Category Archives: U.S. Congress

ANS Young Professionals Congress November 2013

Mark your calendar to attend the Young Professionals Congress sessions this November in Washington, DC!

YMGAre you interested in getting to know the ANS Young Members Group (YMG) and the North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN)? 

The American Nuclear Society YMG and the NAYGN have designed a one-day program to provide a unique opportunity for young professionals in the nuclear industry. The sessions will provide actionable skills development and broad networking opportunities for all attendees. The program is an embedded topical meeting held in conjunction with the ANS Annual Winter Meeting.

When: Saturday, November 9, 2013
Where: Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, D.C.
More information and registration:  2013 ANS Winter Meeting and Expo

Members of ANS and NAYGN are encouraged to attend. Attendance for the full ANS meeting is not required to attend the Young Professional Congress. Be on the lookout for the program agenda in upcoming communications.

800px-Uscapitolindaylight-220x220You are also invited to participate in the YMG-sponsored Hill Visit on Thursday, November 14. To prepare participants for this event, a Communicating Effectively with Your Representative prep session will take place on Wednesday, November 13. Be on the lookout for more details. (Also see Capitol Hill Visit 2011 and Lenka Kollar’s first-hand account.)

For more information, please contact Gale Hauck.

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2012 ~ The year that was in nuclear energy

Plus a few pointers to what’s in store for 2013

By Dan Yurman

Former NRC Chairman Gregory Jackzo

On a global scale the nuclear industry had its share of pluses and minuses in 2012. Japan’s Fukushima crisis continues to dominate any list of the top ten nuclear energy issues for the year. (See more below on Japan’s mighty mission at Fukushima.)

In the United States, while the first new nuclear reactor licenses in three decades were issued to four reactors, the regulatory agency that approved them had a management meltdown that resulted in the noisy departure of Gregory Jazcko, its presidentially appointed chairman. His erratic tenure at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cast doubt on its effectiveness and tarnished its reputation as one of the best places to work in the federal government.

Iran continues its uranium enrichment efforts

The year also started with another bang, and not the good kind, as new attacks on nuclear scientists in Iran brought death by car bombs. In July, western powers enacted new sanctions on Iran over its uranium enrichment program. Since 2011, economic sanctions have reduced Iran’s oil exports by 40 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In late November, the U.S. Senate approved a measure expanding the economic sanctions that have reduced Iran’s export earnings from oil production. Despite the renewed effort to convince Iran to stop its uranium enrichment effort, the country is pressing ahead with it. Talks between Iran and the United States and western European nations have not made any progress.

Nukes on Mars

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover is a scientific and engineering triumph.

Peaceful uses of the atom were highlighted by NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover, which executed a flawless landing on the red planet in August with a nuclear heartbeat to power its science mission. Data sent to Earth from its travels across the red planet will help determine whether or not Mars ever had conditions that would support life.

SMRs are us

The U.S. government dangled an opportunity for funding of innovative small modular reactors, e.g., with electrical power ratings of less than 300 MW. Despite vigorous competition, only one vendor, B&W, was successful in grabbing a brass ring worth up to $452 million over five years.

The firm immediately demonstrated the economic value of the government cost-sharing partnership by placing an order for long lead time components. Lehigh Heavy Forge and B&W plan to jointly participate in the fabrication and qualification of large forgings for nuclear reactor components that are intended to be used in the manufacture of B&W mPower SMRs.

Lehigh Forge at work

The Department of Energy said that it might offer a second round funding challenge, but given the federal government’s overall dire financial condition, the agency may have problems even meeting its commitments in the first round.

As of December 1, negotiations between the White House and Congress over the so-called “fiscal cliff” were deadlocked. Congress created this mess, so one would expect that they could fix it.

The Congressional Budget Office has warned that if Congress doesn’t avert the fiscal cliff, the economy might slip into recession next year and boost the unemployment rate to 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, compared with 7.9 percent now. Even record low natural gas prices and a boom in oil production won’t make much of a difference if there is no agreement by January 1, 2013.

Japan’s mighty mission at Fukushima

Japan’s major challenges are unprecedented for a democratically elected government. It must decontaminate and decommission the Fukushima site, home to six nuclear reactors, four of which suffered catastrophic internal and external damage from a giant tsunami and record shattering earthquake. The technical challenges of cleanup are daunting and the price tag, already in the range of tens of billions of dollars, keeps rising with a completion date now at least several decades in the future.

Map of radiation releases from Fukushima reported in April 2011

  • Japan is mobilizing a new nuclear regulatory agency that has the responsibility to say whether the rest of Japan’s nuclear fleet can be restarted safely. While the government appointed highly regarded technical specialists to lead the effort, about 400 staff came over from the old Nuclear Industry Safety Agency that was found to be deficient as a deeply compromised oversight body. The new agency will struggle to prove itself an independent and effective regulator of nuclear safety.
  •  Japan has restarted two reactors and approved continued construction work at several more that are partially complete. Local politics will weigh heavily on the outlook for each power station with the “pro” forces emphasizing jobs and tax base and the anti-nuclear factions encouraged by widespread public distrust of the government and of the nation’s nuclear utilities.
  • Despite calls for a phase out of all nuclear reactors in Japan, the country will continue to generate electric power from them for at least the next 30–40 years.
  • Like the United States, Japan has no deep geologic site for spent fuel. Unlike the United States, Japan has been attempting to build and operate a spent fuel reprocessing facility. Plagued by technical missteps and rising costs, Japan may consider offers from the United Kingdom and France to reprocess its spent fuel and with such a program relieve itself of the plutonium in it.

U.S. nuclear renaissance stops at six

The pretty picture of a favorable future for the nuclear fuel cycle in 2007 turned to hard reality in 2012.

In 2007, the combined value of more than two dozen license applications for new nuclear reactors weighed in with an estimated value of over $120 billion. By 2012, just six reactors were under construction. Few will follow soon in their footsteps due to record low prices of natural gas and the hard effects of one of the nation’s deepest and longest economic recessions.

The NRC approved licenses for two new reactors at Southern’s Vogtle site in Georgia and two more at Scana’s V.C. Summer Station in South Carolina. Both utilities chose the Westinghouse AP1000 design and will benefit from lessons learned by the vendor that is building four of them in China. In late November, Southern’s contractors, which are building the plants, said that both of the reactors would enter revenue service a year late. For its part, Southern said that it hasn’t agreed to a new schedule.

The Tennessee Valley Authority recalibrated its efforts to complete Watts Bar II, adding a three-year delay and over $2 billion in cost escalation. TVA’s board told the utility’s executives that construction work to complete Unit 1 at the Bellefonte site cannot begin until fuel is loaded in Watts Bar.

The huge increase in the supply of natural gas, resulting in record low prices for it in the United States, led Exelon Chairman John Rowe to state that it would be “inconceivable” for a nuclear utility in a deregulated state to build new reactors.

Four reactors in dire straights

In January, Southern California Edison (SCE) safety shut down two 1100-MW reactors at its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) due to excessive wear found in the nearly new steam generators at both reactors.

SCE submitted a restart plan to the NRC for Unit 2 in November. The review, according to the agency, could take months. SCE removed the fuel from Unit 3 last August, a signal that the restart of that reactor will be farther in the future owing to the greater extent of the damage to the tubes its steam generator.

The NRC said that a key cause of the damage to the tubes was a faulty computer program used by Mitsubishi, the steam generator vendor, in its design of the units. The rate of steam, pressure, and water content were key factors along with the design and placement of brackets to hold the tubes in place.

Flood waters surround Ft. Calhoun NPP June 2011

Elsewhere, in Nebraska the flood stricken Ft. Calhoun reactor owned and operated by the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), postponed its restart to sometime in 2013.

It shut down in April 2011 for a scheduled fuel outage. Rising flood waters along the Missouri River in June damaged in the plant site though the reactor and switch yard remained dry.

The Ft. Calhoun plant must fulfill a long list of safety requirements before the NRC will let it power back up. To speed things along, OPPD hired Exelon to operate the plant. In February 2012, OPPD cancelled plans for a power uprate, also citing the multiple safety issues facing the plant.

In Florida, the newly merged Duke and Progress Energy firm wrestled with a big decision about what to do with the shutdown Crystal River reactor. Repairing the damaged containment structure could cost half again as much as an entirely new reactor. With license renewal coming up in 2016, Florida’s Public Counsel thinks that Duke will decommission the unit and replace it with a combined cycle natural gas plant. Separately, Duke Chairman Jim Rogers said that he will resign at the end of 2013.

China restarts nuclear construction

After a long reconsideration (following the Fukushima crisis) of its aggressive plans to build new nuclear reactors, China’s top level government officials agreed to allow new construction starts, but only with Gen III+ designs.

China has about two dozen Gen II reactors under construction. It will be 40–60 years before the older technology is off the grid. China also reduced its outlook for completed reactors from an estimate of 80 GWe by 2020 to about 55–60 GWe. Plans for a massive $26-billion nuclear energy IPO (initial public offering) still have not made it to the Shanghai Stock Exchange.  No reason has been made public about the delay.

India advances at Kudanlulam

India loaded fuel at Kudankulam where two Russian built 1000-MW VVER reactors are ready for revenue service. The Indian government overcame widespread political protests in its southern state of Tamil Nadu. India’s Prime Minister Singh blamed the protests on international NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

One of the key factors that helped the government overcome the political opposition is that Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited told the provincial government that it could allocate half of all the electricity generated by the plants to local rate payers. Officials in Tamil Nadu will decide who gets power. India suffered two massive electrical blackouts in 2012, the second of which stranded over 600 million people without electricity for up to a week.

Also, India said that it would proceed with construction of two 1600-MW Areva EPRs at Jaitapur on its west coast south of Mumbai and launched efforts for construction of up to 20 GWe of domestic reactors.

India’s draconian supplier liability law continues to be an effective firewall in keeping American firms out of its nuclear market.

UK has new builder at Horizon

The United Kingdom suffered a setback in its nuclear new build as two German utilities backed out of the construction of up to 6 Gwe of new reactors at two sites. Japan’s Hitachi successfully bid to take over the project. A plan for a Chinese state-owned firm to bid on the Horizon project in collaboration with Areva never materialized.

Also in the UK, General Electric pursued an encouraging dialog with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to build two of its 300-MW PRISM fast reactors to burn off surplus plutonium stocks at Sellafield. The PRISM design benefits from the technical legacy of the Integral Fast Reactor developed at Argonne West in Idaho.

You can’t make this stuff up

In July, three anti-war activitists breached multiple high-tech security barriers at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Y-12 highly enriched uranium facility in Tennessee. The elderly trio, two men on the dark side of 55 and a woman in her 80s, were equipped with ordinary wire cutters and flashlights.

Y-12 Signs state the obvious

The intruders roamed the site undetected for several hours in the darkness of the early morning and spray painted political slogans on the side of one of the buildings. They were looking for new artistic venues when a lone security guard finally stopped their travels through the plant.

The government said that the unprecedented security breach was no laughing matter, firing the guards on duty at the time and the contractor they worked for. Several civil servants “retired.” The activists, if convicted, face serious jail time.

None of the HEU stored at the site was compromised, but subsequent investigations by the Department of Energy found a lack of security awareness, broken equipment, and an unsettling version of the “it can’t happen here” attitude by the guards that initially mistook the intruders for construction workers.

The protest effort brought publicity to the activists’ cause far beyond their wildest dreams and produced the predictable uproar in Congress. The DOE’s civilian fig leaf covering the nation’s nuclear weapons program was once again in tatters.

So long Chu

Given the incident at Y-12, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who came to government from the quiet life of scientific inquiry, must have asked himself once again why he ever accepted the job in Washington in the first place.

DOE Energy Secretary Steven Chu

Chu is expected to leave Washington. That he’s lasted this long is something of a miracle since the Obama White House tried to give him the heave ho this time last year after the Solyndra loan guarantee debacle, in which charges of political influence peddling by White House aides colored a half a billion dollar default on a DOE loan by a California solar energy company.

The predictable upswing in rumors of who might be appointed to replace him oozed into energy trade press and political saloons of the nation’s capital.

Leading candidates are former members of Congress, former governors, or just  about anyone with the experience and political know how to take on the job of running one of the federal government’s biggest cabinet agencies. It’s a short list of people who really can do the job and a long list of wannabes. With shale gas and oil production on the rise, having a background in fossil fuels will likely help prospective candidates.

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Dan Yurman published the nuclear energy blog Idaho Samizdat from 2007–2012.

Post-election outlook for nuclear energy

By Jim Hopf

In my September post at the ANS Nuclear Cafe, I discussed the Democratic and Republican party platforms, along with their potential impacts on nuclear energy. With the 2012 U.S. elections now behind us, this post provides a post-election follow up, and discusses the impacts of the election results on nuclear’s prospects over the near- to mid-term.

With the reelection of Barrack Obama, and minor gains by Democrats in the House and Senate, the election results portend a continuation of the status quo, for the most part. Impacts of the election in various areas that may impact nuclear’s prospects are discussed in the sections below.

Yucca Mountain

I’ve always taken great issue with the Obama administration’s actions on Yucca mountain, and maintain that, at a minimum, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing process should be finished, even if a political decision is made to not pursue the project. It is clear to most observers that the NRC technical staff (which had completed its review) was about to conclude that the repository met all the technical requirements, before the process was terminated near the finish line, for political reasons. The public has a right to know that Yucca would have met all the requirements, and that yes indeed there is a viable, acceptable technical solution to the nuclear waste problem.

With the reelection of Obama and with (Democrat) Harry Reid remaining as Senate majority leader, the current status quo on Yucca Mountain will remain. Reid will continue to block funding for completion of NRC licensing, and the (Obama/Reid-appointed) NRC chair will likely cooperate with the effort to stop the process. As was the case before the election, whether the NRC will complete the licensing process will be primarily determined by the courts.

Yucca Mountain is one area where a Romney administration may have been more helpful to nuclear, but it’s not clear whether there would have been any meaningful difference. Romney was also making anti-Yucca statements (such as “states should have the right to decide if they want the repository”) during the campaign. Republicans winning the Senate would have made a far larger difference, as Reid would have lost the Majority Leader position, which is essential to his ability to block Yucca. On the other hand, if the president is not interested in changing the situation, even that may have not made much difference.

It seems that completion of the licensing process (the best we can hope for in the near term) is up to the courts at this point, and would have remained so regardless of who won the election. Also unclear is whether the lack of progress on the waste issue is having a significant effect on how much nuclear power there will be over the near-to-mid term. I’ve grown to believe that it is not as critical an issue as I formerly thought.

Fukushima–related upgrades and regulations

Whereas the anticipated regulations and required plant upgrades that will result from NRC’s response to Fukushima will add costs for existing nuclear plants (and to a small extent, new plants), it is unlikely that the outcome of the election would have had any significant impacts on those regulations. No parties or candidates have made any significant statements on the NRC’s actions in this area.

Nuclear plant loan guarantees

The Obama administration had supported increasing the nuclear loan guarantee volume by a factor of several (to over $100 billion) but could not get it through Congress. On the other hand, the Obama administration has been dragging its feet in actually approving any loan guarantees, even for the Vogtle and Summer plants. With the current budget situation, any increase in loan volume is unlikely.

It is unlikely, however, that Romney or the Republicans would have been better in the area of nuclear loan guarantees. Although the Republicans are ostensibly pro-nuclear, many in the Republican party are opposed to loan guarantees for any energy projects.

Finally, the overall impact of the nuclear loan guarantees is no longer clear. Indications are that other factors such as lack of power demand and low natural gas prices, as opposed to the lack of loan guarantees, are the primary reason that no plants other than Vogtle and Summer (and Watts Bar) are going forward. As for the Vogtle and Summer projects themselves, they appear to be going forward even without the government loan guarantees.

Climate change policies

Although the Obama administration is not planning to propose a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax in the near future, Obama has stated that the nation needs to have a “conversation” about climate change, implying a desire to develop some type of policy.

It seems clear that the chances of some type of policy or progress on climate change are far greater under Obama and the Democrats then they would have been under Romney and the Republicans, who had explicitly promised to block all such efforts. For example, the chances of the Clean Energy Standard policy (being debated and developed in Congress) moving forward would definitely be greater under the Democrats. Any type of climate change policy that creates a disincentive to emit CO2 would be tremendously beneficial to nuclear, particularly over the longer term.

Although climate change had fallen off the agenda in recent years, and in the last election, there are reasons to believe that it will (again) rise in importance. Increasing numbers of Americans believe that climate change is a serious issue. As the economy improves, issues like the environment are expected to become more important in voters’ minds. Also of note is the fact that even some conservative organizations are starting to consider a CO2 tax as a better approach than cap-and-trade, as well as a potential source of government revenue in lieu of increased income tax rates (as one example).

Election impacts on coal

It is clear that the reelection of Obama has hurt coal’s future prospects. The coal companies themselves, as well as the stock market, confirm this. Coal company stocks fell substantially after the election, and some coal companies have laid off workers.

Under Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of significantly tightening up air pollution requirements, which would significantly impact the oldest (and dirtiest) coal facilities. To stay in operation, such plants would have to spend large amounts of money on air pollution controls. Given the current low cost of natural gas, these requirements will render those facilities uneconomic, and many are expected to close. With Obama’s reelection, the EPA is also expected to proceed with a rule that requires all new power plants to emit no more CO2 than a typical gas-fired plant; a requirement that essentially precludes the permitting of any new coal plants.

In contrast, Romney (and the Republicans) campaigned on the promise to stop any tightening of air pollution limits, and perhaps even rolling requirements back. Their message was that they would act not only to keep existing coal plants open (including the oldest ones), but to increase the use of coal in the future. They emphatically opposed any efforts to reduce power-sector CO2 emissions.
With respect to any impact on nuclear’s future prospects, policies that result in the closure of old coal plants would help, the only question being how much. Any retired coal-fired generation will be replaced by gas-fired generation (as opposed to nuclear), at least over the short to mid-term. Over the longer term, however, the resulting increase in gas demand will result in higher natural gas prices, which in turn would make nuclear more competitive.

Regardless of any impact they may eventually have on nuclear, these air pollution and global warming policies are the right thing to do, in my personal opinion. Nuclear professionals and advocates need to ask themselves why, specifically, they support nuclear, i.e., why it’s important. Given our abundant reserves of coal (let alone gas), coupled with coal generation’s low cost, the economic and energy security arguments for nuclear may appear relatively weak—if they come from someone who doesn’t care so much about the environment, and therefore would have no problem with expanded fossil fuel use. The most compelling argument for nuclear (for me, anyway) has always been its environmental benefits. By extension, if one cares about air pollution and global warming, these policies are something to be celebrated, whether or not it is nuclear that replaces the old, dirty coal plants.

Wind tax credit

The reelection of Obama, and the Democrats’ small gains in Congress, make it somewhat more likely that the (~2 cent/kW-hr) wind energy production tax credit will be extended, for at least some period of time. Romney had stated that he would seek to end the tax credit, whereas Obama supports it. Even now, however, it is not clear that it will be extended, given the great need to cut government spending. This is true despite the fact that many Republican lawmakers, from farm states mainly, support the tax credit.

The wind power tax credit has some degree of negative economic impact on both new nuclear plant projects and existing plants. Wind often produces surges of power at times of very low power demand, which can actually lead to a negative market price for power over some time periods. The tax credit makes it still profitable to run the windfarms even under such conditions. These situations have a significant negative economic impact on existing nuclear generators in the region, which cannot shut down over short time periods. These problems are particularly acute in Illinois, where wind is being introduced and there is a large amount of nuclear generation (without much fossil generation that can be cut back in times of low wind demand). As a result, Exelon (the regional utility) has changed its position and is now opposing the extension of the wind power tax credit.

One final potential impact of the wind tax credit is that since it will result in more wind power, gas demand will be somewhat lower in the future, which may result in lower natural gas prices that would in turn make nuclear somewhat less competitive.

A legitimate issue that nuclear supporters should have with the wind tax credit is the question of fairness, i.e., why one non-polluting form of energy should benefit from large subsidies and (often) outright government mandates, whereas another, nuclear, does not. Yes, new nuclear plants also get a tax credit, but unlike with wind, the credit is limited to just the first few plants. Another issue is whether wind is being sufficiently penalized for its intermittent nature (producing power when it is least needed). Perhaps having the tax credit not apply during periods of very low demand, or some type of mechanism to support the electricity price during such glut periods, should be in order.

Natural gas

I have saved the best for last. Most experts agree that the single most important factor that affects nuclear’s future prospects is the price of natural gas. If gas remains at current (very low) prices over the long term, not only will few, if any, new nuclear plants be built (beyond Vogtle and Summer), but even the continued operation of existing plants may be threatened.

A perfect example of this is the recently announced closure of the Kewaunee nuclear plant. The plant lies within a “merchant” market, where the price of electricity is determined by the “last” supplier (highest variable cost), which is usually a gas plant. With the low price of natural gas, market prices for power in the region are very low. At current prices, Kewaunee is losing money. (This came as a shock to me, as the whole idea with nuclear is that whereas the initial capital cost is high, the operating cost, once built, is extremely low, low enough to easily compete with anything—or so I thought.)

If anything, the reelection of Obama and the Democrats somewhat increases the chances that the price of natural gas will increase in the future. They are considering tightening regulations on the fracking process, to a greater extent than the Republicans would have (although neither party is showing a significant degree of interest). Also, as I discussed earlier, Obama’s policies concerning coal (and perhaps global warming in general) can only lead to higher demand for gas, which would act to increase prices.

It seems that the common wisdom today is that natural gas prices will remain low for a very long time. Others have a different view, although they seem to be in the minority, at present. To me, it seems clear that gas prices will increase significantly in the future, at least from today’s historic lows, for several reasons:

First, the cost of natural gas is extremely sensitive to the balance between supply and demand. As the economy improves, and gas demand increases (especially if large numbers of old coal plants are retired), gas prices will increase, a lot. Second, gas costs several times what oil does, on an energy equivalent (per BTU) basis. Given that these two fuels are supposed to be largely interchangeable, this situation cannot last. (Right now several proposals for using natural gas for transportation are being explored.) Third, natural gas costs 3–4 times as much (as current U.S. prices) in Europe and 5–6 times as much in Japan. This is also a situation that won’t last, and plans are being made right now to export U.S. gas to world markets. And finally, today’s natural gas prices are far lower than what it actually costs to extract the gas (about half, actually), and producers are losing money hand over fist. This, again, is a situation that cannot last.

Summary

The election results largely preserve the status quo concerning policies that affect nuclear and energy in general. So, as to whether or not Romney and the Republicans would have been better or worse for nuclear, it’s a mixed bag of offsetting effects. In any event, few new nuclear plant projects are expected over the short term due to the current low price of natural gas in the United States. Over the longer term, nuclear’s future looks significantly brighter, especially if a serious global warming policy is (eventually) implemented.

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Hopf

Jim Hopf is a senior nuclear engineer with more than 20 years of experience in shielding and criticality analysis and design for spent fuel dry storage and transportation systems. He has been involved in nuclear advocacy for 10+ years, and is a member of the ANS Public Information Committee. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

#ANS12 Focus on Communications Workshop: TODAY, 4:30 PT, California Room

WHO:   Anyone with an interest in communicating with policymakers  about important nuclear issues

WHAT:    The ANS Focus on Communications Workshop

WHEN:   Wednesday, November 14, 4:30 – 6:30 (PT)

WHERE:   California Room (see property map below)

If you would like to learn about how the recent election has affected the political landscape for nuclear—this workshop is for you.

If you would like to share tips and techniques for communicating with policymakers about important nuclear issues—this workshop is for you.

This always-popular workshop is hosted by Mimi Limbach of Potomac Communications and Craig Piercy, the ANS Washington DC Rep. They will share the latest inside-the-beltway buzz on nuclear in this casual, interactive, interesting and fun session!

TerraPower is sponsoring this workshop, which will feature complimentary snacks and beverages.

Let’s makes this an energizing session where we learn from the best in the business and share ideas for communicating effectively with our federal representatives!

The Focus on Communications Workshop is in the California Room (circled in red). [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

NRC nominations hearing in US Senate today

A hearing titled “Hearing on the nomination of Allison Macfarlane and re-nomination of Kristine L. Svinicki to be Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission” was held in the US Senate this morning starting at 10:00 AM EDT.

The hearing was webcast live starting at 10:00 AM.

Please see this earlier Nuclear Cafe post for more details.

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ANS Honors NRC Commissioner Kristine Svinicki with Presidential Citation

NRC Commissioner Kristine L. Svinicki (Photo: NRC)

American Nuclear Society (ANS) President Eric Loewen today announced that Ms. Kristine Svinicki of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will receive a 2012 ANS Presidential Citation. Commissioner Svinicki will receive her award during the ANS President’s Special Session at the ANS Annual Conference: “Nuclear Science and Technology: Managing the Global Impact of Economic and Natural Events,” being held June 24-28 in Chicago, Illinois.

“Commissioner Svinicki has demonstrated leadership and adherence to the highest standards of professional conduct while serving on the Commission,” said Loewen. “She combines an unshakeable demeanor with proven technical and professional qualifications, and we support her nomination to a second term as NRC Commissioner.”

The Presidential Citation recognizes the following achievements:

Commissioner Kristine L. Svinicki—For courageous leadership, dedication to public service, and unwavering commitment to a regulatory framework that enables and facilitates safe and secure use of nuclear technology.

Commissioner Svinicki is a nuclear engineer and policy advisor and has extensive nuclear technology experience. She is a longstanding ANS member, where she served two terms on the ANS Special Committee on Nuclear Non-Proliferation. In 2006—before she was nominated to be NRC Commissioner—the Society honored her with a Presidential Citation in recognition of her contributions to the nuclear energy, science, and technology policies of the United States.

Commissioner Svinicki’s current term is set to expire on June 30, 2012. President Obama has nominated her for a second five-year term. A U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing on the re-nomination of Commissioner Svinicki and the nomination of Dr. Allison Macfarlane—who would serve the rest of current NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko’s term, which expires at the end of June 2013—is scheduled for Wednesday, June 13, 2012.

For more information about the conference, visit www.ans.org.  For information about ANS Honors and Awards, visit http://www.new.ans.org/honors/.

Macfarlane and Svinicki NRC nomination hearing June 13

A US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing titled “Hearing on the nomination of Allison Macfarlane and re-nomination of Kristine L. Svinicki to be Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission” will be held Wednesday, June 13, at 10:00 AM EDT. The hearing will be webcast live starting at 10:00 AM.

President Barack Obama nominated Macfarlane to be an NRC commissioner and will designate her as NRC chair upon appointment. Macfarlane is an associate professor of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University (GMU), a position she has held since 2006. Macfarlane served as a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future from March 2010 to January 2012.

Macfarlane would serve the remainder of current NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko’s term, which expires at the end of June 2013. On May 21, Jaczko announced that he would resign his position as soon as his successor was confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

President Obama has re-nominated current NRC Commissioner Svinicki for a second five-year term. Svinicki’s current term is set to expire at the end of June 2012. On May 14, the American Nuclear Society issued a statement urging the U.S. Senate to act promptly on Svinicki’s nomination so that there would be no interruption in her service.

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Reactions to NRC Chairman Jaczko resignation announcement

By Paul Bowersox

On May 21, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Chairman Gregory Jaczko announced that he would resign his position as soon as his successor is confirmed (Jaczko resignation statement). The New York Times in its reporting of the story noted:  “The White House said it would name a successor ‘soon,’ but it is unlikely that anyone will be confirmed to succeed Dr. Jaczko for many months, ensuring continued turmoil at the deeply divided agency.

Reaction to resignation

Jaczko

Reaction to this announcement “inside the Beltway” was swift and partisan. U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.): “The resignation of Chairman Jaczko will close an ugly chapter and allow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to focus on its mission—ensuring the safe operations of the nation’s nuclear plants.

Jaczko clashed with other commissioners during his tenure, and the other four commissioners took the unprecedented step of signing a letter alleging bullying by the chairman, resulting in an internal commission investigation and congressional hearings in the House and Senate (December 15, March 15). Jaczko was also severely criticized for terminating a proposal to build a national high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

White House reaction

White House spokesman Clark Stevens: “A strong and effective NRC is crucial to protecting public health and safety, promoting defense and security, and protecting the environment, and we intend to nominate a new chairman soon.

Congressional reaction: Republicans

Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Environment Committee James Inhofe (R., Okla.): “Given the numerous reports of Chairman Jaczko’s failed leadership at the NRC, it was right of him to step down today.

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.): “Dr. Jaczko’s troubling behavior as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had clearly resulted in a hostile work environment for women that ran counter to acceptable norms of workplace equality and that threatened to undermine the mission of the NRC itself.

Congressional reaction: Democrats

On the other side of the aisle. appraisals were more favorable.  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.): “For his efforts to hold the nuclear industry accountable, Chairman Jaczko was subjected to repeated personal attacks made by some of his colleagues and pro-industry advocates in Congress. I am extremely disappointed he is leaving the Commission.”

Rep. Edward Markey (D., Mass.): “Greg has led a Sisyphean fight against some of the nuclear industry’s most entrenched opponents of strong, lasting safety regulations.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: “I thank Chairman Jaczko for always fighting for the health and safety of the American people. I look forward to the President’s nomination of a successor that will carry the same level of concern…

The Nuclear Energy Institute

Marvin Fertel, president and chief executive officer of The Nuclear Energy Institute, was balanced in his appraisal: “In the seven years that Chairman Jaczko has served as a member of the commission we recognized his commitment to set the highest standards for the safe operation of the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants and transparency throughout the nuclear regulatory framework. We have had differences with the chairman on how best to achieve our mutually shared safety goals. But to his credit we’ve always had open lines of communications and a willingness to respectfully discuss the issues.

Reading the tea leaves

Speculation and conjecture concerning Jaczko’s eventual successor immediately began swirling around the internet. The Energy Collective quotes nuclear industry analyst Dan Yurman: “If the White House is smart, they’ll nominate [current Commissioner] Bill Magwood as a successor, in order to minimize political fallout” while also noting that Magwood is controversial and unpopular among environmental groups.

Others who may be considered, according to buzz in the nuclear industry, include Bill Borchardt, executive director for Operations at the NRC, who has been with the NRC since 1983 and enjoys a very favorable reputation as an exceptional federal regulator; and Allison MacFarlane, who has served on National Academy of Sciences panels on nuclear energy and nuclear weapons issues and was a member of the White House’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. Are these dark horse candidates? Who else will be in the running?

Inside the Beltway, only the tea leaves can portend.

Addendum Friday, May 25:  Tea leaves no longer necessary.  President Obama names Allison Macfarlane as NRC Commissioner to replace Jaczko.”

_______________________

Bowersox

Paul Bowersox serves on the staff of the Outreach Department at the American Nuclear Society.

 

 

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko announces resignation

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Chairman Gregory Jaczko announced today that he would resign his position as soon as a successor is confirmed. Jaczko has served on the 5-member commission since January 2005 and was named chairman in May 2009. His current term as commissioner was set to expire in June 2013.

In reporting the resignation, the New York Times noted:

The practical impact of the announcement is not clear. Dr. Jaczko’s term as a member of the commission ends in 13 months, but the commissioner who serves as chairman does so at the pleasure of the president, meaning that he would be replaced in January if Mr. Obama does not win a second term. Given the slow pace of Senate confirmations, especially in an election year in which control of the White House and the Senate could change, it is not clear that the Senate will approve a replacement before the election in November, and it is more unlikely to do so if Mr. Obama loses and becomes a lame duck.

Below is Jaczko’s official statement.

STATEMENT OF NRC CHAIRMAN GREGORY B. JACKZO

After nearly eight years on the Commission, I am announcing my resignation as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, effective upon the confirmation of my successor. My responsibility and commitment to safety will continue to be my paramount priority after I leave the Commission and until my successor is confirmed.

After an incredibly productive three years as Chairman, I have decided this is the appropriate time to continue my efforts to ensure public safety in a different forum. This is the right time to pass along the public safety torch to a new chairman who will keep a strong focus on carrying out the vital mission of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

During this last year alone, the agency has responded with an impressive focus on safety under my leadership to a number of diverse challenges including the accident at the Fukushima Da-ichi reactors in Japan, and a number of severe incidents at reactors in the United States ranging from flooding, an earthquake and tornados to damaged plant structures and steam generator problems. In addition to this vigilant oversight, together we identified and began to implement lessons learned from Fukushima and completed our rigorous safety reviews for the first new reactor licenses in 30 years.

Throughout my time on the Commission as both Chairman and Commissioner, the agency finalized regulations to ensure new reactors are designed to withstand an aircraft impact, completed the development and implementation of a safety culture policy statement, enhanced our focus on openness and transparency, and enhanced awareness of and worked to resolve some of the most long-standing generic issues facing the nuclear industry, including sump strainer issues and fire protection. Beyond the power reactor work, substantial progress was made in establishing a more transparent and effective oversight program for fuel cycle facilities. In addition, radioactive sources of concern are now fully protected with our new security regulations and source tracking system. We stand as a stronger and more decisive regulator now because of these years of efforts. I am truly humbled by the agency’s success.

Serving the American people as the Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been an honor and privilege. The mission of this agency—protecting people and the environment, and providing for the common defense and security—could not be more clear, or more critical. Our collective focus on that mission was, I believe, one of the primary reasons the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was one of the best places to work in the federal government throughout my tenure. The highly talented and dedicated professional staff, including dozens who have served on my personal staff over the years, have been instrumental in fulfilling the agency’s mission.

I will always be grateful for the opportunity of having served alongside the staff for all of these years, and for all that we accomplished together. I am looking forward to bringing all I have learned from my work and focus on safety at this agency with me as I move forward.

_________________________

ANS commends President Obama for Svinicki nomination

The American Nuclear Society today issued the following statement:

The American Nuclear Society (ANS) commends President Obama for nominating Kristine Svinicki to a second term on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Ms. Svinicki is a nuclear engineer and policy advisor and is well qualified to continue service as an NRC Commissioner. She has extensive nuclear technology experience. She is a longstanding ANS member, where she served two terms on the ANS Special Committee on Nuclear Non-Proliferation. In 2006, the Society honored her with a Presidential Citation in recognition of her contributions to the nuclear energy, science, and technology policies of the United States.

The ANS believes that U.S. nuclear safety and security interests are best served by having a full roster of NRC commissioners with proven technical and professional qualifications. As such, we urge the U.S. Senate to act promptly on Ms. Svinicki’s nomination so that there is no interruption in her service.

For more information about the American Nuclear Society, please visit www.ans.org.

__________________________

Congressional debate over terms of future 123 agreements

By Jim Hopf

In 2009, the United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed a “123” agreement, which allowed the transfer of US nuclear technology (e.g., reactors, etc.) to the UAE. As a condition of the agreement, the UAE gave up all rights to enrich uranium or reprocess spent nuclear fuel, now and at any point in the future. Thus, the UAE agreed to give up significant rights that are granted to it as a signee of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The UAE agreement is now fueling a debate in Washington as to whether or not similar conditions should apply to all future US 123 agreements with nations that want to start nuclear programs.

The debate has significance since several more 123 agreements will be considered in the near future, with nations such as Vietnam, Jordan, and possibly Saudi Arabia. Some of these nations (e.g., Jordan) have significant uranium reserves that they may desire to exploit someday, which may make them reluctant to give away any future enrichment rights.

Pros and Cons

The arguments for requiring new nuclear nations to give up rights to enrichment and reprocessing, as a condition of any 123 agreement with the US, are as follows:

  • Unlike power reactors, enrichment and reprocessing facilities can potentially give those nations access to weapons-useable nuclear materials, and could greatly shorten the time required to develop a weapon, if they ever chose to do so.
  • Given the mature, well-established, competitive world industry for uranium enrichment services (with multiple enrichment facilities in several developed nations), there will not be a need for developing countries to establish enrichment or reprocessing facilities.
  • It would not make economic (or practical) sense for a new nuclear nation with a small number of power reactors to develop enrichment or reprocessing capability and construct those expensive facilities. Thus, any desire to do so would be suspect.
  • Holding all nuclear entrants to such high standards would strengthen the international community’s arguments against less cooperative nations such as Iran.

There are, however, many arguments against requiring terms similar to the UAE agreement for all future 123 agreements. These include:

  • Such a (US) policy would have little effect since there are several developed nuclear nations, including France, Russia, China, and South Korea, competing in the world nuclear market that will not make such demands on potential customers.
  • Few new (developing) nations would be willing to surrender rights granted to them under the NPT, especially given that most nuclear supplier nations will make no such demands.
  • If (as a result) few such nations enter into 123 agreements with the US, the US will lose influence over those nations’ nuclear power programs, which would stem from their dependence on US technologies, and our involvement with their reactor operations.
  • It is possible that such nations would instead turn to suppliers with less safe reactor designs, and a lower level of experience and/or excellence in reactor operations.
  • Without an absolute no-enrichment requirement, the US may (on a case-by-case basis) be able to successfully negotiate 123 agreements that are stronger (stricter) than agreements offered by other nuclear supplier nations. With an absolute no future enrichment requirement, most nations will almost certainly instead enter into agreements with other supplier nations, which may make few if any demands.
  • If a 123 agreement with the US is in place, and the US therefore has influence and involvement with a country’s nuclear program, the US may be better able to convince that nation to not engage in fuel cycle activities in the future.
  • There are other ways to limit enrichment activities, including actions by the Nuclear Suppliers Group and ensuring that a reliable and adequate supply of enrichment services exists in the world market.
  • Finally, requirements for entering into an agreement with the US that are much stricter than those required by other suppliers will likely result in US reactor and nuclear technology companies being shut out of much, if not most, of the market in the developing world. In addition to any negative safety or proliferation impacts, this will have a significant negative economic and employment impact in the US.

House Bill

A bill, H.R. 1280, which essentially requires the same terms as the UAE agreement for all future 123 agreements, has been introduced in the House. It has passed the Foreign Affairs committee and is now being debated in the Rules committee. It may soon be voted on by the full House.

In addition to prohibiting enrichment or reprocessing facilities at any point in the future, the bill requires:

  • Limited access to facilities, equipment or materials by 3rd country nationals (personnel of a separate nationality to both the US and the developing nuclear nation).
  • Implementation of chemical and biological (weapon) production and stockpiling conventions.
  • Implementation of an export control system.
  • Cooperation with the US in preventing state sponsors of terrorism gaining access to weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
  • A ban on (non-humanitarian) assistance to nations that have not signed the NPT.
  • Joint congressional approval for any changes or additions to the terms of new 123 agreements.
  • Liability protections for US nuclear suppliers similar to those given under the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (i.e., more protection than India is offering).

Tauscher – Poneman Letter

On January 10 of this year, Undersecretary of State for arms control and international security Ellen Tauscher and Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman wrote a letter to key congressional committee leaders. The letter stated that an administration internal policy review has concluded that future 123 agreements should be made on a case-by-case basis, and that the administration would not seek the same requirements agreed to by the UAE for all future agreements.

The letter gave many of the reasons listed above (and argued elsewhere) as to why an absolute no-enrichment-requirement for all 123 agreements would not be good policy. The letter also discussed other actions that may or are being taken, including strengthened enrichment activity guidelines agreed to by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, nuclear fuel reserves, fuel leasing arrangements, and progress towards establishing a Nuclear Fuel Bank.

On the basis of the above-referenced letter, it appears that the administration will not be in favor of the House bill. The bill also faces a very uncertain future in the US Senate.

Additional Thoughts

I find some encouragement in the fact that even the non-proliferation side now appears to have accepted that power reactors in developing countries do not present a significant proliferation risk, and that the focus should be on enrichment and/or reprocessing facilities. I’ve always believed this, since spent power reactor fuel is at least as hard to convert into weapons material as raw uranium ore. The widely held belief that Iran’s enrichment activities (independent of nuclear power plants) constitute a proliferation risk further supports this principle.

Now, the debate seems to have shifted to what is the best way to prevent such fuel cycle facilities from popping up in more countries. Given that there is ample enrichment capability in the (developed) world, any such limitations should not significantly hold back the deployment of nuclear power.

The administration and others have argued that new nuclear states are likely to be reluctant to give up enrichment rights granted to them under the NPT, since they have uranium reserves and may want to complete the supply chain, or they don’t fully trust the current supplier nations to reliably supply the needed enrichment services. I would add a psychological/political reason. Policies that restrict fuel cycle facilities (or nuclear technology in general, or even nuclear weapons) to a set of existing “advanced” nations implies a notion that “we are civilized enough to responsibly handle this technology, but you are not.” Such notions tend to produce negative or contrary responses from most people (or nations). They will be very inclined to opt for the suppliers who do not make such (condescending?) demands, especially given that the right to fuel cycle technology is enshrined in the NPT, which they willingly signed.

Also of note is the fact that natural gas prices in the U.S. are currently very low (~$2/MBTU) and may stay relatively low for some time. This may limit the prospects for new nuclear here in the U.S. This makes access to international markets—where natural gas prices are much higher—even more important to the U.S. nuclear industry. Small modular reactors (SMRs) in particular, are an area where the U.S. may be able to take the technological lead and reestablish leadership in the world nuclear industry. A healthy market for those SMRs, however, would be necessary.

Conclusion

It seems to me that policies like those outlined in H.R. 1280 would not provide any of their intended benefits unless there was an agreement between all nuclear supplier states to follow those policies. Without such an international agreement, all H.R. 1280 will do is harm the US nuclear industry, and have significant negative economic and employment impacts here at home.

H.R. 1280 may even have negative worldwide impacts in terms of nuclear safety as well as nuclear proliferation, since it will result in most, if not all, nuclear entrant states forging agreements with other nuclear supplier states instead. Those other states are likely to be willing to enter into nuclear supply agreements that have less stringent requirements than what the US would be likely to negotiate, on a case-by-case basis, in the absence of H.R. 1280.

__________________________

Hopf

Jim Hopf is a senior nuclear engineer with more than 20 years of experience in shielding and criticality analysis and design for spent fuel dry storage and transportation systems. He has been involved in nuclear advocacy for 10+ years, and is a member of the ANS Public Information Committee. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

ANS Fusion Energy Division statement on FY2013 energy appropriations

The American Nuclear Society’s Fusion Energy Division submitted a statement on April 10 to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee and the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. The statement addresses certain proposed fiscal year (FY) 2013 appropriations for the U.S. Department of Energy.

The statement is below and can be downloaded in PDF format by clicking HERE.

Dear Chairman Inouye, Vice Chairman Cochran, Chairman Feinstein and Ranking Member Alexander:

The Fusion Energy Division of the American Nuclear Society has a Statement on the proposed Department of Energy budget and its adverse effect upon the future of fusion energy research and development:

Research in nuclear fusion represents one of very few options for a long-term effort to provide a major source of energy to replace climate-changing fossil fuels and ensure America’s energy security. Fusion is one of the fundamental energy sources of the universe. Providing energy from fusion is a major scientific and technological challenge—in fact, it is one of the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges for Engineering—but the rewards of fusion power and the benefits of a sustainable domestic source of energy make it a challenge worth taking.

The FY-2013 budget request by the Administration endangers the United States’ domestic fusion program as well as our country’s scientific contributions to the ITER international project. If implemented, the FY-2013 budget reductions will deal a major blow to the U.S. fusion research program and further erode its leadership position. After years of operating on minimal budgets and essentially level funding, the U.S. fusion program cannot withstand the proposed reductions without significant negative impacts.

Control room of MIT’s Alcator C-Mod fusion reactor

U.S. fusion researchers were told a few years ago that there would be some “belt tightening” to divert fusion research funds to ITER construction. Without any quantitative guidance from the DOE on belt tightening, there was speculation that it might be 1% or perhaps even as much as a 5% budget reduction for a few years. The FY-2013 budget, however, proposes a 16% reduction ($45 million) of fusion research funds, and DOE officials have given warnings that reductions of up to $100 million more will be needed in the coming years. If the Administration’s FY-2013 budget is implemented, the DOE will close a unique fusion experiment, the Alcator machine at MIT, and the students and staff there will be dispersed. Deeper cuts in the future will disperse even more staff and students at institutions around the country who would use the ITER results, and greatly reduce the number of American engineers and scientists who will be educated and trained in fusion.

We urge the U.S. to consistently and adequately support the fusion research program as outlined in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (PL 109-58, sec 971-972) and reverse this position, restoring funds to the domestic fusion program budget and, separately, fully funding this nation’s promised annual ITER contribution.

The path to discover commercially viable fusion energy is one of the grand scientific challenges of our time. With ITER under construction to explore the science of burning plasmas, the world fusion program is poised to enter its final era of research. Other nations, including China, the European Union, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, are forging ahead rapidly, investing heavily in their domestic fusion programs and in educating the next generation of fusion researchers. They are fully supporting ITER as well. The U.S. has consistently led the fusion field and should continue to do so. American leadership in fusion energy would be in the best interests of the U.S. and science itself.

Sincerely,
Lee Cadwallader
Chair, Fusion Energy Division

Minami Yoda
Vice-Chair, Fusion Energy Division

cc: The Honorable Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy
       The Honorable Dr. William Brinkman, Director, Office of Science, Department of Energy
      Dr. Edmund Synakowski, Associate Director, Office of Fusion Energy Sciences, Department of Energy

ANS President Eric Loewen submits testimony on FY 2013 energy appropriations

On Friday, March 30, American Nuclear Society President Eric Loewen submitted outside written testimony on behalf of the American Nuclear Society to the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. The testimony addresses on Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 appropriations for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and other relevant agencies under the Subcommittee’s jurisdiction—in particular, funding for nuclear programs under DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy.

The testimony is below and can be downloaded in .pdf format by clicking HERE.

Testimony by Eric P. Loewen Ph.D.
President, American Nuclear Society
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
On the FY 2013 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill
March 30, 2012

Chairman Frelinghuysen, Ranking Member Visclosky, members of the Subcommittee, on behalf of the 12,000 members of the American Nuclear Society, I am pleased to provide testimony on FY 2013 appropriations for the U.S. Department of Energy and other relevant agencies under the Subcommittee’s jurisdiction.

As you know, ANS represents a diverse cadre of nuclear professionals. As such, our members’ opinions on nuclear issues are often wide-ranging, and perhaps sometimes different from the Subcommittee. The ANS, however, truly appreciates the thoughtful and deliberate manner in which the Subcommittee approaches issues related to nuclear energy, science, and technology.

ANS believes the United States must maintain its nuclear energy technology capabilities, both from an energy and national security perspective. While we recognize that US demand for new nuclear reactors has cooled recently because of our economic downturn and historically low natural gas prices, the ANS knows nuclear energy is still an indispensable part of our long-term energy policy in the US.

The administration has set forth a plan to address the current set of nuclear challenges: a targeted research and development program to promote sustainability of our current light water reactor fleet; a program to accelerate development and licensing of light water Small Modular Reactors (SMRs); research programs focused on the nuclear fuel cycle, advanced reactors, and developing simulation and modeling tools that have broad application across the nuclear sector.

We are puzzled however by the President’s FY 2013 budget request for the Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE NE), which is clearly insufficient to maintain progress on the administration’s own announced priorities.

Administration’s budget documents show a net increase of 0.7% over FY 2012, which on the surface would seem to be a reasonable request given the current fiscal pressures. Upon closer inspection, however, the administration proposes moving $95 million in funding for “Idaho Sitewide Safeguards and Security” into the main DOE NE budget from Other Defense Activities account. Without this clever piece of accounting, the actual FY 13 DOE NE budget would be cut by 11.7%, while the overall funding level for DOE would increase by 3.2%.

It is apparent that the president’s budget request for DOE NE is more a product of internal budgetary “goal posting” than a deliberate attempt to reduce the scope of the administration’s initiatives in nuclear energy science and technology.

The ANS believes it is extremely important to maintain funding for the DOE NE at consistent levels, and urges the subcommittee to base its FY 2013 recommendations on FY 2012 enacted levels. As such, our specific program recommendations for DOE NE assume “flat funding” in FY 2013.

We urge the Subcommittee to support the continuation of the Integrated University Program. Specifically, we request that the Subcommittee to restore the full $15 million in funding for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s portion of the IUP program and the $5 million FY12 appropriated level for DOE-NE. While we are pleased that the current leadership of the DOE NE has reestablished its commitment as the primary steward of university-based nuclear education programs, we believe it is critically important for NRC to continue its activities in this area. As you may recall, it was the House Energy and Water Subcommittee that originally precipitated the transfer in funding for universities from DOE to NRC several budget cycles ago. If these activities are not funded, several very important activities will be terminated, including support for younger faculty awards, and collaboration on curriculum between two-year and four-year institutions of higher learning.

ANS recommends funding the SMR licensing technical program at $95 million, which represents an increase of $30 million over the President’s FY 2013 budget request level. Our recommended funding level would put the DOE SMR program on a sustainable trajectory to meet its budgetary milestones of $452 million over a 5 year period. The subcommittee should recognize that the US is in a full scale race with other nations, such as Russia, China, Korea and India, to develop and deploy SMR technology. SMRs offer an opportunity for improving the attractiveness of the US nuclear export portfolio and create manufacturing jobs in the US. The president’s budget request level is
simply insufficient to meet the program’s objectives.

The Advanced Reactor Concepts program should be funded at the FY 2012 enacted levels. ANS recognizes that the administration has de-prioritized the development of socalled Generation IV reactor designs. However, its proposed 43% cut in funding for the Advanced Reactor Concepts program will essentially relinquish US global leadership in an American technology and throw away previous US investments. Forgoing this leadership directly impacts our ability to promote US safety and nonproliferation standards around the world for these technologies.

The Next Generation Nuclear Plant project should be funded at its authorized amount in EPAC of 2005 in FY 2013. ANS believes that DOE should fund the NGNP project for success and near-term results rather than settle for a slower pace of licensing “framework” activities. Developing a licensing “framework” does not establish technology leadership, rather it concrete foundations of this first-of-kind project that will establish the US as technology leaders.

Sadly however, the 47% percent cut proposed by the administration would not allow DOE to even pursue its stated “framework” course, and would also continue to cause irreversible losses to a program established in EPAC 2005. For instance, several samples of advanced fuels currently being tested in the INL Advanced Test Reactor would have to be prematurely removed, thereby destroying valuable scientific data (that took years to create), and not keeping with Congresses vision of the project established by law in 2005.

Finally, we urge the Subcommittee to provide such sums as may be necessary for the preservation of all scientific and technical documents and predictive modeling licensing codes related to the Yucca Mountain license application. The ANS membership has been deeply disappointed that the administration has essentially chosen to value politics over sound science in withdrawing the license application. We recognize that the Administration efforts with the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC), and their recommendations to Congress. ANS provided input to the BRC. Prudence dictates that the technical fruits of nearly $10 billion worth of utility rate payer investments should be preserved for future repository efforts regardless of the location in the US.

In closing, our goals is to provide the Subcommittee with the views of our society as it assembles the FY 2013 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, and we stand ready and willing to provide additional technical assistance based on this information. At this moment in the life of our industry, I call for more attention to the need for our nation to have the courage of commitment to live up to our historical leadership role in nuclear technology. Unless we step up, we will be left behind.

Thank you.

Good and bad news stories for nuclear 2011/2012

By Jim Hopf

After giving a brief update on recent Fukushima-related events in the United States, I’d like to talk about some good (but relatively unpublicized) things that have happened during what has otherwise been a very challenging year for the nuclear industry. Then I’ll discuss what, to me, was the most disconcerting story in the past year.

NRC response to Fukushima

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission published a series of new requirements for U.S. nuclear plants, as a result of its evaluation of the Fukushima event. Requirements include seismic evaluations and upgrades (if necessary), the addition of portable pumps and generators (sited at multiple, protected locations), and enhanced monitoring capability for spent fuel pools. For many older boiling water reactors, hardened vents may be required (if not already in place). Another requirement being discussed is the ability to maintain operations (and cooling) without off-site power indefinitely (as opposed to the current requirement of 4–8 hours).

During Senate testimony, NRC Chairman Jaczko and other commissioners appeared to disagree over the amount of time that will be required for plants to make the proposed changes. Jaczko stated that some of the changes are likely to take until 2017–2019 (something that he said he was “concerned” about), whereas other commissioners thought that the changes will be in place by 2016.

Good news in 2011/2012

We’re all aware of the fact that the final NRC licenses were finally granted for construction of the new Vogtle reactors. It is also true that the project is within budget and schedule so far. Some lesser-known bits of good news are discussed below.

NRC Accident Consequence Statement

This is one potentially very positive thing that happened for the industry recently, without much publicity or fanfare. In part as a result of its evaluation of Fukushima, the NRC released a position statement concerning the potential consequences of (even worst case) nuclear plant accidents. The NRC (finally) acknowledged what many of us have known for a long time. It stated that the risk to public health, even from a severe accident, is “very small”. It also stated that the risk of short-term fatalities from acute exposure was “essentially zero,” and that the scenario of a large amount of radiation being released very quickly
(thus requiring a rapid evacuation) was unrealistic.

This is probably as close as we’re going to get to a formal retraction of the earlier analyses/assumptions that formed the basis of emergency response planning over previous decades. These grossly unrealistic analyses predicted thousands of immediate deaths from acute exposure, followed by tens of thousands of long-term cancers. Chernobyl had already shown those analyses to be completely unrealistic, and (I suppose) Fukushima, with its complete lack of health impacts, was the final nail in the coffin.

But, alas, I suppose I’m being unrealistic in hoping that this could lead to some relief with respect to emergency planning requirements. Indeed, many seem to be drawing precisely the reverse conclusion, asking whether evacuation zones should be increased (never mind that many other facilities that are actually more dangerous, such as chemical plants, oil refineries, etc., do not have similar evacuation zones).

This is a shame, given that these evacuation zones/plans have always been an albatross around the industry’s neck that has been used relentlessly by nuclear opponents (e.g., the Shoreham plant). They always argue about how rapid evacuation may not be practical. Well, we’ve just (finally) realized that it’s not necessary!

Fukushima also showed that, even with respect to longer-term impacts, significant effects of even a worst-case meltdown do not extend beyond ~20–25 miles of the plant (in any direction). And yet we still hear people talking about populations as far as 50 miles from plants (e.g., New York City from the Indian Point plant).

Clean Energy Standard Legislation

The Senate Energy Committee finally released a detailed legislative proposal for a Clean Energy Standard. The final proposal is the result of many years of analysis and negotiation. While it is unlikely to pass (or be considered) this year, it is considered more likely to pass than other options such as comprehensive global warming legislation. It has the potential support of several moderate Republicans.

The good news is that the final details of the legislation appear to be rational and even-handed, and fairly good for the nuclear industry. The Standard requires that 85 percent of U.S. electricity generation be from “clean” sources by 2035. While the final version does allow partial credit for fossil sources like gas, the amount of partial credit scales (inversely) with the level of CO2 emissions (relative to a coal plant). Thus, non-emitting sources like nuclear would retain a significant advantage over gas, particularly in the later phases of the program (when an all-gas generation profile would no longer be able to meet the requirements).

SMRs Move Forward

The U.S. Department of Energy recently decided to provide $452 million in funding for licensing of small modular reactors (SMRs), over the next five years. The DOE is also making plans to host three SMR demonstration projects on the Savannah River Site. The three selected reactors are the 45-megawatt (MW) NuScale Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR), the 25-MW Gen4 Energy fast reactor, and a 140-MW PWR reactor from Holtec.

Hopefully, construction of the prototypes will speed the technological development of these reactors, although NRC licensing should occur in parallel. Use of the Savannah River complex may make siting these prototype reactors easier, which could speed licensing and deployment.

A New Low Level Waste Site (at last)

The Waste Control Specialists’ low level waste (LLW) site in Texas (near the New Mexico border) will soon begin operation. The site will take waste from 38 states. It will handle all types of LLW, including Class A, B, and C. Given the closure of the Barnwell site to out-of-compact waste, the Texas site is now the only site that accepts all classes of LLW from most states.

This represents a significant victory, given the level of difficulty the nation has had in siting new LLW disposal facilities, anywhere, for many decades. This is the first site to open in 30 years. For some time, the political task of opening new LLW sites was thought to be intractable.

It should also be noted that within the same general area (in southeast New Mexico), the local communities around the DOE’s WIPP repository are actively seeking to host the nation’s spent fuel and high-level waste as well. There is some indication that the state government is willing to consider the option.

Sanity Prevails in France

The French government recently released a new long-term energy options evaluation that concludes that the most economical and practical option is to extend the operating life of its existing reactor fleet from 40 years to 60 years.

In the past, French policy had always appeared to be to replace its reactors with new ones after ~40 years of life.  Given the long-standing position in the United States that light water reactors (LWRs) could be run safely for 60 or more years, I’ve always found the (old) French position to be puzzling. I wondered if it was, in part, just a means of creating extra work to keep its domestic industry employed and on top of its game, similar to U.S. Depression-era make-work programs.

In any event, it seems like they’ve finally come to their senses. Any new nukes should be used to increase, not maintain, capacity (i.e., be used to replace fossil fuels). The cost savings will be enormous. Perhaps this new position is partly a result of Fukushima. With political support for new reactor construction much lower, perhaps the French government concluded that the only way their nuclear capacity would be maintained would be through extended operation.

The biggest bad news story of 2011/2012

Despite the positive news stories discussed above, my level of optimism for nuclear’s future was deeply shaken last year, not by the Fukushima event itself, but by the public/media/political reaction to it, particularly in Japan.

Here in the United States, Fukushima is somewhat less significant. Polls show only small reductions in public support. New nukes remain highly popular in most regions/locations where new reactors are being considered. Also, in the United States, several other factors, including the lack of any global warming policies on the horizon, the fact that the economic downturn suppressed future power demand growth, and low natural gas costs due to the shale gas “miracle,” loom larger over nuclear’s future.

In the rest of the world, however, Fukushima has had a surprisingly large impact on public opinion in many, if not most nations. In addition to Japan and Germany, anti-nuclear opinion has surged in other nations with strong nuclear programs, such as France and South Korea. The reaction in Germany does not surprise or upset me much. They are merely returning to their usual long-standing anti-nuclear position (with the 2022 nuclear phase-out date actually being two years later than a long-standing 2020 phase-out date). I was (and am) utterly dismayed, however, by the public/political reaction in Japan.

Japanese Reaction

If one asks the question of how big a natural disaster (e.g., earthquake) a nuclear plant should be able to take, the rational answer is clearly not “infinite.” One quite reasonable answer given by many people is that the disaster should be sufficiently large that if it did occur, a meltdown would be the least of their problems. One would think that Fukushima would be a textbook case of this, with ~20,000 deaths from the earthquake and tsunami, no immediate deaths from the meltdown, and few if any projected future deaths. It is also true that the number of evacuees and lost homes due to the earthquake and tsunami is larger than that from the radiation release.

But then, we watched in horror as the world’s attention (media, etc.) focused mostly on the plant meltdown, as opposed to the earthquake and tsunami. Not only were the enormous impacts of the earthquake and tsunami (deaths, etc.) deemed less newsworthy than the plant meltdowns, but so were the vastly larger ongoing health and environmental impacts of fossil fuel generation. Apparently, such logical thinking on our part does not adequately consider various psychological and political factors.

According to the World Health Organization, fossil-fueled power generation causes hundreds of thousands of deaths, worldwide, every single year (i.e., on the order of 1000 deaths every single day). Even conservative estimates, based on the pessimistic linear-no-threshold assumption, predict less than ~1000 eventual deaths from Fukushima. Thus, in terms of health impacts, worldwide fossil fuel power generation is having an impact equal to (or worse than) having a Fukushima event occur every single day. And that’s before considering global warming.

Despite these facts, the people of Japan, and their political leaders, are apparently ready to shut down their nuclear plants and replace them with vastly more dangerous and harmful fossil fuel generation. They are willing to do this even through it will mean greatly increased air pollution and CO2 emissions, and will have a devastating effect on their economy. Japan has always had an export-driven industrial economy with large trade surpluses. For the first time in memory, however, Japan will be running a trade deficit, primarily due to the increased fossil fuel imports that are necessary to replace their nuclear generation. In addition to horrendous health and environmental impacts, the fossil generation will result in markedly higher power costs. Many of Japan’s heavy industries have threatened to move off-shore.

Double standard forever?

These reactions, in Japan and elsewhere, are leading me to believe that there is a deeply-ingrained prejudice against nuclear power as a means of power production; one that may never disappear. Whether it is the legacy of the bomb, or is due to enormous media/political influence of the world fossil fuel industry (who knows?), the fact is that minor impacts from nuclear are given far more attention, and are far less tolerated, than far larger impacts from fossil fuels and other technologies.

The double standard is also alive and well in the United States. Not only has the U.S. nuclear industry accepted the NRC’s new requirements without significant resistance, but they’ve even proactively pursued improvements on their own, without being legally required to do so. And yet, in congressional hearings
and elsewhere, many are not satisfied with the rate or amount of improvement,
saying that having to wait over five years is an unacceptable risk. Meanwhile, old “grandfathered” coal plants in the United States are still not meeting the requirements of the 1970 Clean Air Act, the result being tens of thousands of annual deaths. Despite the fact that the public health risks in question are orders of magnitude larger in the coal plants’ case, apparently taking over 40 years is okay for them, whereas five years is too long for nuclear’s Fukushima upgrades.

Nuclear has always been held to standards thousands of times as strict (in terms of dollars spent per life saved, etc.) than fossil fuels. Before Fuksushima, with all the attention being paid to global warming, I had thought that the playing field might start to become somewhat more balanced. Now, after Fukushima, nuclear requirements are becoming even more strict (with any notions of regulatory relief being put to bed), whereas attempts are now being made (in the United States, anyway) to reduce regulations/requirements on fossil fuels even further. Humble requests to reduce air pollution and/or CO2 emissions are met with calls to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency.

Thus, the spectacularly unlevel playing field will likely get even more unlevel. The Clean Energy Standard is the only hope left out there.

Our industry seems all too eager to accept unprecedentedly stringent requirements, for love of the engineering challenge, apparently. The most pertinent example is the acceptance of radiation dose rate limits (e.g., 100 mrem/yr) that are orders of magnitude lower than the levels for which any significant health impacts are seen. The fact is, in my view, that NO technology can survive (over the long term) while being on the receiving end of an enormous double standard (i.e., under a tremendously non-level playing field). Better technology (e.g., SMRs, etc.) is not the answer. We must ask ourselves what we can do to get policies enacted that will level the regulatory playing field, and how we can reduce the tremendous prejudice that society has against our technology. I have several thoughts on those issues, but I’ve run out of space for this column…

____________________

Hopf

Jim Hopf is a senior nuclear engineer with more than 20 years of experience in shielding and criticality analysis and design for spent fuel dry storage and transportation systems. He has been involved in nuclear advocacy for 10+ years, and is a member of the ANS Public Information Committee. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

NRC/Fukushima Hearing in US Senate Today 10AM ET

NRC Commissioners Magwood, Svinicki, Chairman Jaczko, Apostolakis, Ostendorff

A hearing titled “Lessons from Fukushima One Year Later: NRC’s Implementation of Recommendations for Enhancing Nuclear Reactor Safety in the 21st Century” will be held in the U.S. Senate this morning at 10:00 AM EDT.  Witnesses will include NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko and fellow NRC commissioners Kristine Svinicki, George Apostolakis, William Magwood, and William Ostendorff.

The hearing will be webcast live starting at 10:00 AM ET.  Watch hearing from beginning archived here.  The hearing will also be broadcast live on C SPAN cable television.  XM satellite radio subscribers can listen to the audio broadcast of the hearing on C-Span Radio on Channel 119. Please see this earlier Nuclear Cafe post for more details.