The Final Entrant – Last Nuclear Utility in Japan Applies for Restart

Shika NPP Unit 2.  Courtesy Hokuriku Electric Power Co.

Shika NPP Unit 2. Courtesy Hokuriku Electric Power Co.

by Will Davis

Yesterday, the saga of nuclear energy in post-Fukushima Japan reached an important milestone as the final utility that owns nuclear power plants in that country applied to the regulator for restart, in an event that snuck under the radar of most news venues.

Hokuriku Electric Power Company yesterday submitted its application to have Shika Nuclear Power Plant Unit 2 examined by the Nuclear Regulation Authority under the revised guidelines for nuclear plant safety. Hokuriku owns only one nuclear power station, Shika, which has two units; Unit 1 is a BWR-5, while Unit 2 is an ABWR that went into commercial operation in March 2006. This application for Unit 2 means a number of things; it marks the end of the final holdout, if you will, by a nuclear utility; it shows that all utilities with nuclear plants will attempt to restart at least one unit; and it answers the question once and for all whether the Japanese utilities unanimously want to continue to include nuclear in their fuel mixes for the future.

Hokuriku has stated that work at the site (which mirrors heavy site work underway at most nuclear plants in post-Fukushima Japan) is not yet complete and that it does not have a specific restart date for this nuclear plant.

Shika Unit 2 had some press before this; this plant, along with Chubu Electric Power Company’s Hamaoka Unit 5, made some notoriety in 2006 when both were shut down for some time due to turbine generator problems. Hamaoka-5 shut down first in June 2006, actually on a turbine trip due to high vibration; this was quickly discovered to be a result of broken blades in the “B” or center (of three) of the low pressure turbines on its Hitachi TC6F-52 turbine generator. Because Shika Unit 2 had the same model turbine generator, it was ordered shut down in July 2006 for inspection; this revealed similar, if not as extensive, damage.

Hitachi paid for repairs to the Hamaoka and Shika turbine generators; the Hamaoka unit was back on-line in February 2007, eight months after the event. Shika Unit 2 however was saddled with a reduced power rating, and was also delayed in its restart while NISA (the former nuclear regulator) dealt with systemic problems at the site. Shika Unit 2 finally restarted in June 2008, rated at 1108 MWe instead of its original designed 1358 MWe. Hokuriku detailed plans to modify the turbine in 2010 and return the plant to its original full rating, but the only increase allowed was to 1206 MWe, which is where the official plant rating lies at the moment according to Nuclear Regulation Authority records. Hitachi has since modified its designs to eliminate the problems that originally caused these failures, which have not recurred in any other Hitachi turbine generators.

The restart applications, as they came

It is now appropriate to briefly detail the nuclear plant restart applications in a neat bunch as we find ourselves at a convenient historical point from which to look back.

The initial applications for restart actually came in a rush; on July 8, 2013, four utilities applied for restart examination for no fewer than 10 reactors at five sites. Quite interestingly, all of these were Mitsubishi pressurized water reactors); their ages varied, with commercial operation starting dates ranging from 1984 to 2009, in two, three, and four loop configurations. These were Hokkaido Electric Power’s Tomari NPP Units 1, 2 and 3; Kansai Electric Power’s Ohi NPP Units 3 and 4 and Takahama NPP Units 3 and 4; Shikoku Electric Power’s Ikata Unit 3; and Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai Units 1 and 2.

Just four days later on July 12, 2013, Kyushu Electric Power also applied for its Genkai NPP Units 3 and 4. These are also Mitsubishi PWR plants.

As had long been expected, on September 27, 2013, Tokyo Electric Power applied to restart two units at its massive Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP—and these, Units 6 and 7, were the first boiling water reactors of any kind to apply to restart. These units are Hitachi-GE-Toshiba ABWRs, and are the newest TEPCO nuclear units.

Chugoku Electric Power applied to restart Shimane NPP Unit 2, a Hitachi BWR-5, on December 25, 2013. Two days later on December 27th, Tohoku Electric Power applied to restart Onagawa NPP Unit 2—another BWR-5, but of Toshiba heritage.

The first application of 2014 was February 14, when Chubu Electric Power applied to restart Hamaoka Unit 4, a Toshiba-Hitachi BWR-5.

Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC) applied to restart its Tokai Daini NPP, a GE BWR-5, on May 20, 2014. With a commercial operation date in November 1978, this is by far the oldest reactor applied for restart in Japan; the next closest date is Sendai Unit 1, commercially operational in 1984.

It was June before another application was made; on the 10th, Tohoku Electric Power applied to restart Higashidori 1, a BWR-5 of rather recent vintage, having entered commercial service in 2005.

And, of course, as we now know Shika Unit 2 applied yesterday (August 12, 2014,) marking only the third ABWR to apply for restart.

In total, the restart applications include 12 Mitsubishi PWRs, three ABWRs, and a total of five BWR-5 reactors of various heritage, making 20 reactors overall.

Hamaoka NPP: Courtesy Chubu Electric Power Co.

Hamaoka NPP: Courtesy Chubu Electric Power Co.

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa (TEPCO, two units applied), Tomari (Hokkaido, three units), Shika (Hokuriku, one unit applied), Shimane (Chugoku, one unit applied), Ikata (Shikoku, one unit applied), Takahama and Oi (both Kansai, four units total), and Genkai and Sendai (both Kyushu, four units applied) are on the West coast of Japan or on coasts facing west, making a total of 16 of the 20 units that are not subjected to future tsunami from the same fault that triggered the Great East Japan/Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. The majority of these 16 units (12) are the Mitsubishi PWR units; three more of these 16 units are the ABWRs applied for restart.

The results of these restart applications are, of course, expected to be an exceedingly mixed bag. Anti-nuclear court rulings, mistrust among prefectural governments, environmental groups, and anti-nuclear activists are already having a major impact on the processes to restart the nuclear plants. It is certain that we will look back on this historical point as a mere footnote; the hard work of both preparing the plants for future events and regaining the public trust all lies mainly ahead, and it is likely to take many years to bottle those results as conveniently as we bottle the applications here.

For more information:

Japanese Utilities Lining Up to Restart Reactors

Preparing to Restart:  Tsunami Safety Measures at Japanese Nuclear Power Plants

Japan’s Nuclear Restarts:  Abe says “Will See To It;” Courts Differ; Plants Prepare

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WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is the Communications Director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian, newsletter editor and member of the board of directors. Davis has recently been engaged by the Global America Business Institute as a consultant.  He is also a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013–2016. In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

The Latest Sop to Nuclear Opponents

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontVermont Yankee will go into decommissioning at the end of its current fuel cycle. The last day of operation for the nuclear plant is now set for December 29, 2014. Entergy, the owner, elected this course last year after financial analysis indicated the plant’s unprofitability in a future of projected low natural gas prices.

Yet, in the first year after the end of Vermont Yankee’s original 40-year license, natural gas prices and the market price of electricity in the region were so high that the plant remitted $17 million to the state from power sales above 6.1 cents per kilowatt-hour under the terms of its 2002 purchase agreement.

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Vermont legislature

Nuclear opponents have great influence and support in the Vermont legislature and governor’s office. With plant operation ending, there needed to be a mechanism to keep the anti-nuclear crusade going.

The new panel

The legislature created a new panel—the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel—to provide representation for nuclear opponents and to set up a new means to access information from the plant. The new panel replaced the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP), which previously had received information from the plant at public meetings, via oral testimony, and public comments and questions. VSNAP had one public member, with the remainder members coming from the legislature and state agencies.

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Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel

At the end of the legislative session, the legislature created a new panel by writing it into the budget bill (H885). This new panel, which is advisory only, was created to:

  • Discuss issues related to the decommissioning.
  • Advise the governor, the General Assembly, state agencies, and the public on decommissioning issues.
  • Serve as a conduit for public information.
  • Receive reports on the decommissioning trust fund and other funds.
  • Receive reports on decommissioning; provide a forum for public comments and comment to state agencies and the plant owner

Meetings and an annual report are specified.

The panel consists of 19 members:

  • Four state officials.
  • Two state legislators.
  • Two local government representatives.
  • Six members of the public appointed by the legislature.
  • Two representatives of the plant.
  • One representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
  • Two representatives of adjacent states in the plant’s 10-mile emergency planning zone (EPZ), representing towns in New Hampshire and Vermont, appointed by the states’ governors.

Since the end of the legislative session there has been no further mention of the panel in public sources.

The composition of this new panel, as well as being larger than the one it replaces, is a radical departure from the old one. It includes representatives of the plant, the union, the towns in the EPZ, and several representatives from the public. Including the union is parallel to the practice in Germany of including unions on corporate boards of directors. This is not surprising, since at least one former member of the legislature, now a member of the Vermont Public Service Board, is an advocate of the German approach to energy management.

What will the panel bring?

The previous panel’s meetings were all public and attended by opponents and advocates, myself included. They were contentious but mostly one-sided. The plant was in the position of being a witness to be cross-examined. There was no appeal to the panel’s findings. The meetings were covered in detail by the regional press. The panel, in effect, became a vehicle for anti-nuclear publicity.

The new panel has plant and union representation, so their opinions will be official components of panel deliberation, not testimony from witnesses. The new panel must meet and report periodically. The reports’ format has not been specified, but it is logical to assume that minority opinions will be included, as is the usual government practice.

It is possible that if the previous panel had officially included pro-nuclear voices, the information reaching the public might have been more balanced.

The adjacent states

Governors Hassan (NH) and Patrick (MA)

Governors Hassan (NH) and Patrick (MA)

There are five towns in New Hampshire and seven in Massachusetts that will be represented by a governor’s appointee. As of this writing, there has been no word as to whether the governors have yet been invited by Vermont to make the appointments. The governors will need to determine the process they will use to make these appointments. Since there are pro- and anti-nuclear advocates in all places, the selection process may be difficult. It is possible the governors might ask the selectmen in these 12 towns, which use a town meeting form of government, to recommend a process. This would seem logical, since it would pass the “hot potato” to the towns. If the towns wind up deadlocked, a governor might end up appointing someone from a state government agency. Or, they might choose a qualified state resident from outside the towns.

Keeping engaged

As a New Hampshire resident, and considering myself qualified, I applied for the New Hampshire state position on the Vermont panel. When I applied in June, the governor’s appointments assistant had not heard of this position, nor heard anything from Vermont. With an election coming up in November, including for governor in both Vermont and New Hampshire (two year terms), and with the plant operating until the end of 2014, perhaps it’s not surprising that this issue is far down on their agendas.

I also sent a letter to the selectmen in all five New Hampshire towns, with a copy of the application to the governor.

We’ll see.

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Shaffer

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years.  He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a former member of the ANS Public Information Committee, consults in nuclear public outreach, and is coordinator of the Vermont Grassroots Project.  Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 221

ferris wheel 202x201It’s time for the 221st edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers and Authors.  This event circulates among the top pro-nuclear blogs, and each week highlights those items submitted to the host as most important or most timely.  Of course, every week, there is a post made right here at ANS Nuclear Cafe to direct you to the Carnival – but on a rotating basis we host it here, and this week is one of those occasions.  Let’s go in!

Forbes – Jim Conca

Extinction by Traditional Chinese Medicine

An epidemic of poaching is sweeping over Africa, paid for by Chinese and other Asians, fueled by the growing energy production from coal.  Caught up in this frenzy of rituals are animals like the rhinoceros, which may not be long for the world.

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Nuke Power Talk – Gail Marcus

Energy Policy and Disruption: Managing Change

This week, Gail Marcus follows up on a previous post about the impacts of the evolution of energy technologies and takes the discussion a few steps further.  In addition to the always present tendency to protect existing jobs, she points to a study by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) that shows that mining and related activities are a significant part of the economies of several states in the US.  She notes that this fact creates an additional dimension to the problem – it’s not just replacing one job with another one if the jobs are in different places – and comments on how states might proactively face such changes.

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NewsOK – Robert Hayes

Radioactive Materials in the Oilfield

Oilfield work involves long hours and back-breaking work.  It also involves radioactive material in many ways, including natural radioactivity and man-made radionuclides used in a number of specific ways.

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Yes Vermont Yankee – Meredith Angwin / guest post by George Coppenrath

New England Energy: What were they thinking?

George Coppenrath, a Vermont state senator who served on the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, wrote this guest post.  He wonders what Vermont energy planners were thinking; did they think that closing Vermont Yankee would push energy production to wind and solar?  Did they think natural gas would be inexpensive forever? It looks like they were wrong.

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NEI Nuclear Notes – submitted by Eric McErlain (various authors)

US Technology Exports and Africa:  A delegation from Niger, South Africa and Namibia visited NEI on August 7th to see how peaceful commercial nuclear technology could be exported to those countries.

In a Pit in a Nuclear Free Vermont:  A series of bad choices when it comes to energy policy has led Vermont down a blind alley.

Transatomic Power snags $2 million Investment:  The Founders Fund, a group that provided seed money for Facebook and other Silicon Valley start-ups, has made a $2 million investment in Transatomic Power.

What It Takes to Become an Operations Shift Manager:  Megan Wilson at PG&E talks about what it takes to move up the ladder at California’s only nuclear plant.

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Next Big Future – Brian Wang

India needs to expand nuclear; HTGR in works

India needs to both expand its power system to serve 300 million people, as well as move away from coal fired generation assets.  Nuclear power would, potentially, grow 15 times faster here than other assets.  Also, a piece on shared development of HTGR’s between Japan and Indonesia.

Cameco on track; Cameco’s production target not impacted by process changes.

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Atomic Insights – Rod Adams (guest post by Bill Sacks / Greg Myerson)

Why Does Conventional Wisdom Ignore Hormesis?

In light of repeated assertions that all ionizing radiation is harmful no matter how high or how low the dose, the existence of a beneficial health effect may be surprising.  But nearly a century of laboratory experimentation and epidemiological observation of both humans and animals supports the protective response region and contradicts the conventional wisdom.  Why then does the concept that all ionizing radiation is harmful hang on with such tenacity, and how did it gain a foothold against all evidence to the contrary?

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The Hiroshima Syndrome – Les Corrice

Did Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 have a “melt through?”

TEPCO says the Unit 3 core may have completely melted and most of it might be embedded in the basemat under the reactor.  The company cautions that their analysis “entails some degree of uncertainty.”  Their degree of uncertainty might be substantial.

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Canadian Energy Issues – Steve Aplin

Fighting darkness and steel with carbide, and carbon with nuclear energy; Canada’s revolutionary past, present and future

What does calcium carbide have to do with nuclear energy?  Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues remembers his spelunking days and their connection to the Second Industrial Revolution.

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That’s it for this week’s entries!  Thanks to all of our submitters, and authors.

Nuclear Matinee: Heavy Lifting at V.C. Summer

Heavy lifts equal heavy progress at the construction site of V.C. Summer-2 and -3 in South Carolina. Following is the latest update on recent major milestones completed at what will be the first new commercial nuclear energy reactors in the United States in 30 years.

Earlier this summer CNBC paid a visit to V.C. Summer and featured the plant and its workers—see CNBC’s Where the Jobs Are: The New Nuclear Generation at V.C. Summer.

Thanks to SCE&G Nuclear YouTube for sharing this video update.

ca20 module lift vc summer

Correcting History Can Be an Uphill Battle

By Rod Adams

In April 2014, ANS Nuclear Cafe published a valuable historical account and analysis of the Three Mile Island accident titled TMI operators did what they were trained to do.

As author Mike Derivan explained in great detail, the operators on duty at TMI-2 during the early morning hours of March 28, 1979, took exactly the actions that they were trained to take when provided indications of low primary plant pressure, combined with pressurizer water level indication that was “pegged high.” That level indicator told operators that the pressurizer was full of water. There were no other direct indications of water level provided.

Derivan has a unique perspective on this historical event; he was the shift supervisor on duty at the Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant on September 24, 1977, when that plant experienced an event that was virtually identical to the event that initiated the TMI accident. Derivan and his crew initially responded like the crew at TMI; their indications were the same and both crews had been trained to make the same diagnosis and perform the same actions.

The primary reason that the event at Davis Besse turned out to be a historical footnote, while the event at TMI resulted in billions of dollars worth of equipment damage, world-wide attention, and changes throughout the nuclear industry, was that Derivan recognized that he had been trained to make a wrong diagnosis, which led to incorrect actions.

About 20 minutes after his event began, he took a new look at the symptoms his indications were describing and revised his overall diagnosis. That led him to recognize that his plant was experiencing a loss of coolant from the steam space of the pressurizer. He realized that the response of available indicators to that event was unlike the indicator response for loss-of-coolant accidents from any other part of the reactor coolant system. He directed his crew to shut the valves that isolated the stuck power-operated relief valve and to restore water flow from the high pressure injection system into the primary coolant system.

Derivan participated in the required post-event analysis and reporting, so he knew what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the plant vendor B&W were told. He was thus uniquely affected by the TMI accident, especially once technical explanations of the accident sequence were available. He spent a considerable amount of time during the subsequent 35 years reviewing the available reports on TMI, trying to understand why the lesson he and his crew had learned in September 1977 had not been absorbed by the operators at TMI.

His conclusion is that the operators never had a chance to absorb and incorporate the lessons he had learned because they were never told that his event happened and never informed how to revise their procedures and training to enable a safer response. Despite all the effort that was put into various commissions and internal lessons learned efforts (Kemeny, Rogovin, the NRC task force that wrote NUREG-0585, etc.), none of the documents clearly state that the specific root cause of the sequence of events that melted 25–40 percent of the fuel material at TMI-2 was that almost everyone associated with pressurized water reactor design and operation misunderstood how the system would respond to a leak in the steam space of the pressurizer.

Unlike any other leak location, a steam leak would provide indications of falling system pressure and rising indicated level in the pressurizer. Since designers, regulators, and trainers assumed that all loss-of-coolant accidents would cause both pressure and pressurizer level to fall, that is what the available training materials—including the computerized simulators—taught operators to expect.

From the start of the accident, operators at TMI were thus placed into a situation that almost no one expected; they did not have an emergency operating procedure to follow. They had strong warnings about not overfilling the pressurizer, so they stopped pumping water into the plant when the level indication showed that the pressurizer was already more full than it should be. That was not an error on their part; it was an error in system response understanding that carried through to all training materials and operating procedures.

It was also an error in processes for sharing operational experience; at the time, the NRC was the only agency that received all reports from operators, so it was the only one that could distribute those reports back out to others that might need the information.

Unfortunately for the hard-working people who chose to become plant operators, the court of public and industry opinion blamed “operator error” as a primary cause of the accident. An excerpt from the history page of the Professional Reactor Operator Society (PROS) provides an operator perspective on how this misapplied responsibility affected members of the elite community of commercial reactor operators.

Remember Three-Mile Island (TMI)? Even if you weren’t in the nuclear business in March of 1979, you couldn’t have missed all the references since. As markers for change go, the event itself will not soon be forgotten, but more important are the lessons learned on all fronts.

Life was not very pleasant for the nuclear plant operators in the early eighties. The Three Mile Island accident started a chain of reforms in the industry that to a large extent were directed at operators. The basis for change was reported to be that the accident was caused by operator error. That announcement was made to the public almost immediately after the accident began and, as the core was uncovering, every special interest group in the nuclear industry was racing to protect its image.

In the days that followed, a media picture of incompetence in the TMI control room emerged. As we operators picked up the bits and pieces of information, it became clear that the picture was somewhat distorted. The TMI operators were being held accountable for deficiencies that legions of engineers, designers, trainers, and regulators had failed to recognize. Operators everywhere began to imagine themselves in a similar situation and realized that the results would probably be the same.

During the next few years, the industry was deluged with solutions to the “problem” of operator incompetence. The solutions ranged from threats of jail sentences to mandatory college degrees for all nuclear power plant operators. Few thought it was necessary to ask operators what tools they needed to help them operate the plants.

In addition to writing his story for distribution and creating an informative website—Nuke Knews—with his collected wisdom about the TMI event, Derivan recently took one more step in his quest for an improved understanding of why TMI happened and who should bear the responsibility.

He wrote a letter to NRC Chairman Macfarlane asking her to remove “operator error” as the root cause of the accident. His letter and supporting documentation can be found in the NRC ADAMS document database with a search for accession number ML14167A165. The NRC’s official response was provided on July 21, 2014, by Thomas R. Wellock, the agency’s historian. It is available in the same place with accession number ML14197A635.

Here is a quote from that response letter:

… none of the five major investigations of the accident commissioned by the NRC, Congress, and President Jimmy Carter claimed that operator error was “the” root cause of the accident.

Virtually all of the studies I reviewed agree with your analysis that while the operators committed errors, the chief culprits behind the accident were industry-wide and regulatory flaws. These included a poor understanding of PWR plant response to loss-of-coolant accidents (LOCA), a failure to circulate information about several precursor events at plants in the United States and Europe, flawed operator training and plant procedures, and inadequate control-room design. While you argue that these reports implicitly blame the operators as a “default position,” my reading of them indicates they were careful to avoid such a conclusion, and some pointedly challenged the thesis that operator-error caused the accident.

It may be correct, as you argue, that more should have been made of the industry’s poor understanding of plant response during a LOCA in the pressurizer steam space, but as you know, the NRC and industry addressed this issue with numerous reforms in training, reporting requirements, and event analysis. In fact, learning from precursor events may be the most important history lesson from TMI. On the 25th anniversary of the accident, NRC Historian J. Samuel Walker published Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective. The Davis-Besse event, Walker shows, was a critical missed lesson: “Neither Babcock and Wilcox nor the NRC had taken effective action to draw lessons from Davis-Besse or provide warnings to other plant operators that ‘could have prevented the accident’ at TMI-2.”

In sum, the official reports and NRC histories have been and continue to be in substantial agreement with your overall analysis as to the causes of the accident. Like you, they place the errors committed by the TMI operators in the context of general industry and regulatory failings regarding human factors.

That letter comes close to the pardon that Derivan is seeking, but it might have been better if he had asked for “operator error” to be removed as “a” root cause rather than as “the” root cause.

In the years since the accident, plant designers and regulators have made substantial improvements in their system understanding and in the processes that they use to share lessons learned and operating experience. However, it is still worthwhile to remind everyone, especially as newly designed systems and whole new technologies are introduced, that there is no replacement for a questioning attitude and careful incorporation of operating experience to enable continuous improvement.

There is a useful paragraph on page 2-3 of NUREG-0585 that can serve as a conclusion to remember:

In the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, Admiral Rickover has insisted that there be acceptance of personal responsibility throughout the program and that the designer, draftsman, or workman and their supervisor and managers are responsible for their work and, if a mistake is made, it is necessary that those responsible acknowledge it and take corrective action to prevent recurrence. This concept applies equally to the commercial nuclear power program, but it has not yet been achieved.

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Adams

Adams

Rod Adams is a nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is the host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005. He writes about nuclear technology at his own blog, Atomic Insights.

 

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Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 220

ferris wheel 202x201The 220th edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers and Authors has been posted at Next Big Future.  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.

Japan Nuclear Restarts: Abe Says “Will See To It,” Courts Differ, Plants Prepare

By Will Davis

HamaokaChubuElectric“I will see to it by some means or other. I will properly deal with it.” So go the reported words of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe regarding the restart of nuclear power plants in Japan, as printed recently in the Japanese press. At the present time, while the Japanese government and courts seem to be at odds on restarting plants—with the public left in the middle—those at the nuclear plants themselves must count on eventual approval to restart and must ensure required measures are completed properly. Those preparing for restart continue to work toward that end while facing an improving, but not yet by any means certain, situation in the public and legal arenas.

Abe says yes, court says no

Those wishing for nuclear plant restarts in Japan, and especially power companies and large manufacturers (which consider their businesses in great peril), were bolstered by the continued support for nuclear restarts expressed by Abe, although it’s now becoming clear that a one-man fight isn’t what lies ahead. Abe’s recent statement, specifically about Sendai Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), comes on the heels of a public presentation to the Prime Minister of produce from the governor of Fukushima Prefecture—a sure sign that life indeed continues in the prefecture. That rosy picture of recovery stands opposed by courts, however.

Just last May, the Fukui Court issued an order to Kansai Electric barring the restart of reactors at the Oi NPP. The language of the order has more recently been translated into English, and the finding is troubling—the court basically saying that no person or establishment is capable of predicting the maximum severity and effect of prospective natural disasters; and that since the people of Japan generally derive their welfare and well-being from the land, it can be ruled illegal to operate nuclear plants that could in theory lead to the loss of the land and well-being of the people.

Residents in the immediate vicinity of Sendai NPP in Kagoshima Prefecture were this week issued iodine pills as part of a disaster preparedness plan, along with access to pharmacists who could answer questions, according to NHK World. One resident interviewed said that he indeed felt better because of this “ounce of prevention” approach. In some regions, public opinion appears to sway toward the return of nuclear energy, as utilities and prefectural governments make advance preparations and keep the public “in the loop.”

Preparing by building and training

KashiwazakiKariwaAs scenes of quite public debate continue, the utilities meanwhile have long recognized the need to restart their nuclear plants, if at all possible, to begin to recoup some of the massive losses they’re incurring—as a result of having to buy large amounts of fossil fuel and having to build temporary fossil-fired power plants to make up for the loss of generation from nuclear plants. And lest there be any doubt, overall power generation is still far, far short of what it had been with all nuclear plants available.

Some plants have experienced setbacks. This week, Shikoku Electric Power Company announed that its Ikata NPP would delay restarting by up to a year because its on-site emergency control center didn’t meet required revised seismic standards.

Others continue apace. We’ve reported here on the massive amount of time and money that Tokyo Electric Power Company (owner of Fukushima Daiichi) has put into its Kashiwazaki–Kariwa nuclear plant on the opposite coast of Japan; these safety measures continue with further massive construction. A recently published video displays the continued wide effort underway to meet all the required precautions and standards, and is worth viewing in its entirety for anyone interested in the preparations at nuclear plants in Japan:

Click here to watch the TEPCO Kashiwazaki-Kariwa video

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) released a report stating that the triggering event for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident was in fact the tsunami, and not the earthquake itself, lending support to safety actions taken at Kashiwazaki–Kariwa and other nuclear plant sites around Japan (including Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka NPP and Kyushu Electric Power’s Genkai and Sendai NPP’s) in the sense that the majority of expenditure lies in prevention of damaging effects from tsunami. A previous Japanese government panel had implicated the quake as the cause, but the NRA’s investigation has resulted in little or no evidence that the quake itself caused any damage to the plants that would have led to core melt. For example, the summary of the NRA report states that any small leaks caused by the quake would not have caused a threat to core integrity within 10 hours, and that there were no detectable signs of any serious breach of primary plant integrity during the time between the quake and the arrival of the tsunami.

It seems assured now—given the work required, the recent court position, and the overall sensitivity of the issue—that none of the nuclear plants in Japan will restart before autumn. As that original hope slips, the public and industry continue to forge a new understanding of the importance of safety in the Japanese nuclear power industry.

For more information:

Hamaoka NPP – 19 minute video of preparations, training entitled “Amassing Our Full Strength in Pursuit of Greater Safety

Nuclear Regulation Authority (Japan) – Overview of Regulatory Requirements

New Regulatory Requirements for Light Water Nuclear Plants (Earthquakes and Tsunami.)  Nuclear Regulation Agency

_______________________

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 Blog Carnival 219

ferris wheel 202x201The 219th 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 Matinee: The Mighty Watts Bar FLEX Building

If a tornado just happens to come through… flying steel pipes, telephone poles, or even automobiles will be no match for this building. This is the new Watts Bar FLEX building, housing emergency backup equipment like generators and pumps that could be used to replace equipment in case of damage from a natural disaster. Watts Bar will likely be the first nuclear facility in the United States to comply with all the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s post-Fukushima requirements, as the Tennessee Valley Authority works toward licensing for Watts Bar Unit 2 with a target date of beginning commercial operation in December next year.

And take a more in-depth tour of the building:

Thanks to the Tennessee Valley Authority for producing the first fine video, and thanks to the Nuclear Energy Institute News Team for producing the second.

FLEX door

Research Reactor License Renewal Challenges

By Rod Adams

The process for renewing research and test reactor (RTR) licenses in the United States has been subject to lengthy delays and periodic backlogs since the early 1980s. Despite the apparent time invested in improvement efforts, the process does not seem to be getting better very fast. The difficulty, schedule uncertainty, and cost of renewing research reactor licenses adds to the burden of owning and operating research reactors. The scale of the challenge may contribute to regrettable institutional decisions that maintaining operable facilities is not worth the trouble.

Here is the background that led me to those conclusions:

A couple of weeks ago, one of the email lists I read provided an intriguing press release announcing the renewal of Dow Chemical Co.’s TRIGA research reactor located in Midland, Mich. The intriguing part of the story was that Dow had initially filed its application to review the license in April 2009 and the 20-year extension was awarded on June 18, 2014, more than five years later. One of the more frequent contributors to the list had the following reaction:

Seriously? It took more than five years to renew a TRIGA license? That in itself might be an interesting story.

I followed up with a request for information to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s public affairs office. Scott Burnell replied promptly with the following information:

The background on the staff’s ongoing effort to improve RTR license renewal goes back quite a ways. Here’s a relevant SECY and other material:

http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0921/ML092150717.pdf

http://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/main.jsp?AccessionNumber=ML120930333 (March 2012 Commission meeting transcript)

http://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/main.jsp?AccessionNumber=ML12087A060 (March 2012 Commission meeting staff slides)

http://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/main.jsp?AccessionNumber=ML12240A677 (regulatory basis for rulemaking to improve process)

I’ll check with the staff Monday on what information’s available re: staff hours on the Dow RTR renewal review.

Burnell sent the staff hour estimate for renewing the Dow TRIGA reactor license. Not including hours spent by contractors, the NRC staff took 1600 hours to review the renewal application. Since Dow is a for-profit company, it was charged $272 per hour, for a total of $435,000 plus whatever contractor costs were involved. That amount just covers the cost of regulator time, not the cost of salaries and contracts paid directly by Dow to prepare the license application, respond to requests for additional information (RAI), and engage in other communications associated with the applications.

Based on the cover letter for the issued license, Dow sent 19 letters to the NRC related to Dow’s application during the five-year process.

The references supplied by Burnell provided additional information about the process that is well known within the small community that specializes in research reactor operations, maintenance, and licensing.

For example, the last renewal of the Rensselaer Critical Facility, a 100-Watt open tank reactor that was originally licensed in 1965, was initially submitted in November 2002 and issued on June 27, 2011, nearly nine years later. The NRC did not send Rensselaer an RAI until three years after it had submitted its renewal application.

University of Missouri Research Reactor

University of Missouri Research Reactor (MURR)

In a second example, the University of Missouri-Columbia Research Reactor (MURR) submitted its most recent license application in August 2006. The NRC sent its first set of RAIs in July 2009 and followed up with at least five more sets of RAIs that included a total of 201 questions of varying complexity. According to the NRC’s listing of research reactors currently undergoing licensing review, the MURR license has not yet been issued.

A third example is the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute TRIGA reactor. Its license renewal application was submitted in July 2004 and is still under review. In 2012, AFRRI estimated that it would be spending at least $1 million for its share of the license review process, not including expenditures by the NRC. Since AFRRI is a government organization, the NRC does not bill it for fees. Burnell indicated that the staff hours expended on that project could be 6,000 or more. It is sadly amusing to review the brief provided by the AFRRI to the NRC in 2012 about the process. (See page 52–65 of the linked document.) The following quote is a sample that indicates the briefer’s level of frustration.

Question: Once the licensee demonstrates that the reactor does not pose a risk to the heath and safety of the public, what is the benefit provided to the public by the expenditure of $1M to answer the additional 142 RAIs?

In a quirk of fate, numerous research license renewals have often come due when NRC priorities have been reordered by external events. Research reactors receive 20-year licenses; numerous facilities were constructed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Dozens of renewals came due or were already under review in April 1979 when the Three Mile Island accident and its recovery became the NRC’s highest priority items.

About 20 years after that backlog got worked off, the 9/11-inspired security upgrades pushed everything else down on the priority list.

TRIGA at Oregon State University

TRIGA at Oregon State University

The research reactor office has experienced staffing shortages, often exacerbated by the small pool of people with sufficient knowledge and experience in the field. When the NRC hunts for talent, it is drawing from the same pool of people that staffs the plants and is responsible for filing the applications for license amendments and renewals.

One aspect of the law that eases the potential disruption of the licensing delays is a provision that allows continued facility operation as long as there was a timely submission of the renewal application. That provision, however, has often resulted in a lower priority being assigned to fixing the staffing shortages and the complex nature of the license application process.

The facility owners don’t want to complain too loudly about the amount of time that their application is taking, since they are not prohibited from operating due to an expired license. NRC budgeters and human resource personnel have not been pressured to make investments in improving their service level; not only do the customers have no other choice, but they have not squeaked very loudly. Here is a quote from a brief provided to the NRC by the chairman of the National Organization for Test, Research and Training Reactors (TRTR).

Position on License Renewal

  • TRTR recognizes the unique challenges imposed on NRC during RTR relicensing in the past decade (staffing issues, 9/11, etc.).
  • TRTR appreciates the efforts made by the Commission to alleviate the relicensing backlog.
  • TRTR appreciates the efforts of the NRC RTR group to update guidance for future relicensing efforts and the opportunity to participate in the update process via public meetings.

Generic Suggestions for Streamlining Relicensing

  • The process has become excessively complex compared to 20 years ago, with no quantifiable improvement to safety.
  • Consider the development of generic thermal hydraulic analysis models for TRIGA and plate-type fueled RTRs (1 MW or less).
  • Similarly for the Maximum Hypothetical Accident analysis.
  • Develop a systematic way outside of the RAI process to correct typographical and editing errors.
  • Develop a generic decommissioning cost analysis based on previous experiences, indexed to power level, and inflation.
  • Endorse the use of ANSI/ANS Standards in Regulatory Guidance.

(Pages 26–28 of the linked PDF document containing several briefs, each with its own slide numbering sequence.)

Once the high priority responses have died down and backlogs of license reviews in progress have reached levels in excess of 50 percent of the total number of research reactors in operation, the NRC has stepped in and directed improvement efforts. The staff has attempted to improve the process by issuing more guidance, but those attempts have often complicated and delayed the applications that are already under review.

The Interim Staff Guidance (ISG) issued in June 2009 appears to still be active; it is difficult to tell how much progress has been made on the long-range plan that ISG outlined. Once again, external events have changed the NRC’s priorities as most available resources during the past three years have been shifted to deal with the events that took place in Japan in 2011 and the effort to come up with some kind of waste confidence determination.

There are no easy solutions, but repairing the process will require focused and sustained management attention.

TRIGA at University of California, Davis

TRIGA at University of California, Davis

______________________

Adams

Adams

Rod Adams is a nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is the host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005. He writes about nuclear technology at his own blog, Atomic Insights.

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.

EPA Proposes Power Sector CO2 Emissions Reduction Plan

By Jim Hopf

DC PerspectivesWith cap-and-trade and carbon tax proposals going nowhere in congress, the Obama administration is tackling the global warming issue through the administrative branch, using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations. In the transport sector, the administration promulgated vehicle fuel efficiency (mileage) standards. In the power sector, the EPA has proposed regulations requiring that all new power plants emit no more CO2 than a typical natural gas plant—thus, any new coal plants would have to employ CO2 sequestration. And now, the EPA is proposing to address CO2 emissions from existing power plants by establishing CO2 emissions reduction requirements for the power sector.

EPA proposed rules

Under the proposed rules, each state would be required to reduce its power sector CO2 emissions rate (in tons of CO2 per MW-hr) by a certain percentage by 2030. Some interim goals will also apply. Details of the plan are described on the EPA’s website.

When establishing the emissions reduction goals for each state, the EPA considered five likely, low-cost means that the states may employ to reduce emissions. These include:

  • Increased thermal efficiency for fossil plants (6 percent average increase assumed for the coal fleet).
  • Increased use of existing gas-fired plants, in place of coal (usage increased to 70 percent).
  • 5.8 GW of new nuclear and continued operation of “at risk” nuclear units.
  • Increased renewable generation (to 13 percent of overall generation by 2030).
  • Electricity conservation (10.7 percent reduction in demand by 2030).

The EPA is not requiring the exact measures described above to be taken by the states. The above assumptions are simply the basis that the EPA used to arrive at “reasonable” emissions rate reduction requirements for various states. They are steps that states are already taking or are planning on taking, or steps that the EPA believes can be taken at very low cost.

The only requirement is the emissions rate (tons CO2/MW-hr) reduction percentage that applies to each state. Each state is free to choose the means by which it will meet the requirement. States are also free to engage in inter-state emissions trading to meet the goals (thus allowing some states to emit more than the goal if other states manage to emit less). Such trading schemes may result in some effective price being put on CO2 emissions.

The emissions reduction requirements for each state are based on the assumption that the five new nuclear reactors under construction in the United States go into operation. They also assume that the ~5.8 percent of U.S. nuclear capacity deemed to be “at risk” continues to operate (i.e., that any necessary steps or incentives to keep them open are taken). Thus, the proposed regulations do provide a tangible incentive to finish the five plants under construction and keep all existing nuclear plant operating. If any nuclear plants close, or if any of the five construction projects are halted, the states in question would be significantly affected, as they would need to find other, significant sources of reductions that were not otherwise planned.

The requirements are also based on an assumption that, on average, natural gas plants in the state that are in operation or currently under construction will operate with a 70 percent capacity factor (vs. ~55 percent now). Thus, they assume that coal generation will be displaced by increased gas generation from any under-utilized gas-fired plants in the state. They do not assume any new gas plant construction (to replace coal), however.

The requirements are also based on the assumption that renewables will increase to 13 percent of generation, mostly based on existing state renewable generation (portfolio) requirements and other state plans. States are also assumed to reduce power demand by 10.7 percent (vs. current projections, using new demand-side management programs). These demand reductions are essentially treated like non-emitting generation, and are part of the quoted percentage emissions reduction for each state.

State requirements

The state requirements are illustrated in the figure below. State by state requirements are also shown in tabular form here. The state requirements are expressed in terms of percentage reductions in tons of CO2 emitted per MW-hr of generation, from 2012 to 2030.

epa carbon reduction goals 480x304

At first look, many of the state requirements seem odd, with states that already have low emissions (like Washington) having significant reduction requirements, while “coal states” like Kentucky and West Virginia have very small reduction requirements. One would think that such coal states would be the most ripe for reductions, mainly by replacing coal plants (especially old inefficient ones) with gas generation. The reason for this is that the EPA requirements are largely based on existing state plans.

For example, Washington is planning on closing the one large coal plant in the state, which is the source of most of the state’s power sector CO2 emissions. The EPA based its reduction requirement on those plans, and is essentially requiring the state to go forward with them.

The reason for the low reduction requirements for Kentucky and West Virginia is that few if any natural gas plants exist in those states. As stated earlier, the EPA did not consider the construction of new gas-fired plants in any states when making its estimates for “feasible” reductions. It only considered increased utilization of existing gas plants within the state.

Another example that stands out is the large (51.4 percent) reduction required for South Carolina. The primary reason for the strict requirement is the two-unit V.C. Summer nuclear project in the state. Those two reactors will result in a significant reduction in state CO2 emissions, and the EPA is essentially requiring that those projects go forward.

Overall national reduction goal

The EPA states that the proposed rules will result in national power sector emissions in 2030 that are 26 percent to 30 percent below 2005 levels. It should be noted that power sector emissions have already fallen ~15 percent between 2005 and 2013. Thus, the policies would actually only decrease emissions by another ~10–15 percent from today.

Even after reading most of the press releases and other documents on the EPA website and elsewhere, I have been unable to determine with certainty if the national reduction quoted above is a 26–30 percent reduction in actual, absolute emissions (in tons per year), or a reduction in emissions per MW-hr generated. The EPA refers to a 26–30 percent reduction in “CO2 emissions” (suggesting an absolute emissions reduction), but all state requirements are given in units of emissions (tons) per MW-hr. Looking over all the tabulated state reduction requirements suggests an average (i.e., national) reduction requirement of ~30 percent, in tons/MW-hr. Could the EPA really be referring to a reduction in per MW-hr emissions when it speaks of “CO2 emissions reductions” (i.e., is it using misleading/evasive language)?

This question is significant, since the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects an increase of ~26 percent in overall U.S. electricity generation between 2012 and 2030. Thus, a ~30 percent reduction in tons/MW-hr would result in ~26 percent more emissions than a ~30 percent reduction in absolute emissions (tons/year). The EPA assumed that states would reduce overall electricity use by 10.7 percent, versus current projections (of a 26 percent increase, presumably). However, those reductions are essentially treated like zero-emissions generation, and are included in the state emissions/MW-hr reduction goals. That is, the required percentage reduction in CO2/MW-hr for the state’s power generation is actually less than that quoted, unless the state fails to reduce demand.

Part of the answer lies in the use of 2005 vs. 2012 as a base year. As discussed above, a 30 percent emissions reduction (in tons/year) from 2005 equates to a reduction of only 10–15 percent from 2012 levels. If one assumes that power generation increases by 26 percent, but the tons of CO2 emitted per MW-hr decreases by 30 percent, the resulting overall emissions, in tons/year, would fall by ~12 percent (which lies within the range of 10–15 percent). Thus, I believe we have our answer. Overall emissions will decrease by 10–15 percent, from now to 2030. Emissions intensity (tons/MW-hr) will decrease by a larger amount (26–30 percent), but overall generation will increase somewhat.

It should be noted, however, that the requirements, as written, only limit emissions intensity and do not actually limit absolute emissions (in tons/year). Thus, if overall power generation increases by more than the expected amount, for whatever reason, absolute CO2 emissions will be allowed to increase accordingly. Any restriction or disincentive on CO2 emissions would not increase in response to increased generation.

Political considerations

The EPA’s proposals appear to be designed to minimize political impacts, in my view. As discussed earlier, many if not most of the proposed “measures” are simply ratification of existing policies and plans, such as planned coal plant closures and state renewables mandates. Any new measures are ones that can be achieved at very low cost.

One of the only new aspects is a requirement to increase gas utilization, vs. coal, but even that measure is only applied to states with spare gas capacity, and not to coal states (which have little such spare gas capacity). The EPA’s argument appears to be that constructing new gas plants (as opposed to simply using existing ones more often) would be too expensive. This argument appears weak, given the very low capital cost of gas capacity. It appears to me to be more of a political sop to the coal-dominated states, perhaps to avoid political resistance to the plan. The proposal is designed so that the impact on power generation in the states most politically opposed to the plan are virtually non-existent.

This appears to be a proposal that has a somewhat limited impact on emissions (relative to other/earlier proposals), but also is known to have very limited economic (and political) impacts. My view is that this is an attempt to get at least some sort of global warming policy established. This will set precedent, and establish the principle that this is something that warrants government action. Once the policy is established, policies that require further/continued reductions may be promulgated in the future, especially if (or when) it is seen that this policy had no significant negative impact on the economy. In any event, this is probably the strongest policy that can be attained right now, given attitudes in congress, and some policy is better than none.

Overall impacts

As discussed above, this proposal appears to be far weaker than other global warming proposals that have been put forward, such as the earlier cap-and-trade bill or various CO2 tax proposals.

The plan is estimated to yield a 30 percent reduction in emissions (vs. 2005) by 2030, from the power sector only (and only 10–15 percent from today). That corresponds to a reduction of just over 10 percent in overall emissions, vs. 2005 (and less than half of that vs. today). That compares to the (Waxman-Markey) cap-and-trade bill requirement of ~20 percent in overall CO2 emissions.

It must be noted that power sector emissions reduction options (e.g., replacing coal with anything else) are among the “lowest hanging fruit” with respect to cost effectiveness. A carbon price of $25–$30 per ton, enough to put many if not most existing coal plants out of business, would only add ~25–30 cents to a gallon of gasoline (i.e., not nearly enough to drive any significant changes in the transport sector). Thus, the old cap-and-trade bill was actually far more significant in terms of impacts and reductions demanded. To get a ~20 percent reduction in overall emissions, the reductions from the power sector would have been far greater than 20 percent (its reduction measures being cheaper than other sectors).

It should be noted that coal is still projected to represent ~30 percent of overall generation in 2030, even under these proposals. Coal formerly was over 50 percent, and recently fell to ~34 percent (in 2012). Now, because natural gas prices have gone back up somewhat, coal is back up to ~40 percent. (Note that, whereas when a nuclear plant closes it’s closed forever, utilities turn mothballed coal plants right back on when they become slightly cheaper to operate than gas, with no consideration of the drastic difference in health and environmental impacts.) Thus, all the proposals are doing is bringing coal back down to where it was a couple years ago with no policy input.

My opinion is that, given that shutting down old coal plants and replacing them with gas (if nothing else) represents one of the least expensive means of emissions reduction, any plan that leaves coal’s generation percentage at 30 percent in 2030 simply isn’t trying hard enough.

Indeed, I believe most of the EPA’s proposed reduction measures discussed earlier are estimated to have costs of only ~$15 per ton of CO2. Most carbon tax proposals involve significantly higher CO2 prices.

Most earlier proposals also required more significant reductions in overall (all sector) emissions by 2030. Those requirements, along with other assumptions such as higher natural gas prices, led to significantly different predicted outcomes, including much lower coal use and much higher nuclear use. I seem to recall one EPA study of a cap-and-trade policy that predicted a nuclear generation share of ~60 percent.

Impacts on nuclear

As stated earlier, the EPA’s policies should be a significant help in assuring that existing nuclear construction projects go forward, and in preventing any more nuclear plant closures, as these are the assumptions “baked into” the emissions requirements for each state. Whether or not the policy will stimulate any additional nuclear construction is far less clear.

The emissions goals for each state were based on current plans and additional measures estimated to cost ~$15/ton of CO2. A CO2 price of ~$15/ton is certainly not enough to stimulate much in the way of new nuclear plant construction, although it is probably enough to keep existing plants open. While larger emissions reductions would require higher costs (CO2 prices), the EPA’s analysis and proposals do seem to show that significant reductions can be achieved at very modest costs (and through mere continuation of existing plans and policies); something that is somewhat disconcerting with respect to new nuclear plant prospects.

Perhaps the main impact of the proposed policy, both on nuclear and in general, is that it cements current plans and policies, and prevents any back-tracking. The most significant example of this concerns the use of gas vs. coal. Without the policy, utilities will go right back to coal if the cost of natural gas rises. The EPA policies will essentially disallow switching back from gas to coal, and will instead require some further replacement of coal with gas. We’ve already back-tracked from 34 percent coal use back to ~40 percent. The EPA policies will drive coal use back down to ~30 percent. And they will do so even if natural gas prices rise in the future; a very important point.

That last point is probably the most significant in terms of whether the EPA’s proposed policy will ever result in new nuclear construction projects. If the price of natural gas increases significantly in the future, nuclear may become competitive. The EPA policies would prevent shifting back to coal as an alternative to new nuclear (or renewable) capacity. Preventing a shift back to coal would also tend to keep gas prices up, as a shift back to coal would no longer act as a means of limiting gas demand. On the other hand, if the price of natural gas remains low, the proposed EPA policies would do little, if anything, to stimulate new nuclear construction, in lieu of just using more gas.

Call to action

Another option for increasing the odds of new nuclear plant construction would be to argue for policies that treat all non-CO2-emitting sources the same. As the EPA is leaving it up to each state to determine how to comply with the proposed rules, such policies would most likely be set at the state level. The state emissions goals are based on the continuation of existing renewable generation requirements and plans, and renewables accounting for 13 percent of overall national generation in 2030. The states are free to use nuclear, in lieu of renewables, for some of that generation under the EPA policy.

This is an area where the American Nuclear Society, nuclear engineers, and nuclear advocates need to get involved. The EPA’s proposed rules are now out for public comment. Also, states are beginning to develop plans for how they will respond to the emissions reduction requirements. Nuclear experts and advocates need to make the case for a technology-neutral approach. Certainly, we should advocate neutrality for any new state policies. Cap-and-trade systems in lieu of portfolio standards are also something we could argue for. Revision of existing state renewable portfolio standards to include nuclear (in order to reduce compliance costs) would be a bit more difficult to achieve, but is still worth pursuing.

_________________

Hopf

Hopf

Jim Hopf is a senior nuclear engineer with more than 20 years of experience in shielding and criticality analysis and design for spent fuel dry storage and transportation systems. He has been involved in nuclear advocacy for 10+ years, and is a member of the ANS Public Information Committee. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Columbia Generating Station Sets New Generation Record

By Laura Scheele

Ratepayers in the Pacific Northwest have reason to celebrate the dedicated employees of Energy Northwest’s 1170-megawatt Columbia Generating Station:  The Northwest’s sole nuclear energy facility generated a record 9.7 million megawatt hours of electricity during the fiscal year that ended Monday, June 30—eclipsing a previous record of 9.5 million megawatt hours in fiscal year 2006.

This generation mark has been set with safety and efficiency, as well as adherence to the core principles of the organization’s Excellence Model. The Columbia Generating Station has operated more than 4.5 years without an unplanned shutdown, and Energy Northwest has surpassed 14 million work-hours without lost time due to injury.

“This performance is a testament to the organization’s alignment to the Excellence Model and commitment to fixing plant equipment and demonstrating the right behaviors,” said Brad Sawatzke, vice president of nuclear generation, in a message to employees. “Most importantly, the team reached this milestone while performing safely in the areas of nuclear, radiological, industrial and environmental safety.”

In a broader context, the 100 commercial nuclear energy reactors operating in the United States have continued to maintain their overall share of U.S. electricity generation through great improvements in efficiency and performance over recent decades, as well as massive additional capacity added through power uprates—for more on uprates in detail see Nuclear power uprates: what, how, when, and will there be more? at ANS Nuclear Cafe.

For more on the story see Energy Northwest near Richland sets new megawatt record. For more on Columbia Generating Station at ANS Nuclear Cafe see this Nuclear Matinee double-feature from February of this year.

columbia generating station 400x262

About Energy Northwest 
Energy Northwest develops, owns, and operates a diverse mix of electricity generating resources, including hydro, solar, and wind projects—and Columbia Generating Station (pictured above), the Northwest’s only nuclear power plant. These projects provide enough reliable, affordable, and environmentally responsible energy to power more than a million homes each year, and that carbon-free electricity is provided at the cost of generation.

As a Washington state, not-for-profit joint operating agency, Energy Northwest comprises 27 public power member utilities from across the state serving more than 1.5 million ratepayers. The agency continually explores new generation projects to meet its members’ needs.
____________________

laura-scheeleLaura Scheele is a Senior Public Affairs Analyst and Member Relations Manager at Energy Northwest, a not-for-profit joint operating agency headquartered in Richland, Washington. She is an active board member of the ANS Eastern Washington Local Section.

 

Nuclear professionals: Establish standing now to improve operational radiation limits

By Rod Adams

On August 3, 2014, the window will close on a rare opportunity to use the political process to strongly support the use of science to establish radiation protection regulations. Though it is not terribly difficult for existing light water reactors and fuel cycle facilities to meet the existing limits from 40 CFR 190 regarding doses to the general public and annual release rate limits for specific isotopes, there is no scientific basis for the current limits. If they are maintained, it would hinder the deployment of many potentially valuable technologies that could help humanity achieve a growing level of prosperity while achieving substantial reductions in air pollution and persistent greenhouse gases like CO2.

In January 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to solicit comments from the general public and affected stakeholders about 40 CFR 190, Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Nuclear Power Operations.

The ANPR page has links to summary webinars provided to the public during the spring of 2014, including presentation slides, presentation audio, and questions and answers. This is an important opportunity for members of the public, nuclear energy professionals, nuclear technical societies, and companies involved in various aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle to provide comments about the current regulations and recommendations for improvements. Providing comments now, in the information-gathering phase of a potential rulemaking process, is a critical component of establishing standing to continue participating in the process.

us epa logo no text 214x201It also avoids a situation where an onerous rule could be issued and enforced under the regulator’s principle that “we provided an opportunity for comment, but no one complained then.”

The existing version of 40 CFR 190—issued on January 13, 1977, during the last week of the Gerald Ford administration—established a limit of 0.25 mSv/year whole body dose and 0.75 mSv/year to the thyroid for any member of the general public from radiation coming from any part of the nuclear fuel cycle, with the exception of uranium mining and long-term waste disposal. Those two activities are covered under different regulations. Naturally occurring radioactive material is not covered by 40 CFR 190, nor are exposures from medical procedures.

40 CFR 190 also specifies annual emissions limits for the entire fuel cycle for three specific radionuclides for each gigawatt-year of nuclear generated electricity: krypton-85 (50,000 curies), iodine-129 (5 millicuries), and Pu-239 and other alpha emitters with longer than one year half-life (0.5 millicuries).

It is important to clarify the way that the U.S. federal government assigns responsibilities for radiation protection standards. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has the responsibility for regulating individual facilities and for establishing radiation protection standards for workers, but the EPA has a role and an office of radiation protection as well.

The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 initially assigned all regulation relating to nuclear energy and radiation to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). However, as part of the President’s Reorganization Plan No. 3 of October 1970, President Nixon transferred responsibility for establishing generally applicable environmental radiation protection standards from the AEC to the newly formed EPA:

…to the extent that such functions of the Commission consist of establishing generally applicable environmental standards for the protection of the general environment from radioactive material. As used herein, standards mean limits on radiation exposures or levels or concentrations or quantities of radioactive material, in the general environment outside the boundaries of locations under the control of persons possessing or using radioactive material.

(Final Environmental Impact Statement, Environmental Radiation Protection Requirements for Normal Operations of Activities in the Uranium Fuel Cycle, p. 18.)

Before the transfer of environmental radiation responsibilities from the AEC to the EPA, and until the EPA issued the new rule in 1977, the annual radiation dose limit for a member of the general public from nuclear fuel cycle operations was 5 mSv—20 times higher than the EPA’s limit.

The AEC had conservatively assigned a limit of 1/10th of the 50 mSv/year applied to occupational radiation workers, which it had, in turn, conservatively chosen to provide a high level of worker protection from the potential negative health effects of atomic radiation.

The AEC’s occupational limit of 50 mSv was less than 1/10th of the previously applied “tolerance dose” of 2 mSv/day, which worked out to an annual limit of approximately 700 mSv/year. That daily limit recognized the observed effect that damage resulting from radiation doses was routinely repaired by normal physiological healing mechanisms.

Aside: After more than 100 years of human experience working with radiation and radioactive materials, there is still no data that prove negative health effects for people whose exposures have been maintained within the above tolerance dose, initially established for radiology workers in 1934. End Aside.

From the 1934 tolerance dose to the EPA limit specified in 1977 (and still in effect), requirements were tightened by a factor of 2800. The claimed basis for that large conservatism was a lack of data at low doses, leading to uncertainty about radiation health effects on humans. Based on reports from the National Academy of Sciences subcommittee on the Biological Effect of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR), the EPA rule writers simply assumed that every dose of radiation was hazardous to human health.

The EPA used that assumption to justify setting limits that were quite low, but could be met by the existing technology if it was maintained in a like-new condition for its entire operating life. Since the rule writers assumed that they were establishing a standard that would protect the public from an actual harm, they did not worry about the amount of effort that would be expended in surveys and monitoring to prove compliance. As gleaned from the public webinar questions and answers, EPA representatives do not even ask about compliance costs, because they are only given the responsibility of establishing the general rule; the NRC is responsible for inspections and monitoring enforcement of the standard.

The primary measured human health effects used by the BEIR committee in formulating their regulatory recommendations were determined based on epidemiological studies of atomic bomb survivors. That unique population was exposed to almost instantaneous doses greater than 100 mSv. Based on their interpretation of data from the Life Span Study of atomic bomb victims, which supported a linear relationship between dose and effect in the dose regions available, the BEIR committee recommended a conservative assumption that the linear relationship continued all the way down to a zero dose, zero effect origin.

For the radionuclide emissions limits, the EPA chose numbers that stretch the linear no-threshold dose assumption by applying it to extremely small doses spread to a very large population.

The Kr-85 standard is illustrative of this stretching. It took several hours of digging through the 240-page final environmental impact statement and the nearly 400-page collection of comments and responses to determine exactly what dose the EPA was seeking to limit decades ago, and how much it thought the industry should spend to achieve that protection.

The EPA determined that allowing the industry to continue its then-established practice of venting Kr-85 and allowing that inert gas to disperse posed an unacceptable risk to the world’s population.

It calculated that if no effort was made to contain Kr-85, and the U.S. industry grew to a projected 1000 GW of electricity production by 2000, an industry with full recycling would release enough radioactive Kr-85 gas to cause about 100 cases of cancer each year.

The EPA’s calculation was based on a world population of 5 billion people exposed to an average of 0.0004 mSv/year per individual.

At the time that this analysis was performed, the Barnwell nuclear fuel reprocessing facility was under construction and nearly complete. It had not been designed to contain Kr-85. The facility owners provided an estimate to the EPA that retrofitting a cryogenic capture and storage capability for Kr-85 would cost $44.6 million.

The EPA finessed this exceedingly large cost for tiny assumed benefit by saying that the estimated cost for the Barnwell facility was not representative of what it would cost other facilities that were designed to optimize the cost of Kr-85 capture. It based that assertion on the fact that Exxon Nuclear Fuels was in a conceptual design phase for a reprocessing facility and had determined that it might be able to include Kr-85 capture for less than half of the Barnwell estimate.

GE, the company that built the Midwest Fuel Recovery Plant in Morris, Illinois, provided several comments to the EPA, including one about the low cost-benefit ratio of attempting to impose controls on Kr-85:

Comment: The model used to determine the total population dose should have a cutoff point (generally considered to be less than 0.01 mSv/year) below which the radiation dose to individuals is small enough to be ignored.

In particular, holdup of krypton-85 is not justified since the average total body dose rate by the year 2000 is expected to be only 0.0004 mSv/year.

Response: Radiation doses caused by man’s activities are additive to the natural radiation background of about 0.8-1.0 mSv/year [note: the generally accepted range of background radiation in the mid 1970s, as indicated by other parts of the documents was 0.6 - 3.0 mSv/yr] whole-body dose to which everyone is exposed. It is extremely unlikely that there is an abrupt discontinuity in the dose-effect relationship, whatever its shape or slope. at the dose level represented by the natural background that would be required to justify a conclusion that some small additional radiation dose caused by man’s activities can be considered harmless and may be reasonably ignored.

For this reason, it is appropriate to sum small doses delivered to large population groups to determine the integrated population dose. The integrated population dose may then be used to calculate potential health effects to assist in making judgements on the risk resulting from radioactive effluent releases from uranium fuel cycle facilities, and the reasonableness of costs that would be incurred to mitigate this risk.

Existing Kr-85 rules are thus based on collective doses, and a calculation of risks, that is now specifically discouraged by both national (NCRP) and international (ICRP) radiation protection bodies. It is also based on the assumption of a full-recycle fuel system and 10 times as much nuclear power generating capacity as exists in the United States today.

Since the level specified is applied to the entire nuclear fuel cycle industry in the United States, the 40 CFR 190 ANPR asks the public to comment about the implications of attempting to apply limits to individual facilities. This portion of the discussion is important for molten salt reactor technology that does not include fuel cladding to seal fission product gases, and for fuel cycles that envision on-site recycling using a technology like pyroprocessing instead of transporting used fuel to a centralized facility for recycling.

There are many more facets of the existing rule that are worthy of comment, but one more worth particular attention is the concluding paragraph from the underlying policy for radiation protection, which is found on the last page of the final environmental impact statement:

The linear hypothesis by itself precludes the development of acceptable levels of risk based solely on health considerations. Therefore, in establishing radiation protection positions, the Agency will weigh not only the health impact, but also social, economic, and other considerations associated with the activities addressed.

In 1977, there was no consideration given to the fact that any power that was not generated using a uranium or thorium fuel cycle had a good chance of being generated by a power source producing a much higher level of carbon dioxide. In fact, the EPA in 1977 had not even begun to consider that CO2 was a problem. That “other consideration” must now play a role in any future decision-making about radiation limits or emission limits for radioactive noble gases.

If EPA bureaucrats are constrained to use the recommendations of a duly constituted body of scientists as the basis for writing its regulations, the least they could do before rewriting the rules is to ask the scientific community to determine if the linear no-threshold (LNT) dose response model is still valid. The last BEIR committee report is now close to 10 years old. The studies on which it was based were conducted during an era in which it was nearly impossible to conduct detailed studies of DNA, but that limitation has now been overcome by advances in biotechnology. There is also a well-developed community of specialists in dose response studies that have produced a growing body of evidence supporting the conclusion that the LNT is not “conservative”—it is simply incorrect.

Note: Dose rates from the original documents have been converted into SI units.

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Adams

Adams

Rod Adams is a nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is the host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005. He writes about nuclear technology at his own blog, Atomic Insights.

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.