Wednesday, January 31, 2024

E&E News: Biden admin poised to aid [Palisades] nuclear plant with massive loan

Biden admin poised to aid nuclear plant with massive loan

By Brian Dabbs
01/31/2024 01:29 PM EST

The owner of a shuttered nuclear plant in Michigan is signaling a massive loan could come soon from the Department of
Energy, a move that would mark the latest attempt by the Biden administration to bolster the struggling nuclear sector in the

Holtec International — the owner of the Palisades nuclear plant southwest of Grand Rapids — is “hopeful” it will “hear a
favorable decision in the near future” on the DOE loan, a spokesperson for the company, Nick Culp, told E&E News on

“We are very optimistic about the federal loan process and confident in the strength of our application,” Culp said. “The
unified effort to bring Palisades back online will return 800 megawatts of safe, reliable and carbon-free baseload generation
back to our electric grid — ensuring Michigan and the country meet climate goals while boosting around-the-clock reliability
for families and businesses.”

On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that Holtec is poised to get a $1.5 billion loan to reopen the shuttered plant on the shores of
Lake Michigan from the DOE Loan Programs Office (LPO), an arm of the department with hundreds of billions of dollars in
authority. A spokesperson for the LPO declined to comment.

The potential loan comes in the wake of a for the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California.$1.1 billion DOE bailout
The bailout program, authorized in the bipartisan infrastructure law of 2021, is designed to provide grants to unprofitable
nuclear plants. A recent round of bailout offerings . Many energy experts expected Holtec to apply for theyielded no takers

Speaking to E&E News last week, CEO Kris Singh said the Palisades plant is a boon to U.S. clean energy.

“Right now, clean energy is in short supply. Companies want to switch. The consumers want to switch,” he said in an
interview. “The state government, local community, the Department of Energy, and finally the [Nuclear Regulatory Commission],
which has the last word, in our meetings have not shown any reluctance to restart the plant, if we are able to show to them that all
the safety metrics are preserved.”

Nuclear critics say the plant is a threat to the local community.

"The problem with a DOE loan guarantee, at least for taxpayers, is that it is interest-free, and risk-free. Holtec need not pay it
back, leaving taxpayers holding the bag,” Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear, said in an email.

“But the extreme risks to health, safety, security, and the environment of restarting this severely age-degraded zombie reactor
could prove much more costly to those living downwind, downstream, up the food chain, and down the generations."

The LPO has more than $400 billion in lending authority after a. Among its morebig injection in the Inflation Reduction Act
controversial loans, the office is lending $3 billion to Sunnova Energy for a . Nationwide virtual power plant project
month, DOE also extended a loan to LongPath Technologies for that company's efforts to monitor methane emissions at
production sites in the U.S. West

Republicans on Capitol Hill have repeatedly targeted the LPO. Last week, House Republicans LPO threatened to subpoena
Director Jigar Shah.

Nuclear energy, which does not directly produce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, currently provides about a tenth
of global electricity. The fuel provided on the grid in 2022.18 percent of U.S. electricity

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is currently to boost next-generation nuclear production. collaborating to advance legislation
On Tuesday, Holtec as part of a criminal investigation into state tax credits the agreed to pay New Jersey $5 million
sought in 2018.

Reporter Zachary Bright contributed.

Toledo Blade article on Perry Nuclear Plant oral argument

Efforts are underway to block Perry nuclear plant's license extension

Tom Henry
The Blade

Jan 31, 2024
7:00 AM

A three-judge panel took testimony on Tuesday related to Energy Harbor’s request to get the operating license of its Perry nuclear plant east of Cleveland extended another 20 years.

The Perry nuclear plant and the Davis-Besse nuclear plant east of Toledo are Ohio’s two nuclear plants.

Both are owned and operated by Energy Harbor, both are along the Lake Erie shoreline, and both are in the process of being transferred to Texas-based Vistra Corp.

Davis-Besse went online April 22, 1977. Its operating license was extended to April 22, 2037 in 2015.

Perry went online Nov. 13, 1986. Its operating license is currently scheduled to expire on Nov. 7, 2026.

Energy Harbor is now trying to get Perry’s license extended another 20 years.

Judges hearing the case are part of an independent panel created by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.

They weren’t hearing the actual challenge on Tuesday, but whether there is enough evidence to convene a more in-depth hearing in the future.

One of the contentions raised by opponents of the relicensing plan, Ohio Nuclear Free Network and Takoma Park, Md.-based Beyond Nuclear, centered around viable options that would be available if Perry’s license was not extended.

Four years after Davis-Besse’s license was renewed, the region’s 13-state grid operator, PJM Interconnection, said in a report to an Ohio legislative committee that it believed there would be enough electricity produced from other sources to make up for the shortage if the previous owner, FirstEnergy Solutions, had gone through with its plan to shutter those two plants and the twin-reactor Beaver Valley complex in western Pennsylvania in 2020. 

That was the original plan, announced and filed with the NRC, because of economic issues. Nuclear plants have had trouble competing against lower-priced sources of energy production, such as natural gas, solar, and wind energy.

Terry Lodge, a Toledo attorney representing the two opposition groups, told judges that the report is a key finding now that the Perry plant is up for its license extension. One of the questions raised during relicensing hearings is based on alternative options to continued nuclear power production.

Energy Harbor dismissed the viability of other sources as unreasonable, stating that nuclear power is too important to the baseload component.

Mr. Lodge, in his argument, accused Energy Harbor of “ducking under the regulation” by just stating in a report to the ASLB panel there are not enough viable alternatives without supporting that with evidence.

“We are not quibbling over a need for power. We’re quibbling over whether there is adequate disclosure,” Mr. Lodge told the judges. “There’s no analysis whatsoever.”

He said the 2019 PJM report claiming there are enough other sources of power in the 13-state region should be enough to merit a full hearing.

Ryan Lighty, a Washington-based partner in the Morgan Lewis law firm representing Energy Harbor, said Mr. Lodge is basing his claim on “an isolated comment at a state legislative hearing five years ago.”

“We certainly believe the baseload capability [of the Perry nuclear plant] is the area that introduces some uncertainty into the analysis,” Mr. Lighty said.

Reuben Siegman, an NRC staff attorney, said the regulatory agency was not taking a position on that debate.

PJM’s testimony came when Ohio lawmakers were considering passage of what has now become known as scandal-ridden House Bill 6, the $1 billion, 2019 bailout legislation for the two nuclear plants that federal prosecutors have shown was the result of a $61 million bribery scheme involving former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder.

Evelyn Robinson, PJM manager of state governmental affairs, testified before Ohio’s House Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight in September of 2020 when lawmakers were considering a repeal of House Bill 6.

PJM’s Evelyn Robinson Testifies Before Ohio Legislators | PJM Inside Lines

PJM issued a report in 2019 at the request of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. PJM. The grid operator claimed there could have been a $1.6 billion savings across the grid operator's 13-state region by 2023 if reactors at the Davis-Besse, Perry, Three Mile Island, and Beaver Valley nuclear complexes had continued on their paths toward early closures.

That's because PJM gets enough power from other sources that it is always at least 15 percent above capacity, and usually 20 percent or more. The surplus of electricity is meant to keep this part of the country from experiencing the type of rolling blackouts that California has experienced, Ms. Robinson said at the time.

Controversial Camden-based nuclear parts maker to pay $5M fine: Holtec International avoids criminal prosecution related to false documents


Holtec International avoids criminal prosecution related to false documents

June 18, 2019: A Holtec International facility in Camden
Credit: (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
June 18, 2019: A Holtec International facility in Camden

Holtec International, the Camden firm behind controversial nuclear power projects in New Jersey and four other states, has agreed to pay a $5 million penalty to avoid criminal prosecution connected to a state tax break scheme.

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin announced Tuesday that  Holtec has been stripped of $1 million awarded by the state in 2018 under the Angel Investor Tax Break Program. Holtec will also submit to independent monitoring by the state for three years regarding any application for further state benefits, Platkin said.

The agreement, which also covers a real estate company owned by Holtec founder and CEO Krishna Singh, came after a lengthy criminal investigation that discovered Holtec had submitted false information to the state in seeking the Angel tax breaks.

Holtec’s use of misinformation for private gain, as detailed by the state attorney general, closely parallels allegations that have followed the company for years as it sought public subsidies to finance international ambitions in the nuclear field.

“Today, we are sending a clear message,” Platkin said. “No matter how big and powerful you are, if you lie to the state for financial gain, we will hold you accountable — period.”

Denies wrongdoing

Holtec, in a statement, denied any wrongdoing and called the non-prosecution agreement a “settlement” that would prevent years of costly litigation.
“This resolution allows Holtec and its over 500 employees in New Jersey to continue their important work on the forefront of the green-energy revolution in America and beyond,’’ according to the statement.

Patrick O’Brien, a company spokesman, declined to discuss details of the criminal investigation and did not comment when asked if the agreement with New Jersey was part of a pattern of ethical issues that continue to dog the company as it expands into decommissioning and the construction of advanced nuclear reactors.

Previously fined
In 2010, the Tennessee Valley Authority fined Holtec $2 million and ordered company executives to take ethics training after a bribery investigation involving Singh’s dealings with a key subcontractor.

The TVA also banned Holtec from federal work for 60 days, the first ever such debarment in the agency’s history.

In 2023, Holtec’s former chief financial officer filed a federal lawsuit claiming that he had been fired after refusing to sign off on false financial information the company was allegedly sending to potential investors. Kevin O’Rourke alleges that Holtec intentionally sought to inflate revenue projections and hide millions in expected losses.

‘This is a company that continues to face questions about its actions and transparency.’ — New Mexico state Sen. Jeff Steinborn

Those allegations, which Holtec has denied, include the company’s effort to mask $750 million in potential losses for its controversial proposal to build a consolidated nuclear waste storage facility in southeast New Mexico. That project, which was approved by federal regulators last year, faces a federal court challenge lodged by private groups and New Mexico state officials, who say Holtec lied about key information on its applications to build the storage facility.

The alleged false information, New Mexico officials say, included Holtec’s representation that it had obtained property rights from mine owners and oil drillers who are active near the 1,000-acre plot of desert land where Holtec would eventually place up to 10,000 spent nuclear fuel canisters with some 120,000 metric tons of radioactive waste.

New Mexico lawsuit

New Mexico Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, who is suing in federal court to stop the Holtec plan, told NJ Spotlight News in an earlier interview that Holtec’s “false claims” could have profound potential impact on her state. There are more than 50 oil, gas and mineral wells within a 10-mile radius of Holtec’s site, she said, and the potential for underground contamination is real.

Credit: (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

New Mexico Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, who is suing in federal court to stop Holtec’s plan to build a consolidated nuclear waste storage facility in southeast New Mexico

“I understand we need to find a [nuclear waste] storage solution, but not in the middle of an active oil field, not from a company that is misrepresenting facts,” Garcia Richard said in an earlier statement.

New Mexico state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, whose law to ban the facility is now part of that federal lawsuit, told NJ Spotlight News that questions about Holtec’s character should be a deep concern for the public. Holtec, he pointed out, plans to transport dangerous spent fuel from retired power reactors across the nation to the site.
“This is a company that continues to face questions about its actions and transparency,” Steinborn said in an interview with NJ Spotlight News. “Do we really want to trust this company with the nation’s spent nuclear fuel?”

So-called dry casks manufactured by the company have long been used at nuclear reactor sites from New Jersey to California to store spent fuel that was initially segregated in water-filled fuel pools.

Decommissioning operations

Over the past half-decade, Holtec has moved aggressively forward from its manufacturing roots to take ownership of closed nuclear plants that are in the process of being retired. The company runs decommissioning operations at the retired Oyster Creek generating station along Barnegat Bay at Lacey Township, and three other sites, including New York’s Indian Point and the Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts.

The company has informally discussed starting up some of the new reactors at Oyster Creek and the Palisades site in Michigan, and is also pursuing plans to bring the next-gen nukes to Ukraine, Great Britain and other countries overseas.

Holtec now controls billions in public money that was set aside by utility users in each state for the safe decommissioning of nuclear reactors, a process that regulators have estimated could take 60 years for most reactors. Holtec, instead, has claimed it could dismantle the old plants and restore the land for public use in a fraction of that time.

Despite approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, public interest groups worry that Holtec, a private limited liability company, may drain the decommissioning trust funds and go bankrupt in its effort to complete expedited closure of some of America’s oldest nuclear plants.

Legal settlements elsewhere

Attorneys general in Massachusetts and New York were so worried that taxpayers could be left high and dry, they filed lawsuit pointing out multiple inconsistencies in Holtec’s plans. Both states have won legal settlements designed to stop Holtec from depleting the trust funds.

In addition to controlling the public trust funds, Holtec has also received or applied for billions in taxpayer subsidies and federal grants and loans. Some of those subsidies would help the firm finance its proposed storage dump in the New Mexico desert, as well as construction of a new generation of so-called SMRs, or small modular reactors.

"The company has informally discussed starting up some of the new reactors at Oyster Creek and the Palisades site in Michigan, and is also pursuing plans to bring the next-gen nukes to Ukraine, Great Britain and other countries overseas."

Credit: (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File) Holtec runs decommissioning operations at the retired Oyster Creek generating station along Barnegat Bay at Lacey Township, and three other sites, including New York’s Indian Point and the Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts.

No such small nuclear reactor has ever been brought online in the U.S., as they face significant costs and regulatory hurdles despite the support  of some policymakers who argue that nuclear power can help reduce atmospheric carbon. A plan to build SMRs in Idaho collapsed last year after its cost more than doubled, to $9 billion.
It is unclear how the fine and criminal investigation announced Tuesday by New Jersey might affect Holtec’s plans to develop a new fleet of reactors.

The NJ case

According to the attorney general’s office, Holtec’s false tax break application concerned its partnership with a battery manufacturing firm named Eos Energy Storage. Holtec had planned on using Eos to help develop SMR technology at a manufacturing plant in western Pennsylvania.

Holtec and Singh Real Estate, a subsidiary owned by the company’s owner, invested $12 million in Eos in exchange for six million shares in the company. Holtec, however, manipulated its tax break application to hide information about the investment and double its tax award from $500,000 to $1 million, according to the attorney general.

Credit: (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Krishna Singh, center, the founder, president and CEO of Holtec International, pictured in July 2014

Investors in EOS have brought a class-action lawsuit against the battery manufacturer, citing unspecified financial fraud. Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed by the firm show Singh was briefly a member of the company’s board of directors before resigning.

“We have entered the battery industry to provide the means to store large quantities of electrical energy from nuclear, solar and other renewable energy generation facilities and deliver power to the user on demand.,” Singh said in a Sept. 2019 press release. “The availability of a suitably sized battery-powered energy storage plant will make our SMR-160 reactor even more valuable.”

O’Brien, the Holtec spokesman, said Singh made “a personal decision based on business interests” to cut ties with Eos and said plans to develop small reactors are on schedule. He said he knew no further details about Eos’s issues with investors.

‘Unfounded retaliatory criminal prosecution’

In his statement, O’Brien accused New Jersey of engaging in “unfounded retaliatory criminal prosecution” and payback for closing an earlier legal attempt to rescind  $260 million in state tax credits awarded to Holtec in 2014. The state sued to delete that tax award after discovering that Holtec had apparently concealed its 2010 debarment from the Tennessee Valley Authority.

State courts ruled in favor of Holtec after finding that the state regulators who administer the tax break program failed to perform adequate due diligence on applicants with spotty ethical backgrounds.

Public interest groups and nuclear safety experts who continue to oppose Holtec’s plans around the country, however, say the New Jersey fine is another warning sign. They said federal regulators, including the Department of Energy, must redouble scrutiny before awarding more public subsidies to the company.

“Clearly, Holtec lies habitually for fraudulent financial gain,” said Kevin Kamps, a radioactive waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear, a leading watchdog group that is suing to stop Holtec’s New Mexico plan, as well as efforts to collect billions in subsidies to restart the retired Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan.

“The State of Michigan, and U.S. Department of Energy, must… not hand over hundreds of millions of dollars in state, and multiple billions of dollars in federal, taxpayer money for Holtec’s unprecedented, extremely high-risk zombie reactor restart scheme at Palisades.”

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Biden DOE to give Holtec $1.5 billion to restart Palisades zombie reactor

Ari Natter
·2 min read

(Bloomberg) -- The Biden administration is poised to lend $1.5 billion for what what would be the first restart of a shuttered US nuclear reactor, the latest sign of strengthening federal government support for the atomic industry.

Most Read from Bloomberg

The funding, which is set to get conditional backing from the US Energy Department, will be offered as soon as next month to closely held Holtec International Corp. to restart its Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan, according to people familiar with the matter.

Holtec has said a restart of the reactor is contingent on a federal loan. Without such support, the company has said it would decommission the site.

The financing comes as the Biden administration prioritizes maintaining the nation’s fleet of nuclear plants to help meet its ambitious climate goals — including a plan to decarbonize the electricity grid by 2035. More than a dozen reactors have closed since 2013 amid competition from cheaper power from natural gas and renewables, and the Energy Department has warned that as many of half of the nation’s nuclear reactors are at risk of closing due to economic factors.

A spokeswoman for the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office declined to comment, citing business confidentiality.

Nick Culp, a Holtec spokesman, said the company was “very optimistic” about the Energy Department loan process.

“This is a historic opportunity for the country and Michigan,” Culp said. “As we transition away from fossil fuels, nuclear is going to be a critical part of not only reaching our climate goals but doing so in a way that ensures the lights stay on.”

Holtec acquired the 800-megawatt power plant in 2022 after Entergy Corp. closed it due to financial reasons, but began pushing forward with plans to restart after pleas from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

The Juniper, Florida-based company’s plans for a restart got a boost after Wolverine Power Cooperative, a local power company, agreed to buy as much as two-thirds of the plant’s output starting as soon as late 2025, though additional hurdles, including sign off from federal nuclear regulators, remains.

The funding would be backed by a loan guarantee program designed to revitalize old energy plants that was created in President Joe Biden’s climate law. If successful, Palisades would be the first nuclear reactor financed by the Biden administration.

(Updates with background in third paragraph.)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

Peach Bottom - SCRAM - Turbine Trip

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Operations Center

01/29/2024 - 01/30/2024


Power Reactor
Event Number: 56936
Facility: Peach Bottom
Region: 1     State: PA
Unit: [2] [] []
RX Type: [2] GE-4,[3] GE-4
NRC Notified By: Eli Digon
HQ OPS Officer: Natalie Starfish
Notification Date: 01/29/2024
Notification Time: 13:32 [ET]
Event Date: 01/29/2024
Event Time: 12:02 [EST]
Last Update Date: 01/30/2024Emergency Class: Non Emergency
10 CFR Section:
50.72(b)(2)(iv)(B) - RPS Actuation - Critical
50.72(b)(3)(iv)(A) - Valid Specif Sys ActuationPerson (Organization):
Dentel, Glenn (R1DO)
Power Reactor Unit Info
UnitSCRAM CodeRX CritInitial PWRInitial RX ModeCurrent PWRCurrent RX Mode
2A/RY100Power Operation0Hot Shutdown

​​​​​​​Event Text

The following information was provided by the licensee via email:
"At approximately 1202 EDT on 01/29/24, unit 2 experienced a reactor scram caused by a main turbine trip. Investigation is still ongoing."

The following additional information was obtained from the licensee in accordance with Headquarters Operations Officers Report Guidance:
All control rods were fully inserted. The licensee indicated that the turbine trip may have been caused by a power load imbalance, however the cause of the incident is under investigation. The scram was not complex.

Decay heat is currently being removed thru bypass valves dumping to the Main Condenser. Initially unit 2 lost the use of the bypass valves due to lack of condenser vacuum. Unit 2 used the high pressure coolant injection (HPCI) system in the condenser storage tank (CST) to CST mode to remove decay heat. Residual heat removal was used to keep the torus cool. Condenser vacuum was regained and unit 2 is back to removing decay heat with the turbine bypass valves.

There was no impact to unit 3.

The licensee confirmed there was no impact on the health and safety of the public or plant personnel. The NRC Resident Inspector has been notified.
The following information was provided by the licensee via email;
Licensee adds 8-hour non-emergency 10 CFR 50.72(b)(3)(iv)(A) Specified System Actuation report to original 4-hour non-emergency 10 CFR 50.72(b)(2)(iv)(B) RPS Actuation report.
"At approximately 1202 EDT on 01/29/24, unit 2 experienced a reactor scram by a main turbine trip. All control rods inserted. Reactor core isolation cooling system (RCIC) was manually initiated for level control. HPCI was manually initiated for pressure control. Passive core injection system (PCIS) Group II and III isolations occurred (Specified System Actuation). Investigation is ongoing."

The NRC Resident Inspector has been notified.

NRC to Hold a Regulatory Conference with Empire Wireline on Feb. 20 to Discuss a Proposed Violation

Nuclear Regulatory Commission - News Release
No: IV-24-006 January 30, 2024
CONTACT: Victor Dricks, 817-200-1128

NRC to Hold a Regulatory Conference with Empire Wireline on Feb. 20 to Discuss a Proposed Violation

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a regulatory conference on Feb. 20 with officials from Empire Wireline, of Manvel, Texas, to discuss the safety significance of a proposed violation.

The company is licensed to use radioactive materials in well-logging activities to identify mineral, oil, or gas deposits in Louisiana and Texas, except for areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction.

The proposed violation, identified in a December 2023 inspection report, involves the company’s failure to file for reciprocity with the NRC prior to working in areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction in 2019 and 2020. The company, which is licensed by the states of Texas and Louisiana, should have filed with the NRC before conducting activities at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve sites at Bryan Mound and Big Hill in Texas and West Hackberry in Louisiana.

The enforcement conference will be held at the NRC’s Region IV Office at 1600 East Lamar Blvd., Arlington, Texas, beginning at 12 p.m. Central time.

Company representatives will have the opportunity to provide their perspective or additional information, including any actions planned or completed to prevent recurrence of the issues, before the agency makes its final enforcement decision.

The meeting notice has information detailing how the public can participate in the meeting by phone or online. Members of the public will have an opportunity to ask questions of the NRC staff or provide comments about the issues discussed following the business portion of the meeting; however, the NRC staff is not soliciting comments pertaining to regulatory decisions.

No decisions on the final safety significance or any potential NRC actions regarding the proposed violations will be made at the meeting.




Friday, January 26, 2024

NRC nominee's demise stokes fears about nuclear oversight

NRC nominee’s demise stokes fears about nuclear oversight
By Nico Portuondo | 01/23/2024 06:25 AM EST

Jeff Baran.

Then-Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Jeff Baran testifies before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Capitol Hill on May 10, 2023. Francs Chung/POLITICO

The White House’s decision not to renominate a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission member has some worried that the agency may be ill prepared to live up to its high safety standards.

The White House gave up on the nomination of Jeff Baran, a longtime commissioner whose term ended last June, because of bipartisan opposition in the Senate, a person familiar with the situation told E&E News on condition of anonymity.

Every Republican senator would have opposed the nomination, and some others like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), who caucuses with Democrats, also refused to promise their support. HuffPost was first to report the development.

While many industry backers cheered the White House’s decision, other advocates point to Baran as a strong voice on the commission and argued that he enacted tough but reasonable standards during his eight-year tenure on the panel. He was also key in the agency’s environmental justice work.

“Baran was a champion of environmental justice who also understood that nuclear energy can be an important tool to address climate change and air pollution, and the withdrawal of his nomination is a loss,” said Jackie Toth, deputy director of the Good Energy Collective, a pro-nuclear group.

The Senate sent back several nominees at the end of the year because they didn’t get up or down votes. The White House swiftly renominated many of them — but remained silent on Baran.

Toth raised concerns about the immediate future of the regulatory agency, which will soon have another slot to fill with Chair Christopher Hanson. His term ends June 30.

“We urge President [Joe] Biden to renominate Chris Hanson and another Democratic nominee as soon as possible and for the Senate to prioritize their confirmations, so that the NRC can return to a full complement of five commissioners as it makes key decisions about the regulation of nuclear reactors and materials going forward,” she said.

The agency is scheduled to soon decide on critical nuclear regulatory moves like the upcoming Part 53 rulemaking, which will govern how future advanced reactors are regulated.

Edwin Lyman, director of Nuclear Power Safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Baran was rightly dedicated to the agency’s safety mission and that he was eventually pushed out because he didn’t coddle to nuclear industry interests.

“The nuclear industry’s disgraceful torpedoing of Jeff Baran’s reappointment to the NRC is a great loss for the agency and for public health,” Lyman said.

“He was a tireless advocate for maintaining robust standards in the face of a massive industry campaign to weaken the NRC’s rules for nuclear safety, security and environmental protection.”

Republicans, led by Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), have consistently attacked Baran’s voting record as a microcosm of why the NRC has long been viewed as too heavy-handed to allow nuclear energy to become a bigger part of the country’s energy mix.

Democrats are also behind legislative measures to streamline regulations at the NRC and overhaul licensing procedures for future reactors.

The Breakthrough Institute — an environmental think tank that advocates for nuclear — said the development represented a “watershed moment” in nuclear politics.

“[Baran] very clearly has been an obstructionist in the growth of the nuclear industry,” said Ted Nordhaus, the group’s executive director and founder.

“It shows Congress has realized the NRC should account for and value the benefits of nuclear, including public health and environmental outcomes.”

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Greenwire piece on nuclear legislation

Is this the year for bipartisan action on advanced nuclear?
House and Senate negotiators are trying to come up with a compromise package to ease regulations on advanced reactors. Pitfalls abound.

Avatar of Nico Portuondo

 Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).
Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), lead sponsor of bipartisan nuclear legislation, at the Capitol this week.Francis Chung/POLITICO

E&E DAILY | Last year was a big disappointment for backers of nuclear energy, but lawmakers now think 2024 could be their best chance to deliver transformative regulatory overhaul legislation to the president's desk.

That's because bipartisan leaders in the House and Senate are doing something rare these days: working together across chambers.

Policy staffers on the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Environment and Public Works committees are in active discussions to come up with a compromise package between their respective nuclear energy bills: the "Atomic Energy Advancement Act," H.R. 6544, and the "Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy (ADVANCE) Act of 2023," S. 1111.

The bills are designed to encourage and augment the new build-out of the next generation of nuclear reactors, known as advanced reactors.

"A lot of the same elements that are in our nuclear package are in the House package," said Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "So we're in active discussions, trying to see what package we could put together that would go forward."

Indeed, both bills would accomplish similar goals to limit the regulatory burden on new and existing nuclear plants through streamlining of environmental regulations and incentives to make licensing less expensive. In some cases, provisions in the two bills would enact the exact same policies.

The technology could use some good news. Last year, one of the Biden administration’s flagship advanced nuclear projects from NuScale Power was scrapped due to budget and timeline concerns, raising questions over whether advanced reactors will ever play a large role in the power sector.

Nuclear boosters on Capitol Hill are undeterred.

"We're having good, bipartisan conversations at the member level and at the staff level," said Tom Carper, chair of EPW and leader of the "ADVANCE Act" alongside Capito. "There's more than a little bit of common ground ... and I'm encouraged."

Pro-nuclear lawmakers have long had reason to be encouraged. Both Democrats and Republicans have overwhelmingly voted in favor of nuclear energy in recent months, and the Biden administration made a commitment at COP28 to help triple world nuclear capacity by 2050.

The bills have also attracted wide, bipartisan support. Climate hawks Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) are supporters of the Senate bill, as is Energy and Natural Resources ranking member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

Moreover, key proponents from both parties will be leaving Congress after this year and will be seeking to cement their legacies.

That being said, bipartisan momentum for nuclear regulatory reform hasn't so far resulted in major legislation getting to the president's desk, and lawmakers will once again fight against the current political climate in the hopes of finally getting something done.

"An election year always makes policy more difficult, but we have more overlapping interests than ever before," said Capito. "Therein lies the key, we have to light a fire and get the urgency going."

Big differences remain

The first step in getting a nuclear package through Congress is for House and Senate lawmakers to hammer out differences between the two packages.

In general, the House's "Atomic Energy Advancement Act" has broader provisions than the Senate package.

For example, the House bill would expand the Price-Anderson Act — a pivotal law that shields nuclear reactors from full financial liability in the case of an accident — for 40 years compared to the Senate bill's 20.

The House legislation also asks the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to take a close look at how it implements the National Environmental Policy Act in regard to the reactors it regulates. Any changes to NEPA has been a sore sport for Democrats in the House and Senate.

Right now, staff members in Energy and Commerce and in Environment and Public Works are negotiating on a very "preliminary basis" over these policy differences, according to a House Energy and Commerce aide.

But Energy, Climate and Grid Security Subcommittee Chair Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and ranking member Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) — House sponsors of the "Atomic Energy Advancement Act" — are hopeful to quickly move to a regular order process after their bill passes the House floor.

They're even dreaming of a formal conference process between the two chambers, something uncommon in today's political world.

"Maybe we get a conference on the [Senate] bill with our bill," Duncan said. "Get something that's really transformational for this nation."

Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.).

Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) at the Capitol last year. | Mariam Zuhaib/AP

'It probably will need a vehicle'

Outside of the difficulty of passing bills during an election year, lawmakers will also have to deal with a House that has struggled to pass anything of substance.

That's a reality of any legislative effort in this Congress, which has to navigate a razor-thin House Republican majority and constant drama around the decisions of Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.). Big, bipartisan bills — minus spending deals — have been a rarity.

Duncan and DeGette are hopeful to get a floor vote on the "Atomic Energy Advancement Act" — which has only passed through committee — in the spring or summer, after they deal with jurisdictional issues with other committees like Foreign Affairs.

Even though Carper and Capito are open to going through regular order, the environment is not favorable for convening a formal conference and passing a compromise bill individually through the House and Senate.

"It probably will need a vehicle," Capito said. "We want to put it in the best place to get all the way across the finish line."

Critical bills for nuclear, like the Energy Act of 2020 and last year's Nuclear Fuel Security Act, have passed by being included in larger, must-pass legislative vehicles like omnibus spending packages and the annual defense policy bill.

The process in this scenario would entail coming up with a compromise package through informal negotiations between the committees and then attaching it to some upcoming bill to get it through both floors.

But using such a strategy may provoke significant resistance from House lawmakers, who have been adamant to work only through regular order.

Last year, House lawmakers removed the "ADVANCE Act" from the National Defense Authorization Act because of such procedural concerns.

"I'm more of a single-subject type guy for legislation," said Duncan. "I've always had a lot of heartburn with [attaching bills onto vehicles]."

With Duncan and Carper both retiring from Congress this year, it's possible that both see passing a compromise nuclear regulatory reform as a legacy item.

That might be enough to get regular order concerns out of the way and give the bill its best shot at being passed through Congress sometime this year.

"I know how this place operates. I'm not going to buck if that's what it comes down to," Duncan said.

This story also appears in Energywire.

NRC Seeks Public Comment on Scope of Environmental Review for Diablo Canyon License Renewal Application

Nuclear Regulatory Commission - News Release
No: 24-007 January 24, 2024
CONTACT: Scott Burnell, 301-415-8200

NRC Seeks Public Comment on Scope of Environmental Review for Diablo Canyon License Renewal Application

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold two scoping meetings in February to discuss the environmental evaluation and review process for the license renewal application of the two-unit Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in Avila Beach, California.

Plant operator Pacific Gas & Electric filed the application in November 2023, requesting to renew the licenses for an additional 20 years of operation. Diablo Canyon’s operating licenses expire in November 2024 for Unit 1, and in August 2025 for Unit 2.

The NRC staff will conduct a virtual meeting from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Pacific time on Feb. 1.

The second meeting, which will be in-person only, will be held from 6-9 p.m. Pacific time on Feb. 8 at the Embassy Suites San Luis Obispo, 333 Madonna Rd. in San Luis Obispo, California. Before the meeting, the staff will hold an “open house” from 5-6 p.m. Pacific time for informal discussions and to answer questions from members of the public. Individuals seeking accommodations or special equipment to attend, or who plan to provide comments, should contact Kim Conway by Jan. 31 through email at or by phone at 301-415-1335.

At both meetings, the staff will seek the public’s input in identifying potentially significant issues that the staff should address in its environmental review of the plant’s application.

A Federal Register notice details the following methods for submitting written comments: Filing on the federal rulemaking website,, under Docket ID “NRC-2023-0192”; emailing to; or mailing to Office of Administration, Mail Stop TWFN-7-A60M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C. 20555-0001, ATTN: Program Management, Announcements and Editing Staff. Comments are due by Feb. 23.

A copy of the Diablo Canyon license renewal application is available for public review at the San Luis Obispo Library, 995 Palm St. in San Luis Obispo. More information about the plant’s application also is available on the NRC website.

Fwd: Solar farms and native grasses create pollinator havens and boost biodiversity, study funds | RenewEconomy

Solar farms and native grasses create pollinator havens and boost biodiversity, study funds


Image: Argonne National Laboratory/Lee Walston. An Argonne scientist surveys for pollinators at a utility-scale solar facility.

Putting solar farms on agricultural land can not only create hubs for insect biodiversity but also help to mitigate the rising conflict of land use change, new research says.

The five-year, US-based study found planting native grasses and flowers under solar panels helps insect populations to massively improve – by up to 20 times in the case of native bee populations. 

Researchers from the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory planted native grasses and flowers at Enel Green Power North America’s Atwater and Eastwood solar farms, in southern Minnesota.

From 2018 to 2022, researchers conducted 358 observational surveys at the two sites to map flowering vegetation and insect communities.

“The effort to obtain these data was considerable, returning to each site four times per summer to record pollinator counts,” said Heidi Hartmann, manager of the land resources and energy policy program in Argonne’s Environmental Sciences division, and one of the co-authors of the study, published in Environmental Research

​“Over time we saw the numbers and types of flowering plants increase as the habitat matured. Measuring the corresponding positive impact for pollinators was very gratifying.”

The results show that insect abundance tripled and diversity rose by 150 per cent. 

The team saw increases in the abundance and diversity of native insect pollinators and agriculturally beneficial insects such as honeybees, native bees, wasps, hornets, hoverflies, other flies, moths, butterflies and beetles.

These insects were also seen on neighbouring soy beans farms.

“This research highlights the relatively rapid insect community responses to habitat restoration at solar energy sites,” said Argonne landscape ecologist and environmental scientist Lee Walston.

“It demonstrates that, if properly sited, habitat-friendly solar energy can be a feasible way to safeguard insect populations and can improve the pollination services in adjacent agricultural fields.”

Even bees have got to eat

Global insect biodiversity has been in decline due to habitat loss, pesticides and climate change but pairing restoration efforts with renewable energy developments could help reverse the course.

Sites with the biggest solar-pollinator habitat potential are likely to be those that have been ecologically compromised, such as marginal farmland, former industrial or mine lands, and other disturbed sites.

But even on lush farmland, the research suggests that well-sited solar farms can play a big role in protecting and conserving biodiversity and pollinator habitats and mitigate land-use conflicts associated with the conversion of farmland for solar energy production. 

In Australia, that conflict is well entrenched with complaints against new solar farms often including the fear that more prime agricultural land is being removed in the name of energy production. 

But the swift and sudden embrace of agrisolar, where animals share paddocks with solar panels, is creating a new way for farmers keen on solar to fend off complaints from that direction.

By adding pollinator habitats to the concept of agrivoltaics – an essential service in a country where bees are trucked around rural areas to pollinate major crops from mango through to avocado, blueberry, macadamia and almond – improves a site’s land use efficiency and ecosystem services output, the US study says.

“The United States has lost over 12 million acres of agricultural land since 2015, increasing the pressure on the remaining agricultural lands for food production,” the study notes.

“Solar energy development may contribute to further declines in farmland, as approximately 80 per cent of future ground-mounted solar energy development could occur on agricultural lands.

“Rather than exacerbate the effects of these land use tradeoffs, these effects can be alleviated through the proper siting of solar energy developments and pairing with solar-pollinator habitat or other agrivoltaic dual land uses.”

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Senate Backlash Forces Biden To Drop Nuclear Regulator Nominee | HuffPost Latest News

Biden Drops Nuclear Regulator Nominee After Senate Backlash
The White House won't renominate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission pick on whom the Senate previously refused to hold a vote, HuffPost has learned.
Alexander C. Kaufman
Jan 22, 2024, 02:05 PM EST

The Byron Nuclear Generating Stations running at full capacity in Byron, Illinois.

The Byron Nuclear Generating Stations running at full capacity in Byron, Illinois.

President Joe Biden is dropping his pick to fill the open seat on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after a handful of Democrats joined Senate Republicans to block the nomination last year, HuffPost has learned.

Jeff Baran had held a seat on the five-person federal panel overseeing atomic energy and radiation safety since former President Barack Obama first named to the position in 2014. The Democratic commissioner easily won Senate approval when former President Donald Trump renominated him in 2018.

But pro-nuclear advocates angry over what they saw as Baran’s unwillingness to overhaul the regulatory process in favor of building new types of reactor technologies launched a campaign against the commissioner last year. With Republicans opposed to the nomination, the Biden administration needed almost every Democrat in the Senate to vote for Baran ― or leave the NRC without a tie-breaker for party-line votes between the four current commissioners.

Jeff Baran in Washington on April 2, 2019.
Jeff Baran in Washington on April 2, 2019.

The White House had wanted the Senate’s narrow Democratic majority to reconfirm Baran before his term ended last July. But as many as four senators on the Democratic side, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), either planned to come out against Baran or refused to pledge their votes, according to a source with knowledge of the process. Neither senator’s office immediately responded to emails requesting comment on Monday.

When the Senate ended 2023 last month without a vote, the nomination automatically went back to the White House.

The NRC directed HuffPost’s questions about when the administration would name its nominee for the open commission seat to the White House, which did not respond to a request for comment.

But three sources with knowledge of the plans confirmed to HuffPost that the Biden administration does not plan to nominate Baran again. Two spoke to HuffPost on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. The third claimed Baran’s loss as a victory.

“We killed this nomination,” said Ted Nordhaus, executive director of the Breakthrough Institute, a California-based climate think tank that advocates for more nuclear energy.

He was among the most vocal opponents of Baran’s nomination, and helped drum up votes against the Democratic commissioner. Nordhaus had cast Baran as a holdover from an earlier era of liberal regulators who saw their job primarily as safeguarding the public against the atomic energy industry.

“It is my job to focus on nuclear safety and security,” Baran said in 2017 at his reconfirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee. “It is not my job to weigh in on the pros and cons of the merits of nuclear power.”

That view, Nordhaus said, was common among Democrats for decades. But a modern outlook on nuclear safety has to consider not only the threats of using atomic energy, but the risks that not doing so increases pollution from fossil fuels that damages lungs and traps heat in the planet’s atmosphere.

“Everyone went into this just assuming everybody would line up behind Baran, that this is just the kind of guy Democrats put on the commission,” Nordhaus said.

“The fact that enough Democratic senators were willing to say we’re not going to vote for this guy,” he added, “it’s pretty clear that for the first time in maybe ever a bunch of Democrats now recognize that we need reform at the NRC, that something has to change, that the technology can’t succeed if the NRC continues to approach this in the way it historically has.”

But Baran had defenders. The progressive pro-nuclear group Good Energy Collective previously told HuffPost Baran had a strong record of fighting for environmental justice and building relationships with communities saddled with radioactive pollution from the past.