Monday, May 23, 2016

Delivering the Nuclear Promise at #NEA16

The American nuclear energy industry is heading to Miami this week for the 2016 Nuclear Energy Assembly (agenda). The theme of the meeting is Delivering the Nuclear Promise, which is also the industry-wide effort championed by NEI that aims to advance safety, reliability and economic performance at U.S. nuclear power plants.

We'll be live streaming two of the most exciting panels on May 24 on YouTube. First, at 11:00 a.m. EDT, we'll have a panel on global climate issues that will feature Larry Makovich of IHS CERA, Jason Grumet of the Bipartisan Policy Center, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, the former Secretary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Doug Vine of C2ES. And then at 1:30 P.M. EDT we'll follow that up with a closer look at new reactor development. That panel will be chaired by NEI Chief Operating Officer Maria Korsnick and feature Jacob DeWitte of Oklo, John Hopkins of NuScale Power, Steve Kuczynski of Southern Company, Lee McIntire of TerraPower and Cynthia Pezze of Westinghouse.

If you can't make it to Miami, you can follow along on Twitter. As in previous years, we'll be tweeting highlights from the event on our feed, this year using the hashtag #NEA16. Along with the highlights of what's going on at the podium (including the winners of coveted industry awards), we'll also be sharing images and video interviews. Coming off last week's DOE Summit, it's sure to be an exciting week.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Why Everyone Needs to #ActForNuclear

Fertel lays down the law at the DOE summit.
If Washington policy makers hadn't heard the news before, they should have it figured out now after yesterday's DOE summit (archive of live stream) -- a critical part of America's infrastructure, it's nuclear power plants, are under imminent threat of premature closure and the costs to the nation and the world could be enormous.

If you haven't already watched the summit video, do so right now, as DOE has helpfully archived all of the proceedings online. And when you have a chance, be sure to check out the #ActForNuclear hashtag on Twitter. As of yesterday afternoon, it was trending on Twitter in Washington, making it all but certain that staffers and their bosses all around the town were getting the message about what's at stake.

There were so many highlights, there isn't time to detail them all. But before you dive into the live stream, it would be a good idea to read NEI CEO Marv Fertel's speech that came in the first hour, right after introductions from DOE's John Kotek and opening remarks from Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz.
We thought the first plant shutdowns at Kewaunee and Vermont Yankee would galvanize action to prevent additional shutdowns.
  • We were obviously mistaken.
  • Please understand, however, that these early shutdowns are not just isolated events.
  • They are evidence of a larger systemic problem.
So this summit is part of a wake-up call—a wake-up call to drive action by the states … by the federal government … by the policy community and our political institutions … by anyone concerned about economic growth, environmental protection, jobs and reliability of electricity supply.
So, why should America #ActForNuclear? Again, here's Fertel:
Over the last several years, companies have shut down—or announced plans to shut down—eight nuclear reactors … about 6,300 megawatts of capacity … 6,000 direct jobs and at least that many indirect jobs … almost 10 percent of the Clean Power Plan’s 2030 carbon reduction goal.

We can see another 15 to 20 plants at risk of premature shutdown over the next 5 to 10 years.

If we were to lose all those plants, assuming they’re replaced with high-efficiency combined-cycle gas-fired plants, it would wipe out approximately one-quarter of the gains achieved by the Clean Power Plan … which represents about 45 percent of the U.S. commitment in Paris at COP21.

When Vermont Yankee closed, nuclear generation in ISO New England declined by 5.3 million MWh in 2015 compared to 2014 when Vermont Yankee was operating. This was offset by gas-fired generation increasing by 5.7 million MWh. Carbon emissions increased 5 percent in New England in 2015.

You’ve all heard that Exelon announced on its last earnings call that it cannot continue to sustain losses at its Quad Cities and Clinton nuclear plants in Illinois.

The company has lost $800 million over the last three years at those plants.

Illinois must reduce carbon emissions by about 30 million tons by 2030 under the Clean Power Plan … losing Quad Cities and Clinton would increase that compliance obligation by an additional 20 million tons.

Quad Cities—in fact, any large two-unit nuclear station—produces about as much electricity in a single year as all the utility-scale solar in America last year.
There's more, believe me, so much more to talk about. And we'll be putting together a Storify later today to knit it all together. But for now, I'll leave you with one Easter Egg. Go to the live stream and skip to the 52:30 mark to see one of the breakout stars of the summit, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). Don't worry, we'll wait.

Thanks for stopping by. We'll have more later.

UPDATE: NEI's Tara Young has put together a narrative from Thursday's meeting using Storify. Please check it out.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Why America Needs a Wake Up Call About Preserving Nuclear Energy

In a few minutes, NEI CEO Marv Fertel will take the podium at a summit sponsored by the Department of Energy about at-risk nuclear plants (live stream). His speech, just posted online, makes for sobering reading:
We thought the first plant shutdowns at Kewaunee and Vermont Yankee would galvanize action to prevent additional shutdowns.

  • We were obviously mistaken.
  • Please understand, however, that these early shutdowns are not just isolated events.
  • They are evidence of a larger systemic problem.

So this summit is part of a wake-up call—a wake-up call to drive action by the states … by the federal government … by the policy community and our political institutions … by anyone concerned about economic growth, environmental protection, jobs and reliability of electricity supply.
Read the rest right now.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Knowing What You’ve Got Before It’s Gone in Nuclear Energy

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Nuclear energy is by far the largest source of carbon prevention in the United States, but this is a rough time to be in the business of selling electricity due to cheap natural gas and a flood of subsidized renewable energy. Some nuclear plants have closed prematurely, and others likely will follow.

In recent weeks, Exelon and the Omaha Public Power District said that they might close the Clinton, Quad Cities and Fort Calhoun nuclear reactors. As Joni Mitchell’s famous song says, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

More than 100 energy and policy experts will gather in a U.S. Senate meeting room on May 19 to talk about how to improve the viability of existing nuclear plants. The event will be webcast, and a link will be available here.

Unlike other energy sources, nuclear power plants get no special credit for being carbon-free. In fact, they have not even been included when states establish minimum quotas for clean electricity (although New York and Illinois are considering changing this). As a result, they provide a benefit of global importance, carbon emissions reduction, as well as a reduction in the pollutants that cause smog and other problems. But while the climate benefit is shared globally, other well-intended programs to conserve electricity or to promote renewable energy have skewed local electricity prices. The programs were supposed to cut carbon emissions but they have created the unintended consequence of threatening existing reactors, which produce 62 percent of all U.S. carbon-free electricity.

In competitive markets, the modest extra costs of maintaining a reactor at a time of cheap natural gas and heavy subsidies for wind and solar may fall on the owners, who are facing a collapse in the wholesale price of electricity. In traditionally regulated markets, it falls on the utility and then the rate-paying public. In those places, if cheap natural gas and wind and solar look like a better deal on price in the short term, public service commissions may not be sympathetic to supporting nuclear power.

This is how market downturns can frustrate national and international priorities.

Each reactor that is closed prematurely will not reopen. It also represents an asset that would take many years and billions of dollars to replace. And in most cases, these plants are anchors of the rural communities that host them, employing hundreds of skilled men and women and boosting the local economy and tax rolls.

On Thursday, Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz will highlight the cumulative problem of taking reactors off the grid prematurely.  Other speakers will include: U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, whose district in northeastern Illinois is a center of nuclear power generation, and Senator Cory Booker, of New Jersey, also a supporter of  nuclear power.  So will Rep. Jerry McNerney of California, another champion of nuclear power, and Senator Michael Crapo, of Idaho, whose state is home to a superb nuclear power research lab.

Bill Mohl of Entergy will talk about his company’s painful decision to retire reactors before their time, and an Exelon executive will talk about that company’s precarious reactors in New York and Illinois. William Levis of PSEG will talk about the industry’s Delivering the Nuclear Promise program to improve efficiency and win recognition for the value provided. And, Marv Fertel, chief executive at the Nuclear Energy Institute, will give a broader industry perspective.

Other speakers, including technical experts, state officials and experts on policy and regulation, will discuss what the federal agencies, state governments and the organized power markets can do to avoid a wave of premature nuclear plant retirements that will make it impossible to meet U.S. and international climate change goals, and could jeopardize the reliability of our grid.

As Fertel told Wall Street analysts in February, “every kilowatt-hour of electricity on the grid has a distinct pedigree.  If we don’t identify the attributes, and incorporate them into our decision-making, and value them in our market design and market policies, then companies will stop providing those attributes – and that, of course, is what’s happening.’’  
Nuclear reactors provide carbon abatement, a hedge against future changes in the price of natural gas or other fuels, “always on” reliability, electric grid stability and other benefits. Among the topics on Thursday is how reactor owners should be compensated for those benefits. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Communicating Nuclear Energy: You Don't Have to Do It Alone

Elizabeth Fako
The following is a guest post by Elizabeth Fako, a communications specialist at Entergy's River Bend Nuclear Station.

When people ask what my favorite part of my job is, the answer is easy: I get to spend every day working with people who think in a completely opposite way than me and I love that.

The operators, engineers and other “technically-minded” people I work closely with constantly challenge me to be a better communicator, nuclear professional and communications coach. As much as I love that aspect of my job, there’s something to be said for spending time with like-minded people. That’s one reason I found NEI’s Fundamentals of Nuclear Communication workshop so valuable; I not only got to spend three days working with other communications professionals, but also with other communicators from the nuclear industry – a career as unique as it sounds.

Our presenters included NEI representatives and industry experts, sharing a wealth of knowledge ranging from the nuts and bolts of reactor basics and Radiation 101 to practical on-camera media training and event response. As if nuclear technology isn’t complicated enough for someone with a public relations degree, we even bordered on the edge of brain surgery…okay, maybe just basic anatomy. Either way I was channeling all my neuro-knowledge from many seasons of Grey’s Anatomy to follow along with the diagram of how the brain processes fear to better manage risk communications. Although we only had time to skim the surface on tactical topics like employee communications, public opinion and social media, there was plenty of time to litter my notebook with asterisks to follow-up questions, items to look into further, ideas to bring back to my plant site and more.

The most valuable thing I took away from the course is an appreciation for the resources available, both information and people, to help us as communicators not only do our jobs better, but to help the nuclear industry as a whole.

Being a communications staff of one at a station with more than 600 employees can sometimes feel daunting. I left D.C. last week with a stack of business cards and new LinkedIn connections with individuals who not only understand my position, but have either lived it before or are living it now - and are more than willing to help. Each of us is in a position to represent our sites and companies, as well as to advocate for the nuclear industry as a whole. It’s comforting to know we don’t have to do it alone.

For that I say thank you to the entire NEI staff for this workshop and for all the resources you make available to us; to each of the presenters for sharing their insights and advice; and to my colleagues in the class for echoing my enthusiasm for this industry.

I truly believe nuclear is the future of energy and look forward to working alongside my colleagues to create that future.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Nuclear Costs are Down and Performance is Up … Again

Michael Purdie
The following is a guest post by NEI's Michael Purdie.

In 2015, total generating costs for U.S. nuclear generation declined to $35.50/MWh from $36.35/MWh, a two percent decrease (2015 dollars).  Total generating costs are the “all-in” costs that include fuel, capital, and operating expenses.

As the table below shows, the costs decreased roughly evenly between fuel ($0.31/MWh), capital ($0.22/MWh), and operations ($0.33/MWh).   While the costs declined in 2015, performance improved.  The nuclear industry operated at 92.2% capacity factor, which was an increase from 2014 (91.7%) and 2013 (89.9%).

The nuclear industry is fighting to be valued properly in the electricity markets.  Not only do nuclear plants provide electricity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, they provide clean energy, grid reliability, price stability, and fuel diversity.  Each of these attributes provides value that is not always priced into the market.  In a challenging economic environment, the industry is working to lower its cost profile while maintaining safe and efficient performance.

Recently, the nuclear industry and NEI has undertaken a program called Delivering the Nuclear Promise.  The goal is to reduce total generating costs across the industry by 30%.  In taking a holistic look at costs through Delivering the Nuclear Promise, the nuclear industry is building upon improvements shown over the last three years to accelerate nuclear energy’s competitiveness in electricity markets.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Conversation the Director of Meltdown Doesn’t Want to Have About Nuclear Energy

Tom Kauffman
The following is a guest blog post by Tom Kauffman, NEI's Director of Media Relations.

Over more than three decades since the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear accident, claims that radioactivity from the plant caused negative health effects have been refuted time and time again. In over twelve studies, not one found any detectable impacts. Any claim that cancer or other diseases have been caused by the accident doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.

That holds for the industry as a whole too. In research conducted for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Dr. James Hansen concluded that the use of nuclear energy has saved 1.8 million lives that otherwise would have been lost due to burning of fossil fuels.

Despite this compelling scientific evidence, a former resident of the area, Jill Murphy Long, is trying to distort the truth with a new film, Meltdown. In her conversations with the press, Long has said, "I think this conversation needs to happen. I'm not a lawyer; I'm not a scientist. We'll introduce people who need to talk. That's what I am, a facilitator of conversation."

If Long really wants to have a conversation, I’m ready for it. I’ve been a resident of south-central Pennsylvania my entire life. For 39 years I have lived in one of the counties adjacent to the facility, and from 1977 to 2000 I worked at TMI. During the accident I lived in Dauphin County where the plant is located. Today I live in a house in York County that is adjacent to TMI and can see the plumes of water vapor rising from its cooling towers.

I was at TMI Reactor Unit 2 the day of the accident on March 28, 1979. That morning, for hours, I was within a hundred feet of the reactor. I worked at the plant throughout the ten-year accident recovery. After 12 years in operations, I shifted to site communications working from a building right beside the plant.

My total radiation exposure over the 23 years I worked at TMI (including the accident) was less than a person would get from three CAT scans. The risk of cancer associated with that low level of exposure is next to nothing. And if you compare risk factors, traveling to and from work is by far the most dangerous thing I’ve done associated with more than 30 years working in the nuclear industry.

After more than a half-century of radiological monitoring and medical research, there is no evidence linking any U.S. nuclear energy facilities to negative effects on the health of the public or workers. Claims that radioactivity from TMI caused negative health effects have been debunked by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which concluded that no deaths or long-term health effects were connected to it.

More than a dozen independent studies came to the same conclusion including: the National Cancer Institute; a commission appointed by President Jimmy Carter; a commission established by Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh; the National Institute of Health; the Columbia University School of Public Health; the Committee on Federal Research into the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation; the Pennsylvania Department of Health; and others supported by various state and federal agencies.

Cancer is a horrible disease, one that has taken the lives of many millions of people. I know others who are struggling against it, and they deserve not only our sympathy, but our help. But that help needs to start with medical and scientific research, research that has already shown that radiation from nuclear power plants has had nothing to do with the development of the disease.

I’m sure that Ms. Long feels she’s doing the right thing in making Meltdown. But the fact is, she’s not going to help anyone. If she convinces the public of this untruth, she will harm the expansion of a source of energy that has already proven to have saved many lives, and has the potential to save millions more here and around the world.