Saturday, March 27, 2010

Areva and USEC could get loan guarantees

DOE runs concept up flagpole with House Appropriations Committee

flagpoleThe Chillicothe Gazette, a southern Ohio newspaper, reports March 27 that Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the House Appropriations Committee this week he wants to give $2 billion loan guarantees to both USEC and Areva for new uranium enrichment plants.

At the same time Steve Isakowitz, DOE’s Chief Financial Officer, also reportedly sent a letter to Sen. Jeff Bingaman, (D-NM), Chairman of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.

In it he said the agency will use $4 billion in loan guarantee authority split two ways. The first $2 billion will be allocated to Areva for “front-end nuclear fuel facilities.” The other $2 billion will be used for “innovative technologies.”

USEC’s American Centrifuge Facilities has been delayed by technology issues. DOE’s latest efforts to get it into the success column has been to provide $45 million for additional technology development.

Areva’s project in Idaho will use proven gas centrifuge technology already installed in two other uranium enrichment plants. An NRC license for the Idaho plant is expected in 2011.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Away

On business travel for a few more days

business-travelerI’ll be away on business travel until 3/25 so postings will be light during this time.

If you want to keep up with the nuclear news, check out the listings in my blog roll and nuclear news sections.

I hope to be able to hit Twitter once in a while during this time. Also, I’ll give mobile blogging a try, so look for a different format in the post headlines.

Later.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Changing of the guard at the NRC

The agency will have all five commissioners on board

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is the gatekeeper for new reactor design, construction, and licensing for this country.

Its safety and environmental requirements for light water reactors are so thorough that they are considered to be the "gold standard" for other countries. The five commissioners who drive policy decisions for the NRC are appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

The Obama administration inherited an agency with two vacancies and a Chairman appointed by the prior Republican president. President Obama appointed then serving NRC Commissioner Gregory Jazcko chairman which moved Dale Klein out of that role while retaining his seat at the NRC.

This gave the White House three open slots to fill. The good news for the nuclear renaissance is that all three nominees have sterling credentials to serve and were confirmed by unanimous consent in the Senate on Friday March 19. They will be sworn in this coming week.

coolhandnuke Challenges ahead include license applications, reactor designs, and the pace of development of the nuclear renaissance, Read all about it exclusively at CoolHandNuke, a nuclear jobs portal and a whole lot more.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tamar’s Law – Dale Klein

Outgoing NRC Commissioner says Yucca license was withdrawn for all the wrong reasons

Guest Column by: Tamar Cerfici*

NRC INTERVIEWI spoke with Dale Klein (left) at the NRC’s Regulatory Information Conference, or RIC, last week just before he left for IAEA meetings in Europe and the Middle East.

The Senate approved President Obama’s slate of successors late Friday afternoon, just in time for Easter Break. As a result, Klein’s 5-month-old resignation takes effect, and he returns to a professorship at a “small school” in Austin, Texas.

Nobody disputes that Dr. Klein has had a long farewell tour. Why the wait? Dr. Klein happily explained to me that he provided the quorum. Without that, he said, Chairman Jaczko could run the agency by fiat. He didn’t want that.

Klein’s retirement colored his remarks at the RIC (reviewed here). Attendees and staffers remembered him as the man who dragged the NRC kicking and screaming into the 21st Century and as a last voice of academic reason on the Commission. All remembered him as a thoughtful regulator who put the integrity of science used by the NRC at the center of the agency’s decision process.

Although Klein and I talked generally about his tenure at the Commission (also reviewed here), it is clear that the political turn of events – both with the waste confidence rule and Yucca Mountain – were wearing down the polished veneer built over nine years in Washington. I learned a couple of important lessons.
LESSON ONE: Don’t make a decision when you don’t have a Plan B.

On the Waste Confidence Rule, Klein clearly disagreed with the Chairman, who wants to update the rule. Klein doesn’t want to rush to judgment, he says, because neither the Commission nor the Department of Energy have a “Plan B.”

The Rule, he says, allows the NRC to act on new reactor licenses with confidence that the federal government will “do something” about spent fuel by a given time. It’s not unreasonable for the Commission to ask whether there contingency plans.

banana_peelAlthough Klein didn’t use this phrase, one of this legacies will be the “banana peel paradigm,” which states that circumstances will arise that prove there is always, metaphorically speaking, the proverbial banana peel out there to cause slip ups in even the most carefully crafted plans.

The problem Klein says is that DOE had no contingency plan. Yucca Mountain was DOE’s plan A – and B, and C – for high level waste and spent fuel disposal. Now, the Blue Ribbon Commission find another Plan A. Until there is a scientifically justified Plan A and B, Klein sees no reason to update the current Confidence Rule.

“We still have a Waste Confidence Rule,” he says. “we know we can safely store it under NRC regulations, and we don’t need to update it until there is an identifiable scientific plan for disposal.” This is a Plan B. The proposed update doesn’t have one.

Klein fears the Commission will lose public confidence if it does not insist on a robust scientific reason tas abasis for a change to the rule. Klein isn’t interested in winning the battle on the waste confidence rule if the agency ultimately lose the war on a safe scientifically sound solution for disposal.

Klein thinks DOE Secretary Stephen Chu is extremely talented and will identify a disposal plan. Chu must find a Plan B to go with the new plan A. Both plans need to have some clarity, or they won’t gain any traction with the public.

LESSON 2: Science and politics are like a pancake

pancake flipLike a pancake, the storage/disposal conundrum has two sides, Klein said. He worries neither side is using science to justify what he sees as essentially political arguments. Particularly, the political turn of events over Yucca Mountain decisions is hugely disappointing.

For example, Klein feels DOE withdrew its Yucca Mountain license application for all the wrong reasons. If DOE had allowed NRC to put the proposal through a rigorous scientific examination, a plan to close or open the facility would be based in science. Instead, scientific rigor has fallen to political agendas, tainting the credibility of both agencies.

Klein is above all concerned about the scientific credibility of the agency he’s served. When an agency makes a decision based on politics, “how,” he wondered, “do you maintain credibility? The next time DOE or the NRC makes a decision based on science, it will affect the credibility of that decision.”

“For someone to flippantly say [Yucca Mountain] is unsafe is very sensitive to me,” he said.

LESSON THREE: There are no swan songs in public service

I couldn’t resist a quick request, especially after Commissioner Kristine Sviniki used one of the 150 verses of Don McLean’s “American Pie” to describe her position on the Waste Confidence Rule. So, I wondered, did Commissioner Klein have a song that described his thoughts on leaving the NRC? Besides the Eyes of Texas?

“Truth is,” he said, “I can’t sing worth a damn.” His Chief of Staff Paul Dickman backed him up, telling me that Dr. Klein was really doing us both a huge favor by not singing anything.

Klein has a wish, though: he hopes that agency is better in five years than it is right now. He’ll stay involved, and keep an eye on activities and offer help where he can. Typical response for this public servant.

True to form, Klein does not have a swan song on this way out of town. I expect the reason is because he’ll be back.

* Author ID

Tamar_Cerafici_profile* Ms. Cerafici (right) is an attorney in private practice with expertise in nuclear licensing and environmental law.

Contact info

Tamar Jergensen Cerafici, tnelaw@gmail.com
349 Shaker Road
Northfield NH 03276
(603) 496-2575

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