Saturday, November 20, 2010

Are anti-nukes environmentalists?

My view is the answer is no

green lobbyNuclear energy bloggers often refer to anti-nuclear activists as "green groups" and often use the term "environmentalists" in the same paragraph. In thinking about this, I have come to the conclusion that ant-nuclear activists are not environmentalists. A green lobbyist is not anti-nuclear. Here's why.

An environmental activists is worried about the future of the planet and the survival of the human species as well as all other manner of animals and plants. The number one challenge facing the planet is the threat of global warming. It follows that the only source of baseload electricity supply that does not release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is nuclear energy.

Wind energy can mean more green house gases

Anti-nuclear groups, like Riverkeeper in New York, which wants to close the two reactors at Indian Point, says that wind is a reasonable substitute. This is a false claim. Because wind only blows some of the time, the balance of the replacement power would have to come from fossil powered plants – coal and natural gas.

Simple math suggests that replacing 2,000 MW of power might break out as 300 MW of wind, some of the time, and 1,700 MW of fossil power all of the time. A deficit of 300 MW for the time the wind isn't blowing will lead to brownouts and even blackouts for some parts of the New York metro area.

On the other hand, there is nothing stopping wind and solar energy developers from leveraging high voltage power lines supported by nuclear power plants. In fact, the areas just outside the security zones around nuclear power stations are often ideal locations for wind farms or solar arrays because they are not cluttered with residential or commercial/industrial uses.

Residuals management matters

coal-train Another thing that real environmentalists worry about is how to deal with reducing uncontrolled transport and fate of harmful pollutants. For instance, residuals from coal plants include soot, mercury, sulfur, nitrous oxides, and, CO2. Once these residuals are in the atmosphere, they remain uncontrolled forever. They cannot be collected and recycled later on or controlled in any way.

By comparison, the residuals from spent nuclear fuel, leaving aside the valuable energy potential its uranium, are controlled at the reactor. These radioactive residuals are stored in dry casks that have a minimum shelf life of 150 years. Eventually, they will be stored harmlessly in a geologic repository. Meanwhile, the uranium, and small amounts of plutonium in spent fuel, can and will be recycled to be used again to make carbon emission free electricity.

An environmentalist concerned about residuals management would look at these two energy systems and conclude that from the perspective to keeping harmful materials out of ecosystems, nuclear energy wins hands down.

Fossil fuel plants use the earth's atmosphere as a garbage dump imposing sickness and death on humans, animals, and plants. Nuclear energy reactors control all aspects of the fuel cycle containing useful materials to be recycled and safely storing residuals for eventual permanent disposal underground.

Logic suggests anti-nukes are not green

powerlinesSo, it follows that anti-nuclear activists are not environmentalists. Their position from the point of view of impact on the earth is illogical. Wind farms and solar energy, positioned as replacements for nuclear energy, actually results in more greenhouse gases because fossil plants are needed to keep regional electric grids stable and cost effective. Such advocacy is delusional.

Because of the variable natural variability of wind and solar, no one is going to build a new high voltage electric grid just to support them. Battery storage technologies are unlikely to make a difference without massive investments that will drive the cost of delivered electricity to uneconomic levels.

On the right track

It follows that people like Patrick Moore in the U.S. and his counterparts in the U.K. and other countries are on the right track and are environmentalists in the truest sense of the word. Their position advocates tried and true principles of controlling residuals, recycling useful materials, and generating energy for the benefit of all people while at the same time working to reduce the threat of global warming. See for instance Stewart brand's recent book Whole Earth Discipline for some additional wisdom on nuclear energy and "green issues."

right rack

Nuclear energy advocates must do more to make the case that it is an environmental choice. They must also make the case that if the U.S. fails to fulfill its role at as a technology leader in the global nuclear renaissance, that it will not be taken seriously in its efforts to stop rogue nations like Iran from developing weapons of mass destruction.

For instance, the development of mixed oxide fuel (MOX) takes weapons grade plutonium out of circulation forever. That's why the U.S. commitment to build a MOX fuel facility at Savannah River, SC, is an act that benefits the planet and future generations. It removes the threat of nuclear weapons.

What's almost bizarre is that some anti-nuclear groups, like Union of Concerned Scientists, on reflex oppose the MOX fuel plant and have energetically tried to stop construction of the facility. It seems that they'd rather satisfy their quest to stop all nuclear plants than see the secure removal of plutonium once embedded in nuclear weapons reused to make commercial electricity.

That's why people who advocate the development of nuclear energy are environmentalists. It is also why people who oppose it with religious fervor are not. This position may annoy or even enrage anti-nuclear activists. I understand they may not change their views as a result of reading this essay. Just don't call them environmentalists. Because they're not.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

UAE Ambassador to IAEA pursues development of nuclear energy

Hamad Al Kaabi is a nuclear engineer

ANS Meeting 017In December 2009, the United Arab Emirates awarded a $20 billion contract to a consortium of South Korean firms to build four nuclear reactors on a remote desert location along the Persian Gulf.

The consortium, led by state-owned Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO), is committed to having the first reactor in revenue service by 2017. The change from fossil (natural gas) to uranium as a fuel source comes not a moment too soon as the UAE is now a net importer of gas for electricity generation and desalinization.

At the ANS Winter meeting, which took place in Las Vegas, Nev., on November 7-11, I had the opportunity to interview one of the key players in the UAE's nuclear program. Ambassador Hamad Al Kaabi (right) is the UAE Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. He has been personally involved in key milestones of the country's nuclear energy assessment.

The full interview with Al Kaabi and what made the difference for South Korea to win the contract is now online exclusively at the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Canada answers nuclear critics

The nation’s nuclear regulatory agency responds in a public letter to misleading statements

Hat tip to Rod Adams at Atomic Insights

binderCNSCMichael Binder, President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), (right) has written a terrific letter which attacks a crucial propaganda tactic pursued aggressively by Dr. Helen Caldicott. It is the “big lie.” The tactic is that if you tell an outrageous lie often enough, and the media prints it often enough, without challenging it, then it becomes a fact in the public’s mind even though it is false.

Another example of this tactic is the litany of so-called statistics from Greenpeace and others about fatalities at Chernobyl [NRC backgrounder]. While no one would trivialize unnecessary deaths from the accident, accurate numbers put the tragedy in perspective. [IAEA report]

The nuclear industry must continuously respond to misinformation especially when it is broadcast or printed by the mainstream news media.

At the American Nuclear Society (ANS) winter meeting held in Las Vegas last week, the society’s public information committee discussed the football analogy that “no touchdown goes unanswered.” This means that nuclear industry groups must be more proactive, like our friends in Canada, in responding the junk science and outright and outrageous fabrications.

Full text of the CNSC letter

cnsc logo CNSC response to the article entitled - Port Hope warned of 'life and death' threat - published in the Toronto Star on November 10, 2010

To the editor:

Your November 10 article “Port Hope warned of “life and death” threat” compels me to respond to the misleading and inaccurate statements made by Dr. Helen Caldicott. Her claims are nothing more than unacceptable fear-mongering.

Concerned readers should know that Port Hope residents are as healthy as the rest of the Canadian population. This is demonstrated by scientific studies conducted over several decades by reputable and independent bodies. Dr. Caldicott’s allegations of medical corruption are simply outrageous.

Last year, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission reviewed findings from over thirty environmental and thirteen epidemiological studies and published a synthesis report that was presented during open houses held in the community. To suggest that no credible studies exist is simply unacceptable.

The CNSC provides regulatory oversight of clean up activities in Port Hope to ensure there will be no impact to the health and safety of residents and their environment.

I invite your readers to visit our Web site at nuclearsafety.gc.ca to get the facts about Canada’s nuclear sector.

Michael Binder
President
Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

Prior coverage on this blog

May 18, 2008 – Michael Binder appointed to CNSC

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cameco's passage to India

The country’s new nuclear build will include more than a dozen reactors

This is an edited version of my coverage in Fuel Cycle Week V9:N399 10/28/10 published by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC

Cameco_thumb[3]India's state-owned nuclear energy firms are reported to be in discussions with Cameco (TSE:CCO) to acquire and develop uranium mines in Africa. Chaitanyamoy Ganguly, President of Cameco India, told financial wire services Oct 24 that Cameco is interested in supplying uranium to India "from non_Canadian countries." India has no substantial uranium deposits of its own.

Prithviraj Chavan, Indian government Minister for Science & Technology told the wire services India is exploring the acquisition of uranium mines in Africa.

Ganguly said Cameco will explore joint venture options with the Uranium Corp. of India and supply uranium to the Nuclear Power Corp of India.

Cameco spokesman Robert Gereghty told FCW the deal with India is currently under discussion, but supply is likely to begin with small volumes within the next few years.

"Supply will come from our existing primary supply sources, which include our production from Canada, the United States and Kazakhstan."

We intend to pursue long-term uranium sales agreements, but [the company] will not speculate on the level of market penetration."

Earlier this year Cameco made substantial purchases of uranium at low spot prices. George Assie, Cameco's VP for Maketing, told financial wire services in London in September the firm saw an opportunity to buy material on the market that "was attractively priced."

In September the spot price for uranium was $40/lb. It has since risen to $60/lb. Assie said at the time, "We have a fair degree of confidence we can place it in contracts at a higher price." It looks like he was right on the money.

The demand for uranium for India is coming soon. It has made significant commitments to building new reactors. It expects to have 20 GWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020 and 63 GWe by 2032. It is reported to have a goal of supplying 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.

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Virginia Uranium Study Gets Underway

Coles Hill deposit is focus of the review

Uranium symbolA $1.4 million study of the potential environmental impacts from mining the massive uranium resource in southwestern Virginia is being conducted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The group of experts held its first public meeting in Washington, DC, the last week of October. The 13 member panel will issue as report on its findings concerning the 119 million pound Coles Hill deposit in December 2011.

Virginia has had a ban on uranium mining since the mid-1980s. If the NAS report is favorable in terms of its recommendations, the state legislature may consider lifting the ban. For many years there was no controversy over the ban since the price of uranium was so low. In recent weeks, the price has risen to $52/lb making the deposit worth about $6.2 billion.

Jennifer Walsh, a spokesperson for the NAS, said the two day meeting will involve a series of presentations by federal agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Energy, and Environmental Protection Agency.

Environmental groups in Virginia have attacked the membership of the panel charging that several of its members are too close to the uranium mining industry. Also the green groups claim the body doesn't have the right mix of expertise.

Walsh said the panel will consider conflict of interest issues in a closed door session on day two. Also, she said the group is planning to take a look at potential gaps in expertise and make recommendations to close them.

Jack Dunavent, chairman of the Southside Concerned Citizens, which is opposed to the mine, said in an interview earlier this year he feels the NAS study is "tainted" because of conflicts of interest. He added he sees "no benefit" from the study.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Health Physics Society said in a statement in September the Virginia mining operation can be operated safely and will not be a threat to the environment. Carter Ficklen, President of the state chapter, told FCW via a spokesman that "mining in Virginia should be pursued."

"The proposed mining endeavors can be carried out with minimal impact."

He added that the Coles Hill site was studied in 1984 with the results showing there are no serious risks to the environment.

Robert Seal, with the US Geological Survey, told the panel the agency will work to educate decision makers on potential risks and solutions.

Scope of the resource

The NAS study is being paid for by Virginia Energy Resources Inc. (CVE:VAE) which has a 24% equity interest in the property located six miles northeast of Chatham, VA. Coles Hill comprises two adjacent mineralized bodies with an NI 43-101 compliant, measured and indicated resource of 98.7 million tons grading 0.060% U3O8 at a cut-off grade of 0.025%, for a total of 119 million pounds U3O8 according to a NI 43-101 technical report completed on April 29, 2009.

The company released a preliminary economic assessment on Oct 18 that documented a potential 35-year operating life for the mine and an adjacent mill. The assessment said the preferred method of development will be underground mining and that the site will be economically viable when the price of uranium hits $65/lb. It hit $60/lb last week.

The firm said preliminary estimates are that it could mine uranium for under $40/lb. It did not provide an estimate for the cost of a mill. There are no uranium mill sites in Virginia nor for that matter anywhere along the east coast. In Colorado, Energy Fuels is estimating the cost of a 500 ton/day hard rock mill in Montrose County in the range of $140 million.

The NAS panel will hold its next public meeting in Danville, VA, in December. Walsh told FCW the final report is a "consensus report," which means there are no minority opinions."

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Patrick Moore ratchets up the rhetoric

Nuclear energy advocate departs from stump speech

mooreWhen Patrick Moore (right) first got started with his Clean & Safe Energy Coalition to promote nuclear energy, his target was a nexus of green groups that opposed it. However, in an interview and in a speech to the nuclear industry in Cleveland. Moore came across as an astute analyst of financial and technology issues which are emerging as far much more formidable challenges to the nuclear renaissance.

Moore was in Ohio to speak to the National Fabrication Consortium (NFC) annual conference. He started by saying the major barrier to successful new nuclear builds isn't opposition from green groups, though they are still active against the plants. The challenge, Moore says, is financing.

The U.S expects capital markets to allocate investor resources to energy projects. By comparison, Moore says that in China, France, and other countries, the government tackles the risk of building new reactors because the capital requirements are far beyond the capabilities of most publically traded utilities.

In the U.S. Moore says, we impose this burden on the business sector. Most utilities run for the hills when they see it coming. This may be why there will be a market opening for small modular reactors that come in at $500 million rather than $5 billion.

Obama’s failure to move ahead with loan guarantees

annoyedThe failure of the Obama Administration and Congress to develop an effective program of loan guarantees for 1,000 MW reactors is sinking the nuclear renaissance in the U.S. Neither utilities nor Wall Street are going to invest in $5 billion reactors without some kind of government umbrella. The lack of political will is surprising Moore said, because most policy makers in Washington know the country is in a "catch up" position when it comes to nuclear energy relative to the rest of the world.

Moore said that if only a few new reactors are built in states with lower risk markets, e.g., those with regulated rate of return for utilities, a robust supply chain for components will not develop in this country. The result will be offshore procurement of essential items with loss of American jobs and shuttered factories. Moore's outlook was buttressed this week when Exelon CEO John Rowe said that without loan guarantees, as few as five new reactors will be built in the U.S. by 2020.

Moore is not optimistic the U.S. will get its act together despite record high levels of public acceptance of nuclear energy as a carbon free power source.

"We're going to have to decouple climate legislation from energy legislation to make any headway."

The next election might provide an opening. Moore thinks a republican congress is more likely to push loan guarantees than the current session.

"The Democrats are hampered by a vociferous and tenacious minority of environmental party supporters who are an important source of money and votes."

Plus, Moore said green groups sometimes fail to understand the implications of their opposition to nuclear energy.

"It makes no sense to charge a fleet of electric cars with power from a coal fired power plant."

The "great irony" Moore says, is that green groups get into ruts. Then they wind up opposing intensive forestry in Brazil even though it will add to capture of CO2.

Germany’s nuclear future

Asked about the future of nuclear energy in Germany, which has "vociferous and tenacious anti-nuclear political parties," and where Chancellor Angela Merkel is developing a tax program on profits from nuclear reactors as part of a deal to extend their life beyond 2020, Moore says Germany "doesn't have a choice."

"Every time Germany builds another wind farm, it winds up buying more natural gas from Russia to keep the grid going. Renewables make Germany more dependent on Russian gas."

SMRs to the rescue?

Moore is also looking into the future at NGNP. He said process heat from a 300 MW SMR can be used to convert coal to liquid fuel.

"It is a game changer. In a conventional coal-fired plant, you lose up to two-thirds of the energy just to run the plant and make hydrogen. With a nuclear reactor, you convert nearly 100% of the coal to fuel."

Even though he's interested in using a reactor to make a transportation fuel, he also wants the Blue Ribbon Commission to recommend innovative steps with spent nuclear fuel. He called for a demonstration plant to recycle the fuel and investment in fast reactors. These steps, he said, "will give us 5,000 years of nuclear fuel."

Utility ranks nuclear investment options

After Moore spoke, Don Moul, an executive with First Energy, said that building new 1,000 MW reactors ranks third in choices for his utility. The fastest return on investment will come from uprates followed by investment in small modular reactors (SMRs).

The small reactors would allow the utility to add capacity as demand occurs without having to bet the company on a single large plant. Building a new 1,000 MW plant is much further in the future and far more problematic mostly for financial reasons.

Moul said that First Energy is in exploratory discussions with B&W about its mPower 125 MW SMR.

The implications for the nuclear fabrication industry is that making replacement parts, and new one-of-a-kind parts for uprates, may limit the market development for years to come unless loan guarantees for larger reactors get back on track.

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