Saturday, May 17, 2008

NRC's Dale Klein hits the road to bring his message home

Wide travels bring a strong message to the nuclear industryair travel

Dale Klein, Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has been traveling a lot giving a speech to NEI's annual meeting, an interview in Tampa, Fl, and talks in university settings. He has been on the road so much lately that I'm expecting him to show up in a road warrior segment on CNN.

In press interviews and speeches, Klein comes across as a straight shooter. This has to be seen as a plus by the regulated nuclear plants, Congress, and the public. With billions of dollars weighing in the balance, to use a metaphor from basketball, what you really need at the agency is a guy who is is not afraid to get in close to sink a two pointer and can still toss in another for three points from the outside. In other words, what Klein's various on-the-road speeches reveal is a regulator who can dive deep into the details of inspections and materials and at the same time think about an international framework for licensing the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP), fast reactors, and spent fuel recycling.

nrc_klein Earlier this month, Klein (left) sat down with the editors of the Tampa Bay Tribune to talk about the state's "nuclear friendly" agenda. Florida Governor Charlie Crist is supporting efforts to build four new nuclear reactors. Florida Power & Light plans to build two new units at its Turkey Point site and Progress Energy plans to build two new units in Levy County. The state is second only to Texas in an aggressive shift from fossil to nuclear energy. Both utilities in Florida plan to build using the NRC approved reactor design for the Westinghouse AP1000. NRC hearings on their COL applications are currently scheduled for 2012.

Klein was asked by the Tribune's editors if he expects support for nuclear energy to survive the current political climate. He responded, that no matter who is elected as president in November, demand for electricity will grow across the nation. Even more likely, Klein said, in 2009 the incoming new Congress will "do something" on carbon, either cap-and-trade or carbon tax. Take the two together and you will see a continued strong shift from coal to uranium as a fuel source.

As far as NRC's role in all of this, Klein says the current "nuclear renaissance" represents feeling of "exuberance" for nuclear energy, but he cautions that his agency is neither a promoter nor an opponent of industry plans. He says the role of the NRC is to be independent but a "predictable" and strong regulator.

NEI gets a longer term vision

nei_logo In his speech in Chicago on May 6th to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) annual meeting, Klein moved beyond the specifics of reactor licensing, to talk about the future of nuclear energy. His talk, titled, "Challenges to Licensing the Next Generation of Nuclear Plants," should get some attention here in Idaho where the work on NGNP is taking place. Managing the licensing process for that work is part of the NRC's agenda.

In terms of conventional reactors, which is the NRC's near-term focus, Klein said the agency has received nine applications for 15 reactors. The ability of the agency to review them within its self-imposed 42-month schedule depends, Klein said, "on the quality and completeness of those applications."

Licensing involves two key steps: (1) certifying a plant design, and (2) approving a site. The combined construction and licensing (COL) application is intended to review how a certified design works at a particular site. That's what's happening in Florida, Texas, and elsewhere around the country. All applications go through the same review process.

The future is the focus of Klein's message to NEI. The NRC, he said, is working with the Department of Energy to develop a licensing framework for the NGNP. This new reactor will be designed to demonstrate hydrogen production though high-temperature processes. It will be an advanced gas-cooled reactor. The challenge, Klein says, is based on the reality, "it has been many years since the NRC licensed a gas-cooled reactor." Advances in materials science will require the NRC to move up a steep learning curve to perform its safety reviews. The challenge for the INL will be to develop an organizational and project management focus to bring to completion.

Another challenge for NRC is how to license spent fuel recycling facilities and fast reactors that will come to market in the next decade. In addition to the agency's safety mission, it will also have to deal with nonproliferation issues related to the nuclear fuel cycle. Klein said NRC is working in four broad areas to get ready for these two challenges.

  • Develop a regulatory framework for commercial facilities (spent fuel recycling, fast reactors)
  • Provide guidance to applicants, including reactor design certification and COL for new plants
  • Develop qualified staff to handle the regulatory load across the board
  • Set up and operate a facility inspection program for spent fuel recycling facilities and fast reactors once they are built

In case anyone missed it, the NRC believes that these new nuclear plants have a time-to-market schedule that is moving at express train speed. While some nuclear scientists have estimated the time line for development of these facilities in terms of decades, the agency is getting ready for them now.

International regulators seek mind meld

While advances in communications for sharing data have not created the regulatory equivalent of a Vulcan mind meld, Klein thinks that other nations are ahead of the U.S. in commitments to licensing spent fuel recycling and fast reactors and the NRC has to catch up. Working with a variety of international nuclear regulators likely is as much of a challenge as inter-species communications on a galactic scale.

digital instruments Klein said one of his most significant expectations is that that his agency has to "keep its place at the table" in the global arena of nuclear component quality assurance. Klein said he is working to "establish international norms and standards." A key area is digital instrumentation and controls. This is a concern that is echoed by other NRC commissioners.

The international competition facing U.S. suppliers working in global markets means they will have to deal with more than the NRC. For example, on May 7th, the French government launched an initiative allowing the country's Atomic Energy Commission to promote French nuclear expertise and safety standards globally.

The French Commission's new international division "will help other countries build nuclear power stations safely and without harming the environment, while ensuring the technology is not used for weapons," the government said in a statement. French President Sarkozy is the world's top nuclear salesman with a major deal in China and another likely in South Africa. Overall, the French influence comes down with two feet in markets and regulation.

In a related speech on April 23rd at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute, Klein called for "more extensive international channels of communication especially on components for nuclear plants." With an global sourcing ecosystem of suppliers, any nation building nuclear power plants has its work cut out for it in terms of ensuring the quality of equipment. The ability of U.S. reactor manufacturers to compete will depend on some common agreements among nations regarding regulation of nuclear plants. Here's what Klein said about components.

"There are two main concerns that persistently capture my attention. The first is whether there is sufficient quality assurance and control over the myriad elements that go into building a modern nuclear reactor. Whether it be major components, minor parts supplied by sub-vendors, reactor designs, manpower, software, or other elements—a new reactor today depends on a supply chain that is truly global in scope. And the close scrutiny that regulatory agencies can bring to bear on major manufacturers to assure that quality components are produced does not always apply with the same intensity to the sub-vendors that supply parts and materials to the manufacturers."

Back at home keeping counterfeit parts out of U.S. plants is just as important. With 104 reactors in the fleet, it is a major mission.

Regulating the current fleet is still the top priority


At the NEI meeting Klein noted that "our top priority remains the safety and security of the existing fleet." That said he also said that while the NRC is indeed "more intrusive" than other federal government regulators, the agency does not treat all violations equally. It weighs the safety implications in each case. He added that NRC is moving to a more systematic use of probabilistic risk assessment to balance where it pays attention to regulatory issues.

At the end of the day the human equation is still the place where the agency is most involved with the industry. People matter, Klein says, because the agency's talent pool is what will make it or break it.

"A related concern is the tightness of the human supply chain. A report prepared by the nuclear power industry has estimated that roughly 35% of current utility personnel will be eligible for retirement within five years. The situation for government agencies such as NRC, the Department of Energy, and the National Labs is equally dramatic. What makes the situation a matter of long-term concern is that many of the professors who teach nuclear engineering are getting ready to retire—and that is a link in the chain that is difficult to replace quickly. To help address this, Congress has allocated $15 million for the NRC to support scholarships, fellowships, and faculty development at colleges, universities, and trade schools. This a new program for us, and we are looking forward to allocating these grants as effectively as possible."

In the U.K the nuclear industry is planning to re-hire nuclear engineers out of retirement to support its massive new build. By comparison, in the U.S., the federal government pushes its talent pool out the door at age 55 with a $25K incentive. Maybe the NRC is different? It would be interesting to know if they plan to take a page out of the U.K. play book. At the other end of the age spectrum, Klein is getting out on the road and beating the bushes for new talent.

Klein closed his speech at RPI in New York by encouraging new engineering graduates to seek a career in the nuclear field and to consider NRC as an employer of choice. The agency is ranked right at the top as a best place to work in the federal government which makes that invitation all the more attractive especially with a guy at the top who isn't afraid to say where he is going and why.

* * *

Dale Klein, official NRC biography

Friday, May 16, 2008

Western Lands Uranium Gopher for May 16, 2008

Mining uranium exploration press releases for useful stuff
(A occasional column of money and mining news items)

The rise of nuclear energy, a second act if ever there was one, has given the price of uranium a shot in the arm. In western states in the U.S. interest in uranium mining is growing and with it comes another growth industry - the production of press releases about the uranium mining industry. In an effort to separate the really interesting from the merely informational, I'm posting my running notes on uranium mining in western states.

The choices of the subjects are a combination of what I find in the press release pile and what looks interesting to me and for readers. I'm focusing mostly on western states that are "west" of the 100th meridian, but this isn't hard and fast. The states of interest are WY, CO, UT, TX, NM, AZ, & NV. For this reason I call this series the "western lands uranium gopher." These are news notes and the content is not to be considered investment advice.

Colorado uranium bills pass

A second chance for a controversial uranium bill that would release proprietary mining information to the public paid off for two legislators from Ft. Collins opposed to a planned ISR mine near Nunn, Colo. Although the bill pushed by Rep. Randy Fisher and Rep. John Kefalas failed in a House committee, the measure was revived on the Senate side. Senate Bill 228 would require mining companies doing business in Colorado to disclose prospecting information to the public that previously had been kept secret. It requires that all information provided to the mined land reclamation board of a notice of intent to conduct prospecting is a matter of public record.

However, the bill exempts information related to the exact location, size, or nature of the mineral deposit, “and other information designated by the operator as proprietary or trade secrets.”

Essentially, what the public may learn is that there is a notice of intent to conduct prospecting in a general geographic area. The limitations in the language of the bill appear to meet some of the objections of the mining industry. The bill is not specific to uranium mining which may account for its relatively broad impact on the mining community generally.

A second bill which specifically targets uranium mining also passed in the Senate after clearing the House. House Bill 1161, also sponsored by the two Ft. Collins legislators, strengthens state regulations in the area of environmental controls and water quality standards for ISR mines. Like its companion SB 228, both bills are aimed at Powertech’s proposed ISR mine in northeast Colorado. The bill would require ISR mines to restore groundwater at injection sites to pre-mining conditions or state standards. Colorado Governor Bill Ritter told the Greeley Tribune he would sign both measures.

Dick Clement, the head of Powertech’s US operations, told the Northern Colorado Business Report he has no real problems with HB 1161. “There is no question we can do this but we don’t know how much ground water it will take.” He added the bill would not delay the company’s plan to begin its permit process later this year.

Clement also said SB 228 would not affect Powertech’s operations because its prospecting work is already complete for the Weld County site.

The Colorado mining industry opposed HB 1161, but mining opponents, whose residential subdivisions have spread into historic mining districts, were pleased with the passage of both bills. In addition to support from the northeast part of the state in Larimer and Weld counties, homeowners near Canon City supported both bills in response to the startup of uranium mining activities in western Fremont County. Black Range Minerals, an Australian firm, is proposing to mine uranium the Tallahassee Pass area. The firm ran into trouble with local officials when it failed to apply for a conditional use permit. The subsequent hearing notice required by the county alerted homeowners to plans for the mine.

Wyoming could see 20 new uranium mines

Mining companies have told the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) the state could see up to 50 new uranium mines in the state in the next few years. Of the 30 applications, or notices of intent, the NRC has received for new uranium mines, 20 are in Wyoming. The applications include new mines, restart of closed mines, and expansion of existing mines. The other 10 are spread across five other states – Nebraska, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Don McKenzie, of DEQ, said the agency was moving three people from the land division to deal with the increased workload for uranium mines. He told the Casper Tribune, “With the market price the way it is, there’s certainly a resurgence of interest in those known areas where we have uranium ore.” He added that many of the expected applications will be for ISR mines.

The expected flood of new uranium mine applications has also gotten the attention of civic and environmental groups who are asking whether the state is getting its due in mining taxes. The Equality State Policy Center and the Powder River Basin Resource Council have published a report in which they claim uranium mines aren’t being taxed as a percentage of value in comparison to other energy commodities like coal, oil and gas.

Environmental groups say the 4% tax on production, set in the 1980s, has short changed the state’s ability to pay for effective regulation of the uranium mining industry. The Powder River group has criticized the effectiveness of DEQ in responding to complaints about violations of uranium mining regulations in the state.

New Mexico group challenge NRC permit for ISR mine

A federal appeals court is expected to hear arguments this week as part of a first of a kind challenge to an NRC license for an ISR mine near Church Rock, New Mexico. The New Mexico Environmental Law Center charges that Texas-based Uranium Resources would pollute groundwater as part of its in-situ leach mining.

The firm counters that the groundwater in the area of the proposed mine cannot be used for drinking water or livestock because it is already contaminated with radon and uranium. The NRC agrees with that assessment. Charles Mullins, an attorney representing the NRC, told the Las Cruces Sun, “If it [the water] was drinkable, you wouldn’t want to mine there because there wouldn’t be any uranium.”

Arizona denies a permit to Denison

Denison Mines has been denied a state permit for the Canyon mine. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality said Denison Mines proposed using outdated, 20-year-old liners and impoundment ponds to capture uranium mine-related runoff. In addition, ADEQ said Denison wasn't specific enough in describing pollution-control measures at the proposed mines. The agency told Denison to come back with a better plan if it wants a permit.

The Canyon Mine was the site of a long legal battle, opposed for mining by the Havasupai Tribe. The tribe lost that court battle, but owner International Uranium Corporation put mining on hold until uranium prices rebounded. There is equipment on the site, but it has never been used to operate a mine.

Energy Fuels inks joint venture for Arizona Strip uranium deposits

Energy Fuels and Royal Lynx, an Australian firm, have announced a joint venture to acquire, explore, and mine uranium properties in northern Arizona. Energy Fuels has 26 prospect parcels on 4,500 acres in the Arizona Strip region. In the 50:50 joint venture Royal Lynx will contribute $2 million over a three year period. Once the cash commitment has been met, Royal Lynx will share in ongoing costs. Energy Fuels will be the operator of any mine work that takes place. The agreement is a cash infusion for Energy Fuels that will speed up its work on the Arizona properties.

Through its office in Salt Lake City, Royal Lynx has developed interests in over 43,000 acres with uranium mine parcels in Utah, Colorado, and Arizona.

American Uranium gets permit for Wyoming deep injection well

American Uranium announced that its joint venture with Strathmore Minerals has obtain a permit from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for a deep injection well on the Reno Creek property in the Pumpkin Buttes uranium district of the Powder River Basin in Campbell County, Wyo. The permit was transferred from a prior owner of the property and must be renewed by June 2008. In addition, the company must still obtain a DEQ mine permit and a license from the NRC for an ISR mine. These applications will be filed in Fall 2009 according to the company.

White Canyon reports drill results from Blanding, Utah, site

White Canyon Uranium, an Australian company, reports drilling results from its Blanding, Utah, Daneros uranium deposit. The firm reports up to 3.4% U3O8 and a range from 0.25% to 2.01% across a dozen drill holes. The firm also reported assay intervals of up to 17% copper. The current drilling program is designed to test drill results from the 1980s and to determine the areas of mineralization beyond the known deposit.

Uranium companies spending on data mining

Artha announced it has acquired significant mining data on the Shirley Basin in Wyoming as part of work on one of four properties optioned from Energy Metals Corp. The data on 2,200 drill holes includes geophysical logs, surveys, and maps. World Nuclear Corp. the prior owner of the property, identified two resources of 877,000 lbs and 493,000 lbs respectively U3O8. However, the firm cautions these resources estimates were compiled in the late 1970s and are not compliant with NI 43-101. At the time the initial drilling was done, uranium prices were dropping and an additional 480 drill hole program was abandoned.

Yellowcake Mining announced the acquisition of a database of geologic information for the Return Mine in the Uravan Beck property in Colorado. It recently purchased a data base consisting of geologic reports and sections, and the results from more than 200 drill holes completed in 1982 to 1984 by a previous operator of the Return Mine. The mine is located on the Uravan Beck property that the company has optioned. The data from this drilling became the basis for a resource study prepared in 1985 for Wisconsin Public Service Corp. (WPSC). The report indicated that the diluted, in-place resource was 17,000 tons at 0.34% U3O8 and 1.44% V2O5.

Samples were recently collected by the company from blasted but un-recovered mineralized rock in underground workings at the Return Mine. Six samples contained from 0.05 to 1.1% U3O8, and average 0.49% U3O8, and from 0.34 to 1.8% V2O5, and average 1.5% V2O5.

Several thousand tons of abandoned uranium-bearing dumps are situated adjacent to the Return Mine portal. Eight samples collected from the dumps, by the company, contained from 0.08 to 0.24% U3O8, and average 0.16% U3O8, and from 0.50% to 1.1% V2O5, and average 0.78% V2O5.

# # #

Nuclear blog roundup for April ~ May 2008

A fast forward look at what other nuclear blogs are saying roundup

This is third installment in a continuing series. Every four weeks or so I'll take a look at what other nuclear energy blogs are talking about and provide some pointers here.

At Atomic Insights Rod Adams takes a look at the rapidly escalating costs of new nuclear plants and asks whether smaller nukes might make more sense. He writes,

"When nuclear development does get back into high-level production in this country, it will likely be in smaller plants. There are people that are working on the fact that the large plants proposed by the traditional reactor vendors are so expensive that they are difficult to finance by even the largest utility companies in the United States."

NEI's blogging team is also worried about rising costs for new nuclear plants and publishes an insightful critique of the Wall Street Journal story on the subject. The WSJ article, by reporter Rebecca Smith, is a must read for anyone interested in the future of the "nuclear renaissance." In response NEI's team fanned out to various policy forums in the Washington, DC, area and posted video of one of the sessions that explains the costs of nuclear power.

Robert Hargraves notes at his blog Pebblebedreactor that mainstream technical societies are looking more closely at nuclear energy. He points us to an article in Mechanical Engineering, published by ASME which gives an overview of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor.

At EnergyfromThorium published by Kirk Sorenson you can check out the discussion forums on Liquid Fluoride Reactors. Recent topics include reactor designs, power conversion systems, and forums on Thorium fuel concepts and applications by country including Canada, Norway, France, India, and the U.S., among others.

At NuclearAustralia the blogging team asks where Australia is headed with coal and nuclear energy.& The country has no commercial nuclear power plants despite being a major exporter of uranium to countries who do. Electricity is generated at coal-fired power plants. Despite the government's consideration of carbon offset taxes and trading schemes,our blogger writes, "Considering all the constraints there is a less promising future for nuclear in the near term under the Labor government."

At Physical Insights Luke Weston offers readers a perspective on what's going on with Kansas which also has a large commitment to coal, but which is now considering nuclear energy as an option in the mix. Shortly after this post appeared, Forbes reported that legislation allowing utilities to recover the cost of planning for a nuclear generating facility from ratepayers has been sent to Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

At NuclearGreen Charles Barton takes a break from his deep dive into the history of nuclear R&D at Oak Ridge and describes the procurement supply train for Westinghouse's two new AP1000s being built in China. The nuclear industry clearly has a global sourcing ecosystem with components being manufactured in Asia, Europe, and the U.S.

In the realm of nonproliferation Sovietologist pokes into the assumptions that support a major article published last month in Scientific American on nuclear fuel recycling. This is not something you should try at home because the article was written by Frank von Hippel. Our blogger concludes that some of the concerns about taking plutonium from spent nuclear fuel are overblown.

"Of course, there is also the question of whether such "reactor-grade plutonium" can really be built into bombs. Much ink has been spilled over this issue, including by Amory Lovins and von Hippel himself. I feel that most of the writing on this issue obscures the real issues and performs its analyses in complete isolation from the realities of nuclear weapons design. In particular, they tend to ignore the fact that even though it's quite possible to build nuclear weapons out of non-weapons grade plutonium, the stuff produced in LWRs is probably unsalvageable. While it could be used in bombs by sophisticated states with a fairly advanced knowledge of nuclear weapons design, it would be very difficult for rogue states or terrorists to fashion it into working devices."

Where do nuclear bloggers get their news?

Some people have asked "where do you find all this stuff about nuclear energy?" In this segment I'll point out some useful and free sources of online news about nuclear energy.

World Nuclear News publishes a daily email alert and a weekly review. Topix is a aggregator of nuclear news. It also hosts discussion forums. 1 Nuclear Place also collects news clips and publishes them via Yahoo Groups. The IAEA publishes a news roundup a couple of times a week and offers a free email subscription to the feed.

Two journalists who cover the nuclear industry have blogs. They are Frank Munger in Knoxville and John Fleck in Albuquerque. If you know of others please post their information in a comment.

AECL gives up on Maple reactors

The decision won't affect AECL's plans for the ACR1000 scapheap

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) is scrapping development of its two new MAPLE medical-isotope reactors at its Chalk River, Ont., laboratories. Bloomberg wire service reports the decision "is based on a series of reviews that considered, among other things, the costs of further development, as well as the time frame and risks involved with continuing the project," AECL said in a press statement.

The MAPLE reactors, planned to be dedicated to medical isotope production, were intended to be capable of supplying the entire global demand for molybdenum-99, iodine-131, iodine-125 and xenon-133. That hasn't worked and AECL put a brave face on the outcome.

"We are making the right business decision given the circumstances," stated AECL's President and Chief Executive Officer Hugh MacDiarmid.

"This was a difficult choice given the tremendous efforts expended by our people on development of the MAPLE reactors. Nevertheless, our Board of Directors and senior management have concluded that it is no longer feasible to complete the commissioning and start-up of the reactors."

Some real problems drove the decision

garylunnHarper government officials apparently were pretty unhappy about the unraveling of the project overall. In fact, they were downright livid. Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn [left] said the federal government "accepts'' the Atomic Energy decision.

Lunn said in an analysis the project had been crippled with both technical and economic problems, which remained unresolved. Among the compounding factors are:

  • Regulatory challenges and commercial disputes which so far have cost hundreds of millions of dollars in private and public funds;
  • Technical malfunctions that could not be resolved; and
  • Reviews conducted by the Auditor General which revealed significant concerns about the costs, the delays, and the technical issues.

"After 12 years, these reactors have never worked and never produced medical isotopes. The Board has concluded that there is no sound reason to continue the MAPLE project.''

Lunn - CANDU still can do

The Harper government also reminded the media that the Maple reactors were not CANDUs. Scrapping the reactors won't hurt AECL's reputation, Lunn said, because MAPLE was different from the CANDU reactors the company sells internationally. Lunn is behind a decision to provide AECL with $300 million this year to finish the design of the ACR 1000, AECL's new reactor designed for export to the global nuclear market.

According to the Bloomberg report, Lunn said "AECL's record on building power reactors has been very, very good. This was a small, dedicated reactor just to produce isotopes. We've never seen a reactor this small.''

Chalk River still operational for isotopes

AECL said the decision to stop the twin reactor isotope project "will not impact the current supply of medical isotopes." Lunn emphasized commercial agreements between MDS Nordion and AECL provide for isotope production to continue through AECL's reactor at Chalk River.

Problems at the Chalk River reactor hurled AECL into of an international controversy late last year that resulted from the shutdown of the facility's research reactor for safety reasons by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

The showdown over shutdown began Nov. 18th when the commission learned that an emergency pump system it ordered be installed at Chalk River still wasn't operational. Without consulting with Ottawa, the CNSC ordered the reactor shutdown which led to an international shortage of medical isotopes used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The Canadian Parliament voted to overturn CNSC's order and the reactor was restarted a month later. The director of the CNSC was fired and the CEO of AECL was forced to resign as a result of the shutdown.

AECL currently has an operating site license from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) that is valid until October 31, 2011. AECL said it will work closely with CNSC and MDS Nordion on the requirements for continued production beyond that date.

Mr. MacDiarmid added, "We recognize the important role that [Chalk River] plays in the supply and delivery of medical isotopes to patients in North America and around the world. AECL is committed to supplying medical isotopes from NRU in a safe and reliable manner."

Still, things have not quieted down in Ontario. The Canadian government in February said it hired National Bank Financial to review its options for AECL, including a sale of the utility.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Russians are coming

But it may not matter russia

According to World Nuclear News, the USA and Russia have signed a "landmark" deal on nuclear cooperation to facilitate trade and allow joint ventures between companies.

The deal would create the conditions for "massive development of nuclear power worldwide." It sounds like GNEP on steroids and that's just the kind of conflict laden political initiative by the Bush Administration make makes Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich) see red.

The White House said it will "provide a framework for potential commercial sales of civil nuclear commodities to Russia by US companies." The White House did not elaborate on potential sales in the other direction, but WNN reported that Russian commentators said the American market would open to Rosatom and AtomEnergoProm, the state-owned company which may soon to become the biggest nuclear corporation in the world.

You have to wonder if the Russians are really interested in selling or are just in town on a nuclear technology shopping trip. OK, try this. What utility in the U.S. would buy a Russian nuclear reactor? Consider that no reactors of Russian design have ever been submitted to the NRC for design certification and the Soviet Union has a difficult image to overcome with the legacy of Chernobyl.

Sergi Kiriyenko However, the diplomats soldiered on. At the signing ceremony this week representing the USA was its ambassador to Russia, William Burns, while Sergei Kiriyenko (left), director general of the Rosatom corporation, signed for Russia. He's Russia's top nuclear energy official. The Russians signed a similar agreement with Canada's AECL last year.

Described by both diplomats as a "priority"' for the countries" Presidents, George Bush and Vladimir Putin, said the civil nuclear cooperation deal is one part of a wider package of strategic cooperation. Putin and Bush declared a program of agreements in April called the US-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration. It also includes missile defense, counter terrorism commitments, and economic cooperation.

In terms of nuclear power, the framework mentioned joint actions to "promote the expansion of nuclear energy without the spread of sensitive fuel cycle technologies" which could be abused to make nuclear weapons. If you think this sounds like a page out of the GNEP playbook you'd be right.

Congress has the votes to veto the deal

The agreement must be ratified in the U.S. by Congress. It didn't take long for opposition to surface. In a press release May 8th two lawmakers called on President Bush to address key questions about Russian support for Iran

They said Russia's support for Iran's nuclear program and the Bush administration's failure to make the case for the GNEP program sets the new agreement as a nonstarter. There was a lot of high sounding congressional bluster in the rest of statement, but it appears the votes are there to stop the Russians from buying anything that fits in a nuclear reactor.

Reps. John D. Dingell , the Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Bart Stupak, the Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, said in a letter that last September, when the House of Representatives passed the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007 (H.R. 1400), it prohibited technology deals between the US and any country assisting Iran' nuclear and missile programs.

"The House has voted overwhelmingly in favor of legislation that would prohibit U.S. nuclear cooperation with countries that support the current Iranian regime' pursuit of nuclear technologies and materials," said Stupak.

Unfortunately for the entrepreneurial Mr. Kiriyenko, he may have a long wait to see any benefits from the signing ceremony. What has Dingell and Stupak wound up like tops is that earlier this year, a committee investigation found that the US may be funding Russian institutes that are working on nuclear projects in Iran, including the Bushehr Reactor, said Dingell.

It also appears that, in some cases, Dingell said, Department of Energy' nonproliferation program officials were unaware of the nuclear activities of Russian institutes. This is, of course, the same Department of Energy that brought you GNEP which is why it gets a tarred and feathered in the same rhetorical broadside. Never underestimate the ability of a politician seize an opportunity for a second bite at the apple when there are political points to be made,

So what do Dingell and Stupak really want? When you get past the rhetoric this is what it looks like. First, they appear to want to send a message to the Russians to stop helping Iran's nuclear program. This outcome is unlikely. The Iranians are paying for their nuclear help from the Russians in hard currency.

Second, Dingell and Stupak are not thrilled about giving the Russians the ability to roll a shopping cart down the nuclear aisle in the U.S. picking up reactor components like they were bags of potato chips. There is no sense, using this logic, in giving the Russians a leg up to compete with U.S. nuclear firms in the global market since that is clearly what they plan to do.

Third, there is the the ever present possibility that the Russians would take the stuff they bought in the U.S. and turn around and sell it the the Iranians. Bad outcome, definitely.

These are all good reasons to ask why Bush signed the agreement in the first place?