Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Ethical Nuclear Solution and the IPCC Report

WGIII_AR5_Cover_webThe IPCC report on mitigating climate change is now out and, it is, as you’d expect, a bone dry read considering how alarming it is. 

But one section that probably won’t get much attention is on ethical considerations when considering a world response to climate change. This is something that it would be good to see in legislation in general – it might forestall at least some obnoxiously partisan bills from emerging. This part of the report, is, if nothing else, a fascinating read, and nuclear energy, which is never mentioned, seems corrected fitted to such issues

The report says that some developed countries with heavy carbon emission output are expected to suffer relatively modest physical damage from projected climate change and some may even benefit from it. But some developing countries could experience significant physical damage from climate change while having no or little causal responsibility. How does policy develop that responds to this disparity? It’s not an easy question.

The report talks about moral justice, which strikes me as exceptionally tricky territory. We can think of instances in which the attitudes of modern society were applied to past events in order to achieve moral justice, but these often involved revised cultural norms that were highly contentious in their day – slavery, for example. But man-made climate change, as defined in the report, started occurring when the entire concept was unimaginable. If it has had consequences, they were unintended. And one intended consequence was the industrial revolution and the formation of modern societies.

That makes ideas like this tough to swallow:

The duty to make compensatory payments may fall on those who emit or benefit from wrongful emissions or who belong to a  community that produced such emissions.

Wrongful emissions? Since when? To whom? Now, remember, the report is summarizing the literature on the subject, not making specific recommendations (or accusations). The amount of time it spends on reparations suggests the weight the authors give it, but it is not explicit. (You could say it reflects the view of some impacted countries, but the report doesn’t address it from that angle.)

In any event, it would be a tough lift politically. And it creates a victim class in a way that seems unhelpful in addressing the issues. But the report does include much tougher lifts than reparation. Here’s a bit from its discussion of ethical methodologies:

The Kingdom of Bhutan has adopted an index of GNH [Gross National Happiness] as a tool for assessing national welfare and planning development. According to this concept, happiness does not derive from consumption, but  rather from factors such as  the ability to live in harmony with nature. Thus, GNH is both a critique of, and an alternative to, the conventional global development model.

Bhutan is a landlocked country between India and China with a population of about 750,000. The Gross National Happiness index was devised in 1972 and is rooted in the Buddhist religion. Its elements, as developed over time, measure physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance between work and leisure; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality.

Appealing approach to balancing national interests or utter hooey? You decide. The IPCC certainly won’t. You can see how big a net was cast over ethical issues, but that it raises them at all is fascinating in itself.

The  IPCC aims to provide information that can be used by  governments and other agents when they are considering what they should do about climate change. The question of what they should do is a normative one, so the answer(s) rests implicitly or explicitly on ethical judgments. What will work for Bhutan may not work for the Czech Republic – or the United States – or Vanuatu. Here’s how the report puts it:

Many different analytic methods are available for evaluating policies. Methods may be quantitative (for example, cost‐benefit analysis, integrated assessment modeling, and multi‐criteria analysis) or qualitative (for example, sociological and participatory approaches). However, no single‐best method can provide a comprehensive analysis of policies. A mix of methods is often needed to understand the broad effects, attributes, trade‐offs, and complexities of policy choices; moreover, policies often address multiple objectives.

Which is why the United Nations is often better at describing issues than resolving them. Luckily, this is all description, and luckily, too, nuclear energy seems a good fit for what’s being described – it promotes development while not adding greenhouse gas emissions and it’s an area where developed countries can take a positive and proactive role in helping developing nations, well, develop. It’s not reparations, it’s resource development, but you can define it however you will.

This section of the IPCC report completely ignores energy types, but it seems to me key to the case for nuclear energy, especially in the developing world.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mangano Accused of Manipulating Data in Diablo Canyon Study

Another public health department has taken a closer look at Joe Mangano's work and determined it's fatally flawed. This time it's the Public Health Department of San Luis Obispo County, Califoria.

You'll recall that Mangano most recently released a study claiming all sorts of ailments arose around Diablo Canyon in the wake of its opening.

From the press release (our emphasis in bold):
“As the Health Officer for San Luis Obispo County, I take the health of our residents very seriously, and when a claim was made that excess cancer and infant mortality was occurring in our County, I made it an immediate priority to investigate further. However, upon examination of the report issued by the World Business Academy (WBA) of Santa Barbara, it became evident that flawed methodology and selective exclusion of populations of interest were used to achieve a result not consistent with standard scientific investigation and practice” states Dr. Penny Borenstein, Health Officer of San Luis Obispo County.

The Health Department report shows that selective inclusion and exclusion of zip codes in the analysis contributed to the alleged effects on birth weights claimed in the World Business Academy report. When the analysis was re-run to include excluded zip codes, the effect lessened or disappeared entirely.

As cancer is reported to the State of California, and not the local Health Department, the help of the State Cancer Registry was requested for review of the report findings. The State Cancer Registry examined the report, and found that the use of crude rates in analyzing cancer cases in the County distorted the true change in rates over time. In fact, age adjusted cancer rates have remained unchanged or declined.
Click here to read the entire report.

It was in 2011 that Mike Moyer at Scientific American leveled the same charge at another Mangano study. Wrote Moyer: "[A] check reveals that the authors’ statistical claims are critically flawed—if not deliberate mistruths ... Only by explicitly excluding data from January and February were Sherman and Mangano able to froth up their specious statistical scaremongering." Popular Mechanics more recently took a closer look at Mangano's research and called it, "junk science."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Nuclear Energy in the IPCC Climate Change Report

WGIII_AR5_Cover_webThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release the third volume of its 2014 report tomorrow. Subtitled Mitigation of Climate Change, it will present a set of scenarios to show the impact various sets of policy decisions can have on reducing carbon emissions. Naturally, this gets into energy types and the IPCC is notably non-selective. This is from the Summary for Policymakers, which is available now.

At the global level, scenarios reaching 450 ppm CO2eq are also characterized by more rapid improvements of energy efficiency, a tripling to nearly a quadrupling of the share of zero ‐ and low ‐ carbon energy supply from renewables, nuclear energy and fossil energy with carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS), or bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) by the year 2050 (Figure SPM.4, lower panel).

This is a scenario that keeps temperature rise below 2 degrees centigrade – in fact, it overreaches if we take the following as the goal.

Mitigation scenarios reaching concentration levels of about 500 ppm CO2eq by 2100 are more likely than not to limit temperature change to less than 2°C relative to pre‐industrial levels, unless they temporarily ‘overshoot’ concentration levels of roughly 530 ppm CO2eq before 2100, in which case they are about as likely as not to achieve that goal.

That’s a lot of caveats, but clear enough. Strikingly, nuclear energy is always a part of the solution to achieve carbon emission goals, yet the report is not remotely partisan in its discussion of energy types. It simply looks at what’s there and what could be there (coal with ccs, for example). The idea, I think, is that policymakers will take it from there. This makes sense, as the United Nations needs to keep in mind an extraordinarily broad set of policy options across its membership.

This is how the report puts it:

Well‐designed systemic and cross-sectoral mitigation strategies are more cost-effective in cutting emissions than a focus on individual technologies and sectors. At the energy system level these include reductions in the GHG emission intensity of the energy supply sector, a switch to low carbon energy carriers (including low‐carbon electricity) and reductions in energy demand in the end‐use sectors without compromising development.

That last bit seems especially important, as it will be the developing world that makes these goals plausible, for while the developed world has numerous energy options, the developing world has significantly fewer type of energy it can implement – at least with current resources – and without help from the developed world.

But none of this means the report isn’t fairly explicit on what not using nuclear energy entails. Look at Table SPM.2 on page 18 of the summary. The orange section details the implication of not having a particular energy type available has on reduction goals (as a percent change.) Obviously, not having carbon capture is huge, but a nuclear phase-out is also shown as having a sizeable negative impact. Again, remember that the report is not taking any view on no CCS or no nuclear – it is saying that doing without would lead to poor outcomes.

We’ll take a look at the full report and some of the press coverage of it later this week.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The 'Years of Living Dangerously' Team Needs to Pay Attention to Nuclear

Showtime premieres its nine-part documentary series Years of Living Dangerously tonight at 10 p.m. U.S. EDT. The series uses some of the biggest names in Hollywood to draw attention to the impacts of climate change. James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger are on the team of executive producers, while celebrities noted for their environmental advocacy appear on camera including Don Cheadle, Harrison Ford, Matt Damon, Ian Somerhalder and Jessica Alba. 

What are they hoping to accomplish with this series? Executive producer David Gelber summed it up: 
The goal of Years of Living Dangerously is to galvanize a national conversation on the realities of climate change and inspire people to share their own stories and empower them to get involved in solutions.
I watched the first episode, available early and for free on YouTube, and understand why the reviews are extremely positive. It is a beautiful piece from a filmmaking standpoint, but then of course these folks aren’t awards darlings for nothing. During the first hour, viewers follow Ford, Cheadle and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman to three countries filled with stark shots of droughts, job loss, burnt forests and civil war. The creators’ meaning is clear: climate change is real and wreaking havoc in myriad ways across the world.

Climate scientist and Evangelical Christian Katharine Hayhoe provided the only thing close to a call to action in the episode, saying we need “policies in place to actually start curbing our carbon emissions.” At that point I thought, “Here comes nuclear.” Yet there was no mention of policies favoring nuclear, or any energy policy solutions for that matter. I didn’t really expect solutions to be presented at length during the first episode. Hints would have been nice though.

Don Cheadle, Katharine Hayhoe and
Andrew Farley
I found myself repeatedly wondering if the series would offer realistic policy solutions and, more importantly, if these stories were compelling in a way that moves governments toward those solutions. Because that is the scale we are talking about here. Sure, average viewers can do their part, embracing energy efficiency and sharing their stories. But what does the series propose for curbing emissions on a global scale while still meeting energy demand for a growing population? That remains to be seen.

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of The Breakthrough Institute recently shared their concern in a New York Times op-ed that the series’ approach will not result in meaningful change, and that “turning down the rhetoric and embracing solutions like nuclear energy” would have been more effective. I want to reserve judgment until I’ve seen the remaining episodes, though their initial concern does seem warranted. The series’ website hints that they will call for a halt to burning fossil fuels and a ramp up of renewables, while nuclear energy gets no mention. 

I do have some hope, and that’s because there are also two powerful pro-nuclear voices behind the series: Paul Allen and James Hansen. Co-producer Paul Allen previously put his money behind the pro-nuclear documentary film Pandora’s Promise. Allen said this about the film and nuclear:
Even before Pandora’s Promise was made, I’d become convinced that nuclear energy should be part of the climate change solution. Once I saw Pandora’s Promise, I knew the film would get people thinking about nuclear in a whole new way. I like that the film lays out the facts and then viewers can make up their own minds about nuclear power based on the facts and information presented. Documentaries like this open people’s minds and lead to informed decision-making, which is critical if we want to tackle the world’s biggest challenges.
Science advisor James Hansen, formerly NASA’s chief climate scientist, came out in favor of nuclear energy last year and has been grabbing headlines since. Last March, he published a paper demonstrating that nuclear saved 1.8 million lives by replacing fossil fuels. In November, he joined three other noted climate scientists in issuing an open letter that urged environmentalists and politicians to support nuclear energy as a primary way to reduce carbon emissions.

James Hansen
Hopefully the involvement of Allen and Hansen means that the Years team will acknowledge nuclear energy’s key role in curbing carbon emissions. Because as compelling as the stories of cause and effect are, the story of nuclear’s clean air benefits as part of the solution can compel policymakers to take realistic actions.

Here are the key points the Years team needs to consider: 

  • Clean-air electricity sources—nuclear, hydropower, geothermal, wind and solar—are important to America’s diverse energy mix, because they do not produce greenhouse gases. Nuclear energy is the largest of these sources generating 64 percent of America’s clean air electricity.

  • Renewables like wind and solar are part of the answer, but have limitations such as intermittent power production. While renewables are growing fast, they are nowhere close to producing the 770 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity that America’s nuclear energy facilities generated in 2012. Notably, Hansen once told the Associated Press, “They’re cheating themselves [environmentalists] if they keep believing this fiction that all we need is renewable energy.”

  • A nuclear power plant’s byproduct consists of used uranium fuel rods safely stored in pools or concrete containers rather than CO2 or air pollution associated with acid rain or urban smog.

  • By using nuclear energy to produce electricity, America prevents the emission of 570 million metric tons of CO2 per year. That’s the same as preventing the emissions produced by 110 million cars—the vast majority of U.S. cars on the road today.

  • Mainstream analyses conducted by independent organizations have shown that reducing carbon emissions will require a diverse energy portfolio and that nuclear energy is the only low-carbon option to help meet forecasted global electricity demand. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Are Reporters Challenging Mangano's "Junk Science"?

The story in the April 2014 issue of Popular Mechanics that debunks Joe Mangano's anti-nuclear research has just been published online and has gotten some additional attention -- including a link from UT-Knoxville law professor Glenn Reynolds, better known as Instapundit.

There are plenty of great quotes in the Popular Mechanics piece, but this passage really sticks out:
The Mangano and Sherman paper is a prime example of a troubling new trend in which junk science is becoming harder to distinguish from rigorous research. It is an example of activists using the trappings of science to influence public opinion and policy. Today there are cottage industries that produce and disseminate skewed research in publications that masquerade as legitimate science journals. Celebrities and mainstream media outlets then tout the results, so that even retracted or clearly biased research can reach larger audiences than ever before. These studies cause real harm—for instance, by denouncing lifesaving vaccines and vilifying foods that could ease famine in developing countries.

People who produce junk science often come from outside the scientific mainstream, and they bend the rules of research in an attempt to legitimize their personal beliefs, says Mark Hoofnagle, a surgery resident at the University of Maryland who runs the science-monitoring blog Denialism.com. "What if your ideology is simply not supported by the evidence?" he says. "You can change your mind or you can hijack the system."
But while it's nice to see others picking up on the fact that Mangano's research has more than a few holes, I'd like to see more reporters follow the advice that Reporting on Health, a blog published by the USC-Annenberg School of Communications, gave about Mangano back in 2011. Two separate contributors there warned reporters to "proceed with caution," regarding Mangano's studies and that they should "demand details," when interviewing him. As it turns out, there are more than a few indications that's actually happening.

Mangano has most recently been active in and around the Diablo Canyon Power Plant on California's Central Coast. Working with the World Business Academy, Mangano is claiming that cancer rates have increased in the vicinity of the plant since it opened, but reporters now seem to be on to his game. Here's George Lauer at California Healthline:
State and county epidemiologists said the study's author "cherry-picked" statistics and ignored standard scientific procedure to get desired results.

Ann McDowell, epidemiologist for the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department, said the county is preparing a written response to Mangano's study, which she said is "fundamentally flawed."

"This study used inappropriate measures to make its point," McDowell said. "It was designed in a particular way to get a desired result. We refer to it as cherry picking."

John Morgan, epidemiologist with the California Cancer Registry, agreed.

"The author of this study did not adjust for changes in age distribution and did not take into account other factors, so his conclusions are not supported," Morgan said.
Let's hope this is a trend. Want other tips for spotting bad science? Check out this infographic.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why Energy Northwest is Interested in SMRs

Dale Atkinson
Earlier this week, we published a post by NEI's Marv Fertel on why the Department of Energy needed to support development of small modular reactors. In response to that post, Dale Atkinson, an executive at Energy Northwest, left the following comment. We thought it deserved to be seen by a wider audience.

Energy Northwest is a Washington state, not-for-profit joint operating agency that comprises 27 public power member utilities from across the state serving more than 1.5 million ratepayers. Public utilities in the Northwest and elsewhere are looking for a carbon or fossil fuel hedge. Nuclear generation provides that hedge, and SMR technologies incorporate lessons learned over several decades of operating similar sized U.S. Navy reactors as well as traditional sized commercial reactors. In fact, the American Public Power Association (APPA) recently passed a resolution calling for the federal government to accelerate SMR development and commercialization.

We know that all credible analyses of carbon reduction issues – by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Information Administration and independent international institutions like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency – have demonstrated unequivocally that the United States and the world cannot achieve meaningful reductions in carbon emissions without preservation of our existing nuclear energy assets and construction of new nuclear generation, including SMRs. An additional benefit of SMR technology is to integrate intermittent renewable sources into the grid more smoothly.

It is expected to take $1 billion to complete NRC design certification. Energy Northwest was pleased that the Department of Energy selected the NuScale Power design for innovative technology funding (matching funds). It is also good to recognize that Fluor Corp., the majority owner of NuScale Power, has the money and commitment to see the design certification process through to completion – but this is a lengthy and expensive process, and, like most innovative technologies, requires investment by partners with shared interests in that technology’s benefits and uses. It should be noted that a substantial portion of the DOE matching funds are expected to be consumed by NRC review fees alone.

Nuclear energy can – and according to all credible experts, must – play a major role in any serious strategy to reduce carbon emissions. As policymakers invest in innovative energy technologies that promise to create job opportunities and new job sectors and reduce carbon emissions, maintaining funding for the promising small modular reactor designs is key to our shared clean energy future.

Energy Northwest has joined a teaming partnership with NuScale Power and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Services under which Energy Northwest would have first right of offer to operate a NuScale SMR. We remain very positive about the potential of SMRs to contribute to the low-carbon energy mix in the Pacific Northwest. We are looking at the 2023 time frame, realistically, for generating electricity from an SMR.

What Are The Threats to America's Electric Supply?

Tony Alexander
On Tuesday, Anthony J. Alexander, President and CEO of FirstEnergy Corporation, addressed a standing-room only gathering at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  Part of the 2014 "CEO Luncheons" sponsored by the Chamber, Mr. Alexander spoke frankly about the enormous threats to the reliability and affordability of the nation's electricity supply.  The majority of these threats arise from government policies that distort electricity markets to force uneconomical energy sources into the mix and drive proven sources out.  He described these policies as replacing what works with what "sounds good."

The full text of Mr. Alexander's speech is available from FirstEnergy.  A video recording of Mr. Alexander's speech is available on the Chamber web site.  His remarks begin at 1:03:43 in the recording.  Introductory comments of Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) precede Mr. Alexander's remarks.  The Chamber's blog post also provides some highlights.

Among the key points that struck us as significant were the following:
  • Germany offers a vivid picture of what lies ahead if U.S. policies continue.  There electricity prices have doubled to more than 37 cents per kilowatt-hour, as compared with a U.S. average of 10 cents per kwh. 
  • As government mandates and subsidies drive renewables into the market, our electric system is relying more on intermittent sources of generation, such as wind and solar.  These resources require back-up generation and substantial investments in transmission (i.e., hidden costs) to maintain reliability.
  • Production tax credits and other subsidies encourage developers to build new capacity whether or not the output is needed.  This unneeded capacity puts additional pressure on baseload coal and nuclear assets that are essential to grid stability and affordable energy prices.
  • In competitive electricity markets, if market rules don't change to reflect the true value of baseload generation, additional coal and nuclear units may be shut down.
  • While the supply of natural gas today is abundant, substantial changes will be needed in the natural gas pipeline and storage infrastructure to make it match the just-in-time nature of the electric system.  That is a long way off.
  • With its current approach to electricity markets, government is, in effect, using private sector balance sheets to pay for social policies.
Mr. Alexander ended on an optimistic note, recognizing the challenges but expressing hope that we can establish a long-term energy policy that favors diversity of supply and reliance on the market instead of government picking winners and losers among technologies.  For those of you eager to gain a sense of how a utility CEO thinks about energy policy, listen to the end of the video recording for Mr. Alexander's responses to audience questions.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Top 5 Reasons to Support Ex-Im Bank Reauthorization

Ted Jones
The following is a guest post by Ted Jones, Director of International Supplier Relations for NEI.

For decades, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im) has quietly enabled U.S. exporters to win foreign tenders and create American jobs by financing and insuring foreign purchases of U.S. goods. Ex-Im’s benefits to the U.S. economy have been tremendous. By providing financing and guarantees for about $50 billion in U.S. exports in 2012, Ex-Im supported a total of more than 250,000 jobs. In the process, Ex-Im’s fees reduced the federal deficit by hundreds of millions of dollars. In the fiscal year ended September 30, 2012, Ex-Im returned more than $803.7 million in revenue to the U.S. Treasury.

For these reasons and others, the Bank long enjoyed consensus support. Only during the Bank’s most recent reauthorization, in 2011, did ideological groups decide to make it a target for a campaign against “corporate welfare” and “socialism.” These misguided attacks ignore the realities of today’s international markets, and put at grave risk billions in U.S. exports and hundreds of thousands of American jobs.

1. It's more important now than ever before

Although Ex-Im’s ideological opponents deride it as an obsolete “New Deal-era” institution, today’s competitive global market makes Ex-Im more critical than ever for U.S. competitiveness. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, more than 60 official export credit agencies (ECAs) worldwide have extended more than $1 trillion in trade finance in recent years. Eliminating Ex-Im would amount to unilateral disarmament, with disastrous results for U.S. exporters.

2. There are high economic stakes in international nuclear energy market

With 71 new nuclear energy facilities are under construction worldwide, and an additional 172 in the licensing and advanced planning stages, the economic stakes for the United States are tremendous. The U.S Commerce Department values the global nuclear energy market at up to $740 billion over the next decade. Achieving just a modest share of this market would enable the United States to create and sustain tens of thousands of high-paying American jobs.

3. It's a prerequisite for U.S. companies to compete in export markets

Export credit agency support is almost always a prerequisite for participation in foreign nuclear power plant tenders, even though many foreign customers ultimately choose not to use Ex-Im financing. Without Ex-Im Bank, U.S. commercial nuclear vendors would be precluded from competition.

Due to the large capital costs of nuclear power and the relatively long construction period before revenue is returned, financing is often the critical factor in awarding a tender. Competitive financing is especially important in emerging markets where global commercial opportunities in nuclear energy are concentrated.

4. We need to level the playing field with Russia and other nuclear energy suppliers

Leading supplier nations such as Russia provide their national nuclear energy suppliers with multiple forms of support, including strong trade finance. Russia has sought a larger share of the global nuclear energy market both as a source of export revenue and as part of a larger plan to increase its geopolitical influence. Financing has played a key role in Russia’s success. Hungary recently cited below-market interest rates to explain its award of a tender for two new nuclear plants to Rosatom. In the Czech Republic, where the national utility CEZ is weighing bids from Russia’s Rosatom and U.S.-based Westinghouse, Ex-Im is providing instrumental support for the U.S. bid.

5. Ex-Im supports small business

Small business accounts for more than 85 percent of Ex-Im’s transactions, and this figure does not include the tens of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses that supply goods and services to large exporters. In FY 2011, Ex-Im provided more than $6 billion in financing and insurance for U.S. small businesses—an increase of nearly 90 percent since FY 2008.

In 2012, Ex-Im Bank authorized $2 billion in financing for U.S. exports to the Barakah One Nuclear Power Plant in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Small- and medium-sized companies in the U.S. nuclear energy supply chain benefit directly and indirectly from Ex-Im support. Ex-Im’s financing of the Barakah One project in the UAE will support thousands of U.S. jobs in California, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and other states home to Westinghouse sub-suppliers.

Ex-Im has been operating under a series of short-term authorizations with only a modest increase to its lending cap. Doubts about Ex-Im’s future are seized upon by foreign competitors to urge international customers not to procure from U.S. suppliers.

For the sake of U.S. competitiveness in export markets – and particularly the lucrative market for nuclear energy – ideological attacks on Ex-Im must end. Congress should provide the Bank with a long-term reauthorization, with terms that enable Ex-Im to compete effectively with other ECAs. With help from Ex-Im, U.S. nuclear suppliers can compete on a more level playing field, and win.