Showing posts with label nuclear power. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nuclear power. Show all posts

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Say No to 'No Nukes' Revival

My colleague Sara Mansur & I have an op ed in today's San Francisco Chronicle, issuing a stern rebuttal to the revival of the "No Nukes" concerts this Sunday at Shoreline in Mountain View, CA.

The world has changed since the original five-night concert series in 1979. An anti-nuclear position may have made good sense then, but is no longer tenable today.

Graham Nash and the MUSE cadre of septuagenerian rockers appear woefully ignorant of the real intergenerational threat faced in the 21st century -- climate change -- and the implications that a 'No Nukes' world would have for public health and the environment.

You can find the print edition in today's Chronicle and an extended edition online here.

Read more!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Webinar - Fukushima and Nuclear Power: Can we live without it?

Live Webcast June 29, 3 PM ET / 12 PM PT

Following the earthquake and tsunamis that tragically impacted Japan in March, the unfolding crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant has captured public attention for months. Energy experts are now questioning the long term impact of the Fukushima disaster on nuclear policy, international power generation, and the global carbon picture:

  • How has the Fukushima crisis impacted public opinion and policy debates about nuclear energy?
  • What do countries like Japan and Germany stand to gain or lose by giving up nuclear power generation?
  • What is the carbon cost of giving up nuclear plants?
  • How will countries that move away from nuclear make up that power elsewhere?
  • Has the demise of the nuclear industry been exaggerated? While some countries are taking aggressive steps away from nuclear, some accounts suggest that overall, the number of nuclear plants continues to grow.

  • Join The Energy Collective's latest webcast as we seek answers to these questions and discuss nuclear power's role in our energy future. Register here today.

    You'll hear from:

    Matthew Wald is a Reporter for the Washington Bureau at The New York Times, covering environmental and energy issues, as well as transportation, aviation and highway safety. Having joined The Times in October 1976 as a news clerk in the newspaper’s Washington bureau, Wald held positions at the New York metropolitan desk, the State Capitol in Hartford, and as a national correspondent, covering a variety of areas including housing and nuclear power, before joining the Washington bureau in September 1996. Wald has covered the Fukushima crisis extensively in the New York Times.

    Edward Kee is a VP at NERA Economic Consulting and a specialist in the electricity industry with experience in nuclear power, electricity markets, restructuring, regulation, private power, and related issues. For more than 20 years, he has provided testimony as an expert witness on a range of electricity industry issues in state and federal courts, before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and before other legal and regulatory bodies in the US and around the world. Mr. Kee also provides strategic advice to companies and governments on issues related to the nuclear and electricity industries. Mr. Kee holds an MBA from Harvard University and a BS in Systems Engineering from the US Naval Academy.

    Jesse Jenkins is Director of Energy and Climate Policy at theBreakthrough Institute, and is one of the country's leading energy and climate policy analysts and advocates. He is the co-author with Devon Swezey of the "Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant" report on global clean energy competitiveness strategies, and is currently working on an update to the report. Jesse has written for publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, Baltimore Sun, Yale Environment 360,, and, and his published works on energy policy have been cited by many more. He is founder and chief editor of WattHead - Energy News and Commentary and a featured writer at the Energy Collective.

    Marc Gunther is a veteran journalist, speaker, writer and consultant whose focus is business and sustainability. Marc is a contributing editor at FORTUNE magazine, a senior writer, and a lead blogger at The Energy Collective. He's also a husband and father, a lover of the outdoors and a marathon runner. Marc is the author or co-author of four books, including Faith and Fortune: How Compassionate Capitalism is Transforming American Business. He's a graduate of Yale who lives in Bethesda, MD.

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    Monday, April 25, 2011

    Interactive Map: All the World's Nuclear Reactors

    Cross posted from Climate Central.

    To better understand the state of the nuclear power industry, Climate Central has built the following interactive map of nuclear facilities as reported by the World Nuclear Association. This map shows every nuclear reactor that has ever been connected to the electric grid, as well as a number of plants (though not all) that are planned. The table beneath the map — which will fill in once you press “play” — shows how many power plants have been built during each decade.

    How To Use This Map:

    Toggle the different categories of power plants (operating, shut down, etc.) on and off by using the check boxes at the bottom right. Multiple reactors are typically co-located, so you might not see them unless you deselect other categories. To learn more about a reactor, click on it to see its vital statistics, as well as a link to the World Nuclear Association, where you can find more facts about each. 

    Click “Play” to watch how the global nuclear power industry has changed over time, with reactor startups and retired reactor shutdowns. Note that while the timeline is playing, you cannot check or uncheck the boxes. 

    This data was last updated prior to the nuclear crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Since then a number of power plants have been shut down in Japan, and a few in Germany are also temporarily closed. 

    Why did most countries stop building power plants in the 1990s and 2000s?

    The table beneath the map tells a dramatic story: 391 reactors were built between 1970 and 1990, but only 92 were built between 1990 and 2010. In the United States, where 104 reactors currently provide electricity, only five reactors have been built since 1990. Why?

    Many point to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 (see Mike Lemonick's story on the fact that this event is still unfolding), and the Three Mile Island Accident in 1979 as reasons that the public turned against nuclear power. Yet, in the United States, the nuclear industry was already slowing down before Three Mile Island.

    In the U.S., many orders for new nuclear power plants were cancelled in the late '70s and '80s largely because the costs of building plants were more expensive than coal or natural gas-fired power plants. One important reason that costs escalated was growing public opposition to building new plants, and unresolved safety and cost questions about radioactive waste disposal and plant decommissioning. These concerns increased legal costs and dramatically extended the time required to build a nuclear plant. Thus, construction costs escalated. Another important reason is that the massive size of nuclear reactors and lack of standardization in technology required each power plant to be more or less custom-built

    Europe’s drive to build nuclear power plants was largely spearheaded after the oil embargos of the 1970s, with France playing a major role — today France generates about sixty percent of its electricity from nuclear reactors. New orders, though, fell off in the late 1980s for similar reasons as in the United States: high costs and public opposition. The Chernobyl accident, which resulted in radioactive fallout across Europe, further deepened public opposition. 

    Today, China and India are the only countries pursuing nuclear power on a significant scale: India has plans for another 18 power plants, and China has 110 in the pipeline. It remains to be seen whether the costs of building nuclear reactors in these countries will be less than they were in the U.S., or whether the crisis at Japan’s Fukushima facility will scuttle plans for many of these plants. Some experts have been advocating for small modular reactors as a less costly way of generating nuclear power, but those have remained on the drawing board.

    How much carbon dioxide pollution have nuclear power plants avoided?

    If the few hundred nuclear reactors on the map had not been built, other power plants would likely have been constructed, the majority of which would have been powered by fossil fuels. How much carbon dioxide (CO2) would these plants have emitted?

    We can’t know for sure, but by using data from the map and making a few basic assumptions, we can get a rough estimate. The data includes the lifetime and generating capacity of every nuclear power plant that has ever been built. 

    Today, nuclear power plants worldwide operate on average about 80 percent of the time. In earlier years, they were shut down for longer periods, with closer to a 55 percent in service rate. Given these operating percentages, let’s assume for estimation purposes that nuclear power plants throughout their entire history have operated on average at 70 percent of their capacity. In that case, the nuclear power industry globally has produced about 60 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity.

    If these power plants had not been built, let’s assume the electricity would have been generated instead from a mix of coal, natural gas, and hydropower in the proportions that these are used today (roughly 2:1:1). Given how much CO2 these sources emit on average per kilowatt hour (natural gas: 907 grams of CO2; coal: 590 grams; hydropower: 0 grams), we can estimate that each kilowatt-hour of nuclear power avoided about 600 grams of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. 
    That means that the nuclear industry has avoided emissions of about 40 billion tons of CO2. That is one third more CO2 than humans put into the atmosphere every year from burning fossil fuels. It is also about one-twelfth of the cumulative CO2 people have added to the atmosphere during the past 160 years from burning coal, natural gas, and petroleum. This is a rough estimate, yet it shows that nuclear power has played a major role in lowering CO2 emissions. 

    The clear question for society — and one that is highly debated — is whether the risks and costs of nuclear power outweigh the industry’s significant potential to offset fossil fuels. 

    Map Data and Disclaimer
    The data was obtained from the World Nuclear Association’s online database, which can be accessed from their website. Many countries have “planned” reactors that are not shown on this map. Furthermore, the location of some planned reactors, especially in China, is only approximate.

    Read more!

    Wednesday, March 30, 2011

    Interactive Maps: Worldwide Nuclear Power

    Cross posted on Climate Central.

    As the world continues to watch the crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant unfold, many are asking what the repercussions will be for the future of nuclear power. First, though, we must understand the current state of the nuclear industry: Where are the world’s nuclear power plants located? How much electricity do these plants produce? How much more nuclear generating capacity is planned, and for where?

    The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that about 16 percent of the world’s electricity comes from nuclear power, and that given pre-Fukushima plans, this percentage would stay roughly constant over the next two decades, barring any major changes in policy.

    The maps below, which come courtesy of Katherine Marvel, a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, show where the world’s nuclear reactors are presently located and how many more are planned. (Visit Climate Central to see the maps with full interactive capabilities.).

    Number of Nuclear Reactors

    Percent of Electricity from Nuclear Power

    Before Fukushima, there were 443 functioning nuclear power plants in the world. About 62 were under construction, and another 324 were in various stages of planning. (This data comes from the World Nuclear Association, a nuclear power advocacy organization).

    The world’s nuclear power is concentrated in a handful of countries: Of the world’s 192 countries, only 30 have nuclear power plants, and 75 percent of global nuclear generation is concentrated in just eight countries: The United States, France, Japan, Russia, South Korea, India, the U.K., and Canada. Membership in the "nuclear power club," though, is set to expand considerably if current proposals come to fruition.

    The following eleven countries lack nuclear power today, but are planning to build or are building power plants: United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Turkey, Poland, Belarus, Bangladesh, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, and Kazakhastan. Another eight countries: Israel, Italy, North Korea, Thailand, Lithuania, Chile, Italy, and Malaysia, have proposed to build power plants.

    Number of Nuclear Reactors Under Construction

    Number of Nuclear Reactors Planned

    Number of Nuclear Reactors Proposed

    • Operating = Connected to the grid.
    • Under Construction = first concrete for reactor poured, or major refurbishment under way.
    • Planned = Approvals, funding or major commitment in place, mostly expected in operation within 8-10 years.
    • Proposed = Specific program or site proposals, expected operation mostly within 15 years.   

    Another fact shown by the graphics is that although many countries have proposed or are planning to construct nuclear power plants, only China is aggressively building them — they have proposed 110 and are building 27. By comparison, the United States has 23 proposed reactors, but only one is under construction. And that single reactor, which is located in southern Tennessee, was begun in the 1980s, put on hold for 20 years, and is only now being completed.

    The disparity between planned power plants and plants under construction raises the question of how many of these proposed plants will actually be built. Also, the expansion of nuclear power to new countries raises issues related to nuclear proliferation — the technology to build certain nuclear power plants could be used to make nuclear weapons with relative ease. And what these maps do not show is what would be built instead of these nuclear plants, should they not move forward. In place of nuclear power, will these countries invest in coal, natural gas, hydropower, solar, or wind energy?

    Answering these questions will require continued work to balance the benefits and risks of nuclear energy against the growing energy demands of society.

    Read more!

    Monday, March 28, 2011

    WattHead's Jesse Jenkins on NPR: Nuclear as Usual Founder and Chief Editor and Breakthrough Institute Director of Climate and Energy Policy Jesse Jenkins was on NPR's Weekend Edition this past Sunday discussing Japan's nuclear crisis and what it means for the future of nuclear power.

    The interview touched on many of the issues that were the subject of a recent Atlantic Monthly article co-authored by Jenkins and Breakthrough Institute co-founders Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger.

    Here is an excerpt of that article:

    [L]ost in the hyperbolic claims of nuclear opponents, the defensive reactions of the nuclear industry, and the carefully calibrated repositioning of politicians and policymakers is the reality that Fukushima is unlikely to much change the basic political economy of nuclear power. Wealthy, developed economies, with relatively flat energy growth and mature energy infrastructure haven't built a lot of nuclear in decades and were unlikely to build much more anytime soon, even before the Fukushima accident. The nuclear renaissance, such as it is, has been occurring in the developing world, where fast growing, modernizing economies need as much new energy generation as possible and where China and India alone have constructed dozens of new plants, with many more on the drawing board.
    Absent Fukushima, developed world economies were not going to build much new nuclear power anytime soon. The deliberations in Germany have involved whether to retire old plants or extend their lifetimes, not whether to build new plants. The decade long effort to restart the U.S. nuclear industry may result in the construction of, at most, two new plants over the next decade.

    By contrast, even a much more serious accident would have been unlikely to delay the construction of new nuclear plants in the developing world for long. For major emerging economies like China and India, energy is still too scarce and expensive for much of their populations and economies and they will likely continue to build new nuclear plants as fast as they can in the coming decades.

    In the end, what it all looks like is business as usual, for nukes specifically and the global energy economy more generally. Despite the claims of proponents, present day renewables remain too expensive and undependable for any economy in the world to rely upon at significant scale. So Germany, despite its vaunted solar feed in tariffs, will rely more heavily upon coal, which it has in abundance, as it retires its aging nuclear fleet. The US, already in the midst of a natural gas boom, will use more gas. And China and India, desperate for every kilowatt of power they can produce, will develop every available energy resource they have as fast as they can, including nuclear.
    Jenkins also appeared on MSNBC's The Dylan Ratigan Show at 1:40 PM PST/ 4:40 PM EST today to discuss nuclear power and the situation in Japan. Here's the clip:

    Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    Read more!

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    Exploring Earthquake Risks to US Nuclear Power Plants

    Cross posted on Climate Central.

    This click-able map shows the 104 active nuclear reactors in the Lower-48 states, overlaid with both recent earthquakes and the 15 strongest earthquakes in the region's history. Note that the most powerful earthquake on record, estimated to have measured 9.0 on the Richter scale, shook the Pacific Northwest back in 1700. You can click on each power plant to obtain more information about it, including the type of reactor design.

    The second (static) map shows the earthquake risk as measured by "Peak Ground Acceleration" or PGA. During an earthquake, the ground shakes back and forth, and the damage is roughly proportional to the ground's maximum acceleration. The map shows the two percent likelihood that the PGA will exceed the shown values in the next 50 years.

    Explore the maps, and read on for additional details below.

  • The nuclear crisis following the disastrous 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan continues, and it's raising broader questions about nuclear safety both in and outside of Japan. Many Americans now are asking how vulnerable our country's nuclear facilities are to natural disasters, particularly earthquakes.

    Of the reactors in the U.S., about one third of them are boiling water reactors, using the same technology as the Fukushima Daiichi reactor in Japan. In addition, there are eight nuclear facilities located along the seismically active West coast. Twelve of the American reactors that are of the same vintage as the Fukushima Daiichi plant are on seismically active areas around the country.

    Unsurprisingly, most of the earthquakes in the contiguous U.S. have occurred in California. But three of the most powerful 15 quakes occurred in Missouri, and another took place in South Carolina. And the strongest ever recorded, estimated to have measured magnitude 9.0, shook the Pacific Northwest back in 1700.

    The bottom map above shows the earthquake risk as measured by "Peak Ground Acceleration", or PGA. During an earthquake, the ground shakes back and forth, and the damage is roughly proportional to the ground's maximum acceleration. The map shows the two percent likelihood that the PGA will exceed the shown values in the next 50 years.

    In other words, if the map shows that the PGA is 1.0g for a given spot (say, southeast Missouri), that means there is a two percent chance that the peak ground acceleration will be greater than 1.0g at some point in the next 50 years. PGA is measured in "g," with one g being how quickly an object accelerates in free fall (you can also think about "pulling Gs," as in a fighter plane).

    The PGA risk is what is typically used to set building codes. Most nuclear power plants are designed to operate under 0.2g PGA, and automatically shut off if the PGA exceeds 0.2g. However, they can withstand a PGA many times larger than that.

    The magnitude scale is a measure of the total energy an earthquake releases. This is related to, but not directly proportional to the PGA. For instance, the recent earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, recorded a deadly PGA of 2.2g, even though it was "only" a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, while a recent earthquake in Chile, which measured 8.8 magnitude, recorded an acceleration of 0.78g.

    If you click on the nuclear power plants on the map at the top, you can see what the 50-year two-percent likelihood PGA is for each power plant.

    The following nuclear power plants have a two percent or greater chance of having PGA over 0.15g in the next 50 years:

  • Diablo Canyon, Calif.

  • San Onofre, Calif.

  • Sequoyah, Tenn.

  • H.B. Robinson, SC.

  • Watts Bar, Tenn.

  • Virgil C. Summer, SC.

  • Vogtle, GA.

  • Indian Point, NY.

  • Oconee, SC.

  • Seabrook, NH.

  • As the unfolding situation in Japan has demonstrated, ground acceleration is only one concern. In fact, the Fukushima reactor -- which is protected by a thick casing of concrete designed to withstand even a plane crash -- was built to survive an earthquake like the one Japan just experienced, and the peak ground acceleration at the plant on March 11 measured only 0.18g, according to one report. The safety of nuclear reactor design is addressed by "defense in depth," which means multiple back-up systems are installed as precautionary measures. If one safety measure fails, there are several others in place to prevent a nuclear emergency. The Fukushima complex was evidently not sufficiently prepared for the combination of an earthquake and a massive tsunami, and when the waves crashed around the power plant, the cooling system failed, leading to a cascade of problems. Some claim that the reactor design is partially to blame, as well. Whether the events at Fukushima will reveal systemic problems at other plants remains to be seen, but it certainly highlights the need to be somewhat imaginative when planning for the worst-case scenario.

    The bottom line is that a major earthquake would probably not result in a nuclear meltdown at the reactors on the above map, but it could present significant engineering challenges. Quantifying the risks, and minimizing them as much as possible, is a key task for everyone involved in the nuclear energy industry.

    Alyson Kenward contributed reporting to this article.

    Read more!

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    The Nuclear Energy Game Changer? Thoughts After the NRC Regulatory Information Conference

    By Matthew Stepp, Clean Energy Policy Analyst, ITIF

    There is a growing chorus of experts, businesses, and public sector leaders espousing for one key clean technology: small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs).  And the reason is clear.  These next generation advances in nuclear energy may be – dare I say – a silver bullet energy solution that transforms electricity generation, provides the military with an independent and more secure energy source, and offers industries a low-carbon energy alternative. And like other clean technologies, and maybe even more so, SMRs require significant federal support to make them a viable clean energy option.

    The significant up-front capital cost and decade-long development time for licensing and constructing large power plants has renewed interest in smaller nuclear options in recent years.  In response, nearly 60 SMR designs have been proposed worldwide, though none have been deployed.  Their main selling points: reduced cost, customizability, safety, less nuclear waste, and long power generation lifetimes without refueling (table below). 


    Currently, two broad design categories have emerged.  Light water reactor (LWR) SMRs are similar to scaled down versions of current large nuclear power plants.  LWR-SMRs range between 200-300 megawatts and are aimed at providing new baseload capacity or act as a replacement for retiring coal power plants with a 4 to 5 year fuel replacement cycle.  LWR-SMRs are also closest to deployment.  The first demonstration project – the mPower LWR by Babcock and Wilcox - is set to take place at the Clinch River Site by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

    The second category is advanced SMRs, otherwise called fast-reactors or high temperature gas-cooled reactors.  These designs are at an earlier stage of development because of their use of untested coolant system designs and more highly enriched fissionable material than presently regulated plants.  But these reactors offer the prospect of much longer refueling lifetimes, often in excess of 10 years, and more flexible site locations, because many don’t use water for cooling.

    So, while “silver bullet” may be too strong of a statement – SMRs don’t solve all our clean energy needs - the potential benefits of SMRs are significant and the key to realizing these benefits comes down to creating a cohesive national clean energy policy to innovate through a number of technological barriers.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so.  This week was the 23rd Annual Nuclear Regulatory Commission Information Conference that brought together hundreds of nuclear energy leaders from industry and government to talk all things nuclear.  The hottest topic?  SMRs.  The clear message?  Industry and government leaders are ready to move forward in developing new small reactors as soon as policy makers give the green light.

    In his opening conference speech, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko remarked that his agency will be taking the first steps in licensing new SMRs by announcing that, “[the NRC] may take final action on three design certification rules for new [LWR-SMR] reactors as early as this summer, and conduct the first mandatory hearing on a new reactor license since the 1970s.” Department of Energy’s Director for Advanced Reactor Design Sal Golub presented that the goal of his office is to “license and deploy LWR-SMRs by 2020.”  The President proposed in both his 2011 and 2012 budgets to create a nearly $100 million SMR program within the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy that would focus on deploying LWR-SMRs as well as perform much needed advanced SMR RD&D.  And bipartisan group of Senators have recently proposed a bill designed to speed up the deployment of SMRs.

    But there is an immediate policy barrier: the federal clean energy innovation budget.  While Congress debates how best to reduce the federal budget deficit, clean energy innovation is in the unfortunate position of being a prime target.  Like other emerging clean technologies, reducing or eliminating support for SMRs could effectively set back the United States nuclear industry by decades.  NRC Chairman Jaczko stated firmly that possible budget issues require, “…tough choices…because if everything is a high priority then nothing is.”  Essentially, if the NRC budget is slashed, its staff would have to focus on the 44 large reactor applications it is currently reviewing and not be able to more quickly attend to licensing first-of-kind SMR designs.  The same budget decisions would have to be made by DOE if their proposed SMR program is not funded.

    And the stakes are high for policy makers to “get it right” on clean energy innovation policy.  Presently, Russia is preparing to deploy the world’s first electricity generating SMRs and France has quickly progressed in developing their own SMR designs.  In fact, the majority of SMR designs aren’t being developed in the United States and many U.S. nuclear technology companies are looking to foreign countries to deploy their technology.  Whether this possible clean energy game changer has an impact environmentally and economically in the United States is up to policy makers because everyone else is waiting.

    Read more!

    Friday, February 04, 2011

    Nuclear Power in a Post-Partisan Approach to Energy

    Originally published by Alex Trembath at Americans for Energy Leadership.

    In the wake of cap-and-trade’s defeat, and as we begin a new session of Congress, common ground must be found on policy to renovate America’s energy infrastructure. Now may be the time to explore the possible benefits of renewing America’s once vigorous nuclear power production. Notably absent in recent advances in America’s energy portfolio has been nuclear power. Public safety fears stemming from Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have left nuclear policy in stasis for decades, but as our President aims to launch a new industrial policy and our nation trends towards a new national energy policy, it may be time to revive our commitment to this method of zero-emissions baseload power generation.

    Nuclear power is unique among clean energy technologies in that Democrats tend to be more hesitant towards its production than Republicans. Indeed, it has a reputation for its appeal to conservatives -Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman included provisions for nuclear technology in their ultimately unsuccessful American Power Act (APA) with the ostensible goal of courting Republican support. The urgency with which Democrats feel we must spark an energy revolution may find a perfect partner with Republicans who support nuclear power. But is there anything more than speculative political evidence towards its bipartisan viability?

    If there is one field of the energy sector for which certainty of political will and government policy is essential, it is nuclear power. High up front costs for the private industry, extreme regulatory oversight and public wariness necessitate a committed government partner for private firms investing in nuclear technology. In a new report on the potential for a “nuclear renaissance,” Third Way references the failed cap-and-trade bill, delaying tactics in the House vis-a-vis EPA regulations on CO₂, and the recent election results to emphasize the difficult current political environment for advancing new nuclear policy. The report, “The Future of Nuclear Energy,” makes the case for political certainty:

    “It is difficult for energy producers and users to estimate the relative price for nuclear-generated energy compared to fossil fuel alternatives (e.g. natural gas)–an essential consideration in making the major capital investment decision necessary for new energy production that will be in place for decades.”
    Are our politicians willing to match the level of certainty that the nuclear industry demands? Lacking a suitable price on carbon that may have been achieved by a cap-and-trade bill removes one primary policy instrument for making nuclear power more cost-competitive with fossil fuels. The impetus on Congress, therefore, will be to shift from demand-side “pull” energy policies (that increase demand for clean tech by raising the price of dirty energy) to supply-side “push” policies, or industrial and innovation policies. Fortunately, there are signals from political and thought leaders that a package of policies may emerge to incentivize alternative energy sources that include nuclear power.

    One place to start is the recently deceased American Power Act, addressed above, authored originally by Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman. Before its final and disappointing incarnation, the bill included provisions to increase loan guarantees for nuclear power plant construction in addition to other tax incentives. Loan guarantees are probably the most important method of government involvement in new plant construction, given the high capital costs of development. One wonders what the fate of the bill, or a less ambitious set of its provisions, would have been had Republican Senator Graham not abdicated and removed any hope of Republican co-sponsorship.

    But that was last year. The changing of the guard in Congress makes this a whole different game, and the once feasible support for nuclear technology on either side of the aisle must be reevaluated. A New York Times piece in the aftermath of the elections forecast a difficult road ahead for nuclear energy policy, but did note Republican support for programs like a waste disposal site and loan guarantees.

    Republican support for nuclear energy has roots in the most significant recent energy legislation, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which passed provisions for nuclear power with wide bipartisan support. Reaching out to Republicans on policies they have supported in the past should be a goal of Democrats who wish to form a foundational debate on moving the policy forward. There are also signals that key Republicans, notably Lindsey Graham and Richard Lugar, would throw their support behind a clean energy standard that includes nuclear and CCS.

    Republicans in Congress will find intellectual support from a group that AEL’s Teryn Norris coined “innovation hawks,” among them Steven Hayward, David Brooks and George Will. Will has been particularly outspoken in support of nuclear energy, writing in 2010 that “it is a travesty that the nation that first harnessed nuclear energy has neglected it so long because fads about supposed ‘green energy’ and superstitions about nuclear power’s dangers.”

    The extreme reluctance of Republicans to cooperate with Democrats over the last two years is only the first step, as any legislation will have to overcome Democrats’ traditional opposition to nuclear energy. However, here again there is reason for optimism. Barbara Boxer and John Kerry bucked their party’s long-time aversion to nuclear in a precursor bill to APA, and Kerry continued working on the issue during 2010. Jeff Bingaman, in a speech earlier this week, reversed his position on the issue by calling for the inclusion of nuclear energy provisions in a clean energy standard. The Huffington Post reports that “the White House reached out to his committee [Senate Energy] to help develop the clean energy plan through legislation.” This development in itself potentially mitigates two of the largest obstacle standing in the way of progress on comprehensive energy legislation: lack of a bill, and lack of high profile sponsors. Democrats can also direct Section 48C of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 towards nuclear technology, which provides a tax credit for companies that engage in clean tech manufacturing.

    Democrats should not give up on their policy goals simply because they no longer enjoy broad majorities in both Houses, and Republicans should not spend all their time holding symbolic repeal votes on the Obama Administration’s accomplishments. The lame-duck votes in December on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the tax cut deal and START indicate that at least a few Republicans are willing to work together with Democrats in a divided Congress, and that is precisely what nuclear energy needs moving forward. It will require an agressive push from the White House, and a concerted effort from both parties’ leadership, but the road for forging bipartisan legislation is not an impassable one.

    The politician with perhaps the single greatest leverage over the future of nuclear energy is President Obama, and his rhetoric matches the challenge posed by our aging and poisonous energy infrastructure. “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” announced Obama recently. Echoing the calls of presidents past, the President used his State of the Union podium to signal a newly invigorated industrialism in the United States. He advocated broadly for renewed investment in infrastructure, education, and technological innovation. And he did so in a room with many more members of the opposition party than at any point during the first half of his term. The eagerness of the President to combine left and right agendas can hopefully match the hyper-partisan bitterness that dominates our political culture, and nuclear power maybe one sector of our economy to benefit from his political leadership.

    Read more!

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Educating the Energy Generation: Workforce Needs in Renewable, Nuclear Power Sectors

    By Jesse Jenkins, originally at the Breakthrough Institute

    Today, the race for dominance in clean energy technology sectors pits the United States against the greatest international competition for a key emerging technology field than in any era since the Cold War race to lead in aerospace, computing, communications, and IT fields.

    Remaining competitive in the fast-growing, 21st century clean energy sectors will demand the same world-class talent and highly-trained workforce that helped the United States lead the world in the high-tech sectors of the 20th century.

    As we wrote in "Post-Partisan Power," a road map for a limited and direct national energy innovation strategy recently released by Breakthrough Institute and scholars at the Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute:

    The United States cannot hope to rise to this global challenge or confront pressing energy innovation imperatives without a new national investment to train and inspire the next generation of intrepid American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Today, the United States ranks just 29th out of 109 countries in the percentage of 24-year-olds with a math or science degree.47 Only 15 percent of undergraduate degrees in the United States are earned in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields compared with 64 percent in Japan and 52 percent in China. Even South Korea -- a nation with a population one-sixth the size of the United States -- graduates more engineers annually.

    The situation is particularly dire in energy technology, with roughly half of the U.S. energy industry workforce expected to retire over the next decade. Meanwhile, demand for workers in the renewable electricity industry is expected to more than triple from 127,000 in 2006 to more than 400,000 in 2018. The anticipated, large-scale ramp-up of the U.S. nuclear power industry would similarly require the industry to hire tens of thousands of new nuclear engineers and related positions annually. Yet today, from elementary school through post-doctorate programs, students and educators lack the resources to develop new curricula and educational programs, receive key training, or expand research opportunities to meet this national challenge.
    A recent blog post from nuclear engineer Rod Adams at points us to some new figures that can help fill in the details for the workforce needs of the nuclear power sector.
    Over the next five years, 38 percent of the current nuclear industry work force employed at the nation's 104 operating plant will be eligible for retirement, leaving a shortfall of more than 25,000 skilled workers. In addition, each new nuclear plant will create up to 2,400 temporary and highly-paid positions over the five-year construction period and 400-to-800 new permanent careers.
    The workforce training and competitiveness challenges are clear. But the United States has overcome such challenges in the past.

    After the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the United States swiftly enacted the National Defense Education Act of 1958, leveling national investments totaling $7.2 billion over four years (in today's dollars), to support K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, establish university programs in computer science, aerospace, and other new fields across the nation, and train the generation of innovators and entrepreneurs that led the IT Revolution.

    In "Post-Partisan Power," we propose a comparatively modest, yet equally critical national commitment of roughly $500 million annually for energy education to support K-12 curriculum and teacher training, energy education scholarships, post- doctoral fellowships, and graduate research grants. This proposal builds on an earlier call from the Breakthrough Institute for a National Energy Education Act.

    You can find more detailed recommendations for energy education and workforce training investments in the full "Post-Partisan Power" report available here (pdf).

    See also:

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    Wednesday, July 07, 2010

    Elementary Particles, Complex Challenges

    By Mark Caine, Breakthrough Fellow

    This is a guest post from the Breakthrough Generation blog. Breakthrough Generation is the young leaders' initiative of the Breakthrough Institute, a public policy think tank. Founded in 2007, Breakthrough Generation has fostered the development of young thought leaders capable of fully grappling with the scale and complexity of today's greatest challenges and advancing large-scale solutions over the near and long term. To read more writings from this year's 2010 Breakthrough Fellows, head to

    Environmentalists have long couched their opposition to nuclear power in the argument that tinkering with elementary particles to produce energy is inherently unsafe. But advances in climate and nuclear sciences suggest that the dangers posed by today's nuclear technology are far less serious than the risks of tinkering with global climate systems.

    In 1945, J. Robert Oppenheimer gave the go-ahead for the Trinity test, the first human-induced nuclear explosion. As he observed the massive explosion unleashed by his creation, he uttered the now-famous phrase:

    "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
    With these words, excerpted from the Bhagavad Gita, Oppenheimer captured and reinforced a widely-held sentiment that nuclear technology is a fundamentally destructive force worthy of great respect and profound trepidation.

    This view would be strengthened by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a month later and again in 1979 and 1986 by the meltdowns at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

    Justifiably influenced by the specter of nuclear meltdown or, worse, worldwide nuclear war, early environmentalists adopted a vehement anti-nuclear stance. At the time, nuclear proliferation seemed to present an existential threat to the natural environment, to human health, and to world peace.

    Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, summed it up in his 1976 report Assault on Future Generations:
    Nuclear power plants are, next to nuclear warheads themselves, the most dangerous devices that man has ever created. Their construction and proliferation is the most irresponsible, in fact the most criminal act ever to have taken place on this planet.
    Forged in an era of fear, uncertainty, and disaster, this uncompromisingly critical stance towards nuclear energy has remained a central tenet of U.S. environmentalism ever since.

    While this stance is understandable as a reaction to the events of World War II and Chernobyl, it has become drastically outdated in the nearly twenty five years since the Chernobyl disaster took place.

    These twenty five years have seen two fundamental, ground-shifting changes.

    First, climate scientists--and increasingly the general public--have become aware that carbon dioxide emissions lead to global climate change and a host of resultant ecological and atmospheric consequences. Second, nuclear energy technologies have developed to become far safer and more efficient than their decades-old antecedents.

    These two transitions have redefined the energy landscape; taken together, they should redefine the energy debate.

    At this point, anyone serious about climate change should be asking themselves: what role should nuclear power have in a clean energy future? Can we decarbonize our economy without nuclear power?

    While the science, the technology, and the debate have shifted beneath their feet, mainstream environmental groups have resolutely held their anti-nuclear ground.

    The Sierra Club, an early opponent of nuclear power, continues to stick by the nuclear policy it established 36 years ago in 1974:
    The Sierra Club opposes the licensing, construction and operation of new nuclear reactors utilizing the fission process.
    Greenpeace, another early nuclear opponent, calls not only for no new construction but also for the dismantling of existing plants:
    Greenpeace has always fought - and will continue to fight - vigorously against nuclear power because it is an unacceptable risk to the environment and to humanity. The only solution is to halt the expansion of all nuclear power, and for the shutdown of existing plants.
    Most recently, Friends of the Earth has been releasing egregious anti-nuclear advertisements employing ominous music, dark photographs, and hyperbolic rhetoric to inspire visceral fear of nuclear power.

    Contrary to the frightful narratives sown by mainstream environmental groups, the long-term safety record of nuclear power is in fact far better than that of coal, our primary source of electricity. Even in terms of direct deaths, which do not include the tens of thousands of yearly deaths caused by pollution from coal combustion, nuclear comes out on top:

    nuclear safe bigger.jpg
    Compiled by Jesse Jenkins, The Breakthrough Institute

    When it comes to waste and emissions, nuclear again emerges the clear winner: while powering a single person's lifetime with coal produces 68 tons of solid waste and 77 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, a person-lifetime worth of nuclear-generated electricity produces zero emissions and an volume of solid waste the size of a soda can.

    These waste and emissions disparities raise a critical question: which is worse, small quantities of radioactive waste in secured storage or huge amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

    For greens who find themselves increasingly concerned about climate change and its impacts on humans, oceans, and ecosystems, this lesser-of-two-evils debate should not be taken lightly.

    Given the capacity of nuclear to produce emissions-free energy with orders of magnitude less waste than coal combustion, it would appear that the environmental community's reflexive rejection of nuclear energy runs counter to its most basic charge: to employ sound science and smart policy to protect the environment and the people within it.

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    Wednesday, February 03, 2010

    WEBINAR: A Conversation with Stewart Brand

    A Conversation with Stewart Brand
    Live Webcast with a Pioneering Environmentalist
    February 18, 1 PM EST / 10 AM PST

    In Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, lifelong environmentalist Stewart Brand lays out what has been called “a mind-blowing vision for the planet's salvation: migration to the cities, power generated by mini-nuclear reactors, healthier crops through genetic engineering.” Brand, who created the 1960s and 1970s classic Whole Earth Catalog, believes that big cities (and not rural villages) are green, that nuclear power is green and that biotechnology is green. And, he says, we must take seriously the idea that geoengineering may be needed to adapt to climate change.

    Brand’s book has been widely praised. Paul Hawken calls it “likely one of the most original and important books of the century.…” Edward O. Wilson says it is “ominous and exhilirating.” Larry Brilliant says it is “an absolutely seminal work, extraordinarily well written, a tour de force of so many interconnected worlds and lives and studies.”

    In an interview with Energy Collective blogger and FORTUNE contributing editor Marc Gunther, Brand will talk about the evolution of his thinking, the research that went into the book and the reaction he’s getting from his friends in the environmental movement. We’ll also allow plenty of time for questions from listeners.

    Register today for the free webinar conversation with Stewart Brand, February 18, 2010, 1 PM EST/10 AM PST

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    Friday, October 09, 2009

    Dealing with the Devil... er, Republicans.

    Over at, Dave Roberts ponders the merits of a deal to entice Republican votes for climate legislation, and discusses the right ways to go about it. I actually spent a chunk of time yesterday leafing through the Republican "alternative" energy bill introduced in the House in June to see what exactly these Rs want for nukes and oil. It was like stepping into bizarro world. Here's what I found:

    On Oil: allow drilling on the outer continental shelf (OCS) and the arctic coastal plain (aka parts of ANWR). Extend state waters to 12 miles offshore (they are currently 3 miles, except in the Gulf I think, where it may be 12 already) so they have "an incentive to allow production in their waters, as they would receive a larger share of royalties." 75% of revenues would go to states if lease is offshore within 12 miles of their shore, 50% if farther than 12 miles from shore or in the Arctic plain . Interestingly enough, it looks like 90% of the remaining federal share of the royalties - or 22.5-45% of total royalty revenues depending on location - would go to a "Renewable and Alternative Energy Trust Fund" to fund clean energy research and deployment. Now that's not a bad idea. If we're going to give them the OCS, we should get the revenues for clean energy, so we can make oil obsolete. Sweetens the pot on what you already consider not too much of a concession (although I imagine you'd have a harder time conceding ANWR than the OCS).

    On Nukes: the big things they want are 1) to fast track the regulatory process to take 2 years time (now it usually takes 4 yrs) for new nukes using plant designs already certified by the NRC at sites adjacent to already operating reactors (and that meet a couple of other common sense criteria). 2) State that it is the goal of U.S. energy policy to build 100 new nukes by 2030, but they make clear this "would not mandatenew reactors are built" (so who cares?). 3) extend the 30% Investment Tax Credit available to solar and other renewables to new nukes and 4) keep Yucca Mountain on the table.

    I don't see anything immediately wrong with points 1 or 2. Point 3 seems in line with Robert's recommendation to "compromise with money not architecture or mandates." He writes, "As long as the compromises do not mandate nukes and drilling, or write them into the architecture of the bill, things should turn out all right." I tend to agree. Point 4 just simply won't fly while Senator Harry Reid is majority leader, so hopefully that isn't the end of this whole idea. John McCain, one of the key targets in this "Go Nuclear" strategy, has been rabidly defensive of Yucca, so we'll see...

    All in all, not that scary if it what you want is a climate bill with 60 bipartisan votes, eh? I'm pretty darned skeptical that Boxer and Kerry will be able to forge a true bipartisan consensus on climate policy, especially in the hyper-partisan atmosphere that has taken root in the U.S. Congress this year. Images of Max Baucus's "bipartisan" health care negotiations that yielded zero Republican support for his final (compromised) proposal come to mind. But if you want a climate bill this year, it's worth a shot, as long as Dem negotiators heed Roberts' advice and secure real commitments to support final passage of a bill in exchange for any giveaways to pro-nuke or pro-oil Republicans.

    Now the rest of the Republican's "American Energy Act" contains a ton of shite on oil shale and the like that make little sense from a climate context. But it also includes provisions to make the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit for renewables permanent, so maybe that should be part of any deal with Rs as well. If we're going to take a couple of their bad ideas, why not take a couple good ones as well, eh?

    Read more!

    Tuesday, December 18, 2007

    U.S. Going Nuke-ular?

    This Monday Congress agreed to guarantee loans for up to 80% of construction costs for new nuclear reactors. The legislation directs the Department of Energy to provide $20.5b for nuclear energy, $10b for renewables and $8b for “clean-coal” technology.

    Numbers don’t lie. Only $10b of almost $40b in this bill is going towards the solution. What Congress is saying with this allocation is that renewables come in a distant second behind the already proven dangerous nuclear option.

    What can be done to impress on Congress the need for real investment in real renewable energy? Focus the Nation teams have invited more than 100 members of the House and Senate to come to their campuses and discuss global warming solutions. That means about 400 of them still need to hear from you.

    There’s another number of note here. Even if we generously assume that all the historical safety issues with nuclear reactors have been solved and that we can adequately secure them from terrorist attacks, nuclear power has a very low EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) ratio. Depending on whose numbers you use, nuclear plants may in fact take more energy to construct, maintain and deconstruct than they generate over their lifetimes, which is to say the EROEI is less than one.

    Wind turbines have an EROEI between 18 and 25, and produce no emissions. Could it be any clearer?

    Apparently it needs to be made a whole lot clearer to decision-makers in D.C. On Jan. 31, hundreds of local and state elected officials are already committed to engage with us on global warming solutions. It’s time to turn up the heat on Federal legislators and demand their attention.

    Read more!

    Tuesday, July 24, 2007

    Democratic Candidates Field Questions on Climate and Energy in Recent 'People-Powered' Debates

    The 2008 Democratic presidential candidates fielded a range of questions on how they would tackle global warming and increase America's energy independence in two recent, innovative, 'people-powered' debates. Both events -'s 'Virtual Town Hall' on Climate Change and the CNN-YouTube Debates - posed questions to the candidates that were submitted by individuals via video and the internet.

    Earlier this month, the full range of candidates fielded three questions each on how they would tackle the climate crisis in MoveOn'org's Virtual Town Hall on Climate. The event was organized in conjunction with the LiveEarth global concert series, held on July 7th. You can watch the candidates' responses to each question online here.

    Last night, CNN and YouTube organized a similar event that used internet-submitted videos to pose questions from average Americans to the Democratic candidates. This format was both innovative, and in my opinion, effective. The questions were harder hitting, more pointed and even in many cases entertaining than the previous television debates. The candidates fielded three questions on energy and climate change, although not all candidates responded to the questions. You can see the three energy and climate focused questions from the debate below. The debate was broadcast live on CNN on July 23rd and you can head to the CNN-YouTube Debates website for videos of the full debate. CNN and YouTube plan another 'people-powered' debate with the Republican presidential candidates soon.

    Question: "How will you save the snowmen from global warming?" [note: this one is a humorous question on a serious topic!]

    Candidates who respond: Kucinich

    Question: "How will your policies reduce energy consumption in the United States?"

    Candidates who respond: Gravel, Dodd

    Question: "What is your stance on nuclear power?"

    Candidates who respond: Edwards, Obama, Clinton

    Read more!

    Tuesday, December 19, 2006

    Eye on China: Efficiency Overtakes Speed as Primary Goal of Economic Development


    Efficiency has replaced speed as the official priority in China's economic development, which has registered double-digit growth at the cost of high energy consumption and a deteriorating environment.

    Chinese President Hu Jintao [pictured at left] has said in recent meetings that the country would realize "efficient and rapid" economic development. His remarks replaced the decade-long goal to achieve "rapid and efficient" development.

    "China should take substantive measures to shift its focus from pursuing speed to improving the quality and efficiency of economic growth," said Hu.

    Zhong Wei, an economic professor with Beijing Normal University, said the wording change sent a strong signal that the government would list efficiency as the primary criterion to evaluate economic performance of next year.

    A high-level meeting presided over by Hu last week decided that the government would convene the annual Central Work Conference on Economy in the near future to discuss the new primary goal.

    The economy has been expanding rapidly since 1990, with an annual growth rate of 9.7 percent on average, making China the world's fourth largest economic entity last year.

    But the country has paid a price for blind pursuit of GDP. The high energy consumption, accompanied by high pollution, has posed a threat to its sustainable development and prompted criticism from around the world.

    Zhong said efficient economic growth had many implications, such as raising the proportion of the tertiary sector in the economy, reducing the output of high energy-consuming industries and developing and applying high technologies.

    The government has set a goal to reduce energy consumption per capita GDP by 20 percent in 2010 over that in 2005, which translates to around a four-percent decrease annually from 2006 to 2010.

    But Zhong said published data indicated the difficulty of attaining the goal. The economy surged by 10.9 percent in the first half, the fastest growth rate in a decade. Meanwhile, energy consumption rose, rather than fell as expected.

    Zhong speculated that the grave situation in energy efficiency had pushed the government to make the changes and list efficiency at the top of the economic agenda.

    In other news, China will join the steering committee of the United States' FutureGen project. China thus becomes the third country to join the United States in the FutureGen International Partnership. South Korea joined the FutureGen initiative in June 2006.

    The US and China also signed an Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Protocol renewing cooperation in advancing clean technology including solar, wind, and biomass. The agreements were made as an outcome of the US-China Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) in Beijing.

    "We welcome China and their expertise to the FutureGen project," said U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. "China and the US share a common energy resource in coal, so it is imperative that we work together to find ways to use coal effectively, efficiently, and without contributing emissions."

    The $1 billion FutureGen prototype plant, targeted to begin operation in 2012, is a nominal 275 MW facility that will remove and sequester carbon dioxide while producing electricity and hydrogen from coal, making it the environmentally cleanest fossil-fuel fired power plant in the world.

    Separately, China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Company (SNPTC) selected the Westinghouse Advanced Passive 1000 (AP1000) as the technology basis for four new nuclear power plants. Westinghouse is now a group company of Toshiba.

    The AP1000 has been identified as the technology of choice for 12 new projected plants in the United States as well. The NRC approved the final design certification for the AP1000 reactor in January 2006.

    Read more!