Atomic Insights Radar July 20-26 2014

It’s been a busy week, but the following stories appeared on the Atomic Insights radar and are being tracked for additional information.

President Obama has revealed the names of the people that he intends to submit to the Senate for confirmation as NRC commissioners to replace the recently retired Commissioner Apostolakis and soon-to-depart Commissioner Magwood. Both of the nominees replacing the departing technical experts are lawyers.

Stephen Burns retired from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2012 after 33 years of service starting in 1978. His last position was as General Counsel; he was involved in issuing two controversial opinions – one regarding the seizure of emergency powers by Chairman Jaczko in the aftermath of Fukushima and one regarding Chairman Jaczko’s decision to follow the direction of his political protectors to halt review of the Yucca Mountain license application.

Jeff Baran has been a senior energy policy staffer for Rep. Henry Waxman and for the Democratic staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

NEI has provided an initial reaction to the announcement. Both men have been endorsed by Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Ed Markey, and Michael Mariotte of NIRS. Atomic Insights does not yet know enough about either man to offer more details, but the hunt is on.

Southern Company made an announcement that should start a new round of enthusiasm for nuclear energy expansion. Apparently, it believes that the progress being made at Vogtle is good enough to support a decision to start additional projects using the same AP1000 design that they are learning to build now. Southern has recognized the potential benefits of keeping the team together for future accomplishments.

NRDC is apparently surprised to find out that the only realistic replacement power source for San Onofre is natural gas.

In a related development, I was only partially surprised to learn about the strength of NRDC’s relationship to a number of petroleum plutocrats. Now I have a better idea why NRDC folks, in personal communications, have admitted to me that their funders would never allow them to express support for nuclear energy as a useful tool in the effort to reduce CO2 emissions.

The most surprising part of that discovery was that the initial clue came from @ShaleGasExpert when he linked to a story titled America’s Plutocrats and PovertyKeepers. That post, featured on described the actions of numerous foundations to fund actions that oppose both Canadian oil production increases and unlocking natural gas abundance from shale rock.

The names of the foundations — Tides, Rockefeller Brothers, Ford, Pew — and NGOs — Friends of the Earth, Sierra, NRDC, WWF — were familiar since all have been deeply involved in opposing the expansion of nuclear energy for many years. This is more evidence supporting my theory that the underlying goal of many groups that attempt to use the cloak of environmentalism is to reduce abundance for all in order to increase profits for plutocrats. Commodity industry profits are generally much higher in high price markets driven by scarcity, either actual or perceived. Restricting production is exactly what “strategic parkification,” pipeline battles, coal demonization, antifracking initiatives and nuclear waste constipation efforts are designed to accomplish.

Of course, there are many sincere idealists who are concerned about the actual issues, but most of them have never had the ability to write multi-million dollar checks and most have never had any family petroleum-sourced wealth to protect.

Lockheed Martin, a $45-$50 billion (revenue) per year defense contractor, has a growing interest in nuclear energy. It has a small development activity in Dallas aiming at the Chinese market for nuclear plant control systems. There are some rumors indicating that it also has an interest in purchasing a majority stake in a recently shrunk small modular reactor enterprise.

Iran and negotiators from the 5 + 1 group (US, UK, France, China, Russia plus Germany) have agreed to a new deadline of November 24, 2014 for the finalization of an agreement about Iran’s nuclear energy development. Iran has stated that it needs 190,000 SWU (separative work units) per year to fuel its reactor in Bushear, the Tehran reactor used to produce medical isotopes, and its research reactor in Arak. That amount of enrichment capacity for those three identified reasons seems reasonable based on the following quote from the World Nuclear Association page about uranium enrichment.

About 140,000 SWU is required to enrich the annual fuel loading for a typical 1000 MWe light water reactor at today’s higher enrichment levels.

ANS Nuclear Cafe published an article titled Research Reactor License Renewal Challenges. So far, there are two heartfelt comments on that article that indicate that there is a large iceberg under the surface that needs further exploration. Research reactors are vital tools for the continuing development of nuclear technologies, not just energy, but isotopes and other radiation applications. They are also a key resource in the training and education infrastructure. We cannot let existing assets deteriorate and should work to reduce decommissioning pressures.

That is not enough, of course. Most of the existing reactors were built before I graduated from college and I am now a semi-retired grandfather. We need to invest in modern tools and in the ability to license and build new devices safely and efficiently.

PS – I have couple excuses for not posting more recently. My wife and I had the honor of attending the US Naval Academy Change of Command on Wednesday and watching one of my classmates take over as the new Superintendent. More than 100 of my USNA class of 1981 classmates attended. All of them have served admirably and many have achieved impressive accomplishments. It was great to reconnect with so many fine leaders.

The experience also proved that the people who chose white as the Navy’s summer uniform understood the technical importance of color in solar energy absorption while the people who decided that professional civilian men in the DC area should wear dark suits, long sleeve shirts and ties even in the summer were probably sadists. Man, was it hot in the Superintendent’s garden on Wednesday.

Another activity that has been competing with my writing has been playing with my grandchildren, especially our 4-year-old granddaughter. She recently spent 6 weeks in a partial body cast, but we tried to make sure she did not have too much idle time. Here is a photo of us picking peaches at a local orchard.

Picking peaches in purple cast.

Picking peaches in purple cast.

On the Atomic Insights radar – converts from antis to nuclear energy supporters

Here are some items worth watching or listening to when you have some free time: On January 28, the Colbert Report included an interview with Michael Shellenberger of The Breakthrough Institute. Colbert introduced Michael as “an environmentalist who believes in nuclear energy. Finally, liberals who glow in the dark.” On January 30, Mark Lynas, a […]

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On the Atomic Insights Radar – November 19, 2012

On Friday, Nov 16, I wrote about the potential impact of applying a “peanut butter spread” sequestration algorithm to the NRC budget. (I spent a few years as a government budget analyst, so I sometimes speak the lingo.) If the accountants at the Office of Management and Budget continue on their proposed path, the NRC […]

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