Waste Confidence – A Classic Case of Failed Leadership (Part 2 of 2)
By Paul T. Dickman
Paul Dickman was a career Federal environmental scientist specializing in nuclear waste and nuclear materials management. He served as Chief of Staff to NRC Chairman Dale E. Klein.
Part 2 of 2
NRC’s Draft Waste Confidence Decision Update of October 2008 was based on an understanding of that the DOE would continue to fulfill its legal obligations under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. It was inconceivable to the NRC that the new President would choose to ignore a law that all of his predecessors complied with, regardless of their party affiliations and opinions. Instead, we saw the directed destruction of OCRWM with little understanding, or perhaps care, of what intertwined national and international policies were being destroyed by blindly appeasing the senior Senator from Nevada.
A few months later, the public comment period on the Draft Waste Confidence Update closed and noticeably absent from the record was anything from the Department of Energy. Shortly thereafter, DOE announced the death of Yucca Mountain and OCRWM. No explanation as to why, no effort made to clarify the President’s view of “bad science” or a technical basis for these remarks –if any existed, no formal decision document from DOE Secretary Chu as required by law, and only vague assurance that another collection of wise men and women– a Blue Ribbon Commission– would be convened at an unknown date, with an unknown charter or purpose, to look into this matter. This was the situation the three person Commission found itself going into the Summer of 2009.
It was obvious to the NRC staff that the only path forward was to re-notice for additional public comment finding #2 and request that DOE add something to the record that would provide clarity. This was a non-starter with Jaczko who was already maneuvering to use administrative methods to curtail and terminate the NRC’s program (Note 2). Throughout the Fall of 2009 the stalemate continued and it was apparent to all that Jaczko intend to wait until new Commissioners were appointed to fill the two vacancies on the Commission. I will give Jaczko credit for always treating Klein with respect but it was obvious that he had also assumed Klein would resign after replacing him as Chairman. Klein did not do so specifically to make sure that Jaczko’s power was held in check since, in the event of a 2-person Commission, all power flows to the Chairman and he becomes a single administrator.
In October 2009, President Obama nominated George Apostolakis and Bill Magwood to fill the two Democrat seats on the Commission. Both were highly respected and known experts in nuclear energy and safety and their impending confirmation was welcomed in our office because it allowed Dr. Klein to finally depart the NRC. He immediately informed the President that he would resign and return to the academic life upon confirmation of his successor to complete his term. In a few months, Bill Ostendorff was nominated to complete Klein’s term and the stage was set for three new and inexperienced Commissioners to assume their offices simultaneously. Hanging out there was the Waste Confidence update and it was obvious to all that this would be one of the first actions brought to the new Commission.
In January 2010, two things happened which undermined what little basis existed in Jaczko’s 2009 position—the DOE announced they were withdrawing the Yucca Mountain Application with prejudice, and they were closing OCRWM. Jaczko had hung his hat on finding #1 that the NRC staff had found that a geologic repository was technically feasible and therefore there was no need to seek further public comment or “second guess” the Administration’s motives or decision. But the stupidity of DOE in filing their motion to withdraw with “with prejudice” would bring into question the technical feasibility of a geology repository!
Comparatively speaking, how could the NRC “staff” know what was technically feasible? After all the DOE had spent 20+years and $10 billion studying this issue and they were withdrawing their application with prejudice and were not saying it was technically feasible. Add to that a President had said Yucca was based on bad science, a Noble Prize Winning DOE Secretary that was rapidly, and awkwardly, back-peddling on his vigorous defense of the “science” behind Yucca Mountain, and not one thing in the NRC rulemaking docket to support the staff’s view from the people who should know—the Department of Energy (Note 3). So Finding #1 was at risk and Finding #2, the only one supposed to be based on “informed speculation” was also tossed out with the dead carcass of the DOE’s OCRWM program and nothing existed to support the Government’s assurance that a repository would ever be built.
Dr. Klein in his last major speech to the industry and NRC staff on March 9, 2010 gave some insight as to the struggles occurring in the Commission on this issue. He said “Many of you have spent the last year or two urging the Commission to pass a new waste confidence rule, readdressing several of the basic findings supporting the rule. But I think the current situation demonstrates that those of us who resisted a rush to update the waste confidence findings were correct to proceed with caution. I continue to question whether the Commission would have maintained its public credibility if it had finalized the proposed update without taking the time to consider more fully the reality of the current situation. What many people—even many people in this room—fail to understand is that the waste confidence rule is a real challenge for us because it is not simply based on the technical judgment of the NRC. Part of the Commission’s “confidence” underlying the rule must be based on events that are beyond the NRC’s control, and when those events are in flux, the Commission has to be very careful in deciding whether it can credibly say that we have “confidence” that a repository will be open on a given date or period of time.”
Twenty days later, Dale Klein was once again a private citizen. The subsequent actions by the new and inexperienced Commission did not, in my opinion “consider more fully the reality of the current situation” is what has led to the current situation. An ambitious young Chairman, an inexperienced Commission, a self-destructive DOE legal strategy, and a vindictive Majority Leader—This has all the makings of a Shakespearian Tragedy and can anyone have doubted the outcome of the Appellate Court’s decision?
Regardless of the protestations by industry, Waste Confidence is a huge problem. Congress, not the NRC should be responsible for making these decisions. If Congress is incapable of requiring the Administration to comply with existing laws (the Nuclear Waste Policy Act), what hope does the NRC have of addressing Waste Confidence?
Note 2: It is important to note that both Klein and Svinicki agreed with Jaczko on the need to curtail the program given the lack of funding but at no time did they believe that the NRC had either the authority or mandate to terminate the program.
Note 3: It was not until June 29, 2010 that DOE finally confessed that it was politics, not science, and there were no technical reasons for abandoning Yucca Mountain. In fact, if you read their statement DOE filled before the Atomic Safety Licensing Board, they made some effort to defend the quality of science used in advancing the application.
@ Paul Dickman,
Very interesting article !
Having been in the loop and knowing so much about what happened, how do you see this unfolding ?
You can write your own ticket, so to speak!
I believe that this should read, “In October 2009 …”
Let’s not forget that the President himself also is “Nobel Prize Winning” for whatever that’s worth.
Is anyone else tired of Nobel Prize winners lecturing us poor proles on what is and is not “bad science”?
Thanks Brian, you are right, I meant to say October 2009. I will ask Rod to edit the change.
I share your discomfort with the adjective “Nobel Prize Winning”; it is perhaps the epitome of an “appeal to authority”.
It beggars credulity that Obama won a Nobel prize, but Leo Szilard never did.
Obama’s prize is the result of Thorbjørn Jagland, a political clown of GWB-like proportions, heading the Norwegian Nobel committee.
I like Obama, but I don’t think he’s done anything to deserve the peace prize.
A worse example is when people call Paul Krugman “Nobel Prize winning”, because he’s actually never won a Nobel prize, because there’s no such thing as a Nobel prize in economy.
I got the impression at the time that what Obama got the Peace Prize for was “Not being George Bush”
Or Senators Nunn and Lugar for the cooperative Threat Reduction program.
This has certainly turned out to be quite a bureaucratic debacle. Though they say they are still processing applications in the pipeline, how will this affect the issue of new licenses for Vogtle or pending renewals?
From our point of view, the situation looks like a debacle. From the point of view of people who do not like the use of nuclear energy and will do everything in their power to slow it down, it appears to be a hugely successful gambit.
It is one of those times when I feel like I can see things that no one else is noticing. Many in the nuclear world think of Jaczko as a single mission plant – with the goal of shutting down the Yucca Mountain project because of direction from his second political patron. His first political patron, the man who gave him his start in Washington politics, is Ed Markey. That patron has been working hard for 35 years to shut down as much of the industry as he possibly could.
There are times when I wonder if Jaczko did not choose to study nuclear physics just so that he could be groomed for just such a task. One of my favorite George Carlin bits was when he talked about how the term “conspiracy theorist” was used as a way to discredit someone who might have some valid observations about the way the world really works. Carlin ends the bit with something like this “They expect us to believe that powerful people never get together and plan anything.”
In my experience, most people in positions of power get there through a combination of careful long range planning, taking advantage of opportunities, and a certain measure of what looks like good luck. They also spend a lot of time building networks of support and forming alliances – implicit or explicit – with people who share similar goals.
Please – I’m a not even layman in nuclear engineering – but this two-part article sounds nothing short of a death-knell for nuclear power in the USA going forward. How much damage is this doing to the goal of a large and sustained revival of nuclear power in the USA and the broader ‘western world’? If possible, could someone explain how this situation could be resolved and when it might be?
Correct me If I am wrong.
Basically you can’t build a nuclear power plant unless you have a plan for the waste.
In the U.S. that plan was for a geological repository. So all the current plants were built under the assumption that a repository would eventually be built.
Yucca has proven that you can’t assume the politicians 30yrs down the road won’t do something stupid like break the law and not take the waste from the utilities nor even build the repository the law said they had to do.
Because of Congress’s breach of contract the NRC can’t have confidence in Congress because they have proven they are liars.
The NRC now can’t use confidence in Congress as an assumption. They have to redo their waste policy rules and studies under the assumption that a repository may never be built and that current waste may never leave the sites they are currently at.
I.e. is it sate to store waste in dry cask for an indeterminate amount of time by monitoring cask aging and replacing them as needed.
I imagine there is going to be quite a bit of paperwork involved in this.
Is my understanding of the situation correct?
Guys there is an operating deep geologic repository for nuclear waste in the US.
There is a site near Carlsbad, N.M., that began receiving plutonium-laced waste from the nation’s nuclear weapons program in 1999. The waste is buried 2,150 feet under the desert floor in the middle of a thick layer of salt.
So I can bet a loonie that this is where the stuff is going to end up in a hurry if need be.
Enough said about a viable site.
There are actually two basic parts to this question and the first part is can spent fuel be safely stored and for how long? And second, is a geologic repository technically feasible and when will one be available? The first question can be examined technically but the NRC had never really looked at long-term storage–100+ years and needs to have the supporting data to back up their decisions. So long as the NRC can demonstrate reasonable assurance that it safe or their is technology to fix any future problems that may occur, you could store indefinitely. For that reason, you could continue to build reactors and store spent fuel for some time to come.
The second question is only partly technical–feasibly of a spent fuel geologic repository and we have seen what happens when the licensing process is corrupted. It is also not certain that Yucca could ever be licensed or perhaps only licensed to address a portion of the materials DOE requested in their application. As to when it will be available, the 2010 finding is probably correct–“when needed” and only Congress can determine that because they control the purse strings.
@Daniel and @Joris– I am still a glass half full person. What we see now is a techno-policy shakeout and while I doubt we will see many licensing decisions for the next 2 or 3 years from NRC, I do not doubt that they will occur. Studies are underway that will address several of the open technical safety questions on long-term storage. But on the policy and political levels, there is still a lot of fog but some action.
For what it is worth, the BRC has issued their report and DOE is planning to respond shortly. The Courts are contemplating compelling NRC to restart the Yucca license application and there are some serious efforts in Congress to do something that would put a band-aid on this process. Most likely we will see an effort to develop centralized interim storage and the shell of an organization to manage the process. This will all take a couple of years, about the same time many of these technical studies will be ready. So my guess is that by 2014 or 2015, this issue of Waste Confidence will be resolved. But the shame is that this was completely avoidable.
Now I just hope that the new NRC chairman will not fight, aside with her own timely and legitimate vote, the Yucca Mountain science.
But is she a person of character and integrity? A true scientist ? This will be the test.
Thanks Paul, also from me. You say:
“So my guess is that by 2014 or 2015, this issue of Waste Confidence will be resolved. But the shame is that this was completely avoidable.”
That’s the thing. What we are seeing (we = the public that is waiting for affordable nuclear energy to reduce our energy costs, clean the air we breath and free us from energydependence on despotic regimes/coorporations) is that there always seems to be some new (avoidable) cock-up causing yet more delay. Will it ever stop? Presumably, like Rod has been showing IMHO, these cock-ups are in fact deliberate attacks and will not stop unless the power of the folks perpetrating these attacks is reduced somehow. What confidence should ‘we’ have that after 2014-15 there is not some new issue popping out of the woodwork to yet further delay a powerfull rollout of new nuclear power?
Thanks Paul for an excellent extended article. The timing of Dale Klein’s departure was an interesting detail.
Here’s an idea that I think Rod has alluded to before:
In much the same way that the NRC has renamed “spent fuel” to “used fuel”, why don’t we stop calling it “waste” (which it isn’t) and start calling it “unused fuel” or “currently unusable fuel”.
And my idea:
Get the NRC to require the following of both proposed and existing nuclear plant licensees:
1) All new plants must have plans for an auxilliary Small Modular Reactor (SMR) that would be used to process the “unused fuel” of the proposed reactor, assuming that it would have any to speak of. A LFTR comes to mind for this purpose, but we would also need a small solid-fuel to liquid-fuel processing plant.
2) All existing LWR plants would have to expand their facility to include a SMR in order to process their existing “unused fuel”. Maybe the NRC could expedite the license updating process in this case. What a concept!
In both these cases we have a win-win situation: 1) All the “unused fuel” would eventually be sequestered in the nicely shielded core of the SMR while we wait for some “Yucca Mountain” that would be able to house the real waste for only a few more centuries and
2) The existing plant would have some supplementary, high-temp, heat available that would allow it to upgrade its power turbines if desired.
How could this be any more difficult than what has been contemplated over the last three decades?
Come to think of it, this would also be a great plan for upgrading existing coal-fired plants; just run a LFTR or two off the coal ash and divert the the heat to the existing turbines. Eventually shut-down the coal plant add some more LFTRs and train the coal miners to become uranium/thorium miners. They may even receive less radiation than they’re getting now and they won’t get black-lung disease. But unfortunately, we’ll still need a little coal to smelt all the steel that we’ll need to build these new modular nuclear plants.
But maybe I’m just fantasizing to much.
Call the stuff what it is; irradiated fuel or maybe hot fuel.
Sounds like an excellent suggestion.
Part of that idea sounds familiar to me for some reason.
Comment showed up instantly, bravo. Can we declare the issue fixed?
Thanks for the info. A few more words and a question:
Yes, I recently read about this storage in the USA. I didn’t know that. The way I’ve understood it is that the problem of storing long-lived waste has actually already been solved. There are even various different kinds of geological formations that can safely be injected with raw nuclear waste, or in which the waste can even be stored in casks, even in such a way that it could be retrieved in future. Yucca mountain would presumably allow a modern humanity to access the nuclear waste in future, although it would require a fair bit of directed tunneling.if the facility was closed down.
But the best solution – in my opinion correct if wrong – would be to dump it at sea, encapsulated in glass: vitrification. I understand that this could be perfectly safe and practically cost-free.
So there really is no technical difficulty in long term waste storage. The question has never been is not *how* we can store it safely, but how we *want* to store it. A completely different question altogether. But I’ve noticed anti-nuclear folks seem to all think (or pretend) that “there is no solution” for the waste, which is completely false.
Anyway, besides this myth, I think the most difficult myth to dispel is the one that goes: “Nuclear may be very safe, but if one of those things blows, it BLOWS!!”
P.S. concerning definitions also: Why don’t they start calling depleted uranium “skimmed uranium” or something, to emphasise that the uranium’s energy content has remained largely untouched. Or maybe call it ‘heavy uranium’ or something? 🙂
There are already a couple of ‘live’ russian submarine nuclear reactors down in the abyss of the oceans.
Many smart cookies are trying to spend fortunes to get them out of there while many experts agree: they are perfectly safe where they are and are causing no harm.
You have a point.
First, there is no such thing as “cost free” but there are more cost effective options. I happen to believe that so long as the Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires that spent/used fuel be retrievable for an extended period, then you are going to have to build a geologic repository that looks a lot like Yucca Mountain. Remove that provision and you have more options. But if you recycle, then you have even more options because you can optimize your waste form to fit the disposal environment.
It should not be forgotten that the first Environmental Impact Statement on America’s nuclear waste future in 1980 actually laid out three preferred options Geologic disposal, Sub-seabed disposal, and Deep-borehole disposal. As part of the Secretarial Record of Decision, in the event geologic disposal was found not to be feasible, then work would start on one or more of the other two options. Since the Secretary has never made a formal determination associated with the major Federal action of terminating Yucca Mountain, one could ask if they are now planning to explore the other options?
Technically, sub-seabed was determined to have the most advantages with least environmental impact but the political reality of such a project would be hard–but not impossible– to achieve. There are international conventions that address “ocean dumping” and would be used to block such an effort. However, sub-seabed is not dumping but engineered borehole disposal but the effort to convince others was not worth it. Maybe Rod Adams and the other ex-Navy nukes can take up the cause!
But if you recycle, then I think that you’d want that spent/used fuel to be retrievable. Wouldn’t you agree?
My point was that you can dispose without retrieval–the Swedes and Finns plan too. While I am a supporter of recycle, we must be pragmatic and acknowledged that not all spent fuel will or should be recycled. Also, it is very easy to build safe and cost effective dry cask storage and I do not see why you would not want your very expensive repository filled with stuff you plan to retrieve at a later date. Save that precious space for things you really need to dispose without retrieval.
“an understanding of that the DOE would continue to fulfill its legal obligations under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. It was inconceivable to the NRC that the new President would choose to ignore a law that all of his predecessors complied with, regardless of their party affiliations and opinions.”
Could someone please clarify one thing for me – do we or do we not still have a Constitution? Just checking.
….I always appreciate a well framed rhetorical question.
Paul, it’s good to see you remain engaged in the comments here. Seeing the OCRWM acronym so many times, I have to ask, do you know Ward Sproat?
I would answer, but there might be a drone flying overhead looking at my DROID as I type this.
We still have it. The question is do politicians care?
India has long had plans for fast reactors, hampered by lack of fissile feed. Any chance of flogging them some PRISMs and enough casks of used fuel rods to start them up?
Any opportunity to get them away from their 200MW PHWR is a good thing as far as I am concerned. But India, unlike the US, has actually built a 500 MW fast reactor and are about to connect it to the grid. A nation where 60% of the population do not have electricity or safe drinking water but they have advanced nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. What does this say about our nuclear non-proliferation policy?
That it is ineffective, and that the only thing it is effective for is in hampering the peaceful nuclear energy capabilities of America, the nation that pioneered such nuclear technologies?
Am I close?
Sounds like a hammer hitting a nail square on its head.
Give the man a cigar!
Paul’s article and the subsequent comments/discussion is fantastic. Thanks to Rod for giving Paul a widely-read and respected forum to air an inside perspective on the ongoing debacle of the “waste issue.” It’s politics. Period. And failure of leadership by every involved stakeholder, including the utility industry.
Second that Andrea. Is fantastic.
Jeroen van der Veer, ex-CEO of Shell, said that ‘engineers should take the lead’ when talking about macroeconomic situations. Perhaps the failure of leadership is a failure of engineers to penetrate the glass ceilings?
I’m sorry, but could the difference between the two presidential candidates be more stark?
Obama’s plan for nuclear power: Kill Yucca Mountain.
Romney’s plan (published today) for nuclear power: “Revitalize nuclear poweer by equiping the NRC to approve new designs and to license approved reactor designs on approved sites within two years.”
Sounds good. But I haven’t found myself much of a Romney supporter yet. On the other hand, Obama performance in raising the number of state perpetrated assassinations (of both foreigners and American nationals) has dimmed my support for him a bit.
Of course is doesn’t matter what I think of either of them since I’m not an American.
@Brian, what is the likelyhood that Obama will do what Romney is proposing also, if reelected? From reading this website, I seem to recall that the Yucca Mountain debacle fall-out is probably not what Obama intended for US nuclear. Isn’t it just an example that US presidents never win them all and face difficult choices when making inevitable political sacrifices? What would it cost him politically if he let Chu explain frankly the nuclear situation to American Citizens and the need for a few repairs to the system?
Joris – The likelihood is almost nil. The only words that I recall Obama using when it comes to nuclear power are “safe” and “clean.” He never bothered, however, to explain what those terms mean.
A “safe, clean” nuclear plant is one that is not operating, if we use the philosophy adopted by Obama’s former appointment to the head of the NRC. This was made clear to the NRC staff, according to what has been revealed by recent investigations of his tenure as Chairman.
If you still don’t believe me, then perhaps a little math will help. Obama has been in office for almost four years. The only reactors that have been “approved” started their applications in the Bush years. So is Obama behind a “two-year” plan to approve new designs and license approved reactor designs? Based on his history, I’d say definitely no.
How do you know what “Obama intended for US nuclear”? How does anyone know?
My advice to you is to watch the hands, not the mouth. Obama came in with all sorts of words about “safe, clean” nuclear energy, but has he ever followed up on them? No. Instead, his Nobel-prize-winning Secretary of Energy and the DOE decided to fast-track loan guarantees to Solyndra, a renewable-energy company run by generous Obama campaign donors — an obscene display of crony capitalism.
If you think that Secretary Chu is doing anything but counting down his final days in his office until after the next election, when he can (win or lose) move on to other stuff, then you don’t understand how Washington works. We’ve probably heard the last of Secretary Chu.
Though many things have happened in the past 3.5 years that wake me up very early almost every morning (failure to actually provide any loan guarantees, completely screwing up Waste Confidence, appointing an avowed antinuclear activist to the post of Chairman and allowing him to nearly destroy the NRC, and failure to explain to the people that nuclear energy already IS clean and safe – not to mention airborne assassinations and a continuing quagmire in the “sandbox”) I am not optimistic that a Romney Administration would do very much to enable a dynamic construction program.
Here is an article from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about Romney’s energy policy. Do a search of the page – not a single instance of the ‘N’ word.
The promise to move to a “two-year” plan for licensing is also evidence that we will hear as many good words about nuclear as Bush spoke and we will get just as many new reactor construction starts as we got during 8 years of Reagan, 4 years of Bush I, and 8 years of Bush II – as well as 8 years of Clinton. You know as well as I do that there is nothing that the President of the United States can do to make it possible for our legislated NRC to license a new nuclear power plant in 2 years.
If he had said that he was going to appoint someone like Chris Crane, Alan Waltar, or Kirk Sorensen as the Chairman of the NRC, it would have been a much more positive statement to me that he wants nuclear energy to play a proper role in the economic development of our nation. The President has the power to appoint good, technically competent people to the agency – our current President is batting at least 800 on that measure. Unfortunately, the one strikeout was a real doozy and anyone who reads Atomic Insights knows exactly how I felt about that one.
Rod – I’m baffled why you choose to read an article about Romney’s energy policy rather than the actual document published by the Romney Campaign itself. If the article didn’t pick up on all of the points in the published campaign document, that’s the fault of the WSJ reporter. It is unfair and disingenuous of you to blame Romney for that.
Obama has been a nothing but a disaster for nuclear power in this country. Is there anything that you won’t say to defend this guy?
For example, where are you getting this “batting 800” nonsense? Obama made three good appointments to the NRC (out of five commissioners) — I’m willing to give him credit for that. However, he didn’t select, but merely reappointed, Svinicki and that was only done as part of a deal that put another Reid-picked appointee in the chairmanship. During his almost four years in office he has appointed two unqualified (in my opinion) people to chair the Commission, with the purpose of killing the Yucca Mountain project and ensuring that it remains dead.
We now see the consequences of that. I agree that “there is nothing that the President of the United States can do to make it possible for our legislated NRC to license a new nuclear power plant in 2 years,” but on the other hand, there is a lot that the President can do to really screw things up, as Obama has demonstrated in the most unfortunate way.
Say what you will about previous administrations, but neither Reagan, nor Bush I, nor Clinton, nor Bush II, nor even Jimmy Carter managed to shut down the process of getting a license extension for a currently operating, safely operating nuclear plant, much less a completely new plant. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s where we find ourselves now, and it’s entirely a result of the actions of the Obama administration.
And you have the gall to say that he’s “batting 800”?!! Denial is not just a river in Egypt.
Romney might not be the perfect candidate for getting nuclear power back on track, but almost anyone would be better than the guy in the Oval Office right now.
I’ve never been a fan of Yucca Mountain, even dating from before the DOE failed to start taking used fuel when its contract said it would start (1998). I’ve always thought it was a dumb idea for the nuclear industry to agree to the albatross of having to transport valuable material in expensive containers about as far as possible – measured by ton-mile from existing nuclear power plants, it would be very difficult to find a site farther away than Yucca Mountain inside the continental US.
The thing that has been the biggest disaster for the nuclear industry during the Obama Administration (and did you skim over the very serious issues that I listed where I am VERY disappointed?) has been the sustained low market price of natural gas. The biggest contributor to that – other than purposeful over production by deep pocketed multinational oil companies and a sustained economic recession – has been the free pass given to the fracking industry by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Please do not try to tag me as a faithful fan of any politician or party. I’ve published some pretty devastating criticism of Reid, Markey and Boxer. My favorite candidate from either party happened to be a Republican because he was the only one who tackled the absurdity of our effort to obtain hydrocarbon resources by force. He also proposed an energy policy that would have enabled nuclear energy to prosper.
Romney’s energy policy would be like the energy policies of leaders from both major parties since Kennedy – effectively favoring coal, oil and gas and tying down nuclear energy with as many Lilliputian strings as his financial contributors can find.
Rod – I’m well aware of your opinions about Yucca Mountain. You have made that clear over the years. However, your opinion about other matters, including politics, can only be guessed from what you publish online. Either you stand by your words or you don’t. I can’t do anything about that except read your blog and comment. In other words, I can’t read your mind.
If your concern is about the “low market price of natural gas,” then why don’t you focus on that? What has the current administration done to change this? Blaming the 2005 Energy Policy Act (which was good for nuclear power, by the way), is like Obama’s lame claims that nothing is his fault — everything bad now was a result of Bush. That’s a childish claim, and grownups know better. After four years, the buck can no longer be passed.
So now that we’ve established that neither candidate will do anything more than the other to affect the “low market price of natural gas,” then perhaps we can get back to which candidate has a more promising outlook for nuclear power. I think that the distinction is clear.
You are welcome to your own opinion, but if you don’t express it, then please don’t feel offended if people try to guess what it is based on what you write.
Brian – your comment confuses me. Have I been too reticent in sharing my opinions about the artificially low price of natural gas and the implications of that for the nuclear industry?
Rod – What? No, not at all. You have been very clear on that point.
The pertinent question, however, is what are we going to do about it?
Keep the same-old/same-old from the past (nearly) four years? At least “Bush II” tried to be innovative with his GNEP program. When has Obama tried anything that ambitious?
As any competent administrator knows, you have to set a goal before you make any progress toward that goal.
When Obama pledges that he’ll “revitalize nuclear power by equipping the NRC to approve new designs and to license approved reactor designs on approved sites within two years,” then please get back to me. Until then, keep rooting for the status quo and whining about how nothing ever changes.
At least you’ll have lots of gripes to publish on your blog.
@Brian When Obama pledges that he’ll “revitalize nuclear power by equipping the NRC to approve new designs and to license approved reactor designs on approved sites within two years,” then please get back to me.
I’ve already been clear that such a pledge would be a huge disappointment to me because it exposes a complete lack of understanding of the limitations on the powers of the office of the President of the United States. Don’t get me wrong; the President can do many things to improve conditions to enable nuclear energy to prosper, but that particular promise is really DUMB because it is completely impossible to deliver that outcome. Anyone who makes it or believes it needs some civics and history lessons.
Here are some things that would NOT help in the important task of helping power producers to recognize the ephemeral nature of today’s natural gas prices in time to get some more useful nuclear projects rolling:
– Open up more federal lands to energy production
– Allow state regulations to govern the environmental requirements for extraction industries
– Enable the Keystone XL pipeline to provide a route for a natural gas pipeline from North Dakota
– Allow gas extraction companies to continue dumping waste water into sewage treatment plants
Tell me which of our two remaining choices for President is more likely to allow those four items to happen.
Please note that I did not say that I wanted North American natural gas prices to rise dramatically. That is already going to happen based on decisions that have been implemented by producing companies with regard to drilling plans. I just want more power company executives to see what Steve Byrne of SCANA already recognizes:
Rod – No, do you know what is a huge disappointment as a pledge? How about this:
Guess who said that?
Notice that he is not committed to making “a significant contribution to the climate change question”; he’s determined to “ensure that it’s safe.” How? Is it due to his extensive training in PRA? It is due to his thorough understanding of the technology? How? Talk about dumb promises.
I guess we differ in what we consider to be a good leader. Personally, I prefer leaders who provide a vision expressed in bold plans with ambitious goals. Other people, however, prefer to favor politicians who embellish their plans with excessive qualifiers.
We remember President Kennedy fondly for saying: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
Would we remember him the same way if he had said: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal of landing a man on the Moon and returning him to the Earth, if it’s safe. And I’m determined to ensure that it’s safe.”
I’d rather see someone overreach and accomplish something, even if it does not achieve the original goal, than to watch someone with more modest goals, full of convenient qualifiers, not even try and accomplish nothing — as has been the case for the last three and a half years.
As we mourn the death of Neil Armstrong, we should remember that the US used to be a country that once could accomplish something. Unfortunately, Rod, your comment is a perfect example of the attitude that is the reason that we have to say “once could.” Today, it’s can’t do this, can’t do that. Please tell me, what can we do?
The cost of extracting uranium from seawater continues to go down.
This combined with breeder reactor technology insures that the uranium cost per kwh will be near zero in the future. Recycling the tiny amount of spent fuel produced in this pre Model T era of nuclear power will be more expensive and troublesome than using raw uranium.
Bury it under the sea bed. In a million years people can mine the u 238, in the unlikely event they have nothing better by then.
@Bill – I have a fundamental aversion to throwing away valuable materials just because “there is plenty more where they came from.”
The energy content of our current inventory of used nuclear fuel is too great to toss. So is the inventory of rare materials with unique physical properties that could be made available to the market if we were recycling and separating the used material into its components.
I agree that seabed disposal can be done safely. Gwyneth Craven’s friend Rip Anderson and his team demonstrated that rather conclusively. I would use that inexpensive and reliable disposal method for those mixed wastes where further processing simply produces more waste. The place where he proposed using that method, however, would be one of the most expensive to reach places in the entire world for any recovery operations. Dropping the material in is easy, going several miles underwater would be exceedingly difficult, no matter what kind of technology gets developed in a million years.
Proponents of breeder reactors like to point out that LWRs only use 0.5% of the energy in uranium ore. The great majority of the unused energy is not being thrown out with the used fuel, but rather, 90% is in the enrichment tails.
Unlike the spent fuel, the tails are not very radioactive, and do not contain plutonium that causes proliferation panic. And tails can be “stored “ in shallow land-fills, so they will be easy to retrieve.
Over a 60 year life, a LWR generates enough enrichment tails to power an IFR for 10,000 years. And now that the fast breeder world has moved from oxide fuel to metal, breeding ratios are very high, so bred fissile will be cheap.
LFTRs could potentially used recycled LWR fuel for startup fissile, but a big part of the support base for LFTR is anti-plutonium.
It will be a very long time before anyone has an economic use for LWR waste.
Great points, Nathan. A few things I would add:
1. LWR fuel probably only has < 3 or 4% fissile material, so recycling it may not even be economic as start-up fissile for LFTRs for a long, long time.
2. If laser isotope separation can make it past the non-proliferation hurdles and be commercialized, the presently safely-stored tails in combination with the highly efficient enrichment will be a far more economic source of fissile start-up material than recycling LWR fuel and possibly even than mining any additional new uranium for a number of years (sshhhhh, don't tell Urenco).
Rod, spent fuel does contain huge amounts of potential energy, as does the hydrogen in a gallon of water. I question the implication that spent fuel is valuable. If the government got out of the way and allowed utilities to sell spent fuel for legitimate energy production purposes, what would the free market level playing field price be?
Would existing reprocessing plants be able to pay their bills with no subsidies or mandates, on income from the sale of recovered materials, if utilities had the option of inexpensive seabed burial?
If allowed, I would gladly take the material off of the hands of the utilities for less than the cost of disposing of it. As I stated, it offends my sense of obligation to future generations to throw something away because we do not think it is valuable today.
Besides, your comparison to a the energy value of hydrogen in water is silly. There is no known way to extract that energy; there are proven reactors operating today that turn U-238 into heat and power.
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