is still controlled primarily by print media and its online outlets. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, or a terribly retrograde thing, we can’t begin to judge – but when opinion begins to form around an issue, your old-fashioned purveyor of comic strips and advice columns provides a powerful voice – and can make or break developing policy of all kinds. Take it seriously or risk missing a key component in how the country understands issues.So, that out of the way, her…

Bipartisan Loan Guarantees and Who Vogtle Was

So how did Barack Obama’s announcement of the first loan guarantee go with the nabobs of the media world? Well – really well.But let’s do some grousing and correcting anyway, since we think some media outlets are looking for a hook for the story that the facts on the ground do not fully support. For example, here’s the Washington Post: Republicans, who have called for building as many as 100 new nuclear power plants, hailed the president's move as evidence that he has accepted their argument. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) called it a "good first step" that would pave the way for progress on climate and energy legislation.And this is the Post’s headline:Obama to help fund nuclear reactors : GOP energy initiativeAnd here’s the New York Times:The announcement of the loan guarantee — $8.3 billion to help the Southern Company and two partners build twin reactors in Burke County — comes as the administration is courting Republican support for its climate and energy policies.N…

ABC News - A Nuclear America

Last night, ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer led the broadcast with a 3-minute "A Nuclear America: The President is Promoting Nuclear Energy as the Country's Future" describing yesterday's presidential announcement of a partial guarantee on loans that Southern Company and its partners will borrow to construct two new reactors in Georgia.

Say what you will about the networks and broadcast news, Sawyer's program averages 7-8 million viewers. Compare this with the highest rated cable news programs: the Fox Report with Shepard Smith averages 1-2 million viewers.

A lot of people, then, watched ABC's top story, and it was a good one. In the lead-in at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, Sawyer said, "President Obama said today that nuclear power plants are good for the environment, the economy, and jobs."

Correspondent Jake Tapper noted that a lot has changed in America, in the Democratic Party, and in the nuclear power business, since 1979. Tapper cited the 550…

DOE’s Response to the 50% Default Rate Myth for Nuclear Plants

Here’s an interesting update to a post at Mother Jones on nuclear’s supposed 50% default rate:Stephanie Mueller, Press Secretary for the Department of Energy, sent this response on Tuesday evening: "This [the CBO report] is a 7 year old analysis of legislation that was never enacted, and it is not germane to the current project—which has undergone rigorous financial analysis, is conditioned on regulatory approval, uses proven technology, and sets strict financial requirements to protect taxpayers.  Further, the project already has power purchasing agreements in place.  In other words, utilities have signed contracts agreeing to buy power from the plant for many years into the future, ensuring a stream of revenue." Doubt these actual facts will have any effects on the critics, though. But I guess the more they continue to use this claim and the more it’s debunked, then the less credible the critics become. It’s their credibility at stake so we’ll see how long they continue to…

NEI’s VP Alex Flint Debated Beyond Nuclear’s Kevin Kamps on C-SPAN

This morning NEI’s VP Alex Flint debated Kevin Kamps (pdf) from Beyond Nuclear for about 45 minutes. Besides disagreeing with every issue Mr. Kamps raised, I have to say he was quite smooth with his responses and did an effective job at making his case. But as Mr. Flint pointed out at 42:50, many of Mr. Kamps’ claims were “irresponsible fear mongering.”Among the topics discussed were CBO’s debunked 50 percent default rate which is not based on past industry experience, Vermont Yankee’s tritium situation, and how loan guarantees reduce the cost of electricity to the consumer (pdf). Enjoy!

Finally – Loan Guarantees

We’ve been discussing loan guarantees for what now seems like years – about five of them in fact, as they were established as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, though guarantees specifically for nuclear energy came along a couple of years later – so it’s about time that we saw a few of them.Here’s President Obama this morning at IBEW [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers] Local 26 Headquarters in Lanham Maryland:We are announcing roughly $8 billion in loan guarantees to break ground on the first new nuclear plant in our country in nearly three decades. It’s a plant that will create thousands of construction jobs in the next few years, and some 800 permanent jobs in the years to come. And this is only the beginning.  My budget proposes tripling the loan guarantees we provide to help finance safe, clean nuclear facilities – and we’ll continue to provide financing for clean energy projects here in Maryland and across America.Why?Now, I know it has long been assumed that …

Murkowski Demurs, Obama Concurs

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources committee gave a speech on the Senate floor the other day:Let’s start with nuclear energy.  During his remarks two weeks ago, the President indicated his support for a “new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.”  And to the Administration’s credit, it followed through on that one in the budget request.  That’s pretty good – even though Alaska has no nuclear energy plants, Murkowski has always been in favor of its use. She does note some frustrations, though.As I’ve said before, allowing the Department of Energy to guarantee more loans for nuclear plants is a step in the right direction.  But I’d remind you – it’s been a year now, and this Administration has yet to help finance a single nuclear project. […]Of course, we also need to make sure America is producing the raw materials used to generate nuclear energy.  Here, again, the Administration took a step backward last…

Oddities and Counterintuitive Snow Fall

This comment from President Barack Obama struck us as a little odd:He said Congress needs to pass a bill that includes Republican preferences such as incentives for nuclear energy and "clean coal" technology, as well as Democratic proposals for incentives to develop alternative energy sources like solar, biodiesel and geothermal energy. "I think that on energy, there should be a bipartisan agreement that we have to take a both/and approach rather than either/or approach," Mr. Obama said.Obama usually seems exceptionally clued in on partisan premises, but we’re not sure we’d divide the Republican and Democratic energy preferences this way – this formulation seems left over from the 70s. We think Congress has demonstrated a fairly comprehensive embrace of clean air technology regardless of party affiliation. Maybe the comment seems odd given the President’s own touting of nuclear energy during the State of the Union. Obama usually has this about right.  ---Speaking …

TVA and Crossing the T on Yucca Mountain

The other day, we listened to the hearings for the NRC commissioners - there are three open slots - but did not follow up with the TVA candidates later that afternoon. Maybe we should have:

During the hearing, each of the nominees gave a statement and was questioned by the committee members about their suitability for the role. Each nominee said that they backed TVA's use of nuclear energy.You can read all the quotes - and who said them - at the links but here's a taster:

"In the short run, additional generation needs to come almost surely from new nuclear.""I am pro-nuclear and I do think it needs to be part of the solution."

To support economic growth, I think we have to have low-cost power, and that additional power may have to be through nuclear."

"We've got some old dirty coal plants and, even if we were to miss the call for increased demand, I think nuclear must be part of our solution."
And that's a clean sweep of the fou…

Tritium, Tritium, Come and Get It

Besides last week being a busy week on budget proposals, loan guarantees, etc., there was quite a bit of discussion on the Vermont Yankee tritium issue. And Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee has done an exquisite job of keeping up with all of the media reports and facts that are coming out. As she has found, there are very few times when clear communication is essential and this was one of them. As I look at the history here, I see many opportunities for miscommunication. Underground and buried...what did these terms mean to the various players? Was Entergy asked about underground pipes, but answered about buried pipes? Did the nuclear engineer use the words buried, underground as if they were synonyms? Is John Wheeler correct about the use of underground and buried? Or is Gundersen correct in his implication that this is semantic obfuscation of a clear situation? Were there honest communication errors?Maybe. We’ll eventually find out. Something that may not be quite honest, thoug…

Turkey, India, NYC

Enough about the DOE budget, the blue ribbon commission and government stuff! – for today anyway.---We weren’t quite sure what this meant:On Wednesday the U.S ambassador met with Energy Minister Taner Yildiz to express the desire of U.S. firms to build Turkey's first nuclear power station.Government sources have said the license for the Turkish nuclear power station may simply be handed to Moscow, which already supplies 60 percent of Turkey's gas needs, if they can agree over pricing and other technical issues.Such a move would add to worries over the possibility that NATO-member Turkey's policies are shifting away from Ankara's traditional Western friends.So Turkey may partner with Russia rather than the U.S. to build a plant. What we don’t get is why this means Turkey is necessarily moving away from the West. It sounds to us – even based on the bit above – that Turkey has long-standing energy ties to Russia (for better or worse) and might want to extend that. Based …

The Nuclear Energy Budget Redux: The Republican Plan

The Republicans in Congress have put together their own budget plan for nuclear energy for 2011. Here’s what they don’t like about the Obama administration’s plan:Terminating Yucca Application:  Yucca is still by law the nation's solution for spent nuclear fuel, and the President's budget raises questions about how the license can be pulled without exposing the U.S. government to potentially billions of dollars in liability payments.  Sham "Blue Ribbon" Panel: After nearly a year, the Obama Administration finally named its "blue ribbon" Washington panel to study what to do with spent nuclear fuel currently piling up at power plants.  Labor unions and environmental organizations are well-represented on the commission.  Excluding Nuclear from Energy Legislation:The House-passed cap-and-tax energy bill, H.R. 2454, excluded nuclear power (a greenhouse gas neutral technology) from its federal renewable energy standard (RES), which would have made it easier for…

NEI Executives on Clean Skies TV

Last night, our CEO Marv Fertel discussed a number of nuclear topics with Clean Skies TV's Tyler Suiters. Several of the topics mentioned include loan guarantees, a Clean Energy Deployment Administration, and decreasing from 10 years to 6 years the time it takes to get a plant online through regulatory efficiencies. Plus, he hints at which nuclear station he thinks will be the first one built by 2016 under the NRC’s new regulatory process.A portion of Marv’s segment will be broadcast on Clean Skies Sunday this Sunday on WJLA, Channel 7 at 9:30 a.m. As well, NEI’s Communications VP, Scott Peterson, joined Clean Skies TV over the past weekend to “discuss Energy Secretary Steven Chu's new Blue Ribbon Panel and how it could affect the NRC and nuclear power.”Hope you enjoy!

Small Reactors and Closed Minds

Here’s a novel suggestion from Stephen Bainbridge: President Obama has a ready source of nuclear knowledge in the government that could turn its attention to the industrial sector:The Navy already operates dozens of small nuclear reactors in aircraft carriers and submarines, with an outstanding record of safety and reliability. They have an established training program that churns out nuclear-capable officers. By analogy to the Army Corps of Engineering, we could create a Navy Corps of Nuclear Engineering. It would build and operate dozens of small nuclear power plants around the country. To address security concerns, the first plants would be built on military bases, where the garrison can provide security. Licensing costs would be cut because the government would own and operate the plants.We can imagine any number of problems with this idea, but many points to Bainbridge for having it. We haven’t heard anything this ingenious in awhile. Be sure to read the rest; we don’t agree wit…

A Comparison of Loan Guarantee Volume by Energy Technology

Since the President’s support for nuclear was made clear at the State of the Union, our nuclear critics have dramatically ramped up their opposition to nuclear, particularly on loan guarantees. Besides continuously repeating the debunked 50 percent default rate for nuclear, one detail often neglected by our critics is how much loan volume is proposed as well as currently available for various technologies. Below is a slide used by Jonathan Silver, Executive Director of the Loan Guarantee Program Office, in a briefing on his Office’s 2011 budget.Currently, efficiency and renewables have $52.3 billion in loan volume, advanced vehicles have $25B, nuclear has $20.5B, and the fossil and fossil/EERE mix have $12.0B. If the President’s budget proposal is passed as is, nuclear will have almost as much loan volume as efficiency and renewables. Maybe one of the reasons our nuclear critics neglect to mention this fact is because the proposed loan volume for nuclear makes it about equal to thei…

The Department of Energy 2011 Budget Request

Or the nuclear elements thereof, anyway. This was written for NEI’s member newsletter, Nuclear Energy Overview, and provides a fairly thorough overview of the nuclear elements of this year’s budget request.This is just the beginning of the annual process, with the House and Senate due to hold many hearings, grouse about this or that, and vote for more or less money requested by the administration. DOE is not immune from this process, though we wonder whether the nuclear element will not be seen as pleasing to a fairly wide swath of Congress folk. As always, time will tell.You can pick up a pdf of the budget request here if you want to follow along.This is original reporting.---The DOE budget proposal for 2011 requests a tripling of its loan guarantee authority for new nuclear power plants, from $18.4 billion to $54 billion.At the same time, the budget zeroes out the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository project, as the department expects to pull the license application within the month.…

The Energy Budget Request 2011: Prelude

The Department of Energy’s 2011 budget request is excellent in recognizing the value of nuclear energy, mostly by simply shifting sums around to favor research a little more and increasing the loan guarantee authority to ensure more plants can be built. We’ll have more details about the budget request a little later today. In the meantime, we thought we’d provide a little context for the nuclear good news the budget request contains. After all, many nuclear advocates thought Barack Obama’s election would have dire consequences for the growth of nuclear energy in this country. That hasn’t proven to be true, in large part due to the climate change issue, which has allowed the benefits of nuclear energy to shine out, perhaps also in part due to the appointment of the nuclear friendly Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy.We’ve mentioned before that President Obama tends to revisit an issue several times before settling on an approach (admittedly, we were talking about a short-live…

Pro-Nuclear Bloggers Chat It Up About Last Week’s Major Announcements from the Obama Administration

Last night, seven of us had the opportunity to chat amongst ourselves about President Obama’s State of the Union, the announcement of a blue-ribbon commission, the proposal to increase loan guarantees and Vermont Yankee’s tritium quagmire. Last week was quite an eventful week for the nuclear industry so for one of Rod Adams’s podcast shows, a number of us were asked by Rod if we could share our thoughts. The five other knowledgeable participants were:Kelly Taylor, a 24 year nuclear industry professional and frequent Atomic Show guest. Meredith Angwin, a physical chemist and small businessperson who has recently started publishing a blog titled Yes, Vermont Yankee. Charles Barton, who blogs at Nuclear Green and Energy from Thorium. Dan Yurman, who blogs at Idaho Samidat, writes for Fuel Cycle Weekly and is the blogger with the highest readership at The Energy Collective.Robert Margolis, a 24 year nuclear industry professional who has operated reactors on 3 continents and is currently w…