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On Why Disposing Of Nuclear Fuel Is Not A "Subsidy"

@Gary: Yes and no. You're absolutely correct that the funds disgorged from lawsuits under the federal government's failure to execute its obligations under the NWPA are being paid from the Judgment Fund, which is under the DOJ, not the Nuclear Waste Fund; in as much, these funds are paid by taxpayers. These funds are being used as cost recovery for the costs associated with dry cask storage of fuel at reactors.

However, dry storage is not the only means of storage (nor to my knowledge, is it the predominant mode presently). Utilities do have to pay for the cost of keeping fuel in "wet storage" (i.e., cooling pools), which were generally built when the reactors were built, as well as any costs associated with maximizing that space (re-racking, etc.) Regardless, you are correct - the NWF isn't at present being spent directly on spent fuel management. I don't really think this contradicts the larger point that I was making, which is that nuclear operators are generally expected to pay their own way with respect to spent fuel management; although arguably, of course, it would be better (if not cleaner, for accounting purposes) if the money being paid out for judgments under NWPA lawsuits came out of the NWF, rather than the Judgment Fund (i.e., from taxpayers writ large). In the end though, since funds from the NWF must be allocated by Congress annually, it ends up being somewhat fungible.

In any case, the issue you point out is quite real, though - the NWF is currently legally constrained to expenditures on permanent disposition only, rather than funding medium-term projects like consolidated dry storage, which would at least "buy time" for the federal government to come up with a new plan.

December 18, 2012    View Comment    

On Yucca Mountain is Dead. Long Live Yucca Mountain!

Jim - I agree that I'd certainly like the licensing evaluation to be finished - if only for the same reasons, that the viability of YMP for meeting the technical performance requirements, clarifying that the choice to abandon it is for non-technical reasons. (However, I am uncertain as to how much an abandoned, if technically viable project would really convince the general public that the problem is actually being solved...)

With respect to the courts, here is the basis behind my reasoning - they theoretically could have ruled or provided injunctive relief for the license withdrawal the moment the Obama administraiton chose to pursue this course of action. Instead, if the D.C. Circuit court decision is any indication, their preference is to put off intervening as much as possible - i.e., the first time they ruled on it, they stalled until September 2011. Jazcko forced the closure of the licensing review over a year ago. Once again, the courts have had the opportunity to intervene - even by the direct admission of the D.C. Circuit Court decision. They've had over a year on what should be a legally obvious decision: either the NRC issues an up-or-down licesning vote, or they (and the administraiton) are in violation of the law. Waiting for relief from the courts is essentially Waiting for Godot. Legally, proponents of Yucca Mountain have always had the law on their side - but the courts have shown no inclination to actually provide relief, despite having been given more than adequate opportunity.

Further, I think waiting for Harry Reid to depart gets exactly to my point at why this is the wrong solution. The process behind the YMP site selection was fatally flawed, in that it short-circuited by the technical site selection process specified by the 1982 NWPA and it made an end-run around local consent. Even assuming you push the main legal obstacle out of the way (i.e., Harry Reid), there still exists a tremendously difficult problem that the project has come by rolling over state-level consent. I just don't see the tremendous issues of state-level opposition going away anytime soon. And much of the problem, as I see it, is in acting as if this is inconsequential.

Even (generously) assuming the stars align and the courts finally force a decision on Yucca Mountain, I would argue that given the tremendously long delays already experienced and those likely to happen, focusing more on ISFSI siting right now is the more important focus as it is. But either way, I just don't see many reasons for optimism on Yucca's prospects. At this point, it mostly feels like a waste of time.

December 6, 2012    View Comment    

On Yucca Mountain is Dead. Long Live Yucca Mountain!

Ugh, double-post.

December 6, 2012    View Comment    

On Yucca Mountain is Dead. Long Live Yucca Mountain!

Blorg - by no means did I mean disrespect to the extensive work that went into the YMP licensing process. (Mostly I referred to the Science & Engineering report because this itself was a relatively comprehensive study of the science that went into the project, and the one I was most familiar with. Obviously, I have some light weekend reading of my own to do...) Thanks for the link.

December 6, 2012    View Comment    

On A cost-free way to open up nuclear investment

Nathan: Great points, as always. It's true that the costs would primarily be up-front (particularly if we consider present value for returns). One thing I'd bring up though is that even though in a merchant market the utility has no direct incentive to pass on lower marginal costs to consumers, the presence of nuclear would arguably exert downward pressure on market prices simply by virtue of being able to under-bid fuel sources with a higher marginal cost of production (which have equal reliability ratings - e.g., fossil sources). So, I think at least an indirect incentive is there.

September 6, 2012    View Comment    

On Deconstructing anti-nuclear economic myths

"Your point would hold much more merit if I'd simply relied upon a similar cherry-picked set of sources from interested parties - say NEI"?  Such as, for example, the "broader picture of historical energy subsidies," the sponsorship of which by the Nuclear Energy Institute you conspicuously omit from your  text.  The NEI is an advocacy organization whose objective is, according to its website (www.nei.org), to "promote the beneficial uses of nuclear energy." Whatever its merits, the NEI is hardly a neutral or unbiased source.

 

The study itself was performed by Management Information Services, an independent consulting firm. Indeed, the particular, detailed sutdy referenced above was commissioned by NEI, however unless MIS's forecasting services also include predictions of their future clients, their conclusions are cosistent with a prior (more abbreviated) study they published in 2006:

http://www.misi-net.com/publications/IIST-Spring06.pdf

No doubt NEI commissioned and trumpted the study because it is favorable to their interests. Nonetheless, MIS has published similar numbers well before NEI commissioned MIS to perform a broader study.

Re: Conca's article - I was aware of his rather embarassing reference to The Onion - and regardless of whether or not he intended to play it off as a joke, it comes across as a serious blight on what is otherwise a very good unpacking of what goes into levelized energy cost projections. Again, most of the reason I cited the article is for this explanation - one which in fact does not privilege nuclear over gas. 

Re: the issue of no unbiased/disinterested parties to the debate - even taking this as a given (I'm not sure I immediately buy this conclusion on face), it seems like anyone who is seeking to make a genuine assessment of the facts would take care to draw upon sources which take into account these known biases and attempt to produce a reasonable set of "uncertainty bounds" as a result. Drawing exlcusively from sources favorable to one's own interests implies cherry-picking to make a point. Which I believe we agree is not conducive to a productive discussion. 

With regards to the original author, this was my point, really - simply that de Rugy draws very heavily upon sources on one side of the debate with a well-known agenda. I'm not trying to dismiss these sources out-of-hand necessarily (in fact, for the most part, I tried to address the arguments on their own merits), but I do think her choice of source speak greatly to her own biases when constructing her argument.

July 1, 2012    View Comment    

On Deconstructing anti-nuclear economic myths

Alex, I think you're confusing my point here. It is not a dismissal out of hand, it is pointing to the use of selective, agenda-driven sources at the expense of unbiased sources which can be used as the basis of a common analysis. You'll notice I didn't in fact dismiss de Rugy's arguments on these grounds - but I absolutely think it appropriate to point out the background of the sources from which she draws her claims. Part of my objective here was to rebut the piece using this standard of evidence - which in fact, I did. Your point would hold much more merit if I'd simply relied upon a similar cherry-picked set of sources from interested parties - say NEI. However, I have not. This is my point - cherry-picking from authors known to have an agenda favorable to your pre-defined conclusion is an intellectual shortcut.

Does it mean one should discount everything such sources have to say? Absolutely not. However, it is certainly merits treating said claims with appropriate skepticism. And if you believe I'm similarly agenda-driven (in spite of the fact that I've never actually been employed by the nuclear industry, and my research interests would keep me employed for a long time even if the industry shut down tomorrow...), I invite you to show similar skepticism of my claims. But unlike de Rugy, I've provided you with a wealth of resources from neutral sources to check my claims. Again, my goal here is to avoid the intellectual shortcuts that de Rugy is taking.

Finally, I invite you to re-read the piece if you've come away with the impression that I repeatedly "attack the commentator and not the commentatary." Again, I have fairly thoroughly unpacked de Rugy's claims and provided evidence to why they don't hold up - and done so with evidence from unbiased sources. If there is a claim you feel I've inadequately addressed, by all means, make it known. But the meantime, contrary to your assertion, I have in fact gone to great lengths to address the specific arguments de Rugy has brought up.

June 29, 2012    View Comment    

On Deconstructing anti-nuclear economic myths

Jim - much of said "imported" uranium is in fact from the Megatons to Megawatts program, in which weapons-grade material from the former Soviet Union is downblended to be destroyed. That being said, the U.S. has ample uranium deposits (including in the state of Virginia), and generally speaking major uranium holdings tend to be in relatively friendly countries - like Canada and Australia. So the imports argument is a bit of a canard.

As to the point about a requirement for shutdown and refueling - what exactly is your point here? They run 24/7 for 18 months at a time - that 90+% uptime figure includes time down for outages. And almost any energy source is going to require outages for routine maintenance. Find me any source - including solar - which can achieve anything close to that level of capacity factor. Solar doesn't even come close.

Further, without a citation for your paper, there is absolutely no way to critique your cost estimate. Needless to say, many, many reputable studies have been conducted and none come up with numbers anywhere near what you are quoting.

As for water usage - again, a canard. Any energy system which relies on a steam cycle to turn turbines requires water (as does hydro, which uses water in a more mechanical fashion). However, that water "used" isn't just magically "gone" - either the water is discharged back into the source with the waste heat, or a much smaller amount is used in evaporative cooling towerrs. Again, this objection doesn't really pertain to nuclear as much as it does steam cycles and hydro writ large - in other words, close to 3/4 of our energy portfolio.

Finally, I provided adequate information about subsidies across all sectors - with a link to the original report such that you can draw your own conclusions. If you'd care to dispute those numbers, I invite you to do so. As of right now, you have not.

June 29, 2012    View Comment    

On Overheated rods & rhetoric

Wayne, I am not an expert on steam generators, but I would refer you to Meredith Angwin's excellent piece on the matter, "San Onofre and Steam Generator Design." Meredith covers the topic in far greater detail than I could hope to.

May 16, 2012    View Comment    

On Overheated rods & rhetoric

The events to produce a serious radiological release at a spent fuel pool would require a combination of several very unlikely circumstances. First, for any spent fuel pool at ground level, generally it is difficult to conceive of a scenario where the integrity of the pool itself is compromised; that is, as long as it is capable of holding water, the remediation is simply to refill the pool. Part of the security measures post-9/11, and those following from Fukushima, have included preparing for better ways to ensure adequate auxillary water supplies to the pools. That being said, again - there is the further issue of the fact that to a limited degree, spent fuel pools are an inescapable fact of life - fuel which has not been cooled for several years (generally at least 4-5 years) is not suitable for relocation; it must be kept under water as inventories of shorter-lived fission products decay away.

Given that, part of what has been done is to look at the accident planning and response scenarios, which both the industry and the NRC have been busy doing since the 9/11 attacks.

That being said, reprocessing - in my opinion - is a good longer-term strategy for managing spent fuel, particularly for the reasons you list. Heat is not as much of an issue for the fission products here, as the remaining fission products (which are not recycled as new fuel) are generally vitrified into glass logs (borosilicate glass - pyrex, basically) to immobilize the fission products. This of course has a much higher melt temperature (and is not at risk of spontaneous combustion), so thermal management is not much of an issue here.

May 16, 2012    View Comment    

On Overheated rods & rhetoric

Here's the thing - the argument you express here is a sound argument, and one I have no quarrel with. But it's not the argument the Senator or Alvarez is making.

If the argument is, "We need to clear space such that we can safely relocate fresh rods from SP4 to a more structurally sound common pool," you'll get no argument from me. This is actually a sound and reasonable argument. The problem with the argument is that older rods themselves present the risk - which clearly they do not. The problem is further compounded by folks like Alvarez pushing a broader agenda against wet storage writ large.

Again, I'm not arguing that losing the integrity of SP4 is insignificant - but 1) it's not the doomsday scenario being described, and 2) The solutions being proposed are inappropriate. I actually think TEPCO is handling the situation correctly, here, in the sense that they are applying an appropriate triage - stabilize the SFP first, move "younger" rods to a more stable location if possible, then worry about "older" rods. It's Alvarez and Senator Wyden who appear to disagree.

May 9, 2012    View Comment    

On Overheated rods & rhetoric

I think you've misinterpreted my position, here. I actually do think a failure in the structure of SP4 would be a very bad thing indeed, precisely for the reasons you indicate. I maintain my doubts about the zirc fire contingency, namely because outside of the freshest fuel, none of the fuel in the pool has sufficient heat to get anywhere close to this. Meanwhile, the "freshest" fuel is now a over year old - meaning the source term on the decay heat has decreased substantially. Again, I have provided my data for this, and you are free to check my assumptions. 

Meanwhile, your point about the integrity of SP4 is the reason why I've argued that maintaining the integrity of the pool is the top priority - focusing on dry storage is an unhelpful distraction when the "problem" rods are those least likely to be suitable for dry storage. Again, the issue here is priorities - if the integrity of SP4 is in doubt, this should be your first priority no matter what. Moving out older rods does little in terms of marginal gains if the pool fails.

EDIT: To emphasize a point here - assuming that SP4 is essentially a total loss (i.e., no way to triage the structure itself), one still must deal with the issue of what to do with the "young" rods. This would obviously mean that again, the focus on dry storage is largely a distraction; it's just fine for older rods (and TEPCO obviously doesn't need a non-expert like Alvarez telling them this), it's inappropriate for "young" rods, which means the driving focus still should be on what to do about these rods (such as, as has been pointed out by others, transfering them to the common storage pool). END EDIT

 

But going further, the main point here is that folks like Alvarez are jumping over this as a means to condemn all storage pools, something which is clearly silly at best and diverts resources from more productive safety improvements at worst. 

 

May 9, 2012    View Comment