Grants v. Greens

The U.S Department of Energy wants to release $12.6 billion in loan guarantees for advanced nuclear energy projects.

US green groups want to spike all new reactors licensing activities and shut down license extension decisions.

greenlightThe U.S Department of Energy (DOE) this week released a draft of a $12.6 billion solicitation for advanced nuclear energy projects. It is a big program, intended to support the Obama administration’s climate change efforts. The program will accelerate the deployment of new nuclear energy technologies and help bring them to market.

If you want to dive into the proposal’s details, go to the web site which has additional information including a press release, fact sheet, Q&A, a slide deck, and much more. The new loan guarantee effort, if approved by the government, will have four parts.

  • Advanced Nuclear Reactors: This area focuses on nuclear energy projects with evolutionary, state-of-the-art design improvements in the areas of fuel technology, thermal efficiency, modularized construction, safety systems (especially the use of passive rather than active systems), and standardized design.
  • Small Modular Reactors (SMRs): This area focuses on innovative technologies for nuclear energy projects that are nominally 300 MWe or smaller in size.
  • Uprates and Upgrades at Existing Facilities: This area focuses on projects consisting of improvements to an existing reactor to increase efficiency and/or capacity or to make critical improvements that are requisite to current or future facility operations.
  • Front-End Nuclear: This area focuses on advanced nuclear facilities for the “front-end” of the nuclear fuel cycle. Of the $12.6 billion available under this solicitation, $2 billion is available exclusively for “front-end” projects. This could include uranium conversion or enrichment, as well as nuclear fuel fabrication.

DOE has previously approved loan guarantees for $6.5 billion for twin 1100 MW Westinghouse AP 1000 nuclear reactors which are being built in Georgia.

Greens go the other way

Green footprintWhile DOE was pushing forward with the proposed loan guarantee program, a bevy of severely bent out of shape anti-nuclear groups, 17 of them in all, have put their foot down over the NRC’s recent decision on spent fuel. They are threatening to sue the government over the NRC’s waste confidence rule. The groups are manifestly unhappy with the agency’s decision last month that spent nuclear fuel can be safely stored at existing reactor sites for decades or longer.

Anti-nuclear groups have always seen the spent fuel management issue as a potential cork to bottle up the nuclear genie. What they may have failed to anticipate is that U.S. Senator Harry Reid’s opposition to Yucca Mountain specifically does not necessarily translate into opposition to nuclear energy generally. The NRC’s recent ruling to allow spent fuel to be stored at reactors until a permanent solution is found is not a page taken from the anti-nuclear playbook.

The NRC’s current chairman, Allison Macfarlane, is the second Reid sponsored appointee to hold that position and, unlike her erratic predecessor, has managed to get a decision on spent fuel in place without a lot of drama. A DC US Court of Appeals ruling was the driver for the NRC’s action.

To renew their efforts, and make good on their “cork” threat, the anti-nuclear groups say they will seek a new court ruling to stop all licensing of new reactors plus suspend consideration of license extensions for existing reactors.  Their claim is that the NRC decision does not comply with the court’s intent.

Missing the target

dartboardParadoxically, in throwing darts at proposed nuclear projects, it appears the anti-nuclear groups have not looked at the NRC’s scorecard, though the agency wouldn’t call it that, about the status of new license applications. Some of them are essentially dead letters. Others are not new license applications, and one project is nearly done. The economic challenges of cheap natural gas and the great recession have done a lot of their work for them.

  • Comanche Peak in Texas was planning to build two massive Mitsubishi 1700 MW units. That effort has been suspended due to the perilous finances of the parent utility.
  • Levy County, FL, Units 1 & 2, which at one time were planned to be two Westinghouse 1100 MW AP1000s, have been cancelled by Duke Energy which inherited the project, and its galloping costs, from a utility it acquired in merger. Duke recently was ordered by the Florida PUC to begin crediting Florida ratepayers for $54 million in pre-construction costs that had been charged to them for development of the plant. Duke is now planning to build a natural gas plant for the Florida market.
  • Similarly, Duke may be having second thoughts about the William States Lee III project and DTE is still waiting for the auto industry in Michigan to recover, instead of recalling tens of millions of defective cars, in order to build Fermi III.
  • TVA has plans to complete only one of the two partially built Bellefonte plants, and restart of construction under a Part 50 license is still in the future. TVA’s Watts Bar 2 is nearing completion and plans to begin revenue service in late 2015.

Perhaps most disturbing to the anti-nuclear groups is that the Obama administration is proposing to offer $12.6 billion in new loan guarantees for various types of nuclear energy projects. As the DOE press materials point out, the projects funded with the loan guarantees are expected to keep 10 million tons of CO2 a year out of the atmosphere or the equivalent of taking 2 million cars a year off the road. But these “green” objectives don’t seem to matter to the anti-nuclear crowd.

And green groups that support the anti-nuclear initiative will have to worry, if they are successful, about the U.S. potentially following Germany’s example when it come doing the wrong things about addressing climate change. Coal use is way up in Germany as the nation closed half of its nuclear reactors. The Bloomberg wire service reports that coal use is growing fast and there are plans to build new coal fired power plants there.

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