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  • Want More Green Energy? Roll Back the Red Tape on Nuclear

    Despite the growing rhetoric in favor of affordable and clean energy in the United States, the regulatory trend is moving in the opposite direction. A recent article from Platts emphasizes the increasing regulatory costs for the nuclear industry:

    “Benjamin Fowke, Xcel’s CFO, said in a second-quarter earnings conference call in late July that nuclear operating costs “probably” will continue to grow as US Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulatory fees and security requirements increase.

    “We are seeing — and it is not just this year, it has been over several years now — a lot of increased security requirements, worker fatigue requirements, increased Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) fees — and they are not going away. They just keep coming,” he said.

    Xcel spokeswoman Mary Sandok said in an e-mail Friday that NRC’s per reactor and inspection fees, combined with fees charged by other federal and state agencies and entities, had been growing at annual rate of 10%-12%. She said new NRC regulations, especially fitness-for-duty and fatigue rules that are taking effect this year, are significantly increasing staffing and other costs. “The cost increases are affecting nuclear plant operations nationwide,” she said.”

    Regulatory preparedness is important, especially in the nuclear industry where public health and safety are and should be top priorities. Not one person has been injured as a result of commercial nuclear power in the U.S.—not even at Three Mile Island. Market viability is also important. And nuclear power now has a history of commercial success. Despite a radical anti-nuclear environmental movement, over-regulation, and too much government intervention, 104 reactors still provide Americans with 20 percent of their electricity emissions-free.

    Despite this established track record of commercial viability, the fact is that overregulation is a primary reason for U.S. nuclear stagnation over the past three decades. Instead of working toward real regulatory reform, many proponents of nuclear power are more interested in mitigating regulatory risk by securing subsidies, mandates, and other taxpayer support. While such an approach may guarantee that whatever number of reactors the government decides to build will be built, it also guarantees that those reactors will cost too much and that the U.S. will never have a truly viable nuclear industry. The nuclear industry will be little more than another function of government.

    Instead, the U.S. Congress and the Administration should institute a set of market-based policies that frees the nuclear industry to compete. It will be competition in the free-market that will yield a competitive, diverse, and sustainable nuclear industry. The market should dictate how many reactors get built in the U.S.—not a bunch of Washington bureaucrats.

    To move the U.S. toward a market-based nuclear energy policy, Congress and the Administration should:

    Develop an Expedited Process for New Reactor Permits: The current schedule dictates that the NRC take four years under a best-case scenario to permit a new power plant. The NRC collaboratively with Congress should develop an expedited process for applicants that preemptively meet certain conditions. (link to pitts paper)

    Develop a Faster Process for Reactor Design Certification: A reactor design must be certified by the NRC before it can be used in a new power plant. This process should be streamlined, without sacrificing quality or safety, to allow for more efficient certification.

    Open Up to New Technologies: The NRC is currently very adept at regulating light-water reactors (the type of reactor in the U.S.) in a relatively slow growth environment; however, it is not prepared to efficiently regulate a diverse, growing, market-driven industry that could produce reactors both large and small. This becomes an obstacle to the introduction of new technologies. NRC must be reformed to allow for more competition within the nuclear industry.

    Begin Rulemaking for Reprocessing: While a geologic repository is crucial under any scenario, growth in nuclear power will likely necessitate that the U.S. also develop a reprocessing capacity as well, to help manage spent nuclear fuel. While the private sector should determine if such a facility is needed, the NRC should begin the rulemaking process now. .

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    14 Responses to Want More Green Energy? Roll Back the Red Tape on Nuclear

    1. Wally, Tampa Bay says:

      Obama asked for $51M in the federal 2010 budget to continue licensing review of Yucca Mountain. Senate version chopped that to $29M. So someplace there are people worth between $29M and $51M a year that are allocated to reviewing a DEAD issue. Drop this review of a DEAD issue and dedicate the money and people to reviewing new reactor designs and COL applications. Maybe even sneak in some reprocessing thinking to stay ahead of congress so when the taboo is lifted we are ready to get serious about turning waste into assets.

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    3. Jim, Wisconsin says:

      I am a mechanical engineer that worked on a Fusion reactor design for Lawrence Livermore back in the early 80's. This reactor was designed to evaluate the feasibility of fusion power; it was designed to breakeven (energy input equaled energy output). The amount of contaminates from a fusion reaction are reduced (as compared to fision) and the half-lifes are less also. But let me make this perfectly clear….nuclear power is a terrible idea because of the dangerous waste products (high level from fuel rods, low level from gloves and suits worn by workers). Even today we are still working on the storage facility for some of this waste. I would rather see this great country use our oil reserves in the Daktoa area (500 billion barrels) and Colorado mountains (2 trillion barrels), along with clean coal and then develop a energy source that will do the job. I'm not talking about wind or solar energy but something that our physists are only thinking about at this time. This is a great country and we can do better than toxic nuclear power.

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    5. Jeff Eerkens says:

      Green nuclear power is the only practical long-term solution to (1) ameliorate global warming, (2) avoid dependence on foreign oil/gas, and (3) overcome oil/gas depletion after 2040. Only two prime energy sources, coal and uranium, can affordably deliver terawatts of "mother" electricity for: (A) heavy industry, i.e. manufacture of autos, ships, airplanes, etc; (B) power for vast fleets of future electric plug-in autos; and (C) production of portable synfuels (hydrogen and ammonia) and biofuels for long-haul propulsion of land-, sea-, and air-craft when oil is gone. However coal worsens global warming and must be preserved as raw material to make organics and plastics when oil is gone. This leaves uranium as the only "big-mama" green energy source, an "inconvenient truth". Those who think fusion or some other magical energy source can rescue us are dreaming.

      Green solar and wind energy are useful for small-quantity power generation in select locations. But at terawatt levels, immense areas of land and/or sea would be needed, necessitating enormous maintenance operations, spoiling scenic land- or sea-scapes, and destroying local ecosystems. As scientifically documented in "The Nuclear Imperative" (ISBN 1-4020-4930-7), after 2050 only uranium and thorium can affordably sustain global energy needs for at least 3000 years, using proven fuel reprocessing and advanced reactor technology. For the USA, 500 additional nuclear reactors are required, built on 9000 acres (@ $1.5 trillion), compared to 1,500,000 windmills with storage batteries on 6,000,000 windy acres (@ $4.5 trillion) and the destruction of natural wildlife habitats. Ten times these numbers are needed world-wide. (Costs in 2005 dollars; for later years multiply by the inflation factor).

      Contrary to false propaganda by anti-nuclear groups, the cost of tera-watts of electricity is three times less expensive with nuclear than for wind or solar. Solar and wind power generation requires expensive energy storage systems (batteries, etc) when there is no sunshine or wind. Also many miles of access roads for maintenance and repair are needed to keep blades or solar panels clean from bird droppings, dead birds, sand erosion, and storm damage, and to periodically replace electrodes on storage batteries. Should the USA limit itself to solar and wind energy, it is guaranteed to become impoverished and dependent on synfuels imported from other countries (future OPECs –> OSECs), who have nuclear power when oil fields are depleted.

      Today's nuclear power plants are absolutely safe. Because of the negative "coefficient of reactivity", reactor fuel elements can only melt (an explosion is not possible) during a maximum credible accident in which the emergency core cooling system totally fails. This was "experimentally" proven in the Three-Mile-Island (TMI) accident. A negative coefficient of reactivity means that neutron multiplication is automatically stopped when the temperature in the reactor gets too high. The Russian Chernobyl reactor which took the lives of 57 people, had a positive coefficient of reactivity because it used graphite as moderator. That design for nuclear power plants was prohibited in the USA since the birth of nuclear power in 1950 and now prohibited worldwide. Furthermore the Chernobyl reactor had no containment vessel, as was/is the law in all Western countries and now globally. The assertion that perhaps thousands of people could still die from the fallout around Chernobyl is nonsense. Of the 60,000 inhabitants of Pripyat who had been exposed to fallout, about 12,000 will die at an advanced age of cancer because worldwide 20% of all people ultimately die from cancer. To ascribe those 12,000 deaths to Chernobyl's fallout is equally ridiculous as claiming that such a death toll is due to drinking coffee because 20% of all people drink coffee.

      A stale anti-nuclear cry is "what about all the long-lived radioactive nuclear waste". The volume of waste amounts to one aspirin tablet per year per person using nuclear electricity, compared to many tons of air pollutants and mega-tons of globe-warming gaseous CO2 emitted by coal or fossil-fuel combustion. Nuclear waste can be easily stored and safely transported, as the US nuclear navy has done for half a century. Contrary to allegations that uranium and plutonium in spent fuel elements pose a problem because of million-year half-lives, they will be separated from fission products by reprocessing and burnt as fuel in future fast-breeder reactors; they will not be dumped. This reduces 400 tons from a one-year accumulation of spent fuel per reactor to 2 tons of fission products, taking centuries instead of decades to fill the Nevada or other national waste repository. The notion that long radioactive lifetimes are undesirable is also erroneous. The longer the decay lifetime, the less the radiation emitted per gram of radio-isotope. All humans are "hot" because everyone has radioactive potassium-40 (K-40; 0.012% abundance) in the cells of his/her body, which continuously emits beta particles with a half-life of one million years! Man successfully evolved in this environment.

      Energy is man's third most important need after water and food. Those who hinder expansion of nuclear power will be viewed as irresponsible neo-luddites by future generations. They may not realize it, but they are promoting the eventual collapse of modern civilization, which is precisely the goal of Al-Qaida. Any further delay of a committed US nuclear energy program will cause certain impoverishment and death of many US citizens by 2050. Those responsible must be held accountable for this. Originally the US had planned to have 300 reactors by the year 2000, but instead there are only 104 today. After the Three-Mile-Island (TMI) reactor meltdown in 1979 in the US (with 0 casualties) and Russia's Chernobyl accident in 1986 (with 57 fatalities), public hysteria and fabricated false propaganda fanned by fear-mongering antinuclear activists caused cancellations and moratoria on construction of new nuclear plants after Chernobyl. While the USA was once the leader, most US businesses with reactor manufacturing know-how closed. Instead France, Russia, Japan, South-Korea, India, and China are now the leaders. Anti-nuclear lobbyists and mal-informed federal and state governments have created our looming energy catastrophe. We are entering an energy-crisis period as serious as WW-II and Al-Qaida. Strong bipartisan Manhattan-Project-like leadership is needed to implement a rapid expansion of nuclear power in the USA!

      Jeff W. Eerkens, PhD

      Adjunct Research Professor,

      Nuclear Science & Eng'ng Institute

      University of Missouri – Columbia

      eerkensj@missouri.edu

    6. Ralph, Alabama says:

      I’m a degreed nuclear physicist, an NRC licensed Senior Reactor Operator, and I have worked in commercial nuclear power for 30 years. I think this qualifies me as a knowledge person in the field of nuclear power.

      Based on my knowledge and experience, I find both good and bad points in your article. Continued NRC regulation of the nuclear power industry is a must; NRC oversight and involvement is a significant safe guard for insuring nuclear power plants are maintained and operated in a safe manner.

      The electric power generation industry is very competitive and there is a lot of pressure on executives to hold down cost in order to maximize profits, most executives have a significant amount of their total compensation tied to financial performance. Unfortunately this can encourage executives to take shortcuts and delay needed maintenance or improvements in order to keep cost down and revenue up, i.e., the units on line and operating at 100%. The nuclear power industry is no less subject to greed and deception than the banking and financial industry and recent history has shown how deregulation and reduced oversight contributed to excessive risks and deception in our financial institutions.

      I am an advocate for nuclear power, it is our only viable alternative for reducing our dependence on foreign oil and having an adequate energy supply at a reasonable cost. However, nuclear plants must be operated and maintained consistent with their design bases. NRC regulation and oversight is paramount to ensuring this.

      NRC’s regulation could be improved. The NRC is a slow bureaucratic agency, it is too slow in performing reviews and making decisions, but it is necessary.

      You mention two recent regulations in your article as examples of over-regulation and inefficiency. I must disagree with you on these two issues. Both the fatigue rule and fitness for duty are reasonable and necessary. The fatigue rule ensures that workers are well rested and alert if they perform work which impacts nuclear safety, it limits the number of hours that can be worked without an adequate rest period. It forces the utilities to maintain an adequate workforce so that excessive overtime is not required. This is a very good rule, the medical profession should adopt it. The fitness for duty rule requires workers to take random drug tests to ensure they are drug and alcohol free while on the job.

      The single most affective cost control measure that could be implemented for nuclear power would be to develop a single standard design for all new nuclear plants in the US. This would not reduce the cost of the first plant built, but each succeeding plant would cost less, as they would incur significantly less work to design the plant, develop procedures and training material. Additionally, initial and replacement components would be less expensive.

    7. Ken, California says:

      Jim, Wisconsin writes:

      "I am a mechanical engineer that worked on a Fusion reactor design for Lawrence Livermore back in the early 80’s."

      You were probably working on MFTF-B which was using a powerful magnetic field to contain the plasma at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL). It did break even but was never considered commercially viable. It did not produce toxic nor nuclear waste. If anything the only waste was water vapor.

      You second contention was that current 2nd generation light water reactors produce too much waste that is highly radioactive is correct. But that is not the case of 4th generation Integral Fast Reactors (IFR) that were proofed in at the Idaho reactor research center. Unlike current 2nd gen light water reactors that utilize only 1% of energy from U-235 rods, the LFR utilizes close to 98%. It can even recycle the rods that the other reactors call waste. Thereby reducing the need for long term storage. In addition the IFR can use U-238 and plutonium for fuel. This is useful in reducing waste from our nuclear weapon stockpile. Finally since the IFR reactors use liquid metal (Sodium) for cooling they can operate at near normal pressures and tempretures. Unlike current light water reactors that operate at high pressure and temperature. Loss of coolant flow would not necessitate a SCRAM and could be shut down without the worry of a reactor accident. This new reactor design is more efficient, safer, and produces much less waste. That is precisely why Clinton killed the entire program by instructing Energy Secretary O'Leary to end it even though it was successful.

      Finally the reasearch at LLNL continues on at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) that uses 98 powerful lasers for both ignition and containment of the plasma source. This may prove to be the answer when all research is done. In the meantime lets go on IFR building spree. Lets increase our 20% of electricity from nukes to 75 – 80%. Wean ourselves off coal and other carbon based plants. We could reduce our carbon emmissions to the point that cap and trade would be unnecessary.

    8. Nicolas Loris Nick Loris says:

      This is great dialogue, thanks to everyone for contributing.

      Ralph, I didn't mean to imply that the fatigue rule and fitness for duty were the example of overregulation and inefficiency. That was a quote from an article and I included it to point out that there will be increased regulatory costs in the future, which makes it increasingly more important to peel back the unnecessary regulations where possible — again, without compromising the health or safety of the employees or the citizens.

    9. Richard Fletcher, Sa says:

      though they couldn't afford to be without it nuclear energy, either as a power producing utility or a nation. Fora.TV Did a segment on this sometime ago and the gentleman who answered the questions was very articulate and intelligence regarding the nuclear industryinformation.

    10. Richard Fletcher, Sa says:

      though they couldn't afford to be without it nuclear energy, either as a power producing utility or a nation. Fora.TV Did a segment on this sometime ago and the gentleman who answered the questions was very articulate and intelligence regarding the nuclear industry information.

    11. Scott P Harrisburg P says:

      Yeah right (wing) less regulation will solve our problem….Reagan did it with the Saving and Loan Crisis, now the banking industry failing for lack of regulation. Look what happened when Davis Besse didn't have an NRC onsite inspector. You're dreaming again..get real.

    12. StepIntoTheLight, Mi says:

      This Administration continues to talk a good game, but ultimately wants to destroy this country with no viable energy plan.

      Cap-and-tax is the ultimate lobbyist/union dream come true, which even Obama has stated will necessarily force energy prices to skyrocket! WTF?

      Nuclear reactors are safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly. What more do the "green" people want? Without even considering nuclear reactors, this Administration is taking us multiple steps backward pushing wind/solar/biofuels that have limited potential, unreliable technology, and high upkeep costs — without government intervention subsidizing (read: paying off) existing energy companies claiming to work to protect the environment for taxpayer money…

      I agree with a few of the other posters stating we have the knowledge, capability, and brain power, not to mention available workforce and technology to get the ball rolling rather quickly. Time for real energy independence!

    13. Dan Ulseth says:

      Scott @ Harrisburg PA: The banking industry didn't collapse due to lack of regulation. One of its problems was the "encouragement" from the FedGov to prop up otherwise ineligible homeowners into buying homes they couldn't qualify for. This started with Carter, gained steam with Clinton, was warned about by McCain and Bush, but ignored by the Dems (see Frank, Dodd, Waters, etc.).

      As to nuclear energy, look at the overall safety record; efficiency (90% capacity factor vs 20-30% for wind or solar); land-use footprint vs actual generated usable electricity (not just name-plate); on-demand availability (not dependent on weather, wind or sunshine); and near-zero emissions.

      What was the result at Davis Besse? Injuries? Fatalities? Meltdown? None of these happened. The problem was fixed and the reactor continues to produce energy.

    14. Concerned citizen says:

      Have any of you highly-intelligent leaders considered that workers become more fatigued from switching from midnight shift to day shift and than back and forth and forth and back. Do the research as to whether it is more physically and mentally strenuous to do that within a 7 day period versus working 12 hours a day the same time a day for 5 to 7 days straight. We're talking DAMAGES here. Now, not only are the workers more "fatigued" than ever, their salaries have been cut in HALF. They are potentially becomming depressed and cannot provide for their families, many after over 20 years of loyal service. WHO is benefittng from this counter-productive rule?? What is this REALLY about. I hope attorneys are reading this…. They will most likely end up helping these workers recover the massive DAMAGES incurred as a result of the underlying political corruption.

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