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 would receive an $86 million budget cut, which is 8.2% of their total top line, even though 87% of its current budget is paid by fees that are assessed on nuclear licensees and applicants for nuclear licences.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, the Edison Electric Institute, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the American Public Power Association think that is a really bad idea, so they have signed out a joint letter to Mr. Jeffrey Zients, Acting Director of the OMB. That letter explains their objections using an engineer’s rational language. I hope that others follow that letter with individual appeals to congressmen, senators and the President. Those appeals should be much shorter and perhaps include a select emotional pleas.

There is a an excellent letter in The Hill’s Congress Blog from John Droz, a physicist who recognizes that “all of the above” is often a really lazy answer that leads to terrible policies. One of his main targets is the continuing policy of providing massive public subsidies to inherently unreliable power systems that need enormous collectors to capture diffuse natural energy flows.

John’s letter is titled Getting past the hype behind wind energy; it is a sharply pointed stick aimed directly at the bubble of failed promises from the wind industry.

Here is a sample quote to encourage you to go read the rest of the article:

AWEA says that Congress should provide a tax credit for high income earners to pay less than their “fair share,” while middle class taxpayers borrow $12+ Billion from China, to subsidize an expensive, unreliable, environmentally destructive, alternative energy source, based on unsubstantiated claims, that will actually result in net job losses! Exactly how is that a good idea?

So what should be our energy policy? How about “All of the Sensible”?

The BBC is reporting that major partners in the always absurd “Desertec” scheme to supply 15% of Europe’s power by building massive solar collectors in North Africa and shipping the electricity through cables laid under the Mediterranean are pulling out of the project after spending money for four years with nothing to show for their troubles. I would bet that a substantial portion of the money they spent came directly or indirectly from stressed taxpayers who should also be wondering what they were getting out of the scheme.

As evidence of the fantasy world that the Desertec project promoters inhabit, the article concludes with some of the supporters claiming that Chinese investors will save the project because they are interested in obtaining the high voltage cable technology that the project would need to transmit the power over long distances. Right.

The Energy Report includes a sensible piece of analysis titled US Shale Gas Won’t Last Ten Years: Bill Powers. Bill Powers is the author of a book that is due out in the spring of 2013 titled Cold, Hungry and in the Dark: Exploding the Natural Gas Supply Myth. His theory sounds quite a bit like the one I have proposed here several times – there are people who are promoting the idea that gas is going to be cheap as a way to drive up the demand and profit when the price skyrockets after supply fails to keep up with the hyped promise.

Here is a sample quote:

The decline is a set-up for a gas crisis, a supply crunch that will lead to much higher prices similar to what we saw in the 1970s.

Interestingly, during the lead-up to that crisis, the gas industry mounted a significant advertising campaign trumpeting the theme, “There’s plenty of gas!” Now, it is true that there was a huge ramp-up for gas during the post-World War II period that lasted through the late 1960s as demand for gas for the U.S. manufacturing base grew rapidly. But we hit a production peak in the early 1970s during a time of rapidly growing demand. This led to a huge spike in prices that lasted until 1984.

It was very difficult to destroy demand, so the crisis was resolved by building hundreds of coal-fired power plants and dozens of nuclear power plants. But today, gas-fired plants are popular as we try to turn away from coal. This time around, those options are no longer available. Nuclear plants are still an option, but the time and money involved in keeping our aging nuclear power plant fleet operational, let alone building new plants, will be quite significant.

My addition to the theory is that the nuclear renaissance has been one of the primary targets of the gas industry’s long lasting price war. By keeping prices far below international prices and true production costs, the gas industry has effectively turned off several projects, shelved others and inserted several years worth of delays into yet another group. Natural gas strategists recognize the impact of inertia and know that prices will remain high — and very profitable — for quite some time before new nuclear plant capacity can be completed and begin intruding on the supply crunch.

Meredith Angwin has published an important series of posts on Yes Vermont Yankee. When the Vermont Public Service Board held a hearing on November 7 to determine if the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station should receive a Certificate of Public Good, the plant supporters outnumbered the opposition by at least 2 to 1. Meredith obtained transcripts and permission to publish most of the testimonies offered by the supporters. One of my favorites was from a 13 year old boy whose father works at the plant. That contribution is titled Vital for the Region and My Family, A Teen-Agers View of Vermont Yankee: Guest Post by Evan Twarog.

On Canadian Energy Issues, Steve Aplin recognizes the important pro nuclear activism work that Meredith has been doing in Vermont and also shares some stories about how nuclear professionals and their supporters have entered into the public discourse about nuclear energy use in Canada. You can find Steve’s commentary at Nuclear power in Vermont and Ontario: the locals fight back, intelligently.

Here is a sample quote:

Meredith has been fighting a relentless and resourceful campaign to keep Yankee open. In this, she reminds me a bit of the formerly obscure but now famous baseball outsiders who revolutionized thinking about the sport and who were immortalized in Michael Lewis’s brilliant book Moneyball: the art of winning an unfair game. Like major league baseball, nuclear advocacy in Vermont is definitely an unfair game: Yankee opponents are wired to the mainstream media and were successful years ago in defining the rhetorical frame in which the nuclear plant’s existence is debated in the public sphere. But like the Moneyballers, Meredith’s intelligence will win in the end. Like I said, she is relentless.

Steve mentioned that there is another interactive public hearing about Vermont Yankee scheduled for today, November 19. I hope that Meredith’s series of posts help to improve the pro nuclear turnout for that event.

Disclosure: I consider both Steve and Meredith to be personal friends as well as fellow pro nuclear travelers. We cemented our friendship during a terrific tour of French nuclear facilities in the summer of 2010. As Meredith often points out, pro nuclear people need to get together now and again over brownies. Getting together over fine food and wine after a day of visiting economically important infrastructure is also a pleasant way to build a community.

About Rod Adams

7 Responses to “On the Atomic Insights Radar – November 19, 2012”

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  1. Brian Mays says:

    Droz must be really getting under their skin, considering the number of hit-pieces in the “environmental” media that I’ve read about him in the last year or so.

    Of course, the fact that he is a senior fellow at the American Tradition Institute makes him an easy target to demonize to the usual “check-your-brain-at-the-door” type of audience that normally reads these propaganda rags. The reality, however, as far as I can tell, is that he’s just an independent, monetarily self-sufficient retired guy with time on his hands and a passion for taking up what he perceives to be worthy causes. That’s what I think drives the lobbyists and “environmental” media crazy.

    When he lived in New York, he worked to change the state’s water rules to improve oversight of companies bottling and selling groundwater. Originally, he was naively in favor of wind power, but after further investigation, he saw the scam, and he has been a campaigner against this scam ever since.

    He has opinions on other matters that I think Rod would disagree with, which is why I’m a bit surprised to see his name show up on this blog.

    • John Droz says:


      Thank you for your kind words.

      My entire focus is on getting science to be the basis of our energy and environmental policies. I’m sure that Rod shares that perspective.

      Thank you for the H/T re commercial water extraction – which I worked on for over ten years. Then, like now, I have been paid a dime by anyone.

      BTW I still have a summer cottage in the Adirondacks.


      Thank you for the reference!

      • Rod Adams says:

        @John Droz

        Thank you for the work that you are doing in raising awareness of the way that the wind energy promoters are leading decision makers and society to a dead end path — and personally profiting by the fleecing.

        I think your comment, however, is missing a word in the following statement:

        Then, like now, I have been paid a dime by anyone.

        I suspect you meant:

        Then, like now, I have not been paid a dime by anyone.

  2. Gunnar Littmarck says:

    Hi Rod Adams,

    The United States must streamline its nuclear bureaucracy. South Korea has the same rules in principle but much cheaper application.
    Earlier APR-1400 cost $2,3 / We but after that country last summer, has developed its nuclear industry to self-sufficiency, the cost has fallen further.

    $4,7G for two APR-1400 sounds near the costs in India. (they plan to sell 90 APR to 2030 and then they have to be very productive)

    “In April 2009 the government authorized construction of Shin Ulchin 1 & 2 and contracts for major components were signed in March 2010. First concrete for unit 1 was poured at the end of July 2012, with completion expected in April 2017. Unit 2 is a year behind it. The two units will be the first to be virtually free of Westinghouse IP content and are expected to cost US$ 4.7 billion. Site works commenced in May 2012.”


    As you know APR builds in pair for synergy effects.

    Now Korea prepare for all permits to be given by an authority in a month’s time.
    Consider that in the U.S., a month from application to build a nuclear plant until the concrete can be ordered. That is what US have to develop if the country will win the energy race. (personally I don´t think they can reach a month in the next ten years, but the ambition sound right)

    South Korea has recognized that laws, regulations and enforcement is an effective way to increase the competitiveness of the industry.
    Recent abolished 600 laws and 3500 rules at once.

    See the corporate tax rate, it was lowered to 15% while many loopholes clogged (compare with the U.S., where tax planning is often more profitable than corporate production).

    India’s nuclear power industry is getting ready for mass production, which already built GenIII cheaper than the equivalent coal power plant, so considering coal´s expensive logistics, nuclear power in India will be cheaper even if coal would be for free.

    Nuclear reactors must be mass produced to have a chance, I´m for smr.

    But I see most hope in small msr-burner that is the way to get rid of all arguments from the green movement, even they can´t go against nuclear waste burner.

    Oake Ridge finished a study 2010 that conclude msr whit fast neutron spectrum may be the best way.

    My best //gunnar

    • jmdesp says:

      There’s quite a bit of opposition to nuclear in India with some large scale protest.

      Given how much less polluting the nuclear plant are than the coal one that would be built instead and the small impact on population, I wonder what’s really happening.

      If the nuclear industry was a little bit smart, they would pay to some of the most adamant nuclear opponent in India a trip to the Clinton Lake State Recreation area and show them Americans fishing bass, bluegill, crappie, channel catfish, bullhea, etc. in the Clinton Lake a few hundred meters down the discharge canal of Clinton Nuclear Power Station.
      At Tamil Nadu, the Indians are *convinced* nuclear will kill their fishing industry, and apparently figurING that nuclear is something that impacts the local environment even more than coal.

    • Brian Mays says:

      The United States must streamline its nuclear bureaucracy. South Korea has the same rules in principle but much cheaper application.

      Gunnar – I don’t know whether you follow US politics, but the recent trend in the US is towards a North-Korean-style top-down approach to policy — with more bureaucracy, more regulation, more control by government-appointed “experts” who answer only to politicians — rather than the more entrepreneurial and market-driven economic climate enjoyed in the South.

      In fact, given their way, some of the “experts” in current US administration might be able to realize finally their ultimate dream: the US enjoying a perpetual “Earth Hour” every day, much like what the North Koreans have.

      Currently, the “nuclear bureaucracy” in the US is headed by an unqualified anti-nuke (the second in a series) whose sole reason for being appointed was to keep the Yucca Mountain Project derailed, thereby giving her fellow anti-nukes (like her husband) reason to continue to scream about how bad nuclear power is because we can’t do anything with the waste. As a result of the recent elections, it is likely that she’ll stick around for at least four more years.

  3. Meredith Angwin says:

    Hi Rod

    Thank you and Steve for the friendship and the great posts! I just came back from the Interactive TV hearing. Our side had quite a few speakers, including some very moving statements about air quality. I need to blog about this, but I admit I am tired right now.

    I just wanted to say that I do not have “most” of the testimony on my blog from the November 7 meeting in Vernon. Several people counted speakers, and there were 39 pro-VY speakers at that meeting. I have 17 of their statements on my blog. I would like to say I chose the “best statements” but actually, I have the statements I could get…from the people who responded to my email and emailed me a copy of their statement. I am still chasing some more statements, and there were quite a few other people speaking at the interactive meeting. I don’t hope to be complete, but I hope to get at least a few more up there. There’s a transcript by the court reporter, also, but I don’t know if that is available yet. It’s all a bit of a chase. I don’t have all the email addresses, either. Etc. I mostly know who spoke, because several plant supporters made lists of the pro-VY speakers.

    All the statements were terrific. I am very happy to have them on my blog. I plan to get more.

    Thank you again.