Saturday, March 27, 2010

When Your Strongest Criticism Is a Lie...

it might be time to give up. Paul Krugmans destroys Douglas Holtz-Eakin's alternate universe and closes with this:
That said, we do learn something important from Holtz-Eakin’s article. If this is the best critique a conservative budget wonk can come up with – if deliberately misrepresenting how the legislation works is the only way to make it seem irresponsible – then the bill must be pretty sound in fiscal terms.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Into the Desert

How long are the Republicans going to be the party of NO? How long are they going to wander in the desert of irrelevance before they decide they would really rather have a hand in being a government? How many jurisdictions will be taken by Democratic candidates because the Republicans have nothing substantive to offer?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

GOP's Waterloo

The Republicans were right about Health Care Reform being a Waterloo. According to David Frum it's a Republican Waterloo. Republicans could use more smart people like David. Here it is in David's own words.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Clean hydrogen fuel from sound

This is cool. This is amazingly simple. I wonder how this would play out economically.
A team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison made crystals of zinc oxide that, when immersed in water, absorb vibrations and develop areas of strong negative and positive charge. These charges rip apart nearby water molecules, releasing hydrogen and oxygen gas.
The new materials could be used to develop systems that generate hydrogen from the noise of anything from machinery to crashing waves

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Policy Bombers

As the final days of the health care reform process wind down it seems that once again the desire to do good is being held hostage by those few who think one good triumphs over all others. I'm talking about the no-choice anti-abortion folks. These are the folks who think their particular view on abortion merits federal sanction. They are willing to let real and meaningful health care insurance reform go down the tubes if there's any chance that it might even indirectly make it easier for a woman to exercise a reproductive choice that runs counter to their particular viewpoint. Even the Catholic bishops support universal health care. Much has been said about how the no-choice crowd is willing to vote against their own self interests to elect no-choice legislators.

Faith and perserverance can be good things but this is a case where the dark side of faith comes into play. A basic attribute of a strong faith is that it, almost by definition, defies reason. It's the belief that's important and the facts just don't matter.

People who are unaffected by reason are as difficult to counter as a suicide bomber. There is no consequence that will dissuade them. Not their own self interest. Not even the prospect of a health care system that does a poor job for the most vulnerable and cost too much for us all. Nothing. Nada.

So what do we do? There may be other strategies but the one that comes to mind is to vigorously challenge any candidate or public official who professes an unreasoning faith. Make it clear that anyone who professes a level of faith on this issue or any other that is impervious to reason is unfit for public office. Real facts and real consequences just don't matter to these people and the coming disaster is certain.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

For the Record

Every now and then one needs to take the time to separate the BS from the beeswax:

Lie: Democrats are jamming through a government takeover of healthcare that would slash Medicare benefits.

Truth: Health insurance reform as proposed takes over nothing. Savings in Medicare will make it stronger without cutting benefits.

Lie: Health care legislation is stuffed with sweetheart deals for lawmakers.

Truth: The President's plan has removed any special deals from the legislation.

Lie: The Republican health care plan is good.

Truth: Republican alternative allows insurers to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and to drop coverage for people who get sick. More people would be left uninsured by 2019. Democratic plan reduces more deficit than Republican plan.

Lie: Reconciliation is controversial.

Truth: Virtually all past health care legislation in the past 30 years has been passed by reconciliation, SCHIP, Medicare, etc. Republicans have used reconciliation 3 times as much as Democrats. Of the 22 times it has been used, Republicans used it 16 times. Reconciliation votes have almost alway been highly partisan. Republican reconciliation wins include $1.8 trillion in Bush tax cuts. (Health care reform will cost $950 billion over 10 years.) McConnell, Craig, Grassley, McCain, and Cornyn praised reconciliation when it was used for Republican legislation.

If we don't do everything in our power to challenge the lies we can share the blame for what we get. So keep spreading the word.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Nuclear Power is Natural

Two billion years ago in Gabon uranium-rich rock and water found itself in an appropriate arrangement to create a natural nuclear reactor. It appears that the reactor was critical for a few hundred thousand years. Sixteen other sites have been found around the world where similar things have happened and there may be many more. Somehow the "waste" leftovers from those natural reactors managed to stay securely ensconced in the geologic formations in which they formed for the two billion years since without harming the planet. It looks like long-term high-level storage has already been demonstrated.

Honesty Breaks Out

Former Assistant Education Secretary Diane Ravitch has changed her tune on No Child Left Behind. She began looking at the facts after advocating the program for years and broke out in a fit of honesty.
'The basic strategy is measuring and punishing,' Ravitch says of No Child Left Behind. 'And it turns out as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there's a lot of cheating going on, there's a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it's actually lowered standards because many states have 'dumbed down' their tests or changed the scoring of their tests to say that more kids are passing than actually are.'
The program isn't working and something better is needed.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Jacques Besnainou at the Richland ANS

Jacques Besnainou,CEO, AREVA North America

Jacques is a personable fellow with a good sense of humor. He tries to convince us that his accent isn't really French but rather a strong Joisey accent since he first lived there when he came to the States.

Reviving the nuclear power industry is key to true energy security. When France faced the problem of energy security they decided to go nuclear as fast as they could. Rather than developing their own unique designs they decided to adopt the best available existing technology. That was the Westinghouse PWR design. Now France has the opportunity to return that gift to the US. (Jacques then goes into a short commercial for AREVA.)

AREVA intends to be the full-service nuclear provider from mining, through power generation, to recycling and decommissioning. Nuclear energy is not renewable but it is recyclable and sustainable. The once-through system just doesn't make sense. AREVA has been recycling nuclear fuel for 20 years. Recycling isn't new. France built almost 60 power plants based on the Westinghouse design. Now they are building their own EPR design in Europe and expect to be building them soon in the US. When construction starts on the US plants AREVA will have benefited from lessons learned from EPR projects in 3 other countries. They expect the US plants to be on-time and on-budget. They have invested $200 million in the first EPR plant in the US at Calvert Cliffs. Construction is expected to begin in 2012.

AREVA is also investing in renewables with biomass, wind, and solar business units. The 5MW M5000 wind turbine is the largest yet built. It is planned for offshore wind farms.

There are 543 nuclear plants worldwide. Both India and China are building them as fast as they can. In India they are using the power for desalination of water as well as electricity because of the need for fresh water there. The issue of nuclear waste has a solution.

Since it takes 10 years to build a nuclear plant things must be done in such a way that it garners bipartisan support. One can't risk a change in the White House that shuts down the construction.

The nuclear industry needs to be transparent. Our past relationship with the defense industry as tended to generate a closed culture. Those days are gone. Anne Lauvergeon has turned a medieval fortress into a mansion full of windows. In the interest of transparency they installed streaming webcams in the La Hague recycling plant so the world could watch what went on there. Pretty soon no one ever used the cameras because it was boring. In public relations and politics you don't get to choose your opposition. You have to deal with whomever comes along. The nuclear industry needs to be ready to constructively engage with the opposition so both sides can learn. Many in the environmental movement have changed their mind about nuclear power. AREVA now maintains a weblog in which criticisms can be openly discussed. Nuclear energy is cool now.

Nuclear energy jobs are real domestic jobs over the long term. You can outsource a power plant. By the same token, nuclear expertise can provide jobs for Americans around the world.

AREVA is making major investments in the US nuclear industry. They are building a fabrication facility for large steel components at Newport News. They are building an enrichment facility in Idaho. And they are building a Mixed-Oxide fuel plant in South Carolina. When they started doing these things they found that the pool of nuclear-qualified suppliers has dried up over the years. Now they are having vendor fairs in order to attract new vendors into the nuclear industry supply chain.

Nuclear power is CO2-free, power secure, and creates jobs, jobs, and more jobs.

The ANS needs to be the ambassadors for nuclear power. We need your knowledge to be shared. The public needs to hear the facts. Nuclear advocates need to be open to questions and readily engage in the public debate. Relationships need to be built with all the stakeholders.

John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things.” The facts are on the side of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is carbon-free. 75% of the carbon-free energy now produced in the US is nuclear. Nuclear energy is domestic energy security. You don't have to fight wars in foreign countries for it. We can't talk about energy-independence without including nuclear. Nuclear energy is competitive. Once a plant has been built it becomes a cash machine. The costs of nuclear power do not fluctuate like volatile fossil fuel markets. France is making money because it has the energy to sell. Nuclear power supports growth because it creates jobs. Unions understand this and support nuclear power. Investments in nuclear power create investments in the supply chain economy. The nuclear safety record is impeccable. Nuclear safety is not theoretical. It has been demonstrated. Nuclear power is available 24/7.

If we want a future for our children we need to develop nuclear power. The US can regain its lead in this industry but we can't wait on the sidelines too long.

And now some questions from the audience.

What is the future of French recycling? Is it just MOX or will there be a full plutonium cycle?
France is saving its recycled plutonium as a resource to be used in a coming generation of fast reactors. France is currently working on a fast reactor design jointly with the US and Japan. It will be about a 1200 MW plant.

Will this policy carry over to the US?
The US needs to make its own decision. The mood is improving on Capitol Hill. The light-water reactors of today can be a bridge to the future fast reactors.

How does France handle its own nuclear opposition?
There isn't much. France really has no alternative but nuclear. But safety is paramount.

AREVA mines around the world. Will it ever open mines in the US?
The old ways of mining produced some problems with the tailings. Modern methods do not have that problem. If demand is strong enough AREVA might mine in the States but they currently have plenty of uranium sources elsewhere.

What is the future like in Europe?
When Russia stopped natural gas deliveries a while back many countries sat up and took notice. UK authorities were in contact with AREVA right away. EDF is now the major electrical utility in southeastern England. Italy shut down all their plants after Chernobyl. Now they are planning new ones. Sweden has decided that they are going to need 20 nuclear power plants. Finland has decided it needs more, too. When Germany wanted to close out it's nuclear power it found that it was impossible. At 30-40% of the supply there was no alternatives available. They are extending the licenses of the existing plants. The US has done a similar thing. Because new plants could not be built, licenses of existing plants have been reviewed and extended. Europe is coming back to nuclear.
What is the trend for smaller plants?
AREVA is developing a 1000 MW model and a smaller BWR model. The market demands robustly safe plants today.

What is the new facility in Virginia?
The Newport News plant will produce heavy components. It takes top-flight welding techniques to build these things and the work force there have them. The plant will open in 2014.

Are reactors planned for large commercial shipping vessels?
Not right now. If oil prices looked like they were going to permanently go up, shipping vessel reactors might be feasible.

What is the French waste experience?
Recycling reduces the high level waste by a factor of 5. The LLW at La Hague is really small. All sample results from stations around the plant are posted on the web for all to see. Recycling is not expensive. Less than 2% of the cost is due to recycling expense. AREVA is ready to build a recycling plant in the US under proper conditions. It would be a really large plant. The vitrification experience gained at Hanford will be helpful. Vitrification optimizes the final storage space. France is building a geologic repository east of Paris in a clay formation. It will open in 2020. It is designed such that waste can be retrieved for 50 years if it turns out there is a better way to handle it.

What does France do about proliferation possibilities?
France has not had any proliferation problems. If it can be done there it can be done here. When he was working with recycling his biggest worry was the transportation of material from the recycling plant to the MOX fabrication plant. It would have been better to have the plants next to each other.