Friday, September 24, 2010

20th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

This is the weekly “best of” nuclear energy blogs. We hope you enjoy it.

carnivalAt Next Big Future Brian Wang reports that the Russian built Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr may have been the target of the Stuxnet computer virus.

Where did it comes from? How did it get into the software that is used to manage the reactor? Was it sabotage or stupidity?

The computer industry news wire CNET reports the malicious software relied on inside knowledge about the digital control system for the nuclear reactor. Due to its complexity, it had to be developed by an expert computer team outside Iran.

Speaking of reactors, Brian's blog also has a roundup of news on nuclear reactors in China, India, Pakistan and uranium in Kazakhstan, Australia and Kyrgyzstan.

At Atomic Insights Rod Adams writes that Peabody Coal has published a presentation that explains the benefits of affordable, abundant coal fired energy. It throws down the competitive gauntlet and shows why low cost energy is a boon to mankind. Will nuclear industry leaders take on the challenge of facing coal in the market?

Mark Flanagan has a piece at NEI Nuclear Notes on the nuclear cluster in the Carolinas whose “ultimate goal is to establish a network of suppliers in South Carolina that can serve the nuclear industry worldwide.”

At Nuke Power Talk Gail Marcus has a "personal reflection" about Gail de Planque [NRC profile], who died recently. Marcus writes that the posting "is based on some of my interactions with her."

At Vermont Yankee Meredith Angwin writes that if Vermont Yankee closes, job losses at the plant are merely the tip of the economic iceberg. She discusses the effect of plant closure on small manufacturing industries in Vermont.

What's up with MIT and spent nuclear fuel?

At Areva North America blog, David Jones, Vice President, Used Fuel Management, writes that recycling used fuel from America’s nuclear power plants, using technology available in the near term, represents a solid option for the United States. His essay comes in response to an update of MIT's series of reports on nuclear energy. The latest says the U.S. should not invest in spent fuel recycling.

nuclear_wasteJones makes the case spent fuel recycling is a proven solution that makes waste management easier, conserves natural resources, is cost competitive, and reduces proliferation concerns.

At Idaho Samizdat, Dan Yurman analyzes the MIT report. He thinks the call for $700 million a year in nuclear R&D is “some sandbox.”

Also, a nuclear fuel expert tells him that U.S. private industry will not wait for the U.S. government to make up its mind.

“These firms have developed the business case for spent fuel reprocessing. They will pull the pin when the market is ready.”

The nuclear fuel cycle has lots of value in it.

Workforce age gap

cafe au lait.preview The ANS Nuclear Cafe examines the trend line of nuclear engineering enrollments. It turns out there is a startling truth about the nuclear industry: my “generation,” the thirty-something “incredibly smart or incredibly stupid” members of the nuclear industry, are virtually absent from the workforce.

When such a demographic chasm exists between younger workers and those who are more experienced, important incremental opportunities for responsibility and advancement become harder to come by.

These challenges are not limited to the commercial workforce either. The same phenomena are present in regulatory agencies, national labs, and professional organizations such as the American Nuclear Society. It was these sorts of challenges that motivated the formation of the Young Members Group within ANS about five years ago, and it drives the Group’s activities today.

Will Constellation walk away from Calvert Cliffs?

walk awayAt the New York Times Green Blog, reporter Matt Wald has insights into the finances for the new Calvert Cliffs III nuclear reactor. First of all, it’s nice to see the NYT refer to nuclear energy as “green” if even only by implication.

Wald writes that the federal loan guarantee program and other aid for new nuclear plants may not be enough to induce Constellation Energy (NYSE:CEG) to build a third reactor at its Calvert Cliffs site on Chesapeake Bay.

Negotiations over loan guarantees with the Department of Energy have bogged down over the fees the utility must pay to get the loan guarantee.

The fee is based on the government’s assessment of risk. There are profound differences between government and business concepts of risk and how to put a number on it which is what the difference is all about. If the government charges too much, the utility will walk away.

Prior coverage here 8/5/10 - Will Constellation Walk Away from Calvert Cliffs?

Can Chris Huhne change his spots?

C_HuhneThe arch druid of the anti-nuclear movement in the U.K. coalition government now says there is room for nuclear energy and renewables in the country’s future.

Energy Minister Chris Huhne (right) in a speech to Liberal Democrats on 9/21 says he can do it.

The Financial Times Energy Source blog has details like this quote from Huhne’s speech.

“I’m fed up with the stand-off between renewable and nuclear which means we have neither – we will have both. We will have low-carbon energy, and security of supply.”

Actually, a lot of people would agree with that.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Social media meet-up at ANS conference

This will be the second annual event and will be held Nov 9th

blog symbol At the ANS Winter Meeting held in Washington, D.C., last November, we had a successful meet-up of people interested in discussing social media.

There’s interest in repeating that meeting at the upcoming ANS Winter Meeting to be held in Las Vegas, NV, Nov 6-11.

The plan is to have an informal discussion about how social media, including blogs, instant messages, and web services are shaping public perceptions of the nuclear energy industry. The most likely venue will be an after-hours session at the conference hotel starting around 6 PM on Tues Nov 9.

A lot has taken place in the past year. ANS has gotten into social media with the launch September 1 of its blog at the ANS Nuclear Cafe. Since January 201, ANS has supported a listserv based discussion forum on social media's impact on nuclear energy which has over 100 people signed up.

carnivalAlso, thanks to the organizing skills of Brian Wang at Next Big Future, an informal team of nuclear bloggers is publishing a Carnival of Nuclear Energy blogs every week. It is now in its 20th edition.

Best of all there are half a dozen new nuclear blogs.

One of the things people will want to hear from you is what you've been doing in the past year with social media in the nuclear industry. Bring your story to Las Vegas.

Plus there are two sessions on communications, advocacy, and social media taking place Wednesday afternoon Nov 10. See the ANS conference program for details.

I’m looking for sponsors who can cover the cost of light refreshments. Last year the cost was about $500 shared by two sponsors.

If you are interested in participating, or being a sponsor, please send email at: Include an email address so that a broadcast notice can be sent to everyone once we firm up the details. You can use my Google Voice service 208-419-3881 to keep in touch or Twitter @djysrv

Please share this blog post with your friends and colleagues.

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Impact of ‘Not on Planet Earth’ paradigm

Chamber of Commerce says investment in nuclear energy is being sidelined

chickensIf you are wondering if the White House is paying any attention to the future of the nuclear energy industry in the U.S., stop right now.

If you were counting your chickens, new nuclear power plants, before they were hatched, e.g., got loan guarantees, take a deep breath and exhale slowly.

Instead of a chicken in every pot, what the Obama administration is dealing with is a crisis around every corner. The President and his advisors are overwhelmed with a lot of really big issues. The future of nuclear energy is way down the list. The agenda at the White House looks like this.

  • The real rate of unemployment is approaching 20%
  • U.S. debt and the federal government deficit are sky high
  • Health care reform may cost more than the nation can afford to pay
  • Financial regulatory reform is creating more uncertainty for business
  • International trade imbalances are doing the economy no favors

That’s the world view of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which says the government is desperate for revenue and deficit reduction through budget cuts.

What about energy policy?

USC1008257Where does energy fit in the picture? While it is way down the list of White House priorities, it also has some fierce advocates. In a fire breathing speech to the National Fabrication Consortium conference held in Cleveland, OH, Sept 21, Karen Harbert, (right) a senior official with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the U.S. must invest in more nuclear power plants or “it will pay the piper.”

She also called for more investments in wind turbines, such as those planned for an offshore site in Lake Erie along the Cleveland waterfront. This was music to the ears of the Greater Cleveland Partnership which co-sponsored the meeting.

Moving back to the national picture, Harbert’s view of the U.S. government’s effort to craft a viable energy policy looks like a case of painting the porch while the house burns down. She is taking her message across the country to bring the Chamber’s message of “energy reality” to educate the public. Her message in a nutshell is that the government waits too long, and does too little, to develop new power plants and new energy infrastructure.

The Chamber is gung ho on energy policy, and has separated its strong advocacy for energy development from climate change policy issues. The Chamber reminds readers at its website that business will bear much of the cost of implementing climate change legislation.

To that end the Chamber is a ferocious watchdog for its members’ interests. In fact, the Chamber was so opposed to climate change legislation that ultimately failed in Congress this year, that enraged green groups staged an elaborate hoax in October 2009 fooling the mainstream media that the business group had reversed its position.

Impact of the 'not on planet earth' paradigm

balance the budgetHarbert showed a slide that displayed a map with over 300 energy projects stopped in their tracks by various regulatory hang-ups. According to Harbert, the paradigm that energy is a source of wealth creation and rising standards of living is being undercut by one from environmental groups.

She calls it the ‘NOPE policy’ which is an acronym for “not on planet earth.” It is the latest incarnation of the “not in my back yard” or NIMBY metaphor except now expanded to global perspectives. Her frustration boils over.

“If you can’t build a solar energy project in the Mojave Desert, or wind farm eight miles off the coast of Cape Cod, “God help us.”

Paradoxically, Energy R&D could be facing a five-year freeze on funding if the Republicans win control of the House.

Harbert, who has significant national energy policy experience on her resume, heads an energy think tank that lives inside the Chamber’s HQ office in Washington, DC. She leads a team of analysts who follow global and national energy trends. When they look at nuclear energy, their take away is that the nuclear energy renaissance is needed to create energy security for the U.S. and will create tens of thousands of jobs if it happens, but will it?

What nuclear renaissance?

lamar_alexanderThe problem, as they see it, is the renaissance isn’t likely to happen in this country or at least not on the scale advocated by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) (right) who called for 100 new U.S. reactors. Most of the activity in the nuclear renaissance will take place in non-OECD countries with China and India leading the pack.

Federal loan guarantees need to get out the door in the U.S. Harbert says to show the industry the government is committed to nuclear energy. When asked by this blog why the next round of awards is hanging fire at the Department of Energy, she said “the bureaucratic process gets in the way.” And she added that the NRC is a problem with its four-year long review of applications for new reactors and new plants.

jaczko According to Harbert, the Chamber invited NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko (left) to speak to a group of senior business executives. When asked what the NRC will do to make the regulatory process more efficient for approval of new plants, Jaczko reportedly pushed back saying he sees his role as making existing plants “more safe.” Harbert said “you could feel the air go out of the room.”

The NRC has been hiring new nuclear engineers to do the reviews, and has won a coveted award as one of the best places to work in the federal government. According to Harbert, what matters are the bottom line results – are new reactors getting licenses in a timely manner so they can break ground, create jobs, and generate electricity?

Congress isn’t helping either by failing to approve an expansion of the loan guarantees this August. Plus, Harbert notes, “There was nothing for the nuclear industry" in the Waxman-Markey climate change bill.

What’s wrong with this picture Harbert says is that her analysts say that to meet U.S. CO2 emission goals by 2050, the U.S. would have to build 32 reactors every decade for the next 40 years, or 128 new nuclear reactors, along with other energy measures. That’s actually close to Sen. Alexander’s number, but just not on the time scale that he envisions.

What should be done? Harbert says the White House must understand that business is focused on “the time / cost of money.” Once it figures this out, support for nuclear loan guarantees might be more forthcoming.

What should the utilities that want to build new reactors do? First of all, there are policy and public relations steps it can take. Harbert says the nuclear energy industry has to stop getting painted into a corner over the waste problem. Instead, the industry has to portray itself as a “smart choice” when countering the views of green groups.

Energy policy – more of the same

dino1Harbert has a trenchant outlook on energy and a tough-minded view on what needs to happen. She points out that energy demand by fuel type 20 years from now is going to look pretty much like it does today with coal, oil, and natural gas in leading roles.

And as far as oil is concerned, the Obama administration, following the BP spill in the Gulf, is sequestering huge tracts of offshore resources banning exploration, drilling and production of oil for the U.S. market. That may not last as Harbert says the U.S. is facing a terrifying energy security issue.

“90% of the world’s remaining known oil reserves are in the hands of national governments.”

It goes without saying that while they do business with the West, a lot of them don’t like us or our idea of civilization.

Does the nuclear industry agree with Harbert?

reality checkA reality check on Harbert’s gung ho business perspective comes from the President of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). According to World Nuclear News, NEI CEO Marvin Fertel told a high level conference of industry executives in London Sept 17 that natural gas is much more likely to be the “dominant part of new energy supplies.”

Fertel said that the U.S. is likely to see four-to-eight new nuclear reactors start up by 2020. The construction schedules for the rest are likely to be pushed back, Fertel said, for as long as natural gas has a price advantage when used to generate electricity.

Fertel also said the U.S. won’t meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by 2050 unless there is a significant new build of nuclear reactors in the U.S.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

MIT nuclear study stirs controversy

The commercial development of spent fuel reprocessing and fast reactors by other nations will leave the U.S. behind

yellowcakeSMAn MIT study finds no shortage of uranium for nuclear energy, but recommends against recycling spent nuclear fuel. Instead, scientists at the prestigious university call for a sustained R&D program worth nearly $700 million a year. That's some sandbox.

Meanwhile, David Jones, Vice President of Used Fuel Management at Areva, argues that recycling spent nuclear fuel is a proven solution that is cost competitive and reduces proliferation concerns.

And Stephen Turner, an expert on spent nuclear fuel, told this blog Sept 21 that U.S. private industry will not wait for the U.S. government to make up its mind. Speaking at the annual meeting of the National Fabrication Consortium held in Cleveland, he said:

“These firms have developed the business case for spent fuel reprocessing. They will pull the pin when the market is ready.”

Confirming Turner’s view, Areva’s Jones told this blog the firm wants to build an 800 ton/year plant.

Conservative is not a challenge

The MIT study claims to "challenge conventional assumptions" about nuclear energy, but, in fact, it is very conservative in its findings. It says the U.S. is in no hurry to solve the problem of disposal of high level radioactive waste nor should it rush into investments in fast reactors. It recommends against any investment in recycling spent nuclear fuel.

Studies like this hit the desks of policy makers in Washington, like the current Blue Ribbon Commission, with a big impact. The reason is they are filling a vacuum created by Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who shot down the Yucca Mountain project as the price for his support of the Obama Administration's legislative initiatives. As a result there is no policy for spent fuel in Washington.

Getting back to the wide-ranging recommendations of the report, it addresses economics, current and future fuel cycles, waste management, nonproliferation, and an ambitious R&D program. Highlights include:

  • Eliminate financial risk premiums for 7-10 new reactors to keep the price under $4,000/kw. Once they are built, assuming they come in on time/budget, future reactors will be cost competitive with coal and natural gas.
  • Keep the once-through fuel cycle using LWR reactors for the rest of this century.
  • Develop a central disposal site for spent nuclear fuel with a transition period of 50-100 years. Establish a quasi-government firm to take over management of spent fuel.
  • Invest in R&D at the rate of $700 million/year for up to 50 years to determine if fast reactors, or anything else, can be designed that make economic sense.

Where has the U.S. been the past 20 years?

Charles Forsberg, one of the scientists on the MIT team, said in a statement there has been very little research on the fuel cycle for the past 30 years. Considering that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry led the effort in the Senate to close out funding for the Integral Fast Reactor, that remark shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

Ernest Moniz, another member of the MIT panel, was an Undersecretary at the Department of Energy during the Clinton administration. Then and now his primary concern is getting more of the total inventory of plutonium out of circulation. His overarching focus on nonproliferation drives an almost unreasonable approach to options to manufacture MOX fuel and develop fast reactors. The reason, he says, is that these methods do nothing to reduce total plutonium in the fuel cycle.

Well, once you decide that’s all you’re going to do, the rest become easy. In fact, the MOX fuel plant being built in South Carolina will take 34 tons of plutonium out of circulation and put it to good use in conventional LWRs. Worldwide, almost three dozen reactors burn MOX fuel.

Areva has a different idea

Areva La HagueDavid Jones, an Areva executive with a long career in spent fuel management for nuclear utilities, said on a conference call with nuclear bloggers last week the MIT recommendations do not support a sustainable nuclear fuel cycle approach that supports nuclear growth scenarios.

He is critical of MIT’s focus on an R&D plan instead of an action plan.

"This is contrary to what is being done in nearly every other country where this question is addressed up front as a matter of policy."

He told the bloggers the report also recommends the U.S. offer fuel leasing to other countries, but seems to fail to recognize the credibility issue of this concept.

"How can we expect to demonstrate leadership to the world on used fuel management when we cannot decide ourselves if used fuel is a waste or a resource?"

Why are other nations recycling their fuel? Jones says economics isn’t the only reason.

"The motivations of other nations, such as France, Japan and the United Kingdom, to recycle are not purely economic but also are informed by questions of energy security, resource conservation, public acceptance and others that reside in the social sciences."

Jones closed his comments by noting that once again the U.S. has its head in the sand.

"Every nation with a significant nuclear power sector, with the exception of the United States, has embraced recycling."

Separately, speaking in Vienna, Austria, at a 9/20 IAEA meeting, U.S. Energy Secretary Chu called for development of an international fuel bank. Assuming the IAEA administers the fuel bank, and retrogrades the spent fuel from customers, it’s an easy bet it won’t come back to the U.S., at least not while MIT’s report holds sway at the Blue Ribbon Commission.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nuclear energy videos for Monday September 20, 2010

Another in the series of Monday morning videos to jumpstart your work week

Kirk Sorensen speaks to the Blue Ribbon Commission on use of natural thorium fuel in reactor designs.

Rod Adams speaks to the Blue Ribbon Commission on nuclear energy and competitive issues

Nuclear Energy Institute animation shown at the World Energy Congress held in Montreal last week.

Top Superbowl plays ever. Right, it has nothing to do with nuclear energy. So what?

TVA polishes its crystal ball

The future of power generation will use less coal and more nuclear energy

crystal ballEvery ten years or so the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) asks whether it has the right mix of energy generation technologies and is on track to meet demand for electricity from its customers. It is a daunting task given that the utility covers a huge area and customer base.

TVA’s power-service area covers 80,000 square miles in the southeastern United States, including almost all of Tennessee and parts of Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. The utility has revenues of $11 billion, employs 12,000 people, and is third in the nation in power sales revenue – billions and billions of kilowatt hours!

(View an interactive map of the TVA region that shows the location of dams and power plants.)

On Sept 16 TVA published the latest edition of its "Integrated Resource Plan, (IRP) which is a 20-year look ahead. While no one can predict the future, the use of scenarios can help reduce uncertainty in making contingency plans. This is what TVA did with seven separate mixes of economic growth, fuel prices, and other key factors.

Read the complete details exclusively at Cool Hand Nuke, a nuclear energy jobs portal and a whole lot more.


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