Saturday, February 28, 2009

Prairie states debate restart of nuclear energy

Minnesota and Wisconsin say climate change puts atomic energy back in play

Farmers know about climate. That’s why the legislatures in two of the nation’s great farming states in the upper Midwest are taking a new look at nuclear energy. Draft bills that would repeal decades old bans on new nuclear power plants are on the docket for Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Minnesota the legislature appears to be out in front of the utilities who are hedging their bets. In Wisconsin, a long history of environmental activism puts the profound change in thinking about nuclear energy in sharper focus.

What’s going on in the high plains mirrors debates taking place in Kentucky, West Virginia, Missouri, and Oklahoma. States are setting their own energy policies when it comes to atomic power.

What's changed in Minnesota?

minnesotaMinnesota, which is the twelfth largest state by area in the U.S., but is the 25th populous, with just over 5 million population has one nuclear energy utility. The larger of the two is the Prairie Island plant located in Red Wing, MN, 1,049 MW, is owned and operated by Xcel Energy. Another plant, Monticello, has just under 600 MW of capacity. According to a report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune the plant is well on its way to getting a requested 20-year license extension from the NRC. A decision is expected by late 2010. What’s more, the state legislature is now thinking hard about removing the ban on new nuclear plants.

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, author of a bill to repeal it, told the newspaper, "It defies logic, reason and science that Minnesota has a law on the books prohibiting new nuclear plants.”

The Tribune reported Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, said that the Legislative Energy Commission, which he co-chairs, will hold a hearing in late March on proposals to remove the moratorium on new nuclear plants in Minnesota. The risks and benefits of nuclear power make it a complex issue, said Hilty, who said he remains open-minded. He told the Tribune . . .

"We need to air this out at least to the point that people get some hard facts, instead of doom and gloom or silver-bullet thinking about the issue."

Rick Lancaster, VP of Great River Energy, told the Tribune what’s new is the concern about climate change and the need to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Lancaster said nuclear needs to be back on the table. Demand for electricity will increase, he said, and nuclear offers reliable power without producing greenhouse gases. However, like most smaller utilities, Great River is hedging its bets not wanting to commit to a major project without partners with very deep pockets.

“Great River has no plans to build a nuclear plant,” said Lancaster, but has been discussing it. "We have asked Xcel if they decide to build another nuclear plant to consider us as a possible partner," he said. "They said they'd be glad to keep us apprised."

A spokesman for Xcel (NYSE:XEL) said the firm has no near term plans to build a new nuclear power plant. The company operates in multiple states, but has a market cap of just under $8 billion which is not enough to go it alone on a new nuclear power plant.

It appears everyone in Wisconsin who wants to build a nuclear power plant is looking higher up on the financial food chain to get the ball rolling. Maybe they should look next door to see what’s happening in Minnesota?

Wisconsin re-visits an old debate

wisconsinIn Wisconsin, legislation is expected to be introduced that would strike the state's ban on construction of reactors as part of a broad plan to reduce greenhouse gases. Eric Callisto, chairman of the state Public Service Commission, predicts the legislature will soon open the door to building new nuclear power plants in Wisconsin.

Speaking at an energy conference held last week in Madison, WI, Callisto said the Assembly and Senate will enact the Governor’s Global Warming Task Force recommendations. He emphasize that includes modifying the language on the decades old moratorium on building nuke plants.

“It will be part of the package to reduce our carbon emissions,” said Callisto, who added that certain conditions would have to be met before the nuclear option could be considered.

Tia Nelson, (right) who co-chaired the task force disputed Callisto’s remarks. She told a business newspaper in Madison the task force didn't recommend lifting the moratorium. She went on to call nuclear energy a “distraction” from an agenda by green groups to focus on other strategies.

“It will happen only if stringent conditions are met,” she said. “I don’t believe nuclear plants are a near-term option. We should be pursuing the low-hanging fruit at this point, and that is conservation and energy efficiency. Right now, nuclear is a distraction.”

Ms. Nelson comes to her job from a long association with environmental causes. She is the daughter Wisconsin governor and US Senator Gaylord Nelson. In 1970 Senator Gaylord Nelson founded “Earth Day.”

Responded to Nelson, Callisto said at the conference he is "optimistic lawmakers will take it up and move this issue forward. Nuclear needs to be part of the solution.”

Former Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, reportedly a longtime champion of nuclear energy, said he was pleased with Callisto’s comments.

“This is the first ray of sunlight in dealing with our need for power without adding to our greenhouse gas emissions,” Huebsch said. “There is nowhere else to go. Still, I’m concerned the moratorium will be lifted too late and that we’ll be 15 to 20 years behind.”

The task force report says new nuclear could be considered only if a set of conditions is met:

  • recommended policies for conservation, efficiency and renewable energy are enacted;
  • the PSC finds that a new nuclear power plant is “safe, economic and in the public interest;”
  • the electricity is either generated by or sold to a Wisconsin utility; and
  • the power is sold to electricity customers in the state.

Wisconsin's two nuclear plants, Kewaunee and Point Beach, supply 20% of the state's electricity.

Wisconsin's utilities say they have no plans to build more nuclear plants. However, utility executives have said nuclear power should be considered in the future. They reportedly have an option to join with the new Point Beach owner, FPL Group (NYSE:FPL), in construction of a future power plant next door to to Point Beach in Manitowoc County some 80 miles north of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Reminder about RSS feeds

Google purchased Feedburner and is now re-directing all of Feedburner's RSS feeds through its own servers. If you have an RSS feed for this blog, you need to update it to this URL. If you stopped getting updates through your RSS reader, that's why.

Users of the new and improved Google Reader will be updated automatically.

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NGNP gets 2009 funding

Omnibus appropriation includes $180M

The Idaho Falls Post Register, which retains published content behind a firewall accessible only to subscribers, has two reports today on nuclear energy that are worth your attention.

The first is that the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has done well in the FY2009 budget which was finally cleared by Congress nearly six months after it was due. The second is that Areva’s uranium enrichment plant to be built in Idaho is on schedule

INL nuclear funding news

simpsonRep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) (right) who represents the 2nd CD in which the lab is located, was very pleased with the outcome of the 2009 omnibus appropriation bill. He told the newspaper,

"I will tell you this is an incredibly good budget for the INL."

According to a press release from Simpson's office, he said  . . 

“The funding increases in this bill represent a complete endorsement by Congress of the significant contributions INL’s workforce and leadership are making to our energy and national security,” said Simpson. “In concert with the Lab’s leadership and workforce, I have been pushing and pushing for years to improve the facilities at INL and see some new buildings rising in town and on the desert. This bill provides a significant down payment on the infrastructure revitalization plan envisioned for INL.”

A key funding provision is that the bill provides $180M for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant, which is likely to be a high temperature gas cooled reactor (HTGR). The plant when built will have the ability to generate electricity, make hydrogen, and supply process heat steam to industry. The bill also provides $145M for advanced nuclear fuel R&D.

However, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) said he will vote against the Senate version of the omnibus bill because he objects to other unrelated spending items in it. He endorsed the provisions that provide money for the Idaho Cleanup Project ($475.7M) and for new infrastructure for the R&D lab ($140M).  The bill is expected to pass in the Senate.

While this is all good news, it is still six months late, and it still has the NGNP project behind the curve when it comes to its schedule. INL R&D managers said in April 2008 that the pace of funding for NGNP will set back the schedule to break ground by 2016 to build a 300 MW prototype reactor at the INL.

There are various estimates of when this would take place, but some are as late as 2020 by which time the current team of NGNP scientists will have long since retired. To counter that outcome, the INL told its employees this week it was considering a “human capital” strategy that would contain incentives to stretch out retirement dates.

Good news for NGNP R&D

Despite funding delays, the news from Congress is good for the nuclear R&D program. The Post Register asked me to comment on the current funding. Here's what Post Register reporter Sven Berg wrote, which is an accurate report of what I said.

Dan Yurman, an Idaho Falls-based nuclear blogger, said the U.S. is far behind China and South Africa on nailing down a next-generation plant design. By the time the U.S. is ready to market a design, he said, China will be exporting its own.

To close the gap, the U.S. will have to forge partnerships with South Africa or China -- or both -- or commit full funding to the development of a commercial model of the next-generation plant. One hundred eighty-million dollars won't do the trick, he said.

"It's great money for (a research-and-development) program, but it's not going to build your prototype reactor," he said.

sailing fleetI've said for more than two years on this blog that the Department of Energy is missing the boat on time-to-market for this technology. China has launched a commercial project to build a pebble bed reactor and South Africa has fabricated fuel for one. The NRC published a licensing strategy for NGNP, but an application for design certification for a U.S. plant could be years away.

PBMR steams ahead

Meanwhile, the NRC reports that South Africa’s PBMR Ltd. has notified the agency it plans to submit a pebble bed reactor design for certification in late 2009. That date could be pushed back due to the financial difficulties Eskom, one of the chief sponsors of the project, is having raising funds for its ambitious nuclear program.

That hasn’t stopped PBMR from keeping its eye on time-to-market issues. It is probably feeling the competitive heat from China's announcement it has launched a commercial version of the pebble bed reactor.

The South African firm said this month that the global financial crisis and related impact on funding, particularly on the South African electricity utility Eskom, has prompted the company to consider near-term market opportunities based on customer requirements to service both the electricity and process heat markets.

One of the considerations is the modification of the design planned for the Demonstration Power Plant project at Koeberg near Cape Town to also service potential customers such as oil sands producers in Canada (to produce the temperature and associated pressure needed to extract bitumen from oil sands) and the South African petro-chemical company Sasol (to either produce process steam and/or hydrogen to upgrade coal products). Another potential application is the use of the PBMR’s high temperatures for desalination.

Here are some links to prior reports on this blog.

  • 11/07/08 - NGNP Project faces multiple hurdles
  • 07/27/08 - Small reactors have NRC’s attention
  • 04/29/08 - How will Idaho lab build NGNP?
  • 04/08/08 - Idaho’s long range vision for NGNP
  • 03/14/08 - PBMR headed for Idaho?
  • 12/14/07 - NGNP costs higher than expected

Areva enrichment plant on schedule

The Idaho Falls Post Register reports that the Arvea $2B uranium enrichment plant, announced last May, and due to break ground in 2011 at a site about 18 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID, is on schedule.

The newspaper reported from Boise that Areva VP Bob Poyser gave a presentation to the Idaho State Legislature where he said the project is moving ahead. He noted that once the NRC "dockets" the application (NRC web page) a series of public hearings will take place which will include a review of the environmental impact study.

SRA logoThe Snake River Alliance (SRA), an Idaho-based anti-nuclear group, has filed an objection to the plant's use of water, but this isn't expected to impact the schedule Poyser said. He told the Post Register's legislative reporter Nick Draper the plant will use about as much water as a golf course.

Draper reported that in the SRA protest letter, Andrea Shipley, the alliance's executive director, said the transfer would "injure other water rights, constitute an enlargement of the original right, is not a beneficial use and isn't in the public interest."

The Areva plant enjoys overwhelming support in Idaho Falls where hundreds of people have twice turned out to show public support for the new facility.

Prior coverage

  • 12/12/08 Idaho Falls Stands Up for Areva
  • 05/06/08 Areva chooses Idaho for uranium plant

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Nuclear energy news roundup for 02/22/09

Got loan guarantees? Five do most don’t. Two are in Texas.

GNPTwo nuclear energy utilities in Texas are happy this week as they learned they are on the short list of projects likely to get a piece of $18.5 billion in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants. NRG Energy, which is building two 1,350 MW GE-Hitachi ABWRs at the South Texas Project and Luminant, which is building two 1,700 MW Mitsubishi PWR type reactors at Comanche Peak, have been told by the Department of Energy they are in the running.

Exelon, which is working on a new reactor in Victoria County, Texas, is not in the running having scrapped its design reference to the GE-Hitachi ESBWR last November. The Department of Energy said that reactor design would not reach the market in time to qualify for participation on the program.

Two other projects on the short list include SCANA/Santee Cooper in South Carolina and Constellation’s Calvert Cliffs project.

At the Luminant project CEO John Young told the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram the company expected to seek $12 billion to build the two giant reactors and that raising that kind of money would be impossible without the loan guarantees. He said in the deregulated market in Texas, there is no way to recover the costs of the plant while it is being built.

He added that Luminant would also seek financing from the Japanese government because of the export credits that would be earned buying the Mitsubishi reactors. The design for the new reactor is still undergoing design certification at the NRC.

Nuclear fuel company coming to America

nuclear fuel assemblyWhile Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) was busy selling reactors in Texas,it was also teaming up with French nuclear giant Areva to jointly develop a full fledged nuclear fuel fabrication company.

The 50-50 joint venture will supply Japanese and U.S. customers with uranium fuel assemblies for pressurized water reactors (PWR), boiling water reactors (BWR) and high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGR), as well as uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel assemblies. It will also provide related services, including uranium reconversion.

A key project will be a dedicated nuclear fuel fabrication facility to be built in the United States.

NRC OKs new work at Bellefonte, but with conditions

The NRC has approved the reinstatement of construction permits for the two unfinished units at the Bellefonte nuclear power plant in Alabama. The Times Free Press reported the NRC said on Feb 19 that it had approved the reinstatement of the construction license requested by TVA.

However, the NRC did not agree to TVA’s further request that the units be classified in the ‘deferred’ status. This category classifies the nuclear plant’s structures, equipment and records have been well maintained in a mothballed condition. TVA got a reminder it has a lot of work to do and right from the top.

nrc_kleinDale Klein, NRC Chairman, right, said . . .

“The Commission policy statement on deferred plants is clear and demanding with respect to the condition of the facilities and the quality of plant records. The Bellefonte reactors simply do not meet that threshold right now.”

The NRC instead reinstated the permits with the units classified as ‘terminated.’ This is a designation which recognizes that the structures, equipment and records have not been maintained in a condition ready for re-start of construction. The NRC will require TVA to re-establish physical conditions and the quality of records for the two units.

“This two-step approach provides assurance to the public that the NRC will thoroughly scrutinize the plant and that any issues identified will be addressed before TVA can move forward,” the NRC said, adding that the reinstatement of a withdrawn construction permit is unique.

In short, Bellefonte 1 & 2 are not ready for prime time for re-start of construction despite TVA’s obvious desire to save billions by finishing the two units.

bredlLouise Gorenflo, a member of the Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team, which opposes TVA’s plans for a nuclear plant at Bellefonte, urged the NRC not to license the Bellefonte units for re-start of construction because “the design is over 30 years old and has not proven to be successful in the United States.”

TVA halted construction of the Bellefonte plant in 1988. In 2005 the utility wrote off its investment in the project, but said the site could still be used in the future. The NRC approved TVA’s request to cancel the construction permits in early 2006. When TVA deferred completion of the plant, Bellefonte-1 was about 88 percent complete, and Bellefonte-2 was about 58 percent complete.

TVA also is developing plans to build two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at Bellefonte through the NuStart Energy consortium.

Bellefonte Rising

TVA has applied for a combined operating license to build two Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors in its Bellefonte plant in Alabama. TVA Senior Vice President Ashok Bhatnagar (right) said TVA will decide in about a year whether to proceed with the reactors.

bhatnagar“We’re going to have ups and downs in our industry and right now we’re going through a down period (for energy consumption),” he said, noting that TVA power sales are projected to drop about 5 percent this year. “But we still believe that nuclear power is the best option for TVA moving forward.”

Chattanooga weighs in as a “nuclear friendly city”

Want a job in nuclear energy field? Get yourself to Tennessee. Consider these numbers released at an economic development meeting in Chattanooga this month

* TVA is spending $2.5 billion to finish a second reactor at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, adding 2,300 construction jobs.

* Alstom Power is building a $280 million expansion of its Riverfront Parkway facility, creating 350 jobs.

* Chicago Bridge & Iron has bought 61 acres in Marion County and is planning a $110 million production plant with 350 jobs.

* Westinghouse Electric Co. is investing about $25.2 million to buy and upgrade the former Metals USA building, adding 50 more employees for its nuclear power services division.

“I really believe that you are in the right place at the right time,” TVA Senior Vice President Ashok Bhatnagar told more than 300 nuclear industry vendors during the conference co-sponsored by the local newspaper.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield told industry leaders that Chattanooga is ready to answer the call and could be at the center of the industry revival.

Chatt TN Seal“This is a nuclear-friendly city,” Mr. Littlefield said. “We are a city that has an industrial past and a manufacturing future which, to a great extent, will be built on energy.”

According to the Chattanoogan newspaper, at TVA’s Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn., TVA has 1,600 workers employed at the Unit 2 reactor, including 680 contract engineers, 390 union craft workers, 430 support personnel and 100 TVA employees. By the end of 2010, more than 2,300 workers will be employed building the Unit 2 reactor.

TVA also has spent $23 million on materials for the newest reactor at Watts Bar as part of $200 million budgeted for equipment and materials, Mr. Bhatnagar said.

NEI counts 45 reactors will be built by 2030

nei logoThe newspaper also reported an update from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). Doug Walters, senior director for new plant development at NEI, said the economic slowdown and credit crunch have combined to slow down demand and made it difficult to finance new reactors.

“But we do expect we’ll see between four and eight units built by 2016,” he said.

The more startling news is that he said if the initial reactors are built on time and within budget, he predicted up to 45 more reactors could be built by 2030 to meet demand for electricity and to replace fossil fuel plants.

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States pursue nuclear energy

Legislatures are not waiting for leadership from Washington

LegislatureThe focus and action in the U.S. to develop nuclear energy as a response to global warming is shifting from the nation’s capital to state capitals. This week four states moved ahead with plans to enable the construction of new nuclear power plants despite an indifferent view from inside the beltway. The path forward was not always smooth, and sometimes reverses to progress already made seemed imminent, but there are more steps forward than backward.

Show me state leads the way

Missouri’s legislature is stepping through complicated issues associated with fairness and economic need to deal with a bill that would allow Ameren (NYSE:AEE) to charge the rate base for construction of a new nuclear plant while it is being built. The utility is learning that despite giving out $300,000 in campaign contributions last Fall, the legislature isn’t rolling over on its request for a change to the law.

On Feb 18 Missouri Public Service Commission member Jeff Davis told a Missouri House Committee he supports a change in the law allowing utilities to pass the construction costs to electric customers before a new plant begins enters revenue service.

Missouri show me"Sometimes you have to take risks," he said. "You need to change the law and you need to do it now."

Ameren is proposing to build an Areva 1,600 MW EPR in Callaway, MOS, next to its current reactor. The utility said that critics of the bill have point out some weaknesses in the draft, and that it would accommodate some of the changes requested in it. In some cases, Ameren may have overreached in its efforts to get a change to the law.

According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, legislators criticized a provision in the bill that would restrict state courts from considering appeals of regulators' decisions on cost recovery during construction. Two legislators said that might be unconstitutional, and Davis called it "repugnant."

Some legislators said the simplest move would be to repeal the 1976 law that forbids rate increases until the plant goes online.

The Dispatch also reported that Commission Davis said lawmakers should try to mitigate the affect for Noranda Aluminum Inc., the large aluminum smelter in southeast Missouri. If the law is changed, Noranda’s rates could go up by as much as 10%.

"We need to be very sensitive to the needs of Noranda where the price of electricity is concerned," Davis said. "Not being able to pay your electric bill is bad. Not having a job to pay all your bills is worse."

The Dispatch quoted Noranda Chief Executive Officer Kip Smith urged lawmakers to consider the steelworkers at his plant.

"This is not just about creating new construction jobs, it's about preserving the jobs we have," he said.

Having reliable base load supplies of electricity that do not emit greenhouse gas emissions is surely a path forward to achieving that goal.

Florida faces fateful decisions

OrangesThe economic recession is reducing demand and Progress Energy (NYSE:PGN), which wants to build two new nuclear plants in Levy County, Fla., is also losing customers. The state’s economy is reportedly at a dead stop. The utility is said to have lost more than 5,000 customers many of them people who walked away from foreclosed homes as well as businesses that went bust.

Florida is one of the states that allows utilities to pass along the costs of new nuclear plants as they are being built. Rate increases associated with the twin AP1000 reactors planned by Progress hit utility bills in the sunshine state. A few politicians, ever sensitive to pocketbook issues, are getting cold feet. In a state with a high percentage of the population being on retirement incomes, electricity rate increases get a lot of attention.

The Tampa Tribune reported Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he is committed to slowing or halting the early recovery of costs related to the project. He said that he would seek to reduce the financial impact on customers and called on the Legislature to pass an alternative law requiring the utility to spread the collection of costs over a longer period.

Jeff Lyash, president and chief executive officer of Progress Energy Florida, said losing the ability to recover costs early could jeopardize the project. However he said conversations between Senate and House lawmakers aren't headed in that direction.

This week Progress Energy said it would lower the surcharge for the two new nuclear power plants from $11.42 per 1,000 Kw Hrs to $3.62. That move seemed to have taken the steam out of legislative moves to completely cut off the rate increases for the new plant.

Lyash told the Tampa Tribune the Levy County project is still relevant because the economic downturn and declining customer base are temporary conditions. He said additional nuclear power is essential for meeting new clean-air standards adopted by the state. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed executive orders in 2007 that stipulated carbon dioxide emission from power plants must be reduced to 1990 levels by 2025.

"There is strong policy support for nuclear as a part of our energy mix," Lyash said. "While there are issues, I don't think that implies that there is not continued strong support."

Progress Energy’s license application is pending with the NRC. It could break ground as early as 2011 once the NRC completes its review.

Oklahoma seeks nuclear energy sooner rather than later

oil-jobs-in-oklahomaTwo bills advanced in the Oklahoma House of Representatives this week that open the door to construction of new nuclear power plants in a state the sits in the center of the nation’s oil patch.

House Bill 1750, by Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, would establish a review process for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to consider nuclear power proposals. it would create a task force to consider tax changes to encourage construction of new nuclear plants.

House Bill 1320, by Rep Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, would let the Corporation Commission decide on nuclear power plant applications after a public hearing.

The House Energy and Utility Regulation Committee passed both bills, which advances them to the House floor.

Rep. Martin said nuclear power could help diversify the state's energy system from its current reliance on oil.

"The national drive for energy independence means we need to diversify production and it simply doesn't make sense to leave anything off the table. Nuclear power could safely generate a significant amount of low-cost electricity in Oklahoma."

Oklahoma does not have a nuclear power plant. The last proposal, the BlackFox power plant, was scheduled to be built east of Tulsa near Inola. It was canceled after anti-nuclear protesters waged a successful campaign against the facility.

Not surprisingly, state utilities have since then shown little interest in nuclear power. Rep. Martin told the Norman Transcript newspaper that attitude is changing.

"Nuclear power has a proven track record across the nation and all over the world, and it's time Oklahoma began looking at this potential energy source."

Martin told the Transcript he met with representatives of the Oklahoma Gas and Electric and Public Service Company of Oklahoma and all "have expressed interest" in the proposal. "I think they are interested in creating a sustainable base load of energy," he said. Neither utility has the financial horsepower to build a nuclear power plant, but both have indicated they would be open to new investors to create an energy complex that exported some of its electricity to surrounding states.

In West Virginia coal confronts the challenge of nuclear power

coal train WVA bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation to repeal a partial 1996 ban on the building of nuclear power plants in West Virginia. However, it cut no ice with West Virginia’s governor, which is to be expected in a state which calls coal “king.”

Sen. Brooks McCabe (D-Kanawha), the bill's lead sponsor, told the Associated Press, "A ban is inconsistent with West Virginia's claim that it is an energy state. There's a lot of talk about all kinds of creative approaches for dealing with the nation's energy needs. We ought to embrace all reasonable forms of energy."

However, according to AP, Gov. Joe Manchin is opposed to the proposal, spokesman Matt Turner said.

"Gov. Manchin believes we need to examine all of our available resources to reach energy independence for our nation. However, he believes that because West Virginia has an abundance of coal that nuclear power is not as practical as the resources already at our hands."

Don Garvin of the West Virginia Environmental Council noted that the state already exports 70 percent of the power it produces. It’s pretty hard not to see his statement as an apology for coal.

"We're kind of mystified. We fail to understand the purpose of this attempt. There's no huge economic interest that would benefit West Virginians."

It is just short of mind boggling that environmental groups do not see that opposition to nuclear energy is an apology for coal and continued greenhouse gas emissions. It appears that coal is still king in West Virginia, but that could change. Watch this space.

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Obama’s blind spot on nuclear energy

Wind and solar are not reliable energy sources for base load demand

blind-spot-mirrorIt is becoming clear the Obama administration and the Democratic majority in Congress have a major blind spot when it comes to nuclear energy. The casual defeat of $50 billion additional loan guarantees for nuclear energy in the economic stimulus bill reveals a tepid and perhaps cold political calculus.

It tells the nuclear industry that the nuclear renaissance that started while President Bush was in office is seen as a political legacy of his administration. Obama’s political advisors seem to have gotten the legacy of GNEP mixed up with the commercial nuclear power industry which wanted little if anything to do with that government program. As politics as usual inside the beltway works out its priorities for energy policies, it is clear nuclear energy isn’t one of them.

While the U.S. fiddles around with fantasies of lighting its cities with solar and wind power, the French, Japanese, U.K., India, China, and Russians are betting the ranch that the only way out of the global warming crisis is to ditch fossil plants and build nuclear energy power stations. Even Arab nations in the Middle East, with oceans of oil under their sands, are getting into the act. The United Arab Emirates has plans for several new nuclear reactors.

At the rate things are going, most of the new reactors in the world will not be built be U.S. firms. In the U.K. French and German firms are the leading candidates to build up to 18 new reactors. In India the Russians inked a massive deal for four new reactors in December. Despite a huge trade mission to India in January, no U.S. firms have signed deals for nuclear reactors with that country due to a host of legal issues over indemnification and protection of intellectual property.

Japan builds its own reactors as part of the momentum of decades of progress in shifting to a uranium based energy infrastructure. Only in China has Westinghouse landed a deal for four AP1000s. However, China also has plans for generating up to 5% of its total energy from nuclear plants and will execute those plans with an indigenous 1200 MW plant based on licensing of vendor designs.

odysseus_sirensThe loss in export earnings and U.S. jobs is going to be significant over the next two decades because the Obama administration has its ear tuned to the siren song of “green technologies. ” Unless political realism, not ideology, infuses the thinking of Congress and the White House, the nuclear industry will have to develop strategies for development based on a realistic appraisal it has no friends inside the beltway.

Smart grid not 100 % smart thinking

The nuclear industry has figured it out. In a significant speech to he National Governors Association this week, Exelon CEO John Rowe said the economic stimulus bill has bad energy policy in it. He warned that government efforts to move the U.S. from fossil fuels could be ineffective wasting billions of tax dollars and creating a political backlash.

JohnRowe“"You need a comprehensive policy that tries to inch forward on all of these things while not placing too big bets on any of them," Rowe (right) said in an interview with Dow Jones NewsWire. "You can waste hundreds of billions of dollars in energy really fast. You can't afford that in this economy. That's my real message."

No new nuclear loan guarantees

Rowe doesn’t think that the Obama Administration will support additional loan guarantees for the nuclear industry. He said, “I don’t really want to use up my few chips in this world pleading for loan guarantees.”

The key reason is that once the economic stimulus spending is done in two years, there will be enormous pressure on the federal government to get the budget deficit under control. The political winds that will be blowing in 2010 will not fill the sails of an expanded nuclear loan guarantees program. Only market mechanisms, driven by tax policies, will make a difference

Carbon cap and trade might be helpful

climate_change_carbon_taxRowe, who as CEO of Exelon, runs one of the nation’s largest utilities, thinks that cap and trade or a carbon tax will be the leverage that moves electricity generation firms to build nuclear power plants.

"Because of the recession, it's even more important that we deal with the climate issue in the lowest cost way, and the lowest cost way requires either a cap and trade system or a carbon tax," Rowe said. "In a recession environment it is ever more tempting to do it all with piecemeal solutions, and that's ever more the wrong decision."

No magic pill for energy policy

Rowe is also worried about Al Gore’s10-year vision for smart grids supported by wind energy.

"To the extent the stimulus package deals with transmission, they're mostly looking at how to get transmission built from areas where wind is a little less expensive to the big cities. That's fine, but the wind is already pretty expensive and if you add the cost of that transmission it gets more expensive. There is no magic pill."

OK, so here it is folks. Take Rowe’s advice. There is no magic pill. The reason you need reliable base load energy sources, like nuclear power plants, is that they provide the constant current that keeps a smart grid alive and allows it to have the extra capacity to deliver electricity from highly variable wind or solar sources when available.

The bottom line is the smart grid needs nuclear energy whether anyone in the White House realizes it or not. Right now it looks like they’ve made up their minds to accept the wrong set of answers.

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EPRI and INL nuclear R&D strategy

Objectives of the $3.5 billion proposed program are to reduce carbon emissions and bolster energy security

EPRI logoA new report co-authored by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) details how nuclear energy research, development, demonstration and deployment can help reduce U.S. carbon emissions and bolster energy security.

The report, A Strategy for Nuclear Energy Research and Development, outlines the research necessary to create options for the deployment of nuclear energy in the decades ahead. The report also examines nuclear energy’s relevance to nonproliferation and the need for the United States to maintain international leadership in developing nuclear energy

The report says these are issues that must be addressed for nuclear energy to have a prominent role in meeting the nation’s future energy needs. Because of the scale, cost, and time horizons involved, sustaining and increasing nuclear energy’s share will require a coordinated research effort — combining the efforts of industry and government, supported by innovation from the research community.

450px-Global_Warming_MapThe study was issued as the United States faces unprecedented challenges in climate change and energy security. President Obama has called for a reduction of CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with a further 80 percent reduction by 2050. Meeting those aggressive goals while increasing overall energy supply will require contributions from all non- and low- emitting generating technologies.

The strategic plan defines six goals to expand the safe and economical use of nuclear energy:

1. Maintain today’s nuclear fleet of light water reactors
2. Significantly expand the fleet with advanced light water reactors
3. Develop non-electric applications for high-temperature reactors
4. Assure safe, long-term used fuel management
5. Assure long-term nuclear sustainability
6. Strengthen United States leadership internationally.

“The report recommends that R&D to support these goals be focused in three technical areas: light water reactors and advanced light water reactors, high-temperature reactors, and fast reactors and advanced fuel cycles,” said EPRI’s Chris Larsen, vice president of the nuclear sector.

“This research blend will enable the country to capitalize on numerous safety and technology advances for existing light water reactors, while developing the next generation of reactors so nuclear can service a variety of process heat applications and support nuclear fuel recycling. In essence, it establishes a set of options for deployment of non-emitting nuclear energy through this century.”

Total funding needs from government and industry for the proposed research agenda covering the initial 2010-2015 period are estimated at $3.5 billion.

This is the second time EPRI and INL have collaborated on nuclear energy R&D strategies. In February 2008 they issued a report on light water reactor R&D which resulted in the light water reactor sustainability program at the INL.

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