Thursday, July 23, 2009

Energy Sec. Steven Chu on Facebook

How many Nobel Prize winners are you on Facebook with?

Steven ChuSteven Chu, the Secretary of Energy, (right) is now on Facebook and has embraced other new social media with enthusiasm. He also has pages on Flickr and YouTube.

Contrary to Daily Show emcee Jon Stewart, his material is not so boring that you will do a vaudeville type face plant in a cream pie over climate cap and trade legislation. See for yourself two of his videos below from YouTube.

Chu explained how it works on the Daily Show July 21 while promoting his new online presence, a first for the giant agency which will spend an additional $39 billion of your tax dollars on energy programs for economic recovery over the next two years. Chu is in charge of all of it and he’s trying to make a difference and tell his story online all at the same time.

On his Facebook page, Secretary Chu explains some of technology that is laying the foundation for the next generation of clean energy jobs, and answers questions submitted by visitors to the site.

He will also offer an inside look at the Obama Administration’s work to ensure America’s leadership in confronting the global climate crisis.

What’s coming is a major global conference on climate change in Copenhagen this December. Congress needs to get its act together and pass climate legislation because Chu’s boss President Obama cannot show up there empty handed.

climate_change_carbon_taxOn the Daily Show Chu was asked about the House Climate bill. When asked went far enough to address global warming, Chu said “if you go to the left or the right, people are not happy with it. But the bottom line is it puts a cap on carbon emissions.”

Save energy, save money, save the planet

Finally, visitors to Secretary Chu’s Facebook page will find information and discussion groups about how to save energy in their homes and reduce utility bills. This is always excellent information to have especially in a recession with people having to tighten their belts.

“Solving the energy crisis and seizing the economic opportunity before us is an urgent national priority that affects every American, and every American can play a role,” said Secretary Chu.

Now this is a guy who knows how to think globally and act locally.

“I’m looking forward to a dialogue with people from all walks of life not only about the solutions that science may offer us tomorrow, but also about the solutions that already exist today which can save families money, cut energy use and help save the planet in the process.”

What gets Chu going each day?

The Facebook page, which is updated with new content, includes videos (below) of Secretary Chu discussing the importance of solving the energy challenge and why he joined the Obama Administration.

Reuters emphasized in its report on Chu’s TV appearance that TV host John Stewart gave him the ultimate compliment.

“Can I tell you something? You are the first Cabinet member I’ve met from the Obama administration that seems alive. You are the first one,” Stewart said.

Sec. Chu Videos

Think Chu is “alive”? See for yourself. Here are two of his videos.

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Exelon exits hostile takeover effort of NRG

So long it's been good to know you

Parts of this blog post were originally published in Fuel Cycle Week V8;N336 on 7/22/09 by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC.

whosonfirstBudandLouExelon Corp. (NYSE:EXE) gave up the ghost on July 21 after a ten-month struggle to execute a hostile takeover of NRG (NYSE:NRG) in a $7.8 billion all stock deal. The firm’s effort to grow by acquisition struck out.

At the company's annual meeting held in Princeton, NJ, NRG's stockholders swept the field in a "no hitter" rejecting Exelon's slate of nominees for the board of directors. The action came after Exelon raised its offer by 12.4% to offer 0.545 shares of Exelon stock for each share of NRG stock.

The die may have been cast for the vote months ago when NRG's largest stockholders, owning 5% or more of NRG's stock each, began to question the value of Exelon's offer.

A major shareholder of NRG, Solus Alternative Asset Management LP, based in New York, balked in February at selling its stake in NRG to Exelon. Christopher Pucillo, president of Solus Asset Management LP, sent a letter to NRG Chairman Howard Cosgrove saying the Exelon offer does not maximize shareholder value. He called Exelon’s bid “highly conditional and undervalues NRG.” Solus at the time owned 6% of NRG's stock.

More recently, NRG has sent a letter to its stockholders reiterating that it opposed the merger and urged them to reject the bid because it offers too low a price for the company. Wall Street analysts apparently agreed and were quoted in NRG's letter saying the stock is currently selling at a substantial discount especially considering NRG’s potential for future growth.

When it rains it pours

morton_saltAs the date NRG's annual meeting got closer, the news for Exelon got worse. On June 26 MFS Investment Management, one of NRG’s larger shareholders, said NRG’s stock has gone up since Exelon made its hostile bid for the firm last Fall. Maura Shaughnessy, manager of the MFS utility fund, told Bloomberg wire service, “Exelon will have to pay much more or the deal won’t go through. I think Exelon is in a bind.” MFS owned 4.6% of NRG’s stock at the time of this statement.

The New York Times reported July 11 that Proxy Governance, an influential voice on corporate takeovers, advised NRG and its stockholders not to accept Exelon's offer for similar reasons.

Exelon accepted defeat with a terse statement by John Rowe, CEO. He told the Wall Street Journal July 21, "The NRG stockholders have spoken and Exelon will move on."

hostile-takeoverBloomberg wire service reminded its readers that this is the third failed takeover effort by Exelon in the past six years. It referenced an effort to buy New Jersey Public Service Enterprise Group for $17.8 billion in 2006 and aborted plans to acquire Dynergy's Illinois Power Co. in 2003. In both cases, Bloomberg reported, the deals fell through because of legislative or regulatory barriers.

The difference in the company's pursuit of NRG is that one thing is clear. NRG’s stockholders flat out rejected the offer as being inadequate even after it was sweetened just weeks before their vote on the offer.

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Here’s a video which illustrates by way of a moving visual metaphor just how confusing this high finance corporate stuff can get for the ordinary stockholder.

Abbott & Costello – Who’s on First?

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Areva launches at Newport News

A facility known for world class ship building will now also be manufacturing components for commercial nuclear reactors

newportnewsshipyardAREVA and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, a sector of Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC), have joined forces to build a new nuclear manufacturing and engineering facility in Newport News, Va.

The joint venture will manufacture heavy components for the U.S. EPR, AREVA's Generation III+ nuclear reactor.

The 300,000 square-foot facility represents an investment of more than $360 million and will bring more than 500 jobs to Virginia. AREVA Newport News will be the first full-scale manufacturing facility dedicated to supply heavy components, such as reactor vessels, steam generators and pressurizers to the U.S. nuclear energy industry.

These components will supply the first new U.S. nuclear power plants to be built in 35 years. Industry experts have viewed limited production of heavy components positioned against rising demand as a constraint on nuclear energy's expansion. Not any more.

Groundbreaking brings out top brass

Plenty of people are excited about the announcement which gives the entire U.S. nuclear energy industry a lift. Just about every elected official in Virginia, including Gov. Tom Kaine, who could find a reason to show up for the ground breaking ceremony did so.

The event also brought out the top brass from Areva. This is the second major announcement for the French state-owned company in America in as many months. In June Areva announced it would build a 1,600 MW EPR reactor for Duke Power at Piketon, OH.

Ground breaking ceremonies are flashy events and the Virginia Business News even added a fashion statement to the media coverage.

100lauvergeonWearing a beige suit, Anne Lauvergeon (right) stood out from the group of men wielding the silver shovels.

“We intend to build a lot of new reactors in the U. S. We believe in the North American markets and the workforce,” she said.

The more than 500 skilled manufacturing jobs that will eventually be created by the plant will go to American workers and not overseas, she said to applause.

In a prepared statement, Lauvergeon said . . .

"AREVA Newport News is powerful evidence of the reality of the U.S. nuclear energy resurgence and our commitment to it. AREVA intends to build one-third of all new reactors around the world and at least seven in the United States.

madeinamericaIt is also significant that Northrop Grumman's Shipbuilding sector brings its heavy industrial engineering and manufacturing expertise required to build U.S. Navy nuclear ships to the venture. Along with its skilled workforce, Northrop Grumman has existing transportation access via the James River to deliver heavy components.

And there’s more . . . I like this one . . .

"The nuclear power industry is bringing back 'made in America'," said Tom Christopher, CEO of AREVA Inc., the group's North American division.

forging2"In addition to our joint venture with Northrop Grumman, we are working with Lehigh Heavy Forge in Bethlehem, Pa., to produce qualified forgings for the U.S. EPR.

"This agreement is the result of several years of effort by both the AREVA and Northrop Grumman teams," said Dan Arczynski, Vice President for Strategy, Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding. "

Calvert Cliffs is first up

The Newport News plant is expected to be in production mode by 2012. One of the first nuclear reactor projects it will support is Calvert Cliffs III. In a separate development, AREVA and its U.S. consortium partner Bechtel Power Corp announced they have signed a term sheet with Baltimore-based UniStar Nuclear Energy (NYSE:CEG) outlining terms and conditions for an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract for UniStar's proposed Calvert Cliffs 3 nuclear energy facility project in Maryland. The EPC term sheet agreement is a critical step in negotiating an overall EPC contract.

Mike_Rencheck"This is a major milestone that continues the momentum toward realizing the first EPR™ nuclear energy facility to be built in the United States and acknowledges the quality of AREVA's offering," said Mike Rencheck, President of AREVA NP Inc. (right).

The EPC contract for Calvert Cliffs 3 is planned to be the first in a series of standardized EPC contracts for a fleet of U.S. EPR facilities that will be licensed, developed and constructed as part of the UniStar Nuclear Energy business model.

Update 07/22/09

A spokesman for Areva later corrected one fact. He said that the primary parts for Calvert Cliffs will come from the firm's Chalon/St. Marcel plant in France. The first components from AREVA Newport News are slated for the firm's second U.S. EPR reactor, most likely at Nine Mile Point in upstate New York or PPL’s proposed Bell Bend plant in Pennsylvania.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

US / UAE deal now up for approval

Support in Congress is off to a strong start

UAE mapThe US and the United Arab Emirates have a deal pending before Congress that would allow transfer of civilian nuclear energy technologies and fuel to that country.

In return, the UAE would agree not to develop uranium enrichment or fuel reprocessing capabilities.

The deal is a model for the rest of the Middle East which is nervous about the path Iran has gone down. A hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Committee July 8 included strong statements of support from Obama Administration officials at the State Department.

Full details exclusively at the Energy Collective. Check it out.

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Nuclear news roundup for July 19, 2009

Shaw Areva MOX Services and TVA in fuel negotiations

mox fuelThe Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Shaw Areva MOX Services have kicked off negotiations for use of mixed oxide fuel (MOX). TVA is considering using the nuclear fuel, which is manufactured in part from surplus weapons-grade plutonium, at its Sequoyah units 1 & 2, Browns Ferry 1 & 2, and at possible future nuclear generation projects.

It is the second contract to test MOX fuel. Duke Energy was testing MOX fuel bundles at its Catawba plant for some time, but allowed the contract to lapse in March of this year. The current round of contract negotiations at TVA may result in a MOX fuel testing deal with Shaw Areva by this time next year.

The U.S. government has an agreement with the Soviet Union to dispose of 34 tons of weapons grade plutonium. Russia is committed to destroying an equivalent amount, but has decided not to build a MOX plant. Instead, the Russians say they are committed to using the plutonium in a future fleet of “fast reactors.”

In the U.S. MOX Services is under contract with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to complete construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site located in Aiken, S.C.

“The MOX project and use of MOX fuel is an important step toward turning 34 metric tons of the nation's surplus plutonium stockpile, enough for 8,500 nuclear weapons, into useable, low-cost, carbon-free electricity,” said George Bevan, president of Shaw’s Environmental & Infrastructure Group.

Operations at the facility will include removing impurities from surplus weapon-grade plutonium and combining with uranium oxide, forming MOX fuel pellets for use in commercial nuclear power reactors by 2016.

Environmental groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) have vigorously opposed the MOX fuel facility in South Carolina. This is so counter intuitive that you have to wonder what they are sprinkling on their breakfast cereal in the morning.

The nonproliferation objectives of the plant are crystal clear and the ton-for-ton disposal agreement with the Russians makes history. Getting plutonium out of nuclear weapons and into commercial nuclear fuel is a perfect example of Isaiah's admonition.

They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Get it? Got it? Good.

Areva and Northrop Grumman launch at Newport News

Areva EPRAreva and Northrop Grumman plan to break ground next Wednesday (July 22) at Newport News for a $360 million nuclear component manufacturing facility. It will assemble components for Areva’s EPR line of nuclear reactors to be built in the U.S. The first of which at Constellation's Calvert Cliffs site is expected to break ground in 2012.

The plant at Newport News will be located just north of the current Northrop Grumman shipyard. It will employ over 500 people when it reaches full operations.

The development of the facility is a clear sign that Areva has confidence it will build a fleet of standardized 1,600 MW EPR reactors in the U.S. Recently, Areva inked a deal with Duke Energy to build one at Piketon, OH. The company is also building a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant in Idaho to make nuclear fuel for new reactors as well as the current fleet of 104 plants.

Check Areva’s US web page for details and a web video of the event.

NRG stockholders’ meeting July 21

hostile-takeoverBy the time you read this the shouting may be over. In case you are an early bird, note that NRG’s annual stockholders meeting is Tuesday July 21. At that meeting it will be fish or cut bait time for Exelon in its efforts to execute a hostile takeover of the company.

NRG has sent a letter to its stockholders reiterating that it opposes the merger and urged them to reject the bid because it offers too low a price for the company in the all stock deal. Wall Street analysts apparently agree saying the stock is selling at a substantial discount especially considering NRG’s potential for future growth.

NRG is building two new nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project (STP), and is on the Department of Energy’s short list for federal loan guarantees. Exelon failed to win a slot on the list, but is apparently keeping its options open for a new greenfield site at Victoria, TX.

For its part Exelon told Reuters on July 15 it would end its hostile bid for NRG if none of the directors it has put up for election to NRG’s board are approved by current stockholders. Exelon also said it is undecided what to do if more than one and less than five directors are elected.

GE seeks a future for the ESBWR

GE logoIn baseball you have hard luck teams or sometimes just hard luck players. There may be no such thing as a hard luck nuclear reactor, unless you are talking about the late and somewhat unlamented Ft. St. Vrain reactor. A new candidate for the title may be the GE-Hitachi ESBWR.

The firm has suffered the marketing indignities of seeing both Exelon and Entergy change their minds about referencing the still uncertified design in NRC license applications. In international markets, GE has chosen not to bid the reactor in major projects. The NRC is unlikely to complete its work on design certification for the ESBWR before 2011.

However, Exelon has shifted gears at its Victoria, TX, site and asked the NRC to stop the review of its license application and is now pursuing an early site permit. This is a much less costly process that still keeps the utility’s options open.

In a few years, if Exelon thinks the Victoria site is a viable business proposition, it might again consider the ESBWR according to a statement by company VP Craig Nesit. He told the North Carolina Star News Online on July 14 Exelon would take another look at the ESBWR if the timing for the plant is right and the reactor design is certified by the NRC.

Environmental groups ramp up to oppose new reactors

stopYou’ve read plenty about the “nuclear renaissance.” Now it is time to read about multiple efforts by environmental groups to stop it cold. Our story starts this week with the energetic Mark Cooper who by his own count has testified over 100 times in 44 separate jurisdictions opposing new nuclear projects.

This week he’s in Florida where he filed a protest with the state’s Public Service Commission. He warned it is not “prudent” for Florida Power and Light (FPL) to go ahead with plans for two new Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point site and also retire a nearby coal-fired plant. Note that he’s referring to the “prudent investor” clause of the Uniform Commercial Code which is why utilities never say they are actually going to build a new reactor until they really order one.

Cooper and Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with a long history of work with anti-nuclear “watchdog” groups, want the Commission to cut off FPL’s ability to recover costs of the new reactors while they are being built.

That current authority will save the utility over $1 billion in finance charges. This isn’t really what matters to Cooper and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which hired him. The group claims demand for electricity is way down and with energy conservation measures, the new nuclear plants simply won’t be needed now or anytime in the future. Gundersen added that he thinks cost overruns are inevitable and that the rate payers will have to pick up the tab.

This type of intervention is a lot more sophisticate and costly for the environmental groups and it keeps the lawyers for the Commission and the utility burning the midnight oil. There has been some pressure from the legislature about the authority to recover costs, especially with upfront rate increases. Last month Progress Energy chopped a rate increase to support its work at its Levy County site in response partially to push back from Democratic legislators.

It is too early to know whether Cooper and his team will succeed, but it is clear he’s launched a major national effort to spike the nuclear renaissance based on an argument over costs. His earlier work in Vermont, along with that of Gundersen, may weigh in the balance on the pending relicensing of the Vermont Yankee plant. It will be worth watching to see how he does in Florida.

TVA not worried about Watts Bar protests

oatmeal The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy was also busy in Tennessee this week petitioning the NRC to stop work on TVA’s plans to build a second nuclear plant at its Watts Bar site.

It cited environmental issues related to water quality in the Tennessee River, the high costs of a new reactor, and their preference for TVA to invest in alternative energy technologies.

TVA issued a bland as oatmeal response saying it values public participation and expressed confidence in its license application for Watts Bar Unit 2. TVA began a five-year $2.5 billion effort in 2007 to complete the long moth balled Watts Bar reactor by 2012.

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For their part the green groups still believe in the magic of alternative technologies. Engineering horse sense about base load demand doesn't seem to reach them. In an effort to explain how the green groups think, here is a video of Olivia Newton John singing her top 40 hit "Magic." Just sit back, relax, and listen to the lyrics.

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