Monday, November 23, 2015

Britain’s Bridge to a Nuclear Future

From Jolly Olde England:

The UK's remaining coal-fired power stations will be shut by 2025 with their use restricted by 2023, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has proposed.

A little more:

Ms. Rudd wants more gas-fired stations to be built since relying on "polluting" coal is "perverse".

Only if gas-fuelled power can fill the void created by closing coal-powered stations would coal plants be shut, she said.

“Perverse!” Still, that doesn’t sound as promising as it could, from our perspective. But:

"Gas is central to our energy-secure future," she said. "So is nuclear."

She believes that plans for new nuclear power stations, including those at Wylfa in Wales, Moorside in Cumbria and Hinkley Point in Somerset, could eventually provide almost a third of the low carbon electricity the UK needs.

Well, let’s see: coal and natural gas each currently generate about 30 percent of the UK’s electricity, with nuclear energy and renewables at about 19 percent each.

Almost all of the country’s nuclear facilities will close by 2023, with none built since the 1980s, yet the British have determined that without nuclear energy, their carbon dioxide emission reduction goals are sunk. Thus, a lot of new build, including, interestingly, the first nuclear facility in the west sourced from China.

Consequently, the country will transition from coal and natural gas now to renewables and nuclear energy in 2035, with the percentages tipping away from fossil fuels by 2019. I source this from the Updated energy and emissions projections 2015, published by the U.K. government’s equivalent of the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

We initially thought to use this information as a club with which to beat Germany. It intends to close its nuclear plants by 2022 and has been ripping up its economy to do it. Even if Germany wants to leave nuclear energy – and boy, does it ever – it seems backward to close the plants with no viable replacement rather than develop the replacement and then close the facilities.

Therein lies the real difference between the German and English experiences. England is closing its coal plants with something to bridge the lost power while nuclear and renewable sources ramp up. Germany has no such bridge.

Not closing energy doors almost guarantees greater success because it forestalls haste and poor decision making. We’ve sometimes heard that nuclear energy is the bridge to a renewable energy future, but England’s plan suggests that natural gas is the bridge and the future belongs to nuclear and renewable energy. That strikes us as enabling a smoother transition to a viable low carbon  regime and a significant role for base load energy - a net good however one approaches it. A model for Germany? Perhaps not, given the politics. A model for the U.S.? Well, we’ll have to see. But it certainly seems to be a working model, for whomever implements it.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Korsnick on Nuclear Energy & Environmentalists: "Maybe they just don't know us well enough yet."

NEI's Maria Korsnick participated in a panel discussion on energy at the Republic Governors Association annual meeting in Las Vegas yesterday. NEI's Mike McGarey passed along this report:

NEI's Maria Korsnick with Gov. Sam Brownback
Kansas Governor Brownback moderated a session that included Idaho Governor Otter and Wyoming Governor Mead and an audience of governors staffs. She noted that despite the challenges, new plants are being built and that with the right federal and state policies -- driven by carbon constraints -- high-performing existing plants can stay on the job far into the future.

Idaho's Butch Otter enthused about SMRs. In the most "tweetable" exchange, Governor Brownback asked, "Why don't the environmentalists love Nuclear energy's zero emissions?", to which Maria replied, "Maybe they just don't know us well enough yet."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

NEI Expresses Sorrow in Wake of Paris Attacks

This week, NEI's President and CEO Marv Fertel expressed his deepest sympathies regarding the tragic attacks in Paris. Here is his letter to members:
I join my colleagues here at NEI and throughout the NEI membership in expressing our deep sadness over the senseless loss of life in last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris. We extend our sympathy to you, your countrymen and your colleagues. Truly, none of us in this industry are untouched.

We know this tragedy strikes our colleagues and friends at Electricite de France particularly hard, with the loss of Electrical Engineer Juan Alberto Gonzalez. Clearly his work, talent and spirit will be missed, both at EDF and the International Youth Congress.

We are indeed one community in the nuclear energy industry, and each of us shares this loss and stands with you. Our industry has a great legacy of achievement working with its many French colleagues. Through that, we have experienced great resilience and commitment. This will truly guide us in recovering from these horrific events. We join you in building new hope for future, and you remain in our thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Waking Up to Nuclear Energy Before COP21

cop21_11Times are bracing. The first fall chill contributes, of course, but it’s bracing, too, that the spotlight has fallen so strongly upon nuclear energy. The White House Nuclear Energy summit two Fridays ago contributed mightily to this sudden attention and so has the COP21 conference in Paris next month.  
These two events seem to have spurred exceptional interest in the atom, even when the summit or the upcoming U.N. climate change conference are not explicitly mentioned.
From The Los Angeles Times:

Nuclear energy's importance in reducing emissions is beyond dispute. In January, the International Energy Agency called nuclear power “a critical element in limiting greenhouse gas emissions.” It calculated that global nuclear generation capacity must more than double by 2050 (to about 750 gigawatts) if there is any hope of limiting temperature increases to the 2 degrees that is widely agreed as acceptable.
This story from Power covers the Washington summit:
Even some former nuclear opponents are getting behind the energy source now. Ken Caldeira, climate scientist working for the Carnegie Institution for Science, Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, noted that he was arrested while demonstrating against nuclear power near the front gates of the Shoreham facility—which was never placed into commercial operation—in the early 1980s. After studying climate science in graduate school, Caldeira changed his tune.
“The environmental community should be embracing nuclear power as one of the very few technologies that can provide high-density power in an environmentally acceptable way,” Caldeira said.
Another story, this one tied to COP21, tries a local angle to make a more general point:
America’s contributions toward combating climate change will fall short of what’s expected from this country – and seem double-faced – if the U.S. is also shutting down nuclear-generating capacity, which is its largest source of carbon-free energy.
This is from the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press. It makes the point that New Jersey generates most of its electricity from nuclear and yet Oyster Creek plant is closing in 2019. That’s what the “double-faced” comment refers to.

We know that COP21 might be delayed due to the terrible events in Paris last Friday. COP21 remains important, but it’s not the most important thing occupying our minds right now.

Even so, the conference will happen and it will likely issue the first viable global climate change solution since the Kyoto Protocol. Nuclear energy, it is safe to say, will enjoy more attention than it has received in these quarters for some time. If we have to wait for it a bit longer, we’ll wait.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

One Direction and Nuclear Energy: Solving Climate Change One Boy Band at a Time

I’m giving a signal boost to One Direction’s fifth album, “Made in the A.M.,” which at the end of the day is just perfect. (Both puns intended – looking at you, Harry.) You may wonder what this band has to do with nuclear energy. Turns out since they launched the Action 1D campaign this past summer, quite a lot. 

Louis, Niall, Harry and Liam for Action 1D
Louis, Niall, Harry and Liam for Action 1D.
I never went through a boy band phase as a teen, never hung the posters, bought the merchandise or cared about individual members. Sure, I listened to Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, but who didn’t? One Direction has been around since 2010, yet I only discovered Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan and Liam Payne earlier this year. Zayn Malik too, aka the one that got away. How I got into the fandom was probably not how most of their supporters got there. Belonging to the band’s army of devotees, fittingly dubbed Directioners, is like being in a 24/7 glass case of emotion. I have no regrets, however, and I’m happy to call myself an unabashed fan of these young men.

Woof. Why so serious, Teen Tara?
OTRA Pittsburgh concert, August 3, 2015.
Lesson learned: Boy bands make life better.
Being a fan of One Direction actually is similar to being a fan of nuclear energy. You find yourself hesitating to say it out loud due to misconceptions held by most of the public, but once exposed to the truth you can’t help but lend your support.

For a group born of “The X Factor,” the One Direction guys have remarkable chemistry. They have stayed close to their roots, are reportedly some of the nicest guys in music and seem grounded in reality despite being members of the world’s biggest boy band. Perhaps most admirable is the fact that they are very charitable, lending time and money to various causes. And hand to God, their music is really enjoyable.

Plus, their longstanding appreciation for the role fans have played in their success is a welcome show of humility. In her review of the boys back in February, Elle Hunt of The Guardian made mention of the fan empowerment:
The band’s super fans, called One Directioners, feel they can share in their idols’ success largely because they’re told, repeatedly, that they created it.
Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone had this to say in his review of an August concert:
When 1D blew up, nobody — not even people who liked them — figured they'd be anything more than 16 to 18 months of kicks. What the band and their fans have built over the past five years is unique. If the girls sound cocky and vindicated when they scream, they should. And 1D are brilliant because they know exactly who's in charge.
This acknowledgement of the fandom’s unique power leads me to one of their more recent charitable efforts, Action 1D. In July, the band announced Action 1D as part of the wider Action 2015 campaign to set the global agenda to end poverty, inequality and climate change. Fans were asked to create user-generated videos and photos about these crucial issues. The band then produced a video compilation capturing their contributions and addressed it to world leaders, including those gathering at COP21.

Nuclear energy is a solution to climate change - Action 1D
My sign at the OTRA Pittsburgh concert. Add activist to my resume.
I had been waiting to connect nuclear to these guys for months, and the campaign’s call to tackle climate change was the perfect tie-in. A boy band might not be at the top of your list of influencers, but think again. The power of this band and fandom is immense. So much so that Hillary Clinton associated herself with the campaign. One Direction has sway over a massive fandom made up of young women who are at or reaching voting age, emotionally-driven, passionate about the environment and not weighed down with past biases against nuclear technology. Their actions gain viral traction and regularly get picked up by mainstream media. Can you imagine if we got the band and Directioners talking about the zero-carbon benefits of nuclear? I can. It is a glorious prospect.

I started exploring this concept right after the campaign launched by pairing the #action1D tag with several tweets on climate change. As a result, Directioners gave us our most popular tweet to date:  
The unprecedented engagement with our content simply could be because they support the campaign overall, or because they love the whale photobombing a shot of Diablo Canyon (props to PG&E’s John Lindsey for capturing that). Regardless of the reason, that equates to thousands of new, action-oriented stakeholders from around the globe being exposed to nuclear as the only source of energy that provides always-on, large-scale power without emitting any carbon.

I love zero-carbon nuclear energy

Gaining their support for nuclear energy is especially important as we approach COP21. The band specifically addressed the Action 1D video compilation to those gathering for climate talks in Paris. That means these guys and Directioners are looking for meaningful actions to curb climate change. When the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions comes from energy supply, you don’t get more meaningful than supporting nuclear energy. If world leaders at COP21 are serious about reducing global carbon emissions from the power sector in order to keep temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius of warming, not only do they need to maintain the global nuclear supply, they need to expand it. Several climate experts like Michael Shellenberger, Mark Lynas and James Hansen agree and have become increasingly vocal about their support for nuclear energy as a key player in the solution to climate change. Even the White House is now firmly on board. The Obama Administration had a “coming out” in favor of nuclear as a clean energy and climate mitigation solution last week when it hosted the White House Summit on Nuclear Energy.

The urgency for major solutions to climate change is at its highest level. Now is the time for Directioners to take a “chonce” on nuclear and become advocates for this clean energy source. And for all you pro-nukes who are still skeptical about One Direction’s music, don’t knock it till you try it. Besides, all I’m asking is that you keep an open mind about it, which is all we’re asking Directioners to do about nuclear energy and climate change. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Get to Know Our Veterans

Veterans are unique members of American society. I am lucky to have served in the military. I had the opportunity to experience firsthand things most people only read about. From the threat of North Korean nuclear proliferation to tension in the South China Sea to patrols in the Strait of Hormuz, my six years in the Navy left me with skills, experiences and perspectives you cannot find anywhere else.

Jon Breed
Jon Breed
In exchange for six years as a Naval Officer I received a world class education at no cost. I was challenged in a leadership role at a young age and I grew as a professional. When I began working for the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) last January, I was surprised by the number of veterans I found in the industry. From power plants to utility infrastructure to corporate America, I was encouraged to learn that our industry not just prioritizes but actively seeks veterans. The program Troops to Energy Jobs, for example, is an energy industry initiative that provides veterans with a roadmap for entry into highly skilled utility and engineering occupations. It is a success story and an example of a well-coordinated, well-run veteran hiring program.

Despite this, the transition to civilian life and getting a job is still a challenge for many of our veterans. Prior to working at NEI I wrote veterans policy for a 2014 gubernatorial candidate. I spent months researching issues, talking to veterans and trying to determine how best to support and serve these men and women. This experience allowed me to spend time studying the root cause of issues like unemployment.

I believe many Americans do not understand how diverse our veteran population is. I do not mean cultural or socioeconomic diversity. I mean the diverse set of experiences, skills and perspectives our veterans gain while in the military. To many Americans, a veteran is someone who served boots-on-the-ground in Vietnam or Fallujah. In reality, those veterans – who are among the bravest – represent a fraction of the 22 million veterans living in America.

On this Veterans Day, don’t thank a military member for their service; ask them about their experience. My father and I both spent time in the military. He served the military police as an enlisted Army soldier for three years in Germany between the Vietnam War and the Gulf War. I served as a Naval Officer for six years driving warships in the Western Pacific ocean in the post-9/11 era. We are both veterans. But if you get to know either of us, you will quickly find that our experiences were profoundly different. Neither of us spent time under fire, but we both have stories to tell.

American veterans make up 1 percent of our population. So on this Veterans Day, get to know one. Share a meal or a cup of coffee. Listen to the diverse accounts of the mechanics, the cooks, the medics, the logisticians, the intelligence gatherers, the JAGs, the electricians and the gunners. Ask questions about who they are, where they served and what they learned. There are 22 million stories out there waiting to be shared.

The above guest post is from Jon Breed, manager of supplier advocacy programs at NEI.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

TerraPower: At The Nexus of New Nuclear Technology and Chinese Trade

logo-terra-powerTerraPower is the nexus of several intersecting nuclear topics, including new technology and the global marketplace. The company, which is developing what it calls a traveling wave reactor, made a deal with the China National Nuclear Corp. to build a prototype traveling wave reactor and then a commercially-scaled version of it for deployment.

Flag_of_the_People's_Republic_of_China.svgAt the same time, the U.S.-China agreement on commercial nuclear energy cooperation entered into force over this past weekend. The required congressional review periodUSFlag has ended, and the two governments have concluded diplomatic exchanges that set the agreement in motion.

Daniel Lipman, NEI's vice president for suppliers and international programs, said this about the agreement.

"Through 2040, the direct economic benefit to the United States from this renewed agreement with China is expected to be between $70 billion and $204 billion, with 20,000 to 45,000 American jobs supported annually. In addition, this commercial relationship will help maintain U.S. influence on nuclear safety, security and nonproliferation.”

This is from NEI’s press release. You can read all of it here. The industry fought hard for this agreement; its failure would have been a terrible blow to the U.S. nuclear industry. It would also have put the brakes to TerraPower’s ambitions. But it did not fail and the brakes are off.

We asked TerraPower’s Director of Technology Integration Kevan Weaver  about the company’s reactor, China and the trade deal. Weaver says the agreement “is especially important for the future of the American nuclear industry,” especially because it fosters supply chain growth in the U.S. – a boon for those trading with China and for the domestic marketplace.

Rather than paraphrase him further, though, we offer the interview in full.

Q: Can you explain briefly the idea behind the travelling wave reactor and how it differs from the current generation?

Weaver: Our traveling wave reactor (TWR) design differs from the existing fleet of light water reactors by using sodium as the primary coolant and depleted uranium as its main source of fuel. The TWR can greatly simplify the traditional nuclear fuel cycle, making it cheaper, safer and more proliferation resistant.

In more detail, the TWR core utilizes mostly fuel made from atoms unable to sustain a chain reaction on their own. Certain atoms can be converted to sustain a chain reaction through irradiation. As the reactor runs, the TWR gradually converts what is called “fertile” material into the fissile fuel needed to sustain a nuclear fission reaction and generate the heat necessary for electricity production. The design offers a simpler fuel cycle that allows for the expanded use of nuclear energy to produce electricity without new enrichment or reprocessing plants.

Unlike other proposed fast reactors, TWR fuel does not need to be reprocessed – eliminating a key proliferation risk. The characteristics of the reactor also allow the TWR to be safer than current plants and enable it to shut down safely without the need for on or off-site power, or human intervention.

Q: TerraPower recently announced that it will build a prototype in China. How did this deal come about?

Weaver: In order to effectively develop our technology, we need a partner that has both the experience in fast reactor development and the demand for baseload energy production. These two requirements translate into a very short list of potential partners and, over the years, we have had conversations with China, France, Russia, India, Korea and the United States. China has always been a strong possibility, given their existing fast reactor experience and exponential electricity demand.

On Sept. 22, TerraPower and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to further collaborate on advanced nuclear technology and potentially build a prototype reactor in China, where market forces are dramatically increasing nuclear energy demand. This MOU builds on our previous collaboration with China and takes us one step closer to building the first TWR. We are grateful for the support of the two governments.

Q: NEI has been much engaged in ensuring that the China 123 agreement (which allows trade in nuclear technology) makes it through Congress. This can seem a bit abstract to everyday folks, but you directly benefited from this action. Can you explain its importance to you?

Weaver: 123 agreements are like the rulebooks for a sport – you can’t play the game unless all parties know and agree on the rules. Renewing the China 123 agreement enables the United States and China to “play” together on peaceful commercial nuclear energy technologies for the next 30 years. This is especially important for the future of the American nuclear industry, as the ability to export our products and services grants U.S. companies access to one of the world’s largest markets for advanced reactors. It continues to be an important mechanism for fostering innovation and supply chain growth in an energy market where demand is growing fastest. Put simply, the agreement allows us to accelerate the scientific developments needed to achieve secure, affordable and emissions-free energy production.

Q: Has TerraPower found it difficult to negotiate the U.S. financial and regulatory systems? Other companies, such as NuScale and Terrestrial Energy, have also announced that they will work with non-U.S. regulators and entities. Is this just the nature of working in a global marketplace or has the U.S. become less attractive for new nuclear technology?

Weaver: The driving force in our decisions always goes back to TerraPower’s mission: creating a technological solution to raise living standards on a global scale. According to the International Energy Agency, 1.3 billion people – 18 percent of the global population – live without access to electricity; nearly 97 percent of these live in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia.

Since the inception of the TWR project, our investors have also mandated that TerraPower must be a for-profit business; this means we require an active market in which to sell our technology. The intersection of these two factors makes it very clear that both demand and growth are centered outside of the United States.

In fact, according to projections by the Energy Information Agency, the United States will only experience a 0.3 percent/year increase in energy consumption and a 0.7 percent/year growth in electricity sales through 2040. Contrast that with projections from the International Energy Agency that say by 2040, 76 percent of the growth in installed nuclear capacity will concentrate in China, India, Korea and Russia. Nonetheless, while we are looking abroad for our first plants, we do look forward to bringing our technology back to the United States when demand dictates.

Q: What is TerraPower’s timeline, if any, for its prototype reactor?

Weaver: We hope to break ground on the first 600-MWe TWR in the mid-2020s, followed by the commercial 1150-MWe plants in the early 2030s.