Author Archives: Will Davis

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 218

ferris wheel 202x201The 218th Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival has been posted at Yes Vermont Yankee.  You can click here to access this latest installment in a long running tradition  among pro-nuclear authors and bloggers.

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

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

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

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 217

ferris wheel 202x201The 217th edition of the Nuclear Blog and Author Carnival has been posted at Next Big Future.  You can click here to access this latest installment in a long running tradition among the world’s top pro-nuclear authors and bloggers.

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

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

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

Nuclear Energy in Japan Steps into the Chasm

by Will Davis

Recent developments in Japan concerning the Fukushima Daiichi plant recovery specifically, and nuclear energy generally, have not been exceedingly positive. The difficult recovery efforts at the crippled nuclear plant are not all proceeding smoothly; delays and technical problems continue to abound and confound. Meanwhile, on a broader scale, the national pullback from nuclear may be even more serious and have longer term effects than anyone realizes.

Fukushima Daiichi Units 5 and 6, courtesy TEPCO

Fukushima Daiichi Units 5 and 6, courtesy TEPCO

Fukushima Daiichi—Where is the ice wall?

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) reported that efforts to block the flow of water through below-grade piping conduits have failed, largely because the currents in these conduits are fast enough that the water cannot freeze. Sealing these “trenches”—a separate issue from the “ice wall” discussed below—is a major part of the contaminated water mitigation process; it is what will, ultimately, prevent contaminated water that is inside the nuclear plant buildings (reactor buildings and turbine buildings) from getting out into the general grounds near the plants. At this writing, no solution has been devised, although TEPCO hopes to better control the currents and/or add more coolant pipes if needed.

Similarly, TEPCO also repeatedly delayed the expected completion date for the “frozen earth” ice wall that will surround Units 1 through 4 underground, which will prevent groundwater from intruding into the buildings. Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has publicly expressed concern over the delay in this process, urging TEPCO to attack the problem with utmost vigor. According to reporting from NHK (Japan’s national public broadcasting organization), the NRA has urged TEPCO to come up with definite steps by the end of July to ensure a timely completion of the ice wall.

Click here to see a video covering the ice wall verification test

TEPCO continues to have the “to be expected” occasional system problem here and there, but since the general public’s attitude toward TEPCO is definitely not one of trust and understanding, all events make for wide and negative press. Early this week, TEPCO temporarily lost cooling to the spent fuel pool at Unit 5 on the Fukushima Daiichi site. To make matters worse in the public eye, original statements made to NHK/NHK World (which have now been removed from their sites) indicated that TEPCO had no clue when cooling could be restored, and that the pool would hit its operating temperature limit in a few weeks.

The truth of the matter is that the very next day, the residual heat removal system was placed in service to restore spent fuel pool cooling. But the shaky initial message had already gone out, with a seemingly powerless undertone that certainly didn’t underscore the ability of those at site to deal with the situations they encounter (TEPCO has since released a detailed account of this incident).

On the positive side, as of this writing 1188 out of the 1533 fuel elements in the spent fuel pool at Unit 4 have been transferred to the site’s common fuel pool. Future operations will see some of this fuel also transferred to the Unit 5 spent fuel pool.

Fukushima Daiichi site common spent fuel pool; courtesy TEPCO

Fukushima Daiichi site common spent fuel pool; courtesy TEPCO

Restarting plants might be slow

In a completely separate development, a Fukui court has blocked the restart of two units at Kansai Electric Power Company’s Ohi Nuclear Power Plant, citing in part that the plant had operated from July 2012 to September 2013 without incorporating new or revised safety standards. What relevance this has to the restarting of a plant now completely meeting the revised NRA standards is unclear, but the precedent is set: Courts are ready and willing to act to counter the Japanese government’s mission to restore the Japanese economy by restarting nuclear plants.

Eventually, it does seem certain that many of the nuclear plants in Japan will restart, as the need becomes increasingly critical to improve Japan’s import-export ratio and drive down the cost of energy. The Japanese government, the utilities, and most major corporations (and their lobbying groups) have expressed the desire to restart the plants; at the same time, however, local and highly vocal groups are speaking out and taking legal action.

Separately, Japan’s NRA has publicly made some severe comments after finding a number of inadequacies in early applications to restart plants submitted by a number of owner-operators. According to the NRA, further requests for information and clarification will be necessary—driving the potential restart dates for even the earliest expected plant restart (Sendai) beyond the high demand period of the summer heat. Sendai is still expected to be the first to restart, though—perhaps as soon as the autumn months.

Conceptual illustration, Ohma Nuclear Power Plant; courtesy J-Power

Conceptual illustration, Ohma Nuclear Power Plant; courtesy J-Power

The “chasm”

At the tip of Aomori Prefecture lies the site of what is now the only nuclear power plant actively under construction in Japan—the Ohma Nuclear Plant, owned by Electric Power Development Company, Ltd., commonly known as “J-Power.”

That’s right—this is the only nuclear plant in Japan actively under construction. After the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, all nuclear plant construction was effectively halted in Japan. Of the three that were under construction, two were deferred indefinitely; of the 12 announced or proposed, all were deferred indefinitely or cancelled.

The plant near Ohma—an Hitachi advanced boiling water reactor—has been “on the drawing boards” for many years and was several times deferred. First planned in the early 1980s (the site survey was accomplished in 1983), the plant’s site preparation didn’t begin until 2008, with actual plant construction beginning in 2010, but suspended from the time of the 2011 quake until October 2012 when it was resumed. As might have been expected, anti-nuclear opponents have taken the Fukui court finding as a precedent and have now acted to block completion of the Ohma nuclear plant as well. It appears an extended court battle may now be in the offing.

This portends a “nuclear chasm,” similar to what we now face in the United States. The cessation of new nuclear plant orders in the U.S. in 1978, coupled with a flood of nuclear plant cancellations that followed, means there will come a time when nuclear plants in the United States are shutting down and decommissioning—even including life extensions—faster than new nuclear plants come on-line.  The nuclear industry has long known this would occur; but it is being accelerated in some quarters by economic conditions (e.g., Kewaunee) or unanticipated material conditions (e.g., Crystal River, San Onofre-2 and -3.)

The result in the case of Japan will be that there too will come a time when, assuming that many plants restart, there will be no new plants in the wings to take the place of the older plants when they shut down. The present social environment in Japan now approaches the atmosphere in the United States during the 1970s and ’80s, with continuous anti-nuclear “environmentalist” opposition that can kill a nuclear energy project. This does not bode well for a nation that imports more than two-thirds of its energy needs; it requires a careful and sober analysis of the nation’s energy needs—and the place that nuclear power plays in those needs—now before the chasm cannot be escaped. Japan, unlike the United States, cannot fall back on indigenous coal or gas—it has neither.

The actions of the Japanese utilities lately have done little to steer away from the road to the chasm; harsh words from the NRA about inadequacies in the initial round of restart applications bears witness to this. Public trust is key, and if it is perceived that utilities wish to simply “slide by and play along” until they get their nuclear plants back—they won’t get them back.

Time will tell what plays out for Japan’s nuclear energy enterprise, but at the moment a great deal of work needs to be done to swing the course away from an abyss.

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SavannahWillinControlRoomWill Davis is the Communications Director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian and as a 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 Blogger Carnival 215

ferris wheel 202x201The 215th edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers and Authors has been posted at The Hiroshima Syndrome.  You can click here to access this latest installment of a long running tradition among pro-nuclear authors and bloggers.

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

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

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

Nuclear Power Uprates: What, how, when, and will there be more?

Calvert Cliffs Plant; two unit nuclear generating station.  Baltimore Gas and Electric Company brochure, October 1980.

Calvert Cliffs Plant; two unit nuclear generating station. Baltimore Gas and Electric Company brochure, October 1980.

By Will Davis

I received an email this morning (in the midst of my daily avalanche of promotional emails) with a link to a brief story about uprating of nuclear plants worldwide (in other words, increasing the power output of an already-built plant)—what had been done, how many were planned, and so forth. I wondered to myself just how many nuclear plants in the United States had been uprated, and when they started—and given the recent hullabaloo over the recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency CO2 emission policy, it seems like (in addition to discussing small modular reactors) we might also want to toss the uprate card back on the table. Instead of flat or only slightly rising demand for electricity, we may face a steady lowering of generating capacity as plants that are high CO2 emitters (and thus violators) get shut down. Sure, renewables will play a part, and so will increased efficiency, but having more power is better than having less, or too little. I found no quick and easy reference for the kind of analysis I wanted, so I took a little time and did it myself.

Uprate? You can do that? How?

Power Meters NS Savannah 2Yes, uprates can be done—and it’s been happening for a long time. In nuclear power we talk about three kinds of uprates, or increases in power outputs, for the power plants. Very briefly, these are as follows, in increasing order of the amount of power gained:

  • MUR or “Measurement Uncertainty Recapture”: Think about this as saying that we’re going to put more accurate instruments into a plant, and thus will be able to develop a very slightly (maybe 1 percent or so) higher power now that we’re more certain of the exact parameters. Originally, it turns out, the instruments built for nuclear plants years back were quite accurate—so that these types of uprates are typically small. For all you “car nuts” out there, think “police speedometer.” (Do they even sell “police package” cars any more? My father had a Caprice LTZ… but I digress.)
  • “Stretch”: This uprate uses the installed equipment to a higher degree of its maximum capability. These are a few to several percent power increases.
  • “Extended Power Uprate”: This is the “biggie.” This is a major job, including replacement and upgrading of the turbine generator, perhaps other plant systems too such as pumps; it’s a major investment and involves a lot of complicated and heavy work. The payoff, though, is that the return on the investment is earlier, and thus the profit comes earlier, than building any kind of new power plant.

Now, the nuclear industry has for some years, in a dearth of construction of new plants, been pointing out that, “Yes, while we’re not building new plants, we’ve had lots and lots of uprates of existing plants—so that we’ve added capacity equal to a number of completely new nuclear plants.”

That’s exactly correct. Over the years since uprates began (in the present sense—more on that later) U.S. nuclear plants have added 6908 MWe of generating capacity (a figure I got by adding up NEI’s graphical figures found here.) If we think about that in terms of the nuclear plants being built brand new today, which are nominally 1000-MWe plants, that’s almost seven new nuclear plants’ worth of power—but at a fraction of the overall cost, because no new siting or major construction was required.

Uprating isn’t new

Calvert Cliffs from landThe first uprate as we now know them was performed at Calvert Cliffs (photo seen at the top of this article and here at left), and actually occurred right after the plant was completed. Originally these two Combustion Engineering pressurized water reactors were rated at 2560 MWt/810 MWe for Unit 1 and 2560 MWt/825 MWe for Unit 2; the units entered commercial operation May 8, 1975, and April 1, 1977, respectively. In 1976, before the second unit came on line, Baltimore Gas and Electric had applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to increase the ratings of both units to 2700 MWt as a “stretch uprate,” which was permitted (after careful analysis) in 1977.

This began a long period of what were mainly stretch uprates; the first extended uprates in the late 1990s did not exceed in percent power some of the stretch uprates of earlier years. Large uprates began after the turn of the century with some as high as 15 percent to 20 percent.

I mentioned that there was a “present sense” of uprates—which began in 1977. There was a time during the early years of operation of nuclear plants that provisional licenses at lower-than-designed power ratings were issued. Plants “tested out” at these provisional ratings, then later were re-licensed to increase power to the full designed level. One of my previous articles for the ANS Nuclear Cafe, describing Pathfinder Atomic Power Plant, mentioned (for the first time anywhere) that the plant originally tested at a provisional power rating, as one example. This was occurring in the 1960s.

So the natural question—really an aside, but worth asking—is this: “What was the first uprate?” My answer has to be N.S. Savannah, 1964. The ship was originally given an operational limit of 69 MWt, so that the original actual core thermal limit of 74 MWt would not be exceeded. It was found very early in her operation that this was not enough power to allow for full propulsion capability (not just her rated continuous 20,000 shaft horse power/SHP but her overload of 22,000 SHP) and full hotel loads. Babcock & Wilcox performed extensive analysis to allow raising the core operational limit to 80 MWt, which was done when the ship returned to service with American Export Isbrandtsen Lines. Some equipment modification was performed concurrently, but no major modifications were required—thus, this would have been a “stretch” uprate.

What now?

I was quite surprised, looking at the tables of nuclear plants, to see that there was really no tabulation of how many had received uprates—so I printed a list and laboriously marked off all the uprates at still-operating plants. Here are my totals by NRC regions.

In Region I, 7 of 26 total reactors have received extended power uprates; 17 have had stretch uprates and 16 have had MUR uprates. (Yes, some have had one, two, or all three at one reactor over the years.) Wow, I thought, that leaves a lot of uprating, even if only potentially likely.

In Region 2, 8 of 32 have received extended power uprates, 22 have received stretch uprates, and 15 have had MURs.

In Region 3, 9 of 23 have received extended power uprates, 9 have received stretch uprates, and 8 have had MURs.

In Region 4, 3 of 19 have received extended power uprates, 11 have received stretch uprates, and 8 have had MURs.

Looking at these figures, there’s a LOT of capacity theoretically left in U.S. nuclear plants in terms of uprates—even though they’ve dropped off in recent times. Only 27 of 100 US reactors have received extended uprates. Way back in 2003, the last time everyone was all agog over nuclear plants because of lowering carbon limits, the Nuclear Energy Institute predicted that U.S. nuclear plants could theoretically add over 10,000 MWe without building any new plants—and of that, about 6500–8500 MWe could come from uprates. (That’s on top of the 6908 MWe already added since 1977 by uprates, by the way.) Considering the totals we’ve just seen as to how many plants have not had the largest type of uprate, and seeing how many could still receive stretch uprates, that figure might roughly hold.

(Note: Yes, I’m aware that some plants included in the total uprates since 1977 have shut down and, yes, I’m aware that not every nuclear plant in the United States is in a location where uprating makes economic sense. Or hasn’t until now.)

I think that as we enter into discussions about the EPA regulations, carbon emissions, and nuclear energy, we should talk about nuclear plants in multiple senses—yes, adding small modular reactors into the mix makes good sense and,,yes, completing selected unfinished nuclear plants makes good sense in other spots. But now, we might wish to inject uprating more nuclear plants into the mix; perhaps we might see some reconsideration beyond the very few current plans for uprates (the NRC expects ZERO extended or stretch uprate applications from now through at least 2017), depending on how the carbon limits, and penalties, play out.

_________________

Note: Uprates for other reactors have been applied for and are in process; Peach Bottom-2 and -3 have extended power uprates planned by the NRC for final approval in September of this year; the only other extended power uprates, for Browns Ferry-1, -2, and -3 are however all on hold. Similarly, MURs for Oconee-1, -2, and -3 are all on hold, and in the last two years a number of planned uprate projects have been cancelled or deferred, such as at Limerick and La Salle.

Further note, just for “nukes”: Yes, for all you sharp-eyed older folks out there, those are indeed Westinghouse KX-24 Hi-Shock meters you saw above, for the power range NIs on SAVANNAH. Her control panel is a mix of these, GE DB40 meters, and Bailey vertical or edge type meters.

___________________

SavannahWillinControlRoomWill Davis is the Communications Director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian and as a 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 Blogger Carnival 214

ferriswheel 201x268The 214th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers has been posted at Atomic Power Review.  You can click here to access this latest edition of a long-standing tradition.

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

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

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

Nuclear Energy Blogger and Author Carnival 213

ferris wheel 202x201It’s time for the 213th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers and Authors, hosted this week right here at the ANS Nuclear Cafe.  It’s a big week for ANS, with the Annual Meeting going on in Reno… so without any further remarks we’ll dive right in!

 

NewsOK / Robert Bruce Hayes

Beware of Junk Science  -  Robert Hayes reminds us that it’s possible to become afraid of something we don’t really understand, based upon selected facts we’re told to cloud or steer an issue.

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Atomic Insights – Rod Adams

Radiation Health Effects for Medical Doctors

Misinformation about radiation health effects does not just affect the nuclear industry and dramatically increase the costs associated with all nuclear energy technologies. It is also having a deleterious effect on the beneficial use of radiation and radioactive materials in medical diagnosis and treatment.


Throughout their training programs, medical doctors have been taught to do everything they can to minimize radiation exposure. This message has become so intense in recent decades that many medical professionals shy away from ordering tests that would help them do their jobs better and provide better patient outcomes.

Atomic Show #216 – Just The Fracks, Ma’am

Greg Kozera is President of the Virginia Oil and Gas Association and is the author of a recently released book entitled “Just the Fracks, Ma’am; The Truth About Hydrofracking and the Next Great American Boom.”  Kozera and Rod Adams discuss energy options, the value of natural gas as a feedstock for material production, and the actions of certain members of the natural gas industry to discourage competitors like coal and nuclear.

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Nuke Power Talk / Gail Marcus

Nuclear Engineering Students Among “Most Impressive” at MIT

Gail Marcus was pleased and proud to discover that three nuclear engineering students were profiled in a group of only fourteen students identified as among the most outstanding at MIT last year.  She notes in Nuke Power Talk that this is an impressively high percentage in an already elite group, and she considers this a very positive sign for the future of the nuclear industry.

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Forbes / Jim Conca

EPA Hits Nuclear Industry with Kryptonite

EPA’s latest proposed emissions rule for nuclear power plants focuses on a non-issue that has never been a problem; Kr-85.  Kr-85 is a noble gas that cannot react with anything, can’t form chemical compounds or even individual molecules, and can’t enter biological pathways.  Kr-85 can’t do anything but dissipate immediately upon leaving the reactor.

Why on Earth is China Nervous about Plutonium in Japan?

China is nervous about Japan making atomic weapons and has complained to the International Atomic Energy Agency that Japan has over 1,400 pounds of plutonium that it did not report.  This is actually amusing since this Pu cannot be made into weapons.  Also funny is China’s faked outrage.

 

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Next Big Future / Brian Wang

China could complete 9 nuclear reactors in the next 7 months

By the end of 2014, the number of reactors in the country is expected
reach 30, bringing the total nuclear capacity to around 27 GWe. In
2015, capacity should reach 36 GWe, as a further eight reactors are
brought online. 18 units are expected to start up within the next two
years, taking nuclear capacity close to the projected 40 GWe figure.

———-

ANS Nuclear Cafe – submitted by Paul Bowersox

Spent Fuel Pool Fire Risk Drops to Zero Months After Shutdown

Rod Adams addresses the real issues that concern operation and maintenance of spent fuel pools at nuclear power plants in this thorough article.  The constant effort on the part of some anti-nuclear activists to make spent fuel pools into a looming threat is dispatched in detail; the realities are presented so that actual risk may be perceived, and once understood, placed in perspective.

Pathfinder – A Path Not Taken

Will Davis presents a history of one of the most unusual commercial nuclear power plants ever built – a boiling water reactor capable of producing highly superheated steam.  The reasons for its failure are explored, as is some not-before-seen history.  For those interested in placing SMR’s at existing power plant sites, this post might be quite interesting – and important.

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That’s it for this week’s posts.  Thanks to all of our contributors!

Pathfinder: A Path Not Taken

Pathfinder Atomic Power Plant.  Press photo, Will Davis collection.

Pathfinder Atomic Power Plant. Press photo, Will Davis collection.

by Will Davis

The recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announcement of policy regarding carbon emissions from power plants has triggered a renewed interest in nuclear energy over the past few weeks; along with this of course comes a focus on small modular reactors (SMRs) and their availability for replacing existing fossil-fueled plants or facilities. We have discussed this topic here at ANS Nuclear Cafe before, in terms of the possibility of adding an SMR onto an existing facility—see “The Hook-Ons.”

A major potential stopper in the concept of adding a reactor to an existing generating plant is this: Water-cooled nuclear reactors cannot produce superheated steam—that is, steam that has been boiled from water and that is then heated up even further before being used to run an engine or turbine. Superheating the steam requires more energy (from whatever the fuel source is), but, importantly, drives the efficiency of the power plant up quite a bit overall. Water-cooled plants can’t do this because of the limits of boiling water using either the reactor directly or due to the limits of boiling some water using other water (the pressurized water concept). Yes, some water-cooled reactors do achieve a tiny bit of superheat—but not enough so that the steam plant they’re supplying can be designed for high temperature, dry, superheated steam (“dry steam” has no entrained water droplets). Why is this a problem? Because for many years fossil-fired generating plants have been designed for superheated steam in order to drive up efficiency.

So, one would need to add a superheater fired by fossil fuel (as was done at some early nuclear plants) or else replace the entire power plant (turbine and all) with an SMR nuclear plant, possibly reusing the electric and water infrastructure. It’s a major consideration.

In the early days of atomic energy, the idea of developing a water–cooled reactor that actually could superheat steam (thus avoiding this conundrum) was tossed around quite a lot—the potential advantages were great, but the technical barriers were also enormous. Fuel temperature was the major consideration, because the fuel had to exist in a steam environment that reactor designers normally avoided. However, one reactor was actually built and operated here in the United States that attempted to do just this. The power plant in question was Northern States Power Company’s (NSP) Pathfinder Atomic Power Plant (named after early explorer John C. Fremont, known by Indians as “the path finder”) near Sioux Falls, South Dakota—one of two commercial reactor plants designed by the Allis-Chalmers (A-C) Manufacturing Company.* It is also, unfortunately, possibly the least successful commercial power reactor built in the United States. Pathfinder represents the first, and last, time on U.S. soil that a water–cooled, superheated steam reactor was built for commercial power.

Pathfinder under construction.  Photo - The Atomic Energy Deskbook.

Pathfinder under construction. Photo – The Atomic Energy Deskbook.

Pathfinder was originally contracted in 1957, with A-C acting as the prime contractor; the architect-engineer (Pioneer Service & Engineering Co.) and constructor (Fegles Construction Co. and Power Service Corporation) were responsible to A-C under the arrangement, not to the plant’s owner, NSP. The financing arrangement was typical for early reactors of the day: NSP funded most of the cost (eventually over $30 million) with a consortium of utilities contributing another $3.65 million for R&D costs. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) contributed another $8 million for R&D and also waived fuel costs for the first five years (a value estimated initially at about $1.8 million)—both under the third round of the Power Demonstration Reactor Program.

As initially conceived, the plant that became Pathfinder was to be a controlled recirculation, direct cycle boiling water reactor—and was referred to frequently in early literature as the CRBR or Controlled Circulation Boiling water Reactor. In 1958 however, A-C began to redesign the plant to remove its original superheater (which would have been fired either on oil or coal—this had not yet been decided) and develop an integrated steam superheater in the actual reactor itself. This would employ a “two region” core—one section of the core would, first, heat up and boil the water; the steam from this section would then reverse course and head down through a central superheating core (of wholly different construction) and then exit the reactor. Below, we see a flow diagram showing the steam system as the plant was redesigned.

Pathfinder flow diagram.  Nuclear Reactor Plant Data, Volume 1 - Power Reactors.  ASME 1959

Pathfinder flow diagram. Nuclear Reactor Plant Data, Volume 1 – Power Reactors. ASME 1959

Construction and testing of Pathfinder proved exceedingly difficult and protracted—in part, no doubt, because of the groundbreaking design of the reactor itself, but also because of the complicated control and indication systems required for the plant. Without getting into deep technical detail, this plant’s control system was made highly complicated by the need to incorporate many automatic protections for the superheater itself, as well as protections against rapid changes in flow or power. It also seems clear in retrospect that A-C’s relatively small and new Atomic Energy Division was in well over its head.

Construction of the plant began in July 1959; at that time, the reactor was expected to attain criticality in May 1962 with full commercial operation expected sometime in the fall of 1962. In fact, construction of the plant was completed in summer of 1962 but the control rod drives and vessel internals were not shipped to the site until October. After this, a drawn-out period of contesting with the AEC over the plant protection and control systems ensued so that the AEC did not even issue a low power operating license to NSP until March 1964; the reactor was made critical on March 24, 1964.

 Pathfinder Core A

Above: A look directly downward at the Pathfinder reactor core. The boiling elements around the exterior of the core surround the superheater at center. This view is only inside the core shroud; outside of this, but of course inside the reactor vessel, were a large number of submerged steam separators—designed to remove entrained steam from water being carried down to the recirculating pumps. Source: Northern States Power Company—Pathfinder Atomic Power Plant Operations Manual, Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company/Atomic Energy Division, Preliminary, December 1961, Will Davis collection.

All of 1965 and 1966 were taken up with low power testing of the reactor and adjustment and modification of varied instrumentation and systems. NSP declared the plant to be in commercial operation August 1, 1966, but in fact the plant was not ready for sustained operation. Finally, in early 1967, the plant briefly achieved 90-percent power; the stage was set for the full power test. Further control problems delayed the test, but it was finally conducted in September—the plant, according to NSP, ran at its full rated power for 30 minutes, and was then to be inspected. This led to the lore about the reactor only ever achieving rated power for a half hour—and this is true, but only to an extent. The truth is below.

The Pathfinder reactor as actually built was designed to develop 203 MWt; the boiler section contributing 164 MWt and the superheater 39 MWt. The turbine generator was rated 66 MWe gross, with a net output of 61.8 MWe. However, the official NSP history states that the full power run of the plant was done at 58 MWe—obviously not the full rating. Only after examining the actual reactor plant manuals do we discover that the initial testing of the plant was planned for a lower superheat temperature (725 °F instead of 825 °F—see the flow diagram) and for a boiler power of 157.4 MWt/superheater power of 31.5 MWt. This was slated to develop (according to the manual) 62.5 MWe gross and 58.5 MWe net. Thus, the storied “only ran at full power for 30 minutes” is actually “only ran at its reduced, initial operation parameters for 30 minutes.” The reactor never did achieve its designed operating full power of 203 MWt.

Pathfinder Core BLeft, side view of the Pathfinder core. The boiler elements were constructed with low enriched uranium, but the superheater elements (originally planned for about 20% enrichment) were actually constructed with 93% enriched uranium. The reactor had both boiler and superheater control rods—but the superheater rods did not move on a scram; instead, they moved in at normal speed on “runback.” The superheater had to have steam flow in order to maintain cooling—and this led to much further complication on loss of steam flow (turbine trip, etc.) to ensure steam still flowed through the superheater long enough to cool it safely.

After the full power run was completed, the reactor was disassembled partly for examination and removal of some poison shims. Alarmingly, it was seen that the bottom ends of the steam separators around the reactor core had suffered “gross failure,” and the superheater elements’ seven and a half thousandths of an inch thick cladding was suffering high erosion. Further, during the shutdown the main condenser tubes had leaked, and some contamination had spread to the secondary plant. NSP had seen enough; in November, just two months after the 30-minute full power test (which came about five years after originally planned) it decided to shut down the plant permanently and decommission the reactor.

Statements by NSP officials in the company’s official history place most of the blame for the failure of the plant on the incorporation of the superheater, saying that it was the expense of including this design that doomed the plant. One wonders if the tipping point, indeed, had been the decision almost a decade earlier to “grab the brass ring,” and go for superheating in the reactor itself. What’s clear is that this was the only time this was attempted on U.S. soil in a commercial power reactor (another quite different boiler-superheater reactor was operated briefly in Puerto Rico, under AEC auspices and designed by General Nuclear Engineering/Combustion Engineering, and also led to no further progress).

Pathfinder post card, Will Davis collection.

Pathfinder post card, Will Davis collection.

The Pathfinder plant was written off by NSP in 1968; it was converted to a fossil fired peaker plant known as Pathfinder Peaking Plant. The isolated nuclear steam supply system was placed in SAFSTOR until 1991–1992 when decommissioning was performed; the peaking plant operated until summer 2000 when the cooling tower collapsed during severe weather. At that time, the plant’s owner, which by this time was Xcel Energy, decided to completely decommission the entire former Pathfinder plant. The Angus Anson Generating Station is immediately adjacent to the former Pathfinder site.

The silver lining of this whole affair? Well, for superheating reactors there was none. But for NSP, there was—company officials directly credit their long experience with Pathfinder as having contributed materially to their nuclear staff, their nuclear safety culture, and their successful construction and operation of Monticello and Prairie Island nuclear stations with little problem. In that sense, Pathfinder actually did live up to its name.

We find ourselves, today, far removed from Pathfinder, and the other nuclear superheating experiments (principally the ESADA superheat reactor, BORAX-V and BONUS in Puerto Rico) and so it’s no surprise that they’re largely forgotten. What we glean from learning about them is that the seemingly perfect direct match of a superheated steam producing reactor and an already built steam plant can’t be achieved, at least not with water-cooled reactors as are employed at the vast majority of the world’s nuclear generating stations today and as are planned under the Department of Energy’s SMR program as presently envisioned—although other programs exist to develop, for example, high temperature gas cooled reactors. This will be important to explain to the general public, who may either wish to see a wide deployment of nuclear energy to replace GHG-emitting sources, or on the other hand may be afraid of nuclear energy and thus could be desirous of more, and better, information.

*  The other was Dairyland Power Co-Operative’s Genoa No. 2 unit, known better in nuclear circles as the LaCrosse Boiling Water Reactor. A third reactor, the Elk River Reactor, fell under A-C’s control when ACF Industries sold its nuclear business to A-C in 1959. As a matter of interest, A-C also bought most of ALCO Products’ nuclear business in 1962. A-C announced it was exiting the nuclear business (except for providing support to projects still underway) on March 25, 1966, citing serious doubt that it would become profitable in the foreseeable future.

______________________

Sources:

• Northern States Power Company—Pathfinder Atomic Power Plant Operating Manual, Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company 1961 (multiple volumes)

• “The Energy to Make Things Better”—An Illustrated History of Northern States Power Company.  Northern States Power Company, 1999.

• Nuclear Reactor Plant Data, Volume 1—Power Reactors, 1959.  American Society of Mechanical Engineers. McGraw-Hill, New York, 1959.

• Pathfinder Decommissioning Plan, Xcel Energy, February 2004.

(All items above in Will Davis collection; many thanks to Ray Dennis.)

———-

For more information:

Pathfinder was partially funded by the AEC under the Power Demonstration Reactor Program. Read about that program here.

The recent EPA announcement stirred a fury of attention for nuclear power. The path forward is not something that can be immediately established, and doesn’t include a whole lot of easy answers. Read about the path forward here.

______________________

SavannahWillinControlRoomWill Davis is the Communications Director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian and as a 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 Blogger Carnival 211

ferris wheel 202x201The 211th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers and Authors has been posted at The Hiroshima Syndrome.  You can click here to access this latest entry in a long running tradition among the top English language pro-nuclear bloggers and authors.

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

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

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

Nuclear Energy Blogger Carnival 210

ferris wheel 202x201The 210th Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers and Authors has been posted at Atomic Power Review.  You can click here to access this latest entry in a long running tradition among the top English language pro-nuclear bloggers and authors.

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

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

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

ANS Historic Landmark N.S. SAVANNAH Hosts Gala Weekend

NS Savannah, Baltimore, May 17, 2014

NS Savannah, Baltimore, May 17, 2014

by Will Davis

The weekend of May 17–18, 2014, saw a beehive of activity on board the beautiful nuclear powered ship N.S. Savannah, docked now in Baltimore. The ship was being prepared on May 18  for open public touring—a rare event indeed for this ship that is still a Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed facility—in commemoration of National Maritime Day (which actually is May 22.) To this end, the ship was abuzz with workers from the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) and its ever-present Ship’s Master, Erhard Koehler, as well as workers from other organizations and, of course, the N.S. Savannah Association (NSSA), which works with MARAD to preserve and restore the ship.

SavannahANSPlaqueThe ship was designated as a Nuclear Historic Landmark by the American Nuclear Society in 1991 while a part of the small fleet at Patriots Point Naval Museum, Charleston, S.C. Since that time, the ship has moved to a number of locations (including for some time the James River Reserve Fleet) before finally ending up at the pier in Baltimore where she now sits, being actively repaired and restored by MARAD and NSSA with an eventual view towards completion of the nuclear decommissioning of the ship in 2031. This process will only remove and dispose of such parts of the power plant as are necessary (for example, the reactor vessel) while keeping the rest of the ship intact.

SavannahCaptainStateroom

Captain’s Stateroom, N.S. Savannah. This stateroom was restored using funds obtained by the N.S. Savannah Association, and had been in serious disrepair for many years.

The condition of the ship improves quite steadily as time goes on. This doesn’t just mean paint where it’s needed and cleaning often; it means active restoration of the many and varied spaces on the ship, slowly over time—even as preparations continue for the decommissioning work. One notable status change for one of the spaces on the ship came when Erhard Koehler designated passenger stateroom A17 as the new on board office space for the N.S. Savannah Association.

SavannahNSSAleadersA17Here, we see NSSA Chairman Jay Tarzia (right) and NSSA President Bob Moody (left) in former passenger stateroom A17 on board the ship. NSSA operates the gift shop on board (located in the original ship’s store) and so must store items on board the ship to replenish stock; A17 serves that purpose. In addition, materials donated to NSSA on board the ship are kept here as well as other items owned by the association either for preservation or operation of displays or sales. As can be seen at the edge of the photo, the original lamps are still in place in A17 (as is the original sleeper couch.) A17 was a three-person stateroom.

SavannahNSSAofficeA17

Much original decor remains in stateroom A17. The two headboards of the passenger bunks (now gone) are visible, as is the nightstand between the bunks. The stand features a pull out drawer and underside rack. Above this can be seen a gold control box; this box has buttons to select from the four-track on board music system, a volume control, and a steward call button. Many of these throughout the ship still have power.

Some staterooms on board the ship have been completely restored and are on the tour route, as seen here.  The room dividers are of many different styles.

Some staterooms on board the ship have been completely restored and are on the tour route, as seen here. The room dividers are of many different styles.

Some spaces on the ship are partially restored, with the rest being original.  The main dining room is one such example - the carpet is original.  NSSA has found the manufacturer and is in the process of determining if exact replacement can be found or made.

Some spaces on the ship are partially restored, with the rest being original. The main dining room is one such example – the carpet is original. NSSA has found the manufacturer and is in the process of determining if exact replacement can be found or made.

The ship was in a complete state of readiness by the time tours began at 10 AM on Sunday. Visitors received a safety briefing on the pier prior to being allowed access to the ship; while on board, visitors were permitted to tour freely and were assisted by personnel from various organizations, including MARAD and NSSA.

On Sunday, select groups of passengers were taken to the control room by NSSA Event Coordinator Bucky Owens - himself a former reactor operator on the ship.  These spaces are not normally toured by the public.  This photo (actually taken May 17) shows the vertical portion of the reactor control section of the console.

On Sunday, select groups of passengers were taken to the control room by NSSA Event Coordinator Bucky Owens – himself a former reactor operator on the ship. These spaces are not normally toured by the public. This photo (taken May 17) shows the vertical portion of the reactor control section of the console.

SavannahNIcabinetDIt may be a surprise to those interested to learn that much of the instrumentation and control equipment remains intact; this is located aft of the control room and is in spaces not visible from the viewing gallery around the engine room.

At left, we see a nuclear instrument cabinet manufactured by Westinghouse. Westinghouse provided the nuclear instrumentation for the ship, as well as the reactor protection equipment, under contract to Babcock & Wilcox (which built the nuclear steam supply system.) This equipment uses magnetic amplifiers—a term rapidly losing its significance in a generation that is seeing not only digital microprocessor equipment but flat screen type displays as well.

SavannahSTBDsteamfeedflowAlso found aft of the control room are a large number of Bailey Meter Co. recorders, such as the one seen at left. These can track one, two, or more parameters on a single circular chart using different colored ink markers; this example, which measures starboard steam generator steam flow and feed flow, used red for steam flow and blue for feed flow. The last time the reactor was operated was November 1970, when the ship was moved to Galveston for defueling, and the partially visible date on this chart correlates. Dozens of blanks for these Bailey Meter Co. fluid indicators were found intact in the I&C (instrumentation and control) work shop on the ship.

A number of ceremonies occurred on Sunday on the ship including the official MARAD National Maritime Day Observance Ceremony (in which NSSA’s Christie Moody participated) as well as a ceremony in the Eisenhower Room dedicating a plaque to the late NSSA founding member Wayne Britz, in which NSSA’s President Bob Moody and board of directors member Bruce Muntz, as well as MARAD’s Erhard Koehler, delivered speeches and comments.

SavannahTopside

Sunday’s open house also featured a large number of pier displays and activities, including remote-controlled boats, a model of the first working steam-propelled boat (with a grasshopper–style steam engine), and many display tents. Hundreds of local citizens, Naval cadets, and officers and sailors toured the ship on Sunday.

The weekend was considered a complete success by all involved, and once again the N.S. Savannah was able to show her distinctive and unique beauty.

For more information:

Click here to see the article we did last year, showing many more spaces inside the ship including the dining room, the bridge, the engine room, and more.

Click here to access the site for the N.S. Savannah Association – donating here is the only way the general public can help save this ship.. for now!

Footnote….

SavannahWillandRod

It’s pretty unusual to find more than one nuclear blogger in one spot, but on Sunday we nearly reached critical mass. On the left, Will Davis, in uniform as Ship’s Docent and NSSA Communications Director; on the right, Rod Adams. This was taken in the Veranda; the colored wine rack behind the bar represents the Trilinear Chart of the Nuclides. Photo courtesy Rod Adams.

____________________________________

SavannahWillinControlRoomWill Davis is the Communications Director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian and as a member of the board of directors. 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, is secretary of the board of directors of PopAtomic Studios, 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 Blogger Carnival 208

ferriswheel 201x268It’s time for the 208th Carnival of Nuclear Energy, and ANS Nuclear Cafe is proud to host the event!

Every week, the top English-language pro-nuclear bloggers and authors get together to present their top stories of that week.  That means that by following the Carnival wherever it goes, you can stay on top of the most important stories, issues and concerns.  Let’s see this week’s!

Forbes – Jim Conca

Nuclear Waste Leak Traced To…  Kitty Litter?

The recent news of a radioactive waste incident at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has now been tempered by the revelation that an attempt to “go green” may have been responsible for the leak.  Jim Conca explains.

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Next Big Future – Brian Wang

Nuclear power makes up 60% of the power that does not emit carbon dioxide

http://nextbigfuture.com/2014/05/nuclear-power-in-us-makes-up-60-of.html

Time, Distance and Shielding - Radiation protection factors of
buildings are like the SPF of sunscreen

http://nextbigfuture.com/2014/05/time-distance-and-shielding-and.html

Help fund this project and have a chance to shock the world with
massively lower energy costs.

http://nextbigfuture.com/2014/05/this-project-could-reduce-energy-costs.html

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The Hiroshima Syndrome - Les Corrice

The “Fall Back” for Japan’s Press on a Slow Fukushima News Week

It’s been a relatively slow week for negative Fukushima news reporting. But, the Press can always fall back on the exploitation of the angry…the frightened…the uncertain…the doubtful. The Japan Times has done just that.

http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-commentary.html

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ANS Nuclear Cafe

Save Vermont Yankee – If Not You, Who?  If Not Now, When?

There is a safe, reliable, 650 MWe power plant with a low, predictable fuel cost – pending closing in Vermont.  Recently extensively refurbished, in a region with very tight generating capacity.  Licensed to operate through 2032.  Rod Adams notes that mothballing a plant like this seems insane, and asks if there’s a way to prevent it.

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Yes Vermont Yankee – Meredith Angwin

With Vermont Yankee scheduled to close, Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee has two posts about a possible employee buyout.  Such a buyout was proposed by Rod Adams. In Saving Vermont Yankee: Rod Adams Moves Forward,
http://yesvy.blogspot.com/2014/05/saving-vermont-yankee-rod-adams-moves.html#.U20CjSiTT9Q, Angwin has an upbeat description of Adams work and plans for such a buyout.
In Employee Ownership
http://yesvy.blogspot.com/2014/05/employee-ownership.html#.U20C6SiTT9Q Angwin describes the financial and political issues that oppose such a plan.   The truth is probably somewhere between these two posts!

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Atomic Insights – Rod Adams

B&W mPower cover story about lack of interest is bogus

During a call with investors, Jim Ferland, the company CEO announced that spending on the mPower reactor development project would be slashed by approximately 75%. The official explanation was that the company had failed in its effort to find major investors. The underlying impression given, perhaps purposely, was that SMRs were not attracting customer interest and were thus just an expensive distraction to keep nuclear-focused development teams busy.

That cover story leaves out a lot of details. Rod Adams fills in some of the missing details of a developing story.

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Nuke Power Talk – Gail Marcus

Food Irradiation

Gail Marcus provides some updates on the food irradiation issue at Nuke Power Talk.  She makes note of both the good news (the recent approval for the irradiation of crustaceans), and the bad news (the length of time it took to obtain that approval and the continuing opposition to food irradiation).  She also draws analogies with the acceptance of pasteurization of milk a century ago, and shares her discovery of a retail source for irradiated ground beef.

———-

That’s it for this week’s Carnival.  Thanks to all of our contributors!

Nuclear Energy Blogger Carnival 207

ferris wheel 202x201The 207th Carnival of Nuclear Energy has been posted at Next Big Future.  You can click here to access this latest post in a long running tradition among the top English language pro-nuclear bloggers and authors.

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

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

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

Return to the 1970s

By Will Davis

LetsGoBookIn the 1960s, visions for nuclear power were hopeful and plentiful; nuclear plants of all sorts imaginable* were under consideration and under construction in areas both urban and remote, while future plans portrayed an enormous nuclear plant build-out with a complete fuel cycle that included fuel recycling and breeder reactors.

By the 1980s, dozens and dozens of nuclear plants had been cancelled and many others deferred; only light water cooled and moderated reactors were under construction or even considered; the fuel cycle was irreparably broken and stuck at “once-through,” and breeders were dead.

What happened? Well, the short answer is this: “The 1970s happened.” You know, the ’70s—the decade of purported social decay, purported imminent ecological collapse, purported continuous and irreversible fuel and energy shortage; a decade marked by conservationism (the idea that we should do less with less) having taken over the pulpit from environmentalism (the idea that we should do as much as possible to try to not harm the environment) and a decade marked by deep suspicion of anything even remotely suspected of being corporate.

The damage to nuclear energy’s future wasn’t entirely the fault of the US government, although it played a major role. The first events of the decade concerning nuclear surrounded the breakup of the Atomic Energy Commission, which was split into the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA). The decade later also saw the breakup of the very powerful Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. These moves, driven by the desire among some that the federal government has no stake in promoting nuclear energy, effectively killed off any ability of the government to drive goals or make real accomplishments in the field (the downsizing of the small modular reactor dream recently is all the proof one needs of this; compare it to the long list of nuclear plant types actually built as listed in the footnotes). The only body remaining with any real power, the NRC, served only to license and oversee nuclear plants and has no promotional mandate.**

The real mandate was made quite clear in March 1977 when the ERDA set up the Solar Energy Research Institute to develop solar energy (an arena in which NASA was also working—astronaut Dr. Harrison Schmitt was for a time in charge of the program). Thus, the government quickly eviscerated any attempt to keep federal money and direction behind nuclear energy, and made at least some effort to move it instead into solar. At roughly the same time, research into coal power, on the federal dime, was also continuing—a NASA program to study coal gasification and co-generation comes to mind from then.

The Carter administration is the entity upon which we can reflect today as being most intimately involved with serious changes during this pivotal decade. It was during these years that the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy was broken up; the administration was also responsible for plans that led to issuance of ERDA  document ERDA 77-1, “A National Plan for Energy Research, Development and Demonstration,” from early 1977. It is not putting the matter too seriously to say that this policy brief outlines plans and considerations that can, in hindsight, only be considered foolish and disastrous. Let’s outline a few of the decisions, considerations, and plans found in this directive:

ERDA77-1• The first priority was conservation—not energy production. This focus, made all too clear by the book’s overemphasis on not doing more with less, but rather doing less with less, was intended to “.. reduce the annual rate of growth of demand to less than 2 percent.” This was a deliberate effort to drive down growth of generating capacity—a move completely unnecessary if nuclear energy were pushed, since it does not use any of the supposedly dwindling fuel sources.

• “Industries and utilities using oil and natural gas should convert to coal and other abundant fuels.” This is the second major goal of the program; its ridiculousness today is obvious on many fronts.

• Another telling quote: “This National Energy Plan is necessary because, despite positive efforts by federal and state governments, industry, and the American public to conserve energy and increase domestic energy supplies, the Nation is, more than ever, reliant on the least plentiful domestic energy resources, petroleum and natural gas.” The untruth of this statement rings hard on the ears today in a world full of oil, natural gas, and shale deposits. But it was the “truth” of the time—or so we were told.

Nuclear Power and the ERDA plan

The ERDA plan wasn’t entirely unrealistic in terms of its approach to nuclear energy—I say this because there were some sensible ideas, including the  streamlining of regulatory requirements—and this was BEFORE Three Mile Island.

The plans for uranium fueled light water reactors were, on the surface, sensible. For example, an expansion of nuclear fuel resources and utilization was planned that was to see greater extraction of uranium from ore, more efficient use of uranium, a better analysis of available and future supply of ore, and even a look at other fuels such as thorium (which was put into the Shippingport pressurized water reactor during the Carter administration.) The plan also sought to increase nuclear plant capacity factors and “decrease plant construction time and costs through standardization of designs.” None of these ideas, however, was new or unique to this administration—it was simply promoting things in this part of the vision for the path forward that had already been printed long before.

The plan’s major changes to the overall nuclear fuel cycle centered on fears of weapons proliferation—the fear that someone, somehow would obtain fissile material from the US nuclear fuel cycle and create a nuclear weapon with it. This fear made the Carter administration try to kill the fast breeder reactor program, and halted plutonium fuel reprocessing. To wit:

“The United States is currently reorienting its advanced nuclear reactor research and development program due to concern with proliferation dangers associated with the plutonium fuel cycle. The President (Carter) has proposed to defer efforts to commercialize the Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor (LMFBR). He has proposed that the systems design for the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Demonstration (CRBR) plant be completed, but construction and operation be cancelled. However, the Fast Flux Test reactor under construction at Hanford will be completed and become operable by 1980.

Alternative reactor systems, including breeders and advanced converters, will be investigated with emphasis on nonproliferation and safety factors. Spectral shift and tandem cycle techniques are being considered as methods to improve the performance of converter reactors. Co-processing of spent fuel from converter reactors is being examined as a possible method for increasing fuel supply to converter reactors or breeder reactors while reducing proliferation dangers. A variety of thorium breeders as well as converter reactors are under consideration as alternatives to the LMFBR. The fuel cycle alternative studies will be completed within about two years.”

Other than the light water breeder experiment at Shippingport, not much ever came of these somewhat grand and fairly positive sounding plans. Instead, the push for conservation (which takes up much of the book), the push for renewables (much more of the book), and fossil fuel (also a large part of the book) continued unabated.

powerplant-mdFrankly, viewed today, this policy document is quite depressing. Fear overtakes all—fear of pollution, fear of fuel shortage (except coal!), fear of nuclear weapons (which somehow must always be mentioned whenever nuclear energy is mentioned in this policy document***), fear of ecological collapse and societal ruin. This was a policy meant to smash the energy business—not reinvigorate it. It was a policy whose only realistic outcome could be either intended or unintended support for that which already held the high ground: Coal.

Lessons for today

Today, we find a vaguely similar set of circumstances. We’re faced with a seemingly unified voice telling us that the science is settled on global warming, and that we need to convert to non-greenhouse gas emitting generation sources. Note that in the 1970s, we were taught in grade school that there would be another (pollution-induced) Ice Age**** and we were told the science was settled then too—but what was the result? A policy that focused at least initially on coal power generation. The inherent contradiction is now plain today; will we see  a similar process take place again? Will we face the best predictions for climate available from science—with a push to do exactly what it is we know intuitively will hurt the worst?

Or instead—with clear and undeniable proof that through a morass of diplomacy and policy and elected representation and intervention and activism and education and misdirection and lobbying—we did exactly the wrong thing last time, will we soberly face the truth and guarantee ourselves that we’ll have the clarity of vision to see through to the proper end this time? Will we all come to understand that nuclear energy, no matter the fuel source, is the way out of all of these problems (and a solution to many others, including provision of reliable and stable base load power, relatively fixed fuel costs, 60 to 80 year plant life, grid stabilization, and more)? The problems we face are mostly political, not technical. Can we push through to do something that more or less everyone can agree we should do, even if our reasons for doing so aren’t the same?

We may be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Only time will tell. Let’s hope that 30 years from now I don’t have to write another story about where we are then, and how we screwed it up BOTH times in the past.

__________________________

Notes:

*Nuclear plants actually built in the United States under AEC programs or privately for commercial power generation included the following: Direct cycle boiling water; indirect cycle boiling water (with external fossil fired superheater); dual cycle boiling water;  boiling water with integral nuclear superheater; pressurized water;  pressurized water with external fossil fired superheater; high temperature gas cooled; sodium cooled fast breeder; sodium cooled (non breeder); organic cooled and moderated; pressure tube type PWR.

Reactor vendors for these types of plants in the early days included (not in order): Westinghouse, General Electric, Allis-Chalmers, Combustion Engineering, Atomics International (Division of North American Aviation Inc.), General Nuclear Engineering Corporation (later bought by Combustion Engineering), Babcock & Wilcox, General Atomic (Division of General Dynamics Corporation,) ACF Industries–Nuclear Products/ERCO Division (later bought by Allis-Chalmers).

This was a time when things got done, and not just things of one basic design concept from only a couple of companies.

**The recent ex-chairman of the NRC did, however, attempt publicly to decree that the NRC acts as an “appellate court” of sorts, a mandate clearly not in its charter, when in the midst of the Yucca Mountain waste repository debate.

***In the budgetary portion, the first line of the section on nuclear energy reads thus: “The appropriate role of nuclear power and the concerns associated with proliferation of nuclear weapons has been a major consideration for the Administration.”

****The author came home from school one day after such a lesson in grade school and waited until evening to ask his father if the family would have to move, since he had already learned that Ohio was covered by ice during the first ice age. The response was a solid, “No, and don’t worry about it—it will never happen.”

• Suggested Reading:

Nuclear Power and its Environmental Effects. This ANS book is a must for anyone interested in a readable, realistic assessment of how nuclear energy impacts the environment. Its value is proven by the fact that it has been in publication for decades. Consideration of nuclear energy as a part of today’s fuel generating mix relies on accessible information on its impacts; this book provides this information in one handy reference. We cannot have an intelligent national dialogue on energy unless this source (nuclear) is well understood.

• Book Covers:

“Let’s Go to an Atomic Energy Town.” Kirk Polking; G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1968.  Library of Congress Catalog No. 68-15075.  One of Putnam’s “Let’s Go” series of children’s books.

“A National Plan for Energy Research, Development and Demonstration.” US Energy Research and Development Administration publication number ERDA77-1, June, 1977. U.S. Gov’t Printing Office Stock No. 060-000-00067-1.

Both books in author’s library.

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WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is the Communications Director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian and as a member of the board of directors. 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, is secretary of the board of directors of PopAtomic Studios, 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 Blogger Carnival 206

ferris wheel 202x201The 206th Carnival of Nuclear Energy has been posted at The Hiroshima Syndrome.  You can click here to access this latest post in a long running tradition among the top English language pro-nuclear bloggers and authors.

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

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

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