A couple of weeks ago, I got involved in a long conversation on a rather obscure web site when I found that there was some discussion about my repeated questioning of Amory Lovins’s academic background. My post about joining the conversation is titled When is ad hominem information relevant to an energy discussion?. Some of you asked why I bothered, but I find it useful sometimes to engage in debate with people who do not agree with me. It is good practice and it sometimes leads to me learning something new or to figuring out new ways to express my existing thoughts. If nothing else, it can be an interesting way to spend a few minutes.
I have continued to visit that thread every couple of days since there are still others who have done the same. It has rambled far from its original topic, and I actually wish that some of the participants there would simply come over to Atomic Insights for some more discussion. However, that has not yet occurred, so I go where the fight is. Most recently the discussion has revolved around the omnibus spending bill and whether or not loan guarantees for nuclear power developments were a good idea. I have tried to make the case that loan guarantees are not grants and should be viewed in a similar way as student loans, VA home loans, FHA housing loans, SBA disaster recovery loans, Department of Agriculture farm loans, and many other forms of backing from the federal government that enable beneficial actions without necessarily adding to the bill for taxpayers.
One of the other participants in the debate – like many who are opposed to nuclear power – stated his opinion that the billions spent by the federal government for nuclear power is what has been keeping wind, solar and other renewables from competing. He also asked if Adams Atomic Engines, Inc had benefited from those billions, with the implication that receipt of such funds would make my commentary less believable. Here is my reply to that comment. I thought it was too good to bury somewhere, but you may have your own thoughts about the quality of the argument. Feel free to express those here, this blog is a learning experience as well as a teaching opportunity.
“By the way, I think some people might be interested in knowing whether YOU or your company have been the beneficiary of any guaranteed loans, grants or other government sponsored programs over the years. It would seem to be very relevant to the current conversation.”
So far, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. has not received any government loans or grants. It is an early stage company that has been funded through what is commonly referred to as F&F (friends and family) sources. (For a lot of reasons, our early stage has lasted for more than 14 years so far.)
I personally have been the recipient of a huge investment by American taxpayers. I attended the US Naval Academy from 1977 through 1981. After graduation, I spent the next 18 months in nuclear power training. I then had the opportunity for a seriously immersive work/study program in nuclear plant operations that lasted for about 2.5 years and I earned the designation as qualified as an Engineer Officer. (That is the way I think of my junior officer tour on board the USS Von Steuben.) The taxpayers then invested a bit more in my formal education by sending me to the Naval Postgraduate School where I earned my MS in Systems Technology. After that school, I went back to a boat and served as the Engineer Officer for about 40 months. I could go on, but the bottom line is that I have probably received well in excess of $2 million dollars worth of salary and direct educational investment from the taxpayers. I feel a strong sense of obligation to give them a return on that investment.
I will go back to at least one of the reasons that my company continues to be a struggling start up. (BTW – it is a part time gig for me since there is not yet revenue. My full time gig still brings in a government paycheck.) Before we can build the machines that we believe can make the world a better place, we have to obtain the permission of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We have no issue with that – there are good reasons for some government oversight on nuclear power systems. What has been the hurdle is the way that we have to pay for the review process – the initial application fee is $250,000 and we have to pay the NRC $258 for every hour a bureaucrat spends reviewing our application.
The most recently approved plant design cost about $70 million in NRC fees in addition to the hundreds of millions spent in design and component testing. It takes the NRC about four years to review a design license, but there is no time limit and no limit on the number of hours that they can decide to spend. Since our gas cooled reactor technology is a bit different from the light water reactors that they know, we also have to pay the NRC fees for their reviewers to learn enough about gas cooled reactors in order to be effective regulators.
One has to look REALLY hard to find investors who are patient enough to wait for four years and invest a couple of hundred million dollars before they can even start building!
We have run the numbers – which happens to be what I do for a full time living – and believe that there is a substantial pay-off once the investment is made. It is just a matter of continuing to look to find the patient money that we need.
If a loan guarantee from the government will help alleviate investor reluctance, we believe that is a good thing. It would be better if the cost structure of the NRC license process were changed, but that is pretty difficult to arrange as well. You see, making it REALLY hard for nuclear plants to be built provides a HUGE financial benefit for coal, oil and gas companies that are our only competition in the reliable energy market. The leaders and corporate strategists for those companies and their financial and political backers understand that fact very well.
I know that people think that there MUST be breakthroughs possible in renewables if we simply invest enough money. I cannot prove them wrong, but I have looked at the technology pretty hard. It is my professional, technical opinion that investments in wind, solar and biomass are roughly equivalent to investing in teaching a near sighted dwarf with a bum knee to play basketball. He might get really good at certain aspects of the game – for his height – but he will never, ever compete in the NBA no matter how much you spend on his training and practice.
I very clearly have a dog in this fight. I want to see America regain its moral leadership and its ability to inspire the world to greater freedom and economic prosperity. I want to break the stranglehold that fossil fuel suppliers have on the world economy and the world political sphere.
I also want my company to be a prosperous employer and to leave my children and grandchildren a legacy that will make them proud of me.