Reflections on Vermont Yankee – 3

This is the last of the three-part series presenting the opinions of nuclear industry experts on the closing of Vermont Yankee.  Thank you to Dan Yurman for helping to coordinate all of the authors/articles in this three-part series.

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Failure to Politically Engage – Howard Shaffer, PE

A Republican senator who was a supporter of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant was once overheard in the Vermont Senate saying [paraphrased]: If the opponents had invaded Entergy Vermont Yankee’s Board, they could not have done a better job of defeating the plant than the plant did to itself. The senator was part of a debate over a vote that would block the State’s Certificate of Public Good process and essentially force the plant to shut down.

Unfortunately, Entergy Vermont Yankee carried through with the industry’s error of misunderstanding the campaign against the plant as a technical and legal policy debate, as opposed to recognizing it for what it truly was—a bare knuckle political campaign.

The utility did not do things it should have, and did do things to make the situation worse. “Due diligence” on the politics of Vermont had not been done. Here’s a short list of the basic campaign rules that were violated:

  • All politics are local.” – Tip O’Neil, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives.
  • A charge unanswered is a charge believed.” – former US Senator Simpson of Montana
  • Decisions are made by those who show up.
  • Know who your opponents are, as well as their backgrounds.
  • Be the first to get negative information about you into the media. You get to define the issue, not your opponents.
  • Use every means possible to reach the public.
  • Explain technical issues in words the public uses. Do not use definitions of words created for the technology to finesse issues when testifying. It looks like you are trying to hide something.
  • Recognize your situation. If you must legally report all negative information to regulatory agencies, know that your opponents will be waiting for it, in order to spin it their way. (See the fourth rule, above.)
  • Recognize that a commitment of resources is needed to win. A tough campaign may require more than originally planned. Calculate the cost of losing before limiting resources.
  • Full engagement during the campaign is better than trying to salvage defeat in court.

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h shafferHoward Shaffer PE. 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. Senior Systems Engineer, Public Speaker, Public Outreach, Startup Engineer, Submarine Engineer Officer. Coordinator ANS Vermont Grassroots Project.

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Vermont Yankee Shuts Down for Good – Dan Yurman

A combination of “wholesale market flaws” and delusional granola politics combined to produce a squeeze play that forced Entergy to cease operations on 12/29/14 at the 602-MW boiling water reactor after 42 years of operation.

The plant produced 72 percent of the electricity generated in the state. However, most of that electricity was sold throughout New England.

Although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had granted the reactor a 20 year extension on its license in 2011, until 2032, Entergy said that the high cost of operation combined with repeated attacks on it from a regulatory angle by the state of Vermont caused the utility to make the decision last August to close it 18 years early.

Anti-nuclear sentiment may have also played a role, but it is questionable whether it was decisive in Entergy’s view.

Vermont’s governor, Peter Shumlin, was elected in 2010 on a pledge to shut down the plant when its current license expired. He made unverifiable claims that Vermont, like Germany, could get 30 percent of its electricity from solar power. These off-the-wall statements played well to some Vermonters’ “off-the-grid” lifestyle politics.

The Vermont legislature and general public opinion were also stacked against the plant. And the business community from granola makers to famous ice cream manufacturers, whose own plants depended on electricity from the reactor, lined up at public meetings to attack it.

Entergy, which is a Louisiana business, never got a sense of how to deal with New England greens. Visual props, such as the plant’s partial collapse of a wooden structure for discharge of cooling water, provided endless opportunities for anti-nuclear groups to spin the public case against the plant. Never mind that the water wasn’t radioactive and was permitted by the state of Vermont to be returned to the same river from which it came.

In addition, record low prices for natural gas had an impact on the rate at which electricity from the plant could be sold into regional grids.

Entergy said, “Wholesale market design flaws resulted in artificially low energy prices … and do not provide adequate compensation to merchant nuclear plants for the fuel diversity benefits they provide.”

A translation of the investor language from Entergy is that it could not compete with the low gas prices, and there was no way to recover value, nor earn revenue, for the firm based on the carbon emission reductions it provided to the region.

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Dan Yurman CDPUG Feb 2014Dan Yurman blogs at Neutron Bytes and is a former reporter for Fuel Cycle Week.

Reflections on Vermont Yankee – 2

This is the second of three posts presenting the professional opinions of experts in the nuclear field on the Yankee Vermont closing.

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Arguments for Keeping the Plant Viable – Rod Adams

You make the call—should Entergy maintain the option of selling or restarting Vermont Yankee?

Vermont Yankee is a complete, licensed, 604-MWe (net), ultra-low emission power plant on a 140-acre riverfront site with the proven capability of producing 4.7 million mega-watt hours of electricity every year.

At an average sales price of $50 per MW-hr, the plant produces $225 million in annual revenue. The plant is located on the correct side of a natural gas supply constraint, there is significant upside potential for the product sales price.

Nuclear fuel cost is roughly $50 million per year. Payroll adds another $60 million–$100 million. License fees add $5 million–$6 million. Special taxes add another $20 million–$30 million.

Its existing license to operate expires in 2032, but that license can be extended for an additional 20 years after a detailed review of the plant’s operating condition.

The plant needs a few major repairs to ensure continued reliability. The biggest one is that its condenser must be refurbished or replaced. Because Vermont Yankee is a boiling water reactor with a radioactively contaminated condenser, that job is a more complicated and quite a bit more expensive than it would be for a pressurized water reactor.

However, there is recent industry experience in performing the repair. A good cost estimate for completion is roughly $40 million–$50 million with a 2–3 month repair duration. During this time the plant would be shut down with no revenue produced by the sale of electricity.

There is an unknown investment requirement of as much as $100 million looming in the future to install whatever mandatory reactions to the Fukushima event that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decides to enforce.

Some Vermont politicians dislike the plant and want it shut down. Vermont Yankee has a $600 million dollar decommissioning fund asset that will cover projected costs after the plant is shut down and formally begins the decommissioning process.

If the plant is returned to service, electricity and electricity capacity prices in New England will be lower, negatively impacting the revenue potential for all other power generating assets in the region.

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adamsRod Adams is the publisher of Atomic Insights and the host of the Atomic Show podcast.



Lessons Learned from Advocacy – Robert Margolis

The recent closure of Vermont Yankee (V-Y) provides many lessons for the nuclear profession. One that is significant remains the need for greater activism from nuclear professionals across the spectrum.

Certainly there were strong supporters of V-Y who attended meetings, connected with the media, and engaged the public (even brought cookies and brownies). However, we need more voices telling our story.

Technology professionals as activists are rare, but have a great impact when present. Frederick Salvucci, a civil engineer, was a principal leader of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project (i.e., “Big Dig”). He was a fierce advocate who was not inspired by improved traffic or Boston’s economic future.

Rather, the interstate had plowed over Salvucci’s grandmother’s home and he was determined to reclaim the Boston of his youth by literally burying the interstate. He worked with government, citizens, and the media to bring “Big Dig” to fruition.

We make strong arguments for nuclear energy based on comparisons with fossil fuels and by explaining radiation effects and economic benefits. However, to fully capture the public moral imagination we all need to embrace pro-nuclear activism and engage the public.

All includes nuclear professionals across the disciplines (power, medicine, research), across the organizations (utilities, vendors, consultants), and across functions (CNOs, skilled craft, even engineers).

We may not be able to do everything everywhere, but if we all do what we can in favor of nuclear, if we take control of telling our nuclear story, the public will take notice.

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margolisRobert Margolis, PE, is a nuclear engineer having over 28 years of experience as a reactor engineer, startup test engineer, project engineer, and safety analyst.



A Lack of Profitable Power Contracts – Ed Kee

“Wholesale market design flaws that continue to result in artificially low energy and capacity prices.” This is Entergy’s reason for early retirement and it meant that the firm experienced financial losses for Vermont Yankee (V-Y).

Until March 2012, electrical power from V-Y was sold to the original utility owners under a power contract included in the 2002 purchase. This power contract was not renewed.

Entergy tried to find new power contracts, but this was difficult due to low wholesale electricity market prices and uncertainty about whether the state would prevent V-Y from operating after March 2012 when the original NRC operating license expired. Entergy won the right to continue operating V-Y for another 20 years, but without power contracts.

With no power contracts, Vermont Yankee sold power at a loss into the ISO NE electricity spot market and forward capacity market. These losses would be even worse after ISO NE changed its rules to allow negative spot prices in late 2014.

Early retirement stopped Vermont Yankee’s financial losses, similar to the early retirement of Dominion’s Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin in 2013.

Electricity markets are focused on short-term wholesale market prices instead of long-term total system cost. This flawed approach ignores the value of nuclear electricity.

In these flawed electricity markets, it is likely more existing nuclear units will retire early (and permanently) and no new nuclear projects will be built.

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EDK head shot newEdward Kee is the owner of Nuclear Economics Consulting Group (NECG) and is an Affiliated Expert with NERA Economic Consulting.


 

Reflections on Vermont Yankee – 1

Although the nuclear power station known as Vermont Yankee had another 18 years left on its license, it was shut down for economic reasons at the end of 2014. Entergy Corporation,the plant’s owner, and others have cited the low price of natural gas in the region as deterministic, but the reality is that many other issues were also at play.

Seven authors—who have no official connection to Vermont Yankee, or to Entergy—have provided their opinions on the shutdown of the plant, its implications for the region, and possible implications for other nuclear plants in other areas of the country. This is the first of three posts presenting these opinions.

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The Price Is Not the Lesson – Meredith Angwin

Vermont Yankee was a small stand-alone plant (620 MW), exactly the type of plant which has the highest costs per kWH produced. So, when natural gas prices dropped to lowest prices in years, the plant was closed because it wasn’t economical to keep it open. That’s the agreed-upon story, anyway.

By saying “economics,” Entergy (the owner of Vermont Yankee) can claim it never yielded to opponent pressures or pressures from the state government. With “economics” as the reason, opponents can claim that they opposed the plant, but that they didn’t shut it down. Opponents can say that the pain of layoffs cannot be laid at their door: “It’s just economics.”

In other words, the story that the “plant shut for purely economic reasons” is a story that works for all the participants in the battle. However, this story is not a future guide for the nuclear industry. All plants can eventually be “uneconomical” if the opponents are determined enough to make them so.

When the state of Vermont tried to block Vermont Yankee’s 20-year license extension, Entergy took them to federal court (and won) costing them millions of dollars in attorneys’ fees.

The opposition legislators continued to hit Entergy in the pocketbook, making sure that Vermont Yankee faced many new Vermont taxes. “Generation Taxes” suddenly spiked to $12 million a year. The state of Vermont wanted Entergy to pay $770,000 to the Red Cross to prepare to shelter 6,000 people just in case there was ever an evacuation. Entergy knew that there would be no end to arbitrary taxation by the state of Vermont.

In my opinion, the lesson for the nuclear industry is that we must be engaged and working at the local level. We must oppose anti-nuclear activists with our own local groups and local supporters. Not everything is decided in Washington, D.C. We need local boots-on-the-ground. The plants have economic challenges, but many of their challenges are local, and political. That is the true lesson of Vermont Yankee.


angwin-200x200

Meredith Angwin blogs at Yes Vermont Yankee. Among nuclear bloggers who have their own blogs, Angwin has been has been closest to the action involving the plant over the past five years.


Unspoken Reason for Closure – Leslie Corrice

Vermont Yankee’s owner, Entergy, says the unit’s closure is because natural gas prices have plummeted and its generated power is no longer economically viable. I don’t believe this is the main reason for termination. In my opinion, the economic rationale is a smoke screen for an unspoken, over-riding reason.

Vermont Yankee has been under a socio-political attack for decades. I think that Louisiana-based Entergy no longer had the heart to continue countering what seemed to be a never-ending plethora of contrived political and pseudo-legal challenges.

Vermont Yankee is a geographical outlier, and it is not improbable that Entergy has tired of managing its far-distant social, political, and cultural problem child.

In addition, the current market for selling electricity makes gas generation more profitable than Vermont Yankee. However, permanently closing it assumes that the financial advantage with gas will always be the case.

This is a naïve notion. The only true constant in the energy market is change-itself. Closure of Vermont Yankee  shows that Entergy has not adequately considered this undeniable truth.

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corriceLeslie Corrice has two blogs at the Hiroshima Syndrome website (Fukushima Updates and Fukushima Commentary) and is author of two E-books concerning the Fukushima accident.

Blackhat – Much Ado About Nearly Nothing

By Leslie Corrice

There was considerable concern within the nuclear energy community about Michael Mann’s cyber-thriller Blackhat before its release. Much of the pre-release angst was generated by the trailers, which showed a catastrophic nuclear accident had blown open a gaping hole in a large, domed containment building. I went to see it the first day it hit the local cinema, and early on I suspected that the nuclear energy community’s angst was literally much ado about nearly nothing.

My first inkling was early on, when the control room was shown. I almost laughed because it had wall-to-wall windows overlooking a vast, steaming open pool of water. First-off, there are no windows in actual nuclear power plant control rooms. Also, the depicted control room looked much like a high-tech Press Box at a modern professional football stadium. Regardless, I was curious about the hot-water pool. I wondered if that was supposed to be the reactor. My speculation was soon verified. There was a series of long, vertical metal pipes deep within the pool—the supposed core. Surrounding these pipes were several rotating fan-like devices. It seems that these were supposed to be the circulation pumps.

After a brief computer-graphic depiction of a malware bug invading the fantasy plant’s computer system, the fans speed up and fly apart. The metal pipes immediately begin to get red from massive heat generation and…well…it gets so bad that there’s an explosion that blows open the domed containment, a la Chernobyl.

It’s Hollywood, folks. There is literally nothing real-world about the nuke in the flick. It doesn’t matter that all nuclear power plant control room operating systems are not connected to the internet. It doesn’t matter that a massive power surge generating cataclysmic heat generation is only possible in units having a positive reactivity coefficient (Chernobyl, again). What matters is that this is purely the fabrication of creative Hollywood minds doing their best to exploit public fears about nukes spawned by skewed Press and internet reports concerning the Fukushima Accident. It is a pure fiction.

There’s a lot more to nit-pick over concerning the nuclear plant in Blackhat, but as a colleague writes, “This has so much wrong in the depiction of a nuclear power plant accident that it may not be useful to do a detailed rebuttal.” I agree whole-heartedly because, again, it is much ado about nearly nothing.

My earlier career in nuclear energy included operations at both boiling and pressurized water nukes, but my specialty was health physics. One nit I do wish to relate concerns my understanding of radiation exposure. Before the cast enters the control room to retrieve a key hard drive, they are told the radiation level is 1,000 microsieverts per hour and the temperature was 130 oF. Thus, they could not stay in there more than eight minutes. One member of the team succumbs in less than five minutes. Was it from the heat, or the radiation? We never find out, but the implication that he was overcome by the radiation is pretty strong. Actual medically-observable adverse effects do not occur at a little over 13 millisieverts exposure. In fact, nothing like that has ever happened with exposures ten times greater, or even 50 times greater.

In my opinion, here’s the bottom line. The script was written to appeal to the movie-going audience. Most of the public is willing to believe a nuclear power plant accident of the depicted magnitude is possible. This is why I say that pre-release concerns were much ado about nearly nothing. The movie appeals to the public’s nuclear power plant naivety and reinforces Fukushima-spawned fears, which is something worth considering.


corrice-168x160Leslie Corrice spent 21 years in the nuclear field in health physics. He publishes the Hiroshima Syndrome website and posts two blogs: Fukushima Updates and Fukushima Commentary.

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 243

ferris wheel 202x201The 243rd Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival has been posted at Neutron Bytes.

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, 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.

ANS’s CONTE 2015 — Know Before You Go

An International Forum for the Discussion of Advances, Challenges and Learning

Nuclear Energy Training and Education

The 2015 ANS Conference on Nuclear Training and Education (CONTE) will be held February 1–4, 2015, at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront Hotel, in Jacksonville, Florida.

Learn about:

  • Current Nuclear Energy Issues and Challenges
  • The Status of Nuclear Energy in Newcomer Countries
  • New Education & Training Techniques
  • Establishing the Training Conscience
  • Developing the Future Workforce
  • Leadership Development
  • Innovations in Education and Training Delivery
  • Education and Industry Partnering
  • Emerging Industry Trends in Training

Official Program

Register Now

Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Reservations

Hyatt Regency Jacksonville- about

See the CONTE 2015 ANS Meetings Page or the ANS Facebook event page for more information. We hope to see you in Jacksonville this February.

Vermont Yankee: Born of “Yankee Ingenuity,” Now No More

Yankee Ingenuity

By Will Davis

There was a time in our not too distant past when a brochure such as that above—entitled “Yankee Ingenuity,” and published in 1982 by the Nuclear Information Committee of the Electric Council of New England—carried a message that rang true. The imagery of the mill house, as an early cornerstone of commerce employed widely across New England, was coupled with the image of a nuclear power plant. The Northeast had a tendency for doing what was necessary to advance commerce and break away from foreign control. In short, it was the “Yankee spirit.”

It was in that corner of the United States that the breakaway from England launched; it was, decades later, in that corner too that the people found themselves almost completely at the mercy of oil prices for their electric power generation—prices also under foreign control. Starting with the legendary Yankee Atomic Electric Company plant at Rowe, Mass., the Northeast planned and built a range of nuclear plants to diversify its fuel mix and wrest away control of its electric power pricing from outside interests.

Vermont Yankee from Ingenuity brochure

One of these plants, seen above from the brochure, was Vermont Yankee. Ordered in 1966 by the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation (itself owned by Central Vermont Public Service, Green Mountain Power, New England Power, Northeast Utilities, Central Maine Power, Public Service Co. of New Hampshire, Cambridge Electric Light, Eastern Utilities Associates, Burlington Electric Dept., Lyndonville Electric Dept., Vermont Electric Coop., Inc., and Washington Electric Co-op, Inc.), the plant went up quickly. The reactor achieved initial criticality on March 24, 1972, and the plant produced its first electric power on September 20, 1972. It was declared to be in commercial operation the following November.

I use the term “was,” because on Monday, December 29, 2014, Vermont Yankee disconnected from the grid at 12:12 PM. The reactor was shut down for the last time at 1:04 PM the same day. The plant follows a number of the Northeast U.S. nuclear plants into shutdown and decommissioning (gone before are Yankee Atomic’s Rowe plant; Connecticut Yankee; Maine Yankee; and Millstone Unit 1 in Connecticut.) The plant was bought from the original owners by Entergy in 2002 with the notion, according to Entergy economist Barrett Green (as reported in the Portland Press Herald), that it would benefit from some future carbon pricing structure. In the end, according to Green as quoted by the Herald, the plant was a “bad investment.”

Legacy?

We could roll out the epitaph of Vermont Yankee easily—designed and built by EBASCO, dates on and off the grid—and much of that has been (and will be) done either briefly or exhaustively in days and weeks to come. Harder to quantify are the tens of thousands of man-hours put into constructing, operating, maintaining, and, yes, inspecting this plant over its four decades of life. The dedication of many men, women, and families to this plant over these decades were not in vain because of what this dedication saved: Millions of gallons of oil whose use was avoided because of the operation of Vermont Yankee. (The use of oil would have brought with it the added cost and the ever present threat of shortage, either due to foreign production control or transportation infrastructure complications.) And then there’s the pollution that would have resulted from generating power to stand in for Vermont Yankee over all those years had it not been built. Few people remember that at the time that these plants in New England were coming into operation, oil fuel was used to provide roughly 60 percent of the area’s electric power. The tool that cut back on that singular dependence? Nuclear energy.

Seen so soon after the fact, it’s hard to look past the present effects—a looming cold winter, in which the Northeast ISO which distributes power in the area is likely to find itself facing price spikes when natural gas use is restricted to home heating, just as it did last year when it had about 600 MWe more capacity than it does now unfettered by such restrictions. Also, there are the people who used to contribute heavily to the community—now are looking at starting over elsewhere. It’s impossible to escape the real, tangible impacts of the shutdown of this plant.

And yet there are those who would celebrate the closing of an old reactor, of course not realizing that nuclear plants are not allowed to grow old. Instead, nuclear plants are updated, improved, and even uprated in power over their lifetimes, always under the extreme scrutiny of the world’s leading nuclear regulator (often referred to as the “Gold Standard” for regulators the world over).

What once was

There are those who campaigned mightily to keep this plant open—workers, concerned citizens, experts in the field of nuclear energy—who have now seen their efforts thwarted by the plant owner having declared the plant no longer economic to continue operating. Many people are aware of the stabilizing effect on the grid that nuclear plants have, the price-controlling effect that buying nuclear fuel two years at a time has, and at no end the reliability of nuclear plants in extreme weather of all sorts. For naught? No. Those same arguments, those same reasoned explanations, all fit nuclear plants everywhere. The fight having been fought–and learned from—is far more important to our nation’s discussion of energy than might be gleaned from a wished-for future in which the fight never took place.

But for now, as a testament to the thousands of people who designed, built, operated, regulated, and fought for this plant, and as a reminder that nuclear energy was once thought of as a marked advancement in man’s quest to provide affordable, reliable energy in this part of the country, perhaps all we need do is quote the preface of the booklet about the Northeast’s nuclear plants, “Yankee Ingenuity”:

“Bound together by heritage, climate, and geography, New Englanders are a certain breed. The hallmarks of New Englanders are the tenacity to get things done and the cleverness to use imaginative methods to do them. Call it ‘Yankee Ingenuity.’ From water wheels to nuclear power, new energy forms have taken root in New England.

The day after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the amended Atomic Energy Act in 1954, representatives of New England’s major electric utilities met to plan the first privately owned nuclear plant to generate electricity. The products of these and later meetings were the Yankee Atomic Electric Company and New England’s first nuclear plant, Yankee Atomic, which began service in 1960.

During the next two decades, the same resourceful New Englanders proved the economy, safety, and cleanliness of nuclear energy and added to the region’s nuclear generating capacity.

Today, over 30 percent of New England’s electricity is produced by nuclear power plants, a leadership founded on the heritage of Yankee Ingenuity.”

What will “leadership” bring in the field of affordable, reliable energy in the region now? Only time will tell.

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For more information:

Vermont Yankee has set up a dedicated decommissioning website.  Click here to see it.

Other New England nuclear plants have been decommissioned and (except for spent fuel storage) returned to ‘green field’ status. Websites for each:

Yankee Atomic Electric (Yankee Rowe)

Connecticut Yankee

Maine Yankee

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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.

TOFE Topical Meeting – 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), part of 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.

Plenary sessions topics included updates: on the plans and status of the Chinese CFETR, the Korean K-DEMO, and the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the status of ITER, and a European analysis of the technological roadmap to DEMO.

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 Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, with more than 15 years of experience in international fusion projects. She is currently the current chair of ANS’s Fusion Energy Division.

 

 

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 Communications 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.

_________________________________________

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.