Congratulations to the TOFE Topical Meeting Organizers – Winter 2014

On behalf of the American Nuclear Society’s Fusion Energy Division (FED) officers, I would like to offer my most sincere congratulations to the organizers of the recent 21st Topical Meeting on the Technology of Fusion Energy (TOFE), which was embedded in the ANS Winter Meeting, November 9–13, in Anaheim, Calif. In particular, I would like to thank Brian Wirth, Vincent Chan, Rajesh Maingi, and the rest of the organizing committee for making the meeting a success.

The technical program encompassed 3 ½ days, with a total of 166 presentations. Plenary oral sessions were held on each morning of the meeting November 11–13, with very interesting and informative updates in the first plenary session on the plans and status of the Chinese CFETR, the Korean K-DEMO, and the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

On the second day, the plenary focused on the status of ITER, and a European analysis of the technological roadmap to DEMO. The plenary session on the final day of the meeting focused on materials science research needs as well as the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Fusion Energy sciences perspective on materials technology development, in addition to an overview of fusion engineering in Japan.

The technical quality of the oral presentations and the 89 posters presented in two different poster sessions was quite high, and stimulated lots of discussion. Circa 110 manuscripts were submitted to the Fusion Science and Technology journal for publication in the proceedings, pending successful peer review. I would like to express my thanks and gratitude to the journal editor, Dr. Nermin Uckan, for her dedicated efforts in ensuring that the resulting publication is of high quality and published in a timely manner.

FED Executive Committee Meeting Attendees on November 9, 2014, Disneyland Hotel, Anaheim, CA

FED Executive Committee Meeting Attendees on November 9, 2014, Disneyland Hotel, Anaheim, CA

I am thrilled to report that a total of four Division awards were handed out at the TOFE plenary session on Wednesday November 12. The 2014 ANS–FED Outstanding Achievement Award was awarded to Brad Merrill (Idaho National Laboratory) “for his lifelong pioneering and impactful contributions in the development of international fusion safety analysis tools that have formed the foundation for fusion nuclear safety assessments.” Larry Baylor and Steve Combs (ORNL) received the 2014 ANS–FED Technical Accomplishment Award “in recognition of a long history of creative technology solutions in the areas of plasma fueling and disruption mitigation for present and future (ITER) fusion energy experiments and reactors.” Finally, the winner of the 2014 ANS–FED Outstanding Student Paper Award was Juliusz Alexander Kruszelnicki (University of Florida) for his paper titled “Impact of Focusing Grids and Pulsed Power on Modified IEC Fusion Device.”

Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to announce that the next TOFE will be organized by the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and will be a stand-alone meeting in the August 2016 timeframe. I look forward to seeing you there!

Susana Reyes, FED Chair


Dr. Susana Reyes

Dr. Susana Reyes

Susana Reyes (NIF/IFE, LLNL)

Susana Reyes is a nuclear engineer at LLNL, with more than 15 years of experience in international fusion projects. She is currently leading LLNL’s Inertial Fusion Energy effort for tritium systems and fuel cycle, and is the current chair of ANS’s Fusion Energy Division. She earned an M.Sci. in Power Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Madrid, and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from the UNED University in Madrid in 2001. Dr. Reyes joined LLNL’s Fusion Energy Program in 1999 to work on the safety analysis of inertial fusion energy power plant designs. Since then, she has worked in a variety of fusion research projects, including the National Ignition Facility in LLNL and the ITER Organization in Cadarache, France, where she supported the project through the coordination of safety analyses and associated documentation in preparation for ITER licensing. Her current interests are focused on the safety and environmental aspects of fusion so as the fuel cycle challenges for future fusion power commercialization.

 

 

Strong Industry Response to EPA Clean Power Plan

by Jim Hopf

There has been a strong response from ANS, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). and many other organizations, pointing out the flawed treatment of nuclear in the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP). And it appears that these efforts may be having an impact. The EPA has recently stated that the nuclear provisions of the CPP “have raised concerns among stakeholders” and “would likely be revised.”

Treatment of existing plants

A strong chorus of voices from many organizations has pointed out obvious problems with how existing nuclear generation is treated by the plan. Specifically, the issue is that only 5.8 percent of existing nuclear generation counts toward the state-by-state goals of reducing the tons of CO2 emitted per MW-hr of electricity generation. With respect to the state CO2/MW-hr goals, the EPA (in a bizarre fashion) defined MW-hrs as something other than the total MW-hrs generated in the state. Instead, the MW-hr total was defined as the sum of all MW-hrs produced by fossil and renewable sources, plus only 5.8 percent of the MW-hrs generated by nuclear. (Some existing hydro sources also had their generation similarly discounted.)

Many responding organizations pointed out that treating non-emitting sources differently, under a plan whose stated objective is reducing CO2 emissions, is indefensible. In fact, in its formal response to the EPA’s CPP, NEI used the (legal) terms “capricious and arbitrary” to characterize the CPP’s treatment of nuclear (as did I, in a comment in another ANS Nuclear Cafe article). Perhaps the language was meant to be a subtle message that the industry may consider legal action if the CPP is not changed, to treat all non-emitting sources equally. That message should be sent, and I believe that the industry would likely have a good case.placeatendof1stsection

NEI, ANS, and others also argued that, with the (tiny) 5.8-percent factor applied, the CPP would probably not give any significant boost to nuclear, or achieve its stated goal of keeping existing nuclear plants open. In fact, in many states, the CPP may actually create a tangible incentive to close existing nuclear plants and replace them with gas-fired generation, as discussed in this very informative ANS Nuclear Cafe article.

NEI suggested other ways to incentivize existing nuclear generation, such as having nuclear generation in excess of some capacity factor goal “count toward” the EPA’s CO2 reduction goal. I don’t think NEI means that the CPP should still maintain some bizarre definition of CO2/MW-hr, where only certain MW-hrs “count” toward the total. I think it mean that the EPA should consider those MW-hrs when deciding what CO2/MW-hr goal would be appropriate for each state.

Treatment of new plants under construction

NEI, as well as some states and utilities, have also complained about the treatment of new reactor projects under the CPP. As I discussed in a previous article, the EPA considered the plan that each state already had in the works when deciding the emissions reduction goals for each state. Thus, the goals were based on the assumption that those plans would continue to go forward. In the case of Georgia and South Carolina, those plans included a major effort to built two new nuclear power plants (each with two reactors). The decisions to build those plants were made before the EPA developed the CPP.

NEI, and states like Georgia, have taken issue with this approach, arguing that the CPP is essentially penalizing those decisions, by saddling states that made such (good) decisions with a lower CO2 emissions goal. NEI said that by effectively penalizing those decisions, the EPA is actually creating a disincentive for states, and utilities, to invest in nuclear projects. NEI and the states also argued that the stricter emissions goals would be hard for the states to meet, particularly if any of the plans (such as the reactor construction projects) do not go forward for some reason.

My perspective–Existing plants

NEI, ANS, and other groups have it exactly right with respect to the treatment of existing nuclear plants under the CPP, and it’s encouraging to hear that the EPA is likely to revise the plan in response to the commendable effort the industry and nuclear professionals have made to have their voices be heard. It is obvious that all non-emitting sources should be treated equally under a plan whose stated goal is to (and only to) reduce CO2 emissions. Any differing treatment should be challenged in court, if necessary.

With respect to the lack of actual incentive (and perhaps disincentive) to keep existing plants open, some have even questioned if this was unintentional. I’m not sure I can dismiss this myself. If it were true that it was intentional, it would be politically brilliant. You put forward a plan that is advertised as a way to help keep nuclear plants open, but actually (secretly) has the opposite effect. Then you get to say, “These nuclear plants were so uneconomical that even with the help we provided, they closed anyway.” Whether this is true or not, the needed response is clear. The industry needed to make its objections (to the arbitrary 5.8-percent factor) loudly heard, and work to get it changed.

What the appropriate reduction goal is for each state is arguable, but one thing is absolutely clear. The definition of emissions intensity needs to be the total state utility sector CO2 emissions divided by the state’s total generation (in MW-hrs) from all sources, period, end of story. There is absolutely no defensible basis for having it be defined any other way. After all, this is about reducing CO2 emissions. That reform simply must be made.

Once the above reform is made, the only issue left is (or should be) what the appropriate reduction goal is for each state. People need to understand that. They also need to not make things more complicated than they need to be.

Given that emissions intensity is correctly defined, the only tangible aspect of the CPP is (or should be) the emissions intensity reduction goals for each state, and the basis the EPA used to set them. Once the EPA goal is set, all sources of emissions reduction effectively get “equal credit.” All forms of nuclear generation, above or below any given capacity factor, whether from keeping old plants open, building new ones, or through capacity uprates, are automatically given the same degree of credit, or incentive.

At that point, in terms of what would “best” incentivize nuclear generation, the answer is simple. The lower the state’s emissions intensity target, the more the incentive. This segues into my perspective on the treatment of new plants under the CPP.

My perspective–Plants under construction

NEI and states such as Georgia have made the argument that setting emissions goals that assume nuclear construction projects will be completed is unfair to states with such construction projects and, given the lack of reward for deciding to build the reactors, will actually end up creating a disincentive for new nuclear in the long run. Many other commentators are lining up with that position as well.

I have to say, in my view, that a simpler logic applies. The more stringent a state’s emissions intensity goal is, the more incentive they have to increase the use of nuclear. (Again, given that emissions intensity is correctly defined; where all nuclear MW-hrs apply fully.) In the case of Georgia, a stringent goal would probably remove any likelihood of the Vogtle-3 and -4 not being completed. Also, the lower the emissions intensity target, the greater the likelihood is of Georgia (and Southern Co.) building even more nuclear plants (as is being discussed by the company).

In both NEI’s formal response, and in the testimony of a Georgia Public Service Commission official, references appear to be made to the notion or possibility of the Vogtle-3 and -4 projects not being finished. I personally find it very disquieting to hear such a notion being raised by high ranking officials and (even) nuclear industry organizations. (It’s possible that they were referring only to delays in the projects, and the impacts of such delays on shorter term emissions goals.) If they are referring to a decision to cancel the projects and go back to fossil fuels just because it would be slightly cheaper (as opposed to unavoidable project delays), then I am unsympathetic to their point of view. The entire point of the CPP is to ensure that decisions that reduce CO2 emissions, even if they are somewhat more expensive, are and continue to be made.

As discussed in my previous article, the EPA based its state reduction goals, in large part, on what states were already planning to do. Their reasoning was probably that if states were already planning on taking certain measures, it seems clear that those measures were not unacceptably expensive or politically unpopular. I argued that perhaps the main real impact of the CPP will be to cement states’ previous decisions, and to (merely) disallow back-tracking. The case of Georgia, and the possibility of cancelling the Vogtle project, would be a prime example of the “no back-tracking” feature of the CPP. Yes, Georgia would suffer greatly if it made such a decision. That’s the entire intent, and should be.

On the contrary, if these construction projects are ignored with respect to setting the state’s emissions reduction goals, it would be relatively easy for them to make such an unfortunate decision. Yes, it would be possible for them to meet the requirements even in the reactor projects did not go forward. That’s the problem!

With respect to the idea that people would be less likely to invest in nuclear in the future because current projects were not “rewarded” by the CPP, again, people will base their decisions on simpler, more direct logic. The more stringent the state goal is (at any given point in the future), the more likely it is that a decision to proceed with nuclear will make practical and financial sense. They will have that much less of an option of going (or sticking) with fossil fuels instead (gas being nuclear’s main real competitor, especially in the Southeast, where most proposed nuclear projects would be, and where renewable resources are poor).

One who really supports nuclear power and/or emissions reductions cannot support the abetting of such a decision. I’m afraid this may be one example where the interest of truly supporting nuclear (i.e., maximizing the use of nuclear in the future) diverges with the interests of states and utilities that happen to (currently) use nuclear power. (Of note is the fact that NEI’s membership consists of such utilities.)

In my view, the position of a “true” nuclear advocate (i.e., one who wants to see the use of nuclear increased significantly in the future) would be to tell the EPA to stick to their guns on the issue of how current nuclear construction projects are accounted for in the setting of state emissions reduction goals. I look forward to a discussion on this, and invite people to express any opposing points of view, or to point out any flaws in my logic.


jimHopf

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.

Columbia celebrates three decades of clean electricity production

By Laura Scheele

On Saturday, December 13, there weren’t balloons or cake but a plume of water vapor indicated that operations continued as Energy Northwest employees commemorated 30 years of Columbia Generating Station’s commercial operation.

The Reactor Pressure Vessel is lowered at Columbia Station

The Reactor Pressure Vessel is lowered at Columbia Station

Since its inception on December 13, 1984, Columbia has generated more than 214 million megawatt-hours of electricity—enough to power more than 1 million homes. Columbia provides safe, reliable, and affordable electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week to the rate payers of the Pacific Northwest.

Columbia came on-line 30 years ago this past weekend. Like the industry as a whole, its performance has strengthened over time.

Nuclear energy leads way in capacity factor – and reliability

The ratio of electricity produced to the quantity it could produce over a year if it was running at full capacity is known as the capacity factor. For example, the average capacity factor for wind power varies between 20 and 40 percent, while nuclear power maintains an 85 to 95 percent capacity factor, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Capacity Factor NEI graphic

Increased efficiencies, component upgrades, and performance initiatives contribute to increases in both capacity factor and in power generated. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, more than 6900 megawatts of power uprates have been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission since 1977—the equivalent of adding seven reactors to the electric grid.

At Columbia, performance improvement initiatives have kept the plant online for more than five years without an unplanned shutdown. Columbia is currently in its longest continuous operational run and has been online for 538 consecutive days and counting with a capacity factor of almost 97 percent. The plant set new generation milestones in calendar years 2012 and 2013; fiscal year 2013; and is poised to set another generation record in calendar year 2014.

No other electricity source can match the reliability of nuclear energy. As ratepayers throughout the Northwest celebrate the clean energy contributions of Columbia Generating Station, we invite nuclear professionals across the world to join us in recognizing the incredible value that nuclear energy provides to our environment, our economy and our lives.

Cheers to the power of the pellet!

____________________________________

Laura Scheele is a Senior Public Affairs Analyst and External Relations Manager at Energy Northwest, a joint operating agency headquartered in Richland, Wash. Energy Northwest develops, owns and operates a diverse mix of electricity generating resources, including hydro, solar and wind projects – and Columbia Generating Station, the Northwest’s only nuclear energy facility. She is an active ANS and ANS-Eastern Washington Section member.

Responding to System Demand II: Extreme Scenarios

by Will Davis

Gravelines Units 1 through 6, France.  Image courtesy AREVA USA.

Gravelines Units 1 through 6, France. Image courtesy AREVA USA.

The continued introduction of renewables onto the electric grid in the United States is ensuring that discussion of whether or not these assets can be integrated with existing or expected designs of other sources continues. In this discussion, nuclear energy is often wrongly described as “on or off”—but in fact, nuclear plants can and do load follow (respond to changing system demands) although it’s a matter of both design and owner utilization—with a focus on economics–that determines if or when any actually do.

Historically, most nations using nuclear power have experienced growth at rates that have allowed assets other than nuclear to ramp power up and down to meet demand variance—meaning that nuclear has operated in the “base load” mode, or steady state full power below the maximum demand. To learn about this (steady state full power as opposed to just baseload) taken to the extreme, and to learn about the polar opposite in an environment where nuclear actually dominates, we can compare the experiences and some plans of the former Soviet Union and France against each other.

Soviet Union – All up, all the time

In the former Soviet Union—that is to say as things were there prior to collapse—the state plan was that nuclear plants would never load follow and in fact it was desired that they run at full power all the time, no matter what the demand actually was. (This was partly because of poor load following characteristics of the dominant RBMK-1000 design.) To that end, the USSR recognized that it would have excess power over demand; it decided to devise ways to store it.

One scheme was fairly predictable: Giant reservoirs would be built, holding millions of gallons of water, which could be pumped up with water when the nuclear plants were providing more power than needed. When demand was high, the flow out of these reservoirs would be used as hydr0-electric power. This is called “pumped hydro storage,” and is a leading concept even today to help stabilize electric power against intermittent supply. A pumped storage plant was built roughly simultaneously with the giant Ignalina nuclear plant in Lithuania, which incorporated the only four RBMK-1500 nuclear units ever built and had power vastly beyond local demands.

The other scheme was more complex, and involved stored heat. Nuclear plants would heat up storage reservoirs of energy (water, organic liquids, and phase change solids were evaluated) when providing excess power over demand. Later, these reservoirs’ heat would be tapped to generate steam above and beyond that produced by the nuclear plant, so that the output of the turbine generator could be increased (requiring, of course, excess turbine capacity above that the nuclear plant could drive). The reservoirs were also planned to provide the reheat for water being fed into the steam generators of the plant, which with all things considered could increase the total output by 15 or 16 percent.

France:  High nuclear fraction forces advanced load following

France developed a national system in one way like the former USSR’s—standardized plants were built everywhere. However, France aimed for a far higher percentage of nuclear power than any other nation, and as plants were completed and the percentage of nuclear on the grid increased and increased, the French were forced to move from baseload operation to load following on all nuclear plants. This complicated task was performed in stages.

France’s first major build was what are called the CP0 and CP1 series plants, rated 900 MWe and based on Westinghouse’s three loop pressurized water reactor. These plants as initially designed could only load follow a small bit at the start of core life, and not at all at the end. Their power control scheme mostly relying on boron concentration was called “Mode A,” and was not adequate for a nation that intended to eventually have 80 percent of its power come from nuclear. (The Gravelines units shown at the opening of this article are of this type.)

St. Alban Nuclear Power Plant, 1300 MWe (two units.)  ©AREVA / Geoffray Yann

St. Alban Nuclear Power Plant, 1300 MWe (two units.) ©AREVA / Geoffray Yann

In 1975, the French (reactor vendor Framatome, later part of AREVA, and the operator Electricite de France or EDF) began to develop an advanced mode of control called “Mode G,” which used a mix of control rod types in the core. Some of the rods, called “gray rods,” were deliberately made less absorptive to neutrons, and by motion of these rods through wider ranges the reactor’s power could be adjusted smoothly and fairly rapidly throughout the life of the core.

Testing of this modified equipment (later to be amended with control equipment called RAMP, or Reactor Advanced Maneuverability Package) began in 1981 on 900-MWe plants, and was successful. In 1983 it was decided that the remaining eight 900-MWe units not yet completed would be started up with the new Mode G; the earlier 20 units would be backfitted when possible. The backfit required 53 instead of 48 rods, but could be done during any refueling outage; it allowed the 900-MWe plants to load follow from 100-percent power to 30-percent power.

The next range of plants, the P4 and P’4 series (represented above in illustration by St. Alban), were all built incorporating Mode G. The first eight 1300-MWe units, the P4 type, were already built and on the grid by 1987 when load following testing on this new, large type began. Eventually all of these and all 12 P’4 units had Mode G and RAMP, and could undertake radical load following maneuvers almost completely through core life. Mode X, slightly improved on Mode G, was fitted to the final design of the early build out—the powerful N4 plant, a 1450-MWe design of which only four were ever completed (see below).

Civaux Nuclear Power Plant, 1450 MWe X2, France.  ©AREVA / Pauquet Claude

Civaux Nuclear Power Plant, 1450 MWe X2, France. ©AREVA / Pauquet Claude

Completion of these programs gave the French a vast, versatile, and responsive fleet of nuclear plants that could operate realistically on the daily load cycle while still providing almost three quarters of the total electric generating capacity. In fact, many operators may not choose (and have not chosen) to do this because nuclear plants make the most money at 100-percent power; however, the French national choice to prioritize nuclear after the oil crisis in the early 1970s made the inclusion of load following on their nuclear plants an absolute necessity.

The results

What do we find when we compare the above examples, keeping in mind an insight on the discussion of energy in today’s world? Well, for starters, we see with the Soviet example a proof-of-concept of what amounts to grid level storage, which is a concept that renewables advocates are continually promising as the field leveler for wind and solar. Clearly, such storage is more than capable of helping nuclear plants—and may be better at helping them than helping renewables, since the renewables’ output is intermittent and the nuclear plants’ output is continuous. In fact, any generating plant could theoretically take advantage of grid level storage—even coal fired plants.

We see, though, that large amounts of inflexible generating power—power that we call “non-dispatchable” because it can’t be ordered or dispatched when needed, which essentially demands storage—leads to a large amount of expensive and complicated infrastructure or else new design concepts. No matter the desire, whether it’s for large-scale renewables OR large-scale full-power-all-the-time nuclear designs, the complexity and cost of infrastructure not directly related to the generating source but required for such a scheme is, nevertheless, considerable.

On the other hand, the French example shows us that a very high percentage of nuclear on the grid is manageable, and that nuclear plants can “play along” with either system demand or, if need be, other generating sources. Readers should note again just how many years ago these designs and concepts were proven out—these developments are not at all new.

In the next installment, we’ll look at nuclear plant designs available and being built right now, today, and examine their ability to respond to system demand.

• For more information: Responding to System Demand (original post)

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Sources: Nuclear Engineering International Magazine—October 1984, January 1985, December 1988, February 1986

“Soviet Nuclear Power Plants—Reactor Types, Water and Chemical Control Systems, Turbines.” David Katsman, Delphi Associates 1986

Information also provided by AREVA USA; special thanks to Curtis Roberts of AREVA for his assistance with illustrations and plant historical data.

________________________________________________

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.

First Criticality at Shippingport

 

Shippingport Atomic Power Station, America's first full scale nuclear power plant, is in the foreground of this photo; the oblong red building is the above-ground portion of this mostly below-ground plant.  The newer Beaver Valley nuclear plants are behind.

Shippingport Atomic Power Station, America’s first full scale nuclear power plant, is in the foreground of this photo; the oblong red building is the above-ground portion of this mostly below-ground plant. The newer Beaver Valley nuclear plants are behind.

by Herb Feinroth

The formation of the American Nuclear Society in December 1954 occurred shortly after the initial groundbreaking for the Shippingport Atomic Power Station in September 1954. The project was authorized by President Eisenhower in July 1953 to demonstrate to the world the benefits of the peaceful atom, and the project was executed in such a way as to assure that the new evolving technology would be available to all potential users in the United States and overseas.

The reactor portion of the Shippingport plant was designed and developed by the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory under the direction, and in technical cooperation with, the Naval Reactors (NR) Group of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Westinghouse Electric Company operated the Bettis Laboratory for the AEC. Duquesne Light Company financed the design and construction of the turbine generator portion of the plant, provided $5 million of the cost of the reactor plant, and was responsible for operation and maintenance of the entire plant. Duquesne reimbursed the AEC for the steam produced by the reactor. The Shippingport project thus represented a joint endeavor of the government, a private electric utility, and an industrial concern.

The Shippingport plant operated successfully for almost 30 years using three different reactor core and fuel technologies, producing a wealth of technology and data of great value to the emerging nuclear power industry. This brief article provides some details on the early history. with specific reference to some of the individuals who later played an important part in the nuclear industry and in ANS. It will be followed by other articles in the future covering such matters as (1) the new fuel and core designs developed for the higher power pressurized water reactor core 2, (2) the major structural deficiency that was discovered by accident during start up testing on PWR core 2 that almost led to a large loss of coolant accident, and led to the codification of new quality assurance requirements for all U.S. nuclear power plant systems and components, and (3) the development and operation of a 60-MWe thorium breeder reactor design for the third and final core at Shippingport.

Feinroth Shippingport Criticality

Shippingport Atomic Power Station Control Room at first criticality; photo courtesy Herb Feinroth

The above photograph was taken in the control room during the first criticality of Shippingport on December 2, 1957, where many of the individuals who had contributed to the design, development, and construction of the plant were present. Many of these people later became active leaders in ANS and in various aspects of nuclear power development in later decades. From left to right they are:

  • Milton Shaw, Naval Reactors, (seated) head of the plant systems group at NR and later director of Civilian Reactor Development Division at the AEC, where he focused on the sodium cooled breeder reactor development and commercialization, leading to successful operation of the Fast Flux Test Facility at the Hanford site, and initial steps toward a prototype fast breeder reactor at Clinch River Tennessee.
  • Harry Mandil, NR, head of reactor core and fuel design at NR, and later a founder of MPR Associates, a still active engineering firm supporting commercial nuclear powers and its continuing march forward in the 21st century.
  • Vince Lascara, NR, head of financial management at NR. He and people like Seymour Beckler and Mel Greer provided critical administrative and contract support at NR, with some (Greer for example) later transferring to provide staff support to key congressional committees lending critical behind-the-scenes support to such initiatives as the emerging Three Mile Island-2 recovery effort during the early years of the Reagan administration.
  • Jack Grigg, head of electrical and controls engineering at NR
  • Captain Barker, PWR project officer at NR
  • Parrish, vice president of Duquesne Light
  • Admiral Hyman Rickover, NR director
  • Lawton Geiger, manager, Pittsburgh Naval Reactors Office
  • Walter Lyman, vice president of Duquesne Light
  • Charlie Jones, chief engineer for Duquesne Light, later becoming one of the founders of the Nuclear Utility Services (NUS) company, one of the first nuclear plant consulting companies to help individual utilities choose and then construct and operate nuclear power plants.
  • John Simpson, manager, Bettis Laboratory, who later oversaw the development and operation of the Yankee Atomic Power plant, partly based on the experience at Shippingport. He also served as ANS president.
  • Commander “Salt Water” Willie Shor, NR field representative at Shippingport (currently living in a retirement home in Chevy Chase, DC)
  • Foreground, Dixie Duvall, Duquesne operator at the PWR control rod panel during initial approach to criticality. Dixie later joined Charlie Jones at NUS.

Not present during this initial criticality assembly, but having an outsized influence in the design and development of the seed and blanket cores used at Shippingport, was Alvin Radkowsky, chief physicist at NR. Alvin was the inventor of the seed and blanket concept used in all three Shippingport core concepts. This concept had the major advantage of minimizing the quantity of uranium (or thorium) needed to generate a defined quantity of nuclear electricity. The specific seed and blanket concepts demonstrated at Shippingport were not adopted by the nuclear industry, primarily for economic reasons (they depend on an active reprocessing industry that never developed, primarily for policy reasons). Instead, slightly enriched uranium fuel was chosen as the reference fuel. However, the nuclear and fuel concepts used at Shippingport did in fact find their way into subsequent light water reactor core designs, where U235 enrichment variations within the core and within individual fuel assemblies have significantly improved fuel efficiency and economics in today’s commercial LWRs. It should also be mentioned that the natural uranium blanket at Shippingport core 1 and 2 produced over half the lifetime energy, and for the first time used cylindrical zircaloy clad tubes to encase and protect the enclosed urainum fuel. After 60 years, this same zirconium based tubing pioneered at Shippingport is still used in todays’ LWR commercial reactors.

Control Room, Shippingport Atomic Power Station.  Westinghouse photo PRX-19630 from press release package on Shippingport in Will Davis collection.

Control Room, Shippingport Atomic Power Station. Westinghouse photo from press package on Shippingport in Will Davis collection.

Information on the Shippingport project was broadly disseminated to the nuclear industry as quickly as possible, by means of unclassified periodic and topical reports, and special interim technical reports. For example, details of the design and construction of the plant were presented at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Geneva Conferences of 1955 and 1958 and in the book titled “Shippingport Pressurized Water Reactor” USAEC, Addison Wesley Publishing Co. Reading, Mass, 1958. For those interested, this book presents many of the key decisions and explanations of the design choices made for the reactor, primary system, containment, and balance of plant for the Shippingport project.

I personally arrived at the Naval Reactors Headquarters Office in DC in June 1957, six months before initial criticality. Upon being commissioned as a Navy ensign after graduating the University of Pennsylvania with an engineering degree, I was immediately assigned to review and comment/approve System Design Descriptions prepared by Bettis Laboratory engineers, including one for the on-site radioactive waste processing systems. I reported to Mark Forssell, in Milton Shaw’s plant systems group. Every letter of comment I wrote in draft was reviewed and commented on by Forssell and Shaw and, through the “pink” system, by Rickover. During my second year at NR, Don Couchman resigned as PWR project officer to leave the government to join Charlie Jones and others at NUS. I was appointed as PWR project officer reporting directly to Rickover. Initially, it was too much for me, and I was soon reassigned to work under Harry Mandil on PWR core 2 design. I was sent to the Shippingport site to observe and report on the first refueling of Seed 1, containing 32 highly enriched seed assemblies that were all replaced through refueling nozzles in the reactor vessel head. This began on November 2, 1959, and was completed, with return to full power on May 7, 1960, after a six month refueling operation (it was originally planned for 3 months). The refueling was performed by Duquesne Light maintenance personnel, with the assistance and collaboration from Bettis engineering personnel. There were many lessons learned during this first refueling operation, which were then reported to the public via a 250-page published report, WAPD-233 dated July, 1960, “The First Refueling of the Shippingport Atomic Power Station,” authored by T.D. Sutter Jr. of Bettis Laboratory and myself, with a forward by Admiral Rickover and Phillip Fleger, chairman of the board, Duquesne Light. Based on the lessons learned, the second refueling, in 1962, was completed about half the time as needed for the first refueling.

Shippingport Atomic Power Station under construction.  Westinghouse photo PR-18392 from Shippingport press package in Will Davis collection.

Shippingport Atomic Power Station under construction. Westinghouse photo PR-18392 from Shippingport press package in Will Davis collection.

In a must-read book titled “The Rickover Effect,” Ted Rockwell, one of Rickover’s senior engineers during the early days, summarized the many principles of engineering and management practiced by Rickover, in both the military and civilian projects, and how this had a lasting influence on the development of nuclear power. I can attest to the truth of this, having applied these principles throughout my career, first during my 14 years at NR, then during my days with AEC’s Reactor Development (FFTF) program, then with my contributions to the creation and initial implementation of the Department of Energy’s research program on Three Mile Island, and later in my career in the private sector developing an accident resistant fuel cladding with the capability to avoid completely the extensive fuel melting that occurred during the TMI-2 and Fukushima accidents. I will report on these developments in future blogs. For those who have questions and comments, which I welcome, you may contact me at hfeinroth@gamma-eng.com.

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Herb FeinrothHerb Feinroth has had a distinguished career in nuclear energy. Herb worked for the AEC and Naval Reactors in the PWR Project office, from 1957-1974. He then became chief of the LMFBR facilities and director of the Reactor Technology Branch of the AEC from 1974-1984. Moving to private employment Herb became founder and president of Gamma Technologies consulting on a large and varied number of reactor technologies and projects. Herb also is founder of and a part owner in Ceramic Tubular Products LLC developing ceramic LWR fuel cladding. Now retired, Herb is writing down for posterity some of his many experiences in his decades in nuclear energy.

Rickover: Documentary airs on PBS

PBS television is premiering on December 9 the documentary “Rickover: The Birth of Nuclear Power” at 7 pm Central time. (Please check TV listings for scheduled viewing times in your area. Not all PBS stations will air the documentary on December 9.)

Rickover, the father of the nuclear Navy, is described by PBS as a unique American hero, unafraid to buck the system and yet inspiring to the men under him.

20141112_075918_301659rickover4.jpg.640x360_q85When few thought it possible, then-Captain Rickover undertook a quest to harness the power of the atom to drive the first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus, whose trip under the polar ice pack was one of the great adventure stories of the 1950s, according to PBS. Later, Rickover was instrumental in the building of the world’s first commercial nuclear power plant at Shippingport, Pa. Rickover’s achievements made him into a national celebrity, and he appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

Many questioned Rickover’s goal of a nuclear Navy. Others questioned his methods—PBS noted “his arrogant, high-handed behavior, and his creation of a technocratic elite, his own navy within the Navy.” Few, however, contested that he had transformed the Navy and much of U.S. industry, and changed the course of America’s technological development.

Today, as the United States looks for alternatives to fossil fuels such as nuclear power and tries to lower its carbon footprint, many wonder whether the nation can maintain its technological pre-eminence. Accordingly, PBS noted, “we would do well to consider the man who created the nuclear Navy, as well as the civilian nuclear power industry, Hyman Rickover.”

m_690090Manifold Productions has assembled a distinguished Board of Advisors for the documentary: Admiral Bruce DeMars, USN (Ret); Richard Hewlett, and Richard Rhodes.

A book on Rickover—”The Never-Ending Challenge of Engineering: Admiral H.G. Rickover in His Own Words“—is available from the American Nuclear Society by clicking here.

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 238

ferris wheel 202x201The 238th edition of the Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival has posted at Neutron Bytes.

Click here to access Carnival 238.

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, Neutron Bytes, 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.

Reporting An “Incident” As An “Accident”

Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Station, Ukraine

Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Station, Ukraine

By Will Davis

On November 28, 2014, “Block 3″ (or the third unit) at the massive Zaporizhia Nuclear Generating Station in Ukraine experienced a fault in electrical transmission equipment outside the nuclear portion of the plant itself. This fault essentially caused the 1000-MW rated nuclear plant to have nowhere to send that large amount of power it was generating, per its design. The nuclear plant tripped off its turbine generator (opening its output breakers) and scrammed the reactor. In the world of power generating equipment anywhere, no matter the power source, this type of event is fairly common. This scenario is possible when severe storms play havoc with the grid during intense lightning.

The trouble—if it should be called that—related to this incident began when the Ukrainian Premier publicly referred to this event as an “accident.” The term “nuclear accident,” still burned into the minds of so many after Chernobyl and Fukushima, refers to a very serious event. Such an event compromises all the layered, defense-in-depth levels of safety protecting nuclear materials from reaching the environment. In the case of a nuclear plant it would normally be assumed to involve melting of the fuel.

In the case of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant, Zaporizhia Unit 3, no such event occurred and was never approached; not only did the units beside it continue generating power, the immediate fault (related to a power transformer) was identified and within hours was scheduled for immediate repair. The unit was announced as ready to be back on the grid Friday, December 5.

After the Prime Minister used the “nuclear accident” phrase, a shock wave of reporting went around the world so that by 8 am CT Thursday morning, American Nuclear Society headquarters had already been contacted by major media for comment on the situation. It was clear, quite early, that what had actually happened was essentially a non-event (and the official Zaporizhia NPP site, in Russian only, had announced this fact on the November 29.) Headlines such as that seen here continued after the fact to use the term “accident,” even though nothing that satisfies the use of that term related to nuclear energy had happened.

It led to a roller coaster effect for some bond markets, and according to energy analyst Glenn Williams, “it’s actually dangerous. Some people lost money, although the (bond) markets that got hit recovered.” Bloomberg reported on the shakeup of the Ukrainian bond market yesterday. Williams noted that “if one unit at a giant six-unit power plant like that can go down and do that to their markets, it essentially demonstrates that Ukraine has an energy security problem.” That might be the real news from this event; we shall wait to see.

What’s essential to understand here is the significance of misreporting events such as these “incidents” (unintended, but fairly routine events) as “accidents.” Clearly there is a desire for news outlets to get views and clicks, and the use of the word “accident” will encourage that. Unfortunately, it seems that this desire overrode any attempt by many to get the actual facts. “Drudge had the report with the word ‘accident’ up for quite some time, and AP pushed that word too, but later had to back off from it,” said Williams. Numerous sources worldwide, in fact, carried this same verbiage.

What matters is that a routine event—an equipment failure that causes a power plant of any sort whatsoever to take automatic protective action—got mislabeled by a public official, and then vast media sources parroted that report without any further facts.

At least one silver lining was found, though—one media source did contact ANS for expert information and apparently killed the story when it was found to be a non-event.

ENERGOATOM, operator of Zaporizhia NPP, press release

IAEA press release on the event

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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.

BWXT will return in mid 2015

On November 5, the day before a scheduled quarterly conference call with investors and analysts, Babcock & Wilcox (NYSE:BWC) announced that it was splitting into two separate publicly traded companies.

One of the companies will retain the Babcock and Wilcox (B&W) brand and will include the business segment known as the Power Generation Group.

That company will continue to manufacture large heat exchangers and specialty pollution control components for combustion steam plants heated by coal, waste, biomass, and gas turbine exhaust. B&W will have a projected 2015 revenue of approximately $1.7 billion. Jim Ferland, who came to B&W in April 2012 after a two-day stint as chief executive officer of Westinghouse, will continue to run that substantially smaller company.

According to statements made during the November 6 quarterly conference call, B&W will be focusing on the international market for most of its new projects. It will continue earning about 50 percent of its revenue in the aftermarket servicing existing installations, much of which is in the United States.

Ferland described how the new company expected to be able to increase its operating margins by making more of its products and performing more of its engineering via Thermax Babcock & Wilcox Energy Solutions, a joint venture that opened a new fabrication plant in India last January. He emphasized that the company sees growth opportunities but will not chase low margin contracts just to increase revenue.

Though no layoffs have been announced for U.S. facilities, Ferland also mentioned that the company intended to maintain a relatively constant employee count of approximately 6,300 people. As work shifts to the new facility in India, its employee count will grow. There is only one way to keep the total constant: the number of U.S. employees will have to decrease.

Pure play nuclear

The second company will include all of B&W’s nuclear-focused business units and will revive a familiar name, BWX Technologies (BWXT). BWXT will establish its headquarters in Lynchburg, Va., home to facilities and offices that employ more than half of the company’s 4,700 employees.

Company spokeswoman Aimee Mills said that selecting a specific headquarters location will be part of the six-month planning process.

John Fees, who is the current non-executive chairman of B&W and has worked for the company since before it was acquired by McDermott in 1978, will become the chairman of BWXT. Peyton (Sandy) Baker, also a long-time employee and current head of the government and nuclear operations group, will be the company CEO.

From the outside, this new alignment looks a little like a divorce of a long-established marriage due to growing mutual incompatibilities.

The activist investors who began taking large positions in B&W stock about a year ago have apparently determined that the company will be worth more by having two focused management teams working in areas of the energy industry that have some similar engineering needs—but function in entirely different regulatory environments and appeal to different types of investors.

It should free up the BWXT marketing department to emphasize the clean energy advantages of atomic fission—both publicly and politically—without worrying about offending or disadvantaging a sister division that is still tied to coal.

Each new company should appeal to investors with different goals for particular financial performance and product offerings. For example, an investor who believes that clean energy has better potential for growth than coal or biomass can now choose a pure play in nuclear instead of a mixed coal and nuclear company.

Custody of mPower

During the conference call, there were several questions about the fate of the mPower small modular reactor project. Company leaders stated that they were still interested in the project, and that they were diligently working on a design certification application within the constraints of the current $15 million per year project budget.

They are still working with the Department of Energy to determine how the matching funds it awarded to assist with the engineering and design certification effort will be best used and whether there will be additional funds provided.

Only a portion of the initial award has actually been appropriated and distributed to the company.

The mPower project will still be able to take advantage of the synergies provided by the existing manufacturing facilities and engineering skills associated with producing the specialized components required in nuclear power plants. All of those units of B&W are going to be a part of BWXT.

The Nuclear Fuel Services subsidiary, as well as the various subsidiaries, joint ventures and limited liability companies created for Department of Energy cleanup work, will be housed within the new BWXT, too.

Acquisition bait?

Though Fees and Ferland repeatedly stated that neither company is for sale, it is apparent that each of the two new companies could be an attractive target for a certain type of conglomerate.

BWXT might appeal to a major defense contractor seeking some commercial diversification and the growth potential of the mPower project if design certification can be completed, while B&W operates in the same market as Foster-Wheeler and Alstom, both of which are currently being acquired.

Knowledgeable sources are optimistic about the prospects for BWXT to flourish under its new, focused management. The selected leaders are familiar and respected. Fees and Baker have deep expertise in creating and leading teams that provide the expected quality and level of service to both government and commercial nuclear customers.

They recognize the future potential for the mPower project and for continued growth in providing nuclear-related technical services and exceptionally high-quality fuel and other components. They know that they are in a business that cannot succeed with a cost-reduction, outsource-to-India mindset. Unfortunately for the current employees of the mPower project, the cost-cutter mindset appears to have at least another six months of dominance.

The road to success for BWXT will be growing revenue by meeting customer expectations and by providing differentiated products that can demand higher margins because they are more productive than the competition.

Of course, like any divorce, there will be costs associated with the process of splitting.

The lawyers will get their share, the auditors will get their share, and the branding companies that produce signs, sales literature, and stationary will get theirs. The company estimates that there will be a one time cost of $45 million–$55 million associated with the split.

It also recognizes that there will be an ongoing cost associated with having two separate management teams, two separate auditors, a different kind of insurance program, and two separate headquarters.

This split should be fairly equitable and non-contentious. There are few physical assets that are currently shared between groups that will end up in “the other” part of the company, and there already appears to be a mutual understanding of who will take care of each of the children.

The market’s reaction to the announcement has been cautiously positive.

Note: A version of the above first appeared in the November 13, 2014, edition of Fuel Cycle Week. It is reprinted here with permission.

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 237

ferris wheel 202x201It’s time for the 237th Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival, and this time it’s right here at the ANS Nuclear Cafe.  Because of the Thanksgiving holiday week, the contributions are slightly reduced in number compared with the usual, but what there is packs a punch.  Let’s get to it!

 

Neutron Bytes – Dan Yurman

Breaking:  India’ PM Modi Seeks to Change Nuclear Liability Law

The measure is strangling both domestic and global investment for India’s nuclear energy program.  The nation’s plan to build 63 GWe of nuclear generating capacity is stalled out.  Modi proposes fixed liability and an insurance pool to bring nuclear firms and investors back to the table.

Bounces and Blips in European Nuclear Investment Plans

It is hard to blame nuclear reactor vendors for being both bullish and skeptical about the prospects for new reactors in Europe.  The outlook for the future of nuclear energy in Europe depends on what country you are in, and sometimes, which government is in power.

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The Hiroshima Syndrome – Les Corrice

Fukushima Child Thyroid Cancer Issue (Updated)

The previously posted page has been updated to include summaries of articles posted 5/20/14, 10/9/14, and 11/30/14.  We can now say, with a high degree of confidence, that none of the child thyroid cancers discovered in Fukushima Prefecture since 3/11/11 were due to the nuclear accident’s radiation release.

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Yes Vermont Yankee – Meredith Angwin

Support Nuclear – Email the EPA Today!

Email the EPA by the end of Monday, December 1 to make your voice heard on the Clean Power Rule.

Send your comment to the EPA; here’s mine!

Meredith Angwin sent her comment to the EPA on its Clean Power Rule.  She invites you to do that too, and provides her comment as an example.

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Forbes – Jim Conca

Net Energy Metering – Are We Capitalists, or What?

Whether net metering of energy is good or bad depends upon whether you’re the owner of rooftop solar arrays who sees it as necessary to encourage solar installations and decrease residential loads, or a utility company that sees this as giving rooftop owners a free pass on their fair share of maintaining the electric grid like everyone else does.  As usual, it’s somewhere in between, and any adverse effects on the grid should not be felt for years, giving us a bit of time to work out the best system to employ net metering.

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Atomic Insights – Rod Adams

Is Chernobyl Still Dangerous or was 60 Minutes Pushing Propaganda?

There is no reason to fear Chernobyl.  The area is recovering; people who live and work nearby are healthy.  The haunting images of abandoned cities and villages depict damage that has occurred as a result of the evacuation, not as a result of the accident — which caused no physical damage outside of the plant itself.

However, there are deepening political tensions in Ukraine.  There are reasons to remind people that the Soviet Union fell, and to remind them that the Soviet Empire was responsible for the accident.

Atomic Show #227 – Carmen Bigles, Coqui Radiopharmaceuticals

Coqui Radiopharmaceuticals is a startup company founded in 2009 with a laser focus on solving a problem affecting the health of tens of thousands of people.  The founder, Carmen Bigles, noticed that many of the patients arriving at her clinic had not been properly diagnosed and discovered that the reason for that condition was an insufficient supply of molybdenum-99 to provide technetium-99 for diagnostic nuclear medicine.  She recognized that the problem was a solvable one and believed that she had the experience and ability to build a team capable of producing a long-term solution.

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That’s it for the 237th Carnival.  THANK YOU to all of our authors who took the time to write, and to submit, their posts.

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 236

ferris wheel 202x201The 236th Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival has been posted at Yes Vermont Yankee.

Click here to access Carnival 236.

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, Neutron Bytes, 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.

NRC Releases Yucca Post Closure Safety Evaluation Report (finally)

by Jim Hopf

hopf1Last month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission finally released Volume 3 of the Safety Evaluation Report (SER) for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. This volume covers the post-closure evaluation of the repository, and includes all of the analyses that show that the repository will meet the stringent waste material containment requirements over the evaluated one million year period. Other volumes, which cover other areas of repository design (e.g., surface facilities, etc..), have yet to be released.

As expected, the NRC’s technical staff concluded that the repository will meet all of the requirements. Anticipating this positive outcome, Nevada Senator Harry Reid and the Obama administration had frozen the NRC licensing process for years, and blocked the release of SER Volume 3, for purely political reasons. Victorious court challenges by Yucca proponents were required to force the continuation of the licensing process and the eventual release of SER Volume 3.

Yucca’s future

Release of the post-closure repository evaluation does not mean that the repository is through with the licensing process, or that its construction will begin any time soon. The NRC still has to approve and release several other SER volumes, covering various other aspects of the repository design (although no real, scientifically controversial issues in those areas are expected). Even after the release of all volumes, a lengthy public hearing process will ensue, and multiple legal challenges are expected.

Another issue is the fact that, although the NRC has stated that the repository would be safe, the Obama administration remains opposed to the repository, and the Department of Energy is no longer a willing applicant. Funding for continuing the process is also in question. Sen. Reid had been successful in blocking such funding, although now that he is no longer Senate Majority Leader, his continued ability to do so is in question. Given the difficulties with funding and lack of cooperation by the DOE, many think that continued progress will be slow and difficult.

For the above reasons, I’ve heard people deeply involved with the project still say that they doubt they will be the repository built “within their lifetime.” Others believe that, despite the NRC’s determination of safety, Yucca will never be built because its ~$100 billion price tag is too high, and other potential repositories (e.g., salt domes) would be far less expensive.

Ruling’s significance

As I’ve often argued, however, even if the Yucca project were not to proceed, this NRC ruling is extremely significant, because it formally and conclusively demonstrates that we have a viable technical solution to the nuclear waste problem. It may not be the best solution, or even the one we end up choosing, but it is *a* solution. A viable, acceptable, technical solution.

A significant amount of the public’s lack of support for nuclear power stems from the fact that many of them continue to believe that there is no technical solution to the nuclear waste problem (and that it is the only waste stream for which there is no acceptable disposal solution). Nuclear opponents have taken advantage of this mindset, and have relentlessly repeated the message that “we have no idea what to do with the waste.” It has been one of their most effective arguments.

The fact is that whatever fuel cycle and waste management path we choose, the overall public health and environmental risks will be very small, and the overall costs will not significantly affect nuclear power’s overall cost. The most significant impact that nuclear waste management has had on nuclear power is the reduction in public support due to the continued lack of resolution concerning disposal. This in turn has indirectly led to increased cost (through excessive regulation) and a reduced number of nuclear projects.

hopf2Given this, even if we do decide to take a different path (than Yucca), we cannot afford to let the public continue to think that there is “no solution” for another several decades. If we abandon Yucca, and “go back to the drawing board,” there is a good chance that it will reinforce the public’s (false) notion that there is no scientific/technical solution to the problem. Their reaction will be “Look, they’ve given up!” And yet, many in the industry itself are advocating that we basically do just that. In my view, if we do that, we need to send a very clear message that we have an acceptable, viable solution (Yucca), but that we’re voluntarily pursuing an even better solution.

In any event, it is clear that the public needs to be made aware of the NRC’s decision. It needs to be made very clear that a viable, technically adequate solution to the nuclear waste problem has been found, period. This should remove much if not most of the public opposition stemming from continued lack of resolution of the nuclear waste “problem.” That would allow us to spend more time, if necessary, developing “better” solutions.

Reactions to the NRC report

Unfortunately, the NRC’s release of SER Volume 3 has not received significant media coverage (outside the industry press). The presence of many other events and issues that are going on, including the election, have contributed to it. The only article by a major paper published soon the after NRC’s release of the SER volume was this article by the New York Times. After some delay, a couple more articles or editorials (such as this one by the Boston Globe) made reference to the NRC ruling, in support of continuing the licensing process.

After the election, there have been many more articles talking about improved prospects for Yucca Mountain, but they are all in the context of the Democrats losing the senate, and Harry Reid losing his position as Senate Majority Leader, and therefore some of his ability to block the project. The NRC’s release of SER Volume 3 and its judgment that the repository meets all the stringent technical requirements is not mentioned.

This is unfortunate in a couple of ways. Not only do all these articles not inform the public about the NRC’s technical determination, but it characterizes the situation strictly in terms of politics. That is, Yucca will go forward not due to technical merit, but because project supporters now may have the political power to push it through. The stories do not give the public any (increased) sense that the issue has been technically solved.

Call to action

Given all the above, it’s clear that nuclear supporters have their work cut out for them with respect to public communication on this issue. It appears that the news media is not going to help us get the word out, so we are going to have to do it ourselves. My observations are also that, as expected, nuclear opponents are completely ignoring the NRC’s ruling and are continuing to repeat the mantra that “there is no solution” to the nuclear waste problem.

I would encourage American Nuclear Society members to do anything they can to get the word out to the general public about the NRC’s very important determination that the Yucca repository would meet all the (very stringent) technical requirements. Give public talks. Write a letter to your local paper. Let’s try to get people on TV somehow. Would it be too much of a stretch to ask if the industry should run ads…..?

The message should be simple. The nuclear waste problem has been technically solved, period. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We have shown that at least one site, Yucca, has met all the technical requirements. Problems and delays with getting repositories sited are purely political. We may decide to pursue what we believe are better options, but we know that we have an adequate technical solution.

For extra credit, we could point out that, if anything, the nuclear waste “problem” is the most solved waste problem, from a technical perspective. It is the only waste stream for which detailed proof that it will remain contained for as long as it remains hazardous has been required. For most, if not all, other waste streams, we have nowhere near that level proof or assurance. That nuclear waste is unique in terms of posing a long-term hazard is a myth. It is the standards and requirements that are unique, not the hazard or longevity.

Many wastes (including those from nuclear’s fossil competitors) are simply dumped/emitted directly into the environment. Those that are buried are vastly larger in volume, generally have a harder to contain physical/chemical form, and are disposed of with infinitely less care and expense. For those reasons, many if not most of mankind’s other waste streams pose a far greater hazard, now and over the very long term (thousands of years into the future). It is more truthful to say that it is other waste streams that have no viable technical (or economic) solution.

The fact is that despite repeated suggestions to the complete contrary, nuclear waste is the most impeccably and conscientiously managed waste stream. It is generated in tiny volumes and has always been safely and completely stored. It has never hurt anyone or had any measurable public health impact. Its disposal is held to the most stringent standards of any waste stream in history, and now it’s been shown (with Yucca) that those impeccable requirements can be met. Frankly, waste stream issues should be one of the main arguments in favor of nuclear. How can we get that message out?

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jimHopfJim 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.

The Details of the Clean Power Plan (So You Want to See the Numbers)

by Nicholas Thompson

Two weeks ago I wrote an article on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan at Nuclear Undone. I highly recommend you read that overview first. This is meant to be a follow-up to that article, for people who want more background on the rule and how it effects nuclear.

First, a brief overview: the Clean Power Plan aims to reduce emissions rates (not necessarily emissions) by setting goals for states in terms of lbs of CO2/MWh. According to the US Energy Information Agency (US EIA), in 2012 New York State’s electricity sector had a carbon emissions rate of 578 lbs/MWh. For scale, the average U.S. coal plant emits ~2250 lbs of CO2/MWh, and the average natural gas plant emits ~1100 lbs of CO2/MWh. New York’s carbon emissions rate is much lower than a state like Wyoming (2106 lbs/MWh) because while Wyoming is heavily reliant on coal (87.5 percent of net electricity generation was from coal), New York has a mix of natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, coal, and other renewables.

In the Clean Power Plan, state goals are set by calculating the total emissions of the electricity sector for that state, and dividing the electricity production of all fossil fuels, wind, and solar, but only 5.8 percent of nuclear (hydro is excluded completely). What this does is artificially increase the calculated initial emissions rate for the state, so that in setting state goals, states with a significant amount of nuclear have easier goals. Let’s use New York, Illinois, and Wyoming as examples to show this. Table 1 shows the various mixes of energy production for each state, in percentages.

Table 1: Electricity Generation by Source, 2012 EIA Data

Electricity Source [%]

New York

Illinois

Wyoming

Coal

3.35

40.91

87.54

Hydroelectric

18.16

0.06

1.80

Natural Gas

43.80

5.66

1.03

Nuclear

30.03

48.79

0.00

Wind and Solar

2.24

3.93

8.81

Other

2.42

0.65

0.81

I picked these three states because they each represent a different energy mix; New York with a mixture of sources (and it’s my home state), Illinois being nuclear and coal heavy, and Wyoming being dominated by coal. Table 2 shows the 2012 emissions rates for each of these states.

Table 2: Calculated Emissions Rates

Emissions Rate [lbs CO2/MWh]

New York

Illinois

Wyoming

Actual 2012 Emissions Rate

578

1051

2106

Calculated 2012 Emissions Rate

978

1894

2115

Calculated 2030 Goal Emissions Rate

549

1271

1714

Goal with 100% Nuclear Accounted For

402

761

1714

As expected, the states that rely the most on coal have the highest current emissions rates. However, also shown in Table 2 is the “Calculated 2012 Emissions Rate”, based on the EPA’s formula that only takes 5.8 percent of nuclear into account and doesn’t take into account hydroelectric. Illinois and New York show much larger “calculated” emissions rates, because it’s essentially only counting coal, natural gas, renewables, and a sliver of nuclear (Wyoming doesn’t change much because it doesn’t have any nuclear and barely any hydroelectric). So in setting emissions goals, it is the “calculated” emissions rate that the EPA uses as a baseline. Table 2 also shows the 2030 emissions goals based on this formula, and for New York there is barely a difference between the actual 2012 emissions rate and the 2030 calculated goal. Illinois is even a stranger situation, where the actual emissions rate in 2012 is lower than the calculated 2030 goal. Wyoming on the other hand will have to find a way to reduce emissions.

You might also wonder where the 5.8 percent for nuclear came from in the first place. According to the Clean Power Plan, this was the percentage of nuclear plants that are “under construction or at risk.” The goal of protecting economically-at-risk plants is a good one (although under the current formula it barely values nuclear at all), but the “under construction” is curious. It’s strange, because what this means is that in states where nuclear plants are under construction, the rule assumes that those plants are already operating and won’t take their additional contribution into account at all when it comes to compliance with the rule.

But back to the main point, if nuclear is accounted for at 100 percent of its generation (the last row in Table 2), then the emissions goals become more stringent, and states that shut down nuclear plants would have a hard time hitting emissions goals. Don’t take my word for it; when a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) attorney was asked about only including 5.8 percent of nuclear generation, he responded by saying “I observe that most of those nuclear plants were built a long time ago…Including them all would imply that states need to make sure all of them continue to operate. Compliance in states that had to close them down would be more difficult.” The reason I bring up the NRDC is because of its involvement in writing the rule, as documented in the New York Times.

Only accounting for 5.8 percent of nuclear also means that states with large amounts of nuclear don’t have to do much to hit emissions targets; in fact certain states, Illinois being one of them, could close all of their nuclear facilities and replace them with natural gas plants, and their emissions rate would be less than the 2030 goal. This would of course lead to higher emissions in the real world, but it would be perfectly fine according to this rule.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t include hydroelectric in the calculation, it’s because:

  1. I wanted to just highlight the importance of fully taking nuclear generation into account, and…
  2. The EPA makes a pretty good point as to why it didn’t include hydroelectric in setting state goals.

The point the EPA makes (on page 200 of the Clean Power Plan) is that states are unlikely to build significantly more hydroelectric in the next 15 years, so including hydroelectric would drastically change the goals for states that have large amounts of hydroelectric versus those that don’t. The EPA does offer a caveat, however: “The exclusion of pre-existing hydropower generation from the baseline of this target-setting framework does not prevent states from considering incremental hydropower generation from existing facilities (or later-built facilities) as an option for compliance with state goals.”

This brings me to my final point. The Clean Power Plan does not clearly say what the formula for computing compliance will be. The formula for setting goals only includes 5.8 percent of nuclear and no hydro, but the quote above implies that additional hydro could be used to reduce the state’s emissions rate. So this could go one of a few ways:

  1. The EPA uses the same formula as it did for setting state targets (this would exclude all new hydroelectric, which goes against the quote above).
  2. The EPA calculates compliance emissions rates in a sane and logical way that includes all generation (in which their original goals don’t make much sense, since some states would already be in compliance).
  3. The EPA calculates compliance emissions rates with a new, yet-to-be determined formula that may or may not include the low carbon generation from nuclear facilities.

This is why this issue is so important. As the Clean Power Plan is written, targets are made extremely easy for states with nuclear plants, such that in some states they can be shut down with little to no consequence, even though actual emissions will be much higher. It also does not lay out how compliance will be calculated, but based on the comments about hydroelectric, hints at a different way of calculating compliance (which may or may not include nuclear). Either way, nuclear’s importance as a source of low carbon energy is not accounted for. This is in stark contrast to wind and solar, in which 100 percent of existing wind and solar is credited in target setting.

So if you care about the environment and want the Clean Power Plan to actual achieve real-world emissions reductions, and not just “calculated” emissions reductions where actual emissions stay the same or go up, nuclear must be included.

All the major environmental groups are submitting comments. Will you make your voice heard? Don’t be discouraged by the number of comments already submitted. Based on a quick search, only roughly 21,000 of the comments about the plan are unique. This means that each and every unique comment will be important, and even a few hundred comments will be a significant portion of those received.

Comments to the EPA Clean Power Plan are due by December 1, and if you are an American Nuclear Society member, make sure to identify that in your comment:

http://www.ans.org/epa

Also a major thanks goes out to Remy DeVoe, Justin Knowles, and Dr. Steve Skutnik for actually crunching the numbers and helping to get this issue the attention it needs. And if there are any students who would like to get involved with policy work, and actually meet with the EPA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Department of Energy, apply for the Nuclear Engineering Student Delegation!

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Nicholas ThompsonNicholas Thompson is a Ph.D. student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute studying nuclear engineering and science. His current research is on using a lead slowing-down spectrometer to measure various nuclear data at the Gaerttner Linear Accelerator Center.

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 235

ferris wheel 202x201The 235th Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival has been posted at The Hiroshima Syndrome.

Click here to see Carnival 235.

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, Neutron Bytes, 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.

Thorium shines brightly at ANS Winter Meeting

by Will Davis

I have generally been quite a skeptic about thorium as a source of nuclear fuel. Although I know that thorium was tried in the fuel at two very early commercial power reactors in the United States (Elk River, and Indian Point-1), the idea did not take off. The proposals to use thorium in fluid fuel reactors were far less successful, with none moving beyond the prototype stage. Even given the low success rate, it still remains that the use of thorium is promising.

Thorium itself isn’t fissile, because it can’t itself be split to produce energy.  However, if it is bombarded by neutrons then after a decay process it produces a fissionable isotope of uranium.  So, it is called “fertile” rather than “fissile,”  and it is fairly abundant.  There are many millions of metric tons of it around, and it’s not being used for much.

So today, at the ANS 2014 Winter Meeting, I attended the “Thorium Resources, Recovery, Fuels and Fuel Cycles” session in order to see for myself what the cutting-edge thinking might be on using this apparently abundant, but now-all-but-abandoned, nuclear fuel.  The efforts and papers put forth were brilliant, and my view has changed.

The leadoff paper, Thorium Recovery from Rare Earth Element Deposits in the US (Bradley Van Gosen, Steven Krahn, Timothy Ault) first showed us that thorium is very abundant right here in the United States. There are in fact several operations underway right now that can supply it, and that is because thorium is found in the same place where rare earth elements are found.  Thorium is tossed aside as a radioactive nuisance.   According to the paper’s authors, since the material is already being pulled from the ground, and if and when a thorium fuel cycle for nuclear reactors develops, then it can piggyback on the existing rare earth mining operations.  That is a concept that could significantly reduce the capital cost of the fuel cycle.  Furthermore, if the thorium is recovered from mine tailings already dumped, it can help toward what would normally be considered remediation of a mining site.  In other words, what was once perceived as hazardous waste cleanup, would still be viewed as hazardous, but also as a fuel source.

The presentation detailed a number of mining operations, both underway and planned in the US, from which thorium could be obtained if required.  However, it noted that major hurdles face this particular prospect.  For example, the present thorium market is small, and there is zero market for fuel; no government subsidies exist either.  No present facility exists to separate the thorium from the mine tailings; if one did, it would need complicated permitting to stockpile concentrated radioactive material.

These observations made the next presentation all the more important.  “Environmental Impact of Thorium Recovery from Titanium Mining in North America” was delivered next, out of order due to a schedule problem (authored by Timothy Ault, Steven Krahn, Allen Croff, Raymond Wimer).  It pointed out that there is an enormous demand for titanium worldwide, far higher than for rare earths (primarily in white paints) and that where you find titanium, you also find thorium.  In fact, there are dozens of possible titanium (and thorium) mining sites in the US Piedmont Region, beyond the ten or so already operating there.  While the process to separate the thorium from the basic ore would require very large amounts of not only water, but chemicals too, it requires no new materials or processes to be developed that aren’t already in existence. Further, the cost of the process could be driven down if other rare earths essentially sloughed off from this process were sold as commodities.  Thus, the production of thorium from already existing titanium mining is far more attractive than simply finding other ores in the ground and starting a mine from scratch or even remediating rare earth mine tailings.  This essentially moves that first step of the thorium fuel process from the “where, and how” phase to the “here, and here’s how” phase.

In fairness the paper’s authors did detail that the thorium fuel process done this way does have a relatively high radiation dose rate — primarily at the first step where the original ore, called Monazite, is broken down to extract the thorium.  This is because of radioactive Radium-228, which then follows the rare earths through the process.  However, titanium mines here and in Canada already have some processing facilities nearby (although not for nuclear fuel) and have very sufficient transportation infrastructure.  After hearing these arguments, I myself became convinced that thorium might not be that hard to come by after all as a fuel source, and we know how to deal with radioactive materials quite well enough.  One person at the session did speak up and point out that the more or less mainstream thorium messaging constantly points out that it’s about four times more plentiful than uranium, but that this messaging ignores the fact that thorium is also distributed exceedingly sparsely around the world in small concentrations over large areas.  This makes economic recovery of thorium as a fuel a problem, unless you piggyback the process on something already existing, such as mining titanium.

The next paper is at the ANS Winter Meeting session is what really convinced me that this material could actually be used in commercial nuclear fuel, in my lifetime.  Saleem Drera of Thor Energy (a small company of 20 people) delivered a paper on his company’s efforts to develop commercial nuclear fuel, already well underway, which uses thorium and which can be burned in, and licensed in, present light water reactors.

Thor Energy is already testing fuel pellets of a number of designs in the Halden Research Reactor in Norway. The company’s theory is that the introduction of thorium should be “evolutionary, not revolutionary” and should start with the present design of reactors (both boiling water reactors and pressurized water reactors) that will be the mainstay of commercial nuclear power worldwide for at least the rest of the 21st century. To that end, it’s already testing fuel pellets made in its own small lab setup in the Halden Research Reactor in Norway, with excellent results. The company feels that its fuel design could actually allow any reactor in which it is used to receive a power uprate. That is an important point for a utility trying out a new fuel, since the profit margin will be higher. The company’s second run of test fuel pins will be put in the same reactor in 2015. A good deal of the presentation was given to the actual process for manufacturing the fuel, but what is important is that right now we have fuel pins that will work in conventional existing reactors under test.

The final paper presented at the meeting was written by Gonghoon Bae and Ser Gi Hong of Kyung Hee University, South Korea. It was an exceedingly technical review of a new, small, light water reactor core design that can burn what we call TRU or transuranic materials. These are the worst of the materials in spent nuclear fuels, and there have been many attempts over the years to develop reactors that can burn them up. This South Korean group has developed a small (308 MW thermal) reactor, a light water-cooled moderated reactor. It uses a special, graphite-stainless steel neutron reflector and specially developed fuel, including thorium, that can actually burn up a very high percentage of TRU material. The reactor is planned to operate on a four and a half year fuel cycle, and can burn up 25 percent of the transuranics inserted into the core and/or generated in it during operation; part of the fuel includes reprocessed TRU material.

South Korea, however, is now reaching a choke point when it comes to storing spent nuclear fuel. Currently it is working on building a small, light water-cooled and moderated and partly thorium-fueled reactor that can burn up the waste.

I walked out of that session convinced that I need to keep an eye on all of these development tracks. I was enthralled by the enthusiasm of those in the room presenting, and the competence of the questions from the audience. Not only was this one of the best technical sessions I’ve seen at any ANS meeting, it left me changed; I can see a way out for thorium now.

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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.