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 http://thisweekinnuclear.com 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 http://thisweekinnuclear.com/mobile/ 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 http://forum.iservio.ca/forum/viewforum.php?f=2 . 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 http://thisweekinnuclear.com. 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 Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com. 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

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Reed is actually spelled "Reid."

John Wheeler said...

Thanks! Fixed it.