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

…ilyh…

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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.

…ilyh…

Georgia: Residential Rates, Portfolio Diversity and CO2

Georgia: Residential Rates, Portfolio Diversity and CO2

This is a follow-on to my October post, “Georgia’s Electricity Costs in Context”, which had several detailed data tables. Recently, a few folks have asked if I could summarize more concisely by pointing to some key indicators that characterize how well Georgia’s electric power sector is doing, particularly when compared with other states. So, here’s my summary.

From an energy policy standpoint, three key metrics can be used to provide an overall indication of how well a state is doing in planning out the energy resources for its electric power sector. In general, an objective is to diversify the portfolio while at the same time keeping rates low and CO2 emissions in decline.

  1. Residential rates
    • This speaks for itself—low rates are preferred
  2. Energy portfolio diversity
    • This ensures there is a sufficiently diverse generation capacity to hedge against energy price fluctuations (e.g., coal, natural gas, uranium, biomass) and major weather events that may reduce the availability of renewable resources (e.g., solar and hydro) or disrupt supplies in flow resources such as natural gas
  3. CO2 emissions:
    • Whether or not someone accepts the science on climate change, they should accept the politics of climate change. Meaning, CO2 emissions will be driven down by necessity of a changing climate or by political pressure. In case you’re wondering, my position on climate change is that it’s a scientific reality.

Continue reading “Georgia: Residential Rates, Portfolio Diversity and CO2”

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.

…ilyh…

U.S. Headed Toward “Rest of World” Status in Nuclear Power

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.

…ilyh…

 

Georgia’s Monthly Electricity Costs in Context

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”

Will Georgia Keep Its Word on Nuclear Power?

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

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 of CO2. 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.

…ilyh…

California Has Decided Its Energy Future: Now It’s Georgia’s Turn

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

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.

…ilyh…