According to a recent news release and press conference held by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), an organization that has been fighting against nuclear power for several decades, the nuclear renaissance is a fiction that only seems visible inside the Washington, DC Beltway. By their score card, the tally is 6 runs against nuclear. Fans of the late George Carlin might recognize that as a partial score that forgets that there is more than one team on the field. It is also a score card that focuses strictly on political contests where nuclear energy has some disadvantages; it is not a score card that includes those logical, numbers driven decisions where the choices have real world consequences for the decision makers.
According to NIRS, there have been six attempts in 2009 by the nuclear industry to overturn existing state laws that effectively ban projects to build new nuclear power plants or the collection of construction work in progress payments (CWIP) before beginning to operate plants in rate regulated states. NIRS has claimed that each of these attempts has failed. The six states listed on the NIRS score card are Kentucky, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Hawaii. Interestingly enough, I learned something by listening to the conference call and the question and answer session on streaming audio that people who read the press release will not learn – Wisconsin has not even had their legislative session in 2009, so its vote has not yet been taken and certainly should not be counted in the loss column yet.
People who bother to read the full press release will also find out that there really was at least one victory for nuclear fission energy in the political field of play carefully selected for NIRS reporting – at the very bottom of that release, NIRS grudgingly admitted that
. . .the nuclear industry’s 2009 defeats in 10 or more state capitols — including all six efforts to overturn bans on new reactors — were offset by only one win. Georgia state lawmakers approved CWIP, empowering a subsidiary of the Atlanta-based Southern Co. to collect $2 billion from its customers before a single watt of power is produced from two planned nuclear reactors. Outside of the South, CWIP bail-outs for the industry have made little headway to date.
As a born and bred Southerner with a father who was born and raised in southern Georgia, I take some significant offense to the rather snide way that NIRS dismisses the decision making that led to this legislative victory and to the significant interest in new nuclear power plant development south of the Mason-Dixon line. As Josh Lucas’s character says in the movie Sweet Home Alabama, “Just ’cause I talk slow doesn’t mean I’m stupid.” There are solid, logical, technical reasons why electricity suppliers have decided to invest in the process to license new nuclear fission power plants to meet growing electricity needs in Florida (4), Alabama (2), Mississippi (1), Texas (4), Georgia (2), South Carolina (4), North Carolina (4), Louisiana (1), Virginia (1), and Maryland (1).
Southerners may talk slow, resist outside intervention in their political processes, and decide to go against establishment wisdom, but we can count, we recognize that breezes are precious and rare when the heat is on, and we understand that our region’s prosperity has been enabled by air conditioning, affordable energy, and sunny skies. We do not want pollution if we can avoid it, but we also will not bet our prosperity on the vagaries of wind turbines or solar panels that do not work at all if there is no sun or wind. Not only are those weather dependent sources of energy considered to be luxuries that we cannot afford, but we also recognize that it is inherently difficult to protect devices designed to collect weather dependent energy flows against vicious storms that decimate better protected buildings and power lines.
After reading the NIRS press release, I pulsed some friends to supply information about 2009 nuclear industry wins in addition to the Georgia legislature’s approval of CWIP for Southern Company’s Vogtle project to build two new Westinhouse AP1000 nuclear plants. Here is the list so far – I would love to hear from you if I neglected any confirmed victories. (Unlike NIRS, I know that there are still many contests in progress and that this is going to be a long season with some highs and some lows.)
- Areva and Northrop-Grumman broke ground on a 330,000 square foot nuclear components factory in Newport News, VA
- The NRC issued Southern Company an Early Site Permit and Limited Work Authorization for a two unit nuclear plant project at Vogtle
- Westinghouse opened new training centers for nuclear professionals
- Southern Legislative Conference of The Council of State Governments, representing 16 states, unanimously adopted a proposal urging Congress and the administration to support an increase in the Title XVII Loan Guarantee Program by $25 billion and to create a Clean Energy Deployment Administration that includes nuclear energy as an eligible technology
- B&W announces the mPowerTM modular nuclear plant that can be manufactured in their existing N-stamp holding US production facilities.
- Florida approves Progress Energy’s Site Certification Application (SCA) for a two reactor project in Levy County.
There are good reasons to believe that the second Atomic Age is close at hand, though there have been, and will be some setbacks in both political and economic contests. That is especially true in states like four out of the six where NIRS claimed defeat for nuclear energy – Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois continue to have extremely well established coal industries that prefer to retain laws that tie up their competitors.
I wonder how NIRS, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Nuclear Energy Information Service, and Missourians for Safe Energy (all of these groups were also represented in the press release and the conference call) like carrying water for the coal and natural gas industries, which will be the major economic beneficiaries from any laws that continue to keep nuclear energy projects out of consideration for the on-demand, affordable electricity supplies that developed societies both need and desire.
Note: List of nuclear industry wins updated on September 2, 2009.