Saturday, October 23, 2010

NRC budget guidance on Yucca called “partisan act”

Two members of House Appropriations Committee raps Jaczko on it

Merry-go-roundIn the world of the Washington, DC, merry-go-round, it takes a lot to rile the members of the House Appropriations Committee There is so much money flowing across their desks they usually don’t get too excited about the small potatoes of federal independent agency staff costs.

Circumstances change when it comes to a federal agency head making up what appears to be his own funding policy out in front of the congressional headlights. This is a very bad idea because Members of Congress take their constitutional powers to set spending levels very seriously.

This brings us to a letter sent this week by two members of the House Appropriations Committee to NRC Chairmain Gregory Jaczko. It tells him he cannot implement the agency’s FY 2011 budget because the agency is still operating on the FY 2010 budget under the continuing resolution affecting all federal agencies.

In the world of Washington budget matters, this is considered to be a “duh” moment. You cannot spend money you do not have. There are no credit cards for federal agencies.

Yucca budget guidance

jaczkoNRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko (right) told his agency to go ahead and “close down” all work on Yucca Mountain because that’s what’s in the FY 2011 budget. The problem from a congressional budget view is that’s illegal under the Anti-deficiency Act because he doesn’t have an FY 2011 budget yet.

Rep Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and Rep Rodney Frelinghuysen wrote to Jaczko on Wednesday Oct 20 telling him this.

“… the NRC's fiscal year 2011 budget request is irrelevant under the CR. Congress has approved only your fiscal year 2010 budget request, which did not include funding to shut down the Yucca Mountain license application. (emphasis added)

We expect that you will continue your fiscal year 2010 activities until Congress provides you additional funding and direction.

Furthermore, we question the responsibility of your actions, considering that the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has rejected the Department of Energy's motion to withdraw the application and you and your fellow Commissioners have not overturned this decision.”

Jaczko’s “partisan” act

Partisan ActAlso, the letter calls Jazcko’s directives a “partisan act,” which is a very strong statement considering the NRC’s legal requirements for rigorous fairness in matters.

It is never a good idea to get this kind of attention from an appropriation committee. Even worse for the NRC, since we’re talking about “partisan issues,” the letter comes from two Republicans. That party is likely to take over the House in the Nov 2 elections which will propel both men into leadership positions.

Whether Jaczko likes it or not, he will have to dance to their tune if that happens. Next February when the NRC presents its appropriations request to the Appropriations Committee, he may be looking down the double barrel of two very annoyed Members of Congress who now hold his agency’s budget fate in their hands.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

24th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

Do you know where your electricity comes from?

carnivalCharles Barton at Nuclear Green reviews the track record of the Obama Administration on energy policy. It did not bring home a good report card. He writes:

"The Obama administration continues to make poorly thought out energy related decisions. Obama used the stimulus package to offer further subsidies to the renewable energy industry, even though renewable energy is unreliable and is not cost effective when compared to nuclear energy. The Obama administration has also mismanaged nuclear loan guarantees."

Renewable standard ignores nuclear energy

The Obama administration’s efforts to craft a ‘renewable energy standard’ ignored nuclear writes Jim Hopf at the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Now that more comprehensive climate change policies such as cap-and-trade are on indefinite hold, the U.S. Congress is considering a national Renewable Energy Standard (RES) in an effort to do something on energy issues. The RES would require that 15 percent of all U.S. electrical generation be provided by “renewable” sources by 2020. Currently, the definition of “renewable energy” does not include nuclear. Similar policies are already in place in many states, such as California.

As a means to achieve reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, air pollution, or foreign energy imports, an RES that excludes nuclear energy is about the worst policy one could possibly come up with. It is subjective, unfair, and is a very inefficient means for achieving the above goals.

Flawed Solar study

car up on blocksSpeaking of cases where the renewable energy emperor has no clothes, Charles Barton lets us know that a widely publicized report on solar energy being more cost effective than nuclear is based on a flawed analysis. In fact, it has all the veracity and horse power of a car up on blocks.

This post examines the claim made by the anti-nuclear group North Carolina Waste Awareness Network (NC WARN), that solar power would soon cost less than nuclear power in North Carolina. Errors in the NC WARN study included overestimating the average North Carolina Solar capacity factor, and subtracting Federal and States Subsidies from the Solar cost estimates, even though government subsidies are part of solar costs.

Just in case you are wondering where the electricity really does come from, Brian Wang at Next Big Future has the latest statistics about electricity generated in OECD countries.

Comparing January-July 2010 vs. the same period in 2009, total OECD production reached 5 925.8 TWh, an increase of 3.7% or 209.5 TWh over the same period last year. Nuclear generation is up 1% from Jan to July in the OECD and is at 1267 TWh.

Natural gas plant to replace Vermont Yankee?

natural_gasMeanwhile, promoters of ‘renewable energy’ Vermont have some explaining to do about their support for a natural gas plant just across the border in New Hampshire. Meredith Angwin writes at Yes Vermont Yankee that one astute observer, John McClaughry, of the Ethan Allen Institute, has something to say about it.

The nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) hollers for shutting down Vermont Yankee, which would produce a 600 Megawatt electricity deficit. At the same time, CLF’s for profit subsidiary is working to create a 720 megawatt natural gas fired plant to take its place.

That self interested arrangement makes it pretty hard for me to believe anything CLF says about nuclear power.

Food fight at NRC

foodfightThe back end of the nuclear fuel cycle is not a happy place to be for now, especially if you are working on the issue at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The politically appointed NRC commissioners have distinct differences of opinion about policy and budget priorities for the agency’s work on Yucca Mountain.

Gail Marcus writes at Nuke Power Talk that the long-standing debate over Yucca Mountain has recently taken a new turn, with action by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to shut down its review, and objections by Members of Congress and others to that decision. Articles in the press and elsewhere have detailed most of the issues, including views on the legality of the action and the confrontation it is causing within the Commission.

It isn’t the food fight from the 1978 movie Animal House, but the metaphor may fit just the same.

Wisconsin want nukes. Cheese heads unite on energy policy.

cheeseheadsAt NEI Nuclear notes we learn that Wisconsin is excited about nuclear energy.

"It could be the most radical yet least discussed policy change coming for Wisconsin. Both candidates for governor – Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican – said in a recent survey they would support lifting the ban on the construction of new nuclear power plants in the state."

UK wants nukes too - hooray

At Areva's North American Next Energy blog we learn a key event for the UK energy policy space is that the British Energy Minister Charles Hendry, a big cheese in the coalition government, has announced and sent several key new energy policy proposals to the Parliament:

The UK has committed that “at least one-quarter of the UK’s electricity generating capacity needs to be replaced by 2020? and Hendry notes, “it will be important we create the right environment for business to invest in the energy market.”

This plan also lists eight sites as suitable for new nuclear reactor development in the UK for the next decade.

India wants nukes, but not, it appears, from the U.S.

Efforts by U.S. diplomats to get India to back off from its severe nuclear liability law hit a dead end this week according to a report in Idaho Samizdat. It’s liability law may lock out U.S. firms. Pres. Obama will want a resolution during his November visit.

In breaking news Oct 21, the Hindu reported PM Singh’s government has told the US that the Act, as passed by Parliament, is final and that no changes in any of its provisions are possible.

Nuclear fusion made safe for work

Polywell_WB-3An odd news note comes to us via Rod Adams at Atomic Insights. Adult magazine publisher Bob Guccione was a fusion fan who was convinced that Robert Bussard was on to something that could be developed if only it could attract a sufficient level of funding. Adams reports that the publisher, who died this week, pour millions of his own money into a nuclear fusion R&D project.

Guccione poured in $16 million or $17 million, by his accounting. Predictably, the Inesco scientists who attended international meetings endured considerable ribbing about working for one of the most successful purveyors of adult magazines in the world. Physicists and pinups seemed so hilariously incongruous.

They could have done worse. The U.S. has been sending money to nuclear scientists in the former Soviet Union to keep them from offering their services to bomb makers in countries that don’t like us. Seems like another opportunity was a lot closer to home? There is no telling how R&D on fusion will turn out, but for scientists, the quest is the challenge as well as the results.

Bussard died in 2007. The U.S. Navy reportedly funded some of Bussard’s work. Brian Wang at Next Big Futrue published an interview with one of the principals on the team in May 2009.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Malevolent software impacts Iran's nuclear energy control systems

As the worm turns

False software In July 2010 a software worm, which is malevolent computer code, appeared on the radar screen of cyber security firms when it was found to be targeting computers running industrial control systems in Iran.

News reports in the mainstream and computer trade press suggested that the Stuxnet worm was designed to sabotage the Russian-built commercial nuclear power station at Bushehr in Iran and some or all of Iran's secret and not-so-secret uranium enrichment plants.

Was Bushehr reactor affected?

The New York Times reported on September 27 that the worm entered the distributed control system (DCS) of the Bushehr nuclear reactor by way of USB sticks being inserted into computers inside the control network.

Was the target bulls eye Iran's centrifuges?

Computer trade press reports indicate that the worm disabled a large number of centrifuges at Iran's uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. Iranian officials quoted by the Mehr News service, and cited in the New York Times on September 26 complained that 30 000 computers, or programmable logic control devices (PLCs), were infected across the country.

There are reports that the software has been infecting PLCs in nuclear systems for over a year. This may account for a report by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) that the number of centrifuges operating at Nantz dropped precipitously between May and November 2009.

What’s really happening here? Read the full story exclusively at the ANS Nuclear Cafe online now.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

India steps up role in Asian nuclear renaissance

It’s liability law may lock out U.S. firms. Pres. Obama will want a resolution during his November visit.

Elephant (update below) Indian pride in its growing role in the Asian nuclear renaissance was highlighted October 10 in a statement by Prithviraj Chavan, the incumbent government's Science & Technology Minister.

Speaking to the Asian Nuclear Prospects conference held near Chennnai, he said the by 2012 and beyond India will have launched work on 12 new nuclear reactors with a 20-year goal of having 60 GWe of electricity from them. The new build is estimated to be worth $150 billion.

India's current new nuclear build includes four reactors being built by the Russians and two more by Areva. The expansion also includes India's commitments to build its own 700 MW indigenous design and longer term goals to build sodium-cooled fast reactors.

No American firms are involved with India's new build due to a restrictive liability law enacted by parliament earlier this year. It assigns liability to suppliers in the event of an accident even after their components have been installed and working properly in new reactors. The Confederation of Indian Industry said the legislation would restrict nuclear growth and deter foreign firms from doing business in the country.

The nuclear liability law is the central issue in an upcoming visit to India by U.S. President Barack Obama. The Indian government is pressed to paste a political fig leaf over the liability issue. American firms are pressuring the U.S. State Department to get India to draft implementing regulations that would shield them from the "suppliers" clauses. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) recently hired an expert on Indian trade issues to bolster its work in this area.

India won't back down on liability law

S.m. KrishnaU.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna (right) at the United Nations in New York on Oct 12 with mixed results. Krishna pushed back on Clinton's diplomatic overture telling the Press Trust of India the government will not water down the provisions of the law.

In fact, for a diplomat, he pushed back rather hard telling Clinton she needs to "understand the reasons" for the bill. Krishna softened the blow by committing India to join an international convention on liability compensation.

What India wants from the U.S.

This is a surprising response given the wide ranging list of things India wants from the U.S. India will be asking President Obama for three things when he shows up in New Delhi the second week of November.

  • Remove a long list of "dual-use" technologies from export control restrictions
  • Increase pressure on Pakistan to stop support for terrorist groups such as those that attacked Mumbai in Nov 2008
  • Support India's quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council

The issue of liability for nuclear suppliers plays on this field. An essay published in Newsweek by Sumit Ganguly Oct 11 lays out the reasons why India may be overreaching in pursuit of these goals. He writes that India's foreign policy establishment does not understand the importance of the liability law to relations with the U.S. He says its passage has undermined trust between the two countries.

U.S. firms have pointed reminded Sec. Clinton that the U.S. played a significant role in getting the Nuclear Suppliers Group to lift a three-decade old ban on sales of uranium to India as it is did has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In return, India was supposed to open its vast nuclear energy market to U.S. companies. That's not going to happen if the liability law remains in place as is. U.S. interests will see it as a slap in the face for its support of the uranium deal.

India needs nuclear technologies from the US and Japan

welding2The stakes for India are that it needs American nuclear technologies. It can't get everything it needs from the Russians or the French. Even Areva is planning to import some of the components for the first two of six reactors it will build for India. These components include the forgings for pressure vessels from Japan Steel Works.

Westinghouse, which hopes to get 10 Gwe of reactor business from India, has made significant commitments to buy locally, but India's industrial infrastructure has a decade of development in front of it to meet the indigenous nuclear industry's needs. GE-Hitachi has inked several joint manufacturing deals with Indian firms to help them get up to speed including development of a manufacturing center at a proposed new reactor site.

Complicating the role of U.S. firms is that two of them have significant ties to Japan, which is currently in parallel negotiations with India over the liability law. Westinghouse is owned by Toshiba and General Electric has a joint venture with Hitachi.

An Oct 19 report in the Hindu said that Japan is hard over that all bets will be off on civil nuclear cooperation if India tests a nuclear weapon in the future. India is unwilling to give up that option given its hostile relationship with Pakistan, its nuclear-armed neighbor. Japan hinted it might call off the negotiations if the issue cannot be resolved.

U.S. defense deals pending Obama’s visit

Meanwhile, U.S. defense firms are also ramping up pressure on the U.S. government to allow them to sell billions in weapons systems to India to modernize its forces and replace aging Russian supplied equipment. At the top of the list is a $5.8 billion deal for 10 Boeing C-17 transports.

These deals could be impacted by the nuclear liability stand-off. It is a political non-starter for PM Singh's government to have a public appearance of watering down the law. One way out of the impasse is for the implementing regulations of the Indian law to assign supplier liability solely to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) which owns and operates the country's civilian commercial reactors.

Complicated relationships

Two other factors have come up recently which affect the U.S. Indian relationship. The New York Times reported Oct 17 that the FBI knew two years before the Mumbai attacks that an American was involved in planning them. The newspaper was not able to establish that this intelligence was shared with Indian national security forces prior to the attacks which originated in Pakistan.

Bargaining ChipsThat news surely diminished the goodwill that was generated two days earlier when the Wall Street Journal reported Oct 15 that Tata Group, an Indian conglomerate, donated $50 million to the Harvard Business School, the largest gift HBS has received from an international donor in its 102 year history.

President Obama's visit is only a few weeks away. He will want to come home with several boxes checked off. They include relaxation of the liability law that will allow entry of U.S. firms to India's nuclear market and a major announcement of U.S. firms getting reactor deals.

As for the defense and UN issues, these will test U.S. Indian relations since "good will" is not a bargaining chip when it comes to the international security interests of the two countries.

(update 2010 10 21)

The Hindu reports Oct 21 that after initially trying to dilute the nuclear liability law at the draft stage to accommodate the concerns of American suppliers, the Manmohan Singh government has told the United States that the Act, as passed by Parliament, is final and that no changes in any of its provisions are possible.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Few bright spots in Calvert Cliffs future

EDF faces serious barriers to take over the project

Constellation_EnergyMark Friday October 8th as a 'black Friday" because it may be one of the most significant reversals in the short history of the U.S. nuclear renaissance.

Constellation Energy (NYSE:CEG) startled the federal government and Electricite De France (EDF) by sending a fiery letter to the Department of Energy announcing it was walking away from the Calvert Cliffs III reactor. The utility said the reason is the government wanted a 12% "risk premium" payment of $880 million in return for a federal loan guarantee on the $7.7 billion project.

In the days that followed it became clear that Constellation really meant it. The firm offered EDF the entire project for $1 and reimbursement of $117 million in sunk costs since the two firms created their partnership in 2008. EDF will likely take it.

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

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UK moves ahead with eight new reactor sites

Energy Minister Chris Huhne makes the urgent case for new nuclear power stations

C_HuhneThe UK coalition government confirmed eight sites Oct 18 as "suitable" for development of new nuclear reactor power station within the next 15 years.

It confirmed two reactor designs which will be used to build the new power stations

In a major policy statement the government said it would release a statement on a price for carbon.

NucNet reported Energy minister Chris Huhne (right) said a “surge of investment” will be needed in new energy sources, including nuclear, to ensure the country’s energy security and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. He pointed out that 20% of the nation's baseload electrical generation capacity needs to be replaced in the next ten years.

Two reactor designs approved

The government also announced the regulatory justification of two new nuclear reactor designs – the Westinghouse 1,100 MW AP 1000 and the Areva 1,600 MW European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR). The GE-Hitachi 1,500 MW ESBWR reactor was not on the list.

Tidal project cancelled

At the same time Huhne announced the cancellation of the massive Severn Tidal Energy Project which would have provided 5 percent of the nation's electricity. He said it was too ambitious and that there were too many technical and financial uncertainties to commit the government to support it in a time of austerity budgets.

Huhne said there is "no strategic case" for the project and questioned whether private sector investment could be raised to fund the project. The project had an estimated price tag of {L}30 billion.

Read the full details exclusively at the Energy Collective online now.

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