Yearly Archives: 2011

Young People and Nuclear Power

By Meredith Angwin

What questions do young people have about nuclear power? Recently, Howard Shaffer and I had two opportunities to hear their questions for ourselves.

University students:  Our first interaction with students and their questions was at the University of Vermont (UVM), where we attended the showing of a film about nuclear power. The film was quite negative about the subject. However, not all the people in the room really cared that much about energy, as far as we could tell. Some students got extra credit for watching the film. The room held about 80 people and was filled to overflowing.

High school students: Our second interaction with students was a presentation at a charter high school in Massachusetts. The entire senior class at the high school is doing a cross-disciplinary project on the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and energy. The class is small, about 40 students, and we spoke with them for about two hours. Both the assistant principal and the physics teacher also attended our talk. The students had already visited Vermont Yankee’s simulator facility, where they met plant operators and learned about running a power plant. Vermont Yankee staff told us  that they had been impressed with how thoughtful and knowledgeable the students were. At the end of the cross-disciplinary project, each student will write a position paper on whether or not nuclear power should continue to be used.

So, we met two diverse groups of students: One attending college, with no particular knowledge of nuclear energy, and one in high school, with quite a bit of knowledge of how a nuclear plant works. What were their questions? What questions were the same? How did they differ?

Below are my impressions.

The college questions

You can see a more complete list of college questions and answers at Howard Shaffer’s post at the ANS Nuclear Cafe:  Transparent Radiation, A Film

Some of the questions at the college were more position statements than questions. For example, I consider the question: “Why has no nuclear plant ever been denied a license extension?” to be a position statement against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as a regulator, not an effort to find out about nuclear energy.

There were also questions about reactor fuel being made into weapons, the lawsuit involving Vermont Yankee, and the vulnerability of the Mark I reactor’s containment. These questions were a mixture of position statements and real questions, but mostly position statements.

We did get real questions, however. Disposal of used fuel was a big issue. People showed some confusion about what a half-life meant. Interestingly, we received questions on what were problems (externalities) caused by other methods of power generation. In the comment stream on my first blog-post about the film, you can see that the film-makers did not want to encourage comparisons with other types of power generation, except renewables such as tide power. Nevertheless, students asked the question: “If not nuclear, then what?”

The high school questions

Most of the student questions at the high school were addressed to Howard Shaffer, as a nuclear engineer.

The student questions were far more knowledgeable than those at UVM. This was to be expected, since the high school students were in the middle of a cross-disciplinary study unit on nuclear power. Most of the questions fell into two groups:

  • Questions about the future of nuclear power and jobs in nuclear power.
  • Questions about managing nuclear waste.

Some questions were very heartening—from young people interested in the future of nuclear power and considering a career in that field. Learning about nuclear power leads some people to an interest in working in the field!

Other questions were quite challenging. Instead of the agenda-driven questions at UVM (“weapons from nuclear power”), Howard and I were asked good questions at the high school. We were nailed to the wall if our answers were not complete enough! One young woman wanted a complete explanation of how vitrifying nuclear waste works. This sequence started with a question to Howard about handling the waste, and then, with follow-up questions, we were off and running with separation, fission product half-lives, and vitrification. She wanted to know what benefit that glass (i.e., vitrification) gave for spent fuel safety. Her questions were challenging and honest. She was not making position statements.

When all is said and done, I think that some of the high school students will write anti-nuclear position papers, but some will write pro-nuclear papers, and some will want to work in the industry. In my opinion, that is a good outcome. Visiting that class was a wonderful experience.

Implications for nuclear education

Howard and I will be going to more schools. It is very heartening to see education about nuclear subjects done well, as they were at the charter school. It is disheartening to see education done with an agenda, as it was at UVM. One problem with agendas is that people don’t need to learn many facts, as long as they have the agenda in place! But the contrast in knowledge levels between the two venues was quite striking. The high school students knew a great deal and the college students knew very little.

I think that we nuclear advocates sometimes assume that if nuclear energy issues are taught well, the advantages of nuclear will be clear to everyone. That is too optimistic. There will still be people who don’t like the idea of fission making their electricity. With a reasonable level of education, however, there will be fewer people disliking nuclear, and more people interested in working in nuclear science and nuclear power plants.

In short, education about nuclear energy is a winning strategy for the industry.


I would also like to reference two recent blog resources for high school nuclear education: National Nuclear Science Week – This Time, Next Month! at Atomic Power Review,  and  Resources for Nuclear Education in High Schools at Yes Vermont Yankee.



Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents.
Angwin serves as a commissioner in the Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.


84th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The 84th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is up  Atomic Power Review

Four Calling Birds: Photo: J. Matlock

This post is the collective voice of blogs with legendary names which emerge each week to tell the story of nuclear energy.

If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is where to find it.

Past editions have been hosted at Next Big Future. Yes Vermont Yankee, NuclearGreen, NEI Nuclear Notes, Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, Idaho Samizdat, and CoolHandNuke, as well as several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

The publication of the Carnival each week is part of a commitment by the leading pro-nuclear bloggers in North America that we will speak with a collective voice on the issue of the value of nuclear energy. While we each have our own point of view, we agree that the promise of peaceful uses of the atom remains viable in our own time and for the future.

If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog, and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brian Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support. Please post a Tweet, a Facebook entry, or a link on your Web site or blog to support the carnival.

# # #

The Wait for the License

by A. Priori

(With no apologies to Clement C. Moore, Henry Livingston, or the thousands who have already parodied the original)


‘Twas the wait for the license,
When all through the site,
Not a module was fitted,
No matter how light.

Work orders were logged
On the systems and boards
For the moment when workers
Would show up in hordes.

The owners and contractors
Eagerly waited
To pour some concrete
That is safety-related.

And I in my trailer,
Hearing no bosses’ words,
Had flipped out my smart phone
To play Angry Birds.

But just as a pig
Was approaching my aim,
A message intruded.
(And ruined the game!)

Got my feet off the desk,
As deft as a whale.
I opened the laptop
And scanned the e-mail.

Deleting the spam
And a virus-emergent,
I opened the one
That the sender marked URGENT.

Attached was a photo,
So I clicked, and then stopped,
Because when I saw it
My jaw nearly dropped:

My boss, and some N.R.C.
Folks I know well,
Grinning and gripping
Our plant’s C.O.L.!

I burst from the trailer
And, filling my lungs,
I guess that I must have been
Speaking in tongues:

“Engineering! Procurement!
Construction!” (Deliria?)
“Inspections! Tests! Analyses!
Acceptance Criteria!

“The paperwork’s done!
We’ve secured our careers!
We’re building!  We’re building!
For the next several years!”

I was incoherent,
But still the word spread,
So it didn’t matter
Just what I had said.

The e-mails and texts
Carried word far and wide,
From break rooms to cigarette
ghettoes outside.

A multitude scrambled
In hallways and lanes,
They pulled on their hardhats
And climbed into cranes.

The resident inspectors?
They also had heard.
They peered at our quality,
But it was assured.

As activity spread,
My heart took a hop:
Could anything happen
To make it all stop?

With the state and the locals
We have good relations;
Our reactor’s design
Has certifications;

The hearings are over,
They aren’t worth a mention;
The licensing board dismissed
Every contention.

The federal courts
Saw our case with abandon:
They found our opponents
Had no leg to stand on.

The supply chain’s intact.
All the workers are clever.
If we couldn’t do this,
Could anyone, ever?

To all our good fortune
I tried to adjust—
When up drove a limo,
With a new coat of dust.

Our CEO stepped out,
With a minion or three,
Presenting a sheet cake
and roaring with glee:

“Everyone gather round!
Let’s all celebrate.
Reactor construction
Will STILL have to wait!

“The nuclear renaissance
Starts here and now.
Create it with vigor—
But first, have some chow.”

We ate and we partied,
And I, an old fogey,
Was on my third plate,
and decidedly logy,

When the boss and his crew
Got back into their ride.
He waved, and his smile
Was just ever so wide.

But he yelled, as the limousine
Turned with a jerk:
“Happy license to all!
And now get back to work!”


A. Priori

Nuclear News
Senior Editor Blake
Shows us his alter ego
(Wow, what a mistake.)

A. Priori’s a poet?
The truth we won’t soften:
He’s been hitting the egg nog
A little too often.


NRC grants design certification to Westinghouse AP1000™

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted unanimously on December 22 in favor of publishing the final certification rule for Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor design, instructing the agency’s staff to forward the final rule, which amends Appendix D of 10 CFR Part 52, for publication in the Federal Register, expected by January 5.

The commissioners also approved a measure—based on edits proposed by Commissioner George Apostolakis—for the rule to go into effect upon publication so that applicants for combined construction and operating licenses (COL) that have been waiting for certification of the reactor design can receive their COLs as soon as the rule appears in the FR, and once there are favorable votes by the commissioners on those applications. The COL applications for Southern Nuclear Operating Company’s Vogtle-3 and -4 and SCANA/Santee Cooper’s Summer-2 and -3 have gone through all NRC reviews and are awaiting the commissioners’ votes.

For more information, please see the Westinghouse Electric Company multimedia press release. Detailed coverage will appear in the February 2012 edition of Nuclear News.

GE-Hitachi proposes to burn U.K. plutonium stockpile

An advanced reactor could be used to consume 112 tonnes of weapons grade material

By Dan Yurman

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy has proposed to the U.K. government to build an advanced nuclear reactor that would consume the country’s stockpile of surplus plutonium.

The technology is called PRISM, which stands for Power Reactor Innovative Small Module. If accepted, it would be very different than the other proposals to process plutonium, including those that would turn it into mixed oxide fuel (MOX).

According to GE Hitachi, the PRISM reactor disposes of a great majority of the plutonium as opposed to simply reusing it over again. This process takes it out of circulation forever.

PRISM cutaway (Source: GE Hitachi)

Fuel for the PRISM reactor is created by converting the plutonium from powder form mixing it with uranium and zirconium to make a metal fuel. The resulting spent fuel contains plutonium in a form that cannot be used to make nuclear weapons.

Eric Loewen, chief engineer on the project (and president of the American Nuclear Society), said that the waste form is much the same as what comes out of light water reactors. Once the plutonium has been in the PRISM reactor for five years, it is mixed with other nuclear materials that make it nearly impossible to retrieve the metal for the purpose of making a weapon.

The PRISM reactor is a so-called “fast reactor” because it uses liquid metal sodium rather than water to cool the system. The sodium allows the neutrons to maintain higher energies and to cause fission in elements such as plutonium more efficiently than light water reactors.  (large image)

Heritage of EBR-II

Based on the design of the Integral Fast Reactor (EBR-II) developed at the Argonne National Laboratory in Idaho, the PRISM reactor uses passive safety features that cause it to shut down automatically. In the event of a complete loss of electrical power, it simply stops working and passively dissipates residual heat. EBR-II was canceled in 1994, but not before a safety analysis showed that there were no technical barriers to getting a license and safely operating one.

The Argonne National Laboratory as it appeared in the 1990s when work was stopped on EBR-II.

According to a fact sheet from GE Hitachi, the PRISM reactor’s relatively small size and simpler design would allow it to be built in modules and transported for assembly on site. Another benefit of the reactor is that while it is disposing of weapons materials, it is also generating electricity.

According to the proposal, there would be two PRISM reactors each generating 300 MW of electrical power. It would take about five years to burn through the 112 tonnes of material. The reactors could be used for up to 60 years.

The UK government had considered building a MOX plant at the Sellafield site where the plutonium is stored, but it canceled those plans as the Japanese government stopped orders for MOX following the Fukushima earthquake.

Total life-cycle costs

GE Hitachi contends that the PRISM reactor will cost less to build than a new MOX plant. It is costing the U.K. government £2 billion (about $3.1 billion) a year to maintain the plutonium inventory.

In the United States, the government is building a MOX plan that will process 34 short tons of plutonium, turning it into the equivalent of 1,700 PWR MOX fuel assemblies for light water reactors at a cost of $4.5 billion.

MOX fuel burnup process. (Image: World Nuclear News)

If an assumption is made that the delivered cost of the PRISM reactor is $4,500/Kw, then 600 MW of power would cost $2.7 billion or about the cost of one year of storing the plutonium in its current form.

Additional costs would include a fuel fabrication facility, the fuel itself, and spent fuel disposal. Life-cycle costs would have to be taken into account to get a true comparison.

The U.K. government hasn’t said what it thinks of the GE Hitachi proposal, but it has talked about what it needs to know to make a decision.

Feasibility and safety issues

In addition to financial feasibility, U.K. energy minister Charles Hendry told parliament that the government needs to know the work can be done safely and securely. He said U.K.’s Department of Energy & Climate Change would examine the PRISM proposal. He also said that the government is considering converting 28 tonnes of foreign-owned plutonium at the Sellafield site into MOX.

GE Hitachi VP Danny Roderick

GE Hitachi vice president Danny Roderick told financial wire services that while the government is looking at the plutonium as a security risk, his firm sees it as an asset that can be burned to make electricity.

The plutonium was created as a result of nuclear spent fuel reprocessing, which took place at the Sellafield site starting in the 1950s.

In October 2010, GE Hitachi signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site to investigate the feasibility of constructing a prototype of the PRISM reactor there.

Coincidentally, the proposal to use the technology from EBR-II comes almost 60 years to the week that electricity was first generated on the Idaho desert in its predecessor EPR-I.

At 1:23 p.m. on December 20, 1951, Argonne National Laboratory director Walter Zinn scribbled into his log book, “Electricity flows from atomic energy. Rough estimate indicates 45 kw.” At that moment, scientists from Argonne and the National Reactor Testing Station watched four light bulbs glow, powered by the world’s first nuclear reactor.



Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.


Jaczko fiasco in Congress

By Jim Hopf

Seems to be the season of controversy in Washington concerning nuclear issues and energy issues in general. First we had the whole Solyndra affair (discussed in my Nov. 28 post), and now we have an unprecedented—and highly politicized situation—concerning the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


On October 13, the four NRC commissioners wrote a letter to White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, voicing “grave concerns” about NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko. They stated that his actions and behavior are damaging the NRC as an institution and creating a work environment that does not promote the independence and scientific objectivity that is essential to being an effective regulator. It should be noted that two of the four commissioners are Democratic appointees, and two are Republican appointees.

Charges against Jaczko

Specific issues raised by the four commissioners, in the letter to Daley and in congressional testimony, include:

  • Jaczko has ignored the will of his fellow commissioners on several issues and has treated them with disrespect.
  • Jaczko has attempted to designate significant issues as “administrative” matters (over which the chairman has control) as opposed to “policy” matters (on which the other commissioners also have authority).
  • Jaczko inappropriately exercised emergency authority in the wake of the Fukushima event, which gave him more decision making power with respect to the NRC’s response to the event.
  • Jaczko has engaged in abusive and bullying behavior toward NRC staff.
  • Jaczko has suppressed independence and scientific objectivity among NRC staff, essentially telling them that the objective is to advance his agenda as opposed to conducting independent assessments, and that “wrong answers” would have consequence.
  • Jaczko has been abusive and intimidating toward female NRC staff.

As a backdrop to the specific issues raised above, there have been some disagreements between Jaczko and the other commissioners.

Fukushima Daiichi during the event

One issue concerns the response (such as plant improvements) that the NRC will recommend or require for U.S. nuclear plants, in response to the Fukushima event. The primary disagreement is not over what the requirements will be, but over the length of time that will be allowed for the NRC to develop and promulgate the requirements, and how much time the plants will have to implement them. The other commissioners believe that the NRC should take more time to “get it right”, whereas the chairman believes that the situation is urgent, and that the requirements should be instituted much more quickly.

Yucca Mountain's north crest

Another issue concerns the Yucca Mountain repository, and how Jaczko essentially terminated the review/licensing process, using the administrative powers of his position, just before NRC staff was about to rule on whether or not the repository met all the technical requirements. This was done despite the fact that there was not a majority commission vote, which was necessary to overrule the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board’s decision that the Department of Energy and the NRC did not have the authority to terminate the licensing process.

Given the history of Jaczko’s (political) appointment, many believe that his actions with respect to Yucca Mountain are one example of a political agenda taking priority over scientific and technical merits.

Political reactions

The political reaction to these events has been swift, and surprisingly partisan given the bipartisan background of the four commissioners.


House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Darrell Issa ( R., Calif.) stated that Jaczko was driving the NRC toward “catastrophe.” Republican House Energy and Commerce Committee Reps. John Shimkus (Ill.) and Ed Whitfield (Ky.) called on President Obama to replace Jaczko. Ranking Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Republican James Inhofe (Okla.) praised the four NRC commissioners for their “courage.” There is also an effort to pass a law that would only allow the NRC chairman to invoke emergency powers if there is an imminent safety threat at an NRC-licensed facility.


Democrats, primarily Sens. Harry Reid (Nev.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Rep. Ed Markey (Mass.), have called the four commissioners testimony a “politically motivated witch hunt”, and have essentially accused them of serving the interests of the nuclear industry, at the expense of public safety, and trying “stage a coup” over Jaczko, whom they praised for putting safety first and trying to improve things at the NRC. In particular, they’ve suggested that the other commissioners were trying to water down the new post-Fukushima plant requirements and slow their implementation.

What to make of all this

Having not worked at the NRC, or with Jaczko, I don’t know enough to judge the extent to which the accusations about his management style and treatment of NRC employees are true. That will have to be left to the upcoming investigations.


I find the accusations of the four commissioners by Jaczko’s Democratic political patrons (Reid, Markey, and Boxer) to be pretty implausible, as well as offensive, especially given the bipartisan background of the four commissioners. The two Democratic commissioners were nominated by the (anti-Yucca Mountain) Obama administration. Everyone who works in the nuclear industry is well aware of just how safety focused and strict the NRC is, and the four commissioners have worked in the industry (and on nuclear safety) far longer than Jaczko has. It’s also a lot harder to believe that the problem is with all four commissioners (as well as NRC staff) and not with Jaczko.

With respect to possible motives among the four commissioners, the issue that I find most plausible is the one about how Jaczko was trying to concentrate more power and authority into the hands of the chairman, and reduce the authority of the other commissioners. This is one area where one could imagine all the other commissioners having a problem with Jaczko, regardless of their backgrounds or political affiliations. In general, I don’t have a strong opinion on how powerful the chairman should be relative to the other commissioners. I do, however, believe that a powerful chairman could be problematic if he/she has a political agenda. I also think that Jaczko’s decision to exercise emergency authority in the wake of Fukushima was unjustified.


As to whether or not he is competent as NRC chair, and whether he has political agendas (as opposed to being objective), one cannot ignore the fact that his primary work experience before becoming an NRC commissioner was working as a congressional staffer for Rep. Markey and for Sen. Reid. Markey has always been an outspoken critic/opponent of nuclear power, perhaps to a greater extent than any other representative. Reid, while not a nuclear power opponent per se, is the primary congressional opponent of the Yucca Mountain repository. Reid used his position as Senate Majority Leader as leverage to get Jaczko appointed as an NRC commissioner. Many believe that the sole purpose of this was to prevent the Yucca Mountain project from going forward.

This leads us to what is probably the most serious of the issues that were raised. In their testimony the commissioners suggested that Jaczko had clear agendas and had pressured staff to work toward advancing those agendas, as opposed to being objective and scientific in their evaluations, and openly asking questions. Such behavior would clearly reduce the NRC’s effectiveness as an objective regulator, and could even end up reducing safety. If these criticisms are shown to be true, then something tangible would need to be done to rectify the situation.

Is Jaczko a serious problem?

I personally do not have a strong opinion on the speed at which the Fukushima reforms should be implemented. I have also not found Jaczko to be particularly antagonistic to the industry on issues other than Yucca Mountain (including plant life extensions, Fukushima requirements for U.S. plants, or the new plant licenses). I find that his actions on the Yucca Mountain front to be objectionable, however.

Jaczko effectively suppressed the release of the NRC staff’s findings on the technical adequacy of the repository, even though they had completed their work (and as almost everyone believes, found that the repository met the technical requirements). Whether or not we decide to proceed with Yucca Mountain, the fact that it met the requirements, and was a technically viable solution to the nuclear waste problem, should have been documented. He also accomplished this using the (administrative) powers of his office, despite the fact that the commission’s votes to stop the licensing process were not there.  Hopefully, this will be resolved in court.

Jaczko’s actions on Yucca Mountain are clearly at least one example of him pursuing a political agenda, as opposed to being objective or scientific. This is especially clear given his political and professional background. As discussed above, coercion of the NRC staff by an agenda-driven chairman would clearly be a problem, especially if most of the power is concentrated in the hands of the NRC chair, as opposed to the four commissioners. This suggests that the issues raised by the commissioners are significant, and require some tangible action in response.



Jim Hopf is a senior nuclear engineer with more than 20 years of experience in shielding and criticality analysis and design for spent fuel dry storage and transportation systems. He has been involved in nuclear advocacy for 10+ years, and is a member of the ANS Public Information Committee. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

60 years ago in Idaho

Sixty years ago on December 20, scientists and engineers in Arco, Idaho,
successfully used nuclear energy from the EBR-1 to power four 200-watt light bulbs, laying the groundwork for decades of clean electricity and a strong U.S. nuclear energy industry.

The first production of usable nuclear electricity occurred in December 20, 1951, at Idaho National Laboratory when four light bulbs were lit with electricity generated from the EBR-1 reactor.

The Department of Energy’s video (and blog post at its site) looks both at the history and the future of nuclear energy in the United States.

The following is excerpted from the DOE’s blog post:

At 1:23 p.m. on December 20, 1951, Argonne National Laboratory director Walter Zinn scribbled into his log book, “Electricity flows from atomic energy. Rough estimate indicates 45 kw.” At that moment, scientists from Argonne and the National Reactor Testing Station watched four light bulbs glow, powered by the world’s first nuclear reactor to generate electricity.

Fifteen years later, in Arco, Idaho, President Johnson stood at this same site and designated the reactor a national historic landmark. He said, “We have moved far to tame for peaceful uses the mighty forces unloosed when the atom was split. And we have only just begun. What happened here merely raised the curtain on a very promising drama in our long journey for a better life.”

Please visit the DOE’s site here for the entire blog post and for a video on nuclear energy.


“I&C” in Nuclear News

The December issue of Nuclear News magazine, which contains a special section on instrumentation and control, is available in hard copy and electronically for American Nuclear Society members (must enter ANS user name and password in Member Center). The special section contains the following stories:

  • Duke upgrades to digital I&C at Oconee
  • The role of I&C technology in enabling the deployment of small modular reactors, by Dwight Clayton and Richard Wood
  • Digital I&C for research reactors

Other news in the December issue: Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff sends AP1000 final rule package to the commissioners and the Office of Management and Budget; U.S. EPR’s digital I&C system gets first NRC approval; US-APWR design certification now scheduled for October 2014; NRC reschedules work on Turkey Point-6 and -7 into 2014; Entergy submits Grand Gulf license renewal application to the NRC; Comments on Fermi-3 draft EIS accepted through January 11.; Robinson-2 moves higher, Sequoyah-1 lower in NRC’s ROP action matrix; stolen sodium diuranate traced to Areva’s Trekkopje mine in Namibia; regulatory control of USEC’s Portsmouth plant being returned to the Department of Energy; NRC issues final environmental assessment for Nuclear Fuel Services’ fuel fabrication facility; NRC investigates yellowcake incident at Wyoming site; ORISE report shows shifts in career opportunities for nuclear engineering grads; University of Pittsburgh hosts Nuclear Night; Czech utility ?EZ invites vendor bids for new Temelin reactors; Taiwan’s new energy policy calls for nuclear power phaseout; commercial start of Finland’s Olkiluoto-3 may be delayed again; UAE’s Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation requests approval for site preparation work at Braka; dome of China’s first EPR, Taishan-1, is put in place; Russia applies for membership in OECD Nuclear Energy Agency; IAEA mission team issues preliminary report on Fukushima Daiichi; and much more.

Past issues of Nuclear News are available here.

The December 2011 ReActions newsletter is online!

ReActions is an information resource newsletter from the American Nuclear Society for teachers interested in the nuclear sciences. The new December issue highlights the upcoming National Nuclear Science Week (January 23-27) —along with online information sources for teachers using National Nuclear Science Week events to enhance classroom learning.

ReActions features some of the many ways that nuclear science and technology is important in everyday life and includes one of the many classroom group research activities available through ANS. This issue also spotlights National Engineers Week (February 19-25). Career opportunities abound in nuclear science and technology, and teachers will want to be sure to use the many ANS information resources available for their students.


David Pointer, chair of the ANS Public Information Committee, said, “ReActions is a great resource for K-12 science teachers to keep up-to-date on developments in nuclear science education, and the newsletter highlights hands-on activities that teachers can use in the classroom as well as ANS online educational resources and materials.”

83rd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

A continuing series from pro-nuclear blogs in North America

This post is the collective voice of blogs with legendary names which emerge each week to tell the story of nuclear energy

If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is where to find it.

Past editions have been hosted at Yes Vermont Yankee, NuclearGreen, Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, Idaho Samizdat, and CoolHandNuke, as well as several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

The publication of the Carnival each week is part of a commitment by the leading pro-nuclear bloggers in North America that we will speak with a collective voice on the issue of the value of nuclear energy.

While we each have our own point of view, we agree that the promise of peaceful uses of the atom remains viable in our own time and for the future.

If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog, and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brian Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support. Please post a Tweet, a Facebook entry, or a link on your Web site or blog to support the carnival.

This Week’s Carnival

Steve AplinCanadian Energy Issues

Just before the 1976 election, President Ford announced a halt to nuclear fuel reprocessing in the U.S., saying that it “should not proceed unless there is sound reason to conclude that the world community can effectively overcome the associated risks of proliferation.”

In light of the 35 years of history that has passed since then, can we say today that this sound reason exists? According to Steve Aplin, the answer is unequivocally yes.

Cheryl Rofer - Nuclear Diner

Sodium isotopes produced confusion in Moscow and one American TV.  ABC News got a report that radioactive material was stopped by Russian customs from being transported in someone’s baggage to Iran. So a bunch of presumptions, aided and abetted by a shaky understanding of what a radionuclide is, kicked in to produce a knee-jerk story about how Iran must be making a nuclear bomb. The problem is the report is  wrong.

Cheryl writes . . .

“It beats me why someone would pack a bunch of sodium-22 in their luggage. It’s mostly used for medical diagnostics, and there are better ways to transport it, through channels. It’s not at all useful for bomb-making.”

Also,  she has a summary of the NRC “Jaczko” hearing and background reference documents

Meredith Angwin – Yes Vermont Yankee

She attends the screening of an anti-nuclear film and asks the producer about its claims that the radiative materials from commercial nuclear reactors have a four billion year half life.  Her blog post contains the email dialog.  Worth a read.

Meredith also reviews the film  *Transparent Radiation*, a recent documentary from the University of Vermont (UVM).  Angwin considers some of the concerns of the film: nuclear power, consumerism, and the long half-life of U238.

NEI Nuclear Notes – Victoria Barq

Victoria writes that she came across an article penned by professor Benjamin Sovacool that purports to give readers “the dirt on nuclear power.” The article gives way to hasty generalizations and leaves readers with a false view of one of the nation’s safest industries. In her on-line rebuttal she points out a few places where there are holes in his arguments.  It’s a little soap to clean off the dirt.

Brian Wang – Next Big Future

Bill Gates – Bill Gates made an public statement that echoes his death per terawatt analysis of energy.

Bill spoke about the benefits of nuclear energy, particularly next-generation designs. The backlash [to Fukushima], he thinks, is overblown. If you compare it to the amount that coal has killed per kilowatt hour, he points out, it is way, way less.   I have to correct his statement that coal incidents kill less than nuclear incidents. Fukushima killed no one, the tsunami killed people.

Russian uranium – Asia Times online has a lengthy feature on Rosatom’s (AtomRedMetZoloto) Uranium Holding Co, or ARMZ, plans to dominate worldwide uranium production. Rosatom is the Russian uranium company. Kazakhstan plans to increase uranium production in 2012 by 1400 tons to 21,346 tons. Mongolia has a lot of uranium. India is delaying the start of the Kudankulam 1000MWe reactor because of protests

Future of SMRs – A newly released study from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) concludes that small modular reactors may hold the key to the future of U.S. nuclear power generation.

Fuel Cycle Week – Nancy Roth

Psychosis at the top derails NRC operations say four commissioners. The dirty laundry of the NRC went on display in two Congressional hearings this past week.

FCW Managing Editor Nancy Roth covers the first hearing, held before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. This was called specifically to address claims by all four non-chairing commissioners (two Democrats and two Republicans) that Chairman Gregory Jaczko had engaged in bullying and abuse of NRC staff as well as commissioners, to force his policy agenda on the work of the regulatory agency.

Atomic Power Review – Will Davis

Will Davis begins a new series of posts on his blog, containing condensed news reporting and opinion. Don’t worry; the usual detailed individual posts will continue.

Nuke Power Talk – Gail Marcus

Since others have summarized the hearings, Gail Marcus takes a step back and looks at all the statements that have been made, both in the hearings and by various observers, on the situation, its significance, the personalities involved, and what should or shouldn’t, or will or won’t, be done as a result.

The monkey business on the Hill is not the only monkey business worth reporting this week.  Gail Marcus reports on several stories about the interactions between the animal kingdom and energy technology, including the use of monkeys to help monitor radiation in Japan, the happy home endangered crocodiles have found in the cooling canals of Turkey Point, and the fraught relationship between wind turbines and living creatures.

ANS Nuclear Cafe – Dan Yurman

Dan Yurman at the ANS Nuclear Cafe describes the TerraPower traveling wave nuclear reactor design, championed by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, that has been in the news lately – and its status in the US and in talks with countries around the world.

Idaho Samizdat – Dan Yurman

Areva suspended work on the Eagle Rock Enrichment Plant in Idaho. Basically, the firm is over extended in terms of having enough investment capital to do everything on its plate.  The $3 billion project has a conditional commitment for a $2 billion loan guarantee, an NRC license, and 70% of its future capacity sold to customers.  Breaking ground seems like a no brainer, but a soft uranium market has spooked new CEO Luc Oursel who put the deal on ice.

In a review of recent events,  Yurman questions the declaration on Dec 16 of “cold shutdown” by Japan Prime Minister Noda.  The Fukushima site has three badly damaged reactors with the heat deformed fuel inside them in unknown configurations and the site is leaking radioactive water.

On the other hand, allowing evacuees to return to areas in a 13 mile ring around the plant, that are safe, is a prudent measure and will create some of the goodwill needed to restart the 46 closed nuclear reactors.

# # #

TerraPower seeks wisdom in China

Bill Gates went to Beijing, but he didn’t ink a deal, yet

By Dan Yurman

Bill Gates

TerraPower, the privately-held nuclear reactor development firm directly funded  Bill Gates, got a lot of ink in the world press last week.

The reason was that Microsoft billionaire and its former chief executive officer Bill Gates held a high profile press conference during a visit to Beijing, China.

No deal was inked with the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), however, nor were any side agreements reached for joint research and development.

The intense press coverage about an intriguing reactor design that just recently emerged from a major makeover in a supercomputer simulation was more about Bill Gates in China than anything else.

The Chinese said it themselves. The China Daily for December 8 wrote that Zhang Laiwu, vice-minister of science and technology said,

“When we cooperate with Gates, what we value so much is not Gates’ money, but his social influence, his rallying power, and his innovation ability.”

What is the TerraPower reactor?

TerraPower cutaway diagram

The question is whether there is a real reactor design that could be built one day, disregarding the fact that the mainstream news media can’t seem to see beyond Gates’ celebrity status.

TerraPower thinks so, but is quick to caution in a statement on its website that the firm is talking to multiple nations, including Russia and India, about development opportunities.

Last June, a delegation of TerraPower executives went to India to explore ideas there. In November 2009, Gates visited Toshiba in Japan to discuss joint R&D efforts.

For their part, the Chinese are already swimming in fast reactor R&D projects and may not have the capacity to take on something so novel as the TerraPower “Traveling wave” concept. Also, TerraPower is a big reactor coming in two sizes—500 MW and 1,000 MW.

First out of the box in China is recent work in collaboration with Russia to build two BN-800 sodium-cooled fast reactors. The agreement, signed in 2009, calls for construction of the 800-MW units to begin in 2013 with hot start in 2018.

China is working on commercial development of a high temperature gas cooled fast reactor with 201 MW of electrical generating capacity using the so-called “pebble bed” design. Two of them are slated to enter revenue service in Shandung by 2018.

China’s fast reactor projects—and there are several others besides these two—rely on either uranium oxide or mixed oxide fuel. Plutonium-fueled fast reactors don’t show up on any of China’s R&D roadmaps, made available to the West, until 2030 or later. The Chinese are also reported to be investigating thorium fuel designs. In short, they are placing a lot of bets with the idea that the best ones will pay off in the long run.

Overview of the TerraPower fuel cycle

U238 +n > U239 > Np239 > Pu239

The Traveling Wave design uses U-238 in depleted uranium tails taken from uranium enrichment plants and fires them up with a U-235 starter kit.

The design envisions that the neutrons hitting the U-238 will produce plutonium-239, a fissile material that can generate heat that can then be used to make electricity. The Pu-239 is fissioned in the same fuel rods in which it is produced.

The resulting plutonium is “contaminated” with other isotopes that make it unsuitable for producing a nuclear weapon. The reason is that since the fuel remains sealed in the TerraPower reactor for 40–60 years, it isn’t available to be removed through the short cycle normally used to produce weapons material.

TerraPower’s main technical challenge is in the realm of materials science. It needs a fuel cladding material that can withstand being inside an operating nuclear reactor for up to six decades.

The firm is using computer models to simulate how various alloys might work in such a harsh environment over so long a period of time. Fuel testing and certification should be interesting engineering challenges, since the cladding will be a first-of-a-kind product.

Once TerraPower completes its fuel design, including testing, it will have to build a manufacturing capability to produce the fuel, the  cladding, and in sufficient quantity and at a price that will convince a utility it can count on the first, and only, fuel load, which is supplied one time for the life of the reactor, to work as specified for up to 60 years.

New lamps for old

The original design of the Traveling Wave reactor was that it smoked like a premium Cuban cigar—smooth and slow—starting at one end of a long tube and working its way to the other over a period of up to 60 years.

Recently, TerraPower retooled its conceptual thinking to use a model that looks more like an intricate square dance.

In the new design concept, the fuel rods closest to the center of the core, which contain U-238, get started on their trip to Pu-239 with a shot of U-235. They are moved around, as they are used up, from the center of the reactor core and wind up on the outer ring. New fuel rods are shuffled to the center.

Due to high radiation levels, all the work is done with remote-handling equipment. This equipment also has to last for 60 years and perhaps longer related to the eventual decommissioning of the reactor.

Cooling is provided by liquid sodium metal. Natural convection and air cooling mean that in the event of loss of off-site power, the reactor doesn’t pose a threat. Instead, it essentially sits on its hands and stops working.

Since the reactor is intended to use liquid metal sodium to transfer heat, the secondary loop doesn’t need to be in direct contact with the core. Conventional steam systems could be used to drive turbines and generators. This approach would save a lot of money on balance of plant.

Concept of a sodium cooled fast reactor Image: Idaho National Laboratory

Two other issues might occur to readers. First, there is an assumption that TerraPower needs convert the feedstock of depleted uranium from its gaseous form as UF6 to metallic powder, remove impurities, and then develop a fuel fabrication process to produce a specific uranium oxide fuel assembly along with its long-lasting cladding. Also, given the exotic nature of the reactor, what does the back end look like in terms of decommissioning the plant?

Finally, a TerraPower reactor would have to be able to produce electricity at the same or less cost than a lightwater design of the same size.

What about U.S. customers?

So, why isn’t TerraPower, which is based on Bellevue, Wash., pursuing customers in the United States? The short answer is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, by its own admission, isn’t ready to conduct a safety analysis for such a radical design. It could take the better part of a decade, and a noticeable chunk of Gates’ money, to bring the agency up to speed.

And, there isn’t any R&D money from the Department of Energy. That agency has asked only for funds to support efforts related to lightwater reactor designs. That assumes that it doesn’t suffer a complete zeroing out of its funding by a deficit-minded Congress.

Back on the media front, the Travel Wave reactor is being preceded by a traveling Bill Gates, and an entourage from the design team, as they traverse the globe looking for a hospitable home to build their innovative fast reactor  technology.

It is worth keeping an eye on what TerraPower is doing because of the sheer novelty of its conceptual thinking and the fact that Gates is personally plugging it to anyone who will listen.



Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Nuclear Art Update!

By Suzy Hobbs Baker

In the past week, two exciting new art-based initiatives in the nuclear sector have come to my attention. I am thrilled about both and want to share them with my fellow American Nuclear Society members.

First, the Wilmington ANS Section has announced an art competition based on nuclear energy education:

“Avenues to engage students in understanding the beneficial nature of nuclear energy and technology include opportunities for creative expression with the written word or visual art. While exercising creativity, the students will learn about the various attributes of nuclear energy, its role on their everyday life, and develop a context for understanding current events on energy policy, nuclear safety, and the tragic events in Japan. The Outreach Subcommittee is coordinating an activity that encourages students to explore nuclear energy by way of an essay contest and a visual arts contest.”

Two contests are planned. The first, an essay competition for high school-level students, has contestants develop their essays on the role that nuclear energy can play in making life better for people and their environment. The second, a visual arts contest, targets middle school-level students. These contestants can make their expressions through drawings, photography, sculpture, or other visual means as an interpretation of practically any aspect of nuclear energy.

I feel that this outreach activity is a fantastic model and hope that other chapters will consider conducting similar efforts in their respective communities. This is an effective way for the nuclear sector to connect with the local education system and build lasting relationships with students, teachers, and schools. The fact that they are offering cash prizes to the winning students doesn’t hurt, either!

The second exciting nuclear art initiative is by a new fine jewelry company called Fiçonel, which carries designs inspired by the “actual industrial design elements of nuclear technology.” Their women’s and men’s jewelry features “Assemblies” as necklaces, cufflinks, and pins.










On its website, the company further describes the goal of its work:

“At Fiçonel, we show the world the true iconography that represents decades of live-saving medical treatment and sustainable energy security. Wearing a Fiçonel design communicates these accomplishments in ways beyond what the technology alone can say.”

After seeing the website, I was banging my head against the wall, thinking, “Why didn’t I think of this?” Of course, I am really just happy that someone came up with this brilliant idea and is making beautiful, wearable, nuclear art. Here at PopAtomic Studios, we are wishing great things for the Fiçonel team. The more art happening in the nuclear sector, the better!

Lastly, for a little shameless self-promotion, PopAtomic Studios will be displaying selected photographs for National Nuclear Science Week at the Illinois Institute of Technology on January 25, 2012, and again on January 30–31 at the Women in Nuclear Region II Conference in Charlotte, N.C. If you are attending either of these events, make sure to stop by and say, “hello!”

Happy Holidays Everyone!













Hobbs Baker

Suzy Hobbs Baker is the executive director of PopAtomic Studios, a non-profit organization dedicated to using the power of visual and liberal arts to enrich the discussion on nuclear energy. Hobbs Baker is an ANS member and a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe

Henri Becquerel and the Discovery of Radioactivity

By Paul Bowersox

December 15, 1852, was the birthday of French physicist Antoine Henri Becquerel, who discovered a completely unknown property of matter in March 1896.


Some might say Becquerel’s discovery of “radioactivity” was a lucky accident—but as the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote in the 1st century, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Becquerel was prepared and had the opportunity, and here’s how he made the astonishing discovery of radioactivity.


The first human x-ray: Bertha Roentgen’s hand

In January 1896, Wilhelm Röntgen astonished the world by circulating photographs of the bones in his hand, taken with the aid of his new discovery: X-rays. The photographs of the interior of the human body caused a worldwide sensation that year. It also stirred Antoine Henri Becquerel to action. Becquerel thought that the X-rays were coming from a region of Röntgen’s vacuum tube made phosphorescent by the cathode rays traveling through it, and as a world expert in phosphorescence, he immediately committed to find out whether all phosphorescent material produced these extraordinary X-rays.


First, let us illuminate the subject of phosphorescence, which was mysterious and a hot topic of research in the late 1800s. While luminescence is the emission of light by a substance not resulting from heat, phosphorescense is the special case of a material emitting light for some period of time after it has absorbed photons. It would take decades of research and the theory of quantum mechanics to construct a model of how a material could “store” energy and then slowly emit it in the form of light long after the source of energy had been removed.

Normal fluorescence involves, roughly, an electron of an atom being excited to a higher energy state or “orbital”—by absorbing a photon of energy—and then returning to its ground state, releasing a photon of lower wavelength, almost instantaneously.  But in the special case of phosphorescence in some materials, an electron can move to a so-called “forbidden” higher energy state by way of absorption of a photon of energy—and the process of releasing the energy from such a forbidden state occurs more slowly, overall, than the straightforward case of fluorescence—resulting in a material “glowing” for longer periods after exposure to photons.

Not phosphorescence

Unaware of any of this, Becquerel nonetheless placed his potassium uranyl sulfate K2UO2(SO4)2 compound onto photographic plates, covered the plates with black paper to protect them from light, and put them on the windowsill so that the uranium compound could absorb light and begin to glow. As he expected, the rays from the phosphorescing uranyl sulfate penetrated the paper and exposed the photograph, and even penetrated metallic objects as well. Perhaps not as clearly as Röntgen’s vacuum tube X-rays would have done, but a marvelous result nonetheless.

Becquerel radioactivity photo – a maltese cross medal is absorbing radiation in lower patch

Then something unexpected and amazing happened. Becquerel was ready to perform more windowsill experiments, but cloudy days ensued and so he placed the plates and minerals inside of a dark desk drawer. No light absorption or phosphorescence was occurring in there, and simply on a hunch (or more probably, he was just being thorough), Becquerel developed these plates anyway, expecting very faint or no image at all. Instead, he found intense images—in effect, the uranium was emitting X-rays all on its own. To the scientists of the day, this was astounding—energy being created out of “nothing”—except that the experiment was easy for them to duplicate to duplicate Becquerel’s findings. Becquerel also quickly found that the effect did not diminish with time—the uranium disulfate continued to constantly emit energy—and pure metallic uranium worked even better.

We now know that the uranium was emitting a wide range of energy besides X-rays, in a spontaneous process soon to become known as radioactivity. We also know that the uranium was spontaneously decaying to a lower energy isotope while emitting alpha particles, with “daughter nuclides” emitting beta particles. Becquerel, as well as Marie and Pierre Curie, were instrumental in researching this new and incredible property of matter called radioactivity, and all three shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903. And, while it is often stated in games of chance, “I’d rather be lucky than good,” Becquerel was both lucky and good—his lifetime of preparation in the study of phosphorescence and phosphorescent materials, his expertise in the scientific method and in laboratory uses of photography, and a great innate curiosity equipped him to make one of the more amazing discoveries in the history of science.

Afternote: Becquerel (Bq)

The Becquerel (Bq) is the international unit of radioactivity, named after our pioneer Henri Becquerel. It is defined as one atomic nucleus in a material decaying per second.



Paul Bowersox’s love for nuclear history will never decay. He is a regular contributor to the Nuclear Cafe!

ANS 2012-13 scholarship applications are now online

American Nuclear Society scholarship applications for the 2012-2013 academic year are now online! Since ANS was established in 1954, it has promoted the awareness and understanding of nuclear science and technology (NS&T). To further that mission, ANS administers scholarships each year that support the development and education of those who will research and implement future applications of NS&T.

More than 20 scholarships named after pioneers and leaders in NS&T are awarded each year by ANS, along with some general scholarships, to students with outstanding academic credentials. Special scholarships are also available to students based on economic need.

Some scholarships are available for students entering their sophomore year and beyond in college, while others are for incoming freshmen.

“These scholarships are one way that the American Nuclear Society advances nuclear science and technology by supporting future nuclear scientists and engineers as they embark on—or continue—their academic studies,” said Craig Williamson, ANS Scholarships Committee chair. “I strongly encourage students who are interested in pursuing studies in nuclear science and technologies to review the guidelines and apply for the scholarships.”

“The scholarships serve as a wonderful introduction for students to become involved in ANS activities as well as to become life long members,” he said.

The deadline for submitting scholarship applications is February 1, 2012 (April 1 for the Incoming Freshman Scholarship). Scholarship descriptions, guidelines, requirements, and applications are located here.

82nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

The 82nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is up : Nuclear Clean Air Energy

This post is the collective voice of blogs with legendary names which emerge each week to tell the story of nuclear energy

If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is where to find it.

Past editions have been hosted at Next Big Future. Yes Vermont Yankee, NuclearGreen, Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, Idaho Samizdat, and CoolHandNuke, as well as several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

The publication of the Carnival each week is part of a commitment by the leading pro-nuclear bloggers in North America that we will speak with a collective voice on the issue of the value of nuclear energy. While we each have our own point of view, we agree that the promise of peaceful uses of the atom remains viable in our own time and for the future.

If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog, and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brian Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support. Please post a Tweet, a Facebook entry, or a link on your Web site or blog to support the carnival.