Saturday, September 26, 2009

DOE A/Sec Nuclear visits INL

Warren “Pete” Miller comes to Idaho Falls

Warren Miller DOE Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Warren "Pete" Miller (right) was in Idaho Falls Sept 22 and told a news conference he is "pro-nuclear."

"Every interaction I've had in the (Obama) administration, at every level, has been very encouraging to me and supportive of nuclear energy."

That's a good start for an official in charge of the agency's nuclear energy programs, but it is also a tacit admission that doubts remain about the real strength of support for it with Obama administration.

As far as Miller is concerned, there are no doubts.

"It is almost unimaginable that we could reach those [climate] goals without nuclear energy," Miller said.

As Miller was visiting Idaho Falls, his boss, Energy Sec. Steven Chu, told the Wall Street Journal he wants to expand loan guarantee for new nuclear power plants.

The call for expansion of loan guarantees comes as the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee gets ready to publish a draft climate bill with a nuclear section in it. Chu said, perhaps in reference to the pending legislation . . .

"If you really want to restart the American nuclear energy industry in a serious way...we (need to) send signals to the industry that the U.S. is serious about investing in nuclear power plants," Chu said.

The first round of loan guarantees has not been awarded, although four planned plants were put on a short list last May. Chu told the WSJ that in addition to plants already in the running, “there’s real interest in another four-or-five which we could easily do.”

INL role in nuclear renaissance

Miller said the Idaho National Laboratory will focus on design Generation IV nuclear reactors. Miller said DOE hopes to start final design within the next year and have a 300-600 MW working prototype operational by 2021.

Miller also met with several community leaders including Idaho Falls Mayor Jared Fuhriman (right) during his visit. (INL photo)

He comes to the job with sterling credentials. A West Point graduate, he obtained a doctorate in nuclear engineering from Northwestern University. He spent much of his career at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Idaho National Laboratory, Office of Public Affairs, published a summary of Miller's visit on the lab's external web site.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

NRC rule ~ No rabbits out of a hat

Dale Klein says the agency must be clear about what it does and how it explains its decisions to the public

NRC INTERVIEWDale Klein, a Commissioner at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and its former chairman under the previous administration, has two objectives for his agency. He said in a wide-ranging interview with this blog on Sept 24 that he wants the NRC "to be the agency of choice when people have questions about nuclear energy."

His second objective is to promote openness in decision making and to provide more transparency in the plant oversight process. [Full text of this blog post in PDF format for printing - 8 pages; 3 Mb]

Klein was in Idaho Falls this week for business meetings with the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). He also found time to speak to a lunch meeting of business and civic leaders. He’s a busy man often starting his day well before dawn. His trip in Idaho included a bus ride to the desert to check on the INL Advanced Test Reactor.

While Klein has spent much of his time the past few years in the halls of federal agency offices, he hasn't lost a dry sense of humor which he brought from his native "show-me" state of Missouri. He says, in effect, that he promulgates the 'no hat' rule.

magician"We spend too much time pulling rabbits out of hats," Klein says. "In our public briefings on reactor safety for a specific plant, we don't actually tell anyone a plant is safe until slide 30."

Asked why the U.S. nuclear industry is so complex, Klein compared our situation to France. The U.S. generates 20% of its electricity from nuclear energy, but France gets 80%. His analogy on the differences puts them into an easy-to-understand metaphor.

"In America we have one kind of cheese and 104 reactors with multiple [publicly-traded] utility owners. By comparison, in France, you have 104 kinds of cheese, just one state-owned utility, and only two reactor designs."

In response to a question at the lunch meeting about the reason France has such a strong commitment to nuclear energy, he quipped, "That nation's energy polices come down to just four factors: no oil, no gas, no coal, and no choice."

No bozos allowed

Dale iinexperiencedKlein is also the author of the now aptly named “no bozos” rule. In a June 2007 speech before a large number of chief executives from the nuclear utility industry, Klein, then NRC chairman, issued what has come to be called, outside the agency, the "no bozos" rule for involvement in building a nuclear power plant.

The nuclear industry is not child's play, Klein said. The NRC is watching to make sure that "inexperienced companies" don't jump on the nuclear bandwagon. He added that allowing "amateurs" to start up financing and construction of new plants "could threaten the resurgence of nuclear power in the US."

Failure to communicate is not an option

While Klein is more than willing to share his dry wit and insights about the world of nuclear energy, he is serious when it comes to how the NRC communicates with the public. In fact, retaining public confidence in the effectiveness of the NRC's work on nuclear safety is his top priority. When it comes to explaining the outcome of nuclear reactor safety reviews, especially for license renewals, Klein said, "we need to tell the public the answer and how we got to the answer. It’s taken a long time to get to this point," he added.

TMI The agency is still learning from the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident. In a recent speech to aviation regulators at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Klein noted that TMI was a tragedy for the nuclear industry, "but also it was a tremendous opportunity to learn." When you don't get it right you learn more."

That experience was painful. He says that as a regulator, the NRC may need to endure periods of intense public scrutiny to “insure our performance and the performance of the industry.”

He cites the development by the nuclear industry of the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) as an example for other regulatory agencies. He said the FAA is looking into it and the response from the aviation industry trade press was favorable. Despite the fierce competition among airlines, Klein notes that no matter what industry you are talking about, "you should never be competitive on safety."

A mountain of Yucca paperwork

mountain of paperworkThe safety issue is one of the reasons why he and his colleagues at the NRC get stressed when political debates about nuclear energy spiral out of the realm of reasoned dialog and descend into rhetoric. The NRC's toughest challenge is the Yucca Mountain license application, which includes 8,000 electronic pages of material and, by agency estimates, over a million pages of referenced content.

The NRC has by law just three years to complete its review. However, the opposition of Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to the spent fuel repository has put a severe crimp in the agency's ability to meet that deadline.

According to Klein, the NRC asked for $99M to do the job, but OMB cut the request in half, and the Senate appropriation mark-up cut it in half again.

Klein is frustrated by people who have already made up their minds about the license application. Referring to the massive electronic document library that supports the project, he said ironically, "anyone who says Yucca Mountain is unsafe must be a speed reader."

If the funding shortfall isn't resolved, the agency may have to go back to Congress and ask it to amend the three-year legislative deadline for completing the license review. As a practical political matter, as long as Sen. Reid is in office, the NRC may be over a barrel as far as getting the money it needs to deal with the Yucca Mountain license application.

NRC best place to work, needs more workers

nrc seal Another challenge is adding the staff needed to meet the rapidly expanding demand for new nuclear reactor combined construction and operating licenses. Currently, the agency has 18 license applications for 28 new reactors. Also, it is working on reactor design certifications [video] for new reactors from Areva, Mitsubishi, and GE-Hitachti.

Despite record hiring - more than 600 new staff in the past two years - the agency has also had record retirements. Klein cites a statistic from the agency's human resource department. About 50% of NRC professional staff have less than five years experience with the agency. The good news is the NRC is a magnet for talent in the federal government having earned a coveted designation as the "best place to work" in 2007 and again in 2009.

Klein mentioned that Kristine Svinicki, also an NRC Commissioner, announced the launch of her Facebook page. The new social media will help with the agency's efforts to be more transparent.

Ground breaking progress expected by 2011

Klein predicts that the first new nuclear reactor projects to "turn dirt" will likely be NRG's South Texas Project and the Southern's Vogtle plant. Success requires the Department of Energy to issue loan guarantees to cover up to 100% of the loans and 80% of the plant cost.

States that have laws on the books allowing utilities to recover costs while the plants are being built need to sustain them over the entire construction period and not pull the rug out from under the utility.

This is generally known as “construction while in progress” or CWP. Anti-nuclear green groups have recently initiated efforts to overturn these laws. Klein thinks that’s a bad idea.

Klein said the U.S. needs a shared vision of the role of nuclear energy in the nation's future especially when it comes to developing a response to the threat of global warming. "It is difficult," he said, "to figure to tell what President Obama's position is on nuclear energy."

"The U.S. has difficulty thinking clearly about how to make long-term capital commitments. The financing profile for a new nuclear reactor is now 60-80 years. Our grandchildren will benefit from them and some will operate them."

Getting to that shared vision may be an uphill battle. The reason is the public is really not engaged in dialog about future energy policies.

"Most of the public have no clue there are 104 reactors or any idea of the concepts of peak power and base load demand. They just want to flip a switch and know the power will be there."

Wind power not a substitute for nuclear energy

wind farm Nations that fail to capitalize on the potential of nuclear energy may pay dearly for it. Klein said that the upcoming elections in Germany may decide the fate of its 17 nuclear plants. In a reference to political advocates of wind power, who want to shut down nuclear plants, he said,

"If the reactors go away, and the wind doesn't blow, they are in trouble. You have to be a very rich country to afford wind-based electricity. Also, there is no guarantee Germany will be able to buy the electricity it needs from France."

Klein points out Sweden "did a 180" in its decision to replace its current fleet of nuclear power plants as they are needed. "They realized," he said, "that nuclear energy was their only viable alternative to coal."

Small reactors could offer big rewards

There are opportunities for reactors beyond completely new construction. One of them is to put reactors into old coal plants, replacing the boilers and hooking up to the existing turbines, as well as using the transmission and distribution infrastructure already in place.

Small reactors might fill the bill for this retrofit role, but he says small reactors are a dilemma for the NRC. The agency has problems with the review process for new and unproven technologies. It has received a lot of proposals for small reactor designs, but sometimes without detailed design information.

hyperionreactorKlein says, “There needs to be a U.S. customer for a small reactor in order for the agency to take one seriously.”

“The best opportunities for small reactors in the U.S.,” he says, “will be those that use light-water reactor designs as that's the technology the NRC knows best. Liquid metal reactors will take longer to review.”

Klein thinks there is a way to speed up time-to-market for affordable small reactors and to pay for the review of their designs. He proposes that the Department of Energy reinvigorate its "2010 program," which covered licensing costs for conventional, large, LWR nuclear reactors.

'If we could get DOE in the mix for small reactors, it would work, " he says. "It would encourage the deployment of small reactor technologies."

To help make progress on review of small reactor designs, the NRC is holding a public workshop at its Rockville, MD, offices Oct 8-9. According to an NRC press release, the meeting is designed to “get everyone’s expectations on the same page.”

“We’re going to examine how these ‘small’ reactor vendors would need to address the NRC’s requirements in areas including safety, security, decommissioning and emergency preparedness,” said Michael Mayfield, director of the Advanced Reactor Program in the NRC’s Office of New Reactors.

To expand outreach to the industry and the public, the NRC will offer live video streaming of the proceedings over the Internet or a voice-only stream via telephone.

Digital age comes with things that go bump in the night

cyber_security2 Another of Klein's priorities is bringing the NRC into the digital age. The NRC is moving towards more digital information and less paper. For instance, license applications are submitted in digital format.

The move comes with a risk and it is one that is shared by the industry. The Internet is a tremendous tool, but it is also full of threats. To meet them, the NRC now requires reactor operators to include a cyber-security plan as part of their license.

Cyber-security is a critical need, Klein says, because more digital instrumentation and control systems are being introduced to nuclear power plants.

"All new control rooms will be digital. Vulnerabilities will change over time, but we know most of the current types of threats."

He points out NRC's IT staff have told him there are 1000s of attempts daily to break into the NRC and nuclear plants are a target as well.

"Anything with the term nuclear in its name is a target. As we move forward into the digital era, we need to make sure we are not setting ourselves up. Our goal is to make sure no one is ever going to capture a digital control system or any other computers at a nuclear plant."

The challenge includes security for both old and new systems. Many nuclear utilities have legacy process control and safety systems that were deployed long before the current crop of computer threats came on the scene. These systems have to be managed to meet current cyber-security needs Klein said.

Wireless devices face new threats

A new challenge is how to deal with wireless devices. Everyone carries one and that’s where the invisible threat will likely have its greatest impact.

NRC’s IT staff have told Klein, "It has been proven that cell phones can be hacked and used against the owner even when they are off."

Recent events bear them out. The BBC reports that in July the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country that is planning to build at least three new nuclear reactors, an update for Blackberry users turned out to be spyware. The update was prompted by a text message from UAE telecom firm Etisalat, saying it would improve performance.

BlackBerry-BOLD Blackberry maker Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) said in a statement that "Etisalat appears to have distributed a telecommunications surveillance application.

Independent sources have concluded that it is possible that the installed software could then enable unauthorized access to private or confidential information stored on the user's smartphone".

The concern over the spyware came to light when users started reporting problems with their phones. Etisalat is a major telecommunications firm based in the UAE, with 145,000 Blackberry users on its books according to the BBC. The spyware’s victims reportedly included the phones of foreign nationals hired by the UAE to mange the process of acquiring and building the reactors as well as ensuring the safety and security for the plants.

International standards for reactor safety

The Internet as a global phenomenon has also opened up opportunities for one of Klein's initiatives, and that is to share regulatory information on an international basis about safety in nuclear reactor design, construction, and operation.

"International sharing of reactor requirements information is essential. In Europe international borders are a lot closer where in the US you have one large nation containing 104 reactors. It is important as new reactors are built across the globe that we don't wait to see differences in safety showing up across Europe. "

WNAglossy_logoIn a recent speech to the World Nuclear Association (WNA) at its annual meeting in London, Klein said,

“As a regulator, I am more anxious to see that these different regulatory regimes are not viewed as potential loopholes than can be exploited at the expense of high safety and security standards.

. . . an accident anywhere is a accident everywhere, so I want to help promote nuclear safety everywhere around the world.”

Klein told the WNA he wants to encourage more standardized plant design and construction as a means for improving safety. He said standardized design applications are easier to review and help regulators share information and best practices and standardized plants are easier to inspect.

“Regulators should also work together to harmonize our requirements, realizing that each country will have different regulatory structures.”

The Multinational Design Evaluation Program (MDEP) is the starting point for these initiatives. The NRC’s reputation as the “gold standard” for nuclear reactor safety is the basis for its work.

Klein said that reactor vendors have an incentive to standardize their designs to keep costs down. Even as the global industry rapidly expands, he says, we'll continue to see only a limited number of and plant types worldwide.

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Dale Klein's talk in Idaho Falls was co-sponsored by the Partnership for Science & Technology (PST) and the Idaho Section of the American Nuclear Society (IANS).


Video segment of Dale Klein's remarks at PST lunch


PST Logo

IANS Logo

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Not intentionally funny

DOE official says the Obama administration is “still thinking” about nuclear energy

[Update 09/23/09 below; Warren "Pete" Miller visits Idaho National Laboratory]

stop sign It’s doubtful that a DOE official speaking with Dallas Morning News reporter Elizabeth Souder was intentionally trying to be funny as reported in her column published Sept 22 on the Department of Energy’s “stop sign” policies especially when its comes to reviving the nation’s nuclear energy industry.

She interviewed Steven Koonin, (left) the undersecretary for science with the Department of Energy, asking him to define the agency's views on nuclear energy as a solution to global warming. The result is not a series of “happy to see you” statements from one of the energy agency’s leading officials.

Koonin_tnSo far, now nine months into the Obama administration, the best that can be said about the White House position is that the President's key advisors have a blind spot about nuclear energy. They are going to have to open their eyes if they want to get a climate bill out of the Senate. Just ask Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) who this week ran up the flagpole another of his barn burner speeches about the need to build 100 new nuclear power plants to combat the growth of greenhouse gases.

Meantime, over at the Forrestal Building, Koonin, a political appointee, tells Souder it's not his job to say whether nuclear power is a good idea. He claims the "Joe Friday" defense, which is "just the facts maam."

badge 714"If we really want to reduce carbon emissions, we need to set a price on carbon emissions. That means there needs to be a financial incentive to reduce emissions from carbon."

According to Souder, he "opened up" to journalists attending the McCormick Energy Solutions Conference at Ohio State University. He added that putting a price on carbon promotes natural gas, wind, hydro, and, ta da, nuclear energy. Give the man credit. At least he’s headed in the right direction. He tells Souder . . .

"There, I've said the word. If the world is going to reduce greenhouse gases at a reasonable cost we've got to build more nuclear plants."

So where's the beef?

Thinking about nuclear energy is not the same as doing something about it. This is where we get to the punch line. Souder asks Koonin to to describe the Obama administration's position on nuclear power, which she describes as "murky at best."

"We're thinking," he said.

Good for him, but it's not enough. He claims he has his reasons, which lock, stock, and barrel, are a litany right out of the green wing of the Democratic party.

"There are issues about waste, about proliferation resistance, also there are issues about the large amount of capital it takes to build nuclear power."

He added: "I think positions will evolve as time goes on."

If he and the White House have their way, at the rate things are going, the Obama administration will continue to think about nuclear energy right through the end of the second term.

The answer right now to the question “where’s the beef” is that there ain’t none. The Department of Energy is still thinking about it.

NYT Friedman on nuclear - don’t be a wimp

Kooning needs to read NY Times Columnist Tom Friedman who last Sunday unleashed a gale of outrage over the U.S. having wimped out on climate change because it won't build nuclear power plants. Here is what he said.

"France today generates nearly 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants, and it has managed to deal with all the radioactive waste issues without any problems or panics. And us? We get about 20 percent and have not been able or willing to build one new nuclear plant since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, even though that accident led to no deaths or injuries to plant workers or neighbors. We’re too afraid to store nuclear waste deep in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain — totally safe — at a time when French mayors clamor to have reactors in their towns to create jobs. In short, the French stayed the course on clean nuclear power, despite Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and we ran for cover."

Koonin and his beefless buddies need to read Friedman and rethink what they are doing with their indecision about nuclear energy. Because back to the Department of Energy, right now it looks like Energy Secretary Chu and Kooning are thinking to death the $18.5 billion federal loan guarantees the agency is supposed to award and which are way overdue.

Loan guarantees still tied up in red tape?

comanche peakIn Texas the loan guarantees are important for Texas because the two largest power generators, Energy Future Holdings (Luminant) and NRG, have plans to build a total of four reactors. Both have said they need government loan guarantees to get it done.

NRG is still in the running to get some of the first round of guarantees and Luminant, at Comanche Peak, hopes that the government offers a second round. Hope is sometimes an antidote to misguided thought, but the nuclear folks in the Lone Star state are going to have to do more to convince Washington to get a move on. It’s not that Koonin and other DOE officials are deliberately mule-headed about nuclear energy. No, something else is at work.

More firemen needed to put out global warming

firemanThe Department of Energy’s ivory tower paradigm may sit well with a cerebral President. What’s really needed is a down home Texas type “get ‘er done” attitude that can’t seem to find a home in the corridors of power along the Mall. As they say in Texas, don't paint the porch when the house is on fire.

We had a taste of the 'grits and guts’ attitude that is needed last week when Sec. Chu stepped in to save the PBMR project. Credit is due there, but the Pebble Bed reactor is an R&D project.

More tangible progress will be made by awarding the loan guarantees to build new commercial nuclear power plants that will replace coal-fired plants and their greenhouse gasses. The world is on fire, and what we need are more firemen at the Department of Energy with the courage to act. Is that asking too much? I hope not.

Update 09/23/09

DOE Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Warren "Pete" Miller was in Idaho Falls Sept 22 and told a news conference he is "pro-nuclear."

"Every interaction I've had in the (Obama) administration, at every level, has been very encouraging to me and supportive of nuclear energy."

That's a good start for an official in charge of the agency's nuclear energy programs, but it is also a tacit admission that doubts remain about the real strength of support for it with Obama administration.

As Miller is concerned, there are no doubts.

"It is almost unimaginable that we could reach those [climate] goals without nuclear energy," Miller said.

Miller said as far as the Idaho National Laboratory is concerned, he will focus on design Generation IV nuclear reactors. Miller said DOE hopes to start final design within the next year and have a working prototype in the range of 300-600 MW by 2021.

He comes to the job with sterling credentials. A West Point graduate, he obtained a doctorate in nuclear engineering from Northwestern University. He spent much of his career at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

More details on Miller's visit at KIFI-TV (ABC) including a video clip of his remarks at the INL

The Idaho National Laboratory, Office of Public Affairs, published a summary of Miller's visit on the lab's external web site.


Brief note on comment policy

All comments are moderated and here's why

Constructive comments that add to the conversation are welcome. I've had my say with the blog post. Comments are a way for you to have yours. Most comments are approved with 24 hours.

I ask that comments be relevant to the post you are commenting on, coherent, concise, and accurate with your use of facts.

If you have a long essay, please post it on your own web site or blog, and publish a link here with a snapshot of the content. Remember to post the original link from this blog. You can also Tweet your response with the links so people can see both sides of the issue. This way one social media reinforces another.

Also, a few principles need to be repeated from time-to-time.

In a famous magazine cartoon, it is said that on the Internet, no one knows if you are a dog. Anonymous comments are discouraged on this blog. The reason is that the nuclear industry needs transparency to win public support and that includes discussions here. Use your Blogger or OPEN ID. Don't have one? Get one free at Open ID

Off-topic comments, illogical opinions unsupported by data, and one-on-one debates, will not be approved. Comments will not be posted if they contain spam, abusive language, or personal attacks.

Otherwise, I look forward to hearing from you.

D

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reality intrudes on California’s energy dreams

Governor goes pro-nuclear and so do the people who want his job

governor-arnold-schwarzeneggerWhat is it about California that always twists what the rest of the country takes for reality into a pretzel? For more than three decades the state has banned the construction of new nuclear power plants. At the same time it is one of the nation’s top 10 in terms of energy intensive per capita and for use of nuclear energy generated electricity.

So it comes as another shock to the political system when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said last week he is considering making nuclear power “renewable.” The Wall Street Journal Environmental Capital Blog reported 9/14 that the governor sees nukes as “punching above their weight since they represent only 10% of the nation’s electricity generating capacity but 20% of its electricity supply.”

It took just two days for the top contenders for Schwarzenegger’s job in the 2010 election to jump on the “me too” bandwagon. The San Francisco Chronicle reported 9/16 that Republican Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner promised to make nuclear energy a key plank in his campaign platform. Two other contenders agreed, but Republican and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman said with elegant vagueness that she wanted to see a “a thoughtful discussion” about nuclear energy. Her statement suggests Silicon Valley is not onboard the nuclear ship of state.

The combined impacts of the tectonic shift in California politics may be tough to deal with for green groups which have made the anti-nuclear mantra an article of new age religious faith.

California’s colonial energy policy could benefit Utah

power_Lines[6]For all the years California has banned nuclear power plants, it has been quite happy to import nuclear generated electricity from Arizona. Even as the governor is talking about changing that paradigm, developers in Utah are planning a 3,000 MW nuclear power station in Green River Utah to wheel electricity westward to California’s booming energy markets.

If Governor Schwarzenegger is successful in tagging nuclear as renewable, it could put a new spin on the state’s colonial energy empire. He’s planning to take the initiative with an executive order that over rides a complex legislative proposal that mandates utilities must get a fixed percentage of their energy imports from renewable power.

At the same time, it could put winds in the sails of nuclear energy developers in Utah who can now brand their electricity as a “renewable source.” Once state renewable energy imports can include nuclear as a designated source, it opens California’s massive energy market to anyone with a 235 KV transmission line and a nuclear reactor or two to play in the mix.

Gov Schwarzenegger's planned executive order doesn't over turn the state's three-decade ban on building new nuclear power plants inside its borders. What it does, with its focus on "renewable energy imports, is open the door for others to build new ones in neighboring states.

Nuclear politics at home

poiznerSteve While the “Terminator” governor was stomping on Democratic legislators proposals for solar and wind energy imports, candidates for the top state office were vying for media attention on the unlikely election topic of nuclear energy. Skeptical Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists got an earful from Steve Poizner (right). He said,

“Modern 4th generation plants should be part of the mix in California. The state needs a power source to meet a 50% increase in demand for electricity in the next decade.”

It’s not clear Poizner has his technology ducks lined up since most “4th generation” nuclear reactor designs are a lot more than a decade away. More likely, if he wants nukes now rather than later, he’s referring to 3rd generation light water reactors such as the Areva EPR, GE-Hitachi BWR designs, and the Westinghouse AP1000.

Also in the ‘me too’ chorus is former Republican Rep. Tom Campbell, reportedly a long-time nuclear advocate, who said “nothing should be excluded from consideration in light of the threat of global warming.”

Not all the candidates are on the pro-nuclear bandwagon. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is an advocate for solar and wind power. He told the high-tech forum, meeting in Santa Clara, that renewables “don’t require us to explore controversial and costly nuclear power.”

A spokesperson for one of California’s leading environmental groups told the Chronicle they are not impressed with the rush to tag nuclear energy as a renewable energy source. Serena Ingre, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said nuclear plants are not feasible until spent fuel issues are resolved and costs of building new reactors have more certainty.

Not coming to its senses just yet

SolarTowerMojaveDesertWhile national environmental groups were bashing the daylights out of nuclear energy as a part of California’s energy future, they also were limiting their options with renewables. Just when you thought the state was coming to its senses in terms of a sensible energy policy, green groups brushed aside a proposal to build a 5,130 acre solar energy facility in the Mojave Desert. There’s lots of sunshine there all year, but it turns out protecting big horn sheep is more important than keeping the lights on in Los Angeles.

The city, which gets a share of its power from coal fired power plants in Utah, could have cut greenhouse gases by switching to solar. Brightsource Energy of Oakland, Calif, told the New York Times Sept 19 it would look elsewhere for a site.

If you can’t get past “not in my backyard” in the Mojave Desert, and with a solar energy plant no less, just exactly where is California going to get its electricity from in the coming decade? Even so green groups remain staunch advocates of solar and wind energy as a solution to the state’s energy needs.

Energy is wealth. See South Africa's example of what not to do with energy policy and the consequences for economic growth. Until California voters stop dreaming about solar and wind as the sole answer to their energy problems, the most significant impact of that energy policy will be a wake up call in their pocketbooks.

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