Tag Archives: nuclear energy

Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers 148

The 148th edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers is up now at Hiroshima Syndrome.  Click here to access the site; the Carnival is at the top of the page.

The Carnival this week contains more valuable content on the 2nd anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, specific of course to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.  Radiation and risk are also discussed, as us uranium mining and mine workers’ health as well as other topics.

Each week, a new edition of the Carnival is hosted at one of the top English-language pro-nuclear blogs.  This rotating feature and the submissions made for inclusion in it represent the dedication and focus of those who believe in nuclear energy and are willing to stand up for it.

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

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.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support. Please post a Tweet, a Facebook entry, or a link on your Web site or blog to support the carnival.

No Holiday from Politics

By Howard Shaffer

In Vermont, the Holiday Season did not slow the wave of actions and interest about energy in general and the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in particular. Vermont Yankee continues to run very well, and there have not been even any routine events for opponents to “crow” about.

The legal front

Vermont Supreme Court

Intervenors filed suit in the Vermont Supreme Court, asking for Vermont Yankee to be shut down due to violation of a condition of the sales agreement (in 2002 from the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation to Entergy Corporation). The sales stipulation states that the plant will not operate after the expiration of its Certificate of Public Good, unless the certificate is renewed.

Vermont’s Public Service Board (PSB) is in charge of such certificates, and the plant certificate has not been renewed yet. The renewal process is underway, including two public meetings held in November. The final briefs are due to the PSB in August. The PSB will then issue its decision, although there is as yet no date set for that decision. The intervenor hopes that the Vermont Supreme Court will rule separately from the PSB, even while the PSB hearings are continuing.

Federal court

Entergy won its suit in federal district court, but the state appealed (as did Entergy, on some aspects of the decision). The appeal is scheduled to be heard in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on January 14. The district court found that the State of Vermont acted illegally by preempting the exclusive federal jurisdiction over nuclear safety. The court issued an injunction forbidding the state from attempting to shut down the plant over any of the contested issues.

The intervenor’s suit in Vermont Supreme Court is an attempt to find a loophole in that federal court ruling.

Entergy went back to the federal district court that found in its favor, asking that it issue an injunction forbidding the state from shutting down Vermont Yankee for any reason. The intervenors then filed an objection to the plant’s request, again raising the issue of “state’s rights”.

The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the intervenor’s case on January 16. It seems unlikely that state court will agree with the intervenors while there is a federal case in progress. The federal finding of illegal state action would seem to override provisions of the sales agreement.

The Public Service Board

The PBS has an open docket and a schedule for deciding on a Certificate of Public Good for Vermont Yankee’s continued operation, and a request from the plant to install a new emergency generator.

On December 27, the PSB issued an order confirming that the Vermont Yankee plant is operating in violation of PSB orders, in terms of the sales agreement and the Certificate of Public Good for Dry Cask Storage. Included in the order was the statement that the PSB will appoint a hearing officer to examine the plant’s request to install the additional emergency diesel generator.

This new generator is needed to replace the backup power now provided by the nearby Vernon Dam hydro station, which will no longer maintain a “black start” capability. The capability is being dropped based on a decision by ISO-New England, the grid operator, to change its black start capability from “bottom up, to top down“.

Vermont Yankee is licensed to have the Vernon hydro station as backup for its two in-plant emergency diesel generators. The new diesel will maintain the licensing commitment when Vernon hydro is no longer considered to be qualified as a backup. The diesel may in the future satisfy Nuclear Regulatory Commission post-Fukushima requirements. Vermont Yankee was not designated as a plant to black start the grid. Nuclear power plants take many hours to start up, so are not candidates for reenergizing the grid. The first meeting on the new diesel will be January 17.

The PSB’s order saying that Vermont Yankee is operating in violation of its orders included the requirement that the plant not use the fact that the PSB is having a hearing process on the request for a new diesel as “proof” that it approves of the plant’s operation while the federal court process plays out. This seems to be legal maneuvering. The PSB has to say this to affirm its authority, but it must consider the request to approve the new diesel. If it doesn’t consider this request, then it might be sued for de facto shutting down the plant, in violation of the intent of the federal court injunction. Along with this, the plant might have to study having backup diesel power that does not require PSB approval—perhaps trailer-mounted.

ISO New England

Also of note was ISO-New England’s “delisting” Vermont Yankee as a facility needed for grid reliability, under their “degraded grid” scenarios. Utilities in the grid will bolster their infrastructure so that Vermont Yankee would not be needed in such scenarios. This was only prudent management, given the uncertainty of the plant continuing to operate beyond this past March. However, this provides fuel to plant opponents who have claimed that Vermont Yankee is not needed for Vermont or the New England grid. The counter argument is that Vermont Yankee displaces CO2-creating generation. Also, Vermont Yankee is insurance against a price-rise in natural gas since, as Meredith Angwin has reminded us in her Valley News Op-Ed, the sales agreement for the plant includes a revenue-sharing provision above a certain grid price.

The legislature and energy issues

The Vermont legislature will continue to want to lead the nation in a transition to “green energy.” In the past, it has established conservation and efficiency programs, and enabled solar and wind installations. There is a Renewable Portfolio standard, feed-in tariffs, and tax credits to insure profitability.

Real dollar numbers are now coming in for solar and wind power, and they have garnered some attention. In addition, local residents of wind installations are objecting to their environmental impact.

Last year, Vermont’s governor created a commission to review the state’s process for approving power projects. A bill will be introduced in this year’s legislature for a three-year moratorium on large wind projects.

Another bill will be introduced for a “Thermal Efficiency Tax”. It would tax heating oil and propane to raise money to make inefficient buildings more efficient. One objection is that this tax would harm those least able to afford it.

The river and shad—again

A leading environmental writer has examined the lack of shad in the portion of the Connecticut River downstream of Vermont Yankee. It is concluded that the problem is due to the way the shad are routed through man-made channels. The Northfield pumped storage plant is between the dams, and is likely to be one of the culprits. This is in contrast to the plant opponents’ claim that the plant’s warm condenser discharge is solely responsible. The plant is also in the process of applying for an amended water quality permit.

The Brattleboro Reformer has a January 5 article summarizing the 2012 events in the struggle over Vermont Yankee’s future.

The year ahead

Vermont Yankee has continued to operate well, with not even minor routine events to give opponents “ammunition”. In the meantime, some members of the legislature seem to have grasped that solar and wind power do have some impacts that give cause for objections.

There will be much legal activity in 2013 concerning Vermont Yankee, as discussed. I predict that the Circuit Court of Appeals decision will subsequently be appealed to the US Supreme Court, as occurred in the case of the Massachusetts suit against the NRC over the Seabrook plant’s emergency plan years ago.

It will doubtless be a very interesting year.

____________________________________

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, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow.  He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach.

He is Coordinator for 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.

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.

_______________________________

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

The 132nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The 132nd weekly Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is posted at The Hiroshima Syndrome.  This week’s topics include: Russia’s full-scale push to become totally nuclear by 2100; families of Vermont Yankee employees share what it feels like to be faced with uncertainty about the extension of a nuclear power plant operating license; how emotions should favor nuclear energy; how it seems nuclear energy isn’t that big a political issue in Japan; and natural gas… being more dangerous than nuclear energy. For the full reports, see The Hiroshima Syndrome (the internet’s top source for Fukushima updates and commentary).

The Carnival is the collective voice of blogs by well-respected names that emerge each week to tell the story of nuclear energy.

If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is where to find it.

The publication of the Carnival each week is part of a commitment by the leading pro-nuclear bloggers in North America to speak with a collective voice on the issue of the value of nuclear energy.

While we each have our own points of view, we agree that the promise of peaceful uses of the atom remains viable in our own time and for the future.

Past editions of the carnival have been hosted at Yes Vermont Yankee, Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, Idaho Samizdat, NEI Nuclear Notes, Next Big Future, EntrepreNuke, and CoolHandNuke, as well as several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

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.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support. Please post a Tweet, a Facebook entry, or a link on your Web site or blog to support the carnival.

The 129th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The 129th weekly Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is up at Next Big Future.

The Carnival is the collective voice of blogs by well-respected names that emerge each week to tell the story of nuclear energy.

If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is where to find it.

The publication of the Carnival each week is part of a commitment by the leading pro-nuclear bloggers in North America to speak with a collective voice on the issue of the value of nuclear energy.

While we each have our own points of view, we agree that the promise of peaceful uses of the atom remains viable in our own time and for the future.

Past editions of the carnival have been hosted at Yes Vermont Yankee, Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, Idaho Samizdat, NEI Nuclear Notes, Next Big Future, and CoolHandNuke, as well as several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

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.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support. Please post a Tweet, a Facebook entry, or a link on your Web site or blog to support the carnival.

 

San Onofre reactors face divergent paths to restart

Southern California Edison submits a plan to the NRC for Unit 2

By Dan Yurman

 The twin 1100-MW nuclear reactors (Units 2 & 3) at Southern California Edison’s (SCE) San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) that have been shut down since January 2012 will take different paths to a decision to restart each of them.

On October 3, Southern California Edison submitted a response to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s confirmatory letter, and a restart plan for Unit 2.

The utility said, however, that it won’t submit a similar response and restart plan for Unit 3 until mid-2013.  In late August SCE said it would remove the fuel from Unit 3, a clear signal that any restart plan for it is well down the road.

(The documents submitted by the utility to the NRC are online at http://www.songscommunity.com )

No timetable for review

The NRC said in response that there is no timetable for review of the restart plan for Unit 2. NRC Chairperson Allison Macfarlane told Reuters on October 4, “Our inspections and review will be painstaking, thorough, and will not be rushed.”

NRC Regional Administrator Elmo Collins said on October 9 that the restart plan could require an amendment to the Unit 2 reactor operating license, a process that could last months or even years.

Anti-nuclear groups have pressed the NRC to address the restart plan with a license amendment. The groups claim that the utility should have asked for the license amendment in the first place when it installed the steam generators.

NRC’s Collins also said that the NRC is still considering penalties against SCE over the generator issues.

Costs of shutdown considered serious

Three weeks after the technical response to regulators proposing to restart one of the reactors, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted unanimously to consider whether or not ratepayers should pay for repair costs and the additional costs of replacement power.

The review could take several years. By the time the PUC makes up its mind, mid-to-late 2014, both reactors could be back in revenue service.

PUC Chairman Mike Florio said that prior rate reviews are not predictors of how the agency will deal with SCE. He said that “serious errors” have been made by the utility, and he added that the PUC might take preliminary action to reduce rates and/or order refunds sometime in early 2013.

SCE said last July that restart of Unit 2 would cost $25 million in addition to the $48 million it had spent since January on inspections and repairs. Also, it had, as of July, paid out another $117 million to buy replacement power while the reactors were out of service.

These costs have increased since then. The LA Times reported on October 4 that replacement power costs had climbed to $142 million.

SCE has said that it will seek to recover the costs of the prolonged outage from insurance and from Mitsubishi, which supplied the steam generators used at San Onofre. The Japanese firm has denied that a computer error in the design phase of the steam generators was to blame for excessive tube wear.

Computer model and tube wear

Both reactors were safely shut down in January 2012 after excessive wear was discovered on the tubes in the almost-new steam generators.

SCE said in its response to the NRC Oct 3 that the tube wear was caused by a phenomenon called “fluid elastic instability”, a combination of high-steam velocity and low-moisture conditions in specific locations, combined with the impacts of ineffective tube supports at the same locations.

The damage to the tubes in the steam generator at Unit 3 was more extensive than at Unit 2.

One of the root causes of the troubles with the steam generators is that a computer model developed and used by Mitsubishi significantly underestimated key factors involving the flow of steam through the units.

SCE said on its website, “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) determined that computer modeling used during the design phase by the manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, under-predicted the thermal hydraulic conditions in the steam generators which contributed to the unstable tube vibration. The unstable tube vibration caused the unexpected wear in the steam generators.”

Elements of Unit 2 restart plan

SCE’s restart plan for Unit 2 calls for the utility to operate it at 70 percent power, which SCE says will prevent the vibration-causing environment by decreasing steam velocity and increasing moisture content. After five months, SCE will shut down Unit 2 to inspect the steam generator tubes, to confirm that this solution is working as anticipated.

SCE Chief Nuclear Officer Pete Dietrich told the Associated Press on October 4 that the restart plan “is not an experiment.” He said the utility has conducted 170,000 tube inspections and has held technical reviews with independent experts to evaluate the situation.

With regard to Unit 3, Dietrich said that Unit 3 has significantly more of the excessive wear on its steam generator tubes. He told the LA Times that it would be “next summer” before SCE is ready to propose a restart plan for it.

Anti-nuclear groups oppose restart

Anti-nuclear groups were divided about SCE’s restart plan for Unit 2. Arnie Gundersen, who has been working as a consultant to Friends of the Earth, said that the group thinks the restart plan isn’t credible. And S. David Freeman, also a consultant to Friends of the Earth, said, “Both reactors are alike and neither is safe to operate.”

David Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, was less strident, however, in expressing his opinion. He said that although he is not convinced that the 70 percent power level for Unit 2 is the right number, he recognized that SCE planned to install better monitoring equipment.

On October 10, the NRC’s Collins rejected Gundersen’s harsh characterization of the restart plan. He said, “It is far from a done deal. We will take the time we need. We do not experiment with safety.”

_________________________________________
Dan Yurman is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Hurricane Sandy links: updates and information (Updated 10-31, 12:00 pm ET)

Scroll down to hurricane graphic for resources and links.

Update 10/31 12:00 pm ET

Alert ends at Oyster Creek nuclear plant in NJ

Updated 10/30 5:00 pm ET

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a news release (excerpts below; emphasis added):

NRC STARTING TO RETURN TO NORMAL INSPECTION COVERAGE FOLLOWING SANDY; ALERT REMAINS IN EFFECT AT OYSTER CREEK NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is beginning to return to normal inspection coverage for nuclear power plants in the Northeastern United States in the path of Hurricane Sandy. Heightened coverage will continue at Oyster Creek, a plant in Lacey Township, N.J., still in an “Alert” due to high water levels in its water intake structure.

In addition to the event at Oyster Creek, three reactors experienced trips, or shutdowns, during the storm. They were Indian Point 3, in Buchanan, N.Y.; Salem Unit 1, in Hancocks Bridge, N.J.; and Nine Mile Point 1, in Scriba, N.Y. All safety systems responded as designed.

At Oyster Creek, the Alert – the second lowest of four levels of emergency classification used by the NRC – remains in effect as plant operators wait for the water intake levels to drop to pre-designated thresholds. The water level rose due to a combination of a rising tide, wind direction and storm surge. Oyster Creek was shut down for a refueling and maintenance outage prior to the storm and the reactor remains out of service. Water levels are beginning to subside to more normal levels, but the plant remains in an Alert status until there is enough confidence levels will remain at more normal levels. Offsite power at the plant is in the process of being restored.

Meanwhile, three plants—Millstone 3, in Connecticut, Vermont Yankee, in Vermont, and Limerick, in Pennsylvania—reduced power in advance of or in response to the storm. Millstone 3’s power was reduced to about 70 percent in advance of the storm to minimize potential impacts on its circulating water system due to the storm. Vermont Yankee reduced power to 89 percent in response to a request from the grid operator due to the loss of a transmission line in New Hampshire. Limerick Unit 1’s power was reduced to about 50 percent and Limerick Unit 2’s to about 25 percent in response to low electrical demands on the grid because of storm-related power outages.

Besides potentially affected nuclear power plants, the NRC also monitored any possible impacts on nuclear materials sites it oversees but did not identify any concerns.

NRC inspectors were onsite at all of the nuclear power plants expected to experience the greatest effects of the storm. Those inspectors were tasked with independently verifying that operators were following relevant procedures to ensure plant safety before, during and after the storm.

The NRC will continue to coordinate with other federal and state agencies prior to the restart of the affected plants.

###

Updated 10/30 no time stamp

The Nuclear Energy Institute issued the following news release: Nuclear Energy Facilities Prove Resilience During Hurricane Sandy. The release contains status updates on the 34 nuclear energy plants affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The following is a summary of U.S. nuclear power plant performance during Hurricane Sandy (as of 11 a.m. Oct 30) from the NEI release.

Connecticut
Millstone 2
—shut down for refueling outage
Millstone 3
—safely reduced power from 100 percent to 75 percent on Oct. 29 at the request of the electric grid operator.

Maryland
Calvert Cliffs 1 and 2—continued operating at 100 percent power.

Massachusetts
Pilgrim 1—continued operating at 100 percent power.

New Hampshire
Seabrook 1—shut down for refueling outage, but safely restarted Oct. 30 and is at 20 percent power.

New Jersey
Oyster Creek—shut down for refueling outage; alert declared Oct. 29 due to high water level at water intake structure
Hope Creek 1—continued operating at 100 percent power
Salem 1—manual safe shut down from 100 percent power on Oct. 30 due to high water level at water intake structure
Salem 2—shut down for refueling outage.

New York
Indian Point 2—continued operating at 100 percent power
Indian Point 3—manual safe shut down from 100 percent power on Oct. 30 due to an electric grid disruption
Ginna—shut down for refueling outage
Fitzpatrick—continued operating at 100 percent power
Nine Mile Point 1—manual safe shut down from 100 percent power on Oct. 29 due to an electric grid disruption
Nine Mile Point 2—continued operating at 100 percent power.

North Carolina
Brunswick 1 and 2—continued operating at 100 percent power.

Ohio
Perry 1—safely reduced power from 100 percent to 91 percent on Oct. 30 at the request of the regional electric grid operator
Davis-Besse—continued operating at 100 percent power.

Pennsylvania
Peach Bottom 2 and 3—continued operating at 100 percent power
Three Mile Island 1—continued operating at 100 percent power
Limerick 1 and 2—safely reduced power from 100 percent to 50 percent and 22 percent respectively on Oct. 30 due to storm effects and at the request of the regional electric grid operator
Beaver Valley 1—continued operating at 100 percent power
Beaver Valley 2—shut down for refueling outage
Susquehanna 1—shut down for turbine inspection
Susquehanna 2—continued operating at 75 percent power.

Virginia
Surry 1 and 2—continued operating at 100 percent power
North Anna 1 and 2—continued operating at 100 percent power.

Vermont
Vermont Yankee—safely reduced power from 100 percent to 90 percent on Oct. 30 at the request of the regional electric grid operator.

##

Updated 10/30 10:00 am ET

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued the following news release (body of news release below; emphasis added):

NRC MAINTAINS HEIGHTENED WATCH OVER NUCLEAR PLANTS IMPACTED BY SANDY; THREE REACTORS EXPERIENCED SHUTDOWNS DURING STORM; OYSTER CREEK PLANT REMAINS IN ALERT

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission continues to maintain its heightened watch over nuclear power plants in the Northeastern U.S. impacted by Sandy. Three reactors experienced shutdowns during the storm while another plant, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, remains in an “Alert” due to high water levels in its water intake structure.

The three reactors to experience trips, or shutdowns, during the storm are Nine Mile Point 1 in Scriba, N.Y., Indian Point 3 in Buchanan, N.Y.; and 1Salem Unit 1 in Hancocks Bridge, N.J.

Nine Mile Point 1 underwent an automatic shutdown at about 9 p.m. Monday when an electrical fault occurred on power lines used to send power to the grid. It is likely a storm-related event, but the plant’s operators are still evaluating the cause. All plant safety systems responded as designed and the shutdown was safely carried out. Meanwhile, Nine Mile Point 2 experienced a loss of one of two incoming off-site power lines as a result of the fault. One of the plant’s emergency diesel generators started in response to generate power usually provided by the line. Nine Mile Point 2 remained at full power.

Indian Point 3 automatically shut down at about 10:40 p.m. Monday in response to electrical grid disturbances caused by the storm. All safety systems responded as designed and the unit was placed in a safe shutdown condition.

Salem Unit 1 was manually shut down by plant operators at about 1:10 a.m. Tuesday as a result of circulating-water pumps being affected by high river level and debris in the waterway. The circulating-water system is used to cool down steam generated by the reactor; it is a closed system that does not come into contact with any radioactivity.

At Oyster Creek, the Alert was declared at approximately 8:45 p.m. An alert is the second-lowest level of emergency classification used by the NRC. The Alert was preceded by an “Unusual Event” at about 7 p.m. when the water level first reached a minimum high water level criteria. The water level rose due to a combination of a rising tide, wind direction and storm surge. While the water level has dropped since peaking earlier today, the Alert will not be exited until the level is below the specific criteria for the intake structure, which is where water from an intake canal is pumped into the plant for cooling purposes. Oyster Creek was shut down for a refueling and maintenance outage prior to the storm and the reactor remains out of service.

The NRC will continue to coordinate with other federal and state agencies prior to the restart of the affected plants.

The NRC stationed inspectors at all of the plants expected to experience the greatest effects of the storm. Those inspectors were tasked with independently verifying that operators were following relevant procedures to ensure plant safety before, during and after the storm.

In addition, the NRC has been monitoring the storm from its emergency response centers.

Nuclear power plant procedures require that the facilities shut down under certain severe weather conditions. The plants’ emergency diesel generators are available if off-site power is lost during the storm. Also, all plants have flood protection above the predicted storm surge, and key components and systems are housed in watertight buildings capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds and flooding.

##

Updated 10/30 6:15 am ET

AP / NJ.com looks at how Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant and others in the region are weathering the storm:

The oldest U.S. nuclear power plant, New Jersey’s Oyster Creek, was already out of service for scheduled refueling. But high water levels at the facility, which sits along Barnegat Bay, prompted safety officials to declare an “unusual event” around 7 p.m. About two hours later, the situation was upgraded to an “alert,” the second-lowest in a four-tiered warning system.

Conditions were still safe at Oyster Creek, Indian Point and all other U.S. nuclear plants, said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees plant safety.

A rising tide, the direction of the wind and the storm’s surge combined to raise water levels in Oyster Creek’s intake structure, the NRC said. The agency said that water levels are expected to recede within hours and that the plant, which went online in 1969 and is set to close in 2019, is watertight and capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds.

The plant’s owner, Exelon Corp., said power was also disrupted in the station’s switchyard, but backup diesel generators were providing stable power, with more than two weeks of fuel on hand.

In other parts of the East Coast, nuclear plants were weathering the storm without incident.

Inspectors from the NRC, whose own headquarters and Northeast regional office were closed for the storm, were manning all plants around the clock. The agency dispatched extra inspectors or placed them on standby in five states, equipped with satellite phones to ensure uninterrupted contact.

Nuclear power plants are built to withstand hurricanes, airplane collisions and other major disasters, but safety procedures call for plants to be shut down when hurricane-force winds are present, or if water levels nearby exceed certain flood limits.

##

Updated 10/30 (no time stamp)

AP breaks down Hurricane Sandy impacts by state

##

________________________________

Updated 10/29

Jim Conca, PhD, has written a blog post at Forbes: Don’t Politicize Sandy – Hurricane Normal Problem for Nukes

Updated 10/29 11:22 pm CT

Indian Point Energy @Indian_Point

Unit 3 safely shut down @ 10:45 EDT due to external electric grid issues. Unit 2 remains @ full power. NO risk to public or employees.

________________________________

Updated 10/29 11:18 PM CT

The New York Times “Tracking Sandy” liveblog reports:

So far, no reactors in Sandy’s path have been forced by the hurricane to shut down, although one in Waterford, Conn., Millstone 3, has lowered its power output to 75 percent. The operator said this was done to assist the New England grid, which would be destabilized if the reactor shut down suddenly from full power, and also to reduce the chance that it would automatically shut down; at 75 percent, Millstone 3 could withstand the loss of a pump without having to close.

Several other reactors in the region are now closed for refueling, which is ordinarily carried out in the spring or fall, when electricity demand is low.

________________________________

10/29: Hurricane Sandy has gained strength and is en route to a predicted landfall late this evening, currently projected to be centered on the coast of New Jersey.  This Category 1 storm is very large and dangerous, with hurricane-force winds extending up to 175 miles from the center of the storm, and tropical-storm-force winds extending up to 485 miles from the center.  Residents and emergency preparedness officials in several states have ordered some evacuations of low-lying areas, shutdowns of mass transit, and similar preparations.

NASA satellite image from October 28 of Hurricane Sandy off the U.S. coast.

RESOURCES AND LINKS

You can view US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Current Event Notification Reports HERE.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission on 10/29  issued a press release outlining preparations and monitoring of the storm.  Nuclear plants receiving enhanced oversight during the storm include: Calvert Cliffs, in Lusby, Md.; Salem and Hope Creek, in Hancocks Bridge, N.J.; Oyster Creek, in Lacey Township, N.J.; Peach Bottom, in Delta, Pa.; Three Mile Island 1, in Middletown, Pa.; Susquehanna, in Salem Township, Pa.; Indian Point, in Buchanan, N.Y.; and Millstone, in Waterford, Conn.

NRC Monday 10/29 afternoon press release: “NRC Continues to Monitor Hurricane Sandy; No Plants Shut Down So Far As a Result of the Storm.”

NRC Tuesday 10/30 morning press release: “NRC maintains heightened watch over nuclear plants impacted by Sandy; Three reactors experienced shutdowns during storm; Oyster Creek plant remains in alert”

_________________________

Nuclear energy facilities are designed and built to withstand hurricanes, with a proven track record of success.  The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has an informative outline of general hurricane preparedness procedures now underway at each of the plants expected to be affected. You can also track how nuclear energy plants are responding to Hurricane Sandy via NEI’s blog at NEI Nuclear Notes.

Google has released a very useful interactive Hurricane Sandy tracker map to help those affected keep up-to-date.

Entergy Nuclear press release on Hurricane Sandy preparations.

Dominion Energy advisory to customers in advance of Hurricane Sandy.

Facebook pages from Indian Point Energy Center and power companies and in the affected region which provide storm updates and preparedness information:

Useful Twitter accounts to follow include:

The Twitter blog has posted a comprehensive resource list, broken down by state, of hurricane information and emergency response resources.  In particular, read about how to receive designated tweets via text message if you are concerned about losing power (and the internet).

You can follow—and even contribute to—the Hurricane Sandy liveblog (not focused on nuclear, but a creative way to share experiences online).

DirectTV subscribers, take note of the following message: In order to provide you with the most up to date information, we have set up channels 325 and 349, which will be airing coverage of Hurricane Sandy. Please tune to these channels to get the latest news and developments on the situation.

Sirius-XM satellite radio owners, please note that Sirius-XM has dedicated channels 1 and 184 to Weather Channel reporting on Hurricane Sandy. You can listen to Channel 1 (normally the preview channel) without a current subscription.

Do you have a useful (and credible) link for Hurricane Sandy nuclear-related updates that you don’t see here? Please post and we’ll add it!

____________________________

 

Post #2 from Mumbai: The Indo-US Nuclear Safety Summit

Margaret Harding is blogging from the ANS–sponsored Indo–US Nuclear Safety Summit in Mumbai, India.

By Margaret Harding

I had hoped to keep more material coming, but technical difficulties and jet lag have limited me some. More on day 1 of the conference. The pictures are from the exhibit hall and the front entrance.

One of the speakers spent a little time talking about the regulatory environment. His words were important for all countries to heed. Regulation must remain science based. Diverse knowledge should inform regulation, no single technology or group should dominate. A regulator with solid technical knowledge can be responsive to new technology and new ideas without creating excess burdens on the developers and still maintain safety and oversight. [Aside from Margaret: Points we should certainly listen to in the United States as well. Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulation is frequently too technology specific and the ability to keep up with new developments has stretched the NRC's staff at times.]

Another great comment focused on the impact of our words. While conservatism in our design processes is important, when excess conservatism is applied to emergency situations, we can create fear where no risk exists and impose significant restrictions on a population far in excess of the actual risk. Such evacuations and lengthy abandonments of home and business create burdens on the population that do far more harm than the original risk we were trying to protect against. The Fukushima aftermath is an example of such impacts.

After lunch, there was a session for those of us who have not had much (any?) business dealings in India to learn a little more about the United States’ trade relationship with India and the status of any nuclear opportunities that might exist. Judy Reinke, minister-counselor for commercial affairs for the US embassy in India, gave us some really interesting information. India is growing quickly and the middle class is growing even faster. The workforce is generally young and very entrepreneurial. India is looking for ways to continue to grow. The government is very focused on inclusive growth that brings benefits to those who are deeply improverished as well as to the middle class. India’s parliamentary government is currently such a very weak coalition, however, that coming to a decision can be very difficult because all the partners in the coalition must agree before moving forward. This has had some impact on regulatory reforms that are needed for full engagement by outside businesses.

India’s economy has been growing at 8 percent until the last few years, when growth slowed to 6–7 percent. Slower economic growth added to continued population growth has made the goal of inclusive growth a very difficult goal for India. The need for infrastructure and energy to get the economy growing again has become a strong driver. This need benefits the nuclear industry, because getting reliable electricity to businesses and manufacturers is critical to a successful growth of the economy. Businesses that do not have power do not need workers. Workers who don’t work don’t get paid, which results in continued poverty.

Finally, India really only opened up to global trade in 1991. The government has continued to reform laws and regulations to make global markets more accessible both for export and import. But, again, a weak government makes such reform more difficult.

That’s it for tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll post a summary of Dr. Patrick Moore’s speech and subsequent journalist interviews, as well as more information about the session I participated in regarding public communications and what both countries can do better.

________________________

Harding

Margaret Harding has almost 30 years of experience in the nuclear industry in technical design, licensing, and quality issues.  She worked for GE-Hitachi for 27 years with positions of increasing responsibility, leading to vice president of Engineering Quality. Two years ago, she left GE-Hitachi to start her own consulting business to help companies with business ventures in the nuclear industry. She is a guest contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Nuclear Matinee: A Look at an Online Nuclear Science & Technology Course

A free college-level internet course surveying the theory, design, and operation of commercial nuclear power reactors is starting soon! This course will be taught by Larry Foulke, PhD, PE, former president of the American Nuclear Society.

“A Look at Nuclear Science and Technology” is aimed at scientifically inclined individuals who want to learn more about nuclear energy and the nuclear power industry. It will address subjects such as: What is nuclear energy? What is its history? Who are its heroes? Why is it controversial? How do nuclear power plants work? What about nuclear weapons? What are the stereotypes and misconceptions?

Dr. Foulke explains more in this video introduction:

See the Course Website for the course syllabus, FAQ, and how to sign up!

 

 

_________________________________

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.

Japan launches nuclear safety agency

Restart of the nation’s nuclear reactors will be guided by its actions

By Dan Yurman

Shunichi Tanaka, chairman, Japan Nuclear Regulation Authority.

A new and independent nuclear safety agency—the Nuclear Regulation
Authority (NRA)—began operating in Japan on September 19, but its future is already clouded by controversy. Approval of the five members of the NRA’s governing commission was not obtained by the central government of the Diet, the Japanese parliament. The NRA’s chairman, Shunichi Tanka, has placed it on the tracks in the face of an oncoming locomotive.

Tanka said that none of Japan’s shut down nuclear reactors would restart until the NRA issued its own set of safety rules and applied them to restart decisions, a process that could take up to a year or longer.

Two weeks ago, Japan’s cabinet backed down from a decision by Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda to phase out all nuclear reactors by 2030. The reason was the implacable opposition to the loss of reliable electric power by Japan’s largest business federation, composed of heavy industry manufacturing operations. These firms, which are also among Japan’s largest employers, have threatened to take their operations offshore if the government doesn’t authorize restart of the reactors.

Tanaka, who has long experience in the nation’s nuclear industry, must know what he’s doing. He formerly was vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. Plus, he has marching orders straight from the prime minister’s office.

Goshi Hoshono, who heads the environmental ministry in which the nuclear safety operation is housed, told Tanaka that he expects the NRA to operate independently of influence from the industry that it will regulate.

Previously, the nuclear safety function in the government was housed in the trade ministry where its functions were routinely compromised by industry influence. It was ineffective, however, in getting the Tokyo Electric Power Company to build a higher seawall at Fukushima, which led to the March 11, 2011, disaster in which a tsunami destroyed six of Japan’s 54 reactors.

Profile of the agency

The NRA will be responsible for developing and enforcing nuclear safety regulations, oversight of the physical security of sites, nuclear materials safeguards, radiation monitoring, and regulation of the use of radioisotopes in fields like medicine, construction, and food processing.

It will have a staff composed mostly of people transferred from the old Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency—about 400–500 people—and an annual budget reported to be in the range of $600 million.

The five people on the commission include its chairman Tanaka and four others:

  • Kenzo Oshima, former Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations
  • Kunihiko Shimazaki, professor emeritus of seismology at the University of Tokyo
  • Kayoko Nakamura, Ph.D, a nuclear medicine specialist
  • Toyoshi Fuketa, a senior manager from the Fuel Safety Research Laboratory, Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute

Tanaka, speaking for his colleagues, said that the NRA has to regain the trust of the Japanese public for nuclear power. It is unlikely that local government officials will agree to the restart of reactors without the oversight and assurances of the NRA.

Nuclear politics marches on

Yukio Edano, now the Japan Trade Minister, was the chief spokesman for former prime minister Naoto Kan during the Fukushima crisis.

While Tanaka was organizing his new agency, METI Minister Yukio Edano
wasted no time mounting a new attack on restart of the reactors. In a new book published this week, he called for the government to nationalize the reactors and to immediately begin decommissioning them. The reactors are owned by publicly traded utility companies. Nationalization would cost the debt-ridden government billions of dollars that it does not have. The likelihood of that option seeing the light of day seems to be very remote.

But Edano’s book isn’t meant to be practical. It is designed to whip up public opinion and to keep the anti-nuclear pot boiling. Trading on widespread public distrust of the nuclear utilities, Edano said that the government must take the lead in creating a nuclear-free society.

Edano also said that nine nuclear reactors that are planned to be built will be halted. He called for utility companies to take “voluntary measures” to stop the projects and he threatened legislative actions if they don’t. This threat also seems somewhat hollow since government seizure of privately owned assets would require compensation.

The projects that would be affected include No. 3 and 4 units at the Tsuruga Power Station in Fukui Prefecture and the No. 1 and 2 units at the Kaminoseki Power Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Earlier, Edano said that three reactors already under construction could be completed. One of them, the 1383-MW Ohma plant being built by Japan Electric Power, is 40-percent complete. It is expected to be completed in 2014. By then, presumably the NRA will have rolled out its new safety regulations.

Fuel reprocessing center faces new delays

One of the problems with METI Minister Edano’s clarion calls for decommissioning the nation’s nuclear reactors is that Japan has no deep geologic repository for disposing of nuclear waste or spent fuel in a once-through cycle.

For years Japan has been developing a spent fuel reprocessing plant. It would produce mixed oxide from recyclable materials and put the rest of the waste in ceramic canisters. The plant, being developed by Japan Nuclear Fuel, Ltd., is not complete and has encountered a series of technical mishaps that have delayed start of production operations.

Japan is storing 17,000 tonnes of spent fuel at the site, which is in Rokkasho in the Aomori Prefecture. There, political leaders are nominally pro-nuclear because of the jobs and tax base that come from the plant and from several commercial reactors. Their agreement would still be necessary to begin to reprocess fuel on a full-time basis.

However, Kazui Sakai, a senior executive with Japan Fuels, told the Wall Street Journal on September 19 that there is no planned date to start operations other than sometime in 2013. The vitrification process, which Japan acquired from Areva in France, has been significantly scaled up and modified to meet local requirements. It hasn’t worked so far despite assurances from Japan Fuel that the company has solutions in the works for various technical hurdles.

Critics of the plant have tried several times to stop its development. It has survived these efforts for the same reason that Japan will likely restart many of its reactors within the next 12 months. The country has no other economically feasible sources of baseload electricity.

In the long term, Japan cannot hope to compete on global markets with China for supplies of oil and natural gas. Japan will have to live with its “plutonium economy” for at least a few more decades while it experiments with geothermal and renewable sources, or it will have to come to terms with a future that includes nuclear energy as a mainstay of its economy.

___________________________

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

Uranium 233 is a valuable resource, no matter what Robert Alvarez believes

by Rod Adams

Robert Alvarez has issued another misleading report about energy dense fuel materials, titled Managing the Uranium-233 Stockpile of the United States.

According to Alvarez’s report, the United States owns about 3400 pounds of U-233, which is one of two fissile isotopes of uranium. He portrays this resource, which has been in storage since the 1970s, as a hazardous stockpile that somehow puts the world at risk of a rogue group obtaining a nuclear weapons capability. Unfortunately, he is not the only person with this mistaken opinion. The Department of Energy is currently planning to spend nearly half a billion dollars to get rid of the United States’ carefully protected U-233 resources.

Alvarez’s report does not mention the fact that the stockpile contains as much potential energy as 23 million barrels of oil. At current world oil prices, that gives it a comparable energy value of more than $2 billion, even if it is not used for its highest and best purpose, as the seed for an expansive program of thermal spectrum breeder reactors.

Waste not, want not

My Depression Era parents deeply embedded the “waste not, want not” mantra into my brain. As a relatively prosperous adult, I must admit that I do not always spend as much time separating and consolidating materials for recycling as my parents did, but I still respect their teachings that one should not discard items or materials that have future uses. Short-sighted acts of disposal often destroy any potential value because of the difficulty associated with removing contaminants.

I’ve been writing and reading for nearly two decades about the impressive capabilities offered by using a nuclear fission fuel cycle that includes uranium 233 and thorium 232. As anyone who has read Kirk Sorensen’s excellent blog Energy from Thorium or listened to his passionate talks on molten salt reactors knows, U-233 produces about 15 percent more neutrons per thermal fission as U-235 or Pu-239. That difference is significant; it means that a U-233/Th-232 fuel cycle can achieve a conversion ratio greater than 1.0 in a thermal spectrum reactor, resulting in a self-sustaining fuel cycle that might never need any additional fissile material.

Light water breeder reactor

Sometime during the early 1990s, after I had been a nuclear-trained submarine engineering officer for about a dozen years, I learned about the demonstration reactor core that was installed into the Shippingport nuclear power plant. That final core was operated 1977–1982 as a Light Water Breeder Reactor.

That demonstration proved that a well-designed thermal spectrum reactor could use the extra neutrons produced by U-233 to turn thorium into a useful fuel material at a rate faster than the U-233 would be consumed. Unfortunately, one inherent disadvantage of nuclear fuel cycle knowledge development is that it takes a long time. After five years of power production, the light water breeder reactor core was still going strong, with no evidence of the loss of reactivity that accompanies conventional reactor materials as they consume the fissile materials in their low-enriched uranium fuel rods.

Because the project sponsors knew that they might not be able to continue funding the team that would perform the post-operation fuel material analysis, they stopped the experiment. There were no immediately scheduled follow-on cores because any potential customers would have wanted to wait until the final results were known. No large-scale production capacity was ever developed to handle the unique blend of materials involved in the LWBR process.

Analysis

The destructive fuel rod analysis that proved that breeding had occurred was not completed until five years after the experiment had been terminated, which was more than 10 years after the fuel fabrication had been completed. Here is a quote from section IX, Summary and Discussion of Significance from a report titled “Proof of Breeding in the Light Water Breeder Reactor (WAPD-TM-1612),” which was provided to the DOE in September 1987 under contract No. DE-AC11-76PN00014. (I have provided that detail just in case someone thinks it might be worthwhile to file a Freedom of Information Act request.)

The results demonstrate conclusively that LWBR was a breeder. They show that breeding can be achieved in a light-water reactor using 233U as fissile fuel and the naturally occurring, relatively abundant 232Th as fertile material. Thus, the Light Water Breeder Program which the Department of Energy pursued for more than twenty years has demonstrated and proven unequivocally that 233U-232Th breeders can be built, operated in light water reactor plants to produce electrical energy, and breed more fissile fuel than they consume. This means that the plentiful domestic supply of low and moderate cost thorium represents a potential resource for providing about fifty times the amount of energy which could be produced using current light water reactors and the domestic supply of low and moderate cost uranium. This light water breeder system could supply the entire electrical energy need of the United States for centuries.

The primary significance of proving breeding in LWBR is the demonstrated potential for greatly increasing our nation’s electrical energy generation capability for many years to come.

By the time those words were written at the end of the quietly submitted report, the leading proponents of the technology had either died (Rickover) or lost all of their influence on government programs (Radkowsky). Radkowsky, the creative designer of the fuel system, eventually started a company called Thorium Power (which is now operating under the name of Lightbridge) to attempt to commercialize his ideas.

A few years before Rickover and Radkowsky demonstrated the possibilities of using a U-233/Th-232 fuel cycle in conventional reactors, there were a couple of experiments conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that avoided the fuel fabrication and destructive testing issues described above. By dissolving the U-233 and Th-232 into molten salts, those experiments showed that it was possible to design liquid-fueled reactors that might be arranged to enable utilization of the world’s large thorium fuel resource. There is much to be learned about building durable molten salt reactors with closed fuel systems, but the learning process would be made less time consuming if the Department of Energy enabled effective use of the already existing inventory of special material.

Even if one agrees with Alvarez’s stated concern about the need to carefully protect the U-233 from all possibility of being stolen, I cannot imagine any system that is less likely to experience material theft than operating nuclear power reactors. Those devices are surrounded by thick shielding resembling a vault, and they are full of self-protective radioactive isotopes. Sarah Weiner, writing for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, characterized Alvarez’s well publicized report as “alarmism”, but she also supported the DOE’s plans to make it nearly impossible for the energy laden material to be put to any beneficial use.

Knowing what I know about U-233′s potential benefits, I was saddened by Matt Wald’s recent article titled Uranium Substitute Is No Longer Needed, but Its Disposal May Pose Security Risk. It is disturbing to think that so many people have such a huge misunderstanding of nuclear fission technology that they take action to make U-233 an expensive waste product, instead of more accurately treating it as a potent energy resource that would become more valuable the more it is used.

PS—I cannot resist the temptation to compare the DOE’s planned expenditure of $473 million to destroy the potential value in its U-233 stockpile with the $452 million that has been widely promoted as the government’s contribution to small modular reactor development.

______________________________________________

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.

ANS wants your VOTE! In WSJ online nuclear energy poll

Voting season is upon us!  The Wall Street Journal has an online poll underway:

Vote: Should the World Increase its Reliance on Nuclear Energy?

Voting is very quick and easy.  And… comments can be very educational for others. See Meredith Angwin’s ANS Nuclear Cafe post: Pro-Nuclear Activism: Something for Everyone for more comments about comments. Thanks for your support!

 

 

U.S. Global Nuclear Leadership Through Export-Driven Engagement

By Art Wharton

The latest American Nuclear Society board-approved Position Statement (PS83) is titled “U.S. Global Nuclear Leadership Through Export-Driven Engagement.” This statement highlights a paradigm shift that is occurring within ANS, as global macroeconomic issues force the recognition that clean energy is imperative for continued global development.

It’s logical that ANS would want U.S. nuclear technology to dominate the global market; but the position statement does not come from a market-driven angle—it is noted as a non-proliferation measure. This may seem paradoxical at first, but I ask the audience: Would you rather the U.S. nuclear energy industry influence the world’s developing countries as they inevitably build their nuclear infrastructure? Or would you prefer the influence of the nuclear energy industry of another country, which might not enforce and teach the same level of rigor in operational excellence, human performance, and design for non-proliferation?

ANS is now taking the stance that nuclear energy is not only a valuable source of domestic stability, but also an international security imperative. As developing countries begin taking advantage of nuclear energy as a clean energy source (this is already well underway and accelerating), the United States will be looked toward for its technology leadership in nuclear energy.

1-2-3 Agreements

For bilateral nuclear trade agreements (known as 1-2-3 Agreements), it is imperative that the 1-2-3s be negotiated in a way that assures safety, but does not necessarily demand that a sovereign nation give up its sovereignty (such as automatically requiring that a country never “enrich” uranium to the very low levels required for use as nuclear fuel). The origination of the ANS position statement was a U.S. House of Representatives bill proposed to essentially enact a “gold standard” in 1-2-3 agreements, after the United Arab Emirates had agreed to forego its right to enrich uranium as an anti-proliferation measure. Since we know that these types of requirements are not being placed on agreements among other countries, such a requirement would place the United States in an uncompetitive stance, left to watch from the sidelines as the international nuclear trade landscape develops. Logically, ANS would like to see American technology leading the way to a cleaner and safer energized world.

The exportation of peaceful nuclear technology is highly valuable to developing nations. Historically, countries that developed nuclear energy technology actually developed nuclear weapons first, before they realized how much more valuable nuclear technology is for peaceful purposes. Why not help developing countries skip that first step?

U.S. nuclear technology is designed with anti-proliferation in mind as part of global security policy, so the exportation of U.S. nuclear energy technology as a market leader serves as a security imperative, to ensure that peaceful and nonproliferative technology is used dominantly throughout the world. I ask again: Would you rather see a developing country install U.S. technology under the guidance and influence of the United States? Or, would you rather see a developing country buy from someone else?

Influence and control

This is actually an area where Position Statement 83 may bring a little discomfort to the people in the nonproliferation community. It contains an undertone of influence, rather than control, over the expansion of nuclear science and technology in the international community. When I was a very young boy, my parents were able to control me; indeed, it was their responsibility to control me as I was raised. But something weird happened as I grew up into my teen years: I gained a sense of sovereignty. I could think for myself, act for myself, and I was pretty sure I knew more than them anyway, as most teenagers do. I wasn’t completely grown up yet, but the game had changed. My parents could no longer expect the ability to control me, but needed to still influence me to grow into a productive member of society (Craig Piercy, the Washington, D.C. representative for ANS, tells of this paradigm shift with pictures of his children as they grew up—it’s personally compelling and relatable).

In a global society where the United States out-spends everyone else on national defense (and shall we say, international defense), there yet comes a time when even the immense capability of the U.S. Armed Forces cannot effectively control the global community—but the positive example of the U.S. nuclear energy industry, its exemplary safety record, and its operational excellence can serve as a beacon of influence as it exports its technology.

This is why the United States must be the market leader in the exportation of peaceful nuclear technology. But I’m not done.

Poverty and risk

One of the (some might say, naïve) dreams that I had roughly a decade ago as I was working on my undergraduate degree was the dream that I could forge a career selling and building nuclear power plants in developing nations—as part of a larger global effort to bring people out of poverty. “U.S. Global Nuclear Leadership Through Export-Driven Engagement” could help that dream come alive.

World Bank research indicates that besides the opening of new markets and increasing global wealth creation, security is the other imperative to reduce world poverty, and vice-versa. A “rich” person has a lot more to lose if they go to war or otherwise commit acts of violence. What has a poor person to lose by taking such large risks? In a world where only about 1/6th of the population lives on more than $5 of purchasing power per day, the opportunities are endless for improving global security hand-in-hand with global economic activity. Peaceful nuclear science and technology applications can be a significant piece of the puzzle—with the United States leading the way through a high level of engagement in exports.

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Disclosure: I have a deep personal interest in the topic of exporting nuclear technology, which influenced my choice of employment at the finest nuclear technology company on the planet; however, all opinions contained above are my own opinions, and do not necessarily represent the opinions, positions, or strategies of Westinghouse Electric Company LLC or any of its subsidiaries or parent companies, or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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Wharton

Art Wharton is a principal project engineer at Westinghouse Electric Company LLC in Nuclear Power Plants Business & Project Development. He is a member of the ANS Planning Committee, ANS Public Policy Committee, the ANS Operations and Power Division Program Committee, is the Treasurer of the ANS Operations and Power Division, is the Pittsburgh ANS Local Section Past Chair, a Trustee on the Board of Pittsburgh’s Urban Pathways Charter School, and is a guest contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

ANS wants your VOTE! in WSJ nuclear energy online poll

Voting season is upon us!  The Wall Street Journal has an online poll underway:

Vote: Should the World Increase its Reliance on Nuclear Energy?

Voting is very quick and easy.  And… comments can be very educational for others. See Meredith Angwin’s ANS Nuclear Cafe post: Pro-Nuclear Activism: Something for Everyone for more comments about comments. Thanks for your support!