Thursday, November 26, 2015

7 Things We Are Thankful for this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect upon our many blessings. At NEI, we know how fortunate our country is to have reliable, affordable and clean power from nuclear energy.

The clean aspect of nuclear is especially important as world leaders meet next week at COP21 to discuss plans to fight climate change. Nuclear energy facilities provide 63 percent of America’s zero-carbon electricity. Globally, nuclear power plants provide one-third of all zero-carbon electricity. One of nuclear’s major advantages relative to other low-carbon energy sources is its unique ability to produce large-scale electricity around-the-clock in extreme weather conditions. Now that's something to give thanks for.

Here are the top seven things we are thankful for this Thanksgiving:

On behalf of everyone at NEI, Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thankful for the Light

This is the United States in the 1930s:

Although nearly 90 percent of urban dwellers had electricity by the 1930s, only ten percent of rural dwellers did. Private utility companies, who supplied electric power to most of the nation's consumers, argued that it was too expensive to string electric lines to isolated rural farmsteads. Anyway, they said, most farmers, were too poor to be able to afford electricity.

The Roosevelt Administration believed that if private enterprise could not supply electric power to the people, then it was the duty of the government to do so. Most of the court cases involving TVA during the 1930s concerned the government's involvement in the public utilities industry.

The piece on the Rural Electric Administration goes on to explain the battles that ensued, with utilities and members of Congress concerned that the government’s plan interfered overmuch with the free market.


By 1939 the REA had helped to establish 417 rural electric cooperatives, which served 288,000 households. The actions of the REA encouraged private utilities to electrify the countryside as well. By 1939 rural households with electricity had risen to 25 percent.

And of course much higher since then.

Let’s look at India in the 21st century.

“Electrification was central to how early nationalists and planners conceptualized Indian development, and huge sums were spent on the project from independence [in 1947] until now,” says Sunila S. Kale, assistant professor of international studies. “Yet despite all this, nearly 400 million Indians have no access to electricity. Although India has less than a fifth of the world’s population, it has close to 40 percent of the world’s population without access to electricity.”

This is from 2013 – I’ve noticed that counting those without electricity can be rather inexact. The following article from MIT Technology Review (from this year) sets it as “at least 300 million.” Place either number against the population of the United States and its immensity becomes clear.

Since he took power in May 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made universal access to electricity a key part of his administration’s ambitions. At the same time, he has pledged to help lead international efforts to limit climate change. Among other plans, he has promised to increase India’s renewable-energy capacity to 175 gigawatts, including 100 gigawatts of solar, by 2022. (That’s about the total power generation capacity of Germany.) And therein lies India’s energy dilemma.

A little more:

Already the world’s third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, India is attempting to do something no nation has ever done: build a modern industrialized economy, and bring light and power to its entire population, without dramatically increasing carbon emissions.

“Bring light and power to its entire population.” That sounds familiar. Different timetable, same goal - with the additional challenge, not faced by the REA, of keeping carbon emissions low. (Hydro power was a big part of U.S. rural electrification.)

Here’s the current plan:

Fifty-seven gigawatts of the planned new capacity is supposed to come in the form of utility-scale solar, including so-called “ultra mega” projects, ranging in size from 500 megawatts up to 10 gigawatts. … (In 2012, when Modi was chief minister of the state of Gujarat, he presided over the launch of the world’s largest solar installation: a group of plants totaling nearly one gigawatt combined.) Another 75 gigawatts of wind capacity is also planned.

And, relevantly:

Together, these additions would boost India’s renewable capacity from around 10 percent of the total to as much as 32 percent. At the same time, the government plans a program of building nuclear plants that would roughly triple capacity by 2024 and supply one-quarter of the country’s electricity needs by 2050. India also aims to further capitalize on its abundant potential for water power, particularly in the far northeastern states, where rivers tumble off the Himalayan plateau.

That’s impressive and, with the push to renewable energy sources, it has the potential to speed the country’s goal of universal electrification, further industrialization, and lower carbon dioxide emissions.

So, yes, the nuclear energy industry could point at these developments and say, We’re thankful that the atom has played and will play such a significant role in India’s progress. And that would be justified. Really, though, that misses the point. The important part is that this will bring “light and power” to an entire population. Progress, it’s fair to say, doesn’t happen – in the United States, India or anywhere else - without electricity. That’s something to be thankful for. Thankful for the light.


Baby_turkey_in_FLNEI Nuclear Notes wishes all its friends a happy, healthy, luminant Thanksgiving. May  good company and beautifully prepared food bring light, love and a certain drowsiness to all.

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.