Saturday, June 23, 2007

House attacks comic book about Yucca Mountain

Apparently, legislators have nothing better to do with their time

In case you were wondering what the House was doing about nuclear energy this week, fear not, your brave representatives in Congress attacked a comic book published by the Department of Energy on the subject of radioactive waste.

The House killed "Yucca Mountain Johnny" in a measure by Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., to cut off funding for the Energy Department's Yucca Mountain Youth Zone web site that's home to the smiling, hard-hat wearing, cartoon character. The measure was approved by lawmakers by a voice vote and without debate. To make her point Berkley went completely over the top with a fake picture of a tombstone on her official House website that said "good riddance" to the fictional character.

On the DOE web site, Yucca Mountain Johnny invites kids to learn about radioactive waste and the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump project in Nevada. The web site also offers puzzles and quizzes. It's harmless at best and probably well-intentioned, but misguided at worst.

However, the Nevada Democrat sees a sinister purpose in the web site. In a letter to colleagues, Berkley complained that the Web site "uses games and activities for children to promote a one-sided, unbalanced point of view regarding the disposal of nuclear waste."

I guess in Nevada, at least in Rep. Berkley's part of it, to paraphrase Barry Goldwater, extremism in the defense of the state against Yucca Mountain is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of a rational solution to manage spent nuclear fuel is no virture.

Hey Shelly, one other thing. Children don't vote, or maybe that's why the comic book is such a tempting target as opposed to doing real work on energy policy?

As Charlie Brown, another famous comic book character once said, famously, "good grief."

Energy legislation is all about fuel standards

President's pitch for nuclear energy at Brown's Ferry falls on deaf ears

Energy conservation and new fuel economy standards are the key elements of a Senate energy bill approved this week that ignores nuclear energy. The bill passed while President Bush was touring the Brown's Ferry nuclear plant touting its benefits.

Speaking in Athens, GA, President Bush says three new nuclear power plants will be needed each year starting 2015 to keep pace with soaring electricity demand. President Bush said U.S. utilities could build up to 30 new nuclear power plants and could start construction by 2010 in order to keep up with growing electricity demand without spurring more global warming.

"It's time for the country to start building nuclear power plants again," Bush said at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant near Huntsville, Alabama, which is operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Bush said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will likely get 20 applications from utilities to build up to 30 new reactors and said construction could begin by the end of the decade. No new licenses have been filed at the NRC since 1973. It was Bush's third visit to a nuclear power plant since June 2005.

President Bush and the nuclear energy industry might have done better if he'd not bothered to make the trip in the first place. Or maybe the Senate just thinks Bush is a sack of talking clothes these days.

None of his remarks about nuclear energy made the least impact on the US Senate which according to wire service reports passed energy legislation that has these elements . . .

-- Increases automobile fuel-economy requirements to a fleetwide average of 35 mpg by 2020 from the current requirements of 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for sport utility vehicles and small trucks.

-- Requires that half of the new cars manufactured by 2015 be capable of running on 85 percent ethanol or biodiesel fuels.

-- Mandates the production of 36 billion gallons a year of ethanol, as a substitute for gasoline, by 2022 -- a sevenfold increase over production in 2006. Ethanol would be made from corn and cellulosic sources such as prairie grass and wood chips.

-- Establishes price-gouging provisions that make it unlawful to charge an "unconscionably excessive" price for oil products including gasoline and gives the federal government new authority to investigate oil industry market manipulation.

-- Creates new appliance and lighting efficiency standards and requires the federal government to accelerate use of more efficient lighting in public buildings.

-- Provides grants, loan guarantees and other assistance to promote research into fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrids, advanced diesel and battery technologies.

-- Supports large-scale demonstrations that capture carbon dioxide from coal-burning power plants and injects it into the ground.

These are all important measures to control global warming. Next stop is the House where the push for renewable eenrgy will be even stronger.

UK government closes books on nuclear energy

Full steam ahead for greenhouse gases

The powers that be in the UK government must believe that nuclear power plants are hugely profitable and have no trouble convincing investors to put up billions for as long as five-to-eight years before seeing a return.

Even more interesting is the view by the British government that loan guarantees and other financial confidence building measures are not needed to get investors to come to the table.

Finally, despite a clear acknowledgement that nuclear power plants will help reduce greenhouse gases, the UK government would rather let its citizens become crispy critters than open its checkbook to deal with the problem.

It looks to me like the Brits have been talking to their US counterparts on the House Appropriations Committee which killed off all prospects for federal loan guarantees to new nuclear power plants. Action is still pending in the Senate, but don't hold your breath any longer than you can say "biofuels are made from corn in farm states."

Back on the other side of the pond investors who want to build a nuclear power plant in the UK are on their own according to that country's Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling. Retuers reports the government will not subsidise new nuclear power plants. If the private sector does not provide the huge investments needed, the country will have to do without, the minister responsible for energy said on this week.

The Labour government sees nuclear power as one of the most effective weapons in the fight against climate change and in efforts to reduce the country's growing dependence on imported fossil fuels. But that does not mean it will pay for or build nuclear plants.

"The government is not going to build a single nuclear power station," Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling told a committee of members of parliament.

"We are not going to contribute to the cost of it," he said, rejecting suggestions the government might have to give money to get companies to make the multi-billion pound investments.
"If the energy generators don't want to build them, then there won't be any," he said.

Apparently, Darling's abrupt comments haven't deterred at least one nuclear plant vendor from wanting to do business in the UK. Thomson Financial reports GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy, a joint venture between General Electric Co and Hitachi Ltd, said it has submitted its ESBWR reactor design for assessment by UK regulators. Who knows? Maybe Darling is on to something and the plants will get built despite the government's position.