Author Archives: Will Davis

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

ANS Winter Meeting 2014 Opening Plenary – Great New Concept; Hints on Yucca

Jessica Lovering Speaks at ANS 2014 Winter Meeting

Jessica Lovering speaks at ANS 2014 Winter Meeting

Breakout sessions with three acknowledged experts in the areas of nuclear policy, nuclear plant operations, and nuclear regulation were the highlight of an innovative and engaging Opening Plenary at this year’s ANS Winter Meeting

Describe – Discuss – Direct

The three panelists were introduced by meeting General Chair Ed Halpin, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, whose idea it was to change the usual format to a new one. Under the new format, each panelist first gave a short description of his or her position and then ultimately was off to his or her own break-out session. Jessica Lovering of the Breakthrough Institute led off with a discussion on communicating nuclear energy either in light of climate change or in the absence of any discussion of it. Bob Willard, chief executive officer of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, then discussed opportunities that his organization sees for U.S. nuclear plants. Finally, William Ostendorff, commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, described the U.S. nuclear plant landscape from a regulatory perspective.

Bob Willard speaks during President's Special Session today

Bob Willard speaks during the ANS President’s Special Session

After a short Q&A session with all three panelists on the stage, each panelist was dispatched to a corner of the large Disneyland Resort Hotel ballroom hosting the event for personal interaction, and the attendees were encouraged by Halpin to select whichever group interested them more for engagement. The three were swamped and still had more questions to answer when they returned to the stage for a final summary.

In the final summaries all three panelists made it clear that nuclear professionals need to get out and communicate about the benefits of nuclear technology now more than ever. There is a definite knowledge gap for the public, and it is to us that the public will look for honest, straightforward information about nuclear technologies generally and nuclear energy specifically.

Yucca Mountain

Ostendorff

Ostendorff

During his remarks Commissioner Ostendorff made a number of observations about the NRC generally and Yucca Mountain specifically that are of interest to ANS members and the public. Some are condensed below:

  • The final volumes of the Safety Evaluation Report (SER) for the Yucca Mountain repository should be out by January 2015, and for these Ostendorff said that there are “no show stoppers.” There are, however, some 300 contentions to Yucca that may take years to adjudicate.
  • The NRC is not responsible to guarantee a spent fuel repository; that is the job of the U.S. Department of Energy and the Congress, which latter guides momentum of the project by allocating funds.  Ostendorff noted that the new Continued Storage rule (replacing the Waste Confidence rule) does not require long-term geologic disposal of spent nuclear fuel.
  • There is absolutely no need to expedite transfer of spent nuclear fuel from spent fuel pools at nuclear power plants in the United States to dry cask storage.
  • The NRC is not by either design or mandate a politically motivated entity; its job is to regulate and not to dictate policy.

There were, of course, many other interesting and significant things that occurred during the Opening Plenary. These were just a few of the highlights.

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(Will Davis for ANS Nuclear Cafe. Davis is reporting from the ANS 2014 Winter Meeting this week, here and on twitter – @ans_org.)

Prompt Action Needed by ANS Members on EPA Clean Power Rule

BradyRaap2010_1b

ANS President Dr. Michaele Brady Raap

American Nuclear Society President Michaele Brady Raap has released a letter calling ANS members to action—and by “action,” she means making comments to the Environmental Protection Agency on its Clean Power Rule. According to Brady Raap, “the rule as it is currently structured would almost entirely discount the clean energy contributions of our current nuclear energy facilities and effectively penalize states that have new plants under construction.”

The stated purpose of the EPA plan is to cut carbon emissions from electric generating plants in the United States. While the plan allows each state to come up with its own specific proposals for cutting these emissions, the plan’s guidance as given by the EPA would allow states to actually replace closed nuclear plants with only a fraction of non-emitting sources. Other deficiencies in the EPA directive are enumerated in her letter to American Nuclear Society’s members.

ANS has set up a page on its website covering the EPA Clean Power Rule issues, which can be found by clicking here. Brady Raap’s letter to ANS members on action that can be taken to make ANS’s voice heard is found here.

For more information:

ANS Nuclear Cafe posted an article on the EPA Clean Power Rule in August 2014, entitled “Unintended Anti-Nuclear Consequences Lurking in EPA Clean Power Plan.” Click here to read it.

(Will Davis for ANS Nuclear Cafe.)

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 233

ferris wheel 202x201The 233rd Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival has been posted at Next Big Future.

Click here to access Carnival 233.

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

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

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

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 232

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

•Click here to access Carnival 232

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Will Davis for ANS Nuclear Cafe.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For more information on the development of nuclear energy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Will Davis for ANS Nuclear Cafe.)