Saturday, December 30, 2006

Episode 41

"Ths Week in Nuclear" is One Year Old!

LIsten to the Podcast Here

Here's an interview Don Gillespie, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Alternate energy Holdings, Inc (AEHI) the company that is planning to build a new nuclear plant near Bruneau, Idaho in the USA. This is an out of the ordinary project and an interesting company for several reasons, and I'm happy to be able to share this interview with you.

First off, the project is not a typical of those planned by traditional utilities that are focusing on building a nuclear-powered electricity generating plants. Alternate Energy Holdings is planning a more innovative use of the energy they'll derive from the plant. There are challenges, too because they are planning to build a new reactor design on a new site, and plan to use the energy in new ways, aong with generating electricity. Next, the company is promoting a broader range of energy technologies, all of which will help reduce reliance on petroleum-based energy. Finally, Alternate Energy Holdings itself is a very different kind of company than those who typically enter the nuclear energy industry. I caught up with Don Gillespie on December 27, 2006.

(John Wheeler interview with Don Gillespie Audio)

I'll definitely be following up on Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc., and will report back to you in the future on their progress building that new nuclear plant in Idaho. It'll also be interesting to follow the development of their "urban mini-reactor".

This is a milestone of sorts - this show marks the end of my first year in podcasting "This Week in Nuclear." This has been a truly rewarding experience - I've learned a great deal about many, many topics, made new friends all over the world, and had fun while doing it! I want to thank all of you who have contributed to the show through your many suggestions, comments, letters, and emails. Please keep them coming because that's that interactivity that makes the podcast unique! In just a year the show has grown to more than 1250 regular subscribers in more than 30 countries, and new listeners are subscribing all the time. In fact, the last two or three weeks new listeners have joined in from Indonesia, Singapore, Brazil, and Chile.

Happy New Year!


Friday, December 22, 2006

Episode 40

Listen to the Podcast Here

In this episode I focus on the "Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006."

1. What's in the Agreement?
2. Who is critical of the agreement and why?
3. The politics behind President Bush's "signing agreement"
4. What it all means to the USA and India

On December 18, 2006 President Bush approved the agreement, HR-5682, which is officially called the ""Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006". If you've been listening to my podcast for a while you'll be familiar with the background of the deal. As early as last winter there was discussion going on at diplomatic levels between India and the USA.

At the time I found it interesting that the press in India was reporting on it, while their American counterparts were totally ignoring the story. It didn't hit the radar screen in the USA until President Bush's visit to India this July, then the American media woke up and realized there was something going on. During that visit Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and President Bush signed an agreement to pursue nuclear cooperation. When Bush returned the USA the proposal was sent to congress to consider and draft into legislation.

The agreement required a change to US law because of conditions in the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954 that specifically banned nuclear trade and cooperation with other nations unless they have signed the International Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and India never has. In fact, the USA cut off nuclear technology transfer with India in 1974 when India detonated an atomic bomb.

Here is a summary of what's in the new agreement:

  • The USA-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement allows the USA to share civilian nuclear equipment, technology and expertise with India. This means that US companies will be able to build reactors in India, and will be able to sell nuclear fuel for civilian nuclear plants.
  • In addition, US companies will be able to provide nuclear-related services to India's nuclear energy production facilities. This could represent many billions of dollars of business for US companies. In fact, there have already been at least two groups of industry and political leaders to visit India in recent weeks scouting for potential new business. If you listened to episode 39 you heard Rudy Giuliani mention that he had recently visited India with one such group.

In exchange for opening the doors for US nuclear technology, India has agreed to several changes in the way it handles its nuclear business:

  1. India agreed to separate their military nuclear business from their civilian nuclear plants to ensure that no technology transferred makes its way to military use.
  2. India agreed to open their civilian nuclear plants to assessments and intrusive inspections by the IAEA.
  3. India will continue their moratorium on atomic weapons testing, and to strengthen the safeguards of their nuclear weapons arsenal.
  4. India and the USA both agrees to work together to establish a joint ban on production of additional fissile material for weapons.
  5. And finally, India agreed to prevent the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that don't possess them and to support international nonproliferation efforts.

The deal is drawing fire from communist party members in India who claim that the deal will weaken India's sovereignty and make them unable to fully represent their own interests in foreign policy. Liberals in India claim the deal creates a situation that will subject them to too much intrusive US scrutiny.

In the USA, the deal is being criticized by two Democratic Party officials, Edward Markey of Mass. and Tom Harkin of Iowa who claim it undercuts international non-proliferation efforts and rewards India for failing to sign the INPT. Markey, a frequent contributor at the anti-nuclear "Nuclear Policy Research Institute" claims that President Bush's signing statement undermines congressional oversight authority and violates the separation of powers between the legislative branch and the executive branch. I'll get to that in just a minute.

Before I discuss Markey's claims, and there might actually be some truth to what he's saying, I want to talk about what happens from here on to put the agreement in motion.

Before the actual sharing of nuclear technology can take place a few things have to happen.

  1. First, the USA has to get the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a collection of nations who possess nuclear enrichment and reactor technology, to make an exception and allow trade with India. That sounds easy, but in light of the on-going tensions with Iran and North Korea about their nuclear programs the USA is already being accused of a double standard. In the end the NSG will allow the exception because those nations want a piece of the pie, too. Russia, an NSG member is in fact already supplying India with fuel for its reactors. The NSG is scheduled to meet in April to discuss the proposal.
  2. Next, India's Parliament will have an opportunity to debate the agreement. Unlike in the USA, though, it does not have to pass a vote in the parliament. The debate will give members with dissenting opinions the opportunity to air their differences which the Prime Minister will take into consideration.
  3. Finally, the IAEA has to inspect India's civilian nuclear facilities and deem them safeguarded to prevent proliferation of weapons capable materials and technologies.

I really have no idea how long all this will take, but I suspect it won't be that long - perhaps several months to a year. In the mean time I expect US and Indian companies to begin the process of negotiating deals for nuclear services, materials, and technology. Here's an interesting thought in that regard. All the focus has been on technology and materials flowing from the UA to India, but with the pending shortage of talent in the US, and the growing business of "off-shoring" services to India and elsewhere, what would prevent US companies from outsourcing engineering work for new nuclear plants to Indian companies? My guess it someone will figure out how to make that happen.

Now I want to discuss President Bush's "signing statement" and allegations by Rep. Edward Markey, but first some legal background on the situation:

When the US President signs a bill he has the opportunity to make a "signing statement." A signing statement is a written pronouncement issued by the President when signing a bill into law. Sometime they are political or rhetorical in nature, but sometimes signing statements are used by Presidents to issue interpretations of law. The first President to use a signing statement was James Monroe. So they've been around for more than a century. Prior to the first term of President Ronald Reagan there had been only 74 signing statements issued, but beginning with President Reagan and through current day the sue of signing statements has increased. There have been more than 270 issued from Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr, Clinton, and George W. Bush. President Bush has issued more than 130 signing statements with challenges or interpretations to more than 800 federal laws.

When President Bush signed HR-5682 he issued a signing statement that made specific mention of several conditions that Congress added to the bill to strengthen congressional oversight. By the way, I have a copy of the President's signing statement on my web site, and there's a link to that in the show notes, so you can take a look at it yourself. It's less than a page long, so it's not tough get to get through.

  1. If you read section 103 of the bill, you'll find that it's titled "Statements of Policy" and it consists of about two pages of US foreign policy statements related nuclear energy and non-proliferation. In his signing statement, The President stated that his approval of the bill did not construe adoption of policies described in section 103. The reason: constitutionally the responsibility and authority to develop and implement foreign policy rests in the executive branch of government and not with Congress. I'm not a constitutional attorney, but the President does seem to have a point.
  2. Next the bill makes the USA/India deal contingent on approval by the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, and the President took expectation to that statement. His basis for disagreeing is that provision would in effect turn foreign policy decisions of the USA over to an International Group, something that is contrary to the constitution. Again, foreign policy is the responsibility of the executive branch of government. As such the President said he would consider that provision of the bill to be "advisory" in nature.
  3. Finally, the bill contains several sections that require the President to regularly report specific information to Congress regarding India's compliance to terms of the agreement. The President stated that because he has the constitutional responsibility to protect information that could damage national security, he would take the release of that information under consideration of the constitutional authority he has to protect and control information that could impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties. That means he may choose not to provide Congress with that information if he deems it would impair foreign relations or national security.

So it's easy to understand why Rep. Markey takes exception to the President's signing statement. He and Tom Harkin worked to place those conditions in the bill to strengthen their ability to oversee foreign policy and monitor India's compliance with the agreement, and the President has stated he does not necessarily need to comply with those terms. As I mentioned before, this is nothing new between the President and Congress, but it might open the door to legal challenges in the future if the President deviates from the letter of the law.

So why all the fuss? India, like China has a rapidly growing economy that is starving for energy. If predictions are right, then India's market for new nuclear plants could be on the order of 20 to 30 new units in the next 25 years. That's a $60 billion market! US companies want to be at the front of the line. There are also 14 civilian nuclear plants in India that need fuel, parts, and nuclear services, and that could add billions more in business. From a political perspective, India and the USA are the world's two largest democracies, and the US wants to do everything possible to strengthen relations and help India be successful Also, you've heard me say it before, if the USA doesn't supply these goods and services then some one else will. Russia, Germany, France,Japan, and others are all competing for India's energy market.

India has a lot to offer, as well; an educated workforce, a well-established nuclear program, and huge deposits of thorium. One company, Thorium Power Ltd. is already exploring potential business ventures and collaboration with partners in India.

I want to remind you that you can leave me a voice mail at (206) 984-3654, and you can listen to the podcast by cell phone by calling (510) 248-0360.These are free services in that you only pay what you normally would for the calls. I'd really like to play some voice mails on the air so if you're thinking about sending me an email how about trying the voice mail line instead!

Have a Happy Hanukah, a Merry Christmas, and a peaceful and prosperous New Year!


Links: President Bush's Signing Agreement, HR-5682, full version,

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Episode 39

Listen to the Podcast Here

1. Westinghouse Wins Bid to Build 4 AP1000 Reactors in China
2. The USA Approves the India Nuclear Cooperation Bill
3. Russian Parliament Approves Nuclear Restructuring
4. Virginia Politicians Bow to Antinuclear Pressure
5. New Nuclear Plants to Support Developing Economies
6. Nuclear Plants for Load Following and Peaking
7. Alternative Energy Holdings Intends to Build New Nuclear Plant
8. Fresno, California Considering Nuclear Energy Solution
9. Lochbaum Fails to Justify Claims with Out of Date Study
10. Rudy Giuliani Speaks Out for Indian Point License Renewal

Global Politics and the Nuclear Renaissance

In the last two weeks a fascinating series of events shows how the nuclear renaissance is taking the world stage in both business and politics:

On Dec 6th the Russian Parliament approved an overhaul and consolidation of their nuclear organizations with the goal of enhancing centralized control and promoting global expansion.

Then on Dec 9th the US Congress approved the USA/India Nuclear Cooperation deal and sent it on to President Bush to be ratified.

And just yesterday, on Dec 18th a pair of events occurred – in the morning we received word that China awarded Westinghouse a contract worth upwards of 8 billion dollars to build up to four AP1000 Pressurized Water reactors – projects that will create more than 5000 jobs in the USA alone. A few hours later we got word that US President George Bush has signed the US/India nuclear cooperation bill into US law. The bill is scheduled to be debated in India over the next few days where it does not have to be voted on in the way that it was in the USA.

These are exciting times, indeed!

Russia's Nuclear Restructuring

In Russia, the restructuring of their nuclear programs brings all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle under one umbrella controlled by the government – mining, fuel manufacturing, plant construction, and operations and decommissioning will all fall under Atomenergoprom . The official party line is the reorganization will promote investment and facilitate growing the business. I have a little different take on it, though. I think this represents another example of the Russian government reinforcing its position as a dominate energy supplier in Europe and Asia. The Russians recognize that by controlling the energy supplies in the region they will have tremendous political and economic leverage. Here’s an example:

Belarus is planning to build a new nuclear plant to secure their energy future. That’s good news, but in the wake of that announcement Russia's Gazprom state natural gas monopoly has warned it will raise the price Belarus pays for natural gas fourfold to $200 per 1,000 cubic meters. Then, after giving Belarus time to contemplate how that price increase would cripple their economy, Russia offered to keep natural gas prices lower if Belarus turns over a controlling stake in the Belarusian gas pipeline system. Hmmm….let’s get this straight “We will raise the rates you must pay, and it will bankrupt your economy, but you have no choice because your people will freeze to death if you don’t agree. Ah, but we have a deal for you! You give us your pipeline and we will give you a price break for the gas we send through it!” That is nothing but blackmail, plain and simple! It also shows how the Russian Government plans to take over the region’s energy supply piece by piece and country by country. The nuclear restructuring consolidates Russia’s control over their nuclear energy industry and infrastructure so they can support their political ambitions of dominance over the region.

Virginia Politicians Bow to Antinuclear Pressure

This story came to light some time ago, but it’s worth recapping because it’s a great example of how local and state politicians in the USA are more than willing to bow to political pressure from antinuclear radicals. While it demonstrates the new licensing process works, it also shows how antinuclear groups will do everything they can to make nuclear power more expensive, even when there’s no technical benefit to their claims.

The North Anna station is a two-unit nuclear plant in Virginia that was built in the 1970’s. Unit 1 came on line in the 1978 and Unit 2 in 1980. The plant’s owner, Virginia Power Company, the predecessor to present day Dominion Energy, built a 13,000 acre lake to serve as a source of cooling waster for the plants. Originally the site was intended to have four reactors, and the lake was sized to handle the heat load of all four reactors, but only two were built. This put Dominion in a great position to add two new reactors to the site, but that’s when the state stepped in. Several anti-nuclear groups complained that the addition of reactors at the site would cause lake temperatures to rise a few degrees, and that would affect the stripped bass population of the lake. Other groups made claims that during periods of high heat loads lake levels could drop, and that would have a detrimental affect on recreational activities like boating and fishing.

Here’s where the injustice occurred; a state court ruled in favor of the anti-nuclear groups! The state ruling claims that in the years since the first North Anna Nuclear plants come on line, Lake Anna has become a recreational resource for the people of Virginia. As such, the utility could not add to the heat load of the lake. As a result, Dominion will have to construct cooling towers for the proposed new unit at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Let me get this straight…the company built an artificial, man made lake on land that they own. The lake is only one-half used because it is sized for four reactors, and only two have been built. But now, because the lake is nice for boating and fishing the state of Virginia has decided that the utility doesn’t have the right to use their lake for the purpose it was built and permitted by the state. As a result, the utility will have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more to build a second cooling system. And worse, because of cooling water restrictions imposed by the state, the ruling makes it impossible to add a forth light water reactor at the site. If a forth reactor is ever built it will have to be a high temperature gas reactor or another generation IV reactor that does not use water coolant. This restriction significantly reduces the value of the North Anna site for future energy development.

Do you think the state intends to compensate Dominion for the additional expense or the lost value of the site? Heck no! This is one that should have gone to the US Supreme Court! But the utility decided it was not work the political fight. They essentially allowed the state to confiscated half of their 13,000 acre lake, and they accepted the restrictions that prevent using the site as it was originally permitted. Score one for the anti-nuclear radicals! On the positive side, the new plant should be able to squeeze out a few additional megawatts with a cooling tower as opposed to once-through cooling.

Nuclear Plants To Raise the Standard of Living in Developing Economies

In the last couple of weeks there’s been a flurry of new plant announcements in nations with developing economies. Nigeria, Belarus, the Bengal region of India, and Indonesia all announced they plan to build new nuclear plants, ad these on the heels of announcements by five Arab states last month. The plant in Indonesia will be a small Russian barge-mounted reactor, but the designs to be used at the other locations have not been decided. These are the kind of announcement I really like to see because nuclear energy will give these countries a domestic source of emission-free energy, good paying jobs for the people, and a stable supply of electricity that will raise their standards of living.

Nigeria has a total national electricity generation capacity of 6 000 MW, but they typically have only about one-half of their capacity because of frequent breakdowns in tier generation and transmission systems. They say they want to add up to 4000 MW of nuclear generation, but if they’re going to take advantage of even a small reactor they will need to invest in improving the reliability of their transmission and distribution systems. Even if the nuclear plant has the capability to run at full load, if they can’t reliably get the power to the customers then they’ll have to run at reduced output.

Load Following with Nuclear Units

This reminds me of a question I received this week from a listener named Avrom. He asked me to discuss what types of nuclear plants would be good for other than base load generation. For those of you who are not familiar with electrical system operations, I'll provide a little background…The 24-hour load profile for most electrical systems has a “double hump” shape with a morning peak when people get up, take showers, and cook breakfast, and when daytime factories and businesses energize lighting and industrial loads. Load drops a little mid-day then rises again in the afternoon and evening due to heating and air conditioning demands, and when people return home at night and begin cooking, watching television, and using computers. Load drops in the late evening hours and is lowest in the dead of night. Different types of power plants are needed in order to reliably supply energy to this ever-changing load. There are typically three types of generation in an electrical supply system – base load plants, power plants that load follow, and peaking units. Base load plants are the cheapest producers and run at full power day in and day out. Coal and nuclear plants generally fall into this category because they produce the lowest cost energy and because they are larger and do not change load as quickly as other kinds of plants.

Load following is the next level of generator, and as the name implies they follow the load. They sit in standby or at low power when system load is low, and as load goes up they increase power to match it, then they ramp back down when the load reduces. Load following plants are usually oil or gas fired, but some nuclear plants around the world do load follow, particularly in places like France where a large percentage of the power is from nuclear plants.

Peaking units are usually the most expensive producers and only generate electricity when the system load peaks, or when there are supply/load imbalances caused with a large base load plant shuts down unexpectedly. Peaking units have to be able to start up on demand and pick up load rapidly. Peaking units are usually gas turbines, diesel generators, and sometimes oil fired units. You’ll hear the phrase “spinning reserve” used to describe plants that are essentially idling at zero power with their turbine generators spinning. They’re in standby so they can pick up load in a hurry when it’s needed. In some markets plants get paid a premium to be in spinning reserve because they’re needed for grid stability. There’s also system voltage control that’s related to load control, but that will have to be the topic of another show.

So the question is what kind of nuclear plant would be suitable for load following or peaking. As I mentioned before, some current day nuclear plants do load follow, but it’s not the norm in most systems. The commercial pressurized water reactors and boiling water reactors that I am familiar with have some operating characteristics that make repetitive up and down transients tough to manage. I’m not familiar enough with CANDU reactors to know how well they load follow. Maybe one of you in Canada or India can post something in the show notes about CANDUs and load following.

To be good for following the load, the plant would need to be able to easily and economically go up and down from low power to full power and back two times per day. There are some good reactor designs for this. Marine propulsion reactors, for example, are designed to change power level very rapidly. They could even be in spinning reserve and do load peaking, but that might not be economical. Smaller gas cooled reactors, particularly those tied to gas turbines, would be good load followers. The pebble bed modular reactor, for example, might be an ideal load follower if it were coupled either a gas turbine or a steam system designed for rapid power level changes. The Adams Atomic Engine would also be a good load follower. The nice thing about using smaller modular units is that you can have a chain of reactors and you start up as many or as few as you need depending on system load. That is ideal for areas with isolated transmission or distribution systems. While I'm not certain, the barge-mounted Russian reactors might be good load followers because they are based on marine propulsion reactors.

So Avrom, that’s my take on the best nuclear plants for other than base load energy production. Thanks for the great question!

Nuclear Energy is Attracting New Investors & Municipalities

There’s a new player in the USA’s nuclear renaissance; Alternative Energy Holdings, and this week they announced they plan to build a new nuclear plant near Bruneau, Idaho. The company was formed by several experienced utility executives to promote new energy technologies, including nuclear.

The board of directors includes Ralph Beedle, a past Senior Vice President of the Nuclear Energy Institute, Ken Straum, a former president of INPO, and Donald Gillispie, a senior industry executive who is serving as the company's President and CEO.

The press release states they plan to build a 1500 MW plant, and will start construction in 2008. I’m not sure what they mean by beginning construction in 2008 because it will most likely take that longer than that to obtain a combined construction and operating license. Perhaps they mean they will start field work at the site in 2008. Another news article I read indicates that some of the reactor's low quality heat will be used to supply energy to a bio-diesel manufacturing plant. If so, that would be a really innovative combination of two energy forms. It makes great since, too, because the low coast energy from the reactor will make the bio-diesel cheaper and more competitive with petroleum based fuel.

And the city of Fresno, California announced they are interested in building and operating a nuclear plant for their municipal energy customers. That will be tough because under current California state law no new nuclear plants can be built until the state’s Energy Commission determines that a technology has been demonstrated for disposal of used fuel. You could argue that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has done that, but you’d have to convince the California Energy Commission! The state law can be changed, though, and perhaps it will be in light of California’s leadership in limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Generally, I’m not in favor of municipal governments running nuclear plants. History has proven that local and state governments in the USA are not effective at efficiently building and operating the current vintage of large commercial nuclear plants. They just don’t have that skill set or area of expertise. They could make it happen, though, through a partnership with an experienced nuclear operating company. That kind of arrangement would give the new Fresno Nuclear Plant access to nuclear operating expertise and other advantages of being part of a fleet of plants. That way they could enjoy the low cost, emissions-free electricity that nuclear energy has to offer without the burden of trying to build an operating organization to support it.

There’s been some recent experience with this business model with lots of lessons learned to build upon. The two that come to mind are Nuclear Management Company who operates nuclear plants in the US Midwest, Exelon's agreement to operate the Salem/Hope Creek Plants, and Entergy, who manages the operation of the Cooper Nuclear Station for Nebraska Public Power.

Lochbaum Quotes Out of Date Study to Support His Claims

David Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists is promoting a 25 year old study that theorized that a Boeing 707 airplane crash into a nuclear plant could cause a core meltdown and radiation release. He's using this dated analysis to support his beliefs that nuclear plants are unsafe.

Here’s David Lochbaum describing his concerns…

(listen to the audio podcast)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission dismissed Lochbaum’s allegations as irrelevant and unfounded. I've considered the arguments here and have to agree with the NRC for a number of reasons. Let me give you just one example of why Mr. Lockbaum's conclusions are out of date:

Lochbaum quotes a part of the study that says that if an airplane crashed into the control room of a nuclear plant there would be a melt down because the operators would be dead or they would loose control of the reactor and would be unable to shut it down and keep it cool. That’s a false assertion for several reasons:

Nuclear plants have a fail safe design, so any kind of disaster like this that would disturb cooling or other vital systems will cause the reactor to automatically shutdown and the emergency cooling systems to automatically start.

Next, the 1982 study Lockbaum refers to was done before the alternate shutdown capabilities were added to US nuclear plants. This feature provides the ability to safely shut down the plant and keep the reactor cool from remote locations within protected areas of the plant but outside of the control room. If an aircraft hit the control room then the operators who work outside the control room could take control and keep the reactor cool. These features were retrofitted to all existing nuclear plants, as well as designed into new ones.

The 1982 study assumed “No Operator Intervention” an assumption that ignores the realistic timeline of any such disaster. There are emergency procedures and contingency plans in place that provide many, many ways to keep the reactor cool, and it’s unrealistic to assume that the people responsible to carry out those plans would simply ignore the situation and walk away. Many of these hypothetical core damage scenarios take many hours to get to the point that radiation is released, and that provides ample time for a whole variety of preplanned compensatory actions to be put into place.

When nuclear engineers and plant designers consider what would happen in a nuclear accident, they usually start with an assumption of no operator action. They run the scenario out to see if there will be any core damage or a radiation release with no operator action. Then, if a particular scenario DOES yield core damage, they go back and add in reasonable operator actions and other barriers to counter the accident. Very often people who are opposed to nuclear power use the "no action" scenarios as a basis for claiming the plants are unsafe.

Giuliani Speaks Out for Indian Point License Renewal

The concepts of nuclear plant safety and security were the highlight of remarks made by Rudy Giuliani recently. The highly respected former Mayor of New York City and expert on emergency preparedness and security spoke out in favor of Indian Point’s application for a license extension. Here’s what he had to say…

(listen to the audio podcast)

That was Rudolph Giuliani on nuclear plant safety and security, and the value that Indian Point provides to New York and the US northeast. Quite a contrast between Rudy and Dave Lochbaum, don’t you think? Who are YOU going to believe?

Listener Letters and Comments

My last show, episode 38 generated a ton of listener - I must have received about a dozen emails with all kinds of great suggestions and observations. Here are a few:

Two listeners, KenG and Tom P, pointed out that burning bio-diesel in combustion turbines is probably breakeven from the perspective of CO2 emissions because the soy beans absorb CO2 when growing, then return it to the air when the oil is burned. The particulate and other air polluting emissions would still need to be dealt with. Both are excellent points!

Dave M wrote that Indian Point has a number of other somewhat unique features that provide enhanced accident response. One example is their internal containment sump recirculation pumps. Dave promised to join us on a future show to discuss this more in detail. Thanks Dave!

One listener asked if I am related to John Archibald Wheeler, the renowned nuclear physicist. Unfortunately not; while we share names and similar passions, we’re not related, at least not to my knowledge. If you’re listening out there Dr. Wheeler, give me a call. It would be great to have you on the show!

Not everyone was happy with episode 38. If you’ve taken a look at my blog and show transcript #38 you’ll see the blogger who calls himself Pinto Bean and Porgie Tirebiter posted some very critical comments. He’s the blogger that I mentioned in that show. He apparently lives around Indian Point and I invited him to join in the debate, and to post links to documents he claims to have about unsafe conditions at the plant. So far he’s declined to do that. He did, however, do a piece on me in his Washington Scandal blog where he claimed to have uncovered a “secret industry mole.” If you’ve been listening to my show for a while you’ll get as big a kick out of that as I did. I’ve been podcasting and blogging now for about a year, and as far back as episode one I made it very clear I work in the industry. I’ve also always used my real name, and not an alias.

Porgie also has the mistaken impression that I anonymously posted inappropriate comments to one of his blogs. That’s puzzling – why would I want to do that when factual and courteous blog posts generate friendly but heated debates? It’s that interactivity that makes this “new media” such a fantastic tool for sharing thoughts and ideas! Here’s a link to Porgie’s blog. I thought it was nice of him to put my photo right above that of Senator Evan Bayh’s and just below Rudy Giuliani’s. At least I’m in good company!

Happy Holidays!

John Wheeler

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Episode 38

Listen to the Podcast Here

1. Australia’s Nuclear Energy Report

2. Nuclear Energy is 1000 times safer than Coal, Oil, and Hydro Power

3. The Myths and Realities of Solar and Wind Energy

4. Anti-Nuclear Singer Elected to US Congress

5. John Hall’s Report Lacking in Key Facts

6. Anti-Nuclear Bloggers Support John Hall

7. Indian Point’s Containments Among the Safest

8. Listen to the show at (510) 248-0360

9. Leave a voice mail at (206) 984-3654

Australian Nuclear Report

This past week the Australian government released their formal study of the potential for expanding the nuclear industry in Australia. The study concluded that even in coal-rich Australia nuclear energy can be cost effective. If carbon mitigation and environmental impacts are factored in, nuclear energy becomes cheaper than coal. The report also concluded that nuclear generated electricity is the safest form of electrical generation.

Some fascinating statistics from the report:

  • Nuclear energy accounts for 0.006 fatalities per GWe-year of energy produced.
  • Gas powered electricity accounts for 15 times more fatalities than nuclear.
  • Coal, oil, and hydo powered electricity account for 1000 times more fatalities than nuclear.

So here’s another independent analysis that shows nuclear energy is the safest form of large scale electrical generation!

The report was greeted, as you would expect, by a flurry of press conferences and official statements by politicians and green party members who condemned the report as biased. Some even threatened legal action.

South Australian Premier Mike Rann, for example, says his government will pass laws to prevent a nuclear power station ever being built in the state. No surprise here – the coal industry is a strong supporter, and will do everything they can to prevent nuclear energy from taking any market share. This kind of reaction is just plain irresponsible in light of Australia’s air quality that claims more lives than traffic accidents every year.

Another report from New Zealand Green Party tries to create public fear of a Chernobyl-type accident by claiming New Zealand will be “squarely in the path of radioactive fallout.” This argument ignores the fact that any nuclear plant in Australia would be a generation III+ or Generation IV reactor. These modern nuclear plants have passive safety features and a containment structure, unlike the irresponsibly designed Chernobyl plant that was inherently unstable and lacked a containment building. This is the kind of anti-nuclear rhetoric that has become the status quo for the Green Party.

The Australian report predicts that the first nuclear plants could be running in 15 years, and by 2050 25 nuclear plants could be running. That that would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Australia from 8% to 18% .

The Myths and Realities of Solar and Wind Energy

Last Saturday afternoon I was admiring the beauty of the desert while taking a run along the Rio Grande River near Albuquerque, NM. It struck me that the geography and climate of the area seemed to make it an ideal location for wind and solar energy. You might get the impression that I have a one size fits all attitude about energy, but the truth is exactly the opposite. There’s a right time and a right place for each of the technologies. I’ve been pretty critical of coal as an energy source, but unlike some of the extremists out there I recognize that politics, economics, energy demand, and the abundance of coal mean world won’t be able to do without it. But the quality of the air we breath and the preventable deaths around the world caused by the coal fuel cycle – from mining accidents to air pollution related illness – force me to believe that no new plants should be built anywhere in the world without “clean coal” technology. The question of CO2 gas sequestration is another issue entirely, and one that I’m not convinced will be achievable safely or cost effectively, but that’s a topic for another show.

I’m getting off track because I wanted to talk about solar and wind. On Saturday and Sunday I was thinking Albuquerque was a great place for solar and wind, then over the next three days I had to change my mind. Monday was cloudy and it threatened to rain all day – no good for solar, but there was a little light breeze. Tuesday and Wednesday were sunny, but there was little wind. In fact, Wednesday was so calm there was a temperature inversion – stagnant air so still that a feather would drop straight down. From the local weather report I discovered temperature inversions are common in Albuquerque. Again, that’s no good for wind energy.

My experience made me wonder what the typical capacity factors are for wind and solar power stations. Nuclear plants on average put out 90% of their rated capacity day in and day out, so that was my benchmark. At 90%, nuclear plants run at 100% most of the time except for planned maintenance and refueling outages every 18 or 24 months that last a month or less.

What I found confirmed what I suspected – in the USA solar photovoltaic stations have an abysmal 21 % capacity factor because the sun doesn’t shine at night, but also because cloudy days and the seasonal changes in the angle of the sun mean that solar panels virtually never operate at their rated capacity. Solar thermal systems, systems that convert sunlight to heat, have slightly higher capacities, but are much more expensive to build.

Wind energy is affected by the weather conditions, and by mechanical breakdowns, resulting in a capacity factor of about 41 %. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been fascinated by wind and solar energy my whole life, and I’d love to see the technologies mature. While both are getting better every year, experts predict that by 2030 wind energy will only produce 1.1% of all the electricity consumed in the USA. Solar power is even lower – by 2030 it will contribute less than ½ % of the electricity production. For the sake of argument, let’s hypothesize that the Energy Information Administration is wrong – let’s say that because of concerns over climate change the US government implements some kind of carbon legislation that make solar and wind more competitive with coal and natural gas. Let’s assume that in this hypothetical scenario the growth in both wind and solar power is 10 times higher than the experts predict. Even in that extreme case the combination of wind and solar will produce only about 18% of the electricity needed, less than nuclear plants do today.

The low capacity factors have another less obvious impact – it raises the cost of producing a given amount of energy. Let me explain this in simple terms; Let’s assume there are two power stations that both put out 1000 MW, and both cost the same to build and operate. Plant “A” runs at 40 % capacity factor, and plant “B” operates at 80%. With this difference in capacity factors, every MW of electricity generated by A will cost twice that of power plant B. That’s a huge consideration in a market where a few tenths of a cent on a kilowatt of electricity is the difference between making a profit and going out of business.

So that brings me back to reality – the capacity factors of wind and solar, when combined with the construction and operating costs put them both way out of line with coal, nuclear, gas and oil. You’ve heard me talk about gas and oil before – they are the highest cost options and we shouldn’t be burning them anyway if were going to reduce our reliance on foreign fuel sources. That leaves the big two – coal and nuclear. Solar and wind will continue to get better and cheaper, but they won’t put a dent in coal or nuclear in my lifetime or even in my daughter’s lifetime. That’s why you don’t hear about large utilities planning to invest in 30 to 50 Gig watts of solar and wind capacity, but they are talking about that level of investment in coal and nuclear. There are other technologies out there, too, like tidal generators, biomass, and a few others, but none have a chance to contribute even 1% of our energy needs in the foreseeable future. That’s why nuclear energy is the only technology that has a chance to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions released by burning coal.

I’ve used statistics from the United States in this discussion, because that’s the data that’s readily available for me. My conclusions hold true elsewhere because the economics are essentially the same elsewhere in the world. Nuclear energy is even more attractive in the EU where they’ve implemented a carbon trading program.

This is the same debate, and the same logic that has brought so many environmentalists around to support nuclear energy; Patrick Moore, for example. He’s one of the founding members of Greenpeace, and here’s what he has to say about nuclear energy…

(Patrick Moore audio plays here)

That was Patrick Moore sharing why he supports expanding nuclear energy.

So reflecting back on my mental wanderings in the New Mexico desert, I guess Albuquerque might be an OK place for solar or wind energy, it’s a GREAT place for a nuclear plant! The water supply might be an issue, but that can be solved. The largest power station of any kind in the USA is the Palo Verde Nuclear plant, which is located in the desert about 50 miles from Phoenix, Arizona. They get their cooling water by treating the waste water and sewage from Phoenix!

Politics and the Indian Point License Renewal

In my last show I talked about politics at the national level in the USA. As you’ll recall, I think there’s a lot to be optimistic about in terms of bipartisan support for nuclear energy. I’m more concerned about issues at the state and local level. Here’s an example: in a race for a seat in the House of Representatives for the 19th district in southern NY state the liberal Democratic Party challenger John Hall narrowly defeated the republican incumbent Sue Kelly. You’re probably trying to figure out where you’ve heard that name – John Hall.… He’s a singer who had a hit back in the 70’s called “You’re Still the One.”

John Hall is vocally anti-nuclear, and he campaigned on a promise to shut down Indian Point Nuclear Plant and turn it into what he calls an “Alternative Energy Center.” In fact, he’s published a 38 page report describing how he plans to do it. I’ve read the plan, and let me give you a few highlights…he wants to replace the 2000 MW, or 2 Gigawatts, of electricity produced by Indian Point with wind energy, tidal generators on the Hudson River, and solar power. Pretty interesting…..Economics aside, if a wind farm can’t get sited in the ocean off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, what makes John Hall think the people in Westchester County, NY are going to allow wind turbines on the Hudson River? Considering the site is in the migration path for bald eagles, that’s not going to happen! For get the fact that the Indian Point site is in a geographical area classified as “Marginal” by the Energy Information Administration for wind power.

And tidal power? Well at least we’d have electricity on the full moon!

Oh – I forgot to mention, John Hall claims to want to reduce CO2 emissions, but he also wants to add lots of gas turbines burning bio-diesel. Hey, I’m a big fan of bio-diesel, because it can help reduce foreign oil consumption, but last time I checked burning bio-diesel it still created CO2! There is no way that NY State can meet its obligations under the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative under Congressman John Hall’s proposal.

I’m all for developing these technologies, but as I’ve just explained, none of these separately or in aggregate can replace the contribution that nuclear energy makes – not at Indian Point, and not anywhere.

I also have to mention that funding for John Hall’s Alternative Sustainable Energy Center to replace Indian Point will come from raising taxes by $150 million per year! He’s trying to downplay this astronomical tax burden because only a small fraction would be paid directly by residential electricity customers, and the rest would be born by energy producers – but where does he think that money will come from? If you tax the producers then the cost of energy they provide will go up. In the end, the people of NY will pay the bill with higher energy costs, higher cost of goods and services, and a trickle down of taxes to the counties and local governments. A $150 million per year tax increase in a state that is already chocking on a tax bill. High taxes are driving businesses and young people out of NY state at an alarming rate. And even this astronomical tax burden wouldn’t pay for the plant – Hall’s proposal doesn’t discuss how he plans to buy the plant from Entergy, Indian Point is worth billions of dollars. Does he expect Entergy’s shareholders to donate the plant to the state? That’s unlikely since Entergy just this week applied for a 20 year license extension for both Indian Point units.

John Hall’s suggestions are strangely reminiscent of the Shoreham Nuclear plant deal – remember that one? Then Governor Mario Cuomo brokered a deal where NY State bought a brand new, ready to operate nuclear plant from Long Island Lighting Company for $1 and assumed the billions of dollars of debt that they passed on to the taxpayers. The state tore the plant down, and the people of NY paid for it and will continue paying for it through our children’s lifetimes. The deal also resulted in Long Island electricity prices that are some of the highest in the nation.

I’ll have to give John Hall the benefit of the doubt because he’s obviously been misled on the science, and economics underlying electricity infrastructure in southern NY. We’ll need to give him a chance to use his new position to become better informed on the issues and the facts. He claims he’s been against nuclear plants since the 1970’s and that may be part of the problem. The nuclear industry today is NOT the industry of the 1970’s! Advancements in the technology that have been added to existing plants, 40 years of worldwide operating experience, and improvements in all aspects of how nuclear plants are operated, tested, maintained, and managed paint a striking contrast – I’ve been in the industry for about 23 years and have seen a remarkable change in just that period of time. In the 1970’s most nuclear plants had trouble staying on line for half the time. Today, the industry’s average capacity factor is 90%! That’s better than any other form of electricity generation!

The Hall report also makes an interesting reference to “unscrupulous multinational corporations who have downsized thousands of people.” The only multinational corporation I know of in his district that has downsized thousands of people is IBM. I wonder what IBM thinks about his characterization of their corporate morality?

Anti-Nuclear Blogger

Congressman-elect Hall definitely got out the radical anti-nuclear vote. One such activist, a blogger who calls himself “Porgie Tirebiter” is publishing misinformation and false accusations about Indian Point. According to Mr. Tirebiter there’s criminal collusion going on between the NRC and Entergy, the plant’s owner, to hide the truth and lie to the public. If you believe him, the plant is spewing glowing green toxic waste, the containments are falling down, and the operators are a bunch of illiterate morons. I really take offence to his characterizations. Yeah, I’m biased, I’ll admit it, but my beliefs are the result of years of study, and personal real world experience. In fact, I spent several years in operations at Indian Point, and held a senior reactor operator license there. I consider myself fortunate to know many of the operators who work there today. To a person they’re smart, dedicated, and highly trained. Being a nuclear plant operator is a great job, but it’s a demanding field that requires intelligence, dedication, and motivation. If you’re missing any one of these traits you won’t make it as a nuclear plant operator.

This reminds me of another fact about Indian Point that the mainstream media seems to miss – the containment system at Indian Point is one of the only ones in the world, maybe the only one – with a full-time liner leak detection system. It’s a unique system that makes the Indian Point Containment one of the safest containments on the planet.

Indian Point's Contaiment Safety is Enhanced

Here’s how it works: The containment is made from three or more feet of steel reinforced concrete. The inside of the containment is lined with an airtight steel liner That steel liner is made of thousands of steel plates welded together, and every one of the welds is encased in a welded steel channel that is pressurized with air. If a liner weld springs a leak then the operators can tell immediately because the pressure in the channels drop and the air flow to the channels rises. This ability for operators to continuously monitor the leak-tightness of the containment liner welds makes the Indian Point containments unique, and among the safest in the world.

Indian Point has some other unique design features that add to the safety of the plant that I’ll talk about in a future show.

New Show Features

Now you can listen to the show by calling (510) 248-0360 on your cell phone or telephone (or via Skype). There’s no charge for the call other than what your telephone or cell phone provider charges for the call. This is great if you’re traveling, or if you don’t have routine access to a broadband Internet connection.

You can also call and leave a voice mail that I can play on the show at (206) 984-3654.

Be Well!

John Wheeler

Episode 37

Listen to the Podcast Here

This is the audio from the panel discussion I participated in with Rod Adams and Eric McErlain at the American Nuclear Society 2006 Winter Meeting in Albequerque, NM. In this episode you'll hear Rod Adams and I discussing the new media, blogging, podcasting, and sharing the truth about nuclear energy using these fantastic new media forms.

The panel discussion was more than 2 hours long, so I was not able to include Eric's comments (the audio on Eric's part was not as clear).

Also, the session was facilitated by Lisa Stiles-Shell. Nice job, Lisa!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Episode 36

Listen to the Podcast Here
  1. The GE Hitachi Deal
  2. 2006 World Energy Outlook
  3. An Overview of How Laws are Passed in the USA
  4. How will the new congress affect the US Nuclear Industry?
  5. Audio from the Chairmen of the Senate Energy Committee
  6. Podcast News
  7. Call my voice mail at (206) 984-3654
  8. Welcome to New Listeners from Around the World!
  9. My ANS Presentation
  10. How you can support the show

GE/Hitachi Deal

On Monday, GE Nuclear Energy and Hitachi announced they’re forming a joint venture to market new nuclear plants and nuclear services around the world. The new enterprise, in my mind, is the most creative in a string of similar unions that have sprung up over the last several months. Hitachi will hold 80% of a jointly held company in Japan, where GE hopes to get in on new business there, and GE will control 60% of the global venture in the USA and elsewhere outside of Japan. This unique arrangement leverages the strengths and relationships of each company where they are needed most, and I take my hat off to Andy White of GE Nuclear and Kazuo Furukawa of Hitachi for coming up with a winning concept! Hitachi’s recent nuclear plant construction experience and supply chain will be an asset to GE, while GE’s ESBWR and ABWR offerings and nuclear service infrastructure will give Hitachi a leg up in Japan’s market.

I hope to cover the GE/Hitachi joint venture in more detail in a future show.

So the nuclear teams have lined up as follows: Toshiba with Westinghouse promoting the AP-1000, Mitsubishi with Areva marketing the EPR, and Hitachi with GE offering the ABWR and ESBWR, as well as Hitachi’s PWR designs….these companies are all poised to compete for the hundreds of billions of dollars in new nuclear plant construction around the world. The other major players are AECL of Canada, and Atomstroyexport of Russia – both serious competitor when it comes to smaller or lower cost units. India and China have also thrown their respective hats into the ring, but I doubt they’ll capture much more than a small fraction of world market. I’m betting they will partner with others to strengthen their positions – for example Canada and India might partner on the Advanced CANDU technology. One thing is sure – the business is about to heat up!

IEA Releases 2006 World Energy Outlook

This week in the International Energy Agency released their 2006 World Energy Outlook, and the results are striking…

  • World energy demand will grow by 53% in the next 24 years.
  • 70% of the growth will be in developing economies, led by China and India
  • World oil demand will rise from 84 million barrels per day in 2005 to 116 mb/d in 2030, and most of the increase in production will come from a small number of middle eastern nations.
  • Along with that increase in oil consumption will come more political leverage wielded by nations in unstable regions of the world, those with fundamentalist Islamic governments, and questionable human rights records.
  • Oil prices will be unstable and will continue to rise over the long term.

On the podcast I have a short audio clip from Platts Oil Podcast that discusses the World Energy Outlook.

Platts Oil Podcast is a good source of information about the oil and gas industry, and they occasionally include broader energy industry news. You can find it on iTunes or by searching for “Platts Oil Podcast."

The 2006 World Energy Outlook is an independent report that highlights the vital importance of investing in nuclear energy, energy conservation and other sustainable energy sources. Without this investment, coupled with focused national policies, CO2 gas emissions will continue to rise, and the world’s reliance on oil will continue to grow. With that reliance will come political instability, and conflicts. Every nation of the world needs to become energy self-sufficient to the maximum extent possible, and nuclear energy can play a huge role in allowing that to happen.

Review of US Legislative Process

The democrat party’s overwhelming victory in last week’s US national elections could have a profound affect on the nuclear industry, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Here’s an overview of some of the challenges the industry will face with the shift in majorities in both houses of the US congress:

For the benefit of my international listeners, before I go into the changes in congress and how they might affect the industry, I’d like to review how the US congress functions, and how laws are created and ratified in the United States. Understanding this process is valuable in recognizing the potential impact of the new congress, particularly the roles of congressional committees and committee chairmen.

The US congress is divided into two houses – the House of Representatives and the Senate. The political party with the majority in each house has the right to appoint committee chairmen, so in the new congress the chairmen of all the committees in both the Senate and the House of Representatives will be democratic party members.

New laws or changes to existing law can be proposed by any member of either house, but these “bills” as they are called, have to be approved committees in both houses before they can be voted on by congress. When laws are proposed they go to congressional committees for debate and to be drafted into legislation. Committees can elect not to consider legislation at all, in which case the bill dies before it goes anywhere. Committee chairmen, of course, have a lot of influence on what bills the committees pay attention to, and the direction the debates go. Committees in both houses debate bills separately. If a committee concludes a proposal deserves to be voted on by the full house, then the bill is sent for a full vote. Bills have to be approved by committees in both houses, then approved by a vote in both houses. After a bill is approved by both houses, the next step is to eliminate any differences between the two versions. After that the bill is sent to the President to be signed into law or vetoed. Presidential vetoes can be overturned by a 2/3 majority vote by both houses of congress.

You might say the congress has unlimited authority to propose changes, but little authority to approve change because with only a slight majority the democrats don’t have the power to override a presidential veto. By contrast, the president has almost unlimited authority to stop changes, but no authority to initiate change.

In addition, congress holds the purse strings and has to approve budgets and funding which, of course, gives them the ability to shut down programs without formally killing them. Even if a program has been previously approved, they can decide to sit on the funding request – if they don’t appropriate the funds, then the program starves to death.

So if either party wants to pass any changes to laws or any new laws then they will have to cooperate with one another.

The New Congress

So for at least the next two years the democrats will have a slight majority in both houses of congress which means they will appoint chairmen of all the committees, and will thus have control over the legislative agenda and the budgets. If anything is to get done in the new congress then the two parties will have to work together because while the Democrats control the legislative agenda and the funding, the Republicans hold the veto power.

The leaders of the houses, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi from California will assume majority leader positions in the Senate and House of Representatives, and will have tremendous influence over what the congress does and doesn’t do.

The change with the most impact on a national scale is Nevada Senator Harry Reid’s assuming the influential role of the Senate Majority Leader. Senator Reid is, of course, an outspoken anti-nuclear and he’s leading the legislative attack on the Yucca Mountain project. He’s likely to do everything in his power to kill the project while sucking as much money out of the nuclear decommissioning fund as he can. He’s tried to do that before – in fact, his state has been the recipient of billions of dollars that have already been spent on Yucca Mountain. A good chunk of that has been legal fees paid to his lawyer buddies back home in Nevada.

In an earlier episode of “This Week in Nuclear” I told you about a bill he proposed earlier this year that would divert money from the fund to other projects – I expect that bill to resurface because if he can get an interim storage plan in place it will take pressure off of Nevada to make progress on Yucca Mountain. The longer it drags out, the more money Nevada makes.

More and more, Harry Reid finds himself at odds with his party over the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. They recognize that only nuclear energy can provide large scale, cost effective base load power without CO2, and that’s bringing them around to support nuclear energy. Nancy Pelosi, for example, is a lot more open-minded about the role nuclear energy will play in our future. Just recently she was quoted as saying the US needs to consider nuclear energy as one of the ways we can fight global warning and reduce reliance on foreign oil. Some other influential democrat members of congress have also begun to move away from their prior positions of strong opposition to nuclear energy. I’ve been pretty critical of Hillary Clinton on past shows, and for good reason, but she IS moving cautiously towards recognizing the USA has to expand nuclear energy’s role. I also heard that Senator Ted Kennedy said something to the effect that perhaps he’s been wrong about nuclear energy all these years, but I’ve been unable to confirm that story.

Other changes include Barbara Boxer, a liberal democrat from California who will become the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. One note here – this position would have been held by Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of CT if he had not been forced to ditch his party affiliation in that much publicized election. As an independent he losses the opportunity to serve as a committee chairman – one of the inequities of the current system! Boxer is likely to push for some kind of greenhouse gas legislation. In fact, she’s already introduced one version of a bill designed to do just that. Under her leadership opening ANWAR and the outer continental shelf to oil and gas drilling is much less likely, meaning those sources of domestic energy will not be available anytime soon.

The house committee on energy and commerce will be chaired by John Dingle from Michigan. He held this position for 16 years prior to 1994. You might think that the democrats, with their platform advocating energy conservation, would be in favor of raising fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. Well, most of them probably are, but not John Dingle – he’s beholden to the automobile industry and has been opposed to automobile efficiency standards for years. Since he’ll control the energy committee, tough automobile efficiency standards are not likely to pass.

So when you get right down to it, the democrats are in a bit of a quandary; they want to limit greenhouse gases, but they won’t force auto efficiency standards. They want energy independence, but they won’t allow new drilling for domestic oil. It doesn’t leave many options, does it? If they can curb the anti-nuclear faction within the party then they might actually start supporting nuclear energy as part of the solution to reducing greenhouse gases, AND reducing reliance on imported oil. They have to buck Harry Reid, though, because he’s one of the shrinking minority of anti-nuclear radicals in congress.

Chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will pass from Senator Pete Domenici to Senator Jeff Bingaman, both of Nevada. Together they addressed the American Nuclear Society this week and on the podcast I have a sound clip of their remarks for you – Senator Domenici went first, and was followed by Senator Bingaman. You’ll hear them both make remarks about the importance of nuclear energy, and the need for bipartisan support resolve questions surrounding Yucca Mountain.

(audio clip here)

Again, that was Senators Domenici and Bingaman, the out-going and in-coming chairmen of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, addressing the 2006 Winter Meeting of the American Nuclear Society. They both called for congressional hearings to resolve questions surrounding the Yucca Mountain project. That will be a good thing, no matter how you slice it!

So on the national level, things are not as bright as they were two weeks ago, but its not all bad. In fact, call me an optimist, but I believe there’s an opportunity here to develop a strategy on nuclear energy that both parties can get behind. If we can accomplish that, the industry will benefit in the long run. That will help demonstrate long term stability in policy and legislation that utilities and investors need in order to put the money on the table for new plants. I’ll be keeping you up to date on things as they shake out in the new congress!

Podcast News

I want to say “thanks” to all of you who visited the web site at and provided me with your feedback. You helped me identify ways to improve the site, and fix a broken link or two. I also discovered that the mobile version does not work on all cell phone providers or an all cell phones, and I’m trying to figure out why. I suspect it’s the way some cell phones decode the web pages, but I’m not sure. I’ve verified that the links are all working, so if you try the mobile version at and it doesn’t work, please send me an email with your carrier and the type of cell phone you’re using.

It dawned on me that the mobile site would also be useful for people on dial-up Internet access because its nothing but text and will load quickly, even on a low bit rate connection. So if you’re on dial-up give it a try and let me know how it works.

Digital Voice Mail Box

I have a new feature that gives you another way you can be a part of the show – a digital voice mail box. If you call the voice mail phone number and leave a message that I can insert it into the show audio file. The telephone number is (206) 984-3654. If you’re calling from outside the USA, then you’ll have to add the country code. This could be really useful if you have some interesting information or additional thoughts about a story that I’ve discussed in the show - you can call and record your comments and I’ll add them to the show. If you have a nuclear or energy related website, podcast, or blog then call and leave me a message and I’ll give you a chance to plug what you’re doing. Hey, you can’t beat an offer for free advertisement! I’m getting about 200 downloads per day, and it’s steadily growing, so you’ll be reaching a worldwide audience.

So please call the mail box and leave me a comment. I think it will add a lot to the show to hear from you! Again the phone number is (206) 984-3654. There’s no cost other than what your telephone service charges you for the call.

New World-Wide Listeners

One thing I find interesting is how many of my earlier shows are being downloaded…something that indicates new listeners. When I combine that with other statistics, I get a good picture of who’s listening. Just this week for example, I have new listeners in France, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Liechtenstein, China, and Ireland.

One new listener, Simon Filiatrault, wrote me an email suggesting I discuss some of the new technology surrounding waste disposal. He has a very interesting blog at . Well Simon, I will do my best to cover that topic in the future. There is a huge body of knowledge on used nuclear fuel reprocessing and storage that is not being well represented in the mainstream media, and I’d love to spend some time on that. If you go to the show notes for this episode you’ll find a link to Simon’s blog.

Another technology that’s gaining awareness is the abundance of Uranium in seawater. There’s enough Uranium in the oceans of the world to power civilization for centuries, and it is not that costly to extract it. I plan to cover that in a future episode. The anti-nuclear crowd wants people to believe there’s not enough uranium to go around, when in fact it’s amazingly abundant, but we’ll have to save that for another show.

ANS Panel Discussion

My panel discussion this past week at the American Nuclear Society went great. If you were there, then I’d like to say “Thanks” for a lively discussion about communicating in cyberspace. My partners there were Rob Adams of the Atomic Show, and Eric McErlain of the NEI NuclearNotes. They both do a fantastic job and I encourage you check out their respective web sites.

I posted a copy of my presentation on my home page so if you’d like to take a look at what I discussed you can find it there. As a reminder, there’s a lot of information on my web site at You can listen to prior episodes, read the show transcripts, post comments on my blog, search prior episodes, and learn more about podcasting on my podcasting tips page. You can also help support the show by using my shopping page, or by visiting some of the links on various pages.

Shop at Amazon via “This Week in Nuclear”

I’d like to mention that with the holidays coming if you plan to shop at then please consider starting at my shopping page. I get a small percentage of any sales that originate from my store page, and it doesn’t cost you any more than it would if you go straight to the Amazon home page. You can shop for books, music, electronics, games, movies, and just about anything else that’s sold at So why not support the show by pointing your browser to “This Week in Nuclear” and start there. Revenue from donations and advertisements still don’t cover the expenses associated with the show, and I’d like to get it to the point that it’s self-sustaining.

Be Well!

John Wheeler