Episode 74 – The Renewable Question and Germany’s Nuclear Reversal (audio podcast)

Download the Audio File Here In this podcast I discuss the question “Is Nuclear Energy Renewable?” that I first posed in a recent blog post. In addition, I added the following discussion of recent news and events: Indian Point License Extension Proceeds Despite Anti-Nuclear Hurdles Despite barriers erected by anti-nuclear groups to block the license renewal for the Indian Point nuclear reactors, the two unit nuclear plant in NY has passed two major hurdles in the life extension process. On August 12 NRC issued their final safety evaluation report and concluded there are no safety issues that would preclude running the plants for another 20 years. On Sept 23 the independent Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, and independent team of experts that advice the NRC, recommended that the license extension be granted. Unless renewed, the current licenses expire in 2013 and 2015. In 2007 the anti-nuclear group Riverkeeper filed five contentions opposing the 20 year license extensions.  The NRC granted Riverkeeper a hearing to review arguments on three of their five contentions.  In those hearings Riverkeeper was unable to provide sufficient evidence to support their claims and the NRC ruled the contentions had no merit. On the NRC’s web site they have a schedule showing a tentative final decision on Indian Point’s relicensing in February of 2010. Riverkeeper’s opposition of the plant is backed by several elected officials including Andrew Cuomo, the State Attorney General with a long family tradition of anti-nuclear politics.  Twenty years ago his father, then Governor Mario Cuomo successfully closed the brand new Shoreham nuclear plant.  In Super Mario’s deal the state purchased the plant for $1, and passed on $5 Billion in construction costs to taxpayers who received nothing in return except some of the highest electricity rates in the country.  That case was a perfect example of the flawed two-step licensing process in which utilities were first issued a permit to construct the plant, and then after the plant was built they applied for a license to operate the reactor.  The new reactor licensing process is a combined construction and operating license (called a COL) that should be more predictable for utilities and investors. The NRC has received 17 COL applications from utilities interested in building 26 new reactors, but has suspended the review of four applications at the request of the applicants. Pro-Nuclear Victory in Germany This week there was a huge win in Germany for supporters of nuclear energy.  Angela Merkel was reelected Chancellor and vowed to reverse that nation’s plans to prematurely shut down their 17 nuclear reactors.  Nuclear energy currently provides 31% of Germany’s electricity and closing the reactors...

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Is Nuclear Energy Renewable? How about “Inexhaustible”?

For quite some time I’ve been debating the argument that nuclear energy is equally “renewable” as energy derived from hydro, wind, and biomass. My thought process goes like this… Rivers go dry with over use and periods of drought, and winds shift with changing weather patterns such as those that will occur with global climate change.  The availability of biomass is dependent on favorable weather and must be replenished using agricultural processes that are reliant on fossil fuels.  The ultimate energy source of all these “renewables” is the sun, and while the sun is not “infinite,” it is unlikely to extinguish during the course of human existence.  The ability of the sun to replenish hydro, wind, and biomass make these energy sources renewable. In contrast, the source of nuclear energy is fuel contained entirely on planet Earth.  And while there are a finite number of uranium and thorium atoms on the planet, the supply will last for as long as human beings need it.  The myth propagated by the anti-nuclear crowd that we will run out of fuel for nuclear reactors is simply untrue.  They grossly underestimate the amount of uranium that exists, they discount already proven technologies like breeder reactors, and they ignore the existence of thorium, a fuel even more plentiful than uranium.  We have sufficient nuclear fuel to last for more than 1,000 years, even if we expand the number of nuclear plants by more than a factor of ten.  This makes nuclear energy inexhaustible. I’ve often discussed the how Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) will encourage investment in wind and solar energy, but alone will NOT result in the desired reductions in CO2 emissions.  If the goal is CO2 reduction, why not promote the expansion of nuclear energy, the greatest source of low-carbon energy in existence? Keith Johnson of the Wall Street Journal Blog discusses the “renewable” question, and issues surrounding the logic of a national RPS in his recent post titled “Is Nuclear Power Renewable Energy?“.  In particular, Keith points out the inconsistencies in the Waxman-Markey approach to fighting climate change. Nuclear-power proponents are puzzled by what seems a logical inconsistency on part of Democrats who consistently shoot down the [nuclear energy] proposals.   If the goal is to promote low-emissions power sources, then nuclear power should be part of the mix.   If the goal is to promote new power sources, then existing wind and solar power facilities shouldn’t be showered with federal goodies.  That is, states that already have loads of wind power would be half-way to meeting new renewable-energy targets without building any new clean energy. And later… But if the whole game in...

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Nuclear Industry News Brief – April 30, 2009

Nuclear Utilities Implement Pandemic Flu Action Plans Several nuclear utilities have implemented pandemic flu action plans in response to the swine flu outbreak.  All utilities were required to develop the action plans a couple of years ago to prepare for “what if” pandemic flu scenarios.  So far actions are limited to precautionary and preparatory elements of the plans such as acquiring materials, communicating with employees currently traveling in Mexico (or planning travel), and activating flu response teams.  This is example of the conservative, proactive approach in which the nuclear industry approaches issues and challenges. Impact of the Stimulus Act American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 is having an impact on the nuclear industry that may have not been anticipated.  A provision in the bill will accelerate spending on environmental cleanup activities at the national energy laboratories.  These projects were on the books for several years from now, but the Stimulus act requires funds to be spent within the next 30 months.  This means the laboratories are scrambling to get contracts executed and “boots on the ground.”  This will cause a large demand on the nation’s limited supply of radiation protection technicians.  One estimate is the projects could draw away up to 30% of available contract RP Technicians during the fall 2009 and spring 2010 outage seasons. Over the last several years the industry has worked with colleges and technical schools around the USA to develop new radiation protection technician education and training programs.  At one time few programs existed.  Today there are several well-established RP Tech programs in MO, MS, AR, MI, CT and other states, and several others in various stages of...

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House Releases Draft Climate Change Bill and A Bit of Nuclear Nistory (Podcast Episode 65)

Listen to the Podcast Here Operation Sea Orbit – 1964 (Front to Back: USS Enterprise, USS Long Beach, & USS Bainbridge) The Markey / Waxman Climate Change Bill Momentum is building towards greenhouse gas regulation in the United States. Two weeks ago the house of representatives released draft climate change legislation sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman and Rep. Edward Markey. On Friday the US Environmental Protection Agency turned up the heat when they declared CO2 and other greenhouse gasses “hazards to public health” and labeled CO2 a pollutant. This action gives the EPA authority to regulate CO2 emissions even if congress does not pass legislation focused on curbing greenhouse gas releases. The Waxman/Markey draft legislation would evoke a national renewable energy portfolio standard that will force electric utilities to get a large percentage of the energy they sell from renewable sources. The legislation defines renewable energy as solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, and wave energy. The required percentages would phase in starting at 6% in 2012, increasing to to 25% by 2039. Calendar year Required annual percentage 2012 ……………………………………………………………………. 6.0 2013 ……………………………………………………………………. 6.0 2014 ……………………………………………………………………. 8.5 2015 ……………………………………………………………………. 8.5 2016 ……………………………………………………………………. 11.0 2017 ……………………………………………………………………. 11.0 2018 ……………………………………………………………………. 14.0 2019 ……………………………………………………………………. 14.0 2020 ……………………………………………………………………. 17.5 2021 ……………………………………………………………………. 17.5 2022 ……………………………………………………………………. 21.0 2023 ……………………………………………………………………. 21.0 2024 ……………………………………………………………………. 23.0 2025 through 2039 ………………………………………………………… 25.0 Utilities who are unable to meet the mandated standards would be fined $50 per megawatt hour of every megawatt they sell that exceed the renewable limits. That penalty could very quickly bankrupt companies that fail to comply. For example, a single 1000 megawatt coal fired power plant would be fined $1.2 million per day. This is a nearly impossible mandate to meet. If this provision becomes law several things will happen: There is already a huge amount of capitol flowing into wind and solar energy because of the lucrative subsidies that pay much of the installation costs, plus tax credits that some states and the federal government have put into place to encourage investment into these politically favored but uneconomic energy sources.  Taxpayers are already footing a lion’s share of the expense of installing most wind and solar power plants. A national renewable portfolio standard will cause even more demand for these intermittent power sources. Unfortunately there is no way the supply can keep up with demand.  Utilities in areas of the country with plentiful hydo power will initially be able to meet the standards, but most of the USA has little hydro power.  According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2007 the combined total for wind, solar, wood and other biomass, and geothermal accounted for...

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Rep.s Edward Markey & Henry Waxman Release Draft Climate Change Legislation

It has not received any attention in the media, but on March 31, 2009 House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman and Rep. Edward Markey, Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Environment released their plan to fight global warming.   As I predicted back in Episode 62 of This Week in Nuclear ,  they are promoting a federal mandate on wind and solar power funded by huge increases in energy costs. Although nuclear energy produces 70% of the CO2-emission free energy in the USA today, in the entire 648 page bill the word “nuclear” is mentioned only twice (once is to provide an editorial change to a prior bill). Full Text of the Draft Legislation House Press Release Key parts of their plan: Create a national renewable portfolio standard to force utilities to generate (or purchase) at least 25% of the electricity they sell from “renewable sources” and pass the cost to rate payers (see page 15 of the bill) Establish a green house gas trading system (see page 358) And yes, federal government regulation over personal hot tubs (see page 223) The Markey/Waxman bill would force California-style energy rules on the entire USA.  We all know how that turned out!  The Senate will have their hands full in creating a more balanced, logical approach to fight climate change that is based on sound science and good...

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