Friday, May 1, 2009

President’s Science Advisor calls for new nuclear plants

John Holdren, President Obama’s Science Advisor, says we can do it

Holdren obamaIn a ground breaking speech [full text] [slides]to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on April 30, in Washington, DC, John Holdren, (left) President Obama’s Science Advisor, said If nuclear energy is to make a big dent globally, the links between nuclear energy technology and nuclear weapons technology need to be broken. He said the administration is up to the task.

For decades every mass media article about nuclear power inevitably shows either a giant cooling tower or an atomic explosion. Holdren clearly wants to end the association of nuclear energy with weapons. This position has remarkable long-term international implications, but for the moment, the speech at AAAS is a clear signal that the work to achieve that end has begun.

Goodbye to FERC chairman’s renewable energy fantasies

Of equal significant in the current political atmosphere, he also put to rest rampant speculation that a recent speech by FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff that called for no new construction of nuclear plants represents White House policy. Here are the money quotes from his AAAS remarks.

"We are still living in a world that's about 80% dependent on fossil fuels; [in] the United States, more than 85% dependent. That's not going to change overnight, so we can't just say [that] we're going to go immediately, all the way, to unconventional renewables.

We have no way to do that. We have to fix in various ways the conventional options that we're using, as well."

"I think we are going to see some more nuclear power plants in this country. They'll be of a new generation that will be characterized by better safety characteristics; we hope they will be characterized by shorter construction times.”

Holdren isn’t naive when it comes to the problems the industry faces in the long run, but he says the White House is up to the task.

“We still have a problem in this country that there's no agreed upon approach for managing the radioactive waste in the long run, . . . I think the administration will be attentive to how we can do that, as well."

Holdren’s job as a the President’s Science Advisor is a direct report to the oval office. Still, there are many voices competing for the President’s ear, and Obama has demonstrated he is a good listener. The speech is a good start. Let’s see how it translates into action.

See also AAAS ‘Science’ Editorial, May 1, 2009, by John Holdren, Science in the White House; access is free but registration is required.

Video – Holdren at AAAS

The introduction involves an inaudible question from the audience so wait a few seconds for Holdren to hear it and then start his answer

Backfield in motion

Holdren isn’t carrying the ball by himself. This week the White House announced the members of its Science & Technology Advisory Council. Three members of the Council have long experience with energy matters. Other members of the council have long and deep experience in a variety of science disciplines Here are the bios of the three with energy-related backgrounds.

Shirley Ann Jackson is the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and former Chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (1995-1999). She is the University Vice Chairman of the U.S. Council on Competitiveness, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, fellow of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and past President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dr. Jackson was the first African American woman to earn a doctorate from MIT and chairs the New York Stock Exchange Regulation Board.

Ernest J. Moniz is a Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, Director of the Energy Initiative, and Director of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment at MIT. His research centers on energy technology and policy, including the future of nuclear power, coal, natural gas, and solar energy in a low-carbon world. He served as Under Secretary of the Department of Energy (1997-2001) and Associate Director for Science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (1995-1997).

Maxine Savitz is retired general manager of Technology Partnerships at Honeywell, Inc and has more than 30 years of experience managing research, development and implementation programs for the public and private sectors, including in the aerospace, transportation, and industrial sectors. From 1979 to 1983 she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Conservation in the US Department of Energy. She currently serves as vice-president of the National Academy of Engineering.

John Holdren - brief official bio

Before joining the White House staff in 2009, John P. Holdren was Professor of Environmental Policy and Director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the Kennedy at Harvard University.

His work focuses on causes and consequences of global environmental change, analysis of energy technologies and policies, ways to reduce the dangers from nuclear weapons and materials, and the interaction of content and process in science and technology policy.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Less drum beating please

Energy advocates must talk to each other and to decision makers and not be cheese heads about baseload demand

drummerOver at the Energy Collective, Robin Carey, the CEO of the group that backs it and other online social media forums, has some advice for the nuclear energy industry. She writes in a special, signed editorial, that the nuclear industry should" "start acting like a winner."

She also advises the nuclear industry to “get over” being defensive and to stop hanging out with cultural and political morons just because they are “pro nuclear.” These folks, she says, do not have its best interest at heart.

That's great advice but is also a tough message for a troubled crowd. Ms. Carey has lit a bonfire, and she may get an answer like the one in the Lord of the Rings.

ARAGORN: The beacons of Minas Tirith! The beacons are lit! Gondor calls for aid!

TH√ČODEN: And Rohan will answer! Muster the Rohirrim! Assemble the Men at Dunharrow, as many Men as can be found.

However, we don’t need legions of folks piling in telling Ms. Carey she’s wrong. She's not. What she does say makes some sense. Here’s why.

Two essential issues no waiting

First of all what she says is that everyone should stop pitch forking the unfortunate Jon Wellinghoff at FERC for his remarkably one-sided views of energy policy and take down the banners and signs that call him bad names. Readers may recall he said in a speech earlier this month that no new baseload plants need to be built, but that wind and solar could meet the all of the nation’s energy needs. Alternative energy advocates cheered. Nuclear energy analysts, myself included, were astonished.

It looks to me like the embarrassed silence from the White House is designed to let Mr. Wellinghoff suffer the slings and arrows of outraged critics without any cover from the Obama administration. The very real problem for the Democrats, and some environmental groups, is saying something that will offend their political base and cut off checks from supporters. Once you've spent decades telling them something is bad, how do you change their minds?  More on this sideshow later.

carbon-taxLet's talk about two things in Carey’s essay that make sense to me. First, in the battle for the next round, and the next generation, of utility investments, the likelihood of carbon taxes, or carbon cap-and-trade, legislation by 2010 makes new coal plants look a lot more expensive than they are today.

Second, nuclear energy is very important to solar and wind energy because electricity from nuclear power plants that respond to baseload demand keep transmission & distribution networks humming at night when the sun doesn't shine and anytime the wind doesn't blow.

Coal v. Nuclear

rogers_jimA case in point for the first issue is Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK There CEO Jim Rogers (right) said in early April the construction of new nuclear power plants would be “the only viable way” for the utility to meet increasing electricity demand. At the same time, Duke is facing rapidly rising costs for its proposed William States Lee III nuclear power plant in South Carolina.

Rogers told the Charlotte Observer on April 6 the costs of new coal-fired power plants, with carbon taxes in place, puts them out of reach in terms of cost. Duke is one of the nation’s largest producers of green house gases from fossil fuel power plants. The choice is clear. The utility must meet its customers’ growing needs for electricity with nuclear power plants.

“The only way we could do it is with nuclear,” Rogers said at the Charlotte Energy Summit. “The higher the price of carbon goes, the stronger the case for nuclear.”

He said a carbon policy without a nuclear energy technology response “is a hallucination.”

TVA awakens in a new nuclear era

Bellefonte 3 & 4 sketchThat issue is also being raised over whether the debt ceiling for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) will be raised in order to build two or four new nuclear power plants at its Bellefonte site near Scottsboro, Ala. It is my view that TVA’s destiny, in terms of having a role in stopping the increases in greenhouse gases, will be determined at Bellefonte.

There the privately financed coal industry is trying the throttle back TVA’s nuclear plans by arguing the case that the federal government shouldn’t be in the business of operating electric utilities much less building new power plants.

Even more interesting, relative to Ms. Carey’s remarks, the solar and wind people see TVA’s plans as a zero sum claim in capital investment funds for their technologies. Indeed, a former chairman of TVA, S. David Freeman, actively campaigns against the utility’s plans to build more nuclear plants. What he does not understand is that TVA has awakened in a new nuclear era, one that will require a full range of zero carbon energy technologies.

Anyone looking at the President’s economic stimulus funding program can see this is the case. It contains $20 billion in tax incentives for wind, solar, and other “alternative” energy technologies. It also contains tens of billions more to modernize the nation’s electricity transmission networks to deliver power to the nation’s cities.

Baseload plants make solar & wind possible

powerlines A fundamental point overlooked in the nuclear v. renewable debates is that baseload electricity generation makes solar & wind plants possible. The reason is no one is going to build a transmission and distribution network solely to bring electricity from wind farms or solar panels to cities. With actual capacity of about 30%, the cost of a 230 KV line from North Dakota to Chicago would produce a very high price for the wind generated electricity. The reason is 70% of the time there would be no ROI to the people who build the power lines because there would be nothing to sell to customers.

On the other hand, plans for development of wind farms on the southern plains of Alberta will benefit from a proposal by Bruce Power to build two 1,100 MW AECL ACR-1000 reactors in the tar sands regions up north. A project which is already well underway will wheel power from those wind farms, and eventually the reactors, to send electricity to the U.S. through Montana. Baseload power will reduce the cost of the wind power because it will pay the tolls on the 230 KV electricity turnpike when the wind doesn’t blow.

fpl solarAt the other end of the nation, Florida Power & Light is building a 110 MW solar energy facility. Here’s the kicker. FP&L is a major nuclear energy utility. It operates the Turkey Point nuclear power plant. Located just 24 miles from Miami, FL, the plant produces 1,400 MW of baseload power, or 14 times the electricity of the new solar project. Even more compelling are the utility's plans to build two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors. The two new nuclear units would come online in 2018 and 2020, and contribute 2,200 MW of new generation. The State of Florida Public Utility Commission has already given the project a green light.

FP&L will file the license application for the new reactors with the NRC in 2010. Assuming the regulatory process goes smoothly, sometime in 2014 the utility will break ground. The final point is that in 2018, when the first unit could enter revenue service, Miami’s residents won’t notice the difference when they turn on their air conditioners whether the power comes from uranium or sunlight. There are times in the “Sunshine State” when the sun doesn’t shine and you need baseload power plants. That’s why nuclear makes the solar plant possible and why both are a win for the utility’s customers.

What’s in Obama’s energy play book?

Steven ChuWhile Wellinghoff was playing to the Obama administration’s greenest supporters, in Congress Sec. of Energy Steven Chu (right) told the House Energy & Commerce Committee last week,

“I believe nuclear power has to be part of the energy mix in this century.” He said the U.S. has to regain its lead in nuclear energy. “We are trying to start the American nuclear industry again.”

Mr. Wellinghoff needs to call the Energy Secretary and get his playbook up-to-date. Right now it is missing very important pages with the words “nuclear” and “baseload demand” in the headings.

Wellinghoff’s contribution to the dialog between solar, wind, and nuclear advocates was not helpful. While no one at the White House has made a public statement disavowing him now that he’s been caught and captured, surely he will get lots more help from that quarter before he makes any more speeches.

& & &

In the meantime, Ms. Carey makes an important point. The nuclear industry cannot go on the defensive in response to the missteps of a single federal official. The extremes of knee-jerk environmental critics also need to be taken with a grain of salt. Certainly the example set by Entergy in dealing with people opposed to the relicensing of the Indian Point plant in New York shows that the industry can be pro-active and patient in the face of irrational behavior by the public and politicians.

Finally, the rest of the world thinks nuclear energy is one of the key ways to go, but not the only way, in response to the problem of global warming. Just take a look at what is happening in places as distinctly different as China, Italy, Brazil, India, and France for examples.

However, in the U.S. on April 30 the Minnesota House of Representatives voted against repealing the state’s long standing ban on construction of new nuclear power plants.

cheeseheadThe Minnesota Senate voted for repeal so the outcome in that state is still undecided. The dialog still has a long way to go there and across the nation.

Calling the the legislators in the Minnesota House who voted no “cheese heads” won’t help the nuclear industry’s cause. As anyone can tell you, the cheese heads are in Wisconsin, and all they care about is football, so get over it.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Photo tour of Russian reactor at Smolensk

Rare opportunity to take a look at one of their plants.

Hat tip to Cheryl Rofer at Whirledview

Smolensk reactor coreOne Russian blogger, named Illya Varlamov, has paid a visit to a Russian nuclear power plant. Normally it is forbidden to take photos there, but they made an exception for him. So now we have a rare chance to see what’s inside of a Russian nuclear power plant.

This power plant is situated near Smolensk city. Its power generation potential is 925 MW per unit and it was under construction for 8 years, from 1982 to 1990. The build was planned to be four nuclear reactors, but because of the panic after the Chernobyl accident the fourth block was not completed, so there are three of them for now.

Pacific Northwest Laboratory has some profile information on the reactors.

No information is available on why the Russians chose to release these photos or at this time other than speculation that the Chernobyl disaster took place on April 26, 1986, exactly 23 years ago this week. Maybe the Russians wanted to make a point that they are able to operate reactors safely. This one went into service just four years after Chernobyl.

Click on the link below for the photo tour.

Let’s go inside

Update April 30, 2008

After looking at the photos for a while, I have these observations.

The Smolensk plant was completed and entered service in 1990 which makes it a comparatively new plant by Russian standards,  The Russian blogger mis-identifies the power rating at "3 MW." In fact the RBMK 1000 series for this facility (3 units) come in at 925 MW each for a total of 2,775 MW which makes it a comparatively large facility even by U.S. standards.  

However, it is a graphite moderated reactor similar in design and construction to Chernobyl, which includes the lack of a containment structure.  No one outside of Russia is ever going to build an RBMK type design.  All of Russia's reactor exports are water moderated plants.  All of their future construction will be light water reactor (LWR) type reactors.  See for instance Russia's huge deal for four reactors with India last December. 

The control room is completely analog. Any computing capacity is for instruments and controls systems and probably has the processing power of an 80486 (early 1990s IBM PC).  Network links between instruments and control room could be direct copper wire rather than ethernet.

If this was a U.S. plant, at age 19 years, it would have come up for license review by the NRC  by now, but there is no way to know how or whether the Russian's consistently follow our safety protocols for plant "authorization basis" for a plant of this type.

While the plant looks somewhat antiquated by US standards, I would note that the interior of the plant is spotlessly clean which is a good sign of high maintenance.  However, control room personnel are wearing operator clothes, and hats, and not ordinary street clothes.  

In nuclear facilities, where there is a possibility of surface or airborne contamination on a routine basis, operators on shift wear clothes provided by the facility, usually one piece coveralls, that can be decontaminated in a "hot laundry" or disposed of as LLW.  This suggests that Russian workers expect to deal with contamination on a routine basis hence the presence of whole body count at doorways.

In the US control room operators wear their street clothes.   In the US plant workers who enter radiological control areas wear specific personal protective equipment (PPE) and coveralls, including respirators and hoods, if needed.  

In the US the standard is no more than 5 R lifetime exposure and in many Department of Energy Facilities, it is less than 1 R.  I wonder what the Russian standard is?

A couple of the pictures show another photographer, or the photos are by the facility and not the photographer himself.  

Note the photographer (right) is decked out in  PPE, coat, hat, hard hat, gloves, and booties.. 

In any case, it is an extraordinary display of openness for a Soviet era nuclear power plant.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

International nuclear fuel bank for Canada?

Two nuclear fuel banks are needed – one in Russia’s sphere of influence and another in the West. Is Saskatchewan it?

Obama pragueWhen President Barak Obama made a proposal in Prague on April 5 to establish an international nuclear fuel bank in Kazakhstan, what he was talking about was putting non-commercial uranium enrichment production under international control at one site. As you read this blog post pay attention to the remarkable convergence of distant events around the date of the Presidents's speech.

Although Obama's idea is a remarkable vision to control the spread of nuclear technologies, it isn’t likely to happen right away because nations do not trust each other enough to allow a single facility to control production of U235 enriched to 3-5% for commercial nuclear reactors. It is too tempting a target for political interference.

The only way the idea will work, at least outside of current commercial production, is if there is a second international center in the West’s sphere of influence matching the concept for one on Russia’s southern border. An ideal candidate is the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, which like Kazakhstan, has huge reserves of uranium and an robust mining industry exporting yellowcake to work markets.

Brad WallIn March 2008 Saskatchewan’s Provincial Premiere Brad Wall (right) said he’d like his neck of the woods in Canada, which produces up to one-third of the world’s uranium, to move up the value chain to do more than just export yellowcake. What Wall told G8 ministers is that Canada wants to get into the uranium enrichment business.

At the time Wall said "We're the Saudi Arabia of uranium. It is in our mutual interest for Canada to become a reliable supplier of uranium fuel”

Blue-ribbon committee recommends enrichment services

Flag-SaskatchewanAt the same time President Obama was making his pitch for an international fuel bank, a blue ribbon commission working in Saskatchewan released a report on April 3, 2009, that calls for development of a “laser enrichment facility.”

Interestingly, where this ties in to the uranium industry there is that in June 2008 Cameco (TSE:CCO), a major Canadian mining firm, invested $125 million in General Electric’s laser enrichment project now coming off the R&D bench in Wilmington, NC. G.E. is currently developing a test loop for the process and has told industry analysts it expects to build commercial facility in 2012.

The report by a panel appointed by the visionary Mr. Wall, called the Uranium Development Partnership, also recommended a deal with neighboring Alberta to build nuclear reactors to supply power to both provinces.

There is no indication for now that Mr. Wall’s ambitions include service as an international fuel bank, but it is a hugely intriguing idea.

See also prior coverage on this blog: Canada Drives G8 Enrichment Shift

The world divided in two parts

What make’s Saskatchewan’s ambitions interesting is that if they were to come to fruition, the province would be an ideal location for an international fuel bank in a western sphere of influence. It would match the concept of a fuel bank located in in Kazakhstan which is undeniably in Russia’s sphere of influence. Countries interested in “reliable fuel services” could take their pick of where to buy nuclear fuel.

Even more interesting is that the two locations are nearly exactly half a world apart. For Google Earth fanatics, Regina, Saskatchewan is 50N26; 104W35 and the Almaty, Kazakhstan is 43N16; 76E55.

Geography aside, a second international fuel bank in Canada would also be politically viable because the country is a stable democracy with no history of building or deploying nuclear weapons. It is clearly in the western sphere of influence.

How the fuel bank works

IAEA_logoThe concept of a nuclear fuel bank has been kicking around since September 2006 when the IAEA called a conference to talk about it.

A nuclear "fuel bank" - where the IAEA administers a nuclear fuel reserve - is a nuclear fuel reserve that would assure a supply for power reactors throughout the world on a non-discriminatory, non-political basis reducing the need for countries to develop their own uranium enrichment technologies.

Most government and industry experts agree that the commercial fuel market functions well in meeting current demand. Since this would be a back-up or reserve mechanism, it would be designed inherently in a way not to disrupt the existing commercial market in nuclear fuels.

"I want to make sure that every country that is a bona fide user of nuclear energy, and that is fulfilling its non-proliferation obligations, is getting fuel," said IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. "It is not asking any State to give up its rights under NPT."

Would Iran play and give up home-grown enrichment services?

Reuters reported April 6 that in response to Obama's speech Kazakhstan has offered to host a global nuclear fuel bank, part of a U.S.-backed plan to put all uranium enrichment under international control. The Wall Street Journal reported that President Obama is giving serious consideration to the idea. Political junkies will note the remarkable coincidence in time of the President’s speech and Kazakhstan’s offer.

ahmadinejadSignificantly, who should be visiting the country at the very same time was none other than Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (right) who told Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev he could consider the idea.

Creating such a repository accessible to Iran could serve as an important step in U.S.-Iran relations at a time when Obama is pushing for a "new beginning" in their ties after decades of mistrust. The Mullahs who rule Iran are not stupid even if some of the speeches made by Ahmadinejad are clearly wing-nut class. Somebody in Teheran is paying attention or Iran’s president wouldn’t have been where he was on April 5th.

More resources on nuclear fuel banks

NTI_logoOk, so who would pay to set up a nuclear fuel bank? Uranium isn’t cheap especially when you are talking about the first load for a new reactor. The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), which as raised $150 million to fund an international nuclear fuel bank administered by the IAEA , has several web pages with more information.

The subject is much more complex than can be covered in a blog post so check it out. See especially this comparative table which describes the major ideas associated with organizing nuclear fuel banks.

Would you lie to me?

Of course betrayal, lies, and mistrust have poisoned the Iranian U.S. relationship for decades and it is unlikely that a single speech, or two nuclear fuel banks, will resolve the differences between the two countries soon. For this reason, I’m offering the bang up music video from the Eurythmics “Would you lie to me?” as a closing chord to this blog post. Best seen with IE7.

UAE nuclear deal faces Congress

If the US turns them down, other countries will supply the reactors

EmiratitosThe United Arab Emirates (UAE) is getting ready to make its case with Congress to acquire nuclear reactor technologies according to a report by the Associated Press.  At the heart of the debate is whether a country that counts Iran as one of its major trading partners can be trusted to control nuclear reactor technology for a civilian power program. 

The UAE has plenty of oil, but also depends heavily on natural gas which has a finite future. The plan is to replace gas with nuclear with two new reactors by 2017.  US and French companies have already held “supplier summits” in the UAE to make their case for up to $60 billion in construction and services contracts to be awarded this December. 

The UAE is reportedly developing a short-list of firms to be named to compete for the tender reportedly scheduled to be released in September. U.S.-based Westinghouse, which is owned by Japan’s Toshiba, and French firms Areva and GDF-Suez are among the leading contenders.

Bush signed an agreement last January

Rice UAE dealThe pending nuclear agreement with the US was signed last January by the outgoing Bush administration after being negotiated by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but it was not submitted to Congress for review.

The new Obama administration is reported to favor the deal, but has not commented formally on it.  To get things moving President Obama must sign off on the deal and ask Congress to amend it or reject it.  Congress will have 90 days to think it over.  So far, the Obama administration has not set a date for these actions.

In terms of nonproliferation issues, which President Bush wanted to showcase relative to Iran, the UAE has agreed not to develop uranium enrichment capabilities. It will import its nuclear fuel and retrograde the spent fuel to the supplier.  The country has signed up for regular and snap inspections by the IAEA.

Critics point to smuggling cases and human rights abuse

smuggling_posterIn Congress a small but active bipartisan group of legislators are sure they do not want the US to sell nuclear reactors to the UAE.  Rep. Illena Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla, and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass are the leading critics of the deal.  They claim that the UAE allowed its ports to be used as way stations in the world-wide nuclear smuggling network organized by Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan

This criticism sends the UAE’s ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al Ottaiba right into orbit.   According to the AP, he denies that the UAE is a way station for transfer of sensitive technologies to Iran and points to examples where his country stopped the smuggling activities.

High-powered lobbyists hired, but can they make a difference?

In the US the UAE has ramped up a lobbying campaign through the US-UAE Business Council which is a typical move for a country seeking international trade deals that require congressional approval. There is a robust website which is updated with news about the pending agreement. 

The UAE has also hired high powered lobbyists composed of former Democrats and Republicans.  AP named Vic Fazio, a former 10-term California congressman and Richard Armey, the former House Majority leader from Texas based on a review of foreign agent registration records on file at the Justice Department.

The public relations campaign may have suffered a significant  setback as a result of a video tape that was recently obtained by the AP and ABC News.  The wire service reports it shows Sheik Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, a member of the country's royal family, brutally torturing a man who allegedly shortchanged him on a grain delivery.

Video camera

AP reported that Issa is the brother of the Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the country's capital, and deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces.

Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., co-chairman of the House Human Rights Commission, viewed the tape and told AP it can't be ignored. "I, for one, would feel very uncomfortable about extending our relationship to nuclear cooperation," he said.

AP did not report whether Issa will be held accountable for his actions or whether al Nahyan will disavow them in return for congressional support.  So far the UAE has described the incident as an internal matter.

U.S. firms already doing business in the UAE

While the Obama administration is making up its mind whether and when to submit the deal to Congress, other US companies are already working in the UAE.  They include Thorium Power (OTC:THPW) and CH2MHill.  A five-year deal with Thorium Power is helping the UAE develop its own version of a nuclear regulatory agency.  CH2MHill is helping develop the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp which will select prime contractors and provide project management for construction once the planned reactors break ground. Good Harbor Consulting, a firm headed by former White House national security official Richard Clarke, is looking at issues related to the safety of reactors that the UAE plans to build and operate by 2017.

Rejection of the deal leads to loss of leverage

leverageIf Congress rejects the nuclear deal with the UAE, the country will  just buy its reactor technologies, nuclear fuel, and components from other countries. Unlike India’s deal in Fall 2007 with the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which had to overcome three decades of distrust, the UAE is not limited in terms of who it can do business with or why when to comes to building at least two nuclear reactors, and buying the fuel to run them for the next 60 years.

Rejection of the deal would mean the US would lose whatever leverage it might otherwise have over the transfer of nuclear reactors to the UAE.  US firms would also lose the business.  Those possible outcomes might not stop current critics from making their case and seeking to prevail in the congressional debate. 

AP reported that for US businesses to compete, the nuclear trade agreement needs to be in place. If not, the UAE. plans to proceed with its nuclear energy plan.

"We'll proceed with the other countries that are involved, mainly Japanese and French companies at this point, and we'll still have nuclear power in 2017. It just won't be with the benefit of U.S. industry," Ambassador al Otaiba said.

So far US firms have not benefitted from a similar deal with India. There issues related to protection of intellectual property, e.g. reactor technologies, and indemnification in case of accidents, have stalled US firms from signing construction contracts.  Meanwhile Russia signed a deal with India for four new reactors and Areva has a deal for two new reactors as well. 

Until Congress is actually asked by President Obama to review the UAE deal, all that is going on right now is positioning for the debate.  The outcome is unknown, but much rides on it.

Prior coverage on this blog

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