I returned last night from a short vacation to Washington, DC. I am such an atomic geek that my idea of a vacation is to spend a couple of days at the Nuclear Energy Assembly (NEA) in a dim hotel conference room surrounded by a crowd of business leaders, many in dark suits who qualify for a self-effacing description offered by Bill Johnson, the new CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority – “male, pale and stale”. (I suppose I fit two of the three adjectives, but I am working hard to prevent people from applying one of the other words to me.)
It will take me several days to digest all of the things I learned and heard, both from the podium and in the valuable “hallway conversations” that often occur when you meet people in face to face situations. I have some recorded audio that might find its way into an Atomic Show or two. I also arose early one morning to get a sneak peak at a terrific tool for teaching high school students about the basics of radiation and nuclear energy. That tool comes from an organization that is very familiar to the people in the industry. The group normally maintains a low public profile; the high quality of the educational material opened my eyes to the depth of their talent.
The first thing I want to share, however, is an inspiring video produced by the North American Young Generations in Nuclear (NA-YGN) group. They were in town for a meeting that is scheduled to align with the NEA and have a tradition of taking advantage of being in Washington to meet their elected representatives on Capital Hill and tell them a little about nuclear energy.
I was not the only one who thought that the video was one of the more memorable parts of the conference. Late yesterday afternoon, Robert Trigaux published a column titled A busy week of pitching by nuclear power industry, but who’s buying? in the Tampa Bay Times. Here is a quote from that article:
In Washington, D.C., Duke Energy’s deposed CEO-for-a-moment Bill Johnson, now head of the Tennessee Valley Authority power company, stood at the podium of this week’s Nuclear Energy Institute conference to unveil the industry’s secret weapon.
It’s a video of the North American Young Generation in Nuclear, the nuclear power industry’s organization of youthful engineers and others who work at nuclear power plants. Some 300 of them, including a half dozen or so from a Duke nuclear plant in North Carolina, descended this week on Capitol Hill to spread the nuclear gospel to 200 members of Congress.
“It is very important that these people see that there are young people interested in nuclear science and technology and are advocating for a positive future,” says the group’s young chairwoman.
The organization delivers a compelling appeal to Congress to support nuclear power. And the video boosts morale at the Nuclear Energy Institute meeting where an industry gathered to celebrate the nation’s few new nuclear power plant projects — in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Says NEI: Nuclear is “well positioned to expand” as the economy rebounds.
Trigaux goes on to remind his readers about the recent Tampa Bay Times article questioning the value of the Levy County nuclear power plant project and concluding with the opinion that building a natural gas plant would be cheaper for consumers, even when taking a 60 year plant lifetime into account.
I provided the following comment on Trigaux’s column.
Robert – I attended the Nuclear Energy Assembly and saw the inspiring video of young nuclear professionals sharing information with their elected representatives on Capital Hill. Thank you for noticing the event.
Your paper has done some important work by scrutinizing the high initial cost of building new nuclear power plants in the United States. It is an issue that is certainly worth attention and analysis by people who do not yet understand how interested they should be in the decision process.
As you pointed out, trying to compare the cost of different types of power plants, each with their own unique advantages and disadvantages is a daunting task. However, it is not beyond the capabilities of people who are both outside of the nuclear industry and outside of the professional opposition groups to the nuclear industry.
Many of the inputs of the analysis have more than a monetary component and many of the variables are not independent of the choice that is being made. For example, how valuable is the nuclear plant’s proven ability to store all waste produced over many decades of operation in a small corner of a large site? Who would Floridians prefer to pay, distant suppliers of natural gas and pipeline construction companies or neighbors that hold well paying jobs operating and maintaining a nuclear plant during its 60 year lifetime?
Is it horrible that Duke Energy may earn a reasonable profit for the hard work and financial risk associated with a lengthy construction project? Would it be better for unknown gas suppliers to be able to sell fuel for 60 years at unpredictable market prices that are partially driven by the number of successful – or unsuccessful – nuclear projects?
As Ivan Penn pointed out in his article, there are a number of cost components associated with new nuclear plant construction projects that can be influenced by the public and our elected officials. Do you advocate intelligent action to identify those places where we can decide to help lower costs without sacrificing safety?
After I read Ivan Penn’s initial article, I wrote the following blog post on Atomic Insights – Is Levy County nuclear plant too expensive to compete with natural gas?
You can probably tell that I tend to favor the nuclear plant option. Even though I no longer live in Florida, most of my family does. They are paying the easily affordable extra fees on current bills but they will reap the benefits of the clean, reliable power that new nuclear plants will be able to provide if they receive both political and financial investment support. So will their children and probably their grandchildren.
I’m not sure when Americans became so selfish that they began creating spreadsheet formulas that severely discount the value of making long term investments that benefit future generations. For some odd reason, bankers and investment professionals have taught people to apply factors and equations that result in essentially no value being assigned to benefits that are produced more than about 20 years into the future. Those equations also make future expenditures for fuel look pretty tiny compared to money that needs to be spent in the near future to build long-lasting production facilities.
I’m sure glad my parents and their parents were willing to help build power plants that benefit Floridians today.
Rod Adams – Publisher, Atomic Insights
Former resident of Pembroke Pines, Orlando, and Tarpon Springs