tv [untitled] CSPAN June 23, 2009 9:30am-10:00am EDT
you made as you described it earlier was right on. it opens up a whole lot of new things. instead of having to make, you know, the world's largest pressure vessel and the world's largest pump foraging stuff and have a tremendous problem of shipping these whole things -- you got to put them on barge guesbarges and canals and the problems we associate with nuclear go away. that type of problem goes away. of problem goes away. i think it is a very interesting thing. it is going to open up a lot of different new approaches to many of these problems. >> i have one last question. i want to go back over the nuclear waste produced fuel issued -- or the used fuel
issue. you are saying from an engineering point of view, it is safe to store the used fuel for a period of time. it can be stored on site? >> it can be stored anywhere. it has been stored on site for the last several decades. >> for how long could it be safely s >> one hundred years. but by that time we're going to be recycling it and utilities that are now so anxious to get it off their land are going to be beating each other to get us a valuable material back again. because it is a material that isn't a fishable. there are all sort of a rare earth and things like that. it's a tremendous resource. >> if we build 100 new nuclear power plants or if we begin to build smaller ones of 125 megawatts and have 400 new nuclear power plants, the question of safely storing the
used nuclear fuel on site is so far as you're concerned not an issue? >> you can go to two different places for the answer on that. if you go to the scientist whose job it is to come up with problems and who don't have any work to do if they can't find problems, you'll find that there are a lot of problems. but if you go out into the real world, who do you know that's ever been hurt by nuclear waste? where is there any instance where nuclear waste has hurt the environment? the very verlyn antinuclear activist jovanovic who wrote the carolus adam and electric wars and so forth, he said nuclear waste is no more dangerous than many types of industrial waste. so we've got a couple hundred, total if you go to the whole thing, about 6000 of these cast with the material in it. and you should get an osha sticker that says it do not eat
the ceramic because if you don't get it isn't going to hurt you. it sits there in that canon and there are a lot of things you shouldn't eat. that's just one of them. [laughter] >> thank you. thank you, doctor. senator wicker. >> every go. okay. it seems to me that if we could get the american public passed the safety issue, and then satisfy the numbers crunchers about the cost issue, then senator alexander's legislation might well be on its way to overwhelming passage. so let's talk about some more about safety. i guess when i was a young man, my generation was affected by the china syndrome, motion
picture, which may or may not have had any scientific basis in fact. and then follow along three mile island. and then there was chernobyl, and a member of our panel was just murmuring chernobyl under his breath. i think we need to get that out there. so talk about what can be done to make the american public feel good about the safety issue. and then if you can be specific about the nuclear waste. i hear what you're saying, doctor rockwell, but let's suppose worst-case scenario.
we get nuclear waste back behind the reactor in a green building. and what if some various person get dinner, breaks through all the security that we would have and gets hold of this nuclear waste. what damage could he do to the country, to the population? so if each one of you or even one wants to comment about that, i would appreciate it. >> well, i'll take a crack at it. that they did manage of nuclear power as a source of energy is that the waste problem is trivial. and we managed to turn this around to where we are willing to not build plants which then become coal-fired plants because nuclear has a waste problem. that's real irony. they have turned the whole thing around. they said nuclear waste state
toxic for thousands of years and that's an unprecedented problem here the difference between a radioactive toxin and a non-radioactive toxin is that the radioactive toxin is getting less toxic everyday, while the mercury, arsenic, lead, and all these other things maintain full toxicity forever. forever. so why is a disadvantage to have a toxin that gets less and less every day. people thought we are making all this radioactivity and we are following our nest, it's going to overwhelm us. the fact of the matter is that despite the fact that we are making more radioactivity everyday, that radioactivity of the earth is getting less every day. the natural decay of the radioactivity is getting less every day. we can't make radioactivity fast
enough to offset that natural decay. so when life first ewald, it evolved in a much more radioactive world than we now have. there is very good evidence that we would be better off biologically if we were getting more radioactivity, if we were getting more radiation, that radioactivity is, that radiation like almost everything else, in low quantities is beneficial, and i quantities it toxic. >> put a terrorist get into a modern-day, american or french nuclear power plant and cause a chernobyl like incident? >> no, sir. bloodstock chernobyl and then we will talk tmi. chernobyl has a graphite moderator, and this is something that none of our plans have. and a graphite burned for 10 days putting radioactivity directly into the stratosphere and all around the world.
that type of plant is just not physically possible in an american plant which doesn't have any graphite to burn. it's physically impossible. now, what tmi showed, tmi is the worst nuclear accident that we ever had. people talk about the tmi disaster and, you know, wouldn't it be awful if we had another tmi disaster. a life to the lovelorn column the other day that was talking about if one of the characters did something or another, it would have tmi like consequenc consequences. the consequences were zero in tmi. even the people that work in the plant were not hurt. and people were saying well, you had a detector here and you had a detector here, but what if a plume snake between those two detectors. they did a very interesting thing there. the early film badges that measured radioactivity were
photographic film. so somebody got the idea, let's go around to various stores that have film that was not exposed to light and the camera, and was there during tmi so it's exposed to whatever radiation hit that. you have an effect, you have real film badges scattered all over, anybody's home or store. and so they went and checked these for light. and there was no measurable amount of radioactivity, radiation. so these big problems that they come up with, what tmi proved was that what they did was actually instigate the china syndrome. they did enough mistakes that they got molten fuel, 10 to 20 tons of molten fuel flopped down onto the floor of the reactor vessel and started its way to china. you know how far i got to china? five eights of 1 inch, because
my company went in there and screw examples out of the bottom of the reactor vessel and that's how far. it didn't even penetrate the glad, let alone the reactor vessel itself. so tmi showed the china syndrome is a myth, and is a safety demonstration. you know, if tmi can't hurt anybody, you know, it's pretty good proof as i say, the worst that can happen is that the fuel melts. you know, the other thing about tmi is what everybody is quick to point out the difference between tmi and chernobyl was that tmi had a containment, had a containment vessel around and chernobyl didn't. and this sort of implies that inside the container vessel was a chernobyl anxious to get out. the fact of the matter is inside that containment was water and steam and air in a tremendous
churning process. and the most serious thing you were worried about was the first iodine, both very, very water-soluble, and it turned out that you could bust the reactor containment system wide open and the water steam combination was taking all of those voluble things that you are worried about and reducing them about 100,000 fold. so that if the containment were busted wide open, it still would not have made a measurable difference. this is all described in a paper that i got 19 members of the national academy of engineering to write in science magazine, which they then put another two more anonymous reviewers. i don't even know who they were. and the mainstream science paper, there it is, and nobody
has refuted at. >> when was that paper written? >> september of 2001. there's a copy of it out there on the desk. >> thank you very much. mr. lieberman, you are an organization dealing with public policy. how do we give the public a comfort level that there really isn't a safety issue? >> i'm not sure that the public is all that they shun usher the public public is all that far away right now. i think if you do the polling on this issue, i do think that the public isn't that far. now again, we have to point to the things that doctor rockwell is talking about, the tremendous safety record here. and also have to move away from yucca mountain being this competitive. we got to finish yucca mountain. we already spent enough to open it up but there is no reason to wait for yucca mountain. one thing i would mention about waste management.
the backing of the fuel cycle is the one part that is not in the private sectors and is in the governments hands. and go incidentally are not, it's the one part where we see the most problem. we have an alternative proposal that would essentially put responsibility for ultimate storage of the waste in the hands of those companies that produced the energy in the first place. we feel they would come up with practical solutions. of course, subject to government safety oversight, but that would be the way to solve things rather than waiting eternally for yucca bound to eventually open. >> mr. chairman, i have another line of questioning, but you may want to jump in and take a few moments. i will take another turn. >> you. yeah, now i've lost my train of thought. i was just waiting for you to finish. >> and you thought i never would.
>> no, i just got wrapped up in mr. lieberman's comment. you go ahead. it will come to me and then i will interrupt you. >> i would say, sir, that the question how do you get the publics opinion around, the public has never been a problem on this thing. the real problem is the darned industry itself who keeps badmouthing their product. they keep saying well, we may be wanting to build another plant but of course we got to make it safer and of course we got to come up with some sort of an answer to the waste problem. you know, you don't hear that sort of stuff from the competitors of nuclear. i don't know why guys have got themselves in that thing, but i know i've heard congressmen say to scientists you guys are going to have to make the case. we can't make the case for your. you've got to extend -- >> i'm about to join in with the senator bennett on the issue of
yucca mountain, and you, doctor rockwell. >> i just remembered what i wanted to say and it was triggered by one of your comments. i think we should insert it in your. you asked a question for which we didn't get a definitive answer. if a terrorist were to break in to an american plant, could he get a hold of something that could then be used as a terrorist weapon? >> it's my understanding that the answer to that question is no. a terrorist could not, in any plant, get his hands on anything. and even if terrorists got his hands on weapons grade plutonium, which is the ultimate product, the preprocessing there is in france, he would need the resources of a nationstate to turn that weapons grade atoning into a bomb. is that correct? >> yes, sir. cynic just to clarify.
the plutonium that results from the reprocessing and france is not classified as weapons grade. >> okay. >> but that's the reason we don't reprocess it is because jimmy carter said the consequence would be weapons grade plutonium, so the americans are not going to reprocessed. and thereby, he forced the overseas and everybody else was way ahead of us on a technology we developed. >> sir, i would definitely agree that that was the public face of it much in the same way that three mile island was the public face of the demise of the new build in this country. but if you go back and look at the other factors that went into it, you had several attempts to build commercial reprocessing facilities at the time. frankly, the nrc for perhaps good reason to change the rules on them in midstream. by the way, you have to go back and reconfigure.
that added precipitously to the cost. simultaneously, the overall economics began to fall out of the bottom, as we saw new plans go by the wayside. and it came to a point where just frankly was not, given that time, especially with ridiculously high interest rates that make today pale in comparison, it was not economical to build such a facility. it was, franca, it was a decision by industry and, yes, from a public policy standpoint actually president ford did it during the campaign and followed it up by president carter when he was inoculated, took it off officially. president reagan came back three years later and said okay, have at it. but the economics have changed. >> by then it was too late. >> so it really comes down to price. >> i still blame jimmy carter. [laughter] >> thank you, senator. >> the other problem that seems
to stem is the economics and so what are we going to have to do to make sure that the senator alexander's bill is actually implemented once enacted, how much is it going to cost, what are we going to have to do to the permitting and regulatory process, and are we going to have to an act some litigation shortcuts so that even with the agencies get on board even when we have the money available. it's not tied up for decades in court. >> senator, i think maybe the best way to describe the economics is on sort of a relative basis. there is this notion of what's called a level lies cost of generation, which in english means the total amount of money you spent over the total amount of electricity that you produced. whatever that number is, it's
usually in cents per kilowatt hour, dollar per megawatt hour to give away to compare whether or not this was cheap or expensive as a fuel source. and what you are really talking but here it is you are talking about different aspects of this. there is the financing costs which themselves are a function of the interest rate you get. if you're not deemed credit worthy, you can get a loan guarantee. you're paying top dollar for the money you are borrowing. your generation cost is going to reflect a very big chunk of financing cost. by contrast, if you have a long delay, even if you have low interest rates, your overall financing costs are also going to be quite high because you want to realize any revenue in the timeframe you would have realized without a delay. finally, there's the overall question of what the capital costs are themselves. there's a lot of unknowns here because if you don't have recent data point on what it costs to build a plant in this country with the labor force that we have today, you don't know. there's a lot of speculation and a lot of estimating s. been
going on. but what is clear is that in the middle of her recession when factory costs and everything have fallen, land, labor imager, those dollars are going down. as an opportunist may look on sort of a capital, dollar to capital bases, pulverized coal might be 2000 or 2200 bucks a kilowatt. by contrast nuclear power might seem 4500 or 5000 per kilowatt. that's down from some estimates before, and over that lifetime, generation of electricity you are kilowatt hour of generation could technically be cheaper, much cheaper potentially as fuel costs go up a lot for the other sources. >> again, we've got to compare the theoretical and the real world. senator alexander pointed out in his little speech at oak ridge that the attorney general of connecticut at one point was
complaining that the nuclear power guys were making so much profit that they often put extra windfall tax on them. that they now i'm just looking at finland. finland is complaining and they were to the finnishmac government here, the fact that the lower price and in particular the fact that the nuclear plants don't have to fool with a carbon trading cost and all of this means, and they don't have the uncertainties that other people have, and all of this means that they are making unfair, unearned income because it's become so profitable, and the french whom we share that situation, it is becoming so profitable that they ought to turn, you know, back to the government. sweden is doing a similar thing. norway is doing it.
belgium, they are asking, the government is asking the nuclear operators to pay a 250 million euro contribution to the state government because they are making so much money off of nuclear. so this whole question about nuclear being too expensive, i think you want to look at the real answers there. >> i would like to make a couple points to that. one, comparing the united states market economy to command-and-control socialized economies isn't exactly a fair apples to apples comparison. when france made a decision they were faced with the same circumstances that we were both the oil embargo. they decided they did not want to be dependent on foreign energy oil more than we did. we have supplies of coal and natural gas. we went down that road. they had not. they went down the nuclear route. frankly, when you have a completely integrated government owned and government regulated industry, utility, it's easy to make those long term decisions and stick with them. were as much as mr. booktalk
about earlier, we, allow our consumers to make a choice and we didn't and purge. we go from cheaper to more expensive. yes, it's a very good point that the per kilowatt hour amortized over the lifetime of the plant for nuclear power is about as cheap as anything. that brings up a very good point that it doesn't get talked about a lot if while we are focusing on a new bill this is important but especially in a climate world, i think one of the greatest policies that we can look into is whether or not we can extend the life of the plants we have right now. people talk about efficiency being low hanging fruit, but frankly, you're right. those existing reactors are cash cows because they have already been, the capital cost have been amortized out, the fuel price, uranium are significantly cheaper than other fuel sources. so the overall overhead for the production is relatively cheap. obviously it is producing a zero emissions. so if there's a way, if it is
scientifically feasible and the department of energy are looking into this right now, can probably use a little more help from the appropriators appear, if there's a way to extend, to be able to offer an additional life extension from 60 to 80 or so we don't have to take those plants off-line content of 15 years from now, because that would be a big hole we have to did ourselves out of as far as overall electricity production as well as carbon impact. that to me is the lowest hanging fruit of all. by the up front cost for nuclear power, unquestionably, are probably the most expensive ad of any power source. it's important to take into account because these firms, these are private entities in this country unlike the european countries we are talking about. they have to come up with a way to finance a plant on the order of five to $10 billion to most of these utilities are capitalized on average of about $30 billion. that's a huge chunk of the overall worth. it would be negligent of any
board to go all in in one technology and suck up your entire balance sheet just overnight. so that's why i argued as to my testimony, the loan guarantees are crucial. and as some of you who are much smarter than i am on the financing pointed out, it really comes down to the cost of capital. that's what level lives, equally as the overall metric for utility. if you're having to pay literally 30% more to borrow money as you don't have a loan guarantee versus if you do you're probably not going to make the decision to build. plain and simple. the merchant utilities and irregular states have pretty much said that. unless they get a loan guarantee they are not building. you're going to see some reactors they respected of anything else because you have states that allow the utility to build and/or rate. at that point they are guaranteed a return. they don't have to worry about being able to pass onto the consumer because it's guaranteed in the law or through a regulatory body. but it we want to see the
expansion to the tune of 100 new reactors, we're going to have to ensure that that applies to more than just a handful who can finance it through their states. we have to be able to ensure that the merchant facilities or the merchant utilities also have the capacity through loan guarantees. and that's i think the single greatest policy going right now and support that we see the cap expanded and some of the other bells and whistles evened up. >> thank you all very much. we have reached the witching hour. let me ask you to quick questions for which i think can be answered yes or no. the first one is the cap and trade regime a good idea? mr. lieberman.
[inaudible] >> mr. rockwell. [inaudible] >> okay. >> i would say from energy security perspective, probably not. >> mr. both. >> markets only work if you let them behave like markets. >> all right. going to the point that mr. guith may, let's assume that the government produces cap and trade and it produces a significant amount of income to the government, would it make sense for the income to be dedicated to the building of nuclear plants? mr. lieberman? [inaudible] >> you can't get past the know for cap and trade in the first instance, and mr. rockwell will give you a pass on that question again. >> my advice in that area is it's not worth it. >> i would say that there's a myriad of places for it to go. i think frankly we need to allow
the markets to operate and allow the utilities to make the appropriate choice and self. >> i think that money belongs in a technology agnostic guaranty program for whatever innovative technology gets it to secure clean energy. i think that nuclear might rise to the top of the list right now given what we've got, and it should win on its own merits. >> if you put it in a loan guarantee program and everybody makes the right decision as to what they do with the money they get, then it doesn't go out to anybody. might even be used to reduce the national debt. that's not a bad idea either. >> could i make one quick point? i think it's very interesting, and a lot of people don't know it. 50% of the electricity being produced today by nuclear power plants is coming from uranium that was taken from russian warheads. 50%. 14000 russian warheads. i've been told, that's just
coming out of the banks that the weapons are made. no, it's actually coming from dismantled russian warheads that were aimed at u.s. cities. and they are now producing 50% of the nuclear power. that's pretty wonderful. >> i keep telling my constituents that, and they get upset about another issue that i will not go into. thank you all. it's been very useful and we appreciate your time and your expertise. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> a look at the u.s. capitol here where both the house and senate will gather for official business today. the senate is about to gavel in