Tuesday, December 15, 2015

COP21 and the Nuclear Tool in the Workshop


French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius
 and his on-message gavel
How many times is nuclear energy mentioned in the climate change agreement signed by 219 countries this past weekend? None.

Wind, solar? None. Coal, natural gas? You guessed it.
Renewable –and sustainable - energy do get a mini shout out:
“Acknowledging the need to promote universal access to sustainable energy in developing countries, in particular in Africa, through the enhanced deployment of renewable energy…”
But that’s it. You get the feeling that the directive-heavy agreement has nothing specific to direct about energy generators. Whether by plane, train or automobile (electric, if possible), its not how you get there that matters, it’s just that you get there. And this is the there:
Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change…
This is about what has been predicted as necessary to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, but many commenters consider it very modest – especially because of concessions granted to get countries on board with the agreement and that it’s all voluntary -  so modest in fact that it has had considerable push back. I’ve read that the lack of a carbon tax turned a lot of people off it, but it likely would have turned off a lot of the negotiators, too.

Here is Bill McKibbon in the New York Times, trying a different approach:
So the world emerges, finally, with something like a climate accord, albeit unenforceable. If all parties kept their promises, the planet would warm by an estimated 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3.5 degrees Celsius, above preindustrial levels. And that is way, way too much. We are set to pass the 1 degree Celsius mark this year, and that’s already enough to melt ice caps and push the sea level threateningly higher.
McKibbon, a big name in the climate change activist community – you can read more about him and his group, 350.org, here - recognizes that this accord points a direction in which virtually every country has agreed to go:
But what this means is that we need to build the movement even bigger in the coming years, so that the Paris agreement turns into a floor and not a ceiling for action. … With every major world leader now on the record saying they at least theoretically support bold action to make the transition to renewable energy, we’ve got a new tool to work with.

So, let McKibbon focus on renewable energy if that’s his particular favorite – as we noted, the accord is not very specific on how to implement emission reduction. There is still plenty of room in the workshop for nuclear energy. If new build benefits the nuclear industry, fine, since it also benefits the world. Nuclear energy, it is fair to say, can do a fair measure to help achieve the goal set in Paris.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Watts Bar 2 Fuel Load is a Major Milestone

Chris Earls
The following is a guest blog post by NEI’s Chris Earls, who helped load the fuel before the startup of Watts Bar 1.

Last Friday, employees of Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Watts Bar Nuclear Plant started loading the first of 193 new fuel assemblies into its Unit 2 reactor. This action marked the first, initial core load of a commercial nuclear reactor in the U.S. in nearly two decades. When I heard this exciting news, I couldn’t help but recall some happy memories from earlier in my career when I worked on Watts Bar Unit 1.

The fuel load and startup of Watts Bar Unit 2 is a very important milestone for TVA and the nuclear industry. I was working at TVA in the late 1980’s when the startup of Watts Bar Unit 1 was one of our focus areas. In looking back, it amazes me how much work was entailed in getting the plant ready for operation. I was fortunate enough to return in the early ‘90s as a member of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) team that came on site to evaluate the plant’s readiness for startup (Watts Bar Unit 1 began commercial operations in June 1996) and was really impressed with how much had been accomplished. To now see that TVA has been able to successfully construct Watts Bar Unit 2 and is loading fuel is incredibly satisfying.

Initial fuel load is an exciting time at the site. It is a seminal moment where all the hard work pays off. You know that once the fuel is loaded, you’ve taken a huge step toward the goal of safely and reliably producing power. You can be certain that everyone at TVA realizes there’s still plenty of work to do. But this step energizes and motivates everyone to keep moving forward. It’s also the step that transitions the plant from traditional power plant construction and operational protocol to a nuclear power plant. The testing that will occur over the next few months will help ensure that the plant’s safety systems will perform reliably.

As the plant progresses over the next few months through initial criticality, the excitement at the plant will build and ultimately conclude with full power operation. I look forward to the day that the site and industry will justifiably celebrate this significant accomplishment.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Thumbs Up for New Nuclear in Wisconsin


Kewaunee
Still some steps left legislatively, but this is a big one:

A Wisconsin Assembly committee has given its unanimous endorsement to ending the state's 32-year-old moratorium on new nuclear power plants.
Why strike it down now?
Those who favor ending the ban say it's no longer needed due to the quality of today's reactors. They also say clean nuclear power would help the state meet a proposed federal rule to lower carbon emissions.
If we were being querulous, we’d say there’s nothing  particularly awful about the current crop of reactors (including Wisconsin’s Kewaunee, which shuttered over market issues), but whatever. Good news is good news.

We’ll keep an eye on this one.
---
Speaking of Kewaunee, the New York Times has an article about the impact of its closing on the local community. It’s very sad.
“I thought it would be there forever,” Mr. [Kenneth] Krofta said as he stood in his yard, which is dotted with purple wildflowers and Queen Anne’s lace. “They’ve been a very good neighbor. I wish it could have stayed open. Closing it down didn’t do any good.”

If Wisconsin allows new nuclear build, let’s hope the  electricity marketplace recognizes the full value of a new facility – not only as an emission-free electricity powerhouse, but as an economic powerhouse for the state and its people. This article doesn’t talk about that, but hopefully, the folks in Madison are.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Indian Point 3’s Operating License is Alive and Well

Tom Kauffman
The following is a guest blog post by Tom Kauffman, NEI's Director of Media Relations.

As in September 2013 when Indian Point 2 entered its NRC-approved period of extended operation (PEO), Indian Point 3 will start its PEO beginning mid-December. And as they did in September 2103, nuclear opponents are claiming Indian Point 3’s operating license will expire − that claim is false.

Entergy Corp. filed timely and comprehensive license renewal applications for both Indian Point Units 2 and 3 in April 2007, more than five years ahead of IP2’s original expiration date of Sept. 28, 2013, and more than seven years ahead of IP3’s original expiration date of Dec. 12, 2015. The early applications fully satisfied the requirements of the Timely Renewal Doctrine, a well-established federal law that extends the current operating license until the license renewal process is complete.

The Timely Renewal Doctrine is law under the federal Administrative Procedures Act that is generally applicable to regulatory and administrative federal agencies including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and is available to all nuclear energy facilities that apply for a 20-year license renewal at least five years before the expiration of their current license. Indian Point 2 was the first nuclear energy facility to operate with a license extended by Timely Renewal Doctrine because of the unprecedented number of challenges to its license renewal application that must be addressed by the NRC.

Indian Point 3 will enter the period of timely renewal on December 12, 2015 and has met all of the federal requirements under the Timely Renewal Doctrine. The continued operation of Indian Point 3 under the Timely Renewal Doctrine in no way reduces the level of safety of the facility. Indian Point 3 currently meets all federal regulatory requirements, will continue to be thoroughly inspected, and must continue to adhere to all regulatory requirements.

Indian Point
Both operating units at Indian Point are very safe and reliable. Here’s proof. The U.S. nuclear fleet’s average capacity factor (a common measure of reliability) is about 91 percent, which is far higher than all other power supplies (wind 34%, solar 28%, natural gas 48%). The average capacity factors for Indian Point 2 and 3 over the past three years are 93.6% and 96.2% respectively. The fact is, the two plants are among the most reliable power plants in the nation. And it’s no surprise as Indian Point’s owner, Entergy Corp., has invested more than $1 billion to upgrade and enhance both facilities.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

At COP21: Moniz on Small Reactors, Gates and Co. on New Technology

What has energy Secretary Ernest Moniz been doing at COP21? Plenty, we’re sure, plus this:

Modular reactors being developed by Fluor Corp.’s Nuscale Power can be a “game-changer” by making nuclear power plants more affordable to build, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said.

“The proof will be in the pudding in terms of the economic performance, but it looks very promising and that can be a game-changer,” Moniz told reporters at a round of United Nations climate talks in Paris. “If we have a viable pathway at building nuclear power in smaller bites, the whole financing structure can change and make it much more affordable.”

The problems of cost are quite real. While nuclear facilities remain good value for money, the up-front expenditure can be daunting for a relatively constrained market sector. Plant construction goes on - see Vogtle, Summer and Watts Bar for evidence – but it remains a major investment. This is where Moniz sees a role for small reactors.

Moniz offered a forecast for small reactors:

“If we can demonstrate let’s say the first modular reactor in the early part of the next decade, then what we hope is it’s part of the planning process in the middle of the next decade for our utilities,” Moniz said. “Around 2030 the 60-year lifetime of existing reactors will start to kick in, and that’s a time period when utility commitments to a new round of nuclear will be especially important.”

There is an effort underway to extend the life of nuclear facilities beyond 60 years, so it may develop that small reactors add to rather than replace existing capacity – that would be a win-win, both for the industry and for the effort to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. If shuttered nuclear plants are replaced with natural gas plants, then that’s that for any emissions regime.  Renewable energy does not set down a strong enough alternative path and beyond that, a brick wall looms.

But Moniz’s DOE is working on that issue, and let’s not forget this, from earlier in the conference:

Bill Gates has joined forces with Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Mukesh Ambani and a roll call of other billionaires in a push for billions of dollars of new private and public investment in “clean energy”.

The initiative includes $10bn of new spending commitments from 20 governments — among them the US, China, India and Brazil — and was unveiled at the start of talks in Paris on Monday to create the first new global climate accord in 18 years.

We hesitated to mention this development earlier, because it seemed a plan without much specificity. With Gates involved – he’s Chairman of the Board of TerraPower – there seems a place for nuclear energy here.

The movement’s definition of clean energy includes not only renewable power, such as wind and solar, but also nuclear energy, power grid technology, advanced transportation systems, and ways of capturing carbon from fossil fuel combustion.

There it is. Still not much specificity, but a little less vague. Nuclear energy is a discreet but still a real part of the COP21 conversation – a big reversal from the days when it was explicitly ignored – and that’s important.

Gates himself writes about The Breakthrough Energy Coalition and Mission Innovation, a collaboration between 10 countries, here. This being the teens, The Breakthrough Energy Coalition it has its own web page and Facebook presence. The White House announcement is here: it mentions nuclear energy in passing.

These [DOE and other agency] programs address a broad suite of low carbon technologies, including end use energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear energy, electric grid technologies, carbon capture and storage, advanced transportation systems and fuels.