Category Archives: Tennessee Valley Authority

2012 ~ The year that was in nuclear energy

Plus a few pointers to what’s in store for 2013

By Dan Yurman

Former NRC Chairman Gregory Jackzo

On a global scale the nuclear industry had its share of pluses and minuses in 2012. Japan’s Fukushima crisis continues to dominate any list of the top ten nuclear energy issues for the year. (See more below on Japan’s mighty mission at Fukushima.)

In the United States, while the first new nuclear reactor licenses in three decades were issued to four reactors, the regulatory agency that approved them had a management meltdown that resulted in the noisy departure of Gregory Jazcko, its presidentially appointed chairman. His erratic tenure at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cast doubt on its effectiveness and tarnished its reputation as one of the best places to work in the federal government.

Iran continues its uranium enrichment efforts

The year also started with another bang, and not the good kind, as new attacks on nuclear scientists in Iran brought death by car bombs. In July, western powers enacted new sanctions on Iran over its uranium enrichment program. Since 2011, economic sanctions have reduced Iran’s oil exports by 40 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In late November, the U.S. Senate approved a measure expanding the economic sanctions that have reduced Iran’s export earnings from oil production. Despite the renewed effort to convince Iran to stop its uranium enrichment effort, the country is pressing ahead with it. Talks between Iran and the United States and western European nations have not made any progress.

Nukes on Mars

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover is a scientific and engineering triumph.

Peaceful uses of the atom were highlighted by NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover, which executed a flawless landing on the red planet in August with a nuclear heartbeat to power its science mission. Data sent to Earth from its travels across the red planet will help determine whether or not Mars ever had conditions that would support life.

SMRs are us

The U.S. government dangled an opportunity for funding of innovative small modular reactors, e.g., with electrical power ratings of less than 300 MW. Despite vigorous competition, only one vendor, B&W, was successful in grabbing a brass ring worth up to $452 million over five years.

The firm immediately demonstrated the economic value of the government cost-sharing partnership by placing an order for long lead time components. Lehigh Heavy Forge and B&W plan to jointly participate in the fabrication and qualification of large forgings for nuclear reactor components that are intended to be used in the manufacture of B&W mPower SMRs.

Lehigh Forge at work

The Department of Energy said that it might offer a second round funding challenge, but given the federal government’s overall dire financial condition, the agency may have problems even meeting its commitments in the first round.

As of December 1, negotiations between the White House and Congress over the so-called “fiscal cliff” were deadlocked. Congress created this mess, so one would expect that they could fix it.

The Congressional Budget Office has warned that if Congress doesn’t avert the fiscal cliff, the economy might slip into recession next year and boost the unemployment rate to 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, compared with 7.9 percent now. Even record low natural gas prices and a boom in oil production won’t make much of a difference if there is no agreement by January 1, 2013.

Japan’s mighty mission at Fukushima

Japan’s major challenges are unprecedented for a democratically elected government. It must decontaminate and decommission the Fukushima site, home to six nuclear reactors, four of which suffered catastrophic internal and external damage from a giant tsunami and record shattering earthquake. The technical challenges of cleanup are daunting and the price tag, already in the range of tens of billions of dollars, keeps rising with a completion date now at least several decades in the future.

Map of radiation releases from Fukushima reported in April 2011

  • Japan is mobilizing a new nuclear regulatory agency that has the responsibility to say whether the rest of Japan’s nuclear fleet can be restarted safely. While the government appointed highly regarded technical specialists to lead the effort, about 400 staff came over from the old Nuclear Industry Safety Agency that was found to be deficient as a deeply compromised oversight body. The new agency will struggle to prove itself an independent and effective regulator of nuclear safety.
  •  Japan has restarted two reactors and approved continued construction work at several more that are partially complete. Local politics will weigh heavily on the outlook for each power station with the “pro” forces emphasizing jobs and tax base and the anti-nuclear factions encouraged by widespread public distrust of the government and of the nation’s nuclear utilities.
  • Despite calls for a phase out of all nuclear reactors in Japan, the country will continue to generate electric power from them for at least the next 30–40 years.
  • Like the United States, Japan has no deep geologic site for spent fuel. Unlike the United States, Japan has been attempting to build and operate a spent fuel reprocessing facility. Plagued by technical missteps and rising costs, Japan may consider offers from the United Kingdom and France to reprocess its spent fuel and with such a program relieve itself of the plutonium in it.

U.S. nuclear renaissance stops at six

The pretty picture of a favorable future for the nuclear fuel cycle in 2007 turned to hard reality in 2012.

In 2007, the combined value of more than two dozen license applications for new nuclear reactors weighed in with an estimated value of over $120 billion. By 2012, just six reactors were under construction. Few will follow soon in their footsteps due to record low prices of natural gas and the hard effects of one of the nation’s deepest and longest economic recessions.

The NRC approved licenses for two new reactors at Southern’s Vogtle site in Georgia and two more at Scana’s V.C. Summer Station in South Carolina. Both utilities chose the Westinghouse AP1000 design and will benefit from lessons learned by the vendor that is building four of them in China. In late November, Southern’s contractors, which are building the plants, said that both of the reactors would enter revenue service a year late. For its part, Southern said that it hasn’t agreed to a new schedule.

The Tennessee Valley Authority recalibrated its efforts to complete Watts Bar II, adding a three-year delay and over $2 billion in cost escalation. TVA’s board told the utility’s executives that construction work to complete Unit 1 at the Bellefonte site cannot begin until fuel is loaded in Watts Bar.

The huge increase in the supply of natural gas, resulting in record low prices for it in the United States, led Exelon Chairman John Rowe to state that it would be “inconceivable” for a nuclear utility in a deregulated state to build new reactors.

Four reactors in dire straights

In January, Southern California Edison (SCE) safety shut down two 1100-MW reactors at its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) due to excessive wear found in the nearly new steam generators at both reactors.

SCE submitted a restart plan to the NRC for Unit 2 in November. The review, according to the agency, could take months. SCE removed the fuel from Unit 3 last August, a signal that the restart of that reactor will be farther in the future owing to the greater extent of the damage to the tubes its steam generator.

The NRC said that a key cause of the damage to the tubes was a faulty computer program used by Mitsubishi, the steam generator vendor, in its design of the units. The rate of steam, pressure, and water content were key factors along with the design and placement of brackets to hold the tubes in place.

Flood waters surround Ft. Calhoun NPP June 2011

Elsewhere, in Nebraska the flood stricken Ft. Calhoun reactor owned and operated by the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), postponed its restart to sometime in 2013.

It shut down in April 2011 for a scheduled fuel outage. Rising flood waters along the Missouri River in June damaged in the plant site though the reactor and switch yard remained dry.

The Ft. Calhoun plant must fulfill a long list of safety requirements before the NRC will let it power back up. To speed things along, OPPD hired Exelon to operate the plant. In February 2012, OPPD cancelled plans for a power uprate, also citing the multiple safety issues facing the plant.

In Florida, the newly merged Duke and Progress Energy firm wrestled with a big decision about what to do with the shutdown Crystal River reactor. Repairing the damaged containment structure could cost half again as much as an entirely new reactor. With license renewal coming up in 2016, Florida’s Public Counsel thinks that Duke will decommission the unit and replace it with a combined cycle natural gas plant. Separately, Duke Chairman Jim Rogers said that he will resign at the end of 2013.

China restarts nuclear construction

After a long reconsideration (following the Fukushima crisis) of its aggressive plans to build new nuclear reactors, China’s top level government officials agreed to allow new construction starts, but only with Gen III+ designs.

China has about two dozen Gen II reactors under construction. It will be 40–60 years before the older technology is off the grid. China also reduced its outlook for completed reactors from an estimate of 80 GWe by 2020 to about 55–60 GWe. Plans for a massive $26-billion nuclear energy IPO (initial public offering) still have not made it to the Shanghai Stock Exchange.  No reason has been made public about the delay.

India advances at Kudanlulam

India loaded fuel at Kudankulam where two Russian built 1000-MW VVER reactors are ready for revenue service. The Indian government overcame widespread political protests in its southern state of Tamil Nadu. India’s Prime Minister Singh blamed the protests on international NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

One of the key factors that helped the government overcome the political opposition is that Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited told the provincial government that it could allocate half of all the electricity generated by the plants to local rate payers. Officials in Tamil Nadu will decide who gets power. India suffered two massive electrical blackouts in 2012, the second of which stranded over 600 million people without electricity for up to a week.

Also, India said that it would proceed with construction of two 1600-MW Areva EPRs at Jaitapur on its west coast south of Mumbai and launched efforts for construction of up to 20 GWe of domestic reactors.

India’s draconian supplier liability law continues to be an effective firewall in keeping American firms out of its nuclear market.

UK has new builder at Horizon

The United Kingdom suffered a setback in its nuclear new build as two German utilities backed out of the construction of up to 6 Gwe of new reactors at two sites. Japan’s Hitachi successfully bid to take over the project. A plan for a Chinese state-owned firm to bid on the Horizon project in collaboration with Areva never materialized.

Also in the UK, General Electric pursued an encouraging dialog with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to build two of its 300-MW PRISM fast reactors to burn off surplus plutonium stocks at Sellafield. The PRISM design benefits from the technical legacy of the Integral Fast Reactor developed at Argonne West in Idaho.

You can’t make this stuff up

In July, three anti-war activitists breached multiple high-tech security barriers at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Y-12 highly enriched uranium facility in Tennessee. The elderly trio, two men on the dark side of 55 and a woman in her 80s, were equipped with ordinary wire cutters and flashlights.

Y-12 Signs state the obvious

The intruders roamed the site undetected for several hours in the darkness of the early morning and spray painted political slogans on the side of one of the buildings. They were looking for new artistic venues when a lone security guard finally stopped their travels through the plant.

The government said that the unprecedented security breach was no laughing matter, firing the guards on duty at the time and the contractor they worked for. Several civil servants “retired.” The activists, if convicted, face serious jail time.

None of the HEU stored at the site was compromised, but subsequent investigations by the Department of Energy found a lack of security awareness, broken equipment, and an unsettling version of the “it can’t happen here” attitude by the guards that initially mistook the intruders for construction workers.

The protest effort brought publicity to the activists’ cause far beyond their wildest dreams and produced the predictable uproar in Congress. The DOE’s civilian fig leaf covering the nation’s nuclear weapons program was once again in tatters.

So long Chu

Given the incident at Y-12, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who came to government from the quiet life of scientific inquiry, must have asked himself once again why he ever accepted the job in Washington in the first place.

DOE Energy Secretary Steven Chu

Chu is expected to leave Washington. That he’s lasted this long is something of a miracle since the Obama White House tried to give him the heave ho this time last year after the Solyndra loan guarantee debacle, in which charges of political influence peddling by White House aides colored a half a billion dollar default on a DOE loan by a California solar energy company.

The predictable upswing in rumors of who might be appointed to replace him oozed into energy trade press and political saloons of the nation’s capital.

Leading candidates are former members of Congress, former governors, or just  about anyone with the experience and political know how to take on the job of running one of the federal government’s biggest cabinet agencies. It’s a short list of people who really can do the job and a long list of wannabes. With shale gas and oil production on the rise, having a background in fossil fuels will likely help prospective candidates.

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Dan Yurman published the nuclear energy blog Idaho Samizdat from 2007–2012.

Clinch River Site will once again lead nuclear development

By Will Davis

(Above, Westinghouse artwork depicting the Clinch River Breeder Reactor plant as envisaged in November 1973.)

The Department of Energy announced recently that it would award the first of (potentially) two blocks of grant money for small modular reactor (SMR) development to Babcock & Wilcox, Bechtel Corporation, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The funds would be used for construction of a new SMR–powered reactor plant at the former Clinch River Breeder Reactor (CRBR) site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee—a site that once shined as the future of nuclear energy in the United States.

Decades ago, the Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor (LMFBR) program, originally begun by the Atomic Energy Commission, turned into a real-world project in 1972 when the AEC signed the first Memorandum of Understanding with TVA, Project Management Corporation, Commonwealth Edison, and Breeder Reactor Corporation – to build what would become known as the CRBR plant. Work quickly advanced to include a number of reactor vendors (Westinghouse as lead reactor manufacturer, along with General Electric and Atomics International) and a giant consortium of 753 utility companies nationwide, as well as many other vendors and consultants. Project costs  escalated, and in 1977 the Carter administration decided to terminate the licensing activity and attempted to kill the project. The CRBR project went on in semi-limbo for years, with much hardware being constructed. Finally, after a brief attempt in 1983 to find ways to increase outside funding for the project, it was cancelled—with over 70 percent of the equipment either delivered or ordered, site preparation work underway, licensing activity nearly completed, and environmental hearings completed (DOE-NE-0050, March 1983.)

When the breeder project was launched, the liquid metal–cooled breeder reactor seemed very much the path to the future for nuclear energy, in order to close the fuel cycle. Now, the SMR seems the path to the future, to provide industrial power and process steam, even for off-grid use. It’s supremely fitting that the Clinch River site—just green field now, but where the “old future” of nuclear energy died—will see the launch of the “new future.” In order to help close the historical circle, let’s take a look at some of the hardware actually constructed for the CRBR project—but never used. We’ve already seen the first exterior concept for the plant above; we’ll see the final one later on.

Above, the reactor vessel for the CRBR, pictured at Babcock & Wilcox’s facility in Mount Vernon, Indiana, as seen in a Westinghouse CRBR status report from 1981. The special J-shaped rig or mount was designed to both transport and help erect the vessel at the time of installation. Cost of this piece of equipment with core support structure was about $27.7 million. The core support was fabricated by Allis-Chalmers.

Above, flow diagram for the CRBR–sodium in the primary and intermediate loops (3 double loops total) with steam/water in the conventional manner in the final cycle. The odd-looking shape of the steam generators and superheaters in the diagram is no mistake, as we’re about to see.

Above, CRBR “evaporator” or steam generator delivered from Atomics International for testing. Both the primary loops and intermediate loops were to use very large electric pumps to move the liquid sodium, which we’ll see below.

Above, a primary loop sodium pump under test at the Byron Jackson Division of Borg-Warner Corporation, as seen in a Westinghouse update on the CRBR project from 1981 (the same photo is duplicated in the 1982 report).

The CRBR project had its own internal newsletter; above, the cover of the December 1978 “Clinch River Currents.” Below is the text from the cover:

“The CRBRP’s in and ex-containment primary sodium storage tanks are complete and will be shipped by barge to Oak Ridge when needed. The three tanks have been purged, sandblasted and painted and are now in storage at ITO Corporation of Ameriport, Camden, New Jersey.

These tanks for the CRBRP were built at the Joseph Oat Company, Camden, New Jersey, under a subcontract from Atomics International. The materials used were ASME SA-515 and SA-516 carbon steel plate, and SA-105 for the nozzle forgings.  Single piece spun heads were used in fabricating the tanks.

The contract was awarded in October 1976, and fabrication started in February 1977. The 23-foot-long in-containment tank was completed in August 1978 and the two 32-foot-long ex-containment tanks shown here were completed in September 1978. Each of the three tanks is 18 feet in diameter.”

In that same December 1978 issue we find a number of illustrations and details about completion of the in-vessel fuel transfer machine, illustrated below with original caption material included.

“Four years of design work and over a year of fabrication and assembly by Atomics International Division, Rockwell International, Canoga Park, California, have culminated in completion of the two subassemblies of the in-vessel transfer machine. The next step will be final assembly, followed by an integrated checkout of the unit in air in February. Following completion of this phase, the unit will be turned over to the Energy Technology Engineering Center nearby in Santa Susana, California, for testing in sodium. Turnover is scheduled for May 1979.

The $2.3 million apparatus will be used to transfer fuel inside the reactor vessel during refueling. Mounted on the smallest of three eccentric rotating plugs of the reactor vessel head, it will be capable of locating itself over any removable element of the core, picking it up with a straight pull and transferring it to a temporary storage location inside the reactor vessel. It will also pick up replacement elements from the storage location and place them in the proper position in the core. The triple rotating plug locating concept, also used by West Germany in the SNR 300, is the first such head design used in a US designed LMFBR. Prior rotating head concepts in the US were employed on EBR II [Experimental Breeder Reactor II] and FFTF [Fast Flux Test Facility] but consisted of only two heads and a cantilevered in-vessel fuel handling device…”

Below, the reactor vessel head assembled for testing; the eccentric plugs and gears can clearly be made out.

The design layout for the plant changed a number of times as improvements were made. Below, the final layout as found in 1981–1982 Westinghouse status reports, and which was fairly widely released. This was the final plant configuration.

As we have seen, the CRBR was never built. The equipment ordered was laid up or disposed of, and the work force scattered; the site returned to disuse. The promise of a new and different future for nuclear energy never did die, though—it has taken on new faces from time to time since then, none of which has really reached the hardware stage. Now, at last, the Clinch River site will finally see construction and operation of a nuclear power plant, fulfilling its promise. While the design and appearance of the Generation mPower SMR plant will be vastly different from that envisaged for the CRBR, it’s fitting that it is because the look of the future of nuclear energy has also changed that much in the intervening quarter century.

One last illustration; below we see the cover of the January 1979 Clinch River Currents, whose headline announces “First Major CRBRP Hardware Delivered to Oak Ridge”—this was a protected water storage tank manufactured by Process Equipment Company, Brockton, Massachusetts, and three primary sodium system cold leg check valves (inset) from Foster Wheeler in Mountaintop, Pennsylvania.

(Illustrations from Westinghouse, CRBR management reports; Clinch River Currents illustrations and text, and both CRBR plant external illustrations from Will Davis collection.)

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Will Davis is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W reactor plants.  Davis performs Social Media services for ANS under contract, writes for ANS Nuclear Cafe as well as for Fuel Cycle Week, and also writes his own Atomic Power Review blog.

 

 

President-elect Hoffman charters new ANS student section at Chattanooga State

American Nuclear Society President-elect Donald Hoffman recently visited the ANS Student Section at Chattanooga State Community College. Hoffman thanked the students for their outstanding participation at the recent Department of Energy public hearing on proposed mixed oxide fuel technologies for Tennessee Valley Authority nuclear plants, and laid out a vision for the future for ANS, in a presentation before a large audience of 60–70 attendees.

President-elect Hoffman also presented the founding charter for the ANS Chattanooga State Student Section—the most recent to join the network of ANS student sections at colleges and universities across the country.

Brad Guhne (Secretary), Carl Flemister (Co-VP), Kelly Copeland (Treasurer), Lisa Miller (Faculty Advisor, Lead Instructor), Don Hoffman, Brennan Miles (Co-VP), Alex Woods (President), Sam Snyder (Chattanooga Section Chair)

ANS Nuclear Cafe caught up with Alex Woods, president of the Chattanooga State ANS student section. “Donald Hoffman’s passion for the American Nuclear Society and its development was quite infectious. The presentation was impressive throughout, and his good humor, accessibility, and dedication was very inspirational for all of us, to make the absolute most of our new charter at Chattanooga State. It was a pleasure and an honor that he visited our campus.”

Alex Woods continued: “The importance of our charter’s establishment, in my opinion, is that of outreach. I feel like the public relations side of the nuclear industry is lacking. Much of the general public is quick to make assumptions about nuclear energy—based on stereotypical and inaccurate information. Having fresh, youthful faces to engage the public is of critical importance to correct this problem.

“As we are in a whirlwind of work with our new chapter, we are adding student members all along the way. I would guess there are about 40 members presently. We have several proposed plans of outreach, in schools and public forums, as well as fund raising activities, community, and charitable events, and so forth. It promises to be a very busy year. We are extremely fortunate to have such a broad scope of support, that provides us with wonderful guest speakers as well as tours of a variety of industry related facilities.

“I can certainly say that we are all eager to work to the best of our abilities and resources to establish a charter that will make the overall ANS national organization very proud. The MOX hearing was a gigantic success, for example, and could not have been so without the enthusiastic participation of the students in the nuclear curriculum at Chattanooga State.

“To brag on my fellow students, I am very fortunate to be in the company of such intelligent, focused, and determined students, particularly with regard to the nuclear power operations discipline at the college. They are an impressive group of people to say the least. Our plan is to make President-elect Hoffman, the American Nuclear Society, our mentors, and our faculty very proud of our accomplishments, this year and beyond.”

Lisa Miller, ANS faculty advisor and lead instructor in nuclear power, adds: “The ANS Student Section at Chattanooga State gives students the opportunity to organize and work together on Section activities year-round, both on-campus and in professional settings, as well as the very important opportunity to meet and interact with nuclear professionals in the field. The students are incredibly motivated—they respond so well when professionals like Mr. Hoffman give their time, and organize themselves so very well in outreach activities. The Section fosters leadership development that will serve the students very well throughout their careers and life paths.”

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Alex Woods studies health physics and radiation protection at Chattanooga State Community College, and is President of the ANS Chattanooga State Student Section.  Future plans include working at a Tennessee Valley Authority nuclear power installation in the field of Radiation Protection, and eventual eligibility to qualify for the National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists. In the longer term, he plans to achieve the status of a Certified Health Physicist. He finds the applications of health physics with regard to matters of national security and genetic biodosimetry to be of particular interest.  Alex Woods is the recipient of a Kent W. Hamlin Memorial Scholarship in 2012-2013.

Lisa Miller is a Nuclear Power Instructor in the Engineering Technology Division at Chattanooga State Community College, and is Faculty Advisor for the ANS Chattanooga State Community College Student Section.

Nuclear Matinee: Prep work at Sequoyah Unit 2

Today’s ANS Nuclear Matinee shows viewers a time-lapse film of a steel superstructure being built on top of the dome of Sequoyah-2′s reactor containment building. The work is being done to ready the site for a large maintenance project scheduled at the plant. When complete, the superstructure will support the removal of parts of the dome along with the reactor containment vessel and steam generator enclosures.

Then, four steam generators at Sequoyah-2 will be replaced, as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s ongoing efforts to maintain a safe and quality performance and to sustain reliable production of energy for TVA customers.

TVA’s Browns Ferry road to recovery

The Browns Ferry nuclear power plant is located on the Tennessee River near Decatur and Athens, Alabama. The site, which has three General Electric boiling water reactors, is owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

In 1974, the time of its initial operation, Browns Ferry was the largest nuclear plant in the world. In 2006, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed the licenses for all three Browns Ferry reactors, extending each one for an additional 20 years.

NRC findings

One reactor at the Browns Ferry plant currently carries a “red” finding from the NRC in 2011. That finding stemmed from a faulty valve on a reactor shutdown cooling system that went unnoticed for 18 months until it was needed in a routine shutdown. A backup system intended for use in the event of fire was employed to safely take the reactor off line.

All three Browns Ferry units also carry a “white” finding from a recent NRC inspection that found plant operators and staff would not have been able to satisfactorily perform newly implemented procedures for safe plant shutdown.

Improvements

Keith Polson, Browns Ferry Nuclear Site VP

TVA’s Chief Nuclear Officer Preston Swafford and Browns Ferry Site Vice President Keith Polson met September 12 with reporters in the regional media to share news about improvements currently being made at Browns Ferry.

The two executives provided an overview of TVA’s nuclear fleet, and shared an Integrated Improvement Plan Summary plan for Browns Ferry, explaining how it was developed and the metrics that will be used to measure improvements. Their update also included a review of the Browns Ferry Road to Recovery report, which explains Browns Ferry’s focus and activities in the areas of people, processes, and the plant itself since 2009.

In short, the message from Swafford and Polson:

TVA is committed to making the improvements needed at Browns Ferry to return the facility to a top-operating nuclear plant.

TVA has a detailed action plan to make improvements at Browns Ferry.

Preston Swafford, TVA chief nuclear officer

TVA is confident it is on track, and already seeing improvements in key areas.

Addressing the NRC’s red finding at Browns Ferry is part of a larger effort to improve operations at the plant for the long term.

Nuclear power continues to be a key component of TVA’s vision: becoming one of the nation’s leaders in low-cost and clean energy by 2020.

Some of the regional news coverage:

Browns Ferry executives say they are developing safety measures” — Decatur Daily

TVA: Improvements boil down to personnel” – Athens News Courier

TVA touts fire protection at Browns Ferry” — Athens News Courier

TVA in midst of recovery program at Browns Ferry and other nuclear plants” — The Huntsville Times

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Dr. G. Ivan Maldonado presents ANS comments at TVA Board hearing

On August 16, G. Ivan Maldonado, PhD, Associate Professor of Nuclear Engineering with the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, attended a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Board Meeting on behalf of the American Nuclear Society to present comments on the use the of mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel technology to accomplish the timely disposition of surplus weapons-grade plutonium.

The American Nuclear Society (ANS) has long regarded the timely disposition of surplus weapons-grade plutonium to be vitally important to national security. In 2001—and again in 2009—ANS endorsed the application of MOX fuel technologies to accomplish this goal. Society members also endorsed the important role that ANS should play in informing the public about the nonproliferation benefits of the MOX fuel program and the safe and successful track record of manufacturing and using MOX fuel.

The ANS Nuclear Cafe caught up with Professor Maldonado to ask him about this experience.

Why did you feel it was important to submit public comments to the TVA Board?

Dr. G. Ivan Maldonado at Oak Ridge National Laboratory office

I have attended a few public meetings before.  In particular, I recall a visit to in Piketon, OH, several years ago when the DOE was entertaining the possibility of a collocated recycling/reprocessing facility and a fast reactor somewhere around the US.  So they visited several selected sites to hear the locals and public comments.

My colleagues at the University of Cincinnati (where I worked then); Dr. Henry Spitz and Dr. John Christenson (may he rest in peace), and Professor Rich Denning from Ohio State University joined me to help provide some educated comments on behalf of the positive impact such project would have upon an economically depressed area of Ohio, and also upon universities such as UC and OSU (research, industrial jobs, etc.) all which would benefit the children of Ohio and the surrounding states.

Our positive thinking and the good message we genuinely believed we brought forth seemed to “drown” within a sea of dozens and dozens of out-of-town activists who had apparently mobilized from all points across the US, sometimes driving for several days in large clusters with the sole purpose of “simulating” a public majority that had greatly suffered for years from the evil doings of the US DOE and the nuclear industry.  Each of their stories was more off the wall than the previous one, many of them designed as scare tactics with unfounded data or events that nobody could corroborate or verify.  Most of these individuals obviously had no ties to, or represented, the public interest of the local town or of the State of Ohio, and part of their tactic was to also loudly cheer each other.

In this manner, when I and my colleagues spoke, we were met with sepulchral silence or even a few boos.  I learned that day that these environmental activist groups were simply much more organized and better prepared than any of us were.  I thought that day they accomplished their mission, which was to simulate a mostly anti-nuclear public providing endless stories (rarely documented evidence) and, thus, overwhelming most of the available time for public comments.

I was happy to present a position statement to TVA on behalf of the ANS and was actually proud of the fact that my professional society was making a deliberate effort to mobilize our troops to help our voice be heard.

Could you describe the setting for the TVA Board of Directors meeting?

I thought it was very interesting that the TVA building was surrounded by cop cars and riot/bomb type squads with canine units all over the place.  The entrance to the meeting had a metal detection portal, much like going through airport security.  The registration table had a couple of ladies who checked your name against the list of pre-registered public speakers.  The order of the speakers (your number) was based on when you pre-registered on the Internet.  My number was 29, so I knew I’d be there for a while.

For people who haven’t submitted public comments before:  What were the mechanics?

The public comments for the TVA Board meeting were well organized. Speakers were summoned in sets of about 5 individuals at a time. When you started to speak, a clock/timer began to count down your 3 minutes.  The light was green until there was about 1 minute left, then turned yellow.  Finally, it turned red.

I had rehearsed “in my head” while waiting for my turn, timing it with my phone, and quickly learned that my brain talks to itself much faster than when speaking into a microphone!  Three minutes go by very quickly, but I managed to squeeze it all in.

What were some examples of other public comments?

Given that TVA is a large public utility, public concerns extend over a very large footprint of issues surrounding coal, hydro, gas, and nuclear generation, transmission lines & vegetation management.  So during the first 2 hours of the Board meeting, there was one statement against MOX, and two technically-based talks that supported MOX: mine and that by Dr. Thom Mason, the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  So I heard a lot of concerns from the public about presumedly indiscriminate cutting of trees near power lines, particularly affecting the looks of suburban neighborhoods and thus housing prices.  Folks traveled a long way to express their concern with marinas being built and developed in the lakes that serve the TVA dams, etc.

Inevitably, as it was my experience back in Ohio, probably 6 or more years ago, I noticed groups of activists who were present, and their reciprocal cheering & clapping that followed every one of their talks.  Funnily enough, after I spoke… “you could hear a pin drop.”

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TVA’s Tom Kilgore keynote speaker at ANS Utility Working Conference

The American Nuclear Society’s Utility Working Conference and Vendor Technology Expo wrapped up yesterday in Hollywood, Fla. The annual executive conference is attended by hundreds of professional nuclear operators, vendors, and regulators in a format that promotes the open sharing of ideas.

Tom D. Kilgore, president and chief executive officer of the Tennesee Valley Authority, was one of two keynote speakers at the opening plenary of the conference. The other speaker was Marine Corporal Josh Bleill, a double-amputee Purple Heart veteran and a spokesperson for the Indianapolis Colts NFL football team.

Mr. Kilgore emphasized the value of consistent performance.  “As nuclear operators expand their capabilities, we must all be committed to safety, reliability, quality, and people to drive consistent performance.  When it comes to nuclear operations at TVA, we are listening, we are learning, and we are improving,” Kilgore said.

Mr. Kilgore stressed the importance of collaborative effort across the nuclear industry.  “Regulatory decisions and the public’s perception of nuclear energy have less to do with how we operate individually than with how our industry performs as a whole.  That’s why the future success of nuclear requires a collaborative effort by the nuclear energy industry, researchers and educators to build state-of-the-art equipment, push the envelope on new technologies and develop the next generation of safety.”

Kilgore shared ways that TVA is being more transparent and encouraging more dialog with stakeholders, pointing out the need for clear communication.  “We need to help people see that nuclear energy isn’t just a logical choice for meeting our future energy needs,” Kilgore said. “It’s also a logical choice for economic investment and quality jobs for communities that host nuclear facilities.”

Among the comments in Kilgore’s keynote address, tweeted at the TVA twitter feed, were examples regarding economic benefits in the Tennessee Valley region:

  • One nuclear facility can generate more 700 permanent jobs.
  • One nuclear facility can drive $470 million in goods and services every year.
  • One nuclear facility can yield $83 million in federal, state, and local taxes every year.

In sum, Kilgore said, “Nuclear is the right way forward for our nation.”

TVA’s Integrated Resource Plan includes a balanced and diverse portfolio of energy sources for the region, with a goal of 30 percent contribution each from nuclear, coal, and gas, with hydro providing the remaining 10 percent.

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TVA uses supercomputers to look inside reactors

A partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory will yield results for years to come

By Dan Yurman

Living next door to the most powerful computers in the world offers the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) a unique opportunity to get answers to important questions about its operating nuclear reactors. The utility has multiple reactors at three sites–Browns Ferry (three boiling water reactors), Sequoyah (two pressurized water reactors), and Watts Bar (one PWR). And TVA is having its own mini nuclear renaissance: It completed a reactor at Browns Ferry in 2007, it will complete a reactor at Watts Bar next year, and by the end of this decade, it is likely to be nearing completion of a reactor at Bellefonte.

So where does TVA go when it wants to look deep inside its reactors to help optimize their performance? After all, with billions of dollars invested in these facilities, the utility’s managers want to insure that they get every ounce of performance out of them while securing safe operation in all respects.

The answer is that TVA turns to the Department of Energy-funded Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL) operating at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Rose Montgomery, a project manager and a TVA employee on loan to CASL, says that the primary value in the near term is validation of fuel cycle design and reactor operations computer codes.

This work is consistent, she notes, with the DOE’s objective for CASL, which is to boost reactor reliability and uptime.

“We provide computer simulations that will help TVA achieve reactor power uprates, life extensions, and higher fuel burn-up,” she said.

The CASL project is a mix of scientific research and applied research and development, but that brief summary doesn’t do justice to the objectives the organization has set for itself.

“We are looking for giant strides in computer simulation of phenomena inside a reactor in the areas of thermal hydraulics, fuel rod mechanics, and numerous safety boundary conditions,” she said.

Reactor core simulation Image source: CASL

CASL’s vision is to achieve results. Three broad areas of expected outcomes are defined in its vision statements:

  • Reduced capital and operating costs per unit of energy by enabling power uprates and lifetime extension for existing nuclear power plants and the lifetimes of new Generation III+ nuclear power plants.
  • Reduce nuclear waste volume generated by enabling high fuel burn-up.
  • Assure nuclear safety by enabling high fidelity predictive capability for component performance through failure.

TVA’s work with CASL is based on the assumption that there is industry wide applicability to the modeling and simulation work. CASL is moving beyond a focus on simulating normal steady state reactor conditions.

Its scientists and engineers want to provide insights and enhancements to fuel system design, reactor life extension, accident simulations, and used fuel storage. These are all key issues for a multi-reactor operator such as TVA.

CASL gets data about what’s going on inside TVA’s reactors by collecting operational information and using it in advanced modeling and simulation software that runs on some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers located at ORNL.

Montgomery lists work that has applicability to the U.S. nuclear industry including optimizing fuel efficiency and improving the understanding of fuel performance issues. The six technical focus areas of CASL are:

  • Advanced modeling application
  • Virtual reactor integration
  • Radiation transport methods
  • Thermo hydraulic methods
  • Materials performance and optimization
  • Validation and uncertainty quantification

TVA believes that the CASL program has wide industry applicability in terms of modeling and simulation. CASL is currently focused on the reactor system and nuclear fuel in PWRs. If given more time, however, CASL proposes to move on to simulations of BWRs, small modular reactors, and balance-of-plant systems.

CASL does not expect to license the codes they provide; this will be left up to the utilities and fuel vendors to complete. However, CASL is working to ensure that the codes will be available to industry and will be in a position to be licensed in the future. The project is currently interfacing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research, with regular updates on the development progress.

In the short term, TVA expects to see benefits in some aspects of management of core cycle designs and a reduction in some costs related to operating issues such as CRUD deposition. (CRUD refers to tiny, solid, corrosion products that travel into the reactor core, become highly radioactive, and then flow out of the reactor into other systems in the plant.) In the longer term, CASL’s work is expected to result in findings that will be applied to TVA reactors so that they can produce more power.

For more information on CASL, contact them at http://www.casl.gov

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Yurman

Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

TVA’s countdown to MOX fuel

The utility is assessing options to use it 

By Dan Yurman

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) could be one of the first nuclear utilities to accept mixed oxide fuel (MOX) from the Department of Energy (DOE) for use in its commercial nuclear reactors. The government is building a $4.8 billion factory in South Carolina that is scheduled to start producing MOX fuel assemblies by 2016 by blending weapons grade plutonium with uranium. The resulting fuel can be swapped out for regular uranium fuel.

The government’s nonproliferation objective is to get 34 tonnes of surplus weapons-grade plutonium out of circulation forever. TVA’s objective is to get nuclear fuel that will work safely in its reactors and at a competitive price.

TVA is a public power provider for a seven-state region serving nine million people. In 2010, 36 percent of its power generation came from nuclear energy. One element of its charter, which dates back to the New Deal programs between 1933 and 1936 of President Franklin Roosevelt, is to support national security missions. TVA built power plants to provide electricity for the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge.

Today, it participates in the DOE’s nonproliferation efforts through the use of fuel made from blended down highly-enriched surplus uranium.

Evaluating the potential for MOX

Mick Mastilovic, TVA's manager of Nuclear Fuel Supply

Mick Mastilovic, TVA’s manager of Nuclear Fuel Supply, told ANS Nuclear Cafe in a telephone interview that the utility’s evaluation of the potential for using MOX fuel will primarily address safety as well as economics of using MOX relative to all uranium fuel. TVA has not yet made a decision to pursue MOX fuel licensing and implementation.

If TVA decides to use MOX, it could eventually replace up to 40 percent of the fuel assemblies in the cores of its Sequoyah and Browns Ferry reactors. The two Sequoyah reactors are pressurized water reactors with 193 fuel assemblies each. The three Browns Ferry reactors are boiling water reactors with 764 fuel assemblies each.

The DOE’s MOX plant is expected to produce the equivalent of 1,700 PWR assemblies to dispose of 34 tonnes of surplus plutonium. At a projected output rate of up to 70 metric tons heavy metal per year, the MOX facility may produce more fuel than TVA’s five reactors could consume.

The National Nuclear Security Administration and its contractor, Shaw Areva MOX Services, are working toward agreements to market additional MOX fuel through the fuel fabrication vendors operating in the United States: Areva, Westinghouse, and Global Nuclear Fuel Americas (GE-Hitachi).

TVA won’t start out at the 40-percent core replacement level. The initial replacement level for the reactors will be about 8 assemblies of MOX fuel. Ramp up time to the 40-percent level depends on the DOE’s production schedule, how well the MOX works, and cost factors, among others.

“There is nothing quick about the process, as we have many gates to go through before possible implementation,” Mastilovic said, adding, “For instance, in the best case, we don’t expect to be able to load MOX assemblies before 2018.”

Explaining MOX to the public

One of the challenges that TVA faces is that the public perceptions of using plutonium as fuel needs some explaining. TVA starts by describing that MOX is a mix of uranium and plutonium. MOX has about 4-percent plutonium oxide (of which 94 percent is Pu-239) and the rest is depleted uranium oxide.

Commercial nuclear fuel starts as uranium oxide. What many people do not know, Mastilovic said, is that plutonium is a normal byproduct in nuclear reactors that fission uranium.

Plutonium builds up in the fuel inside the reactors and eventually provides up to 40 percent of the core’s heat energy. Fission of plutonium produces this energy in the reactor at the end of the life of the fuel.

“We’re not introducing a new element to a core, plutonium is already there,” he said.

And he also noted that “we’re not changing the thermal output of the reactor.”

Mastilovic said that while Pu-239 is more energetic than U-235, “The license governs the use of MOX. Heat inside a core can be managed by blending different fuels just like mixing different types of wood in a fireplace.”

Oak Ridge National Laboratory data presented by TVA to the Nuclear Waste Technology Review Board show little difference in decay heat loads between used MOX fuel and normal non-MOX fuel.

“Thus the difference in heat load between used MOX and used uranium oxide fuel can be accommodated in spent fuel pool cooling or space requirements and in dry cask thermal design,” Mastilovic said.

Next steps

Overall, with TVA support as a cooperating agency, the DOE is on track to complete a supplemental environmental impact statement for MOX fuel use that will assess safety for workers, the public, and the environment. TVA’s public affairs office told ANS Nuclear Cafe that the MOX program will proceed in phases with multiple opportunities for public input.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses for all the reactors that are candidates to use MOX will have to be updated to address physical operating differences and any changes in safety requirements. Technically, at this point, TVA believes that the physical modifications needed for each reactor are manageable. Also, TVA expects the DOE’s MOX to cost less than uranium fuel.

A decision to proceed with engineering and licensing is currently expected to be made in 2013.

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Yurman

Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Full agenda for National Nuclear Science Week 2012

National Nuclear Science Week—a week-long celebration to focus local, regional, and national interest on all aspects of nuclear science—has nearly arrived! On January 23-27, events and activities will be held across the United States to recognize the benefits of nuclear science and technology and to introduce the next generation of  scientists and engineers to the applications of nuclear technologies to everyday life. The National Nuclear Science Week website serves as the clearinghouse for next week’s activities and is chock-full of great ideas for  how to learn, teach, and celebrate nuclear science and technology.

North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NA-YGN) recently held its 13th Annual “Roddy Nuclear” Drawing contest all over North America. Roddy Nuclear is a nuclear fuel pellet cartoon character who can fit into the palm of a child’s hand. Roddy provides as much energy as almost two-thousand pounds of coal and 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas. Check out the finalists at the Clean Air Energy blogsite—the winners will be announced during National Nuclear Science Week.

Tuesday, January 27, has been designated “Careers in Nuclear” Day. From technologists to engineers, radiologists to doctors of nuclear medicine, there are many fields associated with nuclear science. On January 27, a video featuring conversations with individual members of the Chicago ANS Local Section about why they were drawn to nuclear science and the fascinating aspects of nuclear careers will be featured on the ANS Nuclear Cafe. Below is a nuclear careers video currently featured on the aboutnuclear.org careers page—and don’t forget to check out the nuclear careers materials at the ANS website.

Loewen

The American Nuclear Society is proud to be a sponsor of Nuclear Science Day at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), on Wednesday, January 25. This full-day event features world-class nuclear experts in many fields of nuclear science and technology, explaining what it’s all about in live internet webinars and question-and-answer sessions for grades 5-12 (and other interested parties). ANS President Eric Loewen will participate and speak to students from six area high schools about nuclear careers. His presentation will be live-tweeted using the twitter hashtag #NNSW12.

To register for the webcasts, just visit the National Science Teachers Association Learning Center (a great all-around resource for science learning). For details on the Nuclear Science Day agenda, presenters, and all the information, check the Nuclear Science Day Press Release. About 1,000 classrooms will view the webcast throughout the day—representing more than 20,000 students and teachers across the United States.

If you can attend Nuclear Science Day at IIT in person on January 25, please come on out. Artistic individuals can peruse the latest in beautiful nuclear art that will be on display courtesy of Suzy Hobbs Baker of PopAtomic Studios. And for those who live in the fast lane—stop by to say hello to Simona de Silvestro (right), champion Indycar racer and 2010 Indy Rookie of the Year, and ask if you can take a spin in her Nuclear Clean Air Energy car #78!

 

The evening of January 25 will feature a National Nuclear Science Day webinar hosted by Excelsior College titled Women in Nuclear: Professional Organizations and Career Advancement. The event is part of Excelsior College’s School of Business & Technology’s “Women in Technology” campaign and will feature representatives from the Tennessee Valley Authority and NA-YGN, as well as Margaret Harding, one of ANS’s leading spokespersons during the Fukushima nuclear crisis this past March and a contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.  Visit the weblink above for more information, including how to register.

Are you participating in a National Nuclear Science Week event that is not mentioned here? Please add a comment and let us know. ANS members, don’t forget to report your efforts using the online form at the ANS website. Keep up-to-date on events and activities throughout National Nuclear Science Week by visiting the ANS Nuclear Cafe, the ANS Facebook page, and the ANS website, and by following ANS on Twitter.

 

Other People’s Money: Is TVA’s Watts Bar/Bellefonte Swap Creative Financing or Avoiding the Inevitable Debt Fight?

By Tamar Cerafici

The Tennessee Valley Authority wants to build a new nuclear plant at its Bellefonte site in Alabama. Given last month’s positive board meeting, it’s a foregone conclusion that the Bellefonte plant will be resurrected from its living death as a parts plant for other TVA projects.

There’s a problem, highlighted in the post-meeting presser, that’s thrown a hot cup of coffee in the face of project proponents: TVA has a debt ceiling.

If TVA issues debt instruments (usually in the form of bonds) to pay for Bellefonte, it will bump up against its $30-billion debt limit, imposed by Congress in 50-year-old legislation. TVA currently carries about $24 billion in debt. The Bellefonte project will cost almost $5 billion. You do the math.

TVA can run hat-in-hand to Congress. Both of Tennessee’s senators are supportive. Given last month’s debt debates, though, the utility/agency is understandably reluctant to call attention to itself.

Enter the sale-leaseback

Sale-leaseback strategies are actually quite common. A property owner needs capital. She has an asset, say a combustion turbine generating plant. She has a heavy debt load already, and doesn’t want to increase it. Instead, she raises capital by selling the plant to another investor. Of course, the investor isn’t really interested in operating a power plant. So, the former owner leases back the plant and continues operations all while reaping the benefit of new infusions of cash. It lowers financing costs for the operator, and gives the investor a tidy tax break. It’s a common practice in the utility industry.

It’s also a nice dodge, because what could be a debt isn’t reported as debt. Debt crisis averted, our power plant owner can move forward with operations and use the new cash for development.

Should TVA really swap a nuclear plant like a baseball card?

TVA is no stranger to the sale-leaseback. It’s been a clever way to leverage mounting costs. Starting in 2000, it began to use a similar strategy (“lease-leaseback”) strategy to refinance 24 power plants. Those leaseback arrangements accounted for more than 90 percent of TVA’s alternative financing between 2000 and 2003. If these deals are any guide to the Watts Bar/Bellefonte swap, the arrangement will look something like this:

  • After fuel is loaded at Watts Bar, TVA sells or leases it to private investors.
  • The investors get their funding from a combination of private investment and public debt.
  • TVA makes lease payments on the plant and retains sufficient legal interest in the property to operate the plant and maintain its operating license.
  • The investors get enough interest in the plant to entitle them to tax benefits.
  • TVA retains the option to buy back the plant in 20 or 30 years.
  • (Time passes while the NRC mulls over the regulatory implications of a sale-leaseback program. The Congressional Accounting Office and probablythe  Office of Management and Budget become involved, mulling over the financial implications. This process often takes at least two years).
  • TVA uses the new cash to fund at least $2.5 billion of Bellefonte’s $4.9 billion projected cost.

TVA argues correctly that this kind of a sale-leaseback agreement is common in the utility industry.  But TVA seems to forget its unique place in that industry. TVA is an independent federal agency. It’s free from the rigors of competition. Its debts are protected by Congressional fiat and the Federal Financing Bank.

Here’s the real question: Why would TVA trade its nuclear inventory like a Honus Wagner baseball card?

TVA’s chief financial officer, John Thomas, asserted that the current economy is “advantageous” for investors trying to look for secure investments. Thomas admits this mechanism is more expensive than traditional bonds.

Kim Greene, the TVA Group president, was a little less diplomatic.  She said that TVA is just reluctant to ask for money from Congress after the bruising deficit debate last summer. “It just doesn’t seem like a good time politically for this discussion in Washington, D.C.,” she said.

Tennessee’s senators give guarded support to TVA’s proposed financing scheme. Lamar Alexander (R.) argues that a debt increase allows the utility the flexibility it needs to cope with increased power demand, while his compatriot Bob Corker (R.) claims that TVA should be more concerned about the loss of coal-fired generation and related jobs in the Tennessee River Valley. It’s clear that TVA will have its Congressional delegation well behind any bid to raise its debt limit.

If Congressional support is available, TVA should face its demons and raise its debt ceiling. Sale-leaseback financing is an interesting gambit for a traditional utility, and works most of the time. But for TVA, it’s simply an effort to postpone a debt fight that’s inevitable.

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Cerafici

Tamar Cerafici is a cloud-based environmental lawyer who consults with clients on nuclear energy, project finance, and sustainable development. She hopes that the Honus Wagner reference will subtly announce her office’s move from Maryland to Pittsburgh, Pa.