Notice anything about the green bars in the graphic at right? What caught our eye was the huge bar for "Nuclear power tech" in Texas. So what's the story? Is everything bigger in Texas?
The graphic appeared in the Wall Street Journal on June 24 in an article on the value of two-year and four-year college degrees. Authors Mark Peters and Douglas Belkin cited recent studies by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the American Institutes for Research. The green bar that caught our eye is based on data presented in the AIR report. It shows the first-year earnings of graduates of Associate's degree programs in nuclear technology in Texas as averaging more than $98,000.
The report is not clear about the specific jobs tied to the reported first-year earnings by nuclear technology graduates in Texas. (There are two nuclear power plants in Texas: Comanche Peak in Glen Rose, and South Texas Project in Bay City, offering thousands of well paying jobs.) The report also does not indicate how many graduates' salary reports are included in the average of $98,000. Our data on salaries for entry-level technical positions in the nuclear power industry nationwide, taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, show figures that were somewhat lower than that for most positions in 2012. Thus, one should take the AIR figures with the same proviso that comes with mileage stickers on new cars, "Your individual experience may vary." That said, the report is a useful reminder that jobs in the nuclear field pay well, and in many locations and disciplines, very well, indeed.
(For more information on jobs in the nuclear profession see our blog posts from June 11, 2014 and March 27, 2012 and the Careers & Education section of our website.)
Friday, June 27, 2014
Thursday, June 26, 2014
The Atlantic has an article called Is Nuclear Energy Ever Coming Back?. Aside from the fact that five new reactors are opening before the turn of the decade, the question seems a bit moot, but writer Celeste Lecompe does an exceptionally good job looking at subject wholly – I mean, with the Union of Concerned Scientists and NEI in the mix. We may take some pleasure in how much like sourpusses UCS seems, but it’s a fair look at different views. And Lecompte give due to new developments, such as small reactors and Transatomic’s revived interest in molten salt.
In the meantime, TerraPower, the Bill Gates-backed startup, has opted to focus its attention abroad. “There are plenty of countries or regions that really are looking to nuclear as one of the ways to solve their energy needs without putting more carbon into the environment,” said Kevin Weaver, TerraPower’s director for technology integration. TerraPower is exploring opportunities to deploy its reactor design in Russia, China, India, Korea, France, where national energy policies are more supportive of nuclear power.
Oh, and did we mention? TerraPower is there, too. Long, but worth the time.
The New York Times weighs in on the battle over the Export-Import Bank:
Other groups and businesses opposed to the bank include the Heritage Foundation and Delta Air Lines, which argues that the bank’s loans and guarantees helps foreign airlines buy Boeing planes at lower cost than domestic airlines can. The bank is actually a very poor symbol of corporate welfare. The interest and fees from its loans earn a healthy profit (last year it earned more than $1 billion for the Treasury), and its default rate is less than 1 percent.
Why keep you in suspense?
Congress should ignore the ridiculous arguments against the bank and reauthorize it.
The Times editorial board thinks this will happen, but it may be a near thing. Read the posts below this one on why it matters to nuclear energy supporters.
Subject for further research: EPA Hits Nuclear Power With Kryptonite. The story is actually about krypton the element, not Superman’s home planet or the remnant of it that is kryptonite. Still, points to Forbes for even illustrating the story with Superman images. It tends to emphasize that there is nothing inherently interesting about krypton.
I know that Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were science kids, but I’ve never read that there is special significance to their having used krypton. It might well have been picked as a cool word from the periodic chart and that’s all there was to it. The planet could just as well been called molybdenum.
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
To follow the chat in real time, click here to see all of the questions and answers. If you’d like to submit a question to Gov. Whitman, you can do so via Twitter beginning right now. Be sure to add the #AskGovCTW hashtag in order to make sure that the folks at CASEnergy see the question.
Topic: Nuclear Energy’s Role in New EPA Carbon Regulations
Host: CASEnergy Coalition Co-Chair Governor Christine Todd Whitman, former EPA Administrator
Date/Time: Thursday, June 26 from 1-1:30 P.M. (accepting questions now)
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
To get the other side of the story, we've compiled a number of links and resources for you to consider. Earlier this year, our own Ted Jones laid out the reasons why NEI supports reauthorization of the bank, listing his top 5 reasons why exporters continue to need the critical help it provides in international markets. On Monday, NEI, along with over 800 other organizations, sent an open letter to the U.S. Congress urging them to support reauthorization of the bank. Here's an excerpt on why we believe eliminating the Ex-Im Bank amounts to unilateral disarmament in international trade:
Failure to reauthorize Ex-Im would amount to unilateral disarmament in the face of other governments’ far more aggressive export credit programs, which have provided their own exporters with an estimated $1 trillion in financing support in recent years. Export credit agencies in China, France, Germany, Brazil, and Korea have provided significantly more support for their exporters than Ex-Im has provided to U.S. exporters — in some cases, more than seven times what Ex-Im Bank has provided on an annual basis.Though he won't be at tomorrow's hearing, NEI's Marv Fertel submitted his testimony for the record:
Ex-Im Bank is one of the most important tools available to promote U.S. nuclear energy exports to the large and growing global market. When a U.S. supplier wins a major nuclear power plant tender, it establishes relationships that can endure for decades through the supply of fuel, equipment and services.One of the biggest distortions about the Ex-Im Bank is that it only benefits large businesses. That's not true. One business that does benefit from the bank's services is Precision Custom Components (PCC) of York, Pennsylvania. With just 200 employees, PCC depends on Ex-Im to help support its activities in export markets all over the world:
Beyond the substantial benefits to U.S. exports and job creation, U.S. nuclear exports promote nuclear safety, security and nonproliferation. Further, they enable U.S. partners to protect their energy security interests through diversification of energy technologies and supply relationships.
With Ex-Im Bank support, U.S. nuclear energy supplies can compete for and win key international nuclear energy tenders, and advance multiple U.S. national interests.
We'll be tweeting about the hearing and the bank all day long. Please follow our activities on Twitter with the #ExIm4Jobs hashtag. In the meantime, here are some other resources for you to review during the debate about the future of the Bank.
- Infographic: American Leadership in Global Nuclear Trade Is Vital (NEI.org)
- Nuclear Industry Urges House Panel to Reauthorize Ex-Im Bank (NEO)
- GOP Letter to Reps. Boehner & McCarthy on Ex-Im Reauthorization (NEI.org)
- NEI's Alex Flint on Why Nuclear Industry Needs Ex-Im Bank (NEI.org)
- How Ex-Im Helps Westinghouse Export Commercial Nuclear Technology (YouTube)
- How Ex-Im Helps Westinghouse Create Jobs Here at Home (YouTube)
- Why Ex-Im Bank is Important (YouTube)
- Support ExIm Bank Playlist (YouTube)
- Top 5 Reasons to Support Ex-Im Bank Reauthorization (NEI Nuclear Notes)
- The Ex-Im Bank and Nuclear Energy (NEI Nuclear Notes)
- Export-Import Bank Reauthorization (NEI.org)
- Nuclear Exports & Trade (NEI.org)
- 2014 Ex-Im Bank Global Competitiveness Report (ExIm.gov)
Monday, June 23, 2014
The Supreme Court ruled today that the EPA cannot rewrite law (in this case The Clean Air Act) to accommodate new information without Congressional approval. In this instance, EPA added carbon dioxide to its list of pollutants and most lawsuits raised to challenge this were dismissed. But one made it through and The Supreme Court took it up. This is a good explanation of the issue:
The CAA’s [Clean Air Act] Prevention of Significant Deterioration (“PSD”) permitting program was designed to prevent the significant deterioration of air quality in areas that were already complying with the national ambient air quality standards for at least one criteria pollutant. Taking up its charge following the Court's ruling in Mass. v. EPA, EPA introduced new regulations covering greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. EPA then extended the PSD permitting program to cover large stationary sources of greenhouse gas, as required by the plain text of the CAA and a three-decades-old interpretation of the Act followed by both Democratic and Republican Presidents alike.This takes the issue from the other side.
When the EPA added carbon dioxide to the pollutants it regulates, the agency also decided to raise the established limits [from 250 tons per year to 100,000 tons per year] without congressional approval. That's because carbon dioxide is so plentiful that a literal interpretation of the Clean Air Act could have extended the new rules to thousands of houses, office buildings and shopping malls.Naturally,industry was less than pleased with this and brought suit (through The Utility Air Regulatory Group). Today, the court agreed with them, at least in part, but as Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out, “EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case.”
Today the Supreme Court decided that the EPA is not obligated to regulate GHGs under the PSD and Title V programs and that the EPA is not permitted to rewrite the applicable statutory emission thresholds. … [T]he Court also concluded that it was reasonable for the EPA to interpret the Act to allow for the regulation of GHG emissions from sources already subject to regulation under the PSD and Title V program. What this means is that large stationary sources (think big power plants and industrial boilers) that are already regulated as major stationary sources under these programs will have to control GHG emissions when they control other emissions. But sources that only emit large amounts of GHGs will not become subject to EPA’s regulatory authority under these provisions.I wasn’t sure when I read this what it meant to the proposed carbon emission rules. As it turns out, very little:
But the ruling was confined to only one regulatory provision, and it is not likely to directly affect the broader climate-change policy that the administration announced earlier this month. That policy relies on a different part of the law that says states must take steps to reduce harmful air pollutants, which include greenhouse gases.So EPA overstepped its authority in this instance (“not permitted to rewrite”), but it can still regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act – which the Supreme Court had already affirmed in 2007.
Though this has no nuclear pickup – maybe for some manufacturing outlets, but not much – there is still a seed of interest rooted in the courts as the third branch of government. With the new carbon rules, we may see suits brought against the EPA questioning its authority on issues both broad and narrow. Petitioners may win some and lose some, but the interested can have a say.
The new carbon emission rules have the capacity to truly value nuclear energy for its role in mitigating climate change. Various legal challenges to the rules, even if they occur, seem unlikely to mitigate that value, but I thought this current case was a good reminder that such rules are not graven in stone nor are they endlessly malleable. It’s early days for the new rules, of course, and likely to become increasingly interesting in the next couple of years as the review period ends and the rules are promulgated.
Speaking of the value of nuclear energy, the Department of Energy has released a paper called Electricity Generating Portfolios with SMRs, that is, small modular reactors. This is from the abstract:
This paper shows that SMRs can competitively replace coal units in a portfolio of coal and natural gas generating stations to reduce the levelized cost risk associated with the volatility of natural gas prices and unknown carbon costs.Understanding the paper requires special knowledge, but it does explain itself effectively as it rolls along. Worth reading (well, the abstract definitely, the rest is up to you).
Thursday, June 19, 2014
It’s not even summer yet and it’s time to break out the handkerchiefs and mop the swampy brow. Could it be – El Nino? No, too soon, and anyway, meteorologists are backing away from their earlier forecasts that the young one will be particularly strong this year.
It appears less likely than it did a few months ago that a “super El Nino” will develop.
“Earlier in the spring we had rapid warming beneath the surface in the central Pacific and it was headed east,” said NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins.
“That is why you heard many headlines saying ‘super El Nino possible this fall,'” Karins said, and that it “might be as strong and as bad as 1997-98. But since then the rapid warming has leveled off and even lessened.”
So it’s an early blast of summer, likely to be followed by more summer, as Sol just does its annual thing. We can’t discount world temperatures creeping upwards every year – or for that matter, air conditioning.
Because the cities are getting hotter as the climate changes, residents are increasingly investing in aircon systems − which discharge heat from offices and apartment blocks straight into the city air. And the vicious circle effect is that cities get still warmer, making air conditioning all the more attractive to residents.
This is the Guardian, so the effect, though real, has been given, shall we say, a gloss.
According to scientists at Arizona State University, the air conditioning system is now having a measurable effect. During the days, the systems emit waste heat, but because the days are hot anyway, the difference is negligible. At night, heat from air conditioning systems now raises some urban temperatures by more than 1C, they report in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres.
“Some urban temperatures.” “1C.” City dwellers would likely accept that one degree as long as they’re not in it. Well, if you have a particular hobby horse – and The Guardian has a lot of them - by all means ride it. Our equine pastime is nuclear energy, so it’s worth taking a look at how the facilities are operating during the early heat.
This is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s “Power Reactor Status Report” for June 19. I’d almost call the sea of reactors operating at 100 percent capacity embarrassingly good, except there’s nothing embarrassing about it. In Region 4, all reactors are operating at 100 percent and in Region 3, 21 of 23 are doing so (the “laggards” are at 99 and 88 percent.).
Let’s not call that hot; that invites fishy looks. But it does attest to nuclear energy’s reliability. When reactors go into outage periods to replace fuel rods and make upgrades, it’s almost always in the more temperate spring and fall. That’s how you get these capacity scores in the summer and winter when electricity use soars to run home heating and, um, those temperature-raising air conditioners.
And reliability matters in the summer, especially during periods of extreme heat. Remember the polar vortex? Like that, only in reverse. Maybe we won’t have El Nino to kick around this year as we did the vortex, and let’s not wish a derecho or other weather oddities on people just to prove a point. Instead, let’s tip our hat to the power of a simple summer – and nuclear energy’s outsized role in containing its worst offenses.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Dear Chairman Feinstein and Ranking Member Alexander:To download a copy of the letter, please visit the NEI website.
The $200 million tax on the customers of nuclear utilities proposed in your mark of the fiscal year 2015 Energy and Water Development Act is unreasonable and unjustified.
The tax is ostensibly to pay utility customers’ share of decommissioning the federal government’s uranium enrichment plants because of enrichment services U.S. utilities purchased from the federal government from 1969 to 1992.
However, those utilities’ contracts with the Department of Energy and its predecessor organizations required full cost recovery. As a result, the utilities’ share of clean-up costs was paid even though the plants, which had produced enriched uranium for the weapons programs, were already contaminated.
Despite that, when the Energy Policy Act of 1992 imposed the uranium decommissioning and decontamination tax, the industry paid an additional $2.6 billion over 15 years, the full amount required by the statute.
Several utilities did object to paying the tax and sued to block its implementation. The courts eventually ruled that the Congress could retroactively impose a tax but, importantly, also determined that the so-called fee was a tax.
Not only is there no justification for further taxing nuclear utility ratepayers, there is no need for additional revenues at this time. The uranium decontamination and decommissioning trust fund has a balance of $4 billion; funds are available.
In past years, when the Administration has proposed to reinstate this tax, the Congress has wisely rejected it because it is unjustifiable, retroactive, and industry has already paid twice.
I urge you to remove this provision from the fiscal year 2015 Energy and Water Development Act.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Some of the negative writing about nuclear energy has a notably desperate ring about it, as though the last best chance to do away with the atom is slipping, slipping away. Paul Hockenos over at Al-Jazeera America produces a panic attack of an article:
Nuclear power, once the cutting edge of technological progress, is now a dinosaur, all the more anachronistic when one looks at the price of renewables, whose costs have plummeted over a decade and will, say experts, continue to decline as technology improves. The wunderkinder [Hockenos works out of Germany] are solar photovoltaic, wind power and bioenergy. Solar and onshore wind prices are now at or quickly approaching market parity in many large electricity markets around the world. In other words, the cheapest renewables are now cost competitive with fossil fuels and nuclear, even without subsidies. This has been the case for some time now in regions with high electricity costs and abundant wind or sunshine.
I hadn’t seen the decrepit old energy source argument in awhile. I wonder what he thinks of hydro; he seems to like wind power despite it predating nuclear by a few centuries. Hockenos mentions that building reactors is expensive – he neglects to mention that Germany is spending billions to replace its functional and largely amortized nuclear plants. Easy come, easy go?
It must seem boggling to people like this that those around them just can’t see the world crashing around them when they can see it so clearly.
Tragically, by sticking to conventional energies, including nuclear power, the Central Europeans are putting energy independence ever further out of reach.
See? It almost moves beyond panic to hysterical. Tragically? – really?
It’s not that the content of the piece – and others like it – don’t say the kinds of things we’re used to hearing, though the archaic technology riff is really a deep dredge in the muck. It’s that the tone has become a little frantic and unhinged, as though the writers have read the new EPA rules and suddenly see nuclear energy gaining new currency. I have no idea whether that’s true, but we’ll see if a more explicit connection begins to manifest.
As a a bit of a tonic, James Tulenco tries a different approach to some of the same questions in the Gainesville Sun.
We need to face the fact that nuclear electricity will not be less costly than current power from burning natural gas. On the face of it, it seems like we should abandon nuclear based on price, but is that really wise?
But comes to opposite conclusions:
Nuclear electricity has had a history of declining production costs. The biggest proportion of the price is associated with the cost of actually building the nuclear plant. Thus, the advantage nuclear power plants have is price stability and a reliable, large source of power.
Today's nuclear plants operate near 90 percent of capacity throughout the year, an unprecedented level of efficiency not matched by any fossil-fuel power plant.
This is all true. He also doesn’t get frenzied by the prospect.
Or this from the Newark Star-Ledger:
The biggest problem we face with nuclear power is not having enough of it.
New Jersey’s economic growth depends on an abundant, reliable supply of clean energy.
Or this from the Shanghai Daily:
China still relies too heavily on coal for power, with nuclear power seen as the route to an optimized energy structure and cleaner growth.
Hmmm. One way to stave off a panic attack is recognizing that your world isn’t about to end – that you’re engaging in apocalyptic thinking that hasn’t any basis in fact. Just saying – these are what facts look like.
We would never make fun of people who suffer panic attacks and never wish them upon people, including those freaking out over a rising nuclear potential. Panic attacks are real and really frightening. There are coping mechanisms and medicines to lessen their impact, but it takes a lot of effort on the part of the sufferer. The tips in the picture above are actually good, though hard to implement in the midst of fear. See here for more.
Friday, June 13, 2014
|Map of PJM Interconnect|
The latest piece of news on that topic came out late last month when PJM revealed the results of its 2014 Capacity Market Auction - one where three of Exelon's nuclear plants failed to "clear" the bidding.
To help provide some clarity on exactly what's going on, we sat down for a Q&A with Joseph Dominguez, a senior vice president at Exelon to ask some questions about what it means for those three plants and the future of the electric grid.
Dominguez: These auction results reveal that the market does not sufficiently recognize the significant value that nuclear plants provide in terms of reliability and environmental benefits. As proven during the record-cold temperatures this winter, nuclear plants are an incredibly reliable generation source, typically producing power 24/7 regardless of weather. And they do so without producing emissions, which makes them an indispensable resource if we are to meet greenhouse gas reduction requirements outlined in the draft regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Yet some of our nuclear plants face a perfect storm of economic challenges that threaten their continued operation. These include an influx of low-cost natural gas, slow load growth, and the unintended consequences of market structure and government policies that subsidize renewables and fail to recognize nuclear’s unique value as a clean, reliable workhorse of the electric grid.
You can read the whole interview over at NEI's website, "Exelon on the 2014 PJM Capacity Market Auction."
Thursday, June 12, 2014
|Courtesy Wikimedia Commons|
"To be sure, nuclear power is the largest source of low-carbon electricity in the country, a major selling point."
Leave your guess in the comments. No Googling! Back with an answer this afternoon.
UPDATE: We're running this contest on Facebook too. No correct answer yet.
AND THE ANSWER IS ... Elliott Negin. Ironically, Elliott is the Director of News & Commentary for the Union of Concerned Scientists. Mr. Negin wrote that line on June 2, 2014 in the Huffington Post.
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Due to some technical difficulties, CNBC wasn't able to push out its complete package on nuclear energy & jobs last Friday from V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in South Carolina. On Monday night, the rest of Mary Thompson's report from the plant site was aired by the Nightly Business Report.
Want to learn more about working in the nuclear industry? Please visit the Careers & Education section of our website.
Sunday, June 08, 2014
Sunday night is a crowded spot on the television calendar (Mad Men & Game of Thrones), which means that in my house, the re-boot of Cosmos hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson goes straight to my DVR. When I first heard that the show was being resurrected by Fox's Seth MacFarlane, I immediately began looking forward to the premiere. I'm more than old enough to remember watching the original PBS series hosted by Carl Sagan. It was a huge hit, challenging the Big 3 networks in the ratings on the night it premiered in September 1980. For a kid who had grown up fascinated by space exploration, it was a real treat.
Let's get back to 2014. I've been plowing through each episode a couple of days after it originally aired and was really enjoying it (I've been a fan of the cosmic calendar from the start). Then I watched Episode 9, "The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth." That night, Dr. Tyson touched upon the topic of climate change* (emphasis mine):
We just can't seem to break our addiction to the kinds of fuel that will bring back a climate last seen by the dinosaurs, a climate that will drown our coastal cities and wreak havoc on the environment and our ability to feed ourselves. All the while, the glorious sun pours immaculate free energy down upon us, more than we will ever need.I'm not the only person who knows that renewables like solar energy, while they have a role to play on the electric grid, can't provide all of the electricity we need, never mind all of the energy we want.
That's not just a theory. We have real world experience in Germany where a push to phase out nuclear energy and replace it with renewables has led to a resurgence in the use of coal and an increase in CO2 emissions. In the U.S., an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy that includes nuclear isn't just a buzzword, it's a matter of national policy, one that was reinforced last week when the U.S. Environmental Protection introduced new regulations that explicitly referenced using nuclear energy as a tool to constrain CO2 emissions while providing reliable baseload power.
Still, I resisted the urge to tweet or blog about that aside in order to keep an open mind about what might come next. Then, just a few days after it aired, I watched Episode 12, "The World Set Free," where Dr. Tyson laid out the case for climate change science.
There were some wonderfully compelling stories from the past about the history of solar technology, but when it came time to propose real-world solutions to keep the lights on while constraining CO2 emissions, the only examples that were provided were wind and solar. Which was when Dr. Tyson said the following (again, emphasis mine):
There's another inexhaustible source of clean energy for the world. The winds themselves are solar powered, because our star drives the winds and the waves. Unlike solar collectors, wind farms take up very little land, and none at all, if offshore, where the winds are strongest.Not according to the sources I consult, which includes the the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change. In October 2013, they published this helpful infographic detailing just how much space would be required for wind and solar farms to provide the same amount of electricity as the proposed 3,200 MWe Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. Let's just say it's not even close.
This isn't the first time we've seen the use of nuclear energy omitted from the options we need in order to reduce atmospheric carbon while providing affordable electricity. The good news is, as we saw in the film "Pandora's Promise," there are a number of environmentalists who have come around when it comes to supporting nuclear energy. Here's hoping Dr. Tyson gives it a viewing and joins other environmentalists like James Hansen, Stewart Brand and Mike Shellenberger (among others) in making sure nuclear energy has a role to play in meeting our environmental challenges.
UPDATE: Reddit user Greg Barton decided to continue the conversation there. Please stop by.
* NEI stated its position on climate change in a paper in October 2007.
Friday, June 06, 2014
VC Summer Nuclear Station is hiring the next generation of nuclear workers. Here's Mary Thompson of CNBC, who filed this report from Jenkinsville, South Carolina where she interviewed SCE&G Chief Nuclear Officer, Jeff Archie:
|Dr. Jose Reyes and Tracy Mason|
|Ryan Everett, Matt Kizerian|
and Tracy Mason
Thursday, June 05, 2014
Kyle Leach, Georgia Power’s planning and policy director, has given us a least a small peek at his company’s view of this:
"We have contemplated carbon in our analysis," he said. "... We anticipated that at some time we would be in a carbon-constrained world."Now, that’s planning. I haven’t found a study that indicates what Southern thinks this will mean for carbon emissions in Georgia, but the story includes information that makes a really good point – nuclear plants not only avoids carbon emissions by virtue of not producing any – you often see this expressed as an equivalence – but new reactors can also displace carbon emitting plants, whether coal or natural gas, thus reducing emissions even further.
With the completion of Vogtle's addition, the company will have 30 percent more generating capacity than it needs on the hottest summer day when air conditioning units are blowing full force across the state. That's even after the company closes 15 coal-burning generating units.
Now, coal and especially natural gas will continue to be ongoing concerns, but this is an exceptionally good showing for nuclear energy – and it demonstrates (or begins to demonstrate, if a demonstration was even necessary) that Southern Co., SCANA and TVA have, on the nuclear front, positioned themselves well for the world that is coming.
Wednesday, June 04, 2014
According to the Washington Post, the new rules will require states to cut carbon emissions from the electric sector by as much as 30% by 2030 - something that will be impossible to achieve without preserving and perhaps expanding the nation's fleet of nuclear power plants.
So where can you find the nuclear references in the new rules, known better as 40 CFR Part 62? NEI's own Scott Mantsch went to the trouble earlier this week of doing the hard work for us. Please note that we've added paragraph breaks to aid with readability in this format.
States may also identify technologies or strategies that are not explicitly mentioned in any of the four building blocks and may use those technologies or strategies as part of their overall plans (e.g., market-based trading programs or construction of new natural combined cycle units or nuclear plants). Further, the EPA’s approach allows multi-state compliance strategies.
Based on our analysis of that information, the proposed state goals reflect the following stringency of application of the measures in each of the building blocks: […] block 3, including the projected amounts of generation achievable by completing all nuclear units currently under construction, avoiding retirement of about six percent of existing nuclear capacity
More than half the states already have established some form of state-level renewable energy requirements, with targets calling on average for almost 20 percent of 2020 generation to be supplied from renewable sources. The EPA is unaware of analogous state policies to support development of new nuclear units, but 30 states already have nuclear EGUs (with five units under construction) and the generation from these units is currently helping to avoid CO2 emissions from fossil fuel-fired EGUs. Policies that encourage development of renewable energy capacity and discourage premature retirement of nuclear capacity could be useful elements of CO2 reduction strategies and are consistent with current industry behavior. Costs of CO2 reductions achievable through these policies have been estimated in a range from $10 to $40 per metric ton.
Nuclear generating capacity facilitates CO2 emission reductions at fossil fuel-fired EGUs by providing carbon-free generation that can replace generation at those EGUs. Because of their relatively low variable operating costs, nuclear EGUs that are available to operate typically are dispatched before fossil fuel-fired EGUs. Increasing the amount of nuclear capacity relative to the amount that would otherwise be available to operate is therefore a technically viable approach to support reducing CO2 emissions from affected fossil fuel-fired EGUs.
1. Proposed quantification of nuclear generation
One way to increase the amount of available nuclear capacity is to build new nuclear EGUs. However, in addition to having low variable operating costs, nuclear generating capacity is also relatively expensive to build compared to other types of generating capacity, and little new nuclear capacity has been constructed in the U.S. in recent years; instead, most recent generating capacity additions have consisted of NGCC or renewable capacity. Nevertheless, five nuclear EGUs at three plants are currently under construction: Watts Bar 2 in Tennessee, Vogtle 3-4 in Georgia, and Summer 2-3 in South Carolina.
The EPA believes that since the decisions to construct these units were made prior to this proposal, it is reasonable to view the incremental cost associated with the CO2 emission reductions available from completion of these units as zero for purposes of setting states’ CO2 reduction goals (although EPA acknowledges that the planning for those units likely included consideration of the possibility of future regulation of CO2 emissions from EGUs). Completion of these units therefore represents an opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions from affected fossil fuel-fired EGUs at a very reasonable cost. For this reason, we are proposing that the emission reductions achievable at affected sources based on the generation provided at the identified nuclear units currently under construction should be factored into the state goals for the respective states where these new units are located.
However, the EPA also realizes that reflecting completion of these units in the goals has a significant impact on the calculated goals for the states in which these units are located. If one or more of the units were not completed as projected, that could have a significant impact on the state’s ability to meet the goal. We therefore take comment on whether it is appropriate to reflect completion of these units in the state goals and on alternative ways of considering these units when setting state goals. Another way to increase the amount of available nuclear capacity is to preserve existing nuclear EGUs that might otherwise be retired.
The EPA is aware of six nuclear EGUs at five plants that have retired or whose retirements have been announced since 2012: San Onofre Units 2-3 in California, Crystal River 3 in Florida, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, Vermont Yankee in Vermont, and Oyster Creek in New Jersey. While each retirement decision is based on the unique circumstances of that individual unit, the EPA recognizes that a host of factors – increasing fixed operation and maintenance costs, relatively low wholesale electricity prices, and additional capital investment associated with ensuring plant security and emergency preparedness – have altered the outlook for the U.S. nuclear fleet in recent years. Reflecting similar concern for these challenges, EIA in its most recent Annual Energy Outlook has projected an additional 5.7 GW of capacity reductions to the nuclear fleet. EIA describes the projected capacity reductions – which are not tied to the projected retirement of any specific unit – as necessary to recognize the “continued economic challenges” faced by the higher-cost nuclear units. Likewise, without making any judgment about the likelihood that any individual EGU will retire, we view this 5.7 GW, which comprises an approximately six percent share of nuclear capacity, as a reasonable proxy for the amount of nuclear capacity at risk of retirement.
2. Cost of CO2 emission reductions from nuclear generation
We have determined that, based on available information regarding the cost and performance of the nuclear fleet, preserving the operation of at-risk nuclear capacity would likely be capable of achieving CO2 reductions from affected EGUs at a reasonable cost. For example, retaining the estimated six percent of nuclear capacity that is at risk for retirement could support avoiding 200 to 300 million metric tons of CO2 over an initial compliance phase-in period of ten years. According to a recent report, nuclear units may be experiencing up to a $6/MWh shortfall in covering their operating costs with electricity sales. Assuming that such a revenue shortfall is representative of the incentive to retire at-risk nuclear capacity, one can estimate the value of offsetting the revenue loss at these at-risk nuclear units to be approximately $12 to $17 per metric ton of CO2. EPA views this cost as reasonable. We therefore propose that the emission reductions supported by retaining in operation six percent of each state’s historical nuclear capacity should be factored into the state goals for the respective states.
For purposes of goal computation, generation from under-construction and preserved nuclear capacity is based on an estimated 90 percent average utilization rate for U.S. nuclear units, consistent with long-term average annual utilization rates observed across the nuclear fleet. The methodology for taking this generation into account for purposes of setting state emission rate goals is described below in Section VII on state goals and in the Goal Computation TSD.
We invite comment on all aspects of the approach discussed above. In addition, we specifically request comment on whether we should include in the state goals an estimated amount of additional nuclear capacity whose construction is sufficiently likely to merit evaluation for potential inclusion in the goal- setting computation. If so, how should we do so – for example, according to EGU owners’ announcements, the issuance of permits, projections of new construction by EPA or another government agency, or commercial projections? What specific data sources should we consider for those permits or projections?
In addition, owners of existing nuclear units and nuclear units currently under construction can take action to complete or preserve that capacity, the generation from which likewise can be dispatched in a coordinated manner to substitute for fossil fuel-fired generation. As discussed above, coordination of these decisions in the integrated electricity system can occur through a variety of mechanisms, some centralized and some not.
The EPA believes that the performance of the nuclear measures in building block 3 against the other BSER measures is also positive on balance. With respect to encouragement of technological innovation, incentives for completion of nuclear capacity currently under construction encourage deployment of nuclear unit designs that reflect advances over earlier designs. The nation’s nuclear fleet today routinely operates at high average utilization rates, suggesting no reason to expect adverse reliability consequences from completion or preservation of additional nuclear capacity. The five nuclear units currently under construction are all designed to use closed-cycle cooling systems with lower cooling water usage than some existing fossil fuel-fired EGUs; existing nuclear units may use amounts of cooling water comparable to the amounts used by those fossil fuel-fired steam EGUs. The EPA recognizes that nuclear generation poses unique waste disposal issues (although it avoids the solid waste issues specific to coal-fired generation). However, we do not consider that potential disadvantage of nuclear generation relative to fossil fuel-fired generation as outweighing nuclear generation’s other advantages as an element of building block 3. For all these reasons, we consider building block 3 to be a component of the “best system of emission reduction ... adequately demonstrated.”
Over at our main website, we've just published a Q&A with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners on what might happen next with the Nuclear Waste Fee. Among the takeaways:
- As of Dec. 31, 2013, consumers have paid more than $20 billion into fund
- While fee is no longer being collected, interest accrues on the balance
- NARUC believes once program "gets back on its feet," collection of the fee would resume
Our readers will recall that the fee was suspended last month after an appellate court ruled last November that in light of the department’s termination of the Yucca Mountain repository program, DOE could not continue to collect the surcharge of one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour on consumers of nuclear-generated electricity. Here's what NEI's Marv Fertel had to say last month when the fee was finally suspended.
For more details on nuclear waste management, see our website.
Tuesday, June 03, 2014
since 2007, when the Supreme Court said that such emissions must be regulated under the Clean Air Act (the government argued against it), and since 2010, when President Barack Obama told Congress that he would proceed with carbon emission rules if Congress did not (which, indeed, Congress did not.) The White House preceded the new rules with an energy plan that explicitly linked renewable energy with nuclear energy as carbon emission mitigators, another factor that played (or seemed to) into the news coverage that has appeared in the last day.
Granted, some of the coverage is muted or even a bit bizarre. Here’s the New York Times:
The proposed rule also opens the door for nuclear power plant operators to collect extra revenue because their reactors do not generate carbon dioxide. The nuclear industry has long touted its carbon-free nature, but has not been able to collect cash for that attribute.Well – that’s an interesting take. Sometimes, the Times feels like “all the news that’s fit for oligarchs.”
Nuclear made the Associated Press’ list of winners:
If carbon-free power becomes more valuable to the marketplace, no one will benefit more than nuclear power producers such as Exelon, Entergy, Public Service Enterprise Group and First Energy.Energy Daily (not online) quickly explains why this might be so:
A rule to limit CO2 emissions from power plants would certainly help nuclear utilities because it would make power from nuclear generation more valuable.Which seems a bit premature, but it certainly holds the potential, another way around to the Times’ point. Nuclear and hydro are the gold standard for non-emitting baseload energy and hydro (and its dams) would be much more difficult to stand up than new nuclear plants. So – we’ll see.
The Financial Times also deems nuclear a winner:
Q: Who would be the main winners and losers?And this story from Reuters throws the “sputtering, flailing” nuclear energy industry a lifeline:
A: The winners are the gas, renewable and nuclear power and energy efficiency industries. The EPA has calculated its new standards based on the emissions reductions that would be possible if there were a 50 per cent rise in gas-fired power generation.
U.S. environmental regulators could throw a lifeline to the nation's ailing nuclear power fleet when they unveil landmark carbon pollution curbs next week, heeding calls from operators like Exelon Corp to acknowledge nuclear energy as a valuable way to reduce emissions.This actually came from a preview of the release. Reuters story of the actual release tamps down the whole “death rattle of nuclear” idea:
The plan gives states multiple options to achieve their emission targets, such as improving power plant heat rates; using more natural gas plants to replace coal plants; ramping up zero-carbon energy, such as solar or nuclear; and increasing energy efficiency.As you’d expect, newspaper coverage takes a rather measured approach – nuclear energy gets its due, but mostly deep in the story. I expect editorials will catch up with some of the obvious implications in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, The Minneapolis Post lets reader Rolf Westgard get straight to the point:
I would feel better if I heard more about measures like using new, safer nuclear plants, such as the Westinghouse AP 1000. A nuclear plant like that produces 8 billion around-the-clock kilowatt hours per year, without emitting any carbon dioxide.“A nuclear plant like that.” Just so. So the White House recognizes the value of nuclear energy, journalists and the people they talk to get it, and so does Rolf Westgard. Interesting times.
Sunday, June 01, 2014
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set to roll out a carbon-reduction regulation tomorrow, a move that may have major ramifications in how states manage energy policy and develop the electricity grid of the future.
This new regulation will likely prompt companies to shift to nuclear energy, renewables, hydropower and other lower-carbon emitting energy sources, as the new regulation will impose yet more strict regulations on carbon emissions.
As the only large-scale electricity producer, “…[P]olicy makers should not be spooked into shutting down [nuclear energy as] a vital source of clean energy in a warming world,” the New York Times points out in an editorial.
Last year, nuclear energy accounted for more than 60 percent of America’s carbon-free sources of electricity, with hydropower accounting for around 20 percent; wind an estimated 13 percent; and geothermal and solar at about 1 percent each.
Many environmentalists and energy and environmental policy organizations have already assessed nuclear energy’s essential role in a carbon-constrained energy portfolio. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions notes in a recent report that, “Without nuclear power…U.S. emissions would be 289 million-439 million metric tons higher in 2014, and 4-6 billion metric tons higher over the period of 2012 to 2025.”
All carbon-free energy technologies will be needed in this transition to a lower carbon electricity portfolio, but nuclear energy’s scale sets it apart from other sources. One hundred reactors in 31 states produced 789 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and sector-leading reliability. When compared to wind, nuclear energy prevents more than 4.5 times the carbon emissions as wind.
Despite global events such as the Fukushima reactor accident in 2011, “[I]t…would be wrong to rule out a near-carbon-free technology that produces a fifth of the country’s electricity,” a Washington Post editorial notes.
The International Energy Agency predicts that global energy demand will increase one-third by 2035. In addition, they estimate that low-carbon energy sources (renewables and nuclear) will account for 40 percent of the growth in “primary energy demand.”
Steps to expand nuclear energy are in the works, with the Energy Department issuing a $6.5 billion loan guarantee to Southern Co. for its Vogtle 3-4 project in Georgia, two of the five reactors under construction in the Southeast. Two other reactors are being developed by South Carolina-based SCANA. By the time this additional 2,200 megawatts of nuclear energy comes online, the company’s electric generation mix will include 62% non-emitting sources.
The EPA regulation is an opportunity for U.S. policymakers to prompt serious discussion on how to harness nuclear energy most safely and effectively, while maintaining the reliability and diversity of the grid.