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Ocean Power Technologies, whose power-generating test buoy is pictured here, has been forced to deploy its technology in New Zealand and Australia, due to an ocean power licensing bureaucratic mess here in the U.S.  (Source: Ocean Power Technologies)
Political bickering may hold up plans to deploy and test new wave power technologies to the U.S.

When it comes to alternative energy, President-elect Barack Obama and his team, as in other tech fields, is stating that the time for change is now.  As part of his team's program, which encompasses wind, solar, and examining clean nuclear options, the team is turning its sights to ocean power.

Countries like Britain and Portugal have already jumped on exploiting the vast amount of energy in the ocean.  Powered by the gravitational pull of the moon, the Earth's tides carry a vast amount of energy, almost entirely untapped by current generators.  While the challenge of deploying a device out at sea that can withstand the elements and deliver power to the main land is considerable, many companies have already tackled the problem with innovative designs.

According to New York-based Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit environmental advocacy organization, U.S. ocean power efforts, on the other hand, are stuck in a political mire.  The group met with President-elect Obama and his advisors to help them realize the nature of this problem.

In the U.S., two branches of government have been granted conflicting jurisdiction over the seas:  the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Minerals Management Service, part of the Department of the Interior.  The result has been a squabble over who's in charge of approving projects which has been unable to be resolved thus far.

The Minerals Management Service gained the power to issue licenses to alternative energy projects on the outer continental shelf, 3 to 200 miles off shore, with the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  That law, however, failed to eliminate the preexisting licensing authority granted to FERC.  Now both organizations claim they have the right to issue the license.

Thus far, both organizations have been unable to resolve the territory battle.  What has resulted is that funding for U.S. ocean-based alternative energy projects has dried up due to uncertainty about licensing.

The coalition pleading their case before President-elect Obama was composed of officials from local governments, utilities, environmental groups and ocean power companies, including Pennington, N.J.-based Ocean Power Technologies (OPTT).

If something is not done to clean up the mess, these groups say, the U.S. will lose its alternative energy lead to foreign competitors. Ocean Power Technologies is illustrating this as it is currently pulling some of its U.S. projects and has recently announced major projects in Australia and New Zealand.

The problem is among the toughest challenges to face the transition team, led by incoming Energy Secretary Steven Chu, currently a Professor of Physics and Molecular and Cellular Biology of University of California, Berkeley.

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RE: This just in
By Nihility on 12/26/2008 12:09:23 PM , Rating: 3
They're scared of bad press and a negative reaction from the superstitious and scientifically illiterate public.
It doesn't matter that coal actually kills a lot more people than nuclear power would if it were used instead of coal.
The famous disaster that happened in Russia was on an old graphite core which is no longer used. That core was combustible and during an experiment that required shutting off the cooling system (which was performed recklessly), it caught on fire and made a mess.
Assuming the same death toll from every such disaster, you would need one to occur every 3 weeks in order to equal the death toll from coal plants.

RE: This just in
By grath on 12/26/2008 1:48:44 PM , Rating: 5
They're scared of bad press and a negative reaction from the superstitious and scientifically illiterate public.

The problem really comes down to the media. They are the lens that shapes how the issue is perceived for both the policy makers and the public.

On the public side, they have failed to properly educate people about the technology as it exists in the modern world, instead leaving it to the body of "common knowledge" about nuclear power that was accumulated during the Cold War, from which many people have derived their current understanding and opinion of it, along with the unfortunate poster boys for the industry that are Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

That education, tainted by politics, Cold War propaganda and fear, extremism on all sides, and the medias tendency to focus on the negative, is the medias responsibility. They taught people poorly and they are the only ones in a position to fix it. It does not help that any report related to nuclear power doesnt fail to mention Chernobyl or how Congress doesnt want to let us bury nuclear waste in Nevada.

From the policy making side the understanding of the technology may be better, but its still a case of too many lawyers and not enough engineers, and the threat that the lens of the media represents is too imposing to make any meaningful progress unless the media is known to be on your side.

So before policy can change, the media needs not only be supportive, but have worked to reeducate the public enough that they will at least be less afraid of nuclear power if not supportive of it. That may sound like it borders on unethical manipulation of the media, and it indeed may, but that would certainly not be unprecedented, so the question becomes is the issue important enough? Obviously I think it is, and many would agree with me.

Emphasize the safety of nuclear power as it exists today rather than 30-60 years ago, tie it to the infrastructure and jobs programs, increased energy independence, call it a national priority, run some shows on PBS, Discovery, 60 Minutes, Larry King, O'Reilly, Oprah, etc. Then we might have a platform that a president can issue a directive from. Anything short of that kind of support and it probably wont happen.

RE: This just in
By Ringold on 12/26/2008 10:01:15 PM , Rating: 2
They're scared of bad press and a negative reaction from the superstitious and scientifically illiterate public.

Actually, I don't have a poll handy, but I'd imagine the average Joe would support nuclear if the issue were put to him. I do have polls I could link to that show huge public support for off-shore drilling; even though it's not a ton of oil in the grand scheme of things, every bit helps.

I blame the public for some things, but on energy policy, I think if it were put on a ballot and a snap referendum were put to the people (thereby giving advocacy groups no time to widely spread propaganda), the public would make wise choices. Unfortunately, the real problem stopping nuclear and everything else is environmental extremist groups, who often times come from outside a community to protest nuclear plants despite local support for the plant. They also put pressure on at the national level, and, of course, spread anti-nuclear FUD. The very first campaign commercials I saw in the Presidential race were "Friends of the Earth" (aka, Enemies of Humanity) attacking McCain for his ardent support of nuclear power.

If the public is to blame, it would be in so far as they vote for politicians who allow themselves to be influenced by special interest groups. Don't know what can be done about that; Western democracy has its flaws, but so does China's system. For example, if politicians were accountable, and carried out the will of the people and what was best for the country, Nancy Pelosi would've been ejected from her job as Speaker for holding up off shore drilling the way she did despite a flood of polls saying the public support it. No such accountability, though, because it was quickly forgotten, and people's party loyalty is a bit stronger than it should be.

RE: This just in
By Ringold on 12/26/2008 10:22:08 PM , Rating: 4
I went ahead and looked at polls.. the closer they got to the election, the worse they got for nuclear power as FUD against McCain's energy policies became more widely spread.


There is stable, long term support showing strong Republican support for nuclear as well as weaker but still majority Democrat support for nuclear power. Whether or not Democrats who support nuclear is still a silent majority or not I'm not sure.

In some other polls, where locals are asked to consider a new plant in their community, these much stronger (70%) results are common:

Nuclear also has a narrow edge in the UK:

That all supports my supposition that it isn't that the public doesn't support nuclear, but that small elements successfully hijack the political system and block it. The polls also seem to suggest to me that, with a little education on the issue, support could be shored up substantially.

This is also interesting..

"If people were adults in the '50s, they were supportive of nuclear power," said Mr. Cahill. "If they were adults in the '60s, '70s or '80s, they were opposed to nuclear power. I think people that grew up in the '90s and are growing up now into adulthood don't have the same sensitivities that we did—that my generation did—to the issue."

The old-guard Marxist veterans of the culture war losing ground on issues? I can toast to that one. The whole article gives me mild hope.

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