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More of The Best Nuclear Energy News of 2013

1. The 60th anniversary of Atoms for Peace (and NEI, too) – President Dwight Eisenhower gave the Atoms for Peace speech before the United Nations General Assembly on December 8, 1953. I’ve heard different thoughts about how to date the beginning of the domestic nuclear energy industry – the four light bulbs illuminated by Experimental Breeder Reactor I on December 20, 1951, the first successful use of nuclear energy to generate electricity, is a good candidate – but Atoms for Peace seems correct because the speech makes the moral and ethical, not just a technical, case for nuclear energy. That’s important and it makes 2013 the 60th anniversary of the industry.Atoms for Peace came about as a response to the rising tide of the cold war and Eisenhower’s perception that the world could embrace “the hopeless finality of a belief that two atomic colossi are doomed malevolently to eye each other indefinitely across a trembling world.”Against this nihilistic view, Eisenhower proposed a st…

Dropping the Ball

Don’t make the wrong assumption. This is great:The Citi Bike Pedal Power Station will be located on the Southeast corner of 7th Avenue and 42nd Street. It will be open to New Yorkers and visitors on Saturday, December 28th and Sunday December 29th from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM and on Monday, December 30th from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Citi Bike brand ambassadors will be on-site taking photos of participating riders. Participants will receive a free Citi Bike day pass and they will be sent a digital photo of them helping power the Ball that they can save and share via social media. The six bikes at the Citi Bike Pedal Power Station will be connected to 12-volt deep cycle batteries. Each bike is expected to generate an average of 75 watts per hour. The Times Square New Year's Eve Ball is lit by more than 30,000 LEDs. Throughout the three-day event, a power meter at the Citi Bike Pedal Power Station will show how much energy has been generated. A lot of this press release is a super hard sel…

The Best Nuclear Energy News of 2013

Your list of the best nuclear news of the year, part 1, and in no particular order. All good news is number 1, right? 1. Pandora’s Promise – There has been a movement by environmentalists to support nuclear energy for some years because of its continued safety record, the inability of renewable energy sources to provide baseload energy and, most especially, the looming spectre of a climate change-driven catastrophe. Robert Stone’s movie Pandora’s Promise made this tectonic shift in attitude manifest for many people. Stone does a lot more than provide talking heads, however, dispelling myths, showing the anti-nuclear movement as driven more by fervor than rationality and facing fully the implications of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Still, what a great bunch of talking heads: Gwyneth Cravens, Mark Lynas, Stewart Brand, Richard Rhodes and more. They all articulate their conversions on the road to nuclear energy with great intelligence and humor. For me, Lynas is the breakout star and …

Little Presents: NuScale, Germany, Meateasies

Sustainable Business Oregon presents a interview with Pete Lyons, DOE’s assistant secretary for nuclear energy. It’s fine and worth a read – he talks mostly about the NuScale deal – see posts below for more on this. Lyons does a good job explaining what NuScale offers specifically and what the interest in small reactors may mean generally:Small modular reactors offer an opportunity for a new paradigm in how we think about nuclear plant construction. In the past we’ve gone to bigger and bigger plants built at a job site. We have realized there are some economies going to these bigger and bigger plants (built) on site. We’re trying to explore a different type of economy by moving down in size to where they can be built in a factory under factory quality assurance standards and moved intact to a site.---The European Union is investigating the deal between the British government and Electricite de France to build a new reactor at Hinkley Point C. That story will require more attention fro…

The Renewable Niche and The Nuclear Shrug

Writer Steven Stromberg, writing in the Washington Post Partisan blog, offers this:Some environmentalists cheer the closing of nuclear plants, even though it makes the anti-carbon effort tougher, and they argue that the country should put all of the planet’s eggs into the renewables basket. The pro-nuclear crowd predicts that a new wave of innovative technologies will make constructing new nuclear plants much more attractive, technically and economically.The country — and particularly environmentalists — should hope the pro-nuclear side is right; a renaissance in nuclear technology could offer the country a source of reliable, carbon-free electricity with safer designs than those of decades ago, all of which would be particularly helpful if renewables never burst out of their niche end of the market.The “pro-nuclear crowd'” (I think I prefer mob or cohort) actually includes a fair number of environmentalists. This is a pretty good post, though putting an energy option into the ca…

Those Irresponsible Physicians

Gotta love the title of this Forbes article:Irresponsible Physicians Oppose Nuclear EnergyIt’s a play on the name Physicians for Social Responsibility (the rest of the physicians apparently have a different agenda), which issued a report on energy options. The article (and report, apparently) is more about natural gas than nuclear energy, though author James Conca has nothing but contempt for this idea in the socially responsible physician’s paper:But the most bizarre section of this report is the attempt to paint enrichment of uranium-235 for fuel as more carbon-emitting than gas. The important CO2 emissions calculation not done by McCullough is that replacing CGS with a gas plant would add over 40 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere over 17 years. Instead, McCullough’s report [McCullough Research put it together] has a lame discussion of the nuclear fuel cycle and how uranium enrichment at the old weapons-era Paducah plant (no longer operating) is an important emissions source.Not…

DOE Awards NuScale Second Small Reactor Grant

Let’s see what’s behind the headline, via the AP:
The U.S. Department of Energy said Thursday that it has awarded an Oregon company a grant to help it design and obtain federal approval for a kind of nuclear power plant - small modular units that can be built in a factory and shipped to installation sites. That Oregon company is NuScale, a startup company with strong ties to Oregon State University The first DOE award went to the mPower small modular reactor design being developed by long-established Babcock & Wilcox, a company that has been building small reactors for the U.S. Navy for decades. NuScale’s technology approach is unique and allows capacity additions in 45 megawatt increments. In addition, its safety features directly address the lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. It’s a pressurized water reactor – as is mPower – with a lot of new ideas regarding safety.
[NuScale offers] a smaller, scalable version of pressurized water reactor technology with natur…

The End of Megatons to Megawatts

This is what it is – or was:The Megatons to Megawatts Program is a unique, commercially financed government-industry partnership in which uranium from dismantled Russian nuclear warheads has been recycled to produce fuel for American nuclear power plants.  The 20-year, $8 billion program has been implemented at no cost to taxpayers and is arguably the most successful nuclear disarmament program in history. Virtually the entire U.S. nuclear reactor fleet has used this fuel.And this has been its benefit:Since 1995, U.S. utilities have purchased this fuel for their commercial nuclear power plants under Megatons to Megawatts, which has helped fuel approximately 10 percent of the country’s electricity during that time. Nuclear energy facilities received this fuel as part of its commercial fuel contract for low enriched uranium with USEC Inc., the U.S. executive agent for the program. And now, the Russians have sent the last of the low enriched uranium to the United States. The AP notes it

“Nuclear energy is a sector of the future.”

“Nuclear will always make up at least half of our energy (electricity output)," he was quoted as saying during a Franco-Chinese seminar in Beijing on Friday to commemorate a 30-year partnership in the nuclear sector."Nuclear energy is a sector of the future," he added.That’s Arnaud Montebourg, the French industry minister, speaking, so he knows whereof he speaks. France is building two nuclear reactors in China, which raises an important point – nuclear energy technology is not just a economic boon to ratepayers like those in France but to companies like the French-owned AREVA, which is building the Chinese reactors. The Reuters story also mentions in passing that the French utility EDF is building a new reactor in England. This is how trade works.---Which may be why we’re hearing this out of Japan:In an attempt to overturn the previous administration's pledge to phase out nuclear power, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government will call it an "impor…

Japan: The strongest signal yet on nuclear energy

News from Japan:Japan should continue to use nuclear power as a key energy source despite the Fukushima power plant disaster, a government panel said on Friday in a reversal of a phase-out plan by the previous government. Given the turn over in Japanese governments, policy reversals could go on forever, but the recommendation is sound. That doesn’t mean that there will not be significant pushback, though. The primary example remains the former, much respected, prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who has really gone on a tear against nuclear energy:In a speech Nov. 12 at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Koizumi said, “I think it will be good (for Japan) to end (nuclear power generation) immediately.”It was a brutally clear message from the mouth of a person who had long been at the center of political power.And though he faced a lot of criticism for taking this stand (he was for nuclear energy as PM), his words carry real weight with the public:In an opinion poll conducted by Th…

World Bank Toff: “We don’t do nuclear energy.”

So says World Bank President Jim Yong Kim:“We don’t do nuclear energy.”Okay.“The World Bank Group does not engage in providing support for nuclear power. We think that this is an extremely difficult conversation that every country is continuing to have.“And because we are really not in that business our focus is on finding ways of working in hydro electric power, in geo-thermal, in solar, in wind,” he said.“We are really focusing on increasing investment in those modalities and we don’t do nuclear energy.”But the story from Agence France-Presse also includes this tidbit:In some countries, only 10% of the population has electricity.Hope there are enough rivers to dam in those places.---From Scotland:New nuclear would not play a role in an independent Scotland, according to a white paper published by the Scottish government in November. The current Scottish government is opposed to the building of any new nuclear power stations in Scotland and will phase out existing stations in Scotla…

Recontextualizing the Nuclear Option

When the Senate changed the filibuster rules to allow judicial and executive appointments to proceed to the floor with 51 votes instead of the 60 the filibuster required, the process was called the nuclear option, a name given it (probably) by Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) back in 2006. The association has always been with weaponry not energy, but the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg goes with energy – in a notably detailed metaphor – and in notably familiar language:But global warming has changed the picture. Nuclear power isn’t the best way to reduce carbon emissions—that would be wind and solar. For the intermediate future, though, breezes and rays won’t be enough. As growing numbers of environmentalists and climate scientists have come to realize, nuclear power is much, much better than what remains the real-world alternative: fossil fuels like oil and, especially, coal. When it comes to energy, the nuclear option, though not the best of all possible worlds, is better than the one we’re…

Maybe Yes Maybe No for Nuclear Energy in Bolivia

Add another country to the growing list of those who know there’s something to this nuclear energy thing:Bolivia is on track to develop a national nuclear power program for peaceful civilian purposes that include building electricity export capacity in the country, official media reported. According to the UPI story, this has been percolating since last month, when Bolivian President Evo Morales reactivated a long-delayed nuclear energy program. This has proven mildly controversial because Morales has had fractious relations with the United States – the countries booted out each other’s ambassadors in 2008 - though the relationship has improved in recent years. Whether Bolivia can field a nuclear energy program is guesswork at this time. Bolivia is a relatively small country – with about 10.5 million in population – and poverty alleviation is a priority for the Morales government. While the country might be a prime candidate for clean-energy industrialization, there is a lot of stres…

Absent a Repository, Nuclear Waste Fee Suspended

The nuclear waste fee, established by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, pays for the building of a permanent repository for used nuclear fuel. When the government settled on Nevada’s Yucca Mountain for the repository site, Congress in 1987 amended the act to include it. All that made sense – the industry paid for a repository and the government would take charge of used fuel and put it there. But when President Barack Obama ended the Yucca Mountain project in 2009 with no alternative site envisioned, numerous unresolved problems developed: first, the law stipulates Yucca Mountain and no place else as the repository. And second, how much money should the industry’s ratepayers pay into the nuclear waste fund without an actual repository to fund. Is $29 billion enough? Because that’s how much has been collected. Should the industry keep paying about $750 million per year when the government has no designated repository site to spend it on. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington rul…

The Distraction of Coal at COP19

The Warsaw COP19 climate change negotiations experienced a bit of local competition that proved to be pretty interesting itself: the International Coal and Climate Summit, held at Poland’s Ministry of Economy.Here’s the description:International Coal & Climate Summit will bring together the leadership of the world’s largest coal producing companies, energy & heat producers, coal-consuming industry representatives, senior policy-makers, academics and NGO representatives to discuss the role of coal in the global economy, in the context of the climate change agenda. The industry’s most important event this year will be held at the Ministry of Economy of Poland during climate change negotiations.The keynote address, delivered by Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is notably stark and to the point:Development banks have stopped funding unabated coal. Commercial financial institutions are analyzing the implications of…

The Irrational Now and the Catastrophic Later: Nuclear Energy in a Time of Climate Change

Nathan Myhrvold, the former Microsoft technology office and current venture capitalist with a position on the board of nuclear energy startup Terrapower (whew!), makes the case:Nuclear technology is scary to some people because they fear extremely improbable scenarios while ignoring the virtual certainty of climate issues. Ironically people who argue against nuclear on environmental grounds may contribute to a far greater environmental catastrophe. Unfortunately the physics of climate change makes the here and now danger too easy to ignore. He goes on to explain that the worst impacts of climate change will happen over the course of the 21st century and beyond. He doesn’t say it, but that means many of us won’t be around to experience it and what Myhrvold implies – well, let’s let him say it:This means that if we wait until temperature change becomes an obvious and immediate problem, we’ll only be half way through the warming caused by carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere…

The Right Context for Nuclear Energy

Sometimes, we run into statements about nuclear energy that do not really cry out to be said. It’s not that any number of things, many quite trivial, don’t get said in the course of a given day, it’s that a little more thought might warn one away from speaking. For example:“Sometimes it does but it’s a tricky thing to determine that concept [probably means context]. We can find many instances in which parties have tried to implement nuclear power in the wrong context, which leads to high costs and exposes populations to a greater risk of accident so it’s important to find the right context for nuclear energy.” Okay, I guess, if awfully presumptuous. Let’s start with this and see where it goes.“Nuclear energy has some specific requirements,” he said. “In Bolivia, which is a landlocked nation where it’s relatively arid so there’s no water cooling, it would be very difficult. In some cases, it’s a geographically imposed context. In others, it’s the size, or if a country has bad credit, b…

“I think nuclear will have to be an option.”

Southern Co. has not had a bad time putting up two new reactors at its Plant Vogtle site in Georgia, so maybe they can do a little more of that (behind a pay wall, though you can join for the day for 99 cents – though your email will never see the end of solicitations):The company — convinced natural gas and alternative fuels will not satisfy future demand — is already considering whether to start the process toward another, post-Vogtle nuclear project, a top executive says.“I can tell you that we want to keep nuclear as an option on the table, so don’t be surprised if we start a licensing process to keep that option alive,” President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Bowers said in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “(It’s) a 10-year, 10-to 12-year process to build. So keeping it alive, I think we have to keep that in consideration.”Bowers says the idea would be to consider new build after determining Georgia’s electricity needs in 2025. But what about renewables. Me…

Born Among Goats: Nuclear Energy and the Liberal Project

CNN has been soliciting a lot of op-ed style pieces to promote its showing of Pandora’s Promise. As Eric points out in the post below, CNN has really done a good job gathering this material, though both pro- and anti-nuclear energy advocates often use their space to make clear their talking points, assuming – probably correctly – that many people have not been engaged in their somewhat internecine arguments. Still, Rachel Pritzker, president of the Pritzker Innovation Fund, tries an interesting approach.It is time for policymakers to recognize that nuclear power must be a robust part of our nation's energy plan to reduce carbon emissions.These may seem like strange words coming from a liberal whose family has been active in progressive politics, and who grew up on a Wisconsin goat farm in a home heated by wood fires. Like many of my fellow progressives, I care deeply about the environment and the future of our planet, which is precisely why I do not think we should be reflexively…

With Pandora's Promise in Hand, CNN Shining Light on Politics of Yucca Mountain

I'm a Washington policy professional but also a Washington native, and so over the better part of four decades I've developed a distinct appreciation for how policy in this city is covered by the fourth estate. To cut to the chase: I'm pretty much underwhelmed/infuriated by a wide swath of the Washington press corps on pretty much a daily basis. But not today.

For the better part of the past month I've worked closely and in most rewarding fashion with the producer-reporter tandem of David Fitzpatrick and Drew Griffin of CNN. Tonight of course that outlet is airing the magnificent documentary 'Pandora's Promise.' In support of the documentary CNN has devoted extraordinary resources this fall to informing the public about nuclear energy. In sprawling digital and broadcast news and commentary this week, CNN has covered nuclear's voices pro and con, academic and activist, political and wonkish. Nuclear power in the United States has known both triumph and s…

Climate Change/Nuclear Energy Letter Receives Broad News Coverage

We mentioned the letter by four leading climate change scientists, James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Tom Wigley, and Ken Caldeira, on Monday [the post right below this one] and predicted it would get some pickup in the mainstream press. Prediction fulfilled: next up, this week’s lottery numbers.The stories have included some other interesting information that bolster the notion that nuclear energy can make a decided difference in mitigating climate change. Here’s the Detroit News:Stephen Ansolabehere, a Harvard professor who studies energy issues, said nuclear power is “very divisive” within the environmental movement. But he added that the letter could help educate the public about the difficult choices that climate change presents.One major environmental advocacy organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, warned that “nuclear power is no panacea for our climate woes.”Even the nuclear energy industry doesn’t call nuclear energy a climate woe panacea. I’m pretty sure no one does…