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September 23, 2012

Carnival of Nuclear Energy 123

The Carnival of Nuclear Energy 123 is up at Hiroshima Syndrome

ANS Nuclear Cafe reviews the details of what Japan's nuclear policy currently is.

The energy policy announced by Maehar’s boss, Prime Minister Noda, calls for reactors to operate to the end of their 40 year life, but it offers a loophole to operate them for another 20 years if it can be proven they can do so safely. That loophole would allow a reactor that loads fuel for the first time in 2015 to have a decommissioning date of 2075.

Reactors already under construction will be completed, says Yukio Edano, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry trade minister. They are the No. 3 reactor at the Shimane plant (94- percent complete) in Matsue, capital of the Shimane Prefecture, which is operated by Chugoku Electric; a reactor at the Oma plant (38 percent complete) in Aomori Prefecture, which is operated by Electric Power Development; and, No. 1 reactor (10 percent complete) at the Higashidori plant also in Aomori Prefecture.

Prior to the Fukushima disaster, Japan relied on nuclear power for 30 percent of its energy and had plans to boost that number to 50 percent. Prime Minister Noda’s politically expedient decision to drive forward with a zero power option for nuclear energy throws cold water on any rational plans for the future of rational energy plans in his country.


ANS Nuclear Cafe reviews the energy policies of the Republicans and Democrats and specifically their positions on nuclear energy

The Republican platform expresses support for nuclear energy, saying that it “must be expanded”. It calls for timely review of new reactor license applications by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It also raises the waste issue, stating that federal government’s failure to address storage and disposal of spent fuel has cost “the States and taxpayers” a lot of money. It calls for a “more proactive” approach for managing spent fuel, which includes the development of advanced reprocessing technologies. Mention of Yucca Mountain is conspicuously absent.

The Democratic platform is completely silent on nuclear energy. Although the platform generally does not mention specific energy sources (as I said earlier), it also does not touch on any policies or proposals that would affect nuclear in any way.

Who’s better for nuclear?

While the Republicans have generally had kinder words for nuclear than the Democrats, it’s less clear whether or not Republican policies would be more helpful to the industry. In general, it appears that while Republicans may be more helpful in the area of waste, Democratic policies such as CO2 limits (and stricter limits on fossil fuel pollution in general) would do more to make nuclear more economically competitive with fossil fuels.

In the area of waste, it would be hard to do worse than the Obama administration, with the shameful termination of the Yucca Mountain licensing process, and the (political) suppression of the results of the NRC staff’s essentially finished licensing review (which virtually everyone knows was about to approve the repository). The administration also appointed not one but two NRC chairmen whose opposition to Yucca Mountain was clearly the primary basis for their selection. On the other hand, would the Republicans be much better? Given that Yucca is not mentioned at all in their platform, it appears that they are not willing to stand up for the repository (or the completion of the licensing process, at least) either.

My view is that the waste issue does not impact nuclear’s competitiveness, since the cost of storing the waste, even over a long time period, is very small—on the order of 0.1 cents/kW-hr. The primary impact of the continued delay in resolving the waste issue is that it strengthens and extends the false notion, held by much of the public, that nuclear waste disposal is an intractable problem with no technical solution. This, in turn, results in increased opposition to the construction or continued operation of nuclear plants.

My general view is that the Republicans primarily support fossil fuels while the Democrats primarily support renewables. Both are now supporting gas, to some degree. Neither party supports nuclear to any significant degree.

This is due to a profound lack of influence in Washington by the nuclear industry, compared to other energy industries. Recently, some have tried to suggest that the industry (Exelon Corp., specifically) has had significant influence with Obama, due to campaign contributions and its presence in Illinois. This view is absurd. Here’s a question: What is the ONLY major energy source that was NOT mentioned at all in Obama’s Democratic convention speech? He (the Democratic candidate) even made brief mention of “clean coal”, but didn’t mention nuclear at all.

Due in large part to this lack of influence, the current regulatory playing field is heavily slanted against nuclear, with nuclear’s requirements being orders of magnitude more strict than those applied to fossil fuels (as measured by dollars spent per unit of public health and safety benefit, etc.). Five years ago, it seemed like things were finally moving in a more fair, balanced direction, with the prospect of CO2 limits, etc., but now things seem set to get even worse.

We have the NRC considering adding even more regulation, and arguing that current regulations are insufficient since the Fukushima event inflicted significant economic costs, even though the public health impacts have been very small—much smaller than what NRC had always assumed the consequences of a severe meltdown would be (i.e, current regulations were always based on the assumption that such an event would be vastly more harmful). Meanwhile, we hear calls from the right side of the political spectrum, to reign in or even eliminate the EPA, with no similar calls for the NRC. Humble proposals to merely reduce the ~20,000 annual deaths, in the United States alone, from fossil plant pollution are loudly decried, while nuclear requirements are being increased even further, in a quest to reduce even the chance of the release of pollution to even more negligible levels, without any fanfare or political resistance (even from the industry itself).

Nuclear’s complete lack of political influence, and the overly powerful influence of other sources such as coal, is starting to be examined in some quarters—a recent article by William Tucker being one example.

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