If nuclear energy has “friends” like this, it does not need any enemies
Philip Sharp and Ernie Moniz are both members of the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future and are ostensibly in favor of the use of nuclear energy. Richard Lester “runs the nuclear engineering department” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the premier engineering institutions in the country.
I was taken aback, therefore, to read the quotes from those three men in an NPR story titled Nuclear Nations Turn To Natural Gas And Renewables.
“Well, it’s clear that nuclear power has been set back,” says Richard Lester, who runs the nuclear engineering department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “There’ll be many years, I think, perhaps a decade, who knows, where we’ll be dealing with the consequences of this accident.”
Philip Sharp, who runs the research group Resources for the Future, says that’s likely to be natural gas. Luckily, there seems to be plenty around. “We really have discovered over the past three or four years this very large quantity of gas, and therefore it will not be very expensive relative to other fuels and therefore will become the most likely fuel for new electric power plants,” Sharp says.
Ernest Moniz, head of the Energy Initiative at MIT, says a nuclear “renaissance” in the U.S. isn’t likely anytime soon. “It’s not the end of nuclear power, but it will cast a lot of uncertainty over the next years.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing whether to strengthen safety at American reactors. Moniz says if they do, it could raise the already high cost of building a new reactor.
“If new regulations come about that substantially impact the capital requirements or lead to a much more extended licensing and construction period, those could be quite detrimental to any new nuclear,” Moniz says.
Though the article clearly identified Lester and Moniz, I gave Phil Sharp the benefit of the doubt. I hoped that it was a different Philip Sharp than the one I just watched on a web cast on Friday, May 13 talking about providing extra levels of assistance to local communities to accept the “burden” of hundreds of jobs associated with building and operating an interim storage facility. His thoughts seemed reasonable as I heard them, but it was clear that he thought that the US federal government had assumed a large burden that was going to cost a lot of money.
However, when I listened to the audio version of the story, all doubt was removed. Sharp has an unmistakable voice; he is definitely the man serving on the BRC.
I guess I really should not be so surprised. I have not met very many nuclear engineers who recognize that supplying energy is one of the world’s oldest and most lucrative businesses. It is one where there has always been sharp elbowed competition between suppliers for both access to the materials that they sell and access to the markets where there are customers who can afford to pay for the conveniences and comforts provided by abundant fuel.
Of course, the business is always more profitable if the suppliers are disciplined and ensure that there is not too much supply – most energy fuels are nasty and dangerous to store so you only buy as much as you can use in a relatively short period of time. Most of us are quite happy to let someone else take care of storing the inventory as long as we are reasonably confident that the supplies we need will be available when we need them. It is easily possible to “hoard” several weeks worth of food, for example, but most of us have just a couple of hours worth of fuel around.
It is fine for politicians and the public outside of the energy business to support an “all of the above” approach in which all potential competitors are allowed to do their best to supply the market demand. That is an ideal situation for the customers – if allowed to function, a free market does a wonderful job of allowing the best products and most cost efficient suppliers to win more customers and make more money.
In the energy business, however, the competition is often not based on objective measures – if it were, nuclear energy would win a lot more sales battles. As it is, nuclear energy DOES win almost every possible sale – when it is readily available. Suppliers of future nuclear plants that may or may not be able to be constructed and operated in ten years do not have an easy time in the market, but that is because they are not able to even make a reasonable guess about cost and schedule under current law.
I remain firmly convinced that neither unreliable renewable energy sources nor power plants burning dangerous natural gas whose price has been subject to violent swings ever since it was deregulated are very competitive compared to nuclear energy on objective measures. However, if people like Lester, Moniz and Sharp who are supposedly supporters of nuclear technology opine about how expensive it can get, how long it might take or how much more easily available competitive sources are, then they are contributing valuable ammunition to the people who want to sell inferior products at higher prices. The only way to successfully market such a product is by ensuring that the competition is not allowed to reach the customers.
Moniz clearly told the opposition exactly what they should be doing when he said the following:
If new regulations come about that substantially impact the capital requirements or lead to a much more extended licensing and construction period, those could be quite detrimental to any new nuclear.
If I was a professional anti-nuclear campaigner or a natural gas company executive, I would translate Moniz’s statement in the following way: “Listen up. If you are interested in taking action that will be detrimental to new nuclear, keep up the pressure to reduce the credibility of the NRC and make them respond by adding yet another layer of new regulations. Remember, it worked 32 years ago after another non-fatal nuclear accident. With our man Jaczko at the helm, maybe we will be able to impose another 30-year delay in building new nuclear power plants. Maybe he will do good a job as Peter Bradford did and we can reward him with lifetime pundit employment as a former NRC commissioner who has severe doubts about the safety of nuclear energy.”
(I admit it. I am a suspicious man who reads a lot of words in between the lines spoken or written by others. Now you know how I did so well in my college literature classes; I could write a five page paper about the hidden meaning in a single soliloquy.)
Nuclear energy is safe, clean, and reliable. It is affordable as long as competent technologists are allowed to build and operate the plants under the reasonable oversight of other technically competent people who are dedicated to the health and safety of their fellow man.
“other technically competent people who are dedicated to the health and safety of their fellow man.”
The question is how many of those are there, and where are they all!
It’s a real shame that so many people are quite happy to stagnate when we could be making progress on so many issues!
I wouldn’t be worried half as much about natural gas, if it were really that cheap, and going to stay cheap. But Italy for example relies heavily on natural gas and has among the highest power prices in the world. If natural gas is so cheap, why not convert cars and trucks to the fuel (Pickens’ plan)? A recent WSJ article suggests its only slightly cheaper than diesel for the same amount of energy. After all the discussions about ethanol being “unethical” as transportation fuel, how “ethical” is it to burn domestically available transportation fuel in giant 1000 Megawatt power plants just to generate electricity, while we stay fully dependent on foreign oil for our transportation needs, and pay for it in deficits and mideast conflicts?
Have you noticed that Pickens – a lifelong natural gas extracting geologist and businessman – has altered his Plan to more honestly admit that he really wants to sell more gas? The widely popular notion that collecting “free” wind would somehow make any real difference at all has been dropped from the plan.
My humble opinion is that the only reason that Pickens captured so much media attention was that he bought several tens of millions of dollars worth of ads during a relatively slack period for media revenues. The talking heads rewarded him with some additional free time, but far more thoughtful plans have been ignored by those same talking heads.
The Pickens wind energy plan was clear to anyone with the eyes to see. Wind projects are really natural gas projects. Even the windies admit that. Pickens was simply looking out for his own interests when he pushed that idea. He’s just more upfront about it now, pushing the natural gas directly instead of hiding it in the wind energy Trojan Horse.
Of course wind is not completely free. One has to pay for the equipment that harnesses the wind and the lines thatt transmit the power. Nevertheless, it is a source of power that does not emit greenhouse gases. I feel that there are unparalleled opportunities for wind power on the west coast of Washington State which is not heavily populated either by people or industries. At Pacific Beach, for example, it is so windy it is hard to stand up straight. At the present time it may not be able to compete with hydropower in some seasons. There is an electric power intertie between Washington and California and now that the San Onofre nuclear reactor in California has been shut down wind power from the Washington coast could provide additional power for California.
@Susanne E. Vandenbosch
At Pacific Beach, for example, it is so windy it is hard to stand up straight.
As a long time sailor and former windsurfer, I would love to find a place where such a breeze is relatively consistently available. However, I have spent many long days waiting for the wind to fill in places that are sometimes windy and often quite still.
Do you have any data about the wind velocity patterns at Pacific Beach? Your statement sounds like an anecdote. Where you there on a particularly windy day?
i will try to get data on wind velocity on the west coast of Washington State and specifically at Pacific Beach. While it is true that wind is intermittent this location offers possibilities for pumped storage as it is located near tall mountains. When the wind is not needed it can be used to pump water up to a mountain lake-either manmade or natural. It can provide power on the way down. Of course it would require hydroelecteric facilities. Switzerland uses nuclear power from France to pump water up its mountains and then releases it when it is needed through hydroelectric facilities.
My husband just came in from our garden for our happy hour and his recollection also is that Pacific Beach is windy. This information also is anecdotal,admittedly..
Here is wind speed data for the next 10 days for Pacific Beach, WA.
4/23 19mph 5/1 14mph
I should also have mentioned that the wind at Pacific Beach and the rest of the WA coast is often accompanied by rain. This may mean that the blades of the “windmills” may have to be maintained or replaced more frequently than in dryer places. Pacific Beach is on private land, just north is the Quinault Indian reservation and just north of that is a strip of coastal land that is part of Olympic National Park. This means that someone interested in setting up a wind farm has choices between the private parties and governing entities they would have to deal with depending on whether they opted for Private land, Indian Land or Federal land.
I am not suggesting this as a substitute for nuclear power, just as a possible supplement.
I do not know if my visits to Pacific Beach were on unusually windy days. They took place at least 40 years ago and the experiences discouraged me from additional visits as there were less windy places which were also more accessible.
@Susanne E. Vandenbosch
They took place at least 40 years ago and the experiences discouraged me from additional visits as there were less windy places which were also more accessible.
The rest of your comment also contains useful information about why wind is not a panacea, but this last sentence helps to explain why wind farms often require the installation of substantial new transmission lines that do not enhance grid stability, they simply connect a distant resource in a low population area to the rest of the grid.
People enjoy a nice breeze on a hot day, but most of us prefer not to live in places where the wind is often full of energy. Those places where wind is good for wind farms are generally remote from large electricity markets.
There is nothing “clean” or “natural” about natural gas via hydraulic fracturing, all of it involves various chemicals required like benzene, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, various surfactants, etc . . . just to name a few, all of which has the potential to contaminate drinking water. In order to meet the demands of the future and shift to the next successive phase of technological development, nuclear power is the only avenue to provide the safest and the most reliable solution to achieve these kinds of high energy densities. The only reason natural gas is cheap is because of environmental costs . . . the implicit and explicit costs need to be taken into account. This is not an alternative, its national suicide.
The market question. The companies who pump stuff out of the ground were elbowed out by Nuclear in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s. when we quit burning diesel to generate electricity. They want that market share back. No question and now the best way to get it is through natural gas.
Natural gas is far to rare to burn it for electric generation. We need to preserve some for my soon coming grand kids.
I followed a lot of the archived webcast of the May 13th BRC hearing. I noticed that Per Petersen mentioned at least twice that there is a need for more technical staff in the NRC that would understand the issues. Later a public comment by Tom Cochrane made the same point. I noticed also a general impatience with the slow reporting of the NRC. It seems the result of unqualified political appointees is that more rules are created. If you let too many questions through the door and they try to fill the vacuum. The attitude of applying a band-aid to a sore is always the first order of business. There is never an investigation into what caused it. That would require real expertise. The NRC is unqualified but rather than sit criticize them suggest reforms. I think the junior who said it best was Per Petersen.
The NRC has real expertise and tremendous qualifications. I’ve met them, spoken with them, worked with them while they were tackling tough issues. But that was always at the staff level, not always at the Commissioner level. I suppose it’s tough to train your bosses while working in crisis mode, particularly if they’re too busy leading to listen…
I suppose [when you’re an NRC staffer] it’s tough to train your bosses while working in crisis mode [assimilating data available from another country], particularly if [your bosses] are too busy leading to listen…
On my natural gas Civic, I get an average of 34mpg. At $2.25/Gallon equivalent, this is 15 miles/fuel$, and at least 200 miles range per tank. Much better miles/fuel$ than my 2006 Civic Hybrid given what gasoline prices are now. I agree nuclear for electrical power generation, but CNG is perfectly good for a commuting car.
I’ve been trying to figure out if this current love affair with Natural Gas presents an opportunity for advanced nuclear designs. Actually I think it does but I know that it would require something that never seems to be likely, government action. I’ve always liked the thought of nuclear subs being used for power vice weapons. Having them positioned 50 miles off shore to provide thermal power to retrofitted oil rigs that harvest CO2 from seawater (and air if needed) and use the hydrogen (from thermochemical process) to make Di-methyl ether. This could be easily shipped or pipped on shore to run the 450 GW of gas turbines the country has built over the last two decades. This could shut down coal by partenering with the NG empire and greens that love NG right now… but it’s carbon neutral vs dirty NG. DME could also enter the diesel market (both mobile and power stationary) and enable fuel cells to begin making serious inroads. This could actually fuel the beginning of distributed electric grid while utilizing capital investments that need to see use (all those NG power plants that are only used for peaking right now. These subs would be fueled by LFTR’s of course since they provide the requisite power in a small package, leading to cost effective sub production. Think of the jobs!!! Unfortunately, these subs and the reactors need 5 billion of the 750 billion TARP funds to become real… that’s where I’m afraid I’m really dreaming. Nuclear subs though- I mean, no hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis, or volcanos to test the passive inherent safety systems. Just war and meteors.
I’ve never heard anything pro-nuke come out of MIT. Ever.
I am concerned about whether Professor Moniz will encourage public participation. The public was allowed to participate in the public meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future” at Hanford on July 15, 2010. I drove five hours to speak for five minutes at the meeting (see Webcast and transcripts). Moniz was looking at his computer screen. This was not only the case when I spoke but also when my husband Robert Vandenbosch (Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and former Director of the Nuclear Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington, co-author of Nuclear Fission and Nuclear Waste Stalemate: Political and Scientific Controversies, and Awardee of the Seaborg Prize in Nuclear Chemistry. The other public speakers and EVEN invited speakers had the same. to look at the backside of a computer monitor. So much for civility in government !
Susanne – I’m not sure that you understand what “public participation” means. Generally, “public participation” means that you have the right to express your views, which you and your co-author husband were allowed to do, as you yourself admit.
On the other hand, “public participation” does not mean that what you say must be taken seriously. That depends on the merits of your statements and how convincing (or ludicrous) they are. If you provide a rational, convincing case, then it will be considered. If you choose to spout nonsense, then you should be ignored. I don’t care how many books you have managed to publish.
Whining about it like a spoiled child who didn’t get what she wants just makes your point of view look all that weaker.
For Bryan: I believe that body language is very important. I came to feel that way when I was a faculty member and an academic advisor. Although generally students came to me with routine questions at times they had very serious personal concerns and felt they could come to me. One told me her husband was considering suicide and I immediately walked with her to a trained counselor. Another felt she had experienced sexual harassment. One had just broken up with her boyfriend and was considering becoming a nun (to their credit the nuns advised her to wait a yearbefore entering orders.) A young man saved his summer earnings and was not eligible for financial aid. His roommate spent his summer earnings on a Hi-Fi set and was eligible for financial aid. One had flunked his first three tests and wondered if he could still get and A in the course.
I do not feel that advocating interim storage is ludicrous. I also recommended that a larger majority should be required to overturn a gubernatorial veto of a repository. Among other things, Robert Vandenbosch reminded members of the Blue Ribbon Commission that if the licensing of Yucca Mountain was stopped for political rather than scientific reason, future repositories could also be rejected for nonscientific reasons.
I got what I wanted. On July 15, 2010 at the full meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission held at Kennewick (Hanford), WA I recommended that interim storage facilities be developed for spent nuclear fuel. The Blue Ribbon Commission adopted this recommendation. My efforts are recorded both on the Webcast and the transcripts. The concordance of the transcripts will help you to locate my efforts as well as the number of times that the forbidden topic, Yucca Mountain, was mentioned. I guess it doesn’t matter if Ernie couldn’t see me as long as he could hear me. He is only 67 so he could probably still hear me.. S. E. Vandenbosch
For Brian Mays
Transcripts of the meeting are available. What nonsense did I spout?
Ernie Moniz did a superb job at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. I watched it on CSpan 3 but there is also a Webcast of the hearing held at 10 AM April 9. Moniz endorsed an ALL-OF- The ABOVE approach which included nuclear. He was optimistic about costs coming down for solar and wind energy and mentioned methane as a possible problem with fracking but was nevertheless positive about gas as a source of energy. He was also positive about coal but concerned about the costs of sequestering carbon dioxide. He liked the safety features of small modular reactors but was concerned about their manufacturing costs. A number of the senators were interested in selling liquified natural gas to other coutries. Senator Barasso wanted to sell LNG to NATO countries and Japan mentioning the Russian cutoff. Chairman Wyden was concerned about leaking tanks at Hanford and Senator Cantwell with schemes for handling Hanford waste not working. Senator Scott pressed Moniz on the Mox facility in S. Carolina but did not get any commitment other than looking into it if Moniz was confirmed.
In other words, he told them exactly what they wanted to hear.
Yep, Susanne, you nailed it. Ernie did a superb job.
The U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Department of Energy must stop collecting money for the Nuclear Waste Fund from nuclear utility customers. These funds have been collected for the nuclear waste disposal program. The court ruled that there is no program. This decsion was made on November 19, 2013.
It is April 21, 2014 and money is still being collected for the Nuclear Waste Fund. The DOE has to request Congress to pass legislation that would stop the collection of these funds. Thus far, Energy Secretary Moniz has not done so. Representative Shimkus( R, ILL) has scolded Energy Moniz for failing to do so in a hearing earlier this month. The courts, in our system, do not have employees available to enforce their decsions.
Nuclear Waste Fund fees will cease being collected by the Department of Energy effective May 16, 2014. On November 22, 2013 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the DOE must stop collecting fees paid by the consumers of nuclear power. Why did it take three months to implement this court order? The Nuclear Waste Policy Act as Amended by P.L. 100-203 includes a procedure for adjusting the fee and requires the Secretary of Energy to conduct studies regarding the adequacy of the fee annually. If the Secretary finds that the fee should be increased or reduced the Secretary must forward a proposal for doing so to Congress. Either the House or the Senate can reject the proposal with a resolution within 90 days of receiving it. If neither the House nor the Senate acts on the proposal it goes into effect after 90 days
The date the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the DOE must stop collecting the Nuclear Waste Fund Fee is Nov. 19, 2013 not November 23, 2013.
From Miami Herald “Governor and Cabinet approve unpopular power lines and nuclear plant.”
If only some smart engineer would develop a transmission line that could transmit COURAGE to our Senators and House members in Washington D. C.
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