Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bogus Anti-Nuclear Poll of the Day

Although we try to avoid the pro/con arguments over nuclear power, we couldn't resist mentioning this little doozy. A group called the Civil Society Institute released a poll showing what they claim is broad opposition to nuclear power.

The funny thing is, even a cursory read of the poll questions shows that they are utterly biased...not even remotely honest. For example:

Over three-fifths of Americans (62 percent) agree with the statement: "The energy and global warming problem is happening now. We need most of the emphasis placed on immediate and near-term solutions that will deliver fast results" such as "solar energy and wind power" and "increased conservation." Less than a third of Americans think most of the emphasis should be on "solutions that will deliver results a decade from now or later" such as "nuclear power and hydrogen fuel cells."

Note how carefully the question is constructed to ensure the answer the poll taker wanted.

They start with an obvious question "We need most of the emphasis placed on immediate and near-term solutions that will deliver fast results". Of course, everybody will agree with that question. Having got that easy agreement, they then sneaked their favored solutions "solar and wind power" onto the list (depite the historic fact that wind and solar power aren't short term solutions, quite the opposite).

That's the equivalent of asking somebody "do you want to vote for a smart, honest, and handsome person -- our candidate -- or do you want to vote for a horrible scumbag -- the opposition?"





Monday, May 29, 2006

California Part II -- The Shifting Debate

Part II: How Has the Debate Shifted? Has the Media Missed the Change?

Most media coverage is still focused on the old “pros verses cons” of nuclear power. But as we said earlier, we believe that old debate is largely irrelevant in the minds of most thought leaders. As people re-consider nuclear power, they are thinking about the issues from a completely different perspective.

Let’s look at this new paradigm and attempt to re-frame the nuclear debate in terms that better match what people are thinking today.

Global Warming vs. Nuclear Waste

Old Debate: Do we have a solution for nuclear waste?
New Debate: Is waste from fossil fuels is a much bigger problem? If so then maybe nuclear waste isn’t such a bad alternative.

Over past few years, global warming has become the premiere environmental issue. Al Gore has made tremendous progress educating the public about its dangers, culminating in a movie called “An Inconvenient Truth” – playing at a cinema near you!

But the very success of the Global Warming campaign is what drives people to take a second look at nuclear power. In theory, carbon dioxide emissions are creating enormous systemic changes in the ecosystem. Flooding, acidic ocean water, die-off of species, reversal of the Atlantic current…all these point to massive, widespread, and devastating changes, which are predicted to impoverish or displace millions of people.

Compared to this, nuclear waste starts to look like a minor problem. For example:

Although nuclear waste is extraordinarily dangerous (everyone admits that), a very tiny amount of it can substitute for relatively huge amounts of carbon waste. One barrel of nuclear waste prevents millions of barrels of carbon waste.

Carbon waste has a unique problem: it is always immediately spewed into the atmosphere…it is “polluting the commons.” On the other hand, nuclear waste is never spewed into the global environment. It is retained by the original nation which produced it. It is almost impossible to ship. So nuclear waste does not “pollute the commons.” By definition , nuclear waste forces the society who create it to be responsible for it. From this perspective, the argument could be made that nuclear waste is the more environmentally responsible choice, compared to carbon waste.

Yes, nuclear waste is a potential risk, but that’s still an “if”. If the barrels leak. If terrorists manage to bypass rings of military protection. If the barren wastes of Nevada suddenly become desirable real estate. Many unlikely things would need to happen, in order for nuclear waste to become a major disaster. On the other hand, carbon waste is causing a disaster, right now, on a global scale.

Many environmentalists have supported carbon dioxide sequestration, a technology which aims to pump these millions of tons of carbon waste into the ground or deep ocean. But this highlights the problem: how can people complain about “no solution” for nuclear waste, when there is clearly “no solution” for carbon waste either? And the huge volume of carbon waste makes it a much more difficult waste problem to solve.

In summary:

What’s worse, a few barrels of nuclear waste stored somewhere in the middle of the Nevada desert, which “might” leak and poison a very small local area…

-Or-

Millions of tons of carbon dioxide and coal smoke spewed into the atmosphere, which is already causing massive worldwide destruction?


Renewables Vs. The French Success


Old Debate: We should try to convert to mostly renewable sources.
New Debate: France converted 75% of their electrical grid to nuclear power in a few decades. Why don’t we do the same thing?

For decades society has discouraged nuclear power and encouraged conservation, solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources. There have been big government subsidies, tax credits (especially in California) and investment in dozens of new technology startups and research programs.

These efforts have produced promising results, but nowhere near the promises made by supporters of the technology. Decades later, the slow growth of renewables has left a gap, filled by burning ever more millions of tons of coal every year. As we’ll describe later in this paper, the state of California has met the vast majority of it’s electric need with natural gas and is planning to meet much of it’s future needs with coal.

Electrical demand is skyrocketing, and it shows no signs of slacking off. If we subtract “old style” renewables like hydropower, geothermal, and trash burning, which are largely tapped out, the actual contribution of wind and solar and tidal power are still a few percent or less of demand.

When debating nuclear power, opponents say “yes, but nuclear power couldn’t meet the need either”. However, every major government knows this argument is false. The nuclear industry is quite capable of building astronomical numbers of additional capacity, outstripping wind and solar power by a huge magnitude.

The proof? Simple. France converted their entire electrical grid to non-carbon emitting in a mere 25 years. They did this by building over 50 nuclear reactors, mass-production style. These reactors have been humming away for years, and the French have been quietly enjoying the cleanest air and lowest rates in Europe. Indeed, they export a great deal of the electricity that provides stability to the electrical grid when the wind turbines in Denmark and Spain stop turning.

Any national government can say: “If France can convert their grid, why can’t we?”

The US and Britain know that their nuclear industries are capable of similar feats. The nuclear industry in the US was on track to build hundreds more reactors, before the slowdown stopped them. This is why leaders are re-considering nuclear power. They know it works, and can be delivered in mass quantities. On the other hand, wind and solar, while promising, have been much slower than promised.

The prudent choice is to do both. Why take chances?



Iran, Pakistan, and Proliferation

Old debate: nuclear plants create plutonium, which can be used for bombs.
New debate: nuclear plants reduce oil imports, so overseas dictators have less money to buy bombs on the black market .

Proliferation has been the most dangerous consequence of nuclear power. In the past, the argument has been that more nuclear reactors create greater danger of nuclear weapons.

However, that argument is now being superseded by a less black-and-white, more mature view. For example in the past decade both North Korea and Pakistan obtained nuclear weapons. An recent article in the Atlantic Monthly magazine gave a harrowing picture of the black market, and gray market suppliers, that provided the means to build these bombs.

What becomes clear is that these bombs can be created independent of the commercial nuclear power industry. The materials and expertise can be purchased from Russia or China, or other nuclear nations—for a price.

With the current standoff between the US and Iran, in which Iran proclaims its right to build nuclear weapons, the primary issue is oil money. The US and the world is so dependant on the oil exports from or adjacent to Iran, that this gives Iran a “chokehold” on the world, and uncounted billions of dollars, to use as leverage.

All over the world, dictators and hostile nations are enjoying the power that comes with 70 dollar per barrel oil. They can use that money, and that power, to seek nuclear weapons, in addition to repressing their own people.

How can that oil price be reduced? How can every nation have energy security – which is in this age equivalent to military and economic security?

Answer: More nuclear power, less dependence on foreign energy imports.


The Reverse-Cherynobyl effect

Old argument: What about the risk of accidents, like Chernobyl?
New argument: Despite Chernobyl, the Ukrainians are building more nuclear reactors. What do they know that we don’t?

On the 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, perhaps the most under-reported story was that the Ukraine is building new nuclear reactors. The Ukraine government announced intention for additional nuclear reactors, to supplement their existing sites.

The Ukrainians have personally experienced the worst-case accident, and yet they appear to be turning back to nuclear power. They will still debate, and may yet reduce or change their plans, but still: after 10 years of nuclear freeze, they are re-considering nuclear power. Why?

They don’t want to freeze. They are dependant on Russia for gas imports. Russia has already halted energy shipments for political reasons and clearly is willing to do so again. This threatened energy embargo is a weapon that threatens the Ukrainians security and their freedom.

Nuclear power has risks, but all industrial processes have risks. Thousands of people were killed in Bhopal, India, in a pesticide plant disaster, yet the world has not banned the manufacture of pesticides. Every year there are coal mining accidents, yet coal mining is not banned. Oil refineries can explode. Hydroelectric dams collapse.

Modern reactors are infinitely safer. The Ukrainians recognize that the Chernobyl reactor disaster was a very old, poorly designed and run reactor. It was the equivalent of a Model-T car. Modern reactors are infinitely better, infinitely safer, and have an incredible safety record. The Ukraine can look intelligently at risks and say “well, in the past we had a problem, but in the future we can see it’s a safe route.”

Conclusion

We haven’t tried to describe every possible argument pro and con. There are many other places to see that debate. Opponents of nuclear power are unlikely to be convinced by these arguments. We simply want to show how the argument has changed, and is continuing to evolve, and this is why nuclear power is getting a second look from many.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The New Era of Nuclear Power: Will California Be Left Behind?

A Position Paper by iNuclear.Org

Ed Note. At the Nuclear Assembly last week in San Francisco, we asked attendees: “What do you think is going to happen in California? Is California going to be a significant part of the new nuclear revival, either as a buyer of reactors, or as a supplier of technology to new reactors?” The answers were disheartening. The general perception by the group, and by extension for the rest of the world (as they change to supporters of nuclear power) was not at all positive for the state's image. This article is the first of 4 parts.

PART I: The International Scene

In the 1970s, the attempt to pass an Anti-Nuclear Proposition 15 made California the spiritual heart of the movement to halt nuclear power. After the rapid post-WWII nuclear expansion, citizens and leaders throughout the world stopped to ask: “Do we really want to build this many nuclear reactors? Is nuclear energy the right path to follow for the future of our world?”

Now, after 30 years of this debate, the answer appears to be “Yes”. With surprising speed, the world community of thinkers, leaders, citizens, and even environmentalists are deciding in favor of nuclear power. The nuclear power industry, which had been declared all but dead by opponents, has suddenly revived and to the shock of many, looks healthy indeed.

Of course there will be continued debate, but it is likely to be moot. Fears over global warming, out-of-control energy costs, and dangerous international politics are driving the change, and the pro-nuclear case is gaining speed. It’s a new technological trend, still at the early stages but unmistakable.

As the long nuclear debate resolves itself, the state of California doesn’t look good. Far from being the technology leaders, we are in danger of being laggards, holding tight to old and out-of-date policies while the rest of the world moves ahead. Our energy future is not only stagnating, but may in fact be backsliding…devolving towards more primitive, dirtier forms of energy. For a state that has long relied on a competitive edge based on it’s perception as a technology center, this is a dangerous situation.

Nations Shift Their Stance

Where are these historic shifts happening? At the Nuclear Energy Assembly meeting last week in San Francisco, the leaders of the new nuclear industry described case after case:

In the UK, Prime Minister Tony Blair and most of his government have all but capitulated to the need to re-build and perhaps expand nuclear power. Wind and other renewables are simply unable to fill the need.

In Europe, alarm over global warming, pressures from the Kyoto protocol, and the ever-growing dangers of middle eastern and Russian energy has even staunch greens saying “well, we don’t like it, it’s not our first choice, but we can’t live without it”.

France already gets 75% of their electricity from nuclear power, and they are smugly enjoying the lowest stable electric rates, and the lowest carbon dioxide emission rates, in the world.

China has 14 reactors working or under construction, another 58 proposed by 2020, and there is public discussion of thousands more. Chinese energy is primarily based on coal burning, which is taking an enormous toll on air and lungs. Their hydroelectric program has serious grassroots opposition from displaced citizens. So their need for nuclear, for practical purposes, is infinite. India already has an aggressive nuclear program. Between them, China and India have almost two billion people, almost a third of the human race that is striving to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become part of the clean, healthy, modern world. Two billion people demand an almost inconceivable amount of new energy, and the survival of the ecosystem may well depend on our ability to deliver that energy from clean sources.

In the United States, 10 or more new reactors are in in the planning process, southern and midwestern states are competing to be the first new locations, and the federal government is seriously re-tooling their efforts to develop new reactor technologies, fix waste disposal, and reduce proliferation risks. Even as the Bush administration enters it’s last few years of power, it will leave behind significant changes, which subsequent administrations are unlikely to reverse.

Finally, most important, nuclear power is no longer driven by the United States. It’s no longer just a local question. It’ a worldwide movement with worldwide consequences. Who will lead that movement?

Environmentalists for Nuclear

The environmental community is also shifting. Environmental provocateurs Patrick Moore, Steward Brand, and James Lovelock have led the change, and other environmental leaders from major organizations are beginning to jump in. Their increasing success at convincing the world to fear global warming has produced an unexpected result: the irresistible logic of nuclear power as a tool to save the ecosystem.


Finally, the ultimate shift. Public perception of nuclear power has improved quietly over the years. The great high-technology revolution of the past few years has created a generation of citizens who are technology-friendly and technology-savvy. They love their gadgets, love the Internet, and want the electricity to keep their servers and cellphones humming. They are capable of sophisticated judgments about the pros and cons of competing technologies. They are software engineers, biotech scientists, microwave engineers, chip manufacturers, and video game hackers. And they are open to nuclear power.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

More Articles on Nuclear Power in California

We’re still focused on the question of nuclear power in California. Here are some recent articles, offshoots of last week’s conference in San Francisco. They don’t seem biased either pro or con, but notice that they still stress the issue of nuclear waste disposal, a bit of a red herring.


SF Chronicle

Nuclear backers' energy surges They say alternative would ease concern over global warming

David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, May 19, 2006

The nuclear power industry, benefiting from fears of global warming, now faces its best chance in years to overcome skeptics and build plants, proponents said Thursday at a San Francisco convention. Nuclear power's ability to create large amounts of energy without spewing greenhouse gases has caused a once-hostile public to reconsider...


ABC News
Change In Attitude About Nuclear Power

By David Louie
May 18 - KGO -

Is the time right to talk about building new nuclear power plants in the U.S.? Engineers and utility executives at a conference on San Francisco's Nob Hill say it is. With demand for electricity expected to grow 40-percent in the next 25 years, the cost of generating power is escalating due to natural gas prices. That has these engineers and utility executives suggesting now is the time to start talking about expanding nuclear power production.


Contra Costa Times
Nuclear energy officials see hope for industry

Bush says he aims for new facilities to be built by the end of the decade; but radioactive waste disposal remains a problem

By Rick Jurgens
CONTRA COSTA TIMES

SAN FRANCISCO -
About 400 nuclear energy executives gathered on Nob Hill on Thursday to talk shop and revel in the revival of their long-dormant industry. "Nuclear power is a key part of a clean, secure energy future," President George Bush said in a videotaped message to the conferees, who operate, build and sell fuel or equipment to nuclear power plants. Some even dared to say what only recently seemed unthinkable: Maybe someday new nuclear power plants might be built in California.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Why the 'i' in iNuclear?

We like the name iNuclear because it evokes a different way of thinking about nuclear power.

The nuclear power of the past was, to be honest, closely associated with the post-WWII era. Even though it was called “Nukes for Peace” it was still an outgrowth of the military buildup of nuclear power and unfortunately associated with nuclear weapons. More specifically, much of the civilian nuclear industry was based on Nuclear Navy designs.

This is not any disparagement of the military or the Navy. Not at all. These organizations had, and still have, a huge positive effect on the nuclear world.

However, that first wave effectively ended in the mid-1970s, when the great slowdown in nuclear power construction occurred. From a practical perspective, and from a cultural or political perspective, it is extremely convenient to consider that time to be an “era” which ended. Therefore the nuclear renaissance, which we are now witnessing, can only be considered a different nuclear era.

For an earlier take on this idea, see our discussion of Nuclear Crossing the Chasm.

For this new era, we decided to have some fun and give it a name: iNuclear. This is the iNuclear Era.

Why "i"?

The “i” is a shorthand way of saying “we want to be viewed the same way as the iPod, Apple Computer, the internet, nanotech, biotech, and all the other cool new technologies.”

We think that nuclear power is the right and most appropriate power source for the technology future which is expanding so rapidly in front of us. This technology-friendly culture spans the world…travel to India, Scotland, China, Southern France, or even to Saudi Arabia, and you will see handsome young people chatting on their cellphones or sending email to each other. It’s a global phenomenon, the 4th great technology revolution of the human race.

And as we all know, all this technology takes electricity. A lot of electricity. Baseload electricity. And that electricity is best provided by nuclear power. Certainly not by coal, an energy source which belongs in the Victorian era, not today.

The “i” in iNuclear can also serve as a reminder. It is incumbent on us, as proponents of this next nuclear era, to do it differently. We need nuclear power to really be peaceful, and to eliminate any residual ties to the military world. That means we need create a nuclear industry that is in every way designed for peace, from top to bottom: in fuel design, reactors, reprocessing, waste disposal, financing, insurance, and international relations. Even more, we need to divorce our own minds utterly from the military mindset, and think only and forever about nuclear power as a peace-based technology.

A great example of this is the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership recently announced by the Bush administration.

Again, we're not criticizing the military world, simply recognizing that a complete separation is not only healthy, but the natural next step.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Unsung Heros of the Environment" in SF Today

The Nuclear Energy Institute sponsored their "Assembly" meeting in San Francisco this week, and I was fortunate enough to visit for a day. As I strolled around, the most noticeable thing was how friendly people were. The nuclear business has not been very popular for many years, so the people in it must by definition like what they are doing, and they tend to treat each other with great courtesy and cheer.

This meeting had an amazing attendance...several governors, ex-governors, CEOs of major firms, and US government officials. President Bush made a speech, by video. Environmentalists Patrick Moore and Steward Brand were there, as always speaking the unassailable logic of nuclear power as the best hope for planet earth.

Then, among all these big players, there were a number young college students and new hires. They had a seperate meeting the day before and some stayed around to watch. What was so impressive was that, mingling among the VIPs, the college students were accepted, welcomed, and encouraged. Where else is there a multi-billion dollar heavy industry in which high-level meetings are so open to new faces?

An optimistic day. These are people who have been steadily working, day in, day out, under adverse conditions, delivering gigawatts of ultra-clean electricity to their neighbors. Now those neighbors are just beginning to recognize the effort, and be thankful.

People in the nuclear industry are the unsung heros of the environment. While others have talked (and talked) about saving the earth, the people of the nuclear industry have been doing it, in a big, practical way, which is a lot more useful than just talking.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Nuclear Electricity, Coal into Fuel, Bye-Bye Oil Imports

Just for fun, I suggest people spend a few minutes reading about coal-to-fuel conversion. The technology has been known for decades, but unti now it's been too expensive.

The key fact is, we could stop importing foreign oil any time. It's absolutely feasible. The steps would be:

1. Convert the US electrical grid to 60% Nuclear. Absolutely possible...the French did it for their system in 25 years.

2. Convert existing coal plants to conversion facilities that make diesel.

Bingo. Economic security, reduced military problems, and good for the ecosystem too (This would cut CO2 emissions by 20% or so)

Of course, it's not that easy. The two simple steps outlined above involve billions of dollars and wrenching economic changes. It's probably not feasible from a political and social perspective. But there's no technological barrier.

There is plenty of energy sources around. We just have to take steps to get them in place.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

California Can, and Must, Be a Leader in the New Nuclear Era

Across the world, public and government opinion is crystallizing in favor of nuclear power. And it’s already evolving into practical action.

In Florida, Louisiana, and other states with significant nuclear workforces and histories of safe operation, nuclear power is being pursued aggressively. These people recognize a great deal when they see it: jobs, clean technology, inexpensive energy, economic growth, and a safety track record better than almost any other industry they can attract. In the federal government, the shock over oil prices and threats to energy security by rogue states have changing nuclear power from an option to a “must have’. If you have any doubt about the seriousness of government planners, read this.

The next phase of the nuclear world…what we like to call the iNuclear era, has started.

But here in California (the home state of this humble blogger) we seem to be a bit behind. This is based perhaps on a misunderstanding.

Californians, environmentally aware and comfortable with advanced technology, have been agressively pursuing solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources. This has seemed the obvious complement to the clean, dignified, high-technology lifestyle which we want to create. Many of us, so focused on renewables, have made the understandable mistake of viewing renewables are the only valid solution, which are always and inherently opposed to nuclear power.

This view is incorrect.

The reality is, nuclear power and renewables (and of course aggressive conservation) can and in fact MUST be pursued together. This is the only possible way that our nation, and the rest of the world, can survive the coming centuries. Renewables and conservation, by themselves, are simply not up to the task.

This is not just an opinion, it is simple reality, shown by decades of headlines. In 30 years of hard work, despite constant government funding and tax credits, the growth of actual generating capacity by wind and solar energy sources has been horrifically slow – a tiny fraction of what was promised by promoters of the technology.

While we should try for better results in the next 30 years, we must, as responsible stewards of this planet, make intelligent and appropriate decisions. We must assume, as reasonable people, that renewable energy will continue it’s snail-like pace. We cannot allow massive coal burning in Wyoming, or natural gas burning in local generating plants to become the “lowest common denominator” energy sources. We must choose a practical, realistic mix of earth-friendly energy sources. And that means both renewables and nuclear power must be active choices.

Plus, nuclear power and renewables are a great fit. Two peas in a pod.
Renewables tend to be variable, sporatic, and local in nature. They work great when the wind is blowing or sun is shining, but otherwise need a back-up baseload grid to depend on. Nuclear power is great for the baseload grid. Reactors, especially the new designs, can ramp up or ramp down when not needed. Those are the engineering reasons, and there are economic and social ones as well. The bottom line is, we need them both.

So what’s the point? California needs nuclear power. With the problems in our grid, we need it sooner than later. As a start, double all capacity at the existing plants, and talk to other states about buying their “doubled” power as well.

But let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about business. In addition to more nuclear power in our grid, California also needs to be a significant part of the nuclear business. We need to get our industrial and high-tech resources into the building, equipping, maintaining, supplying, or staffing of nuclear infrastructure. It’s going to become a much larger industry, an industry perceived as an essential piece of the high-tech future. Nuclear power is inherently and by definition a high-technology energy source. So California, if it wants to maintain it’s status as a leader in the high-technology world, needs to be a significant player in the new nuclear power industry. It’s a simple as that.

How? That’s a big topic and we’ll cover it more later.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

What Can We Do to Build the Nuclear Workforce?

We've predicted that very quickly, the debate over nuclear power will switch from "should we build reactors?" to "We need Nuclear power yesterday! Hurry! Hurry! Oh no! We don't have enough engineers!"

This is the typical boom-bust cycle of the world, but in this case it appears to be amplified.

For example, here is a recent article on "The Brain Drain."

The important question is, as the world recognizes the crucial nature of nuclear power, who will be able to ramp up the quickest? How will we handle this problem in the US?

A few points:

  • We need to institute policies to record and preserve the knowledge of retiring engineers. Many of them are "just retired" and still possessing great reserves of untapped knowledge. Fortunately there are some significant new technologies recently developed, especially in the training management and skills planning field, which improve our ability to "record" expertise properly.
  • We need to build up our nuclear university departments, student recruiting, and research funding. This is pretty obvious.
  • Finally we need to start looking at policy changes and hiring practices that encourage experienced nuclear personnel to move to those nations that are in the fastest growth curve.
Anybody else out there have some thoughts? We'd like to explore this topic in detail.

Monday, May 01, 2006

We're Back!

Hello all. We've been out of commission for a few months but now back to continue watching the excitement in the Nuclear industry.