Two Pieces of Good News for Nuclear

Hinkley Point C

Hinkley Point C – conceptual view. ©EDF

by Jim Hopf

In the midst of many challenging trends for the nuclear industry, two bits of good news happened recently.  The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced up to $12.6 billion of additional load guarantee authority for nuclear projects, and the European Commission voted to allow Britain’s Hinkley Point C project (to construct two AREVA EPRs) to proceed.

DOE Loans

On September 30, DOE announced a draft solicitation of up to $12.6 billion in loan guarantees “to support construction of innovative nuclear energy and front-end nuclear projects in the United States that reduce, avoid, or sequester greenhouse gas emissions.”  While any such project may apply, DOE said that the focus would be on four key areas, including:

  • Advanced nuclear reactors
  • Small modular reactors (SMRs)
  • Upgrades and uprates at existing reactors
  • Front end (fuel) projects

The loan guarantees are authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and therefore do not require congressional authorization or appropriations.  Thus, DOE has discretion in approving the loans.

Best Use of Loans?

The Breakthrough Institute believes that the last two areas listed above may be of particular importance, as they may result in quicker CO2 emissions reductions (through uprates and helping keep existing plants open).

I’m not sure I agree with this.  As for front end (fuel) projects, the price of fuel is not exactly a significant factor in overall nuclear costs.  It would seem to me that uprates are something that plants should not have trouble securing private financing for (given that one utility got private financing to build two new reactors).  And I’m not sure how the struggles of existing plants (where ongoing operational costs are apparently too high) would relate to the ability to borrow money, at a slightly lower interest rate.

It’s probably crazy talk, but my favorite idea for the use of a loan guarantee is not to fund nuclear build projects, but to directly fund supply chain development.  Like China did with solar panels. (Unlike www.ans.orgthe US, they subsidized panel factories, as opposed to the purchase of panels, resulting in US customers buying Chinese panels with US government money.)  Specifically, my dream would be to see loans for construction of an SMR assembly line (probably an LWR, like mPower or NuScale).  With that seed money, the assembly line could result in module costs low enough so that plant project subsidies would not be needed.

Even better would be for the government to “prime the pump” by agreeing to buy the first module, and put it in inventory.  Then they would sell it to a utility customer.  When that module is sold, the government would buy another one, etc.  The idea is to keep the assembly line running, and ensure, for the customers, that the “construction time” for the reactor (nuclear island) is effectively zero.  Just buy it, but it in place and connect it to the balance of plant.

I keep hearing that construction time is a big source of overall cost for nuclear projects.  How does 0 years sound?  The government would commit to ensuring that at least one (or a few) modules are in inventory at any given time.  It may be possible to get a virtuous cycle going.

European Commission Ruling

After years of discussion and debate, the European Commission ruled, by a vote of 16 to 5, to allow Britain to provide financial support that is necessary for the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant project to go forward.  The most notable aspect of that financial support is a guaranteed minimum price of ₤92.5 per MW-hr for 35 years.  While allowing the project to go forward, the EU did extract some concessions, including a lower level of subsidy and a stricter limit on potential “windfall” profits for EDF (the company that will operate the reactor).

The EU had threatened to disallow the financial support, on grounds that it may violate EU rules against “state aid” that favor one industry over another (or favor domestic industry over those in other member states).  The argument is that such state aid “distorts the market.”

A counter argument to the above is the fact that the market does not account for the external (pollution and global warming) costs of fossil fuels.  Thus, aid (subsidies) for clean energy sources is not a distortion, but actually correct and existing market distortion.  Under similar reasoning, renewable projects have received even larger subsidies, and were simply exempted from the state aid restrictions in question.  Thus, the question is whether favoring nuclear over fossil fuels should also be allowed.  A related question is whether individual member states should be able to support nuclear, at their own expense, if they choose to.

EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia alluded to the above arguments while explaining the decision.  He said that they concluded that “a market failure exists”, and that the project would not have gone forward w/o support (so it’s not just padding the bottom line of a domestic industry).  It also seems clear that the EU decided not to interfere with a member state’s ability to set its own energy policies, and to support nuclear if they choose to.   Perhaps they thought their case was not strong enough, given the inconsistency with how renewables are treated.

Reactions to the EU Ruling

Predictably, several EU countries long opposed to nuclear power protested the decision.  Both Austria and Germany are considering legal challenges to the ruling.  Ireland is also complaining about not being “adequately consulted” the project.

One has to wonder how strong their case is, given that renewables receive even larger levels of support, and are simply exempt from the rules in question.  The Austrian Chancellor at least clarified where they were really coming from when he stated that “alternative forms of energy are worthy of subsidies, not nuclear energy.”  Whether or not that sentiment is true, it’s not clear if it forms a legal basis for challenge.  The EU ruling concerned compliance with EU state aid rules, and whether member states have the right to subsidize favored energy sources; not the relative merits of nuclear vs. renewable energy.  It appears that the EU has ruled that they do.  I can’t see any legal challenge to this ruling that wouldn’t also result in renewables subsidies being struck down.

It is also doubtful that Ireland’s complaint will amount to anything.  One also has to wonder why Ireland feels it should be consulted about a modern reactor in Britain, downwind from Ireland and too far away to have any potential (post-meltdown) impact on Ireland in any event.  Meanwhile, Ireland continues to operate old dirty coal plants, whose pollution generally drifts over Britain, without consulting the Brits about it (I’m guessing).

On the other side, the world nuclear industry, as well as several EU member states considering nuclear projects, reacted positively to the ruling.  It is expected that this ruling will serve as legal precedent for other nuclear projects in Britain, as well as nuclear projects being considered in other EU countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.

My View

While I’m pleased with the EU ruling, and believe that all non-polluting sources (i.e., nuclear and renewable) should be treated equally, I’m still surprised and disappointed in the ₤92.5 per MW-hr (i.e., ~15 cents/kW-hr) that is apparently necessary for a new nuclear plant.  Frankly, it should cost little more than half that.  The dramatic rise in nuclear costs over the last decade remains very hard to explain (in my opinion).  This is true for both construction and operating costs (with even existing plants struggling to stay open, despite how we’ve always been told that, once built, they are extremely cheap to operate).

If nuclear was less expensive, many of its issues (political, etc.) would go away.  And yet, I don’t see the industry or anyone else making a significant effort to determine what the causes of this dramatic cost escalation are, let alone doing something about them.  As I’ve stated before (here and here), the industry, policymakers and regulators need to get together and make a concerted effort to determine what’s behind these out of control costs and then have an open, objective discussion about what to do about it.

And yes, reforming and/or reducing nuclear regulations and requirements (including many that have been around a long time) needs to be on the table.  All requirements need to be objectively re-evaluated for cost-effectiveness.  Potential negative impacts of (excessive) nuclear requirements on public health and safety, due to the use of fossil fuels in lieu of nuclear, need to be fully considered in any such evaluation.



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.

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 232

ferris wheel 202x201The 232nd Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival has been posted at The Hiroshima Syndrome.

•Click here to access Carnival 232

Each week, a new edition of the Carnival is hosted at one of the top English-language nuclear blogs. This rotating feature of nuclear “posts of the week” represents the dedication of those who are working toward a future of energy abundance, improved health, and broadened security through nuclear science and technology.

Past editions of the carnival have been hosted at Yes Vermont Yankee, Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, NEI Nuclear Notes, Next Big Future, Atomic Insights, Hiroshima Syndrome, Things Worse Than Nuclear Power, AREVA Next Energy Blog, EntrepreNuke, Thorium MSR and Deregulate the Atom.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support.  If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brain Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

“Nuclear Medicine” – National Nuclear Science Week, Day 5 (October 24)

NSWlogoThe fifth and final day of Nuclear Science Week is all about Nuclear Medicine. Have you ever experienced a procedure at a hospital that employed radiation? Did you know that there are actually many different ways that nuclear technology is employed in medicine—and not just at your local hospitals?

According to the American Nuclear Society’s Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information:

Nuclear medicine and radiology are the whole of medical techniques that involve radiation or radioactivity to diagnose, treat and prevent disease. While radiology have been used for close to a century, “nuclear medicine” began approximately 50 years ago. Today, about one-third of all procedures used in modern hospitals involve radiation or radioactivity. These procedures are among the best and most effective life-saving tools available, they are safe and painless and don’t require anesthesia, and they are helpful to a broad span of medical specialties, from pediatrics to cardiology to psychiatry.

You can learn much more about nuclear medicine at the dedicated CNSTI page on the topic—click here to access it.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has oversight over some, but not all, medical uses of nuclear material and technology. To read about the NRC’s role and to see what it regulates, click here.

The US Food and Drug Administration regulates a portion of the medical field that uses radioactivity; click here to access the FDA’s extensive site portal covering all aspects of what it regulates. You can also find many other useful resources at this link.

(Will Davis for ANS Nuclear Cafe.)

“Nuclear Safety” – National Nuclear Science Week, Day 4 (October 23)

NSWlogoDay 4 of the annual National Nuclear Science week is all about Nuclear Safety.

The use of either fission of atoms, or decay of radioisotopes to benefit man (whether that benefit derives from the production of electricity, the diagnosis of a medical patient, the preservation of food, or many other things) brings along with it a serious responsibility to ensure the safety of not only all involved with the process but those uninvolved as well. To this end, a tremendous amount both of time and money are spent by all organizations designing, operating, or using nuclear technology as well as governmental oversight agencies (often called “regulators,” such as the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.)

The American Nuclear Society’s Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information has a great page covering the many, varied aspects of nuclear technology safety. Click here to access this CNSTI page.

Don’t forget—you can visit the Nuclear Science Week official website for much more information, including lesson plans, and other resources.

“Nuclear Energy” – National Nuclear Science Week, Day 3 (October 22)

NSWlogoThe third day of National Nuclear Science Week is focused upon the production of energy by nuclear means—and that means energy that can do work for man. Electric power, steam for heating businesses and homes, and mechanical power for propelling ships are perhaps the best known examples of man’s use of nuclear energy.

The classic image of a modern nuclear power station, represented by Perry Nuclear Plant, Ohio.  Photo in Will Davis collection.

The classic image of a modern nuclear power station, represented by Perry Nuclear Plant, Ohio. Photo in Will Davis collection.

Regardless of model or type, all nuclear reactors produce heat; this is how we get useful work from them. In the case of a nuclear power plant, the heat is used to boil water into steam, which then is used to run very large turbines; these generate power for thousands of businesses, homes, street lights, traffic lights—everything you see that receives electric power. And did we say “large?” A typical turbine generator at a nuclear plant can be 200 feet long; the parts inside the turbine that rotate can have a total mass of around 700 tons, and the machine overall can develop from 900 MW (megawatts) to 1400 MW. That’s well over one million horsepower!

You can read about nuclear energy in an introductory fashion at the American Nuclear Society’s CNSTI page on Reactors, a special part of the Nuclear Science Week publications.

The U.S. government has two primary offices related to nuclear energy. The Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy develops and promotes nuclear power technologies, while the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has the responsibility of oversight of all nuclear facilities in the United States.


For more information on the development of nuclear energy:

The path to developing useful work from splitting the atom (known as “fission”) began with Enrico Fermi’s “atomic pile,” the CP-1, which was the first working nuclear reactor. Click here to read about the effort, and its 70th anniversary.

The first full-scale nuclear reactor of any sort was actually not used for power production, but rather was part of the US Manhattan Project. Still, this complicated and large machine proved out concepts that would be used in power reactors. Click here to read about this reactor, the Hanford B Reactor.

The first nuclear reactor plant intended for the production of useful power alone (propulsion and electricity) was the STR Mark I, which was the prototype or dress rehearsal for the world’s first nuclear powered vessel, USS NAUTILUS.  See some details of the prototype’s construction at this link.

Nuclear energy has been employed to power hundreds of military vessels; it's also been used to propel at least three merchant ships.  The first, NS SAVANNAH, is shown.  Illustration courtesy NS Savannah Association, Inc.

Nuclear energy has been employed to power hundreds of military vessels; it’s also been used to propel at least three merchant ships. The first, NS SAVANNAH, is shown. Illustration courtesy NS Savannah Association, Inc.

General Electric’s Vallecitos boiling water reactor was part of the effort that led to the first measurable commercial sale of nuclear generated electric power in the United States. Click here to read about this project and see a film on it.

President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms For Peace” program led directly to the development of civilian nuclear power in the United States. ANS Nuclear Cafe described that program in a three part feature, which can be found at the following links: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.

(Will Davis for ANS Nuclear Cafe.)

“Careers in Nuclear” – National Nuclear Science Week, Day 2 (October 21)

NSWlogoThe second day of National Nuclear Science Week promotes the knowledge of careers in nuclear-related fields.

For most people, the idea of a career in a nuclear-related field might evoke images of the production of electricity by nuclear energy. While that field has a very large number of associated practices, there are many other nuclear-related disciplines. How many times have you passed by, or perhaps even been a patient in, a Nuclear Medicine department of a hospital? Have you ever heard of the use of nuclear technology to evaluate materials? Did you know that nuclear technology can help with the long-term preservation of food items? These are only a few areas of life wherein nuclear technologies are of great benefit to mankind.

The American Nuclear Society’s Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information has a great resource page on nuclear careers; click here to see it. You might be amazed by the number of points of our lives that are touched by nuclear technologies and made better by having been.

(Will Davis for ANS Nuclear Cafe.)

“Get to Know Nuclear” – National Nuclear Science Week 2014, Day One

NSWlogoMonday, October 20, marks the first official day of National Nuclear Science Week—a week long, annual coordinated educational event that promotes nuclear science and technology.

Five years ago the Smithsonian Affiliated National Museum of Nuclear Science and History founded this nationally recognized, week-long celebration. Nuclear Science Week is a unique outreach opportunity that grants teachers, students, and the general public direct access to nuclear technologies and energy experts. A basic introduction to the concept, as well as details of its execution, can be found here.

Each day of the NNSW focuses on a specific theme, and as an introduction the first day is designated as “Get to Know Nuclear.” You might be surprised how many facets of our lives are touched, and enhanced, by nuclear technologies—and you might be surprised how many people know little or nothing about these nuclear technologies. Fortunately, there are a number of great, easy-to-read official sources you can consult if you’re an educator tasked with presenting such material or even if you’re just personally curious.

The American Nuclear Society’s Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information has set up a special section on National Nuclear Science Week, which can be found here. There is a specially dedicated section for the first day, “Get to Know Nuclear.” ANS also has a variety of educational materials available at this link.

National Nuclear Science Week has its own dedicated stand-alone website, found here, which is presented by the National Museum of Nuclear Science. A schedule of various events throughout the week can be found here.

(Will Davis for ANS Nuclear Cafe.)

Nuclear Science Symposium Kicks Off in Seattle

NSW logo

The 5th annual Nuclear Science Week was launched with a public symposium on October 16 and 17 at the Pacific Science Center at the foot of the Space Needle in Seattle.

Nuclear Science Week is an international, broadly observed week-long celebration to focus interest on all aspects of nuclear science and technology. Each day provides for learning about the contributions, innovations, and opportunities emerging in nuclear energy and other applications. The event was established by the Smithsonian-affiliated National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, NM.

“In addition to the regional presence of multiple nuclear organizations and corporations, Seattle is a community that values the arts, embraces technology, and prioritizes the environment—and Nuclear Science Week is an opportunity to explore how advanced nuclear technologies in energy, medicine, and even space exploration help support these values on a national and international basis,” said Suzanne Hobbs Baker, coordinating chair for the NSW Symposium.

Click Here to watch online

Click Here to watch online

The NSW Symposium launches at noon Pacific Time (3:00 Eastern Time) and will be webcast and archived. The full agenda and speaker list are available on the National Nuclear Science Week web site.

The National Science Teachers Association will be offering the webcast to over 400,000 classrooms nationwide as part of their Science–Technology–Engineering–Math (STEM) programming.

The American Nuclear Society is a proud sponsor of Nuclear Science Week. ANS President Mikey Brady Raap will be delivering the closing keynote address at 12:45 pm Pacific Time/3:45 pm Eastern Time on Friday, October 17.

Governor Proclaims Nuclear Science Week in Washington

In recognition of the contributions of nuclear science and technology, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State has designated Oct. 20–24 as Nuclear Science Week in Washington.

The proclamation notes:

WHEREAS, the nuclear science week community is convening a public symposium October 16th and 17th at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle to explore the contributions of nuclear science and technology to communities around the world

Washington NSW Proclamation


laura-scheeleLaura Scheele is a Senior Public Affairs Analyst and Member Relations Manager at Energy Northwest, a not-for-profit joint operating agency headquartered in Richland, Wash. She is an active board member of the ANS Eastern Washington Local Section.

ANS Winter Meeting 2014 – What you Need to Know

• What – American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting 2014

• Where – Disneyland Resort, 1313 S. Disneyland Drive, Anaheim, California 92802

• When – November 9–November 13, 2014

The ANS Winter Meeting for 2014 (which also features a Nuclear Technology Expo) is fast approaching—and as with all of these big, national meetings there may be a lot of questions that attendees would like to have answered in one central place. We’ve done that homework for you.

REGISTRATIONClick here to access the ANS Meetings page for registration. Keep in mind that October 14 is the last day for discounted registration, and the last scheduled day to reserve rooms.

RESORT: The venue is the wonderful, completely remodeled original 1955-vintage Disney California resort hotel. All basic information you might want about the hotel can be found at this official Disney link. There is also a dedicated “events” page that Disney has set up with some further links; click here to see it.

Disney Anaheim Resort

Disneyland Hotel, site of the 2014 ANS Winter Meeting. Photo ©Disney and used by permission.

AIRPORTS: The closest airport to the Disney venue is John Wayne Airport, Orange County (identified as SNA).

GETTING AROUNDThe page linked here is an official page set up by the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau on transportation opportunities in the area.

FOOD: In addition to the varied assortment of establishments inside the Disney resorts perimeter (see “RESORT” link above), there are many more available outside. The Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau has also set up a page on dining in the area;  click here to see it. The AOCVCB pages have a number of other useful links available, so make sure to explore those—they include coupons and deals.

COMMUNICATION: It is well known that even with the best of schedules, things can change during meetings. For those purposes it’s helpful to remember the following:

• ANS has a Facebook Event Page that will be used to broadcast changes. Facebook users can also communicate with each other on that page to network during the meeting week.

• ANS will use its Twitter account (look for @ans_org) to communicate during the meeting—both live-tweeting various events and photos, but also broadcasting any changes of rooms, locations, or anything else generally useful. The official hashtag is #ansmeeting—this has been used for over a year for official ANS meetings.

MEETING SCHEDULE: As this post goes to press, the schedule is still preliminary and does NOT include exact room locations for various sessions. We will update this post later with that link when it’s available.

Keep in mind that there will be plenty of ways to find out what you need to know on site from both ANS staff and Disney staff; that said, please don’t miss the opportunity to bookmark this post (or even make an icon on your smart phone) so that you’ll have all these links handy before you even leave home.

We’ll observe the “comments” section for specific questions not answered in the material above. We hope to see YOU there!


Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 230

ferris wheel 202x201The 230th Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival has been posted at the AREVA Next Energy Blog.

Click here to access Carnival 230.

Each week, a new edition of the Carnival is hosted at one of the top English-language nuclear blogs. This rotating feature of nuclear “posts of the week” represents the dedication of those who are working toward a future of energy abundance, improved health, and broadened security through nuclear science and technology.

Past editions of the carnival have been hosted at Yes Vermont Yankee, Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, NEI Nuclear Notes, Next Big Future, Atomic Insights, Hiroshima Syndrome, Things Worse Than Nuclear Power, AREVA Next Energy Blog, EntrepreNuke, Thorium MSR and Deregulate the Atom.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support.  If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brain Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

They Harnessed the ATOM – the first Navy prototype nuclear plant

By Will Davis

This past week, a remarkable article was printed in The Atlantic, which gave a full first-person account of the initial trial run of the STR Mark I nuclear prototype plant—the plant that paved the way for the success of the first nuclear powered vessel ever built, the submarine USS NAUTILUS.

At the time this prototype plant was built in the Idaho desert, at what was at that time called the National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS), there was actually a rather remarkable amount of information provided to the public about the plant—mostly in terms of photographs of the plant, if not anything in any real technical detail. Let’s take a look at some of the unclassified views released to the public and published in widely available resources, along with a few details of the plant’s history.


The photograph above was released January 20, 1954, and was both distributed by wire photo channels (you are seeing a scan of an original photo) and was published in a remarkable PR brochure entitled “They Harnessed the ATOM,” which you’ll see more of shortly. This is the STR Mark I prototype at NRTS Idaho Falls; “STR” stood for “Submarine Thermal Reactor,” the original designation for this plant that was later redesignated “S1W” for “Submarine, First design, Westinghouse.” At the time this plant was constructed, its designer, the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, was operated by Westinghouse for the U.S. government—hence the “W” designation. This of course is the plant whose operation was detailed in the article linked above.

STR Mark I door

Above, the front cover of the brochure “They Harnessed the ATOM” that shows a view into the open door of the STR Mark I prototype. The simulated submarine hull is clearly visible, as is the large tank of water at the opposite end that surrounded the reactor compartment and that was used for shielding.

STR Mark I inside

Inside “They Harnessed the ATOM” is this view (above) looking down onto the STR Mark I prototype power plant. The power plant of course developed a fair amount of waste heat, which had to be dissipated; in these early days, cooling towers were not used but rather spray ponds. The spray pond for STR Mark I is seen below, also from this brochure. The pond, it was said, held 2 million gallons of water and could cool 22 500 gallons of water per minute.

STR Mark I spray pond

Another publication of that time that featured photos and some scant details on the construction of this prototype was “Selected Articles on Nuclear Power,” which took several articles that had appeared in the Westinghouse employee magazine “The Westinghouse Engineer” and republished them essentially as an advertising brochure—although this one was much more pointed at industry than the previous one shown, which was pointed at the general public. Inside the front cover of “Selected Articles,” we find the illustration seen below.

STR Mark I Selected Articles

The upper part of the illustration is a view similar to, but not identical with, that seen earlier while the lower appears to show a student examining a model of the power plant. Naturally, the model is an exterior model only (not a cutaway) and shows no real details of the nature of the construction of the nuclear steam supply system, propulsion or control equipment, or actual plant arrangement.

Inside this publication is an interesting and concise timeline of use to historians:

Timetable of Submarine Thermal Reactor Project

• April 1948 – Formal project established at Argonne National Laboratory

• June 1948 – Original Navy-Westinghouse contract

• December 1948 – Original AEC–Westinghouse contract

• March 1950 – Occupancy of new facilities at Bettis Site

• August 1950 – Commencement of STR Mark I construction, National Reactor Testing Station, Idaho

• August 1951 – Award of NAUTILUS construction contract to Electric Boat Division, General Dynamics Corporation

• June 1952 – Keel plate laying of USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571)

• March 1953 – First critical operation of STR Mark I prototype plant

• January 1954 – Launching of USS NAUTILUS

• September 1954 – Commissioning of USS NAUTILUS

As can be seen from the timetable above, time was of the essence for the prototype power plant, as the keel for the operational submarine (which would house the plant designated STR Mark II) had already been laid down less than a year before the first startup of the prototype reactor. As is so vividly described in the Atlantic account, the actual prototype’s design was already well up the learning curve and the performance so satisfactory that NAUTILUS went to sea confident in its ability to perform. Of course, Admiral Rickover’s choice to build the first prototype plant as a simulated, land-locked submarine section in order to prove out not just concept but physical construction was exactly correct. A similar design process—use of an actual power plant design that could be duplicated perfectly for a production submarine—was employed for the Submarine Intermediate Reactor Mark I, built thousands of miles away to test principles for what would become USS SEAWOLF at the same time.

From the brochure "The Seawolf Story," Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory.  "In the early morning of March 20, 1954, the prototype power plant of the Seawolf was 'launched' into its location in the 225 ft. diameter steel sphere located at the West Milton Site of the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory."

From the brochure “The Seawolf Story,” Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory. “In the early morning of March 20, 1954, the prototype power plant of the Seawolf was ‘launched’ into its location in the 225 ft. diameter steel sphere located at the West Milton Site of the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory.”

What happened to STR Mark I, later known as S1W? The plant operated for decades, as an integral part of Admiral Rickover’s system that insisted that Navy nuclear propulsion personnel obtain qualification on a land-based plant before being assigned to a nuclear powered ship or submarine. The plant finally shut down for the last time in October 1989.

It may be difficult to imagine today that photos such as we have seen were released, but several of these have actually circulated fairly widely. In fact, it would certainly appear that India took notice of the design of these early submarine prototype plants; look at the links below, and note the overall, external design of the prototype plant for the first Indian nuclear submarines.

“INS Arihant reactor to be made critical next week” (May 2013)

INS Arihant reactor goes critical (August 2013)

In a First for India, Nuclear Sub’s Reactor Activated (August 2013)

Were it not for the fact that the above-linked articles’ photos are color, one might assume the view was of the STR Mark I prototype in 1954 and not of an Indian nuclear sub prototype in 2013.

For more information:

“Nuclear Navy celebrates end of an era at Idaho Falls.” Article at INL.GOV website about the shutdown of the last operating Navy nuclear prototype at the former NRTS Naval Reactors Facility.

Photos and brochures used in this article are in Will Davis’s library.


SavannahWillinControlRoomWill Davis is the Communications Director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian, newsletter editor and member of the board of directors. Davis has recently been engaged by the Global America Business Institute as a consultant. He is also a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013–2016. In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants. Davis is temporarily managing all social media for the American Nuclear Society.

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 229

ferris wheel 202x201The 229th Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival has been posted at Next Big Future.

Click here to access the latest Carnival.

Each week, a new edition of the Carnival is hosted at one of the top English-language nuclear blogs. This rotating feature of nuclear “posts of the week” represents the dedication of those who are working toward a future of energy abundance, improved health, and broadened security through nuclear science and technology.

Past editions of the carnival have been hosted at Yes Vermont Yankee, Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, NEI Nuclear Notes, Next Big Future, Atomic Insights, Hiroshima Syndrome, Things Worse Than Nuclear Power, EntrepreNuke, Thorium MSR and Deregulate the Atom.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support.  If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brain Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation

Changing How We Communicate

Preface: Robert Rock, a Canadian professional who authored the post you’re about to read, is relatively new to the field of nuclear communications but isn’t new to communications overall. I believe it’s good to get outside perspectives once in a while—they make us think about and reflect upon our own actions. I hope that his piece, specifically written for us here at ANS Nuclear Cafe, can provoke some discussion and help us develop new perspective. Your Editor, Will Davis.


Changing how we communicate.

by Robert Rock

Participating in a LinkedIn Group called Cool Hand Nuke got me to thinking of the movie that it wittily takes its name from—Cool Hand Luke. Specifically, one of the movie’s most famous quotes, “What we have here is … a failure to communicate”

I think that quote sums up the nuclear industry both at the moment and over the last few decades.

Right now, I see a large amount of people looking for safe, cheap, non-carbon emitting energy, which can produce a large amount of power reliably. Dear nuclear crowd, doesn’t that describe nuclear energy? How have we not been able to tap into this desire?

Why haven’t we?

By the very nature of the nuclear industry, we are heavily weighted toward scientists, engineers, and other technical professionals. This is exactly what the industry needs to continue its great track record of safety and reliability.

The flip side is that there are far too few people who are professional communicators. We need these professionals in our industry as well as to improve our ability to connect with our audience.

An analogy that I often hear in the nuclear industry is that we aren’t building 1970s reactors anymore. Why do we still want to communicate like it’s the 1970s?

Communications 101

First, we need to define our audience. In my personal opinion, we have two major audiences for our message, but they’re very closely linked—the general public and politicians. They’re linked because politicians can move forward on new nuclear build without public support, while the public won’t demand new nuclear from politicians without knowledge of the industry.

Next is our message. As an industry, the question is do we have a clear, concise message that we all believe in? If we do, then I’ve never heard it. We desperately need to develop that message, but we have to develop that message with our audience in mind. It has to connect to them and satisfy their “what’s in it for me” desire. We won’t get it right the first time out and that’s okay. We need to experiment, learn from other industries, and have some trial and error. This process will improve our connection to the audience.

Finally, after we know our audience and our message, we now need to define the ways that the audience wants us to relay that message to them. That could be social media, blogs, videos, infographics, radio, TV, a combination of some, or all of the above. Again we need to experiment and constantly review the impact that each method has had in reaching the audience.

Our current society has had an explosion in the amount and variety of ways that we are communicating with one another. We “talk” to one another over email, we text, we participate in online groups in Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn, we tweet each other, we watch videos on YouTube, and sometimes we use Skype to have a conversation “face to face”.

Changing how we communicate

Taking the 101 and mapping it out, we see the components of communication. The most common problem on the sender side of the message is that what they want to say and what they end up saying is often very complex and often not even totally clear to themselves. The message of the industry is filled with technical information, acronyms, and the science of nuclear. Will our desired audience understand the message? Are we delivering the message using words they understand and in a format that they want?

On the receiver side, if the message is complex, they don’t understand it. The reader, listener, viewer immediately wants to know “what’s in it for them.” If there isn’t that connection, then they shut down. This may even include the words the sender has chosen to use in their message (i.e., how many of you non-industry friends know what LFTR or LWR or IMSR stands for?). If they don’t understand the message or it’s too complex, they most often simply reject it. If we aren’t speaking their language, and presenting ourselves in a way that makes “sense and cents” to the audience, they simply aren’t interested.

How we can change

We have to connect our good news stories into the current zeitgeist, and that’s going to mean some strange bedfellows. The documentary Pandora’s Promise really kicked off one of those new strange partnerships linking environmentalists with the nuclear industry. Now before the comment field explodes, I’m not advocating the film, climate change, global warming, or anything else that seems to really upset people in the nuclear industry.

What I am saying though is, this film opened the eyes of a lot of people who have historically been against the nuclear industry. We’ve done nothing to follow up on that opportunity.

How can we be better?

  1. Acknowledge we have a problem—I think intuitively we all know that there are issues connecting all the positive aspects of nuclear with the general public. They believe the myths about the industry much more readily than the truth.
  2. Make a change—We don’t have to continue to communicate the way we always have. We need a new style, message, and method to make the impact that we all want to continue to move nuclear forward in the United States and Canada and not just something the rest of the world is doing.
  3. Review—When we do make a change, we are not going to get it perfect the first time. We’ll experiment and review how our messages have done informing, engaging, and entertaining the audience.

I welcome your comments and feedback and I hope we all work together to change how we communicate about the nuclear industry.


Robert RockRobert Rock is President of Nuclear Edge, a digital and communications company that specializes in the nuclear industry. He is also President of Environmentalists for Nuclear, Canada and is on the Board of Directors for Environmentalists for Nuclear US, US Nuclear Energy Foundation, and the Durham Strategic Energy Alliance. Robert has worked to get the positive message of nuclear energy out to the public in a variety of means, including strategy development, content creation, advertising, and more. Robert has been a radio host since the age of 18, and has appeared on or hosted many TV shows. His own TV show is “Social Media Learning,” and he’s the resident expert on Digital Media on Rogers Daytime.

Business focused approach to molten salt reactors

by Rod Adams

I’ve been listening to an evangelical group of molten salt reactor enthusiasts for several years. Their pitch is attractive and they often make good arguments about the value of rethinking the light water reactor technology model, but most of the participants are unrealistic about the economic, material, technical, and regulatory barriers that their concepts must overcome before they can serve market needs.

Recently, I recognized that there are some companies interested in molten salt reactors that have a better-than-expected chance of success. They are led by hard-nosed, experienced businessmen with a balance between entrepreneurial optimism, a firm grasp of commercial technology requirements, and sound financial strategies.

One example is Terrestrial Energy, Inc. (TEI), a start-up company founded in 2013 and headquartered in Ontario, Canada. The officers and board of directors have the kind of heft and broad industry experience that reassures investors.

David LeBlanc, the chief technology officer and inventor of the firm’s basic technology, understands the need to take measured steps that take advantage of new ideas while using as much existing supply infrastructure as possible.

One of the key attractions of molten salt reactors over traditional water-cooled reactors is the ability to operate the radioactive portions of the system at atmospheric pressure. The fissionable material is dissolved in a chemical salt that has a boiling point in the range of 1400 ºC, so it operates as an atmospheric pressure liquid with a substantial margin at an operating temperature that can provide steam temperatures of 550–600 ºC.

In contrast to reactors where the fuel is composed of solid oxide pellets sealed into corrosion resistant cladding, molten salt reactors can be designed to allow fission product poisons to migrate out of the areas of high neutron flux, thus allowing a large portion of the neutrons to convert fertile materials into fissile isotopes to improve fuel economy.

The liquid fuel form allows a substantially higher burnup before reaching a condition where the core can no longer be used to produce heat; fuel pin swelling and cladding pressure are no longer operational concerns.

The integral molten salt reactor (IMSR) that LeBlanc has developed includes several key features that set it apart from some of the fanciful reactors that enthusiasts promise will extract 50–200 times more energy per unit mass of fuel using thorium “superfuel” than is possible using the conventional light water reactor fuel cycle.

One key feature is that the TEI’s IMSR uses low enriched uranium. Here is the logical explanation for that choice, quoted from TEI’s web site:

Other MSR development programs, including the extensive original U.S. program from the 1950s to 1970s, are generally focused on two key objectives: i) to use thorium-based fuels, and; ii) to “breed” fuel in an MSR-Breeder reactor.

Terrestrial Energy intentionally avoids these two objectives, and their additional technical and regulatory complexities, for the following reasons. Thorium is not currently licensed as a fuel. Liquid thorium fuels are the nuclear fuel equivalent of wet wood. Wet wood cannot be lit with a match; it requires a large torch. That large torch must come in the form of, for example, highly enriched uranium (HEU). Such a torch has no regulatory precedent in civilian nuclear power.

Furthermore, the use of proposed thorium fuel with HEU additive leads to valid criticisms of the proposed reactor’s proliferation and commercial credentials. The thorium fuel cycle would require its own involved regulatory process to become licensed for use on a wide commercial basis. The liquid uranium fuel of an IMSR can be lit easily, it is dry tinder.

Another key design decision was based on LeBlanc’s desire to avoid the complications of repairing systems or components that have been contaminated by direct exposure to molten fuel salts. The reactor, primary salt pumps, and primary heat exchangers are sealed into a single tank. There are redundant components inside the sealed boundary; replacement vice repair is the planned strategy.

Each reactor is designed to last for seven years of full power operation, but the reactor container has little in common with the thick-walled pressure vessels common in water-cooled reactors. The IMSR core is more like a single use, replaceable fuel cartridge that is inserted into a designed, shielded cavity in the power plant. There will be an empty cavity during initial startup, and after the initial core has completed its cycle, a replacement core unit is placed in the adjacent cavity. Secondary coolant lines and power production are then switched over to the new unit. The original unit thus has seven years of cooling before being moved to long-term storage to make way for a third core unit.

Refueling operations will be similar to those currently conducted. Instead of lifting individual fuel bundles, the whole core will be removed as a single unit. Instead of putting used fuel into deep pools of water, the sealed core units will be placed into shielded, cooled cavities.

As a consequence of the molten salt core, the same basic design can be arranged to produce a variety of power levels without redesigning the fuel or changing the fuel manufacturing tooling. The initially planned product lineup will include three reactor sizes scaled to produce between 29 and 290 MWe.

Steam conditions available from using a higher temperature reactor enable the use of compact, efficient superheated steam turbines instead of the larger saturated steam turbines more common in nuclear applications.

TEI investigated several possible headquarters alternatives and then selected Ontario, Canada, as having the best combination of available expertise, a sound manufacturing infrastructure, and a well-qualified nuclear regulator that uses a performance-based licensing system offering a quicker approval path for an innovative design than is available in the United States.

TEI has successfully passed through two phases of development and capital raising. Its second round of funding was significantly over-subscribed, attesting to the high level of interest in the technology and the recognized competence of the company’s management.

There is every reason to be skeptical about the chances for success for any new nuclear technology. Many readers here have heard dozens of stories before and often refer gushing salespeople to Rickover’s document on paper reactors versus real reactors. LeBlanc and his team appear to have done at least as much homework before becoming as actively public as Rickover and his team; their innovations seem well-informed, realistic, and well-timed.

It’s taken me several meetings and a good bit of additional reading about both the company and the technology before I reached the stage at which I was willing to share its story with a moderate endorsement. I’m now confident that there is no risk to my reputation from saying that Terrestrial Energy, Inc. is a company with an intriguing plan that is worth a look and a listen.

A version of the above article first appeared in the September 11, 2014, issue of Fuel Cycle Week. It is republished here with permission.

Rod Adams is a nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is the host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005. He writes about nuclear technology at his own blog, Atomic Insights.

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 228

ferris wheel 202x201The 228th Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers and Authors has been posted at Yes Vermont Yankee.

Click here to access Carnival 228.

Each week, a new edition of the Carnival is hosted at one of the top English-language nuclear blogs. This rotating feature of nuclear “posts of the week” represents the dedication of those who are working toward a future of energy abundance, improved health, and broadened security through nuclear science and technology.

Past editions of the carnival have been hosted at Yes Vermont Yankee, Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, NEI Nuclear Notes, Next Big Future, Atomic Insights, Hiroshima Syndrome, Things Worse Than Nuclear Power, EntrepreNuke, Thorium MSR and Deregulate the Atom.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support.  If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brain Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation