Green New Deal: Isolationist in scope and blind to geopolitical reality

The Green New Deal:
Isolationist in Scope and Blind to Geopolitical Reality

(Full Op-ed  in The Hill)

The issue of climate change is now being compared to one of the most sobering, consequential eras in U.S. history — the challenges, sacrifices and accomplishments of America’s Greatest Generation. California Gov. Jerry Brown compared the climate battle to fighting Nazis, others have suggested a Marshall Plan for climate change, and now there’s a resolution  “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal” (GND).

“The heart of the GND is about social justice”. Thus, it is fundamentally a populist resolution proffered as global climate policy, yet, with no global reach as to climate or nuclear national security. Rather than motivate serious deliberations, the Green New Deal is likely to further polarize policymakers, sow confusion into the public discourse and distract America from the serious efforts needed for developing comprehensive and strategic policy.

America cannot battle global climate change nor compete with China and Russia for global leadership in civilian nuclear power under isolationist policies such as the Green New Deal. In fact, it defies all tactical and strategic logic for the U.S. to marginalize, or retreat from, nuclear power — the only technology with the proven capacity to stand up to the challenge of global climate change while strengthening U.S. national security.

America needs sober, strategic energy and climate policy. And that sober strategic policy should center on U.S. nuclear power, not the Green New Deal.

Link to full op-ed.


Eisenhower’s Nuclear Legacy Holds Steady At Vogtle

Eisenhower’s Nuclear Legacy Holds Steady At Vogtle

(Full Op-ed is in the Augusta Chronicle)

America’s nuclear power enterprise, arguably the best in the world in the 20th century, wasn’t the result of a natural course of laissez-faire U.S. innovation, even though America certainly had the science and engineering expertise to do so. Rather, the development of a nuclear power program of this magnitude and scale required a public-private partnership whereby the inherent risks of research and development would be shared to reach a strategic objective–a national security objective. The rationale being, nuclear energy was of such national security importance that it couldn’t be left to market forces alone since markets couldn’t recognize national security value. Both the Republican and Democratic parties understood that U.S. leadership in nuclear science, engineering and technology was a matter of national security, as evidenced by their respective 1956 party platforms where both sought the mantle of U.S. nuclear champion.

America needs to regain that innovative, bipartisan vision from the days of President Eisenhower and shore up its nuclear science, engineering and technology enterprise to be competitive in the 21st century.

Currently, that vision is holding steady in Georgia, at Plant Vogtle Units 3&4.

Link to full Op-ed


The Role of U.S. Nuclear Power in the 21st Century

The Role of U.S. Nuclear Power in the 21st Century

This policy paper on the role of U.S. nuclear power in the 21st century is co-authored by me and my colleagues, Josh Darnell and Josh Massey, both of whom are with the University of Georgia’s Center for International Trade and Security. It’s due out in the December issue of The Electricity Journal. Here’s a link to the In-Press version. What follows in this blog post is a summary of our conclusions and policy recommendations.

In the paper, we propose one broad question:

“Should the U.S. nuclear power sector be left to market forces alone to dictate the fate of nuclear energy in the U.S., or is the U.S. nuclear power sector of such vital national interest that the U.S. should develop a comprehensive and strategic nuclear policy that ensures a robust civilian nuclear power enterprise?”

Our contention is that a strategic nuclear power policy is a national security imperative. We base this on the original principles of nuclear power policy makers who comprehended the reality that nuclear energy is not merely another energy commodity, such as coal, natural gas, solar and wind. Rather, these policymakers recognized that nuclear energy is a fundamentally different energy resource with implications that extend far beyond the geographic borders of the U.S. and are capable of reshaping the geopolitical contours of the world order. As such, we contend in the paper that U.S. policymakers must develop a strategic U.S. policy for nuclear science, engineering and technology that:

  • Acknowledges the U.S. civilian nuclear power sector as a vital national security interest whose future should be governed by U.S. policy and not by market forces alone;
  • Leverages market forces and competition as a means for developing the most advanced and cost-efficient nuclear technologies;
  • Maintains and extends (where feasible) the life span of the current U.S. nuclear fleet;
  • Establishes a robust, politically-resilient public-private partnership that can be sustained across election cycles in order to stand up a long-term nuclear research and development program around advanced light-water reactors, small modular reactors, fast reactors, molten salt reactors, fuel reprocessing and advanced fuels such as thorium and high-assay low-enriched uranium; and
  • Seeks to re-establish U.S. competitiveness in international nuclear development partnerships as a means of responding to the challenge of Chinese and Russian state-owned nuclear enterprises.

In general, we contend that the U.S. nuclear power sector is of such vital national security interest that it is too strategic to be allowed to fail due to market forces alone (Gattie, 2018a). While competing nations such as China and Russia are standing up their own nuclear enterprises with strategic nuclear policies, the approach to nuclear power in the U.S. is largely transactional in nature and lacks a strategic purview. We further contend that markets are not policy and cannot substitute for policy as pertains to nuclear energy. We further contend that modern-day nuclear policy must embody original nuclear policy principles established in the 1940s and 1950s—principles that stipulated the U.S. would be engaged as global experts in the international control of the nuclear supply chain and that the U.S. would maintain a robust, world-class nuclear research and development program. Moreover, U.S. policy should be comprehensive such that it broadens nuclear research and development to include molten salt reactors, fast reactors, advanced fuels and technologies for closing the nuclear fuel cycle. To accomplish this, a public-private partnership should be developed as the means to establish a vibrant nuclear research and development enterprise, to respond to the global competition of China and Russia and to balance their geopolitical aspirations in Asia and the Middle East (Gattie, 2018b).

The history and legacy of U.S. leadership in nuclear power and nuclear power policy, a legacy that was earned and established in the 20th century, continues to be of vital U.S. interest today. As such, early policy principles should be understood and integrated into U.S. deliberations today. Otherwise, the stature and influence of the U.S. in the 21st century global cycle of nuclear science, engineering and technology won’t be what it was in the 20th century.


A Call for Bipartisanship and Urgency in U.S. Nuclear Power Policy

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. Nuclear Power: Too Strategic to Fail

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.


Georgia & California: Two States, Two Different Ideologies on Energy Policy

Georgia & California:
Two States, Two Completely Different Ideologies on Energy Policy

(Full Op-ed is in The Hill )

California’s recent decision to mandate solar PV on all new home construction and Georgia’s commitment to completing construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle represent two completely opposite approaches to investing in zero-carbon energy resources. Solar and renewable advocates will no doubt applaud California for taking such unprecedented action to battle global climate change by way of its solar mandate and other renewable energy efforts. However, if California is applauded, Georgia certainly deserves applause for fighting that same battle, yet also making critical contributions to national security with new nuclear power construction at Vogtle.

This reflects the right of individual states to govern their energy policy under the auspices of their respective state leadership. It also reflects the reality that the U.S. remains locked in a battle of ideas among various states as to how the nation’s electric power sector should be organized in order to meet the multiple objectives of reliability, affordability, safety, carbon reduction and national security.

While this battle may be inevitable due to divergent ideologies across state lines, it is imprudent and altogether unnecessary for U.S. nuclear power to become a casualty in that battle because the prospect of an America without nuclear power not only calls into question whether the U.S. can meet low-carbon objectives reliably and affordably, it also represents national security risks with which America should never experiment.


UGA-Georgia Tech Professors Agree: Georgia PSC Made Right Decision on Vogtle

UGA-Georgia Tech Professors Agree:
Georgia PSC and GA Legislature Made the Right Decisions on Plant Vogtle

David Gattie, UGA Engineering Professor
Nolan Hertel, Georgia Institute of Technology Engineering Professor
[Full Article is in James Magazine (p. 12-13).]

Only one state in the U.S. is diversifying its energy portfolio by balancing out coal with natural gas, developing solar energy in a deliberate and economically feasible manner and expanding its zero-carbon nuclear power base. Only one state—the state of Georgia. And this can be attributed to the foresight of the Georgia Public Service Commission (GA PSC) in its December 2017 decision to move forward with the completion of Vogtle Units 3 & 4 as well as the Georgia Legislature and its passage of SB 31 in 2009, which saved ratepayers millions of dollars in interest charges that would have otherwise accumulated throughout the Vogtle construction phase.

I, along with my co-author, Professor Hertel, applaud both the GA PSC and the Georgia State Legislature for recognizing this as the energy policy issue it is, and handling it as such, rather than reacting to it as a market issue only. The non-monetized benefits of nuclear power, which includes national security, must be accounted for in order for the U.S. to sustain its nuclear power industry long-term. With the recent decision regarding Plant Vogtle, Georgia has served a critical role in helping the U.S. hold onto valuable ground in nuclear science, engineering and technology.

However, there’s still much more work to be done, and, hopefully, U.S. policymakers will take advantage of this reprieve and develop a comprehensive energy strategy that pragmatically and aggressively advances U.S. nuclear power domestically and abroad. And that must begin with extending the Production Tax Credit for nuclear–otherwise, we lose the ground that the Georgia PSC and State Legislature decisions are holding for us. Let’s not waste their efforts. Without the PTC, nuclear power in America remains in jeopardy.

For my own proposal on a strategic policy framework for advancing nuclear power, see my pre-publication version of a recently accepted article that will be published in the Jan-Feb issues of The Electricity Journal: Link here–> (Gattie 2017) Strategic Policy for US Nuclear Power [Pre-Publication Format] .




The Non-Monetized Benefits of Nuclear Power: The Case for Vogtle

The Non-Monetized Benefits of Nuclear Power: The Case for Vogtle

(Full op-ed is in The Hill)

The state of Georgia remains in the throes of a debate that will have long-term impacts on the state’s electric power sector, its economy and, very likely, the long-term prospects for nuclear power in America. That debate being whether or not to continue with the construction of Vogtle Units 3 & 4.

Reservations about moving forward with the Vogtle project rest predominantly on financial arguments related to cost overruns. This was conveyed by the Georgia Public Service Commission Public Interest Advocacy Staff (the PSC Staff) in their report recently submitted to the Georgia Public Service Commission (GA PSC). While the financials of Vogtle shouldn’t be lightly regarded, a cost analysis alone fails to convey the full benefits of nuclear power.

There are other benefits…non-monetized benefits such as resource diversity, policy resilience and national security. Benefits that are arguably the most important benefits of nuclear power. And these benefits must be accounted for in the decision on whether or not to go forward with Vogtle.  More broadly, they also must be accounted for in our national debate on the future of nuclear power in America.

While financial analyses are certainly necessary, financials alone cannot account for the non-monetized benefits of nuclear power. However, PSC commissioners can. That’s why the Vogtle decision is a policy decision, not just a monetizable market decision. The same holds true for nuclear power in the U.S. We need comprehensive policy that sustains and expands nuclear power in the U.S.

For full op-ed in The Hill, click this link.


The U.S. Can Do Better Than the Clean Power Plan

The U.S. Can Do Better Than the Clean Power Plan

(Full op-ed is in The Hill)

Opposition to the Clean Power Plan (CPP) isn’t synonymous with opposition to science. In my case, it’s opposition to bad policy.

When introduced, the CPP was promoted as “the result of unprecedented outreach to states, tribes, utilities, stakeholders and the public”. It’s objective was to reduce carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector to levels 32% below 2005 levels and provide an example for the world to follow. To do so, it proposed three building blocks: 1) Improve heat rates at coal-fired power plants; 2) Increase generation from lower-emitting natural gas combined cycle plants; and 3) Incorporate more renewable energy.

Tens of millions of dollars (federal, state and industry actors) were likely expended in this unprecedented two-year outreach effort only to conclude with a rule mandating that the U.S. electric power sector carry on with what it was already doing.

The CPP was simplistic and misdirected, and the U.S. can do better than this with a more coordinated approach to cooperative federalism that empowers our states and national energy labs to collaborate with other federal agencies and state universities in the development of advanced energy technologies, particularly nuclear and CCS, in order to really impact carbon emissions at the global scale.

The issue is global climate, and it will require high-tech global solutions.


America is Sacrificing its Leadership Role in Nuclear Energy

America is Sacrificing its Leadership Role in Nuclear Energy

(This is an excerpt from my commentary published in The Hill.)

Does nuclear power have a future in the United States? Perhaps the more important question should be: Does America have the vision and national resolve to develop comprehensive energy policies to maintain our leadership in nuclear energy?

Nuclear energy is our only energy resource with the proven capacity to meet U.S. domestic objectives for reliable generation, economic growth and national security. And to meet our global objectives of economic development for emerging regions and the reduction of carbon emissions.

Choosing the right policies to rescue America’s nuclear leadership may be difficult, but the direction is straightforward: We must finish the two reactors under construction at Plant Vogtle in Georgia and the MOX fuel facility in South Carolina.

To read the full commentary, go to The Hill.