A Call for Bipartisanship and Urgency in U.S. Nuclear Power Policy
(Full Op-ed in The Hill)
Recent developments around the death of Jamal Khashoggi have prompted a bipartisan response calling for President Trump to break off talks with Saudi Arabia over a potential US-Saudi civil nuclear agreement. The claim being that Saudi Arabia’s actions “raise serious concerns about the transparency, accountability, and judgment of current decision makers in
The U.S. is facing strong competition from China, Russia, South Korea and France for the engineering, procurement and construction of the first two of sixteen planned reactors in Saudi Arabia. Consequently, a disruption in negotiations could quell U.S. hopes of establishing a behind-the-fence presence in Saudi Arabia’s nuclear enterprise, thus limiting American influence in the development of Saudi Arabia’s overall nuclear culture.
There’s little argument that the issue of a nuclear program in Saudi Arabia is complex and that the death of Khashoggi presents the U.S. with a diplomatic challenge. But such has been the challenge to U.S. leaders from the beginning.
Link to full op-ed.
U.S. Headed Toward “Rest of World” Status in Nuclear Power
According to the International Energy Agency, China and India will account for 91% of the growth in global nuclear power through the year 2040. The U.S. isn’t identified in the pie chart, but instead is either absent or included in the category of “Rest of World”. A recent CNBC article expands further on India, which has high aspirations for expanding its nuclear capacity and is opening its markets to outside investment. This is good news for climate change as it might help curb India’s appetite for developing coal-fired capacity. However, U.S. industry faces strong headwinds if it hopes to compete in the global nuclear market as it will be up against deep pocket, state-owned enterprises in other countries.
Figure 1. The future disposition of nuclear power. This is under the conditions that U.S. nuclear plants retire after a 60-year life cycle and China continues with its projected nuclear construction plans.
Sustainability has always been about “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” But that is rarely extended to nuclear power and national security. If the U.S. is to sustain its global leadership in nuclear power for the benefit of future generations, it must develop a sense of urgency about U.S. nuclear power policy and establish a public-private partnership that helps the U.S. nuclear industry to compete with state-owned nuclear enterprises.
If opposition or inattention to growth and development of the U.S. nuclear enterprise becomes stagnant to the point of atrophy, America eventually will be on its knees before China in nuclear science, engineering and technology expertise. The issue here isn’t one of nationalism. Rather, it’s an issue of national security as U.S. expertise and influence in the global cycle of nuclear technology fades and it’s an issue of the U.S. being able to compete in global nuclear markets that are opening up to new nuclear development.
When the future of global nuclear power is being discussed and the U.S. disposition is lumped into the category of “Rest of World”, something is amiss–and part of what’s amiss is a public and political sense of urgency as to how critical this is.
Georgia’s Monthly Electricity Costs in Context
A few months back Wallet Hub published a report ranking each state on monthly energy costs. The categories included total energy cost, monthly electricity cost, monthly natural gas cost, monthly fuel cost and monthly home heating cost. Georgia was ranked as having the third highest monthly energy cost—a point that has gotten some attention the past few weeks, yet deserves context and clarification.
I’ve been very forward in pointing out that the state of Georgia has some of the lowest electricity rates in the country and that the new units under construction at Plant Vogtle are critical long-term assets for keeping those rates affordable while maintaining reliability and hedging against a future carbon tax (Figure 1; Gattie Link 1; Gattie Link 2; Gattie Link 3; Gattie Link 4). Consequently, I’ve had a few folks ask how these low electricity rates result in Georgia having the third highest energy costs among all states, as reported in the Wallet Hub study. It’s a fair question, but it needs to be clarified that the characterization of Georgia having the third highest monthly energy costs is in reference to total energy consumption. This includes electricity, natural gas, home heating oil and gasoline. When considering electricity only, the Wallet Hub report lists Georgia as having the fourth highest monthly electricity costs. However, the Energy Information Administration reported in its November 2017 compilation of average monthly residential bills that Georgia ranked as having the ninth highest monthly electricity bills (Table 3, at end of this blog). Nonetheless, a more detailed explanation is warranted given the fact that Georgia does indeed have, and historically has had, residential rates that are consistently below the national average and below those in other states with high GDPs (Figure 1, below; Gattie Link 5).
Figure 1. Electricity rates for the current top 15 GDPs since 1990.
Continue reading “Georgia’s Monthly Electricity Costs in Context”
Yes, The Vogtle Decision Has National Security Implications:
Will Georgia Keep Its Word?
“I have recalled this [nuclear energy] history to emphasize the fact that decisions about the peacetime development of nuclear energy have not, cannot and probably should not be made on the basis of strict economic realism.” (Henry DeWolf Smyth, Manhattan Project, Atomic Energy Commission, IAEA U.S. Ambassador, 1956, Foreign Affairs)
As the decision on whether to move forward with the construction of Units 3&4 at Plant Vogtle remains up in the air, at least through today, it’s worth putting this issue in the broader context it deserves. And that broader context is U.S. national security. Continue reading “Will Georgia Keep Its Word on Nuclear Power?”
Vogtle Units 3 & 4: Critical Assets for Georgia’s Energy Infrastructure
The state of Georgia has consistently provided some of the lowest electricity rates in the country over the past three decades, particularly among the top 10 GDP states in the U.S. (Figures below). Central to this has been Georgia’s vertically-integrated regulated market structure. This regulated structure has allowed Georgia’s Public Service Commission
and electric power sector to develop long-term integrated resource planning that takes into account the ever-changing economic, political and regulatory landscapes along with technology changes, all of which impact energy costs in the near- and long-term. In terms of carbon reduction alone, Georgia’s nuclear power generation capacity has been a critical asset by directly avoiding over one billion metric tons
. Had it not been for nuclear power at Plants Hatch and Vogtle over the past forty-plus years, Georgia would be facing a nearly impossible path toward an affordable low-carbon future.
Georgia is well-positioned today with low-cost low-carbon electricity in large part because of past decisions to build nuclear power capacity. With a future that will require even lower carbon electricity and in order to keep the state economically competitive with the rest of the country, the completion of Vogtle Units 3&4 isn’t just an option–it’s a necessity.
California Has Decided Its Energy Future:
Now It’s Georgia’s Turn
A couple of weeks ago, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that sets California on the path toward generating all of the state’s electricity from clean sources. The word “clean” is somewhat of a hedge as it leaves the window cracked open for nuclear power to be included in this zero-carbon objective. However, California’s recent history all but points to their real objective of 100% renewable energy since the state recently voted to shut down its last remaining nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, and subsequently passed legislation requiring that Diablo’s generation be offset by zero-carbon resources.
The California dream is 100% renewable energy—zero coal, zero natural gas and zero nuclear. Moreover, Governor Brown hopes that California’s 100% clean energy bill will serve as a model for other state and national governments and will “wake up the national leaders” on the need to confront climate change.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the lone U.S. nuclear construction project at Plant Vogtle faces a critical vote on Monday, September 24. Continue reading “California Has Decided Its Energy Future: Now It’s Georgia’s Turn”
U.S. Nuclear Power: Too Strategic to Fail
(Full Op-ed in The Hill)
The advances by China and Russia in nuclear power are daunting. Both countries are fully engaged in the construction of nuclear plants, loading fuel into reactors, connecting nuclear plants to the grid, developing programs for closing the fuel cycle, conducting research and development on advanced reactors and, in order to sustain these cycles of activity, securing decades-long nuclear construction deals throughout the world. In a word, “strategic” characterizes China’s and Russia’s approaches to civilian nuclear power.
Meanwhile, the lone nuclear construction project in the U.S., at Plant Vogtle in Burke County, Georgia, remains on schedule to begin loading fuel in October of 2019 even though it was recently announced that construction costs would increase by $1.1 billion. While it has been suggested that Vogtle may have become “too big to fail”, the issue of nuclear power in the U.S. extends beyond Vogtle. as the disparity that separates the U.S. from China and Russia is not the international order of nuclear science, engineering and technology envisioned by Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and the early framers of U.S. nuclear policy. Moreover, this disparity in progress is a consequence of a disparity in strategy.
… (Full Op-ed in The Hill) …
The issue at hand is not so much a question of whether nuclear projects in the U.S. are too big to fail. It’s much larger and more systemic than that. The issue is that nuclear power in America is too strategic to fail. And two of the steps necessary to ensure that it doesn’t fail are the completion of Vogtle and the development of a robust public-private partnership dedicated to developing advanced nuclear technologies and keeping the U.S. competitive on the global civilian nuclear stage.
Renewable Energy in Perspective: The Carbon Gap
In the aftermath of yesterday’s announcement by EPA of its Affordable Clean Energy plan, which is proposed as a replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, it’s worth taking a look at the global carbon picture in order to maintain the appropriate perspective for global climate. The emphasis here being that it’s global climate, not just U.S. climate, and the deployment of renewable energy in the U.S. isn’t where our carbon-reduction focus should be confined. This brief analysis points to the need for large-scale deployments of nuclear power in order to offset the continued expansion of fossil fuel-fired power generation as renewable energy alone is not standing up to the challenge of carbon emissions at the global scale of billions of people and trillions of dollars in economic activity. The greatest impact the U.S. can have on reducing global carbon emissions is working with other countries in the deployment of nuclear power.
Continue reading “Renewable Energy in Perspective: The Carbon Gap”
Regulated vs. Deregulated Markets
Figure 1. Residential rates for top 10 GDP states.
Georgia’s regulated, vertically-integrated market structure has consistently delivered some of the lowest residential rates among top 10 GDP states (Figure 1). Of these top 10 GDP states, only Georgia, Florida and North Carolina have regulated electricity markets—the others are deregulated. Continue reading “Residential Rates: Regulated vs. Deregulated Markets”
Global CO2 and Coal:
We Won’t Do This Without Substantial Nuclear Power Capacity
Just a quick post of three graphs illustrating global CO2 emissions and electricity generated by coal. China, India and the U.S. remain the three countries of concern as they represent the two largest economies in the world (U.S. and China), the two largest populations in the world (China and India), the two countries undergoing the greatest increases in economic growth and energy consumption (China and India) and the country (the U.S.) with enough industrial and economic maturity to direct its attention and technological heft toward helping the rest of the world meet its energy and economic objectives while also meeting climate goals.
If we are to have any realistic hope of moderating CO2 emissions at the global scale while meeting our national security objectives, we need something along the lines of a 21st century nuclear power Marshall Plan where the U.S. nuclear industry is engaged throughout the world. We’ve done it before—we can do it again. We certainly need it.
Electricity Generated from Coal
- Global coal consumption for power generation increased 2.9% from 2016-2017;
- From 2016-2017, consumption of coal for power generation increased 4.7% in both China and India, continuing a 30-year trend for China and a 20-year trend for India as both countries continue economic growth;
- China’s once-anticipated plateauing of coal consumption, from 2013-2015, seems to have been premature;
- From 2016-2017, U.S. consumption of coal for power generation decreased 2.4%, continuing a decade-long decline as the U.S. electric power sector continues shifting from coal to natural gas.
Continue reading “Global CO2 and Coal”