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Secretary of Energy Emphasizes Need for Nuclear Power and Highlights Small Modular Reactors in WSJ Op-Ed

In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, US Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu wrote that, between the $8-billion in conditional loan guarantees for the first nuclear power plant to break ground in nearly three decades (earlier post), and the new authority granted by the president’s 2011 budget request, the Department of Energy will be able to support between six and nine new reactors in the US.

Perhaps most importantly, investing in nuclear energy will position America to lead in a growing industry. World-wide electricity generation is projected to rise 77% by 2030. If we are serious about cutting carbon pollution then nuclear power must be part of the solution. Countries such as China, South Korea and India have recognized this and are making investments in nuclear power that are driving demand for nuclear technologies. Our choice is clear: Develop these technologies today or import them tomorrow.

That is why—even as we build a new generation of clean and safe nuclear plants-we are constantly looking ahead to the future of nuclear power. As this paper recently reported, one of the most promising areas is small modular reactors (SMRs). If we can develop this technology in the US and build these reactors with American workers, we will have a key competitive edge.

...Their size would also increase flexibility for utilities since they could add units as demand changes, or use them for on-site replacement of aging fossil fuel plants. Some of the designs for SMRs use little or no water for cooling, which would reduce their environmental impact. Finally, some advanced concepts could potentially burn used fuel or nuclear waste, eliminating the plutonium that critics say could be used for nuclear weapons.

In his 2011 budget request, President Obama requested $39 million for a new program specifically for small modular reactors. Although the Department of Energy has supported advanced reactor technologies for years, this is the first time funding has been requested to help get SMR designs licensed for widespread commercial use. [Earlier post.]

Secretary Chu wrote that the DOE is exploring a partnership with industry to obtain design certification from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for one or two designs based on proven light-water reactor technologies and which could be deployed in about 10 years.

We are also accelerating our R&D efforts into other innovative reactor technologies. This includes developing high-temperature gas reactors that can provide carbon-free heat for industrial applications, as well as advanced reactor designs that will harness much more of the energy from uranium.

...These efforts are restarting the nuclear power industry in the US. But to truly promote nuclear power and other forms of carbon-free electricity, we need long-term incentives. The single most effective step we could take is to put a price on carbon by passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation. Requiring a gradual reduction in carbon emissions will make clean energy profitable—and will fuel investment in nuclear power.


Aureon Kwolek

"Small modular reactors" - Cheaper - But that means you'll have them everywhere - BAD IDEA


Since some of these designs would actually be buried, and terrorists would need a week or so to dig them out, characterizing them with them simple then concerns, presumably about safety, as simply 'bad' seems simplistic.
Presumably dams are also 'bad' as if they are breached they cause considerable loss of life.
More seriously how Chu has the cheek to call this going for a leadership position is stunning - China alone plans 28 new rectors in operation by 2020, build time 50 months, cost £2.1 billion each - a fraction of fadish 'renewables' - and are also building a pebble bed reactor to go online in 2013 which has all the characteristics for small reactors he is talking about here - just years ahead of starting to build anything in the US.


I noticed that also.
Did he say leading world... Maybe he meant leading the western hemisphere :)

Seriously, Chu is doing a way better job leading the US energy policy than the special interests of the previous administration. Why he said leading is a minor detail.

Dave K.

This is good news, he's right that any serious effort to reduce AGW must include nuclear power, I'm also for renewables but the cost of storage will make it difficult for them to excede 30% of the mix any time soon. Hope he's talking about Thorium as well, a much more plentiful fuel.


Actually Dave "technically, there is nothing preventing us from 100 per cent provision with renewables."
The secret is to combine a mix of energy sources; wind, solar, biomass and hydropower installations, and spread them throughout a region or country.


al vin:
We disagree on the costs of renewables.
Here is a recent analysis for the UK, based on Government data, so it is pretty authoritative - I am familiar with a fair amount of the BERR data which confirms it:

The contribution of renewables hydro apart is actually fairly minor, and where wind is used extensively as in Germany and Denmark electricity costs are very high but large additional taxpayer subsidies are still needed.
Just as import, the intermittency of wind and solar mean that a lot of natural gas has to be burnt to make up, and as it is used for topping up that is not done very efficiently.
Carbon emissions per capita in Germany and Denmark are some of the highest in Europe, and those of nuclear France the lowest.
On another level, it is simply not reasonable to think that a minor source like wind, or, God forbid, solar, can be ramped quickly enough to save us, or overcome the many technical issues.
Nuclear is a proven technology, which is provenly capable of generating the vast majority of the electricity in a industrial society, and what is more the potential gains in efficiency are of a different order to dispersed, intermittent, material intensive wind and solar.

Both wind and solar, which are the only 'renewable' technologies mature enough to discuss at all sensibly in this sort of context, are much better in the US than in Europe.
Solar might be OK for peak electricity in hot areas, but it's present input is tiny, and I mean really tiny.
Wind if OK until you reach perhaps 5% of the grid in any given area, and then grid balancing becomes more and more difficult, costs escalate and the CO2 savings drop off.
At high levels of penetration CO2 savings actually become negative, as it displaces energy sources which genuinely emit very little CO2, nuclear and hydro, whilst needing very large amounts of gas to back up.
The numbers just do not make sense, and the pity is that unrealistic prospectuses are delaying genuine action.
The Chinese are building their 28 reactors for $2.1bn GW.
There is no reason other than unreasonable gold-plating and poor regulation that they could not be built in the West for, say, $4.2bn GW
That is way, way cheaper than any renewables, and you don't have to make up for intermittency or burn huge amounts of fossil fuels, as the 'renewables' tie you into.


Aureon Kwolek wrote:
"...But that means you'll have them everywhere - BAD IDEA" Reactors are already all over the place (including other countries), this would simply make them more all over the place. How many is too many? Once the world reaches a certain number of nuclear power plants, does it matter how many more you add to the mix? Many would argue we have way too many nuclear facilities on the planet already. Regardless of whatever we say or feel about it, countries like Iran, Pakistan, India, China, Russia, etc. are going to do whatever the h e l l they want anyway.


Once they figure out how to render the waste harmless, I am interested. While they are at it, make sure they are truly insured and not self under insured.


The 'waste' can be used as fuel in reactors only slightly more advanced than those we use at present - we haven't bothered as uranium is so cheap.
The TWR reactor Bill Gates backs and the liquid fluoride thorium reactor could both do the job, as could other designs.
As for liability cover, the $30 bn which has been levied on the nuclear industry to pay for Yucca mountain which was never built would buy quite a lot.
That is beside the fact that no industrial chemical or energy industry covers it's full insurable costs.
The recent gas explosion could easily be dwarfed by terrorist attack on a gas tanker, and they are soft targets unlike the 18inch thick steel of a nuclear reactor.
The coal industry and petrol fumes are estimated to kill 50,000 annually in the UK alone.
It seems odd that the costs and dangers of nuclear are attributed, whilst those from other energy generation industries are not.
Perhaps we should not be interested in solar panels until the environmental damage their manufacture causes is paid for, or the rare earths used for wind turbines?


The first of the new Finnish design major plant that "is set to revolutionise European nuclear has found that the pre positioned holes in the concrete dome were misplaced so that they need blocking in and repositioning.

Indonesia builds on a geological fault lilne , Sydneys 6Y.O. replacement 'Experimental'reactor at Lucas heights has benn in ' operation for 10% of time since comisioning, last I heard down for 18 months.
The operating licence included a waste disp[osal - reprocessing contract with the Argentine, from where the plants design originated.

Since that licence was granted, Argetina has undergone a military coup, virtual bankrupsey (pre GFC) and is now rattling sabers with britain again over the faulklands.

It's a bit like one can't get out ones own front door with so much deception spin lies and sheer self serving couldn,t care less doctoring from the nuclear industry stacked against it.

For all the same reasons as we who (have bothered even) to read Stan 'goracle's' posts about dozens of ready and waiting ,energy solving, planned and 'shovel ready' plants in the US, we now have the official version in plain daylight "first in 30 years to get approval and yes some demand for more.

But no new "start" strategic arms reduction treaty, concerns over proliferation and increasing no signatory nuclear weapons states, and the US even under Obama approving money for new Nuclear weapons research.

Now you all know that is true, so just how dumb and powerless is the citisenry that is expectted to accept this situation.

The answer to that question plumbs the depths of my comprehension.

Now I concede to mortal failings and admit to not being any oracle, but am unable to even agree to a debate or discussion when the basis of information is patently lies, with false and misleading or sheer defiance of common sense as basis as the second and third and fourth most likely basis.

In other word 'Illuminate (enlighten) me but don't start by spouting lies.


Good points rational etc, but just because (as you say) one lot are B-stds, doesn't mean that the other lot aren't.

Otherwise does anyone think that adding any amount of any IE nuclear will result in a reduction of any other that can be "economically" achieved?
I don't. Energy use and population forecasts are all singing to the same ' prayer book' the mantra is always 'the more the merrier.'

Reality and physics say otherwise so I assume that part (or all that disagrees with environment and physics) of all this ' scare tactic around energy requirements and projection is about exaggeration and frightening people into accepting dirty industries and economic expansion- interests rather than reality and need.

Regardless -If mc mansioins and ferraris for all exceeds the ability of the planet to support, accelerated short term measures are fairly meanuingless and doomed to fail sooner rather than later.
Better for peoples to be fulfilled via other means and allowing the planet to be shared by other species in our own self interest for sustainability.

The only real difference with the at any cost approach is the momentum achieved directly before any point of impact.


If you don't like lies take Greenpeace and the WWF off your reading list.
In a recent report the WWF and Allianz put Germany in as the top country in Europe for low carbon emissions.
Eventually, after much digging, a small footnote gave the information that they 'adjusted' the emissions from nuclear power in France, to show the electricity from nuclear power 'as though' it were from natural gas!
So they thus created 'virtual carbon emissions', justifying this attempt to hoodwink and misinform the public by saying that they did not much fancy nuclear power.
'Greens' in articles routinely, and indeed almost invariably, treat installed peak watt power as average output, so often that either they are terminally stupid or deliberately seeking to deceive.
There is much made of the cost over-runs in Finland on the first of a kind in a nuclear plant, but the many that come in on time and to cost are ignored, as are the huge cost over-runs on the German off-shore wind project, coming in at the incredible price of $19million MW - and you still don't get reliable power.
This is aside the practice of routinely exaggerating risks by several orders of magnitude, whilst ignoring those from approved 'green' sources, in spite of the fact that they all involve continued vast burn of fossil fuels.
The 'greens' through their opposition to nuclear power have also put in a large contribution to global warming, with unknown consequences due to the continued unabated burn of coal, as their 'cunning plans' for energy production are in fact pure fantasy.
So if you want deliberate lies, deception, and attempts to mislead the public, look no further than the so-called 'greens', who invariably go for the most environmentally damaging and financially suicidal fad.


Another point is that even if nuclear is a tried proven and cheap approach, and renewables are harder my any measure, that is still at best an argument for a simple -read lazy quick fix approach that , like oil price falls after economic shocks from price shocks, we soon forget the objective and possibility (econoimics willing) of making great achievements in 'clean energy development'
We then find ourselves relying on unproven environmentally damaging business as usual and oil/ tar/sands developments.

When people say buisness as usual is more economic they really mean 'it works for me'

My most conciliatory line would be that there are better times ahead for those that will make the extra effort and try. The payoffs are worth the effort. Beware of being manipulated by the self interests of other persons states and yes our own.


One of the technologies I like is home fuel cells - lots of other people are doing those as well as Bloom, who are something of hype merchants.
So if those were used, then the gas would be burnt much more efficiently than using it to back up wind.
The efficiency works out so that you can save as much or more by concentrating on improving it, and forget the wind towers.
It is not that I am against all renewables. What I am against is exaggerating what they can do and going for vast feed in tariffs.
I want high altitude wind, which is much more reliable, to be researched more, for instance.
It saves around 95% of the materials of building towers.
The numbers work out at the moment though that if you want to reduce CO2 and get off fossil fuels, you go nuclear.
It really is that simple.
Fortunately the risks and costs of so doing have been grossly exaggerated by the greens, to the delight of the coal industry which is not just some theoretical risk, but a proven killer by the tens of thousands.
Residential solar thermal is a bargain though!


I note with thanks you accepted the thrust of my argument,
And applaud informative debate . deception and misleading information from anywhere is (at the very least) self damaging.
'Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practiced to deceive " is one of the strongest truisms in the universe.
We end up with a world without trust and bright people unable to make sense of the world around them, Makes you wonder if the sensible approach may be to 'switch off' before you even start?

You make the point "There is much made of the cost over-runs in Finland on the first of a kind in a nuclear plant, but the many that come in on time and to cost are ignored, as are the huge cost over-runs" etc

I was basically referring to the promotion of this one reactor example as 'The answer to Finland's "soon to be 100% nuclear energy industry" And 'unequivocally'
able to revolutionise Europe's energy solutions.
As well that getting it wrong is a serious issue when the consequences are as sever as we believe fro either nuclear power or more particularly , nuclear arms.There is no shortage of mistakes in high risk situations occurring daily around the world, so it totally wrong to think that we'll be able to 'get this one right" (any) It simply defies our knowledge of the way the world works.

But I agree that much experience of any time first and one off design is expected to have large teething problems.
This is not a nuclear industry specific problem, nor a renewable industry specific , rather a fact of life.

The EROOI of true renewables* esp energy harvesting approaches, will always ( or should if it is worthy of consideration) show a return on investment that improves as the plant ages whereas fossil and nuclear fuels are always adding the (usually escalating) costs to the original and not so cheap either plant so as such don't have a mathematical model that supports low and diminishing ongoing costs.


The attraction of nuclear is threefold:
We can do it now, at reasonable cost if we do it right.
The fuel is for practical purposes unlimited with only modest advances in technology - the traveling wave reactor, or the liquid fluoride thorium reactor, for instance.
They can be made very safe.
The design of the LWR the commonest type in use today was, just like wind towers as opposed to high altitude wind, too early and probably not the best design for civil use.

Nothing is ever absolutely safe, and the 'precautionary principle' is pure rhetoric, not a risk management strategy.
However the risks need be no greater than any other large chemical or energy producing installation.

You can't run renewables without burning natural gas, and the benzene emitted in it's production, sometimes near residential areas, is very nasty stuff indeed.
So if you are talking in the real world, risk management and assessment is always needed, and adequate control.
In the West, other than in mining, there has never been a death directly attributable to the nuclear industry.
By co-incidence, the confirmed death toll from Chernobyl, 69, is exactly the same as from wind turbines - blades fracturing etc.
Of course, Greenpeace 'calculates' vast numbers of future deaths, which it continually repositions so that they are always 20 years in the future.
What they don't tell you is that the death toll from mining and using the rare earths in wind turbines if calculated on the same basis would also be huge.

Nuclear plants in most areas of the world are indeed normally built to cost and on time.
As I linked to the report earlier, the cost of off-shore wind, which is the only British alternative capable of anything like the scale, is at least 2-3 times that of nuclear power, and costs have escalated faster for that then nuclear - around 70% in the last few years, versus 40% for nuclear, if memory serves.

The potential for cost reduction, and in particular fuel efficiency increase, is enormously greater for nuclear as we only use such a tiny fraction at the moment.
Here are some links to the option I favor, which could burn the waste from current reactors and would only need around 15,000 tons of thorium a year to provide the world with present power output:

We need power too urgently though, and coal, which is what will actually be used instead if we don't build nuclear, is too polluting, emits too much CO2, kills too many people, and is too ultimately limited to make that the best alternative, so we should also get on and build what we can now.

War is often the result of resource shortages, and that would kill a lot more people than any imagined dangers from nuclear power.
We are not going to limit the spread of nuclear weapons by forgoing it for Civil purposes ourselves.
Any nation that has wanted nuclear power has pretty well got them, with the possible exception of Iraq, and stopping that shows what it takes, hardly practical to control all the present non-nuclear nations that way.


Small Modular Reactors are designed so that the fuel can never be turned into weapon grade material. Also a lot of the newer designs puts the SMR 50 ft in the ground. Getting one out of the ground is a major project not easily done.


Mining, wether for minerals, coal or any is probably the most dangerous industry in any country but the actual will vary greatly depending on which country.
the nuclear industry is no different in that regard, except that the products are highly dangerous depending on the type and particle size and also the area of the body contaminated. So skin contact with physical particle 'fallout' or only the radiation or emmission, and the specific element concerned and hence the depth of penetrating rays varies immensly.

When as is well understood the timeframe from exposure to effect can be several decades and the show up as genetic amage or mutation, in a way similar to asbestos, or long term toxic chemical exposure, I could not agree with the statement that " no one has ever attributed a death directly to the nuclear industry.
The deaths are mostly seen as long term life shortening and debilitating cancers etc.

It is not credible to say that the "69 " deaths from Chernobyl incident is all there is to it. That is to say on this side of an arbitary line we have deaths but on that side there is no effect.
The deaths occouring within the first year or two are no more the end of the story than to say only the deaths within the first few years of asbestos exposure are counted.
Asbestosis being assosiated with very specific symptoms, is realatively easy to link, radiative induced cancers are much less straitforwarrdto diagnose and the 'govt ' and official industry studies and data are not vigooroously studied.
To my knowledge the best science in this regard comes from 'outsider' testing, analysis etc that is focused on proving the link, rather than the officials that would like to prove the safety of.These more vigorous stanalysis are however not well funded or numerous. They are however daming.

Re the cost of mining and resource extraction, it is not negligable or even small. Large amounts of energy are needed in the fuel cycle.
S.Australia's Proposed open pit mine will in fact double the energy / carbon footprint for that state.

Last year over atwo week period, terrible dust storms swept topsoil from precisely the area of mine tailings and atomic test " Remediated areas. These storms choiked both Melbourne and Sydney and I can tell you that there were four days were people were told to stay indoors and close windows avoid excercise IIn my area, 400 klm's noth of Sydney or well over 1,000 klm's from the dust source.
As I said the source area included low depth and surface dumps holding a large percentage of Australian nuclear waste.

Whereas the "sixty nine" deaths from wind generation machine accidents I'll bet refer to ' qualified' persons taking known risks in a hazardous but localised zone. I.E. technicians not the general public.

You state
"We need power too urgently though, and coal, which is what will actually be used instead if we don't build nuclear, is too polluting, emits too much CO2, kills too many people, and is too ultimately limited to make that the best alternative,"

Urgently for what? more neon advertising, higher high rise and phallic tower blocks? overseas air travel and generally everything that opens and shuts? to be discarded when a new fad comes along.You may equally be referring to economic development but regardless it is not correct in my opinion to suggest that we will all suffer as is implied if we don't have access to large amounts of power (at any cost).

I do agree with the second part of your estimation of the costs associated with coal use though.
My only comment there is that the official line we are asked to accept is that Carbon capture and sequestration will ' make it all right'. Again that is a leap of faith too far for the less gullible.

What worked for a while IE energy from coal is known more widely for what it is and not responsible behaviour. Most of us in the industrialized world are accustomed and reliant on it though and we should be big enough to see it's ugly side and at least acknowledge the damage even if we feel powerless to put it right .

I should say I do hold An office in the Nuclear disarmament movement but not as spokesperson or speaker so I express my personal opinion only and disclose in the interests of proper accounting.


@ the guys who mention China is going to build so many
more reactors than the USA. Obama will use Union Labor,
China will employ convicts, slaves, and low-wage workers. Labor costs money over here; no way we can compete in cost. Our reactors are safer. Look for a Chernobyl in China before you see one here.
SMRs are great for small towns and smaller cities. Harder to knock the whole country off the grid, too.
SMRs and Bloom Boxes are the way to go. You know, China has been working on destroying our grid in war games lately. We gave them enough rope with which to hang us. Lenin was right.


You don't need to mine anything to have all the uranium you want. There is 4.5 billion tons of uranium dissolved in ocean water. Two years ago, Japanese teams extracted it at a cost of only a few times the actual world price of uranium. That's why we still mine for it, because mining is cheaper. Though, even if mining was forebidden and we would extract it from seawater the incraesed price of the uranium would only negligible increase the electricity price.
Next generation nuclear plants will during the next centurybe burning the waste we already have.


I will just answer one of the points you make, as this is hardly the forum for a full discussion.
'Mining' for uranium is actually a misnomer, it is actually a leaching process, and does not involve men going underground with it's attendant risks.
Just like coal mining though it is a nasty process, which is why I advocate moving to thorium, where the extra efficiency of burn in a suitable reactor would reduce quantities enormously.
It should already be noted that the million times greater energy density of uranium and thorium compared to fossil fuels make them enormously less extensive than coal.
Coal waste actually contains many times the energy that is released by burning it, around 5 times as much uranium and 17 times as much thorium!
Building reactors to efficiently use this is in no way as difficult as the immense engineering and cost problems associated with building a huge grid to everywhere, upgrading efficiencies many fold and so on needed for an 'all renewables' policy.
Anything we can come close to doing, cost aside, involves the huge continued burn of fossil fuel to make up for the defects of renewables.
Thank you for your disclosure of involvement with Nuclear disarmament.
It should be noted in passing that many members including prominent ones of the rather different Greenpeace type organizations such as Moore, Hansen and Lovell now regard nuclear power as essential.
They were treated as heretics and drummed out.

The Chernobyl reactor had no containment vessel, amongst other defects.
No reactors of that type were ever built in the West, and are not currently being built in China or anywhere else.
The story of Three Mile Island is one of a system which has since been thoroughly overhauled, but one where the containment system did it's job and no major release of radioactivity occurred.
The recent shut down at Vermont was due to the release of picocuries of tritium into the groundwater.
A picocurie is one 0.000000000001 of a curie.
Tritium decays very fast, and by the time it had worked its way through the groundwater system would have decayed away.
If you drank the water directly containing this sort of quantity it would have no measurable effects.

So they shut the reactor down. This sort of lunacy is the reason nuclear 'costs' so much. It proves that nuclear is a wonderful energy source, as no other industry could survive such ludicrous and prejudiced 'regulation'
If you want danger, look no further than emissions from coal, or the sludge lakes it has, or the explosions from natural gas or its benzene emissions, or the history of mortality from burst dams in hydropower.
If you want a lethal industrial accident, Try Bhopal, not Chernobyl.

I do hope some of the anti nuclear folk actually have the opportunity to climb the tower of a turbine in a gale in the North Sea.
Maintaining them will be, if the Heath Robinson scheme of building them ever comes to fruition, by far the most dangerous job in Britain.
And I know people in the industry, and exactly what I am talking about.


Whew! i'm exhausted just trying to read DaveMart and Arnold's debate. (btw, thanks for keeping it civil, guys).
It just goes to show how much of a "hot button" topic nuclear power is. And why is that? one word: chernobyl.
Chernobyl showed how dangerous nuclear power can be. Chernobyl was a terrible disaster (and will continue to be for a long time).
However, we cannot let fear paralyze us. Nuclear power can be safe and less harmful to the environment than coal.
OTOH, the nuke industry must develop smaller, cheaper plants that come online quickly. AND, have a plan for waste.
When they do that (which is only reasonable) the public will accept them. Until then the opposition will continue.

Dave K.

I think we need to pursue all available low carbon electric power generation technologies, as well as efficiency and population control. This is not an either/or proposition. Even though advanced nuclear is probably the most cost effective solution short term it is STILL a fossil fuel, I'm also not willing to put all our eggs in one basket again, the risks are too great. That said nuclear looks very attractive once you get past the emotion and fear attached to it. The mere fact that it has ~1 million times the energy density of combustion makes any "problems" much smaller, as someone pointed out the "waste" is really unreprocessed fuel for more advanced reactors, and France has even done a long term experiment for us (with old technology) that shows you can use it safely to generate most of your needs, we have enough fissionables to las thousands of years(longer with Thorium). Renewables on the other hand are specific to a particular area, here in the south where we have large demand (AC) on sunny days we could use an awful lot of solar before any storage would be needed, same with the southwest, British Isles, not so much. Other areas are windy, northern California has good geothermal, seems like Nova Scotia would be a good place for tidal. None of these promising technologies are mutually exclusive and many work well together. But here in the south it's pretty much nuclear if you want the lights to work at night.


DaveK, "it is STILL a fossil fuel". i don't follow.


I'm wondering if SMRs could be designed like CANDUs, using heavy water? CANDUs can be maintained while still generating (don't need to be brought down).

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