Monthly Archives: October 2010

Women and nuclear awareness

By Kelle Barfield

Clearly, our attempts to generate greater understanding of energy challenges exclude no member of the public. Young and old, Democrat and Republican, male and female–all must be the aim of public information about U.S. energy policy in general and nuclear energy in particular. Years of industry surveys, however, have quantified the large gender divide on acceptance of nuclear energy. For example, a survey last year by Ipsos Public Affairs showed that 54 percent of men support a stronger role for nuclear energy in the next few decades, while women’s support was only 32 percent.

Three quarters of respondents in a woman-only survey reported taking primary or equal responsibility in paying electric bills, and 91 percent took dominant or equal responsibility for electricity use at home. Preliminary results just released by the U.S. Census Bureau show a rise of 20 percent in women-owned businesses compared with five years ago, and as their numbers grow so too do their concerns for controlling business costs such as electricity. In a 2009 survey by Greenberg Quinlan and Rosner, 98 percent who own businesses have also reduced electricity use at home. Yet women also self-report as knowing very little about nuclear energy. In a 2008 survey by Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research, 70 percent of moms said that they know “a little or nothing” about the use of nuclear energy in America (compared with 58 percent of the total population surveyed).

So, Entergy began exploring what women do know, and what they want to learn about nuclear energy. “Listening sessions” (more casual, intimate focus groups lending richer dialogue) and traditional survey research through partners such as Women Impacting Public Policy and the Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment has revealed much about women’s learning, listening, and language preferences when it comes to nuclear matters.

Learning–Women are “information integrators.” As explained in “The 80% Minority: Reaching the Real World of Women Consumers,” their brains connect the dots, meaning that women generally want a complete picture of energy issues, not just a laundry list of nuclear facts and “convincing” data. This is why an industry task force is working to make available early next year comprehensive energy education resources for nuclear operators, vendors, universities, and others who want the public to better understand why nuclear must be a growing part of the mix. When the entire picture is shown, it is viewed more as information than propaganda, especially by women (who, by the way, comprise the vast majority of primary and secondary school teachers, often turning their learning into teaching.)

Women also often form social networks and support groups for social, psychological, and intellectual fulfillment. In other words, they like to learn together. This makes research through focus groups ideal as educational forums as well. Even better, the more women discovered how limited their real understanding of nuclear energy issues is, the more they wanted to learn. Entergy found that after a three-hour session with strangers, many participants left after exchanging business cards, email addresses, and a commitment to keep sharing information with one another, to keep learning.

Listening–Female research participants indicated that they want to hear from other women about nuclear energy. Like most of us, they consider more credible those with whom they can relate. Moms are especially guarded in their opinion of potentially threatening technologies, but identifying with the speaker goes a long way in helping them stay open-minded. Therein lies more good news, as the number grows of women in the nuclear industry who can speak to women’s concerns.  The Professional Women in ANS, Women in Nuclear, and leaders such as NRC Commissioner Kristine Svinicki and CASEnergy Coalition co-chair Christine Todd Whitman are all voices for other women to listen to. Tying back to the concept of social networks, even women not affiliated with the nuclear industry can be tapped as leading voices for nuclear energy. Consider a fact reported in Women in Business and Industry magazine that women who own businesses strongly support clean energy sources, with 71 percent believing that nuclear energy should play a very or somewhat important role in addressing our country’s electricity needs. (Compare that with the 32 percent of women who support nuclear energy, cited above.)

Language–No matter the aspect of nuclear energy being discussed, it all comes down to safety, or to women’s self-defined role as society’s caregivers. Anything framed as being good for their families is more likely to be seen favorably. We should frame the safety of nuclear plants by pointing out that “we are so confident in nuclear safety that our own families live here.” The relative cost of nuclear energy was viewed by one listening session participant as especially positive as she tried to balance all her family’s needs against their household budget. Even the reliability of nuclear power was tied back to family security by a respondent who said that with a daughter on insulin, predictable baseload power was crucial.

Your call to action–If your efforts at public information target some of our hardest to convince–women–be creative in the ways you reach women’s groups. Be where they are; join them. Get your female workers out in the public and involved in explaining what our industry does for energy stability. Educate women even while you research their views to assess gaps in knowledge. Be comprehensive and empathetic to their points of view on benefits and risks of all energy sources. Mostly, make them partners in ensuring that America’s energy policy direction has major roads leading to nuclear.

Barfield

Kelle Barfield is director of nuclear communications at Entergy, which owns 11 commercial nuclear reactors in seven U.S. states. She is a guest contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

ANS Professional Division News

Notes & Updates from the ANS Professional Divisions

The Radiation Protection and Shielding Division

  • RPSD announces its National Meeting Awards for student and professional members. Winners at the 2010 ANS Annual Meeting were, in the student member category, Joshua Richard for the summary “Burnup-Dependent Neutron Source Term for Gross Neutron Detection Techniques,” authored by J. G. Richard (Univ. of Florida), M. L. Fensin, S. J. Tobin, M. T. Swinhoe, and H. O. Menlove (LANL); and, in the professional member category, Paul Guss for the summary “Modeling Higher Resolution Scintillators for Nonproliferation,” authored by Paul Guss, Alexis Reed, Michael Reed, Sanjoy Mukhopadhyay, Ding Yuan (Remote Sensing Lab), Matthew Cutler, Chris Contreras, and Denis Beller (UNLV).
  • The Rockwell Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Nicholas Tsoulfanidis at the RPSD 2010 Topical Meeting at Las Vegas, NV, in April 2010. The award consisted of a plaque and a $500 monetary prize. The Rockwell Lifetime Achievement Award is based on long-term or lifetime achievement in research, technology development, or education in the fields of radiation protection, shielding, or dosimetry.

RPSD invites you to attend their “Best of Radiation Protection and Shielding 2010″ session at the 2010 ANS Winter Meeting, which will feature best papers from the RPSD 2010 Topical Meeting held in  Las Vegas, Nev., in April 2010.

The RPSD Fall 2010 newsletter is available by clicking here.

Interested in more about RPSD? Please click here.

Robotics and Remote Systems Division

Robotics & Remote Systems DivisionThe 3rd International Joint Topical Meeting on Emergency Preparedness & Response and Robotics & Remote Systems will be held in Knoxville, Tenn., on August 7-10, 2011. Abstracts should be submitted by December 10, 2010.

For more information, go to www.eprrsd.org/.

Thermal Hydraulics Division

The 14th International Topical Meeting on Nuclear Reactor Thermal Hydraulics (NURETH-14), scheduled for September 25-29, 2011, in Toronto, Canada, is receiving abstracts (due November 11, 2010). Please visit http://cns-snc.ca/events/nureth-14/ for more information.

THD plans to organize the following sessions in the 2011 ANS Annual Meeting in Hollywood, Fla.:
1. Next Generation of Safety Analysis Code
2. Licensing Applications of Best Estimate Codes
3. General Thermal Hydraulics
4. Computational Thermal Hydraulics
5. Experimental and Computational Two-Phase Flow
6. Thermal Hydraulics of Small Modular Reactors

For more information on American Nuclear Society Professional Divisions, please visit the ANS website.

The View from Vermont

The Election Campaign

By Howard Shaffer,  P.E. (nuclear)

Here in Enfield, N.H., our local paper—which covers both sides of the river between Vermont and New Hampshire—had a front-page story on October 6 about the two major gubernatorial candidates debating the fate of the Vermont Yankee (VY) nuclear power plant. This was the ninth of 13 debates, and the candidates seem to include VY in the debate each time. I’ve been to two of the debates. The candidates’ positions were clear before the debates began.

Dubie

One candidate, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie (R.), is for the plant, if it is safe, as determined by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He thinks that the state’s process of issuing a Certificate of Public Good (CPG), required of all utilities, should go to completion. He also thinks that the state attorney general’s investigation of whether or not VY committed liable in the CPG hearings should be completed, before a decision is made.

The other candidate, State Senator Peter Shumlin (D.), president pro tem, wants the plant to shut down at the end of its 40-year license. Shumlin quickly had a bill written to block the CPG issuance, and he brought it to a vote, at the height of emotion over an underground tritiated water leak last winter. The bill passed 26-4.

One newspaper commented that it appeared that Dubie had the VY plant as a running mate, based on the special interest group attack ads being run.  (Online banner ads are being run both for and against VY.) Now there is a TV ad depicting Dubie as Pinocchio, with a nose that grows longer as each charge is recited.

Launch of the Vermont Energy Education Project

VY 4 VT Yard Signs

Meanwhile, Meredith Angwin’s Energy Education Project had a fantastic launch last Thursday. (View from Vermont, September 27)   There was lively discussion of the economic and energy contributions of VY, and the negative impacts that a premature shutdown would have.  Meredith Angwin posted a comprehensive summary of the launch at Yes Vermont Yankee. Visit to learn more and please consider a donation—it means a lot to the future of energy in this country!

Renewable Energy Vermont Conference

Shumlin

On October 1, I attended the Renewable Energy Vermont 9th Annual Conference. Notable were the luncheon remarks by U.S. senators from Vermont, Patrick Leahy (D.) and Bernie Sanders (I.). Nuclear power was never mentioned, but coal was. A technical session on legislative strategy revealed the slow progress of home retrofits, and the realities of permit problems, etc. Last was a gubernatorial debate, including the VY issue, of course. Sen. Shumlin got in only a few of his jabs about the plant, from the list he recited at an energy-only debate on September 18 in Bradford, Vt.:

  • I am VY’s number one enemy.
  • I want to make Vermont a model for the other 49 states (in shutting down VY, and other things). If Vermont can shut down the plant, the other states can shut down theirs. The stakes are high.
  • The NRC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the industry. They will do everything they can (to keep VY running).

Vermont Yankee seems to be an issue in every race for the Vermont State Legislature, too. All the state senators and representatives are elected every two years.  The Vermont Legislature meets each Tuesday through Friday during the legislative session, which runs from early January through late April. The adjournment date varies from year to year, but in general the Legislature tries to complete its work in sixteen or seventeen weeks.

 

Howard Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 34 years.  He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS commitees, national meeting staffs, and his local section; and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults as Nuclear Public Outreach. He is coordinator for the Vermot Pilot Project.  Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT.  He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

 

22nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

This is the weekly “best of” nuclear energy blogs. We hope you enjoy it.

At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus reports her new book is out.  It is titled “Nuclear Firsts: Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Power Development.”

She writes that while there have been many histories of nuclear power, most focus on the weapons program and the larger-than-life personalities that helped initiate the nuclear age. A lot of nuclear developments and breakthroughs get short shrift. This book tells the history of nuclear power primarily through the stories of the many technological developments.

At Next Big Future, Brian Wang has two compelling blog posts.  First, he reports on how laser enrichment of uranium could be made more efficient.  Brian also gave a talk at the TedX conference in the Bay Area on October 5th on energy technologies. Brian is a futurist and his views are always thought provoking. Check out his slides from the talk, which are now online.

At the Nuclear Green Revolution, Charles Barton has a blog post titled “Reverse engineering the future of energy.”

This post calls attention to further problems in renewable energy plans, problems that appear to limit the ability of renewable energy sources to keep the grid stable.  A renewable dominated grid appears likely to rely on carbon emitting natural gas power generation facilities, for peak power, and to respond to summer and winter temperature variations. While conventional nuclear power approaches do not appear to offer satisfactory solutions, molten salt nuclear approaches appear to offer attractive solutions to a number of post carbon energy options.

At NEI Nuclear Notes, Everett Redmond, director, Nonproliferation and Fuel Cycle Policy at NEI, has his first blog post on Yucca Mountain. He writes “What is certain in policy consideration is that we will be securely storing used fuel in above-ground facilities for an extended period of time.”

At Idaho Samizdat, Dan Yurman takes reports from the Nuclear Fabrication Conference held in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 21, and writes that the metal benders are unhappy about delays for award of loan guarantees. You can’t make stuff if people aren’t building nuclear reactors.

There are new nuclear energy graphics at the PopAtomic blog. Suzanne Hobbs always has something creative to show us. Also, check out her guest post here at ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Areva’s North America: Next Energy blog reports that 1300 people are working on the construction of two new reactors at Southern’s Vogtle site in Georgia. Three to four times that number are likely to be employed once the utility gets its NRC license to construct and operate the plants.  It is a view of the power of the nuclear industry to create jobs.

At Yes Vermont Yankee, Meredith Angwin reports that Connecticut is worried about what happens to the New England electrical grid if the Vermont Yankee reactor closes in 2012.  Hey, if Connecticut is worried, why isn’t Vermont?

Rod Adams at Atomic Insights brings closure to the ghosts of the tragic accident at the SL-1 reactor in Idaho. No love triangle was involved, just failed machinery and human error.

Rod’s blog post is one of the most accessible technical descriptions of the causes of the accident.

Please take a few minutes to read Rod’s post because the more people who do, the more it will give closure to all the ghosts that were created many years ago.

In this way these spirits that haunt its history will now depart the earth and go to a place of peace where neither man nor any of his creations ever return.

# # #

Will the nuclear fuel bank open for business?

Financing may dry up if nations don’t act soon

By Dan Yurman

On September 20, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu brought a suitcase full of  carrots and sticks to the annual meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Getting his luggage through airport security and customs was easy. The hard part is getting the other nations of the world to listen to reason. The main issue at hand is the establishment of an international fuel bank for commercial nuclear reactors.

The main carrot is $50 million the United States has pledged to set up a nuclear fuel bank so that other nations that want civilian nuclear energy don’t have to build uranium enrichment plants. This is an important step in controlling dual-use technology that can also be used to make weapons grade materials. If the IAEA doesn’t get off the dime and set up the fuel bank soon, the U.S. will withdraw the pledge.

Chu said the United States is pledging to provide a third of the initial resources needed for the fuel bank.

“We have also contributed $50 million to the IAEA to support an international fuel bank administered by the Agency. Taken together with pledges from the Nuclear Threat Initiative and other Member States, $150 million has been pledged for this purpose.”

The main stick, the Global Security Newswire (GSN) reported, is that offers of funding for a proposed civilian nuclear fuel bank “will disappear” if the IAEA doesn’t “move quickly” to set one up. Chu wants the IAEA to make up its mind, and soon, and stop dithering over different ideas about how to organize the fuel bank. This will be difficult. The IAEA has 151 member states, and 35 of them sit on its board, which is chaired this year by Pakistan.

According to GSN, the heart of the multi-nation fuel bank proposal is to spend the $150 million to acquire up to 80 tons of low-enriched uranium (3-5 percent U-235) that would give the IAEA-sponsored fuel bank the ability to distribute the fuel at market rates to as many as 60 countries. So far, Chu said, the United States has blended down 17.4 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to LEU to support the fuel assurance program.  This is just over one-fifth of the total amount of LEU needed to supply the fuel bank.

IAEA needs to make a decision

The 35-nation board of the IAEA is expected to take up the fuel bank decision in December. The board, which is divided by the interests of its member nations, has spent several years analyzing different alternatives for the fuel bank. Chu told the group it is time to fish or cut bait.

“This offer has been extended several times and presents member states with an excellent opportunity to realize one of the founding objectives of the IAEA. These resources will be at risk if we do not reach a decision soon. It is now time to move beyond general discussion and debate of fuel bank principles.”

The board has already considered a proposal from Russia to establish a fuel bank at Angarsk in Siberia. Under this plan, Russia would set up a commercial uranium enrichment operation with international safeguards.

It isn’t clear if the IAEA took seriously the risk of losing the pledged funding if it can’t reach a consensus on a plan. IAEA Director Yukia Amano said that more diplomatic meetings were necessary for the agency to make up its mind.

If wishes were fishes, Secretary Chu would be knee deep in flounder.  The response from the IAEA wasn’t the one he wanted, but it was all he is going to get, at least for now. The IAEA has until the end of 2010 to come to an agreement to deploy the fuel bank.

Poking Iran with a diplomatic stick

Chu’s comments came as part of a major speech he made to the IAEA delegates on September 21. It included more carrots and sticks, with a lot of them intended to get Iran’s attention. Chu said that an IAEA report issued in September “outlined how Iran refuses to cooperate” with the IAEA.

He said that countries that do not adhere to their safeguards commitments “will face real and timely consequences.”

While Iran was a specific target in Chu’s speech, he also put his comments in an international perspective.

“No nation has a monopoly on nuclear power, and no nation alone can manage its inherent risks.”

Setting an international nuclear agenda

Chu’s speech then got down to business with a substantive description of its four main themes:

•    Peaceful use of nuclear energy
•    Nonproliferation & international safeguards
•    Disarmament
•    Keeping nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists

  • Nuclear energy

The U.S. objective is for countries to have assured supplies of nuclear fuel at market rates. The United States has only one truly commercial producer (USEC NYSE:USU) of commercial fuel. Urenco’s new enrichment plant, in Eunice, N.M., is operated through its U.S. subsidiary. It follows that an international fuel bank would be an agreement predominately among state-owned firms.

  • Nonproliferation

The Department of Energy has started an effort called the Next Generation Safeguards Initiative to identify technology gaps and solutions, train new experts, and develop new approaches to improve international safeguards. The project was announced just days before Chu spoke in Vienna.

  • Disarmament

In April, the United States and Russia signed a landmark new START Treaty that reduces deployed nuclear warheads by one-third and strategic delivery vehicles by one half. On September 16, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the treaty by a vote of 14-4.

A Senate floor vote was not scheduled because the Democratic leadership felt it didn’t have the votes. Congress has since gone home for the November elections, which puts the vote into the hands of a lame duck Congress in December.

  • Nuclear Security

The objective is to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials globally within four years. So far, the United States has removed HEU from 18 countries. The U.S. is providing technical assistance to other nations with physical protection measures for storage and transportation systems.  Guidance is also being distributed through the IAEA.

Tooting the White House horn

Chu got a chance to take credit for the Obama administration’s positive steps to support nuclear energy.

“At home, the United States has secured loan guarantees for new nuclear power and fuel facility construction, established a Blue Ribbon Commission to develop recommendations for the long-term management and disposition of used fuel and high-level waste, and committed to a robust, science-based nuclear research and development effort.”

The Obama administration has rebranded the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), calling it the International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation (IFNEC). While it doesn’t make a snappy acronym, the DOE is moving ahead with a broader international scope for the program.

The DOE will provide advice and international mechanisms on infrastructure development and fuel services for nations developing and expanding their civilian nuclear energy programs.

____________________________

Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy. He is a contributing reporter for Fuel Cycle Week covering uranium mining in the U.S. and Canada.

# # #

The inspiration behind PopAtomic Studios: Solutions

By Suzanne Hobbs

My generation has been labeled Generation X, or maybe Y, I’m not sure. I don’t even know what those labels mean. I think of us as individuals coming of age in the Information Age. We have been exposed to more information than any generation before and have been made all too aware of the problems facing our planet from a very early age.

Much of this information is related to problems we stand to inherit. For instance, in my elementary school, we did a play about the dangers of greenhouse gases and acid rain. In middle school, we learned (with photos) about the suffering of persons in developing nations from avoidable and curable illnesses like HIV and malaria. My high school was continually placed on lockdown from threats of bombs and shootings, and I watched the Twin Towers fall in real time from a television in my senior classroom. And, as my college biology professor taught us about ocean acidification, he calmly stated, “It’s completely up you guys to figure out how to resolve all of this,” referring to my generation and the multitude of complex problems that we are facing.

My generation doesn’t have the luxury of making mistakes under the precedence of not understanding the impact of our actions. Generations past have not been able to get a handle of the true impact of their actions and consumption, but could the best possible outcome of the Information Age be a generation of people who can actually visualize their impact and rein it in? Could all of this information lead to solutions?

I think that energy is the most important issue for my generation. Energy is the foundation of modern society. The survival of our species (not to mention our quality of life) depends on the availability of abundant, diverse, and affordable energy sources. Fortunately, we have nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy stands to improve many aspects of human life:

  1. Environmental. We can end the constant stream of carbon and pollutants into our air and atmosphere, by ending the over consumption of fossil fuels. This would lead to an overall reduction of negative environmental impact.
  2. Economic. Creation of new power plants would create millions of new jobs, reviving the world economy. These jobs range from construction positions to administrative and scientific positions, employing a range of people.
  3. Political. Energy independence for all nations would help end wars over limited energy resources, saving lives and infrastructure. Reduction in international tensions could be achieved through increased use of nuclear energy.
  4. Humanitarian. Nuclear power plants contribute to increased availability to clean water, health care, and education to those living in developing nations. Access to electricity means a better quality of life.
  5. Medical. Continued advancement of nuclear medicine for diagnostics and treatment of countless diseases could save millions of lives. Fission reactions are the source of medical isotopes, and are a key component of modern medicine.

Nuclear is still a relatively new technology. Speculation about its potential impact has ranged greatly, and really depends completely on the decisions of human beings. My hope is that my generation, with all of its technology and information can use nuclear energy in the most beneficial ways, with consideration to all people. We understand more than any generation before in terms of the true impact of our decision-making because we are constantly trying to deal with the messes left behind. Based on my first-hand knowledge of long-term, interconnected impact, I have come to the conclusion that nuclear energy is the one solution to many problems. Sharing these solutions with my generation is the inspiration for PopAtomic Studios.

All artwork was created by PopAtomic Studios.

Suzanne Hobbs is creative director and contributing artist at PopAtomic Studios. She was born in Tokyo, Japan, and raised in Atlanta, Ga., by her nuclear engineer father and social worker mother, along with an older brother who is now an accomplished chemist. Her interest in art, science, and humanitarian issues started very young, fueled by frequent family travel and a sharp focus on education and community involvement. She attended Appalachian State University to study Fine Arts and since graduating has worked with several public arts organizations, always with the goal of using art to create positive change.

New nuclear history book is available

Gail Marcus’s new book, Nuclear Firsts: Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Power Development, is now available by visiting the online ANS Store.

Nuclear Firsts traces the technical evolution of nuclear power development in the United States and around the world. In all, about 80 facilities and events in more than 10 countries are profiled. Developments in reactor technologies of all types are covered, as well as developments in reprocessing, enrichment, waste disposal, and some nonelectrical applications of reactors, such as radioisotope production, district heating, desalination, and neutron beam therapy. The book also covers the first government and private organizations that developed around the nuclear industry.

Well-known facilities and events, such as the first demonstration of controlled fusion and the first uses of reactors to produce electricity, and lesser known ones, such as early reactors in Antarctica and at the Panama Canal, are covered. Although many facilities are mentioned in the text or in tables, only “first of a kind” are discussed in detail. Tables are included to identify other firsts, such as the first reactor in a state or country, that may be of interest to the individual reader.

The book’s six chapters cover:

  • The scientific developments leading to the first demonstration of controlled fission.
  • The developments leading to the the first demonstration of the production of usable amounts of electricity.
  • The rapid evolution to an operating commercial nuclear plant built for peaceful purposes only.
  • The growth of nuclear reactor applications.
  • The maturation of the nuclear industry.
  • Where the firsts have led and what lies ahead.

Nuclear Firsts is written for a broad audience. Nuclear professionals will find it useful as an authoritative reference, while science teachers and students can use it as a general educational tool. The book also will appeal to organizations associated with the various firsts and to residents near the sites of the firsts because it provides information about the historical importance of locations in their own neighborhoods. The international community will also find the book of interest because it is not limited to U.S. firsts.

Gail Marcus is a consultant for nuclear technology and policy. Previously, she served as deputy director general for the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, principal deputy director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, and in various senior-level positions at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She is also a past president of ANS (2001-2002).

D.C. Perspective

Nuclear loan guarantees and the “credit subsidy cost”

By Rod Adams

The elected representatives of the United States of America clearly intended to encourage nuclear energy development when they passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. That act included a financing mechanism specifically aimed at correcting what Congress had determined was a market failure in providing reasonably priced financing for energy projects that reduce greenhouse gas production and reduce fossil fuel consumption. Despite this clear congressional intent, there was not a single loan guarantee awarded under section 1703 of title XVII of the act for more than four years after the act’s passage.

Finally, on February 16, 2010, 1653 days after President Bush signed the act that Congress had passed, President Obama announced that the Department of Energy had offered its first conditional loan guarantee to the Southern Company for its two-unit expansion of the Vogtle Nuclear Power Station. (Here is a professionally produced video explaining why Georgia Power is pursuing the project.)

The loan guarantee amount, $8.3 billion, represents 80 percent of the portion of the Vogtle project that Southern Company is purchasing; the overall project includes some owners that are not eligible for a loan guarantee under section 1703 of the Energy Policy Act because they are public organizations that have the ability to issue tax-exempt debt obligations. The DOE has made one conditional loan guarantee offer for a fuel enrichment facility, but no other section 1703 loan guarantee offers have been made in the seven months since February.

It is difficult to untangle the reasons why the U.S. government is moving so slowly on a commitment that Congress made to extend its full faith and credit in a carefully constructed program designed to provide reasonably priced financing for long-lived nuclear energy projects. Supported with links to more detailed sources, however, I will try to explain my own interpretation of events.

For a discussion of the background of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the implementation choices that have been made so far by the Executive Branch of the United States, I strongly recommend reading the statement of Michael D. Scott, managing director Miller Buckfire & Co., LLC, that was given before the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on September 23, 2010. Mr. Scott had a bird’s eye view of the implementation decisions in the early phases; here is how he described part of his background during his testimony:

I served for almost five years as a senior advisor at the Department of the Treasury where I was responsible for, among other things, federal credit policy, the evaluation, negotiation, and execution of federal loan guarantees and direct loans, as well as the management and oversight of the Federal Financing Bank. In my prior role at Treasury, I was one of the principal people who decided how and in what manner the large one-off federal credit programs (such as the Air Transportation Stabilization Board, the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program in the 2002 Farm Bill, the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline Loan Guarantee Program, and Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005) were executed during the September 2001 to July 2006 time period. This required me to be deeply involved with OMB [Office of Budget and Management] on Federal Credit Reform Act issues pertaining to the individual federal credit programs as well as the Federal Financing Bank.

To understand the nuclear energy industry’s particular concerns with the program, you can read the testimony that Marvin Fertel, president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, gave at the same September 23 hearing.

My between-the-lines reading of the testimony provided by Scott and Fertel is that there are some number crunchers in the OMB who do not want the government to provide low cost financing for nuclear energy projects. Those number crunchers did not arrive with the change in administration; they have been involved in the process since 2005.

They have done what budgeteers sometimes do when they want to influence decisions—they created rules and used model inputs that caused sticker shock for people duly appointed to make financial decisions. (I am writing here with the perspective of someone who spent nine years fighting battles with those kinds of budgeteers in the Department of the Navy.) Though there have been some changes directed at the budgeteers as a result of some pointed investigations and discussions by several congressional committees in the past couple of years, the green eyeshade bureaucrats are still using model inputs that result in a higher than acceptable “credit subsidy cost” (CSC).

That term of art is not terribly familiar for most Americans. Even though the U.S. government has been offering loan guarantees for millions of people during the past seven decades, very few loan recipients have ever had to pay the CSC. It is normally paid by an appropriation that prevents Congress from ignoring the fact that a reasonably predictable portion of the people who obtain federally guaranteed loans will not pay them back.

In the very special case of projects qualifying for loan guarantees under section 1703 of title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (the section of the law that allows nuclear projects to qualify), the borrowers are responsible for paying this fee BEFORE they can receive any proceeds from a guaranteed loan. For anyone who has ever borrowed a large sum of money for a capital asset like a home or commercial building, think of the credit subsidy fee as a “closing cost” that is similar to “points” that a borrower pays up front to reduce the interest rate or to induce a lender to make a loan that they believe represents a higher-than-usual chance that the borrower will default. The closing cost total can make or break a deal.

Aside: The Energy Policy Act of 2005 did not target only nuclear projects, but it gives them “special” treatment. When sponsors of renewable energy projects that were also authorized to obtain loan guarantees by the act pointed out that they could not raise the required 20 percent equity, powerful sponsors turned what were initially sound loan conditions into sub-prime conditions by offering a 30 percent cash subsidy to “shovel ready” renewable projects. The equity sources of the highly publicized solar and wind projects that have been given loan guarantees get their money back (with a 50 percent kicker) within 60 days under current law. A section 1703 project that gets an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act section 1603 cash grant is essentially a “no money down” project with sponsors that can walk away and leave the key under the door mat if their project runs into financial trouble.

Renewable energy projects also qualify under section 1705 of the Energy Policy Act for an appropriation that pays their credit subsidy cost. Nuclear projects cannot qualify for either of those direct payments from the federal government, ostensibly because they are not “shovel ready.” I guess there is something less valuable about employing engineers, accountants, and document specialists in paper-ready nuclear projects. Of course, people who criticize nuclear energy projects as not being shovel ready apparently ignore just how many mechanical shovel operators are already working at the only project that has received a conditional loan guarantee. End Aside.

Even though the nuclear energy projects applying for section 1703 loan guarantees are intensely scrutinized for both technical merit and financial viability by technically qualified and hard nosed evaluators, the budget number crunchers are insisting on using a probability of default that is based on an average of experience from loans to small businesses, students, and homeowners. That assumed average default probability is much higher than the individually calculated probability would be if it was based on just the project specifics. These are sound nuclear technology deployment projects where there are not only strong companies with real money invested, but also participation by financially strong, politically friendly countries like France and Japan.

The other model input number that has a large effect in determining the credit subsidy fee is the expected value of the assets that can be acquired in the case of a loan default. To make the importance of this assumption understandable, think of it as the resale value that an automobile lender might assign when computing the financing charges and interest rate for a car. If the lender assigns a relatively high resale value, they will charge less for the loan because they know that they have a good chance of getting repaid when they sell a repossessed car that has a high value. (See discussion on page 12 of Scott’s testimony.)

The lower the assigned resale value, the more expensive the loan. Students and small businesses who borrow money often spend that money on items that either cannot be repossessed or have little resale value if they default; utilities and power generators will be buying assets where the traditional resale value of even incomplete projects usually ranges between 85-95 percent of the loan balance. Even the labor invested in activities like environmental impact assessments has recoverable value since the documentation reduces the effort required by any future purchaser.

The process of determining credit subsidy costs is shrouded by bureaucratic secrecy and by the reluctance of applicants to aggressively challenge the bureaucrats who think their job gives them the right to control billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. (The Constitution puts the power of the purse into congressional hands.) I have taken the time to delve into the matter, however, and read between the bureaucratic lines and watched a couple of hours of testimony.

My conclusion is that the current credit subsidy cost model outputs based on bureaucratically chosen inputs have been fees that are far too large to allow project applications to move forward. The Department of Energy has not offered any conditional loan guarantees because they do not want to be put into the embarrassing situation of having the companies refuse to accept them. In my opinion, the excessively high fees have been computed because at least some of the people who are selecting the model inputs do not like nuclear energy. They will do everything in their power to slow down nuclear power plant construction projects.

In the financial world, if you cannot move a project forward, you generally must decide to move backward. Standing still costs far too much money every day. Companies that have spent tens of millions of dollars to assemble and train qualified teams of engineers and license application specialists have not only stopped hiring, but have begun firing.

In an industry where there still exists a lot of concern about attracting sufficient numbers of well-trained people, good people are getting reassigned or laid off. The companies are taking this action because they have recognized that the market failure that Congress tried hard to correct more than five years ago still exists today. The retrenchment decisions being made today will have long-range implications; people who see others getting laid off after investing many years into difficult education programs will be reluctant to take that path themselves.

I can offer a personal testimony here. One of the affected projects, Calvert Cliffs Unit 3, in Maryland, is being developed a pleasant hour’s drive to the south of my Annapolis home. The main office for Unistar, the coalition company developing the project, is in Baltimore, less than a 40-minute commute to the north. When I made the decision to retire from the Navy and seek employment with the commercial nuclear power industry, the companies involved in the project were hiring a lot of people. As a local resident and as a former Navy nuke, I had a reasonably good chance of landing one of the jobs, so I worked my network and was pleased with the outlook when I first made the retirement decision.

A commissioned officer has to give the Navy between nine and 12 months notice before retiring. During the period between September 2009, when I submitted my request to retire from active duty, and September 2010, when the Navy agreed I could stop working, the interest being given to my employment application dropped to zero. All of the companies involved in the stalled project instituted hiring freezes and then began shrinking the teams dedicated to the project. I have heard similar stories from people associated with South Texas-3 and -4.

My personal job hunt had a favorable result; I landed a good job working on the B&W mPower small modular reactor project. That result was made possible by my flexibility in accepting a relocation to Lynchburg, Va., rather than remaining in Annapolis, where I have lived for the past 11 years. That relocation decision might have been more difficult at a different stage in my life; I seriously considered forgoing any involvement in the nuclear energy industry and building my second career in a more reliable industry in the Annapolis/Baltimore/Washington DC area.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 loan guarantee program offers some useful lessons to nuclear energy advocates. The first is that it should be clear that there there are friends who support the technology and want to see it succeed for a number of very good reasons. If that was not true, there would not have been a loan guarantee program created in the first place. The second lesson worth learning is that there are plenty of well-placed people with excellent educational backgrounds that do not want nuclear energy to succeed. They will do all they can to handicap its success. The opposition seems to care little about the negative impacts that their actions have on the people who dedicate their lives to learning as much as possible about the details of nuclear power plant design and operation.

The third lesson that I take away from the experience is that depending on coalitions among advocates of other energy sources is a risky strategy. Even though the Energy Policy Act 1703 program includes a number of energy sources that share some similar challenges in explaining the execution hurdles erected by Executive Branch employees, the other energy source sponsors left nuclear energy to its own devices when they worked to convince Congress to pay for their credit subsidy fee under section 1705 and when they convinced Congress to pay their equity funders off within just 60 days of loan closing under section 1603 of the ARRA. Nuclear energy was purposely left outside of those programs. The natural friends of nuclear energy are not its competitors in the energy business; they are the customers who will benefit when new nuclear energy facilities begin producing increasing quantities of low cost, clean energy.

The final lesson that I have learned is to stop being fearful of the accusations that I am a focused nuclear energy advocate. (Note: There are aggressive, usually anonymous commenters on the Web who use the derogatory term of “nuclear shill” for anyone who argues for nuclear energy. I have decided to own that accusation and be proud of it, even though I am not a paid advocate.)

If you fundamentally believe, as I do, that nuclear energy is the best choice for investing our next energy dollar, get out there and tell the world. Here is how I express it to others: If you want to pour money into a temporary job-creating hole, support unreliable renewable energy projects that rarely affect the fossil fuel market. There is a reason why oil and gas companies pay a lot of money to advertise their interest in solar and wind energy projects – neither one is a threat to their main business.

If you want to invest in abundant, reliable, clean energy that reduces fossil fuel combustion, provides sufficient return on that investment to support additional future investments, and helps to create lifetime careers, buy as many nuclear plants as possible.

Rod Adams

Rod Adams is a pro-nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is founder of Adams Atomic Engines, Inc., and host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005.

21st Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

The 21th Carnival of Nuclear Energy blogs is up at Next Big Future.  It is a roundup of featured content from the nation’s pro-nuclear blogs.

Past editions have been hosted at NEI Nuclear Notes, Atomic Insights, Idaho Samizdat and several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog, and would like to host an edition of the Carnival, please contact Brian Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

This is a great collaborative effort which deserves your support.  Please post a Tweet, a Facebook entry, or a link on your website or blog to support the carnival.

Thank you

Visit the Nuclear Advocacy Network’s voter information website

If there’s one lesson to be learned from recent elections, it’s simply this:  every vote counts. Critical elections on the local, state, and even national levels can be won or lost over a very few votes.  The 2010 elections are already underway, and it’s important that nuclear professionals do all that you can to participate and make your voice heard.

The Nuclear Advocacy Network (NAN) has provided nuclear professionals with NAN Voteswww.NanVotes.com — to offer every resource needed to prepare for the 2010 elections. Start by filling in a zip code to access everything from voter registration forms to information on your candidates. Remember, your vote is one of the most important tools you possess to help make a difference.

Click here to take action!

The Nuclear Advocacy Network

In 2008, the American Nuclear Society joined forces with the North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NA-YGN), Women in Nuclear (WIN), and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) to create the Nuclear Advocacy Network.

The Nuclear Advocacy Network is an independent, web-based portal designed to facilitate communication with federal policymakers in Congress and the administration. Additional information is provided at the NAN website.