Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rejoining the nuclear age

WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 — In a bid to take the lead in the race to revive the nuclear power industry, an energy company will ask the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday for permission to build two reactors in Texas.

It is the first time since the 1970s and the accident at Three Mile Island that an American power company has sought permission to start work on a new reactor to add to the existing array of operable reactors, which now number 104.

The company, NRG Energy, based in Princeton, N.J., wants to be the first to pour concrete in the main section of the plant, allowing it to qualify for the maximum federal benefits, David Crane, its chief executive, said in a telephone interview.

NRG is applying under a new process intended to avoid the extensive delays and cost overruns in the last round of nuclear construction. In the 1970s and ’80s, more than 100 of the reactor projects were canceled, some abandoned in late stages of construction, mostly because they no longer made financial sense.

Revived interest in nuclear power, experts say, is being driven by a combination of strong growth in electric demand, high prices for natural gas and the potential for imposing higher costs on climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions, which would make coal use more expensive.

Some people anticipate that reactors will be made profitable by a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, but Mr. Crane said that was not needed. More important, he said, were “robust prices” for natural gas, the fuel for most of the plants built in the last few years.

Three other companies are likely to apply for licenses by the end of the year, according to industry experts. One of those, Constellation Energy, like NRG, has also ordered parts for its plant, planned for Calvert County, Md., and says it believes it has an advantage because its reactor will be precisely modeled on one now under construction in France.

God bless them and speed their plans to completion. It is a deeply shameful thing that the United States lags behind France [spit] in the use of nuclear power.

Perhaps that is the angle to take in overcoming the certain firestorm of protest from the moonbat left. After all they all love France - if it weren't for Cuba France would be their most favorite country in the world - so surely they can't object to America becoming more like France, can they?

I would also expect less trouble from the moonbat greens this time around. They have managed to work themselves up into such a state of hysteria over greenhouse gasses and global warming that nice clean nuclear power could start to look good to them.

The fact is that we ought not to waste fossil fuels to generate so much as one amp of electricity in this country. Hydroelectric and nuclear should be how we get our electric power and our motor fuel should be made from liquefied coal.

The United States government should announce a prize to be awarded to the first company or individual who can present a working prototype of a practical (meaning that the price has to be in line with what other cars cost at the time) automobile large enough to be used by a family of four (meaning that it has to be comparable to a Ford Taurus in size) that can go fast enough to be driven on the interstate highway system (meaning that it must be able to cruise at 75 mph for at least several hours) and be refueled as quickly and easily as pulling into a gas station for a tank of gas is today. The car must be designed to run on liquefied coal and it must get at least 100 miles per gallon.

This would not be a terribly difficult goal to meet. If the car were to incorporate the extensive use of composite materials (like Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner) and were to use a true hybrid engine it could very well achieve 150 mpg or even higher.

What is meant by a "true hybrid" engine. This would be basically the same concept as used by the railroad industry's diesel/electric locomotives where a diesel engine which is designed to run at one constant speed (so that its fuel economy is maximized) is used to power an electrical generator which in turn powers an electric motor with the surplus power being stored in batteries.

The prize should consist of an amount of money large enough to offset at least 85% of the R&D costs and a contract to supply all the government's automobiles for a period of 20 or 25 years. The winning company would be given what amounted to patent protection for 2 years after which they would have to freely share the technology with all other US auto companies and foreign auto companies who manufacture cars in America. Foreign companies who do not manufacture in America would have to pay a license fee if they wished to sell cars using the new technology in the US.

The advantages of using a prize rather than research grants are twofold. One is that if the project proves impractical the taxpayers are not out one cent. The other is that the grant system actually slows down research and development. Those receiving the grants have a large incentive to stretch out the R&D process as long as possible, reporting just enough progress to keep more grants coming. With the prize system the payoff only comes if you succeed and do it first. This creates incentives to work quickly and efficiently putting money only into areas which show genuine promise and abandoning those which do not.