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Showing posts from November, 2009

A Snapshot in Nuclear Time

Let’s take a snapshot of the legislative landscape as it relates to nuclear energy:Last week, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) introduced a climate change bill that includes a strong nuclear title, something missing from the initial draft of the Kerry-Boxer bill. Take-away phrase: mini-Manhattan projects, which they use to refer to research initiatives such as nuclear reprocessing methods. And Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) proposed an extensive addition to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that beefs up the nuclear provisions of the act considerably.And Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)  bolstered Udall’s effort by introducing a self-described complementary bill to Udall’s that promotes research and development into small nuclear reactors (that is, those with 350 mW or less of capacity). Bingaman and Udall are co-sponsors of each other’s bills, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) as co-sponsor on both bills. This is important because Bingaman and Murkowski are chairman and rank…

Summer Rising

On a crisp morning in 1937, if you asked him, he may have gone with you and his other friends to a fishing spot just over that hill. But to support his disabled father, and his mother and siblings, Virgil Clifton Summer, Jr., graduated from high school and went to work. The Parr Steam Plant had given him a job: sweeping floors and mowing grass. He was then just 16 years old.

After four years as a Navy sailor in World War 2, a college degree, professional engineering license, and a couple decades of hard work back at South Carolina Electric & Gas, he became SCANA’s Chairman, President, and CEO. In 1971, the board named the company’s first nuclear plant for him. Everyone’s heard of Summer 1, and many remember Chairman Summer the gentleman. And now comes the next generation, bearing the same proud name as the original.

In September, the South Carolina Public Service Commission granted SCE&G’s application for a 1.1 percent increase in retail electric rates to help pay for the…

With Duke Energy’s James Rogers

The Council on Foreign Relations has an interesting interview up with James E. Rogers, Duke Energy’s CEO. Right at the start, interviewer Roya Wolverson notes that Duke is the country’s third largest producer of carbon emissions and stands to  be a “loser” in any climate change legislation. Rogers takes that on directly:We know the transition is going to be expensive. We know it's not going to be easy, because every technology that generates electricity needs advances to be an equal contributor in a low-carbon world. We know that it won't be quick. But we believe that the transition needs to be fair and the cost impacts to consumers need to be smoothed out over a period of time so it's not disruptive to U.S. businesses or families.And as you might expect, the nuclear takeaway is significant, and Rogers is right on top of current events:But the difference in the jobs [at solar and wind plants vs. nuclear plants] is quite different, because if you're wiping off a solar p…

Stories Like Inchworms

If you’ve been following the health care or climate change debates, you know that your local newspaper will run a story each day whether or not anything significant happened that day because of the intense interest in the subjects. Some stories can roll on for a good long time before anything resembling resolution occurs – instead, the stories inch along, one detail at a time.For example:We wrote about the lack of enthusiasm of the Scots government for putting up new nuclear units, as proposed by the United Kingdom’s energy plan. We can’t pretend to understand the relationship between Scotland and the central government – it seemed as though it could complain but not really stop the plan.But it did leave an open question: what do Scots feel about nuclear energy? Answer: they’re okay with it.A survey has revealed that more than half of Scots support the use of nuclear power stations to provide Scotland's energy.The YouGov poll showed that 61 per cent of those surveyed here thought…

A Q&A with Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand has been the subject of multiple NNN blog posts over these last several weeks: his latest book, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, was reviewed and the kerfuffle between Amory Lovins and Brand has been discussed in multiple posts. Earlier this week, we had the opportunity to conduct an online Q&A with the author. The transcript is below.

How's the book tour going? What's the public response been like at your readings?
There's been good turnouts in the bookshops and vigorous signing[s].

What is the most commonly asked question at your book readings?
The main hot button question is always nuclear. Usually in the form of "But what about...??" And then they bring up something I haven't discussed but is in the book, such as the widespread photographs of defective babies people are told were caused by Chernobyl.

What are your (or your publisher's) expectations for book sales? (Somewhat related: any idea on how many copies of th…

Bald Assertions and Bird Eating Machines

No need to spend too much time on this, from the San Francisco Gate:Let's back up a little bit. Nuclear energy is unsavory to the average citizen: It creates toxic waste and entails some level of danger for those who leave [sic: live] near reactors and waste sites. Advocates insist that risk has declined precipitously since the days of Three Mile Island, but the risk is certainly greater than that of, say, solar panels. Read the whole thing, but mostly as an object lesson in writing without researching. ---Think Progress got hold of a mailing (pdf) from Oliver North’s group Freedom Alliance stating its unhappiness with the Kerry-Boxer climate change bill – well, really, anything involving climate change. It’s pretty wild, but we especially like this fact about windmills:Item: Environmentalist push government and industry to encourage vast electricity producing windmill farms. Result: Thousands of birds are killed each year by these virtual bird eating machines.This really isn’t a…

Time Enough for Nuclear Energy

Generally speaking, folks who dislike nuclear energy have lost their footing a bit because the pressing energy issue of the day – climate change – seeks solutions that nuclear energy readily provides. A fair number of formeranti-nuclearadvocates have put the issues on the scale and found the risks of nuclear energy, as they perceive them, acceptable versus the potential fate of the planet. But the feeling isn’t universal and some effort stills goes into making nuclear energy go away. Environment Maryland released a new report Tuesday (Nov. 17) arguing that it would take a decade or more and cost upwards of $600 billion to build 100 more nuclear plants, as some have advocated to ease planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. The group argues that the time and money could be better spent promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy such as wind and solar.That’s from B’More Green, a blog of the Baltimore Sun (Get it? B’More?) It contains our favorite argument these days: it takes too…

After Cap-and-Trade

Never say never, but the cap-and-trade provisions in the Kerry-Boxer climate change bill have made a number of Senators nervous about supporting it. A number of Republicans have termed it cap-and-tax and some Democrats are not inclined toward it either. For example, take this bit from the Times West Virginian:Sen. Robert C. Byrd, (D-W.Va.), reportedly plans to vote against the resolution [the climate change bill] while Sen. Jay Rockefeller, (D-W.Va.), has “serious concerns” with the House’s amendments to the original resolution.Rockefeller, in other words, is still on the fence, but that’s an uncomfortable place to be. We have no opinion on the efficacy of cap-and-trade: it’s more market based than a direct carbon tax would be, but beyond that, we’ll take whatever gets the job of climate change mitigation done without destroying industries in the process. That said, and given the skittishness about it, might it be possible to come up with a bill that bypasses the cap-and-trade issue …

Amory Lovins vs. Stewart Brand - Part Four (The “Role of Government Myth” and Final Thoughts)

This is the fourth and finalpost from us thatlooks critically at the bogus claims in Amory Lovins’ latest study.
“Role of Government Myth”
In his new book, Stewart Brand states (p. 84):
…Energy policy is a matter of such scale, scope, speed, and patient follow-through that only a government can embrace it all. You can’t get decent grid power without decent government power.
In reply, Amory Lovins asserts (p. 19, pdf):
…nuclear power requires governments to mandate that it be built at public expense and without effective public participation—excluding by fiat, or crowding out by political allocation of huge capital sums, the competitors that otherwise flourish in a free market and a free society.
Lovins’ response contains a contradictory claim. Lovins accuses nuclear of not being able to survive in a “free market and a free society.” Yet, several pages later, Lovins touts how wind and solar are flourishing in China while being built by state-owned power companies according to one of his sour…

Blame It on the Volcano

Louise Gray at the Telegraph (U.K.) clears it all up for us:Professor Ian Plimer, a geologist from Adelaide University, argues that a recent rise in temperature around the world is caused by solar cycles and other "extra terrestrial" forces.Extra terrestrial? That sounds like fun. But it turns out Professor Plimer has a specific villain in mind here and it’s not extra-terrestrial:"We cannot stop carbon emissions because most of them come from volcanoes," he said. "It is a normal element cycled around in the earth and my science, which is looking back in time, is saying we have had a planet that has been a green, warm wet planet 80 per cent of the time. We have had huge climate change in the past and to think the very slight variations we measure today are the result of our life - we really have to put ice blocks in our drinks."Whew! Good to know. Hey, wait – volcanoes? They’ve been around for a pretty long time – we’ve seen them in pictures with dinosaur…

Blogroll Drive-By

This Week in Nuclear has a fascinating new interview (downloadable as a podcast) with engineer and writer Joseph Somsel, author of articles in The American Thinker and Energy Pulse. The discussion ranges over nuclear financial topics, touching on tax treatment of new generating stations, investment, transmission, and loan guarantees.

Capacity Factor has an interesting analysis of reports indicating successful integration of wind electric into the Spanish grid.

Reminder to lawyers, their fellow travelers, and news addicts that Utility News remains an excellent law blog and news digest that should reside near the top of your Favorites.

Pro-Nuclear Democrats collected and posted three videos well worth watching: Stewart Brand, Marv Fertel, and Per Peterson.

In Australia, Professor Brook at Brave New Climatecovers yesterday’s announcements from the mother country; don’t miss his op-ed and the related news in the Adelaide Advertiser. And if you’re puzzled about this month’s Scientific Ameri…

Saving Money on Your Next Nuclear Plant

You would be perfectly within your rights to give us the fishy eye if we said anything other than that nuclear energy plants are very expensive to build. Most power plants suffer this problem, because costs are so front-loaded: plants take time to build, introducing bank interest charges, changes in regulation that incur cost and fixed costs on commodities that refuse to stay fixed. But this can work in two directions – just as costs can go up for uncontrollable reasons so can they come down.The official price tag for Georgia Power's share of two new reactors at Plant Vogtle is $1.5 billion lower than when the company requested permission to build them, according to testimony Tuesday in front of the Georgia Public Service Commission.Walter Jones reports in the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle that a lot of information about Vogtle is protected as a trade secret. But still, he could share what was bringing down cost – this time, it’s bank interest.Projected construction costs dropped, Mr. …

Amory Lovins vs. Stewart Brand - Part Three (The “Portfolio Myth”)

The third part of our seriesthat debunks Amory Lovins’ study which criticizes Stewart Brand’s nuclear chapter discusses the need for all emission-free technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.The “portfolio myth”On page 82, Brand states that:climate change is so serious a matter, we have to do everything simultaneously to head it off as much as we can.Stewart Brand backs up his statement by citing Princeton’s wedge concept which proposes that a number of different technologies will be needed to avoid CO2 emissions. Lovins, of course, doesn’t buy this (pdf, p. 17):There is no analytic basis for Brand’s assumption that all energy options are necessary, nor is it sensible.Lovins goes on to criticize Brand for misinterpreting parts of the Princeton study. As well, Lovins dings Brand for offering only one piece of evidence to back up the concept of a portfolio approach. Well, there isn’t just one piece of evidence that says we need a portfolio of technologies. The Electric Power Res…

Candris, Scots, and Carbon Friendly Flowers

Shall we see what’s doing in the world of nuclear energy?Aris Candris, the CEO of Westinghouse makes the case in the Wall Street Journal:Nuclear energy … must play a larger role in our effort to become and remain energy independent, and to reduce carbon emissions. The growth of nuclear power will also have peripheral benefits, as it constitutes an economic stimulus package in and of itself.Although any industry can sell itself as an economic stimulus if it starts hiring more people and doing more work, Candris demonstrates that this is happening now:To date, the recent growth of the nuclear energy industry has created at least 15,000 jobs, with many more on the horizon. Westinghouse's work alone in the deployment of four new nuclear plants now under construction in China will create or sustain an additional 5,000 U.S. jobs in 20 states.Do read the rest. Candris does a good job laying out the economic case.---The British have lately released a draft plan that approves building 10 …

Amory Lovins vs. Stewart Brand - Part Two (The "Baseload Myth")

Continuing on Friday’s critique of Amory Lovins’ latest study, our following post delves into discussing if wind and solar are baseload technologies. Funny enough, Lovins’ rebuttal of this myth completely misinterpreted what Stewart Brand said about baseload in his nuclear chapter and apparently ended up agreeing with Brand in one case. The “baseload myth”Here’s the quote from Brand’s book that the Lovins study has a problem with (p. 80 and 81): “’Baseload,’” she [Gwyneth Cravens] explains in the book, “refers to the minimum amount of proven, consistent, around-the-clock, rain-or-shine power that utilities must supply to meet the demands of their millions of customers.”Wind and solar, desirable as they are, aren’t part of baseload because they are intermittent—productive only when the wind blows or the sun shines. If some sort of massive energy storage is devised, then they can participate in baseload; without it, they remain supplemental, usually to gas-fired plants.This claim is “f…

Building a Building

One of the issues in getting the nuclear renaissance rolling – but one that is particularly responsive to capitalist imperatives – is the manufacturing of pieces that make up a plant. After all, it’s been a long time since an American nuclear plant has been built and a lot of the action moved overseas - to France and Japan, in particular. But it’s not as though America doesn’t have a work force with considerable skill at this type of work – hmm! where might that be?Michigan needs to get on the nuclear power train because it's getting ready to leave the station -- and take the jobs with it. No, this isn't a call to green-light yet another nuke plant here. It's a reminder that the Big Mitten still has the ability to make things. Climate-change politics and surging demand for electricity around the world are powering a nuclear renaissance, and states like Michigan -- deep in engineering expertise, surplus industrial capacity and an established transportation infrastructure -…

Without You: Climate Change Bill Bypasses GOP

We can’t really call yesterday’s passage of the Kerry-Boxer climate change bill through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee tainted, because the bill itself is almost pristine. No amendments were added to it, nothing was removed. But the process lacked a – certain – something:The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee reported out a climate change bill on Thursday despite a boycott by Republican members, who had required a complete analysis of the measure before participating in the committee debate. The Republicans bailed out because they wanted a full EPA analysis of the bill before proceeding. Neither Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) nor ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) have put up press releases about Boxer’s maneuver yet. However, Inhofe did issue a statement:"The Republicans offered a clear path forward to a bipartisan markup, but it was summarily rejected by Chairman Boxer.[Boxer] decided to ignore the entreaties of all 6 ranking members …

Beaming Through Grime

We have to give our friends in the coal industry credit – it has had a pretty good showing in the climate change bill, even if the goal of the bill builds on the hope that carbon capture and sequestration proves itself, and it survived the widespread attention given to the clean coal carolers, a well-intended Flash animation that was bound to bring down criticism.However, here’s the thing: coal miners don’t deserve, and for most part haven’t received, the criticism that industry touts might receive. These are folks doing a job many would not consider doing and take a considerable amount of pride in the doing of it.So we were delighted to see an initiative to celebrate coal miners, with West Virginia based photographer Thorney Lieberman putting together a show of photographic assemblages spotlighting these workers.Here’s how he describes the project:The project I am proposing would entail my travel to several mining communities, where I would set up a temporary studio in a community s…

Amory Lovins vs. Stewart Brand - Part One (The “Land Footprint Myth”)

Three weeks ago Mr. Amory Lovins released a very pointed critique of Stewart Brand’s chapter on nuclear in Brand’s new book, Whole Earth Discipline. After reading both Brand’s and Lovins’ pieces, I understood why Lovins was so critical of Brand. It was because Brand was quite critical of Lovins in his book (p. 99):In early 2009, in Ambio magazine, Amory Lovins declared: “Nuclear power is continuing its decades-long collapse in the global marketplace because it’s grossly uncompetitive, unneeded, and obsolete.”

How can someone [Lovins] so smart be so wrong about a subject he knows so well? [Emphasis added]Ouch. It’s now clear to us why Mr. Lovins came out with his critique of Brand when he did.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been able to digest Mr. Lovins’ latest claims in his new study (pdf) and have generated quite a few thoughts to share. In Lovins’ response to Brand’s chapter on nuclear, Lovins takes Brand to task on four issues he believes are myths about nuclear: baseload ener…