Squawk Box Interview With Carol Browner Regarding Nuclear Loan Guarantee Announcement
Carol Browner, President Obama’s top energy and climate adviser and former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clinton Administration spoke on CNBC’s Squawk Box about the announcement that Southern Company would receive an $8.3 Billion loan guarantee for units 3 and 4 at its Vogtle power station in Georgia.
The news file footage of nuclear power plants can always be counted on to just show the hyperbolic cooling towers. I think one of the plants shown wasn’t even a nuke, it just had the correctly shaped cooling towers. I guess this says something about the public’s general knowledge of nuclear power, even though GE owns CNBC (for the time being).
I hope Congress provides the extra funds for more loan guarantees. With only $10 billion remaining, that will cover two other reactors. Any news which project this will be? I would estimate either South Texas or Levy County, Florida. The Calvert Cliffs EPRs are another possibility.
It’s nice to see a unified message of support for nuclear coming from the Obama administration. There was a lot of speculation that all the team wasn’t on board to support nuclear, but I think this video sets those criticisms into the background as we’ve seen a lot of positive progress for nuclear lately coming from Obama.
That was me above. I didn’t notice I was logged in a a guest.
It would really be nice if politicians who call for bipartisan support of nuclear power would not lead into it by blaming Bush for not issuing the first loan guarantee.
@Kit P – I guess I understand, but it really is frustrating to me to have people talk about how pro-nuclear the Reagan/Bush I/Bush II Administrations were. There was a distinct lack of nuclear plant construction during every single year they were in office, and it certainly was not because we did not need any new electrical power capacity. What was it, 300 GWe of natural gas, much of it in CCGT plants designed for high CF?
It may not be “bipartisan” to point this out, but it is fact that is hard to dispute.
Rod – I give you Reagan and Bush I.
But all that Obama has done so far is to follow up the initiatives of the Bush II administration and to kill other initiatives that Bush II worked to accelerate.
Compared to what the Bush II administration did to encourage progress to get nuclear back on track (especially after the disastrous Clinton/Gore era), the Obama administration’s efforts look downright anemic.
I will grant you the Obama administration had a head start. I am not as charitable towards the Bush administration as you are though. I might buy the argument that Bush did all he could reasonably do on this front had he been a one-term president or had his party not controlled Congress for most of his terms.
If we only grant the time when the Republicans had control of Congress, that still gives him half a decade. In that time, we got a lot of talk and “policies”, but no action. I’m sorry, if you can’t do something in half a decade, it either really is not important to you or you are incapable of governing.
Brian – though it is not easy to recognize this and I do not have the time this morning to dig up all of the references, you need to understand that one thing that the Bush Administration was good at doing was announcing new DOE programs that sounded very supportive of nuclear energy. When you dig into the federal budget tables or talk to the people who were involved in the programs like Nuclear Power 2010, NGNP, GNEP, AFCI, etc. you will find that the total amount of money in the DOE nuclear energy budget stayed essentially flat.
What really happened was that the money would be shifted from one program to another. Fits and starts are NOT the way to build things. It can be terribly discouraging to researchers to have to spend much of their time defending their budgets from the “good idea” people who are always seeking the next shiny object or initiative that they can announce on their watch before moving to a higher appointed position.
If you disbelieve me, contact me via email and I will provide the names of some of my scientific and engineering sources at the labs, universities and contractors who were affected. I would prefer, however, if you take some time to look through accessible budget numbers to see what I am talking about.
Rod – Sorry, but I don’t need the names of people, because I was one of those who were affected. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure that I have followed the “DOE nuclear energy budget” (here I assume that you mean DOE’s nuclear R&D budget) more closely than you have over the years, since it usually indicated what I would be working on next year.
It’s rare that I defend the GW Bush administration, but in this case. I think that it’s justified.
First of all, you don’t explain whether you are talking about the budgets put forward by the GW Bush administration or the budgets that were enacted by Congress. (From what you have written, I assume that you are talking about the latter.) The two are very different things. As I’m sure you are aware, the President’s budget is just a starting point. Congress makes the changes that it wants and approves it. So while the Bush administration was fairly consistent in the programs that it promoted and budgeted for, Congress often reshuffled the money, and hence, the priorities.
GNEP is a perfect example of this. Bush launched this program in 2006 (which was essentially a boosting of the AFCI initiative from a research project to a program actually designed to build something someday), and his budgets funded this program. Nevertheless, year after year, Congress slashed this budget and gave the money to the NGNP program.
Normally, this wouldn’t have been so bad, but much of the fledgling NGNP program was suffering from having been dialed out of the budget (by Congress) soon after it was announced in 2003. Thus, much of that money was spent inefficiently catching its initial momentum.
Here is what the numbers say (see pages 51-55 of this report of a study commissioned by the NEI).
Kit P was pretty much right. The Clinton/Gore years were a disaster for nuclear and nuclear R&D in particular. GW Bush came into office with a DOE Nuclear R&D budget that had been reduced to $72 million by the Clinton administration from a starting budget of $464 million that Clinton inherited from GW Bush’s father. Unlike what you claim, the nuclear budget during the GW Bush years did not “stay essentially flat.” In the first year, it more than doubled, and it rose steadily during the GW Bush’s tenure at the White House. It did not always increase each year; however, these were the first significant increases in nuclear R&D funding since the first year of the Carter administration a quarter of a century earlier.
Unfortunately, the report covers only the first five years of GW Bush’s term in office, so we don’t get a picture of what happened later under his watch (particularly the GNEP/NGNP interaction that I described above).
I’ll agree with you that “one thing that the Bush Administration was good at doing was announcing new DOE programs that sounded very supportive of nuclear energy,” and that is good because they were, for the most part, good for nuclear energy. The results speak for themselves. Were they perfect? No. But given the DOE’s track record for managing programs, which is abysmal, that is not surprising. I seriously doubt that the DOE under Obama is going to be anymore successful at herding that group of cats.
Fortunately for Obama, he can ride on the momentum that was built up by the GW Bush administration, and now, like any slick politician, he is taking advantage of this. The recent announcement of loan guarantees for Vogtle is a perfect example of that. It must be nice to take credit for leading while doing nothing but following. After that momentum falters, however, I’m not convinced that any additional progress is going to be made.
Finally, if you want to talk about money being “shifted from one program to another,” then perhaps you can untangle this mess. It is a budget that has “stayed essentially flat,” and much of the money has been “shifted from one program to another.” To be fair to the Obama administration, these shifts appear because most of the programs have either been renamed or have been split up into other existing programs, so this shell game has many angles. One interesting trend that I have noticed is that many of the new programs are more focused on “long term” development, which I take to mean that there will be more time available to kill them before they produce anything useful. 😉
Unfortunately, the way that the DOE typically works, it will take them a couple of years just to figure out their new organization and exactly what they should be doing before they can accomplish anything real … just another case of just kicking the can down the road.
You might have a different opinion, however, as someone outside of the nuclear industry.
I’d like to add that the figures that I give above are in 2006 dollars.
I’m slowly learning about nuclear power. Wondered what you take was on this rather gloomy assessment of France’s nuclear industry:
It’s one view of reality, albeit one quite colored.
The cross-subsidization part is especially weak. The French nuclear power system of today and the French nuclear weapons complex didn’t cross subsidize one another. The French gave up the reactor design that they originally favored (a Magnox-style reactor known as the UNGG) that was developed by their weapons complex in favor of using a standardized Westinghouse-derivative PWR (with numerous French modifications) as their standard nuclear power reactor. The French then set about building large quantities of their selected design. As they discovered, building multiple reactors at one site and building the same model over and over again saves money. As their construction teams got more experienced, costs went down and deadlines were met every time. The problem they had was they got too good at building reactors, and eventually, their market was saturated (they should have started pursuing exports earlier – but hindsight is 20/20.) The French built nuclear reactors for one purpose – power. Their plants produce power very well, and at a low cost, and besides, they’re all paid for now. As they start building new reactors, they will develop the skill to build the scale necessary – at the cost necessary – and by the schedule necessary – once more.
The use of electricity for resistance heating is a decent argument in itself. Electricity for resistance heating is not such a great use of energy. France could do better with heat pumps in the rural districts, along with district heating using distributed heating reactors in the more densely populated urban and suburban areas, such as the Canadian SLOWPOKE models (Quebec could export some, perhaps?).
France could also do with some decent intermediate load plants rather than using their LWRs for intermediate load. For instance, HTGRs – I think AREVA is developing one – along with certain atomic engines I hear of occasionally – might be good choices for intermediate load plants.
The arguments of lack of national security caused by nuclear fuel imports are silly. There are countries that are safe to import fuels from, and there are countries that are not safe to import fuels from. Canada and Australia are examples of the first category – you pay the price, they ship the uranium…the income goes into the coffers of shareholders. Saudi Arabia is a prime example of the second, you pay the price they set with their cartel, they ship the oil…the money goes into the coffers of al Qaeda. France does use oil for transport, admittedly. But if they put money into developing electric vehicles – then this issue could be addressed using their nuclear power plants. Already the railroads of France are electrified and lots of cargo goes over these railways.
France is one of the few countries in the world that can flip the bird practically to every other nation and not have a collapse of their society no matter what happens. Yes, people will drive very little and take the train more, if this is the case. But there will be no riots for food. Basic goods will still be manufactured. The lights will remain on, and in the winter, houses will remain warm. The reason for this is simple: the reason for this is nuclear power.
Dave – well said. I happen to be a Francophile from way back. Most of the college bound kids in my south Florida high school chose Spanish to meet their language requirement – back in the day when all good universities required at least 4 semesters of foreign language – but I chose French partially based on a wonderful experience on a visit to Martinique.
I happen to admire scrappy countries and competitors that defiantly flip the bird to those who try to tell them what they can and cannot do. One of my favorite athletes in recent memory was a kid who played flanker at the Naval Academy – he was 5′ 7″ and weighed just 165, but he was absolutely fearless as a kickoff returner or option runner.
That is also why I have a certain amount of admiration for a large country with a deep history of math and science that continues to tell the world that it has a right to develop nuclear energy to supply its 70+ million inhabitants.
Yes, it’s exactly the French *socialist* nuclear infrastructure which is a great model! Well noted.
I might add that Mr. Bush had EIGHT years to do this. His “initiatives” only qualified the loan guarantees…he never *advocated* them the way Obama has…and delivered. The irony here is simply to delicious. Ha!
Just for the record, Rod Adams has no experience in the US nuclear electricity generating industry. He is just an observer and not a very good one at that.
A little history is in order. The Clinton admin was very anti-nuke and put an anti-nuke in charge of DOE. They worked to close down nuke plants early and promoted cheap natural gas as a replacement. It was generally accepted that no new nukes would be built in the US and only a few existing plants would run 60 years.
One of the first thing Bush did was make the decision to move forward on Yucca Mountains licensing. Then there was a NATIONAL ENERGY POLICY, May 2001, which said that nukes should be part of the mix. I was closely watching the energy hearings on capital hill when I observed an airplane fly into an iconic building in DC.
Oh gosh Rod, you must love those scrappy terrorists!
However, I do understand why POTUS had to change priorities on 9/11.
Until 2005, there was no US market for new nukes. It had to do with the long term projected price of coal and natural gas. Loan guarantees and PTC for 6000 MWe of nuke capacity in the 2005 Energy Bill was designed to stimulate that market by hopefully get 4 plants into the permitting process. It worked very well because many more that 4 COLs have been submitted.
So the first applications were submitted in 2007 to the NRC. Rod it takes time to submit design certifications and COLs. Lots of engineering man hours are involved. It takes time for the NRC to review applications and hold hearings. It may seem like it takes too long to the outsider but the process is no faster for coal plants.
When Bush came to office, there were 103 commercial nuke plants making electricity. When he left office there were 104 with one under construction called Watts Bar II. The same number as when O will leave office.
I am happy that O a personal appearance and is showing support for new nukes. A step in the right direction following the leadership of Bush.
I don’t care what you say, Kit P. I’m not going to take up smoking again.
Being a smart guy I can explain but you would think me describing your behavior would be a personal attack.
Don’t worry about that. After reading your posts attacking Rod Adams, I’m not going to lose any sleep about anything you might have to say about me.
Bush did indeed talk about nuclear a bit, and in the latter part of his administration he got things moving to his credit. Nonetheless, I think we can all agree that he could have done more substantive action to get things going. Since the primary barrier these days is government uncertainty, I would have hoped he would have done more to mitigate these uncertainties. Being a supposed conservative, it would have been well within his ideology to tackle that issue.
A little off topic, but I do have a slightly different perspective on the Bush administration’s leadership, or lack thereof, on the defense side of nuclear. He talked a lot about supporting the nuclear complex, but that was all talk. Granted, Clinton did awful things to it, but Bush did little to reverse the decline. When Bush left office, the complex was languishing and near crisis levels in terms of our capabilities. You can point to here and there things done to improve things, but it was ultimately too unfocused to make a huge difference. So I’m sorry if I see the Bush folks as mostly talk and little action.
Compare this to the Obama administration who has proposed the largest funding increase towards the complex since the start of the Cold War. You would not expect this from a liberal. Bucking your party’s long-held stance on nuclear issues both civilian and defense is something I would call leadership.
At the end of the day, it is good to see nuclear finally emerging as a bipartisan issue at the highest levels of government. That is a credit to all of the talent men and women in the field.
@Kit – you seem to be a bit more stuck up than usual. Referring to Rod as though he isn’t present is sort of rude and trollish. This isn’t college, and you aren’t the professor.
Tell me when coal plants have to have design certifications, technical specifications, site permits, construction permits, and operating licenses. I still don’t seem to think they need those things. Do correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t see an Advisory Committee on Coal Safeguards that’s been formed yet that regulates even the slightest design aspects of coal plants. Where are the containment domes for your average coal-burner? Where are the small armies of security men at coal facilities? I don’t see an anti-coal movement that’s filled with the sort of highly irrational, lick-spittle, witch-burning, holy-book-thumping, quasi-fanatical fervor that, in my opinion, animates folks like Caldicott, Wasserman, or Lovins in their infinite jihad-cum-holy war against nuclear power (though, IMHO, Lovins, in particular, does do a decent job of hiding the irrational fanaticism that lies within under that smooth-operator, chameleon-like facade. A crafty and deceptive foe, for sure, with a siren song that lures the unwary to between Scylla and Charybdis…)
I wouldn’t be surprised, for example, if…actually, strike that, TMA hasn’t yet plotted a solution on our passive track, though at least the bearing ambiguity is resolved, plus we know it’s an Akula, not a tanker.
@Kit P – while you may be on somewhat solid ground when you challenge my credentials in the electric power industry, please save what little credibility you retain here and do not challenge my national security related credentials. (29 years of commissioned service, 4.0 GPA while earning a Navy War College diploma in National Security and Strategic Studies, 8 years serving at Navy Headquarters (SECNAV/OPNAV)
Granted the distraction from terrorist using fossil fuel as a literal weapon. I was also in DC on that day and have some stories about what my organization did to recover IT capabilities in the Pentagon and what my buddies in the Pentagon experienced. (Our office was in the Navy Yard at the time.)
HOWEVER, a true leader who understood a bit about geopolitical history would have recognized that action to restart the nuclear industry after 9/11 would not have been a distraction from national security priorities, but instead, it would have been a credible and effective response that would reduce our vulnerability to similar actions in the future.
A key component of that response would have been an effort to build the same kinds of small nuclear plants that the Navy has been building and operating for 50 years on bases all around the country and an effort to reduce operating ship vulnerabilities by starting to put those same kinds of heat engines on surface ships.
That effort would have cost a whole lot less money that what Bush II and his advisors chose to do AND it would have had far better returns on the investment for America and the world.
Kit, nothing you hurled at Rod had a thing to do with “experience in the utility industry…”. Not one thing. I’ve been IN the utility industry fro 25 years…a power plant control operator. But I generally agree with Rod about this.
Yes, the Bush administration got things rolling, true. But the industry itself, which was always ‘rolling’ albeit slowly, were the ones to really give the push because things were heating up *outside* the U.S. But you are VERY wrong if you think the US *ever* had a “national energy policy”. The closest thing we ever had to that was Atoms for Peace, and before that the TVA and FDR’s national rural electrification program combined with massive federally funded and owned hydro development.
The US STILL doesn’t have a real energy policy, not now, and not under Bush. What we do have is the Prez who did a really good ‘shout out’ for nuclear and backed it up with some real bucks. In fact it did take Nixon to go to China. Now that Obama has gone to the airport, got on the plane, we’ll see how far that plane flies.
It is truly delightful for me to watch the Republican commenters at Rod’s site hurl nonsense in Rod’s direction, in response to the announcement of nuclear loan guarantees for Plant Vogtle from the Obama administration. They are frustrated that all the Republicans’ talk about support for nuclear energy (from the Reagan Administration through the GW Bush Administration) wasn’t backed up. They are behaving schoolyard bullies who salve their deflated egos by teasing the “smart kid.”
I am eagerly waiting for the most delightful missives (/sarcasm) from “Anonymous.”
That’s nastily unfair, Ruth.
Do you always resort to name-calling when somebody happens to disagree with you?
Just because someone does not agree with some (or most or all) of Obama’s policies, that does not make him or her a “Republican.”
If Obama figures that out before the next presidential election, then he might have a shot at a second term.
David you must be wrong I am looking at my hard copy. Check out page 5-17 for recommendations for nuclear power. It is a very comprehensive document. It happens to be in a binder that has renewable energy information because that is what I was working on at the time.
This binder is at home now because now I am being paid to design new nuke plants. A direct result of Bush Administration policies. Other engineers in America are designing a 4 nuke plants being built in China. Changes the laws to allow us to compete in the world is another major accomplishment.
Currently, we have to assume the current energy policy developed by Bush is the one that O is following. That is what it looks like. I have not seen any change.
Yes, Kit. You’re right.
I’ve read the National Energy Policy of 2001 too. Apparently, I’m one of the few people who comment here who has done that. In fact, I quoted part of it in the comments here a week or two ago, asking whether anyone knew where it came from.
Nobody offered a guess.
This is a good forum, but unfortunately, a substantial number of the claims and statements put forward here are done out of ignorance.
Pardon me Kit P, but would you be willing to outline in general terms which particular aspect of nuclear plant design you’re working on?
@Kit P – Was this National Energy Policy of 2001 enacted into law or was it just a document that was published as guidance. Just because you have something in hard copy does not mean that it had any lasting effect. I have plenty of hard copy reports in my office as well – they are worth less than they were when we purchased them since they now have a bunch of worthless words on them.
I found a copy of the report that you claim is a policy. Here are some words from the letter signed by Dick Cheney.
“On behalf of the National Energy Policy Development Group, I submit for your consideration our National Energy Policy report. As you directed us at the outset of your Administration, we have developed a national energy policy designed to help bring together business, government, local communities, and citizens to promote dependable, affordable, and environmentally sound energy for the future.
. . .
We submit these recommendations with optimism. The tasks ahead are great but achievable. To meet our energy challenge, we must put to good use the resources around us and the talents within us. It summons the best of America and offers a healthier environment, a stronger economy and a brighter future for the American people.”
As I recall, this recommendation was DOA since it was conceived in closed door meetings without even an attendance list published. Of course, if you owned an oil company, you got an invite, but . . .
Geez Rod … nobody ever claimed that Bush’s “National Energy Policy” was law. Perhaps you weren’t paying attention.
The law was the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which enacted many (but of course, not all) of the recommendations put forward in the policy document.
I recall, however, that when I started to get into the advanced nuclear technology game, it was supposed to be the “Energy Policy Act of 2003.” The Bush administration, including key figures in the DOE, was pushing and pushing, but nothing happened until two years later.
Well, that’s politics for you, and that is what Bush was up against.
In any case, even the policy document that was published in May 2001 is far more than anything that Obama has done yet. This policy document was published within months after GW Bush came to office. On the other hand, Obama has been in for over a year, and all that he has to offer is a followup to a promise made by the Bush administration over four years earlier.
I’d say that certain parts of that policy document have had long lasting effect. Other parts, such as support for Yucca Mountain, are now meaningless — thanks to Obama and Reid — except of course for the lawsuits that are expected to be filed against the federal government in the coming year.
Brian – It is pretty easy to produce a report in a short period of time if you only invite your friends to participate in writing it. That avoids the “nasty” business of discussion, compromise and forging agreements that make no one happy that you deride as “politics”.
As a pick-up basketball player, perhaps President Obama has learned a bit about the importance of “follow-through” which is often far more important that talking a big game.
One thing worth mentioning here in comment number 31 – I have been a registered Republican for my entire adult life. The very first time I voted for a Democrat was after working in DC for 4 years for an administration that talked about how important people were, but then proceeded to cut Navy end strength by 40,000 sailors during a time of war and during a time in which we were planning to increase the number of ships from about 283 to 313. I watched maintenance staffs get sliced almost completely away, I attended meetings in some very swanky contractor conference rooms, and I had political appointees tell my bosses that we had to take meetings with certain vendors, even when we did not need or want what they were selling.
I watched as appointees pressured Navy leaders to do something to prove our “relevance” so they offered up about 12,000 more sailors to do Army and Marine ground jobs on an Individual Augmentee basis. That meant that they were permanently assigned to a ship or shore command and filling a billet there, but they were actually sent away from that billet for more than a year without any replacement. The actual reduction in manning has been quite severe when combined with the end strength reductions; if we were not in a terrible economic recession, I would bet that retention would be dropping like a rock.
I read about the service records of the people making decisions that were sending my friends and family members into battle and that threatened to send me there 3 separate times.
Bottom line – I came by my bitterness about the Bush II administration and its appointees through personal experience. My view from inside may be completely wrong, but it was not formed via talking points or getting seduced by fancy speeches.
I just can’t imagine the sort of motivation that does those sorts of cuts; especially the contracting out of military functions. Contractors really were allowed to run rampant over the Pentagon during the late Administration – and the foibles involving contractors sent to do inherently military duties – like security details in a combat zone – the procurement fraud are a real disgrace.
People don’t understand it, but the Navy is crucially important at this point in time. Often, the next threat comes from a vector that isn’t the one that the generals and admirals are expecting – and often the next threat comes just after the service has just finished transforming itself to fight the last threat. (e.g. transformation to fight Islamic insurgency.) If any general war that involves the United States is going to break out, I will hazard a guess that it will occur at sea, and if it does, I think which service is going to be in the line of fire is fairly obvious (God willing, as few as possible.)
For that simple reason, a 500 ship Navy might not be a bad idea. It would be a prudent investment – because any nation that proclaims a policy of “Unrestricted Warfare” obviously has a target that it intends to use “Unrestricted Warfare” on. In fact, “Unrestricted Warfare” may have already begun. In fact, it probably began sometime quite a while ago.
Dave – Concur. The problem is that a 500 ship navy would require a nation that actually builds ships, rather than one that spends money designing ships, paying contract cost overruns, and fixing the issues that occur when people are encouraged to “take risk” (translation – reduce resources) in areas like ship maintenance, personnel manning and training in order to free up more money for contractors.
Rod you may want to actually read the National Energy Policy of 2001. You would be better informed on energy issues because you make a lot of talking point statements.
What I do now is my dream job in system design work for new plant nuclear island design. Our design is in the DC process with the NRC and we are doing detailed design for a plant that will start construction when the NRC gets done. I am one of the old guys with a pictures of the navy nuclear ships and the commercial nukes I started up. SRO certified on 4 commercial nukes and done work on at least 20. Also worked on Yucca Mountain design and fuel fabrication facility design. For a few years I worked on renewable energy project business development.
POTUS stands for president of the United States. The Senate Majority Leader leads the United States Senate. I think that that NEI does a very good representing the interests of the nuke industry. However, I do get irritated who take a narrow view and put their special interest ahead of the general welfare of the country. Rod is an example of that. More irritating is how often Rod is wrong in his facts
Bush was very strong on energy issues and he followed through. It goes back to his experience as governor of Texas. Obama is very weak on energy. He and Reid put politics ahead of the country by killing Yucca mountain. And for those who missed it, AGW has been put ahead of solving economic issue. I am really glad that Obama has followed though on Bush’s loan guarantees.
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