Tag Archives: President Obama

Obama’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Nuclear Waste Fuels the Nuclear (Debate) Revival

On January 29, President Obama announced the formation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, a panel of policymakers, scholars, and industry representatives organized to “conduct a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle, including all alternatives for the storage, processing, and disposal of civilian and defense used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste.”

Despite the lofty and broad goals for the panel, as outlined by the Obama administration and the DOE, it seems that the panel is born from the outcry over the scuttling of Yucca Mountain. However, it also appears that the “comprehensive review” of disposal options is exclusive of Yucca Mountain, as panel member Pete Dominici, a former New Mexico senator, said of Yucca Mountain: “It’s like it doesn’t exist, so let’s get on with it.” Panel members expect to find options that they call “much more attractive” than Yucca Mountain.

Opposition to the panel is fronted by Sen. John McCain, a supporter of the Yucca Mountain project, who stated his concern regarding the usefulness of the commission’s recommendations if it does not consider Yucca Mountain. However, opposition to the panel focused on issues outside of Yucca Mountain as well. Critics cite the lack of panel members with technical backgrounds, as 11 of the 15 panel members fall into the policymaker or industry executive categories.

Support for the panel seems mostly conditional, with various organizations backing the formation of the panel while still opposing existing or new nuclear policy.

The White House memo ordering the DOE to form the panel also suggested that the panel’s “review should include an evaluation of advanced fuel cycle technologies that would optimize energy recovery, resource utilization, and the minimization of materials derived from nuclear activities in a manner consistent with U.S. nonproliferation goals,” which could be interpreted as a go-ahead for the panel to reopen serious discussion of reprocessing.

The motivations and usefulness of the panel can only be speculated for the next 18-24 months. It is equally difficult to say whether the “long overdue expansion of nuclear energy” will materialize, but it is clear that the recent developments in nuclear energy policy, including the formation of this panel, the increase in loan guarantees for new reactors, and the funding cuts for Yucca Mountain among others, have revived the debate over the role that nuclear power will play in America’s energy future.

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Carbon Sequestration : A U.S – China Collaboration for a Promising World Fate?

China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas producer, may have found the answer to dramatically decreasing their CO2 emissions: geologic carbon sequestration. This form of carbon storage captures CO2 from coal-burning power plants and other CO2 point sources that would have otherwise been emitted into the atmosphere and stores it deep within various geologic formations. Successful carbon sequestration within China would allow the country to continue cheap production and use of coal while addressing the overwhelming concerns of CO2 emissions. However, for a long while it was believed that China didn’t have the geologic means to store the carbon, and thus was not seriously considered as a viable option for reducing emissions. Fortunately, a recent study by the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has countered those beliefs, revealing that China has the capacity to store roughly 3,000 gigatons of CO2 in various onshore and offshore formations across the country, proving storage capabilities for at least a century [1]. Furthermore, the study showed that the potential reservoirs for carbon storage are all within a 100 mile range of 90% of the power plants and industrial facilities of China that are prominent CO2 emission sources. This fact will keep extensive CO2 transport infrastructure from being built, saving the total cost of the project substantially [1].

This research has put in place a first-ever clean energy collaboration between the U.S. and China, which has now expanded to an extensive effort “to create various institutions and programs addressing a wide array of cooperation on clean-energy technologies and capacity building” [2]. This expansive collaboration includes the establishment of the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, in which $150 million US dollars, provided by various public and private sectors, will be available to facilitate further research as mentioned above [2]. With the U.S. being the world’s second largest greenhouse emitter, this collaboration could mean great advances in the global reduction of CO2 emissions and a more promising clean energy future. Both President Jintao of China and President Obama are in agreement of the severity of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and are committed to taking the essential steps to mitigating the problem.

From this, I feel a sense of encouragement that this dire issue will be addressed in the diligent manner in which it deserves and I look forward to the next several years, as I fully agree with the statement of Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy, “What the U.S. and China do over the next decade will determine the fate of the world.” Let’s just hope that what is done is something good…

[1] http://energyenvironment.pnl.gov/news/pdf/us_china_pnnl_flier.pdf

[2] http://www.grist.org/article/2009-11-17-u.s.-and-china-announce-positive-cooperative-and-comprehensive-p/

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President Obama’s State of the Union: More Change than First Appears

From his Inaugural Speech Last January, to an address to a joint session of Congress 11 months ago, to the State of the Union this last week, President Obama has talked about energy. In three of his four most prominent speeches, the President has called for major energy infrastructure reform to strengthen the American economy and increase our global competitiveness.

However, the case for energy reform in earlier speeches was not as narrow as it was on Wednesday night. In his Inaugural address, the first mention of energy was not even tied to the economy; he said, “each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.” A month later, the President explained that “… to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy.”  In both these speeches, energy is not just an economic concern. It is also a national security issue, and a matter of environmental concern.

However, in the State of the Union, the connection between energy and the economy was stronger than ever. The President discussed energy at two points in the speech on Wednesday night: it appeared first in the section outlining the Jobs Bill, and shortly thereafter in the section on “fixing the problems that are hampering our [economic] growth.” National security and environmental justifications for reform were gone. At one point, the President even acknowledges that environmental concern is now beside the point: “I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here’s the thing — even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future — because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.”

The absence of the national security argument fit with the domestic policy-focus on the State of the Union address. However, the change in the energy sections of the speeches was not just rhetorical – there are also several major difference between the policies the President proposed last February and on Wednesday night.

In his February speech, which was filled with details about his budget and other specific policy goals for the coming year, the President asked Congress “to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.”

In contrast, in the State of the Union, the President mentioned not only renewable energy sources and clean coal, but also building “a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country… [and] making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.” As opposed to mentioning cap-and-trade, the President asks Congress to send him “a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.” This language gives Congress far less direction, and much more leeway, in passing an energy bill.

These addresses are not the work of a week; the State of the Union is written over the course of months and early drafts are reviewed by dozens of individuals throughout the government. The differences in language from year to year may appear slight, but the consequences can be tremendous. The energy bill the President described this last week most likely does not include cap-and-trade, includes heavy investment in nuclear power and considers expanding off-shore drilling. This new bill will be easier to pass through Congress, but is also a substantially different vision for expanding our domestic energy capacity. In the coming years, we will not only see how this vision continues to change, but how it becomes realized through policy.

Sources:
Remarks by the President in State of the Union Address
January 27, 2010
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-state-union-address

Address to Joint Session of Congress
February 24th, 2009
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-of-President-Barack-Obama-Address-to-Joint-Session-of-Congress

Inaugural Address
January 20, 2009
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/President_Barack_Obamas_Inaugural_Address

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