Future of energy must include nuclear

On Monday, Feb 24, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) unveiled its Future of Energy advertising campaign with a press conference at the National Press Club.

The campaign will stress four major aspects of nuclear energy that are not as well understood as they should be.

It will talk about the importance of nuclear energy in a diverse portfolio of electricity generation sources, the value of the high quality jobs associated with the industry, the environmental benefits it provides as a clean air source of power generation and the exciting technologies being developed that will enhance nuclear energy’s value in the future.

The campaign features four primary spokespeople, Leslie Dewan, Patrick Moore, Mark Verbeck, and Vicky Bailey. Each of these people approach their advocacy of nuclear energy from different perspectives.

Leslie Dewan recently earned her PhD in Nuclear Engineering from MIT. While there, she partnered with a fellow student to develop a conceptual design for a reactor that will run on the material that is discharged as “waste” from the current generation of power plants. Instead of seeing that valuable material placed into deep underground repositories, Leslie and her team at Transatomic Power would prefer to use the material to create vast quantities of emission free electricity that could help, as she mentioned at the press conference, save the polar bears. Here is what Leslie said about her excitement and future optimism.

There is so much new technology out there and so many new avenues to explore. The ones that are personally most exciting to me are reactors that can consume nuclear waste, achieve high burn-ups and produce lower amounts of waste in turn. Also reactors that are highly resistant to loss of off-site electrical power. I think those are the most compelling avenues for new nuclear technology.
(Starts at 19:15)

Patrick Moore earned his PhD in ecology from the University of British Columbia. He was one of the founders of Greenpeace when the organization had a laser focus on developing attention-getting protests designed to halt the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. After spending many years with the organization and getting involved in a number of additional campaigns, he decided that he wanted to start fighting for good things instead of fighting against everything. He became a proponent for nuclear energy because he believes it is a sustainable, zero emission replacement for fossil fuels.

As Moore described during the press conference, he believes society should be using as much nuclear and hydro power as possible to create electricity so that we conserve valuable hydrocarbon resources for future generations. He states there is no viable substitute for liquid hydrocarbon fuels for transportation and points out that nuclear energy can help make it possible to convert coal into a liquid fuel when it is needed in transportation. He called on his fellow environmentalists to pay attention to logic and intellectual consistency.

In order to remain logically consistent with being concerned about climate change and carbon emissions, you have to accept nuclear energy. They argue that it is too expensive, which is not correct. They argue that it’s dangerous, which, if you look at the statistics is also not correct. It’s one of the safest technologies we’ve ever invented in terms of damage per kilowatt hour produced. So in the final analysis, it’s just plain logical to support nuclear energy.

Even some environmentalists who are reluctant to support the status quo in terms of nuclear energy are now coming out in favor of the idea of new technologies for nuclear as a way of not being quite in favor of how it is now, but looking towards the future and admitting that there are good possibilities for this technology down the road.
(Starts at 17:36)

Mark Verbeck is the nuclear reactor training manager at Vogtle. He is a second generation nuclear energy professional with more than thirty years of experience, starting with a stint in the nuclear navy on submarines and then entering into commercial reactor operations. He is deeply committed to the process of helping to create hundreds of high paying, long term jobs.

Vicky Bailey is an energy entrepreneur and former commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. She will focus on the importance of a diverse energy generation portfolio to ensure grid stability at affordable and predictable prices.

The campaign will include TV ads on shows frequently watched by legislators, executive branch agencies and staffs, Washington DC drive time radio, print ads in publications like the Washington Post, Politico and the Hill and a strong reliance on social media. A major thrust of the campaign is to stimulate serious discussion among people who can influence energy policies. Here is how Scott Peterson, NEI’a senior vice president for communications, summarized the campaign strategy and goals during the introductory press conference.

It’s not really a national campaign as much as it is a national policy maker focused campaign. Most of what this campaign will touch will be inside the Beltway, really trying to continue the conversation with policy makers, whether that’s on The Hill, with the White House or even the Governor’s staff and the Governor’s offices that are staffed here.

So we really see this as touching the policy discussion so it is focused here in Washington DC. I think with our partners that have helped us with this that we have been able to leverage two million dollars pretty well in getting the exposure from this campaign that we want. A lot of this is digital in nature. A key to this is not just seeing the ad, it’s actually participating in the conversation.
(Starts at 31:58)

During the Q&A session, a reporter from the Las Vegas Review-Journal asked about nuclear waste policy. The response was worth repeating.

Q: It doesn’t seem like Congress is close to any new consensus on issues of nuclear waste management. I’m wondering if that’s a drag at this point or if you plan to incorporate nuclear waste issues into the campaign moving forward.

Peterson: I think Leslie has an answer for that for the long term.

Dewan: I think that this country needs to investigate new ways of dealing with nuclear waste because nuclear waste has a tremendous amount of energy left inside it. That is, in part, why it is so difficult to store and why it is so dangerous. I think we need to start viewing it, rather than as just a problem that needs to be disposed of, as a new source of energy that we can mine.

Moore: There’s no doubt about that, but it’s also not time sensitive. If it takes a decade or two for Leslie’s reactor to come into production, that’s not a problem. It just has to be kept in the steel and concrete containers that it’s traditionally stored in now. They are good for a hundred years out in the weather. If you put a roof over them they’d be fine for a thousand years.

So you could wait three hundred years to use it, but it looks like Leslie has designs on it sooner than than. (Audience chuckles)

In response to a follow-up question, Peterson indicated that NEI agrees with the findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission about establishing centralized storage and an eventual repository, but reminded the audience that past repository concepts have included retrievability, meaning that the material could be removed from the repository if new technologies can use it. Based on the content of the thought leader campaign, NEI believes that it’s worth discussing the idea that technologies that consume used fuel have already been invented and may be widely available in the foreseeable future.

This may represent a subtle shift in strategy for the NEI. The nuclear industry has not done much work until recently to help people understand that there is a different way of looking at high level nuclear waste. Instead of allowing nuclear energy opponents to characterize the material as a terrible burden that our generation must avoid leaving to future generations, the message that NEI is helping Leslie and Patrick to amplify is that the material is valuable fuel that should be carefully preserved — perhaps on centralized above ground storage sites — so that it is available to use as fuel for advanced reactors.

Used fuel is not a burden; it’s a resource. One of the many messages in NEI’s new campaign is that it’s time to help policy makers to more productively address the “waste issue” by introducing someone with a perspective that might break up the current political impasse.

About Rod Adams

35 Responses to “Future of energy must include nuclear”

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  1. James Greenidge says:

    This is all very well and a commendable step forward, NEI, but why not take a load off from playing PR by ear and pick up the phone to the Ad agencies that the Gas Industry is so successfully tapping and test out ads for a few weeks in the NYC metro market where Indian Point and Millstone and Oyster Creek and such can sure use the media education air support? Besides, Puppy Rescue would wag happy to nudge shoulders with commercials by organizations with pockets as deep as theirs.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  2. Daniel says:

    This is very interesting, but in the long run we are all dead. For certain nuclear plants in merchant states, those operated by Entergy in Illinois, we are talking end of operation in 2014.

    Grid reliability is totally ignored by the ISO (Independent System Operators) in all merchant states and mind you it is their day time jobs ! They have known about this forever but ignored giving this a financial premium.

    Entergy pointed out that before ISO wakes up it will be too late and nuclear plants will close (But it is their day time job!)

    Last week, Moniz woke up and said that grid reliability provided by stable base load forces had to be given value. (This one just woke up. He did not know about this 3 weeks ago)

    Who and how can the ISO dinosaurs react before they instinct us ?

    The nuclear fleet is a national asset. We have less than 10 months left for 4 or 5 plants and soon all plants operating in artificially priced merchant states.

    • Pete51 says:

      There is still plenty of year left, but so far the spot electricity prices have been high enough so that the merchant nukes should be making some profit this year. The daily Midwest spot price is near 10 cents/kwh.

      However, the even higher power prices in New England evidently aren’t enough to save Vermont Yankee. I agree it is definitely something to be concerned about. Also, I think you might mean Exelon in Illinois, not Entergy. Quad Cities and Clinton could be the next plants scheduled for closure.

  3. Jim L. says:

    I am glad to see the NEI make this move. I hear Shell’s fracking commercial nearly a dozen times a day between radio, Pandora, and cable TV and feel the power of all the repetition. I believe the Shell ad campaign has aided them in NE Ohio and people are open to responsible fracking. I hope that the NEI campaign will be successful too – it is important for nuclear power to be part of the conversation. As the saying goes: “If you aren’t sitting at the table, you are going to be on the menu.”

  4. starvinglion says:

    “Leslie and her team at Transatomic Power would prefer to use the material to create vast quantities of emission free electricity that could help”

    Another worthless “company” producing paper designs that don’t work.

    “He is deeply committed to the process of helping to create hundreds of high paying, long term jobs.”

    Really? Of course there is no mention as to what they actually are.

    “He states there is no viable substitute for liquid hydrocarbon fuels for transportation and points out that nuclear energy can help make it possible to convert coal into a liquid fuel when it is needed in transportation. ”

    Got to love the nuclear “industry”. They can’t even make up their conceptual mind whether to support electrification, synthetic fuels, or the hydrogen economy. They normally bash the fossil fuels as if nuclear France and Japan can just do without.

    • PilotBob says:

      I agree there are options to burning hydrocarbons for transportation. With unlimited electricity it makes sense to use electric vehicles for short distance use cases and hydrogen with fuel cells for long distance.

      Also, I think the compressed air car needs to get alot more attention. It seems a viable and practical approach that is working, and filling up the air tanks using electrically driven air compressors that are run with nuclear generated electricity seems very renewable and green.

      There is the side effect to drastically reducing the use of hydrocarbons for electricity generation and that is, there is more available for legacy transportation vehicles. Also, fossil fuels are also used in the manufacture of many of the modern products we use today.

      So yes, I also thought is was strange when a Nuclear advocate couldn’t come up with ways to also use that electricity to supplant other CO2 burning uses of hydrocarbons.

      • NP says:

        Compressed air is very inefficient way to “drive” anything.

        I love your “unlimited electricity”, is that also too cheap to meter, or too cheap to compete with nat gas and solar….LOL

        • Dogmug says:

          I know what you mean. It’s kind of like “Free” solar and “Free” wind energy.

          Ain’t no free lunch in this world. On the other hand, driving nuclear energy prices as high as possible has been an effective business strategy for fossil fuel entities and an effective political strategy for anti-nuclear activists.

          Nuclear energy isn’t too cheap to meter; it’s just cheap enough to threaten trillions of dollars of entrenched energy and political interests.

          • Joris van Dorp says:

            I think the ‘too cheap to meter’ statement was primarily meant to illustrate the fact that producing electricity with nuclear power was almost completely dependent on the initial investment cost, rather than the ongoing O&M costs.

            Because nuclear electricity was also very cheap per unit of energy, it could in principle be more convenient and cost-effective to simply charge customers for their peak power demand, rather than their energy demand. Hence the statement: “too cheap to meter”. It was in no way intended to imply that nuclear energy was or would ever be free. It therefore bears no resemblance to modern claims of ‘free’ solar or ‘free’ wind energy, IMO.

      • Mitch says:

        Can’t understand why anti-nukers love to hang nuclear energy on some nobody’s catchy slogen “too cheap to meter”. All taxpayers are always told at the beginning that new highways and bridges are going to be toll-free once they’re all paid up but always fail the promise, so people not going to buy or drive or love their cars any less because of that?

    • Joel Riddle says:

      starvinglion, if there was a definitive answer at this point to which combination of electrification, synthetic fuels, or hydrogen was going to ultimately be the most economical, you would have a point. The key take-away is that each of the 3 could hold merit in providing longer-term sustainability than fossil fuels if the source of their primary energy were fission fuels rather than fossil fuels.

  5. William Vaughn says:

    I think Bailey is presenting a confused message when she includes coal as part of a low-carbon energy portfolio. I’m assuming that she includes natural gas because it is necessary for the practical operation of any renewable energy plant. It would be interesting to know if she sees the disconnect in her message.

    We don’t have to stop mining coal but we need to stop burning it. It will become a precious resource for future generations when carbon-fibre and graphene technology take off. We need it now to make steel and in the future as a building material. It’s probably the only material that would support a space elevator.

    • Daniel says:

      Please expand on space élévator.

      • Rod Adams says:

        Please don’t. That kind of speculation is off topic.

        • John Tucker says:

          Is it in every way? One of the major successes of atomic power recently in the media is the curiosity rover. No one can deny that. Not to mention things like the ever impressive voyager accumulation of accomplishments.

          Why are these not (at least visually) part of the discussion? They are certainly will be central to nuclear power in the long run. If there is one.

  6. Pete51 says:

    Another person advocating for a nuclear future is James Hansen. He recently wrote the following piece on what he sees as needing to be accomplished to reduce CO2 emissions.


    A few snippets:
    “France achieved the greatest reduction of energy intensity (Fig. 4b) via a shift over about a 10-year period to nuclear power for 80% of its electricity.”

    … “the United States and China should agree to cooperate in rapid deployment to scale in China of advanced, safe nuclear power for peaceful purposes, specifically to provide clean electricity replacing aging and planned coal-fired power plants, as well as averting the need for extensive planned coal gasification in China , the most carbon-intensive source of electricity.”

    Rod- This sentence seems to be a smoking gun, of sorts.
    “The asymmetry finally hit me over the head when a renewable energy advocate told me that the main purpose of renewable portfolio standards (RPS) was to “kill nuclear”.”

    There could be some truth in that. They are purposefully called RENEWABLE portfolio standards, so as to exclude nuclear from the start. Hansen recommends they instead should be called Carbon Free Portfolio Standards.

    • John Tucker says:

      His article on lives saved by nuclear is one of a few they include in the “clean air” additional info section. I had to jump around a bit through the carbs to get to the meat. But at least its in there to some extent. Id increase the technical resources if I were them. And tweak the artwork, layout and color of the first page.

      • Joris van Dorp says:

        James Hansen has got it right. I love reading his stuff.

        “Killing nuclear power” is the worst policy goal imaginable if climate change is to be solved. Environmentalist who maintain such policy are mere pretenders.

        To get the world off cheap fossils, you need a replacement that is both clean and cheap. By focusing on replacements that are clean but expensive, anti-nuke environmentalists are putting future generations at risk. Anti-nuke claims about ‘the risk to future generations’ of nuclear power is getting it completely backwards.

  7. William Vaughn says:

    Thanks for the heads up on Hansen article. I think everyone who reads this blog should read it. It puts the whole nuclear advocacy enterprise into a nice, coherent framework.

    However, that first sentence you quoted has a “typo” in it (I’ve notified Hansen):
    It should read “…greatest reduction of *carbon* intensity (Fig. 4b) via …”.

  8. NP says:

    They might want to hold off on the “Clean Air Energy” tagline until the news dies down on the 13 WIPP workers on the outside of the plant who took significant lung doses.

    • John Tucker says:

      “significant lung doses.” you have a source for that? or do you mean just significant for detection ? Ive seen no indication of the significance of the doses. Only that they were tested for external contamination and that came up negative.

      This is a radionuclide used in consumer smoke detectors and a contaminant in nuclear weapons manufacturing.

      Why would that influence NP to a reasonable person? That site handles all manners of wastes. Spent fuel is a standardized unit which definitive storage and handling procedures can be formulated around. .

    • ddpalmer says:

      You might want to hold off on the “significant lung doses” tagline until you have some actual facts to back up that claim.

    • Mitch says:

      Whether the workers took doses or not why shouldn’t WIPP or nuclear plants keep the “Clean Air Energy” tagline? You know how many workers get snuffed at work at “Clean Energy” natural gas in just one year and it hasn’t slowed their ads saying it any!

  9. John T Tucker says:

    A little perspective :

    There are over 500 coal power plants operating in the US.

    Each (500 MW) each YEAR releases (fly ash and captured) around 2.6 tons of uranium (containing 37 pounds of uranium-235) and 6.4 tons of thorium mixed in with the silicates in the ash and sludge with other stuff. But that doesn’t even matter really. What does:

    3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide.
    10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide.
    10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide.
    500 tons of small particles.
    220 tons of hydrocarbons. (VOCs, Dioxins, etc…)
    720 tons of carbon monoxide.
    125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber.
    225 pounds of arsenic, 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, and many other toxic heavy metals
    Around 170 pounds of mercury (no controls) 17 pounds to the air with controls.(the rest in the scrubber/sludge ash)

    ( http://www.desmogblog.com/coal-power-industry-united-states-facts )
    ( http://web.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/rev26-34/text/colmain.html )

    • Mitch says:

      You just don’t get it John! 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide is totally nothing to anybody’s health compared a fly turd amount of anything radioactive, right???

      • John T Tucker says:

        I wish, A fly turd would be Kilimanjaro compared to the stuff they freak out about.

    • Paul W Primavera says:

      Thanks, John T Tucker. I copied and pasted your comment to my Facebook page.

      • John Tucker says:

        Its hard for even me to believe Paul. I have referenced it a few times and it still shocks me. And the closer you look the worse it gets. The Mercury stuff is actually from EPA documents but all of it is correct to the best of my knowledge. Honestly, why does it seem no one cares?

        • Eino says:

          They do care. The EPA is forcing coal plants all over the country to put in ACI (Activated Carbon Injection) to lessen the amount of mercury emitted. Scrubbers are being built all over for the Sulfur products.

          It’s hard to get too excited about something that has been a big thing since the days of Watt and Newcomen. Nukes ain’t been around so long. Easy to be scared about something new. Nukes are built like fortresses. It looks like they are hiding something.

          • Paul W Primavera says:

            Thanks Eino. But the problem is that even if the mercury is scrubbed out, it still exists in the refuse from the scrubbers and that refuse must be disposed of.

  10. Eino says:

    “It’s not really a national campaign as much as it is a national policy maker focused campaign. Most of what this campaign will touch will be inside the Beltway,”

    OK so I’m not going to see these ads interspersed between the beer commercials while watching a ball game. They aren’t meant for me. They aren’t meant for the hoi polloi.

    This sort of reminded me of the talk of special interests lobbying in Washington. I guess it should because that is who the group putting on the ads is, a special interest group. It made me think they are trying to influence politicians and have nuclear power “trickle down” to the rest of us.

    Then I got to thinking that some sort of grass roots campaign would be better. This is what many of the environmentalist groups appear to be. then I thought a little more, ……yah but the environmentalist groups are really financed by big players and the image is mostly sham.

    Then I came to the conclusion. They ought to be targeting the 1%. These are the people that have their people pick up the phone and tell the politicians how to vote. Maybe ads reminding rich people that they breathe the same air as the rest of us. Tell them that there may be mercury in their caviar. Tell them that there may be less fish in the sea for them to catch when they are out with their big yachts. Then tell them that nuclear power can help.

  11. John Tucker says:

    Much of Europe that depends to some extent on Russian gas has to be sweating the Ukraine situation out. Ive seen many comments around the web saying Ukraine is completely Dependant on Russian gas. That isnt true. Ukraine gets around 48 percent of its electric power from Nuclear.

    The largest NPP in Europe is in Ukraine.

    They are Dependant on Russia for fuel (which has a significant resupply lag time) but at one point Westinghouse was making fuel for some of their reactors. They signed a long term contract with Russian TVEL in 2010. I imagine they will be contacting Westinghouse soon.

    Nuclear Power in Ukraine ( http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-T-Z/Ukraine/ )

    Thankfully without Russian gas everyone wont freeze as nuclear power is less influenced by immediate market conditions (another selling point) but that situation in general is becoming more worrisome.

  12. Bahjat Tabbara says:

    Nuclear power is essential for the future. In retrospect, Gen. III+ reactors are somewhat over-engineered in terms of safety and regulatory requirements. All these drive costs up, and ultimately, no body is ordering sufficient numbers to acquire the economies of scale. I am not suggesting we ‘downgrade’ them in any way; but the Chinese experience has shown some interesting (and developing results).

    The Chinese have about 12 CPR1000 (Gen. 2+) operational. These were quick and relatively cheap to construct (as little as $1500-1800/kW) but like their other fleets; they are all Gen. 2/2+ technology; and China won’t purchase so many of them.

    Now they are embarking on Gen. 3+ including the EPR, AP1000 and (newly announced) ACC1000; a fusion between the Gen. 3 ACP1000 and Gen. 3+ ACPR1000+ reactors. It is not clear how rapidly these can be produced. Full scale production of AP1000/CAP1000 will be slow and a learning curve.