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Pioneering STURGIS will go to shipbreakers

by Will Davis

Nuclear barge STURGIS; photo from US Army Corps of Engineers.

Nuclear barge STURGIS; photo from US Army Corps of Engineers

Last week, we were reminded of a mostly forgotten but ambitious effort spanning the late 1950′s and 1960′s by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the U.S. Army—to develop a versatile range of small nuclear power plants—when it was announced that CB&I had been awarded a contract to decommission the former Army nuclear power plant barge STURGIS.  While many have recently touted the Russian Akademik Lomonosov as the “first floating nuclear power plant,” the expected completion date for that plant in 2016 will put it almost exactly a half century later than the successful STURGIS.

The first glimpse of the concept for this floating power station came in the late 1950′s as the Army and the AEC worked to develop a wide range of small power plants (the Army’s range of nuclear plants was given an upper bound of 40 MWe) for stationary, portable or mobile applications.

The earliest concept for what became the STURGIS is seen in an illustration from the book "Army Nuclear Power Program," published by the Engineer School, Fort Belvoir, 1958.  Under "Possible Future Projects" is "Barge-mounted Plants," described thus:  "Another type of mobile plant which has been considered, would be mounted on a barge as shown in Figure 7 or on a mobile pier.  Such plants could be built to furnish large blocks of electric power for remote installations and for emergency use both overseas and in the United States."

The earliest concept for what became the STURGIS in an illustration from the book “Army Nuclear Power Program,” published by the Engineer School, Fort Belvoir, 1958. Under “Possible Future Projects” is “Barge-mounted Plants,” described thus: “Another type of mobile plant which has been considered, would be mounted on a barge as shown in Figure 7 or on a mobile pier. Such plants could be built to furnish large blocks of electric power for remote installations and for emergency use both overseas and in the United States.” (Will Davis collection)

Eventually it was decided to convert an existing ship.  The Martin Company, a subsidiary of the Martin-Marietta Corporation, was selected to build the 10 MWe pressurized water reactor plant for this project.  Martin had already been awarded the contracts for the small PWR plants used at Sundance Air Force Station, Wyoming (1.0 MWe and 2.0 MWt space heating) and at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica (1.5 MWe.)

Although STURGIS is often said to have been converted from a Liberty Ship (which originally was supposed to have been the SS Walter F. Perry, but ended up being the SS Charles)—in fact it was over one-third new; a brand new, and wider, midsection was inserted between the bow and stern of the Second World War vessel.

Erhard Koehler, an acknowledged expert on the nuclear powered merchant ship N.S. Savannah, and familiar with the STURGIS, elaborates on the construction of the new configuration.  “The midbody, which contains the nuclear plant, turbogenerators, control room, and superstructure were all newly built.  So although the STURGIS is often said to have been ‘converted from a Liberty Ship,’ that really isn’t quite true.  It may have been a necessary administrative fiction at the time.”  The new section also contained heavy concrete radiation shielding and collision protection for the power plant.

The powerplant was small, but conventional; it contained a 45 MWt pressurized water reactor which itself had a two-region core, and interestingly (for nuclear engineers, anyway) had boron poison added to its fuel cladding.  The core was designed to run one year before a fuel shuffle / reload (in which the 16 inner elements would be removed, the 16 outer elements moved to the inner positions, and 16 new elements added in the outer positions).  The plant had a single loop and a vertical steam generator, with two reactor coolant pumps.

The complicated construction process for the ship was begun in 1963 when the Cugle was pulled from the Maritime Administration’s reserve fleet; it ended with testing of the completed plant at the Army’s station at Fort Belvoir, Virginia (where its original SM-1 nuclear plant was constructed and where a large amount of training was also performed.)

STURGIS testing at Fort Belvoir.  US Army Corps of Engineers.

STURGIS testing at Fort Belvoir. US Army Corps of Engineers.

The STURGIS tested at Fort Belvoir for approximately one year, after which it was moved to the area of the Panama Canal, where it was more or less semi-permanently stationed at Gatun Lake for the purpose of delivering reliable, around the clock power to this vital resource.  Eventually the Panama Canal Company installed extra (non-nuclear) generating assets, rendering the STURGIS’ services unnecessary; in addition, the Army was getting out of nuclear power.  The plant was shut down for the last time in 1976, and the ship eventually made its way to the James River Reserve Fleet.  Koehler notes that after about 15 years, the languishing STURGIS was joined by the N.S. Savannah, which was tied to it.  STURGIS was occasionally moved to drydock as required for maintenance and upkeep—according to Koehler, most recently in late 2007 – early 2008.

“There are a couple interesting ties between STURGIS and SAVANNAH, not the least being the 12 years that they were literally tied to one another in the reserve fleet,” says Koehler, who also relates a little known and more serious relation the two have.  “When B&W (the reactor vendor for the SAVANNAH) declined to bid for the STURGIS contract, one of their lead engineers from the NSS project, Zelvin Levine, left B&W and went to the Martin Company.  Martin won the contract, and Zel was a senior project manager for the conversion.”  It’s interesting to note that when Oak Ridge National Laboratory was performing supportive analytical study of the nuclear characteristics of the core for the STURGIS’ power plant (officially designated as the MH-1A plant) its characteristics were similar enough to those of the reactor on SAVANNAH that much of the work was carried over.  However, it’s important to point out here that the two aren’t identical.

Erhard also notes that the N.S. Savannah Association, Inc. recently received from Zel Levine some papers “that include several preliminary and final  volumes from the STURGIS Safeguards Report,” which means that some of the ship’s documentation at least will survive.

STURGIS photographed on April 9, 2014 by Erhard Koehler.

STURGIS photographed on April 9, 2014 by Erhard Koehler.

Will any of the vessel itself survive?  Probably not much.  Koehler tells ANS, “The two steaming Liberty Ship museums (Jeremiah O’Brien in San Francisco and John W. Brown in Baltimore) have been given opportunities from the Army to salvage useful equipment from STURGIS during the project.  The Army Corps has a number of curatorial artifacts already removed and preserved.  They are in the process of consulting under the National Historic Preservation Act to determine any further mitigation actions that will be taken prior to the dismantlement.  However, at the moment it doesn’t appear that any other features of the ship are slated for preservation.  As an example, two nearly identical control rooms are already preserved; one at Fort Belvoir, so the STURGIS console may not be removed.”

STURGIS photographed by Erhard Koehler on April 10, 2014.

STURGIS photographed by Erhard Koehler on April 10, 2014.

Eventually, later this year, the STURGIS will make its way to Galveston, Texas, where the decommissioning of the power plant section will take place.  The ship’s power plant will be dismantled and disposed of in the same manner as commercial nuclear plants, with waste being shipped to approved disposal sites (which have not yet been determined).  Once this section has been removed the rest of the ship will be scrapped at Brownsville, Texas.  The Army Corps of Engineers estimates presently that the entire process “should take less than four years,” according to its announcement.  (There will be a public meeting in Galveston this summer to “provide more details and answer questions.”)  With the dismantling of the STURGIS, another vestige of a once-promising but now ever-vanishing program disappears, although as we’ve seen with the recent frenzy over the Russian floating plant, the concept is as sound today as it was a half century ago.

For more information:

Final Environmental Assessment – Decommissioning and Dismantling of STURGIS and MH-1A

Decommissioning and Dismantling of STURGIS – US Army Corps of Engineers.  This page has links to videos of the construction and testing of STURGIS.

Will Davis posted on the STURGIS on March 31 at Atomic Power Review.

World Nuclear News posted on the STURGIS on April 14.

CB&I Press Release on Contract Award for STURGIS decommissioning.

A view abeam of the STURGIS.  Photo by Erhard Koehler, April 9, 2014.

A view abeam of the STURGIS. Photo by Erhard Koehler, April 9, 2014.

WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is the communications director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian and as a member of the board of directors. He is also a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013-2016. In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, is secretary of the board of directors of PopAtomic Studios, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

Eisenhower’s Atomic Power for Peace – The Civilian Application Program

Futuristic illustration from 1955 Progress Report, Atomic Power Development Associates, published March 1956.  This would become the Enrico Fermi Atomic Power Plant.

Futuristic illustration from 1955 Progress Report, Atomic Power Development Associates, published March 1956. This would become the Enrico Fermi Atomic Power Plant.

by Will Davis

President Eisenhower’s momentous Atomic Power for Peace speech to the United Nations in December 1953 included the bold statement: “It is not enough to take this weapon [a metaphor for atomic energy, specifically as weaponized only] out of the hands of soldiers. It must be put into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace.” With that, he effectively launched the civilian nuclear power business as we know it today—of course, it having since undergone many changes and evolutions. What’s little spoken of today is what happened before and after this speech.

President Eisenhower was only partly correct in his implication at this point of the speech that atomic energy had really only been weaponized up until that time; by then, a number of reactors had been built that generated power, including the EBR-1 in December 1951 (at the National Reactor Testing Station, Idaho), the HRE-1 at Oak Ridge in February 1953, and significantly the STR prototype at the Naval Reactors Facility, Idaho, in March 1953. (He of course knew of these developments quite well, as we shall see momentarily.) What he proposed to enable next had far bolder ends—the transfer of the knowledge of nuclear technology to those who could build commercial nuclear plants, medical research and treatment facilities, facilities for food preservation—in short, all the sorts of things that nuclear technology does so well today. Considering the development of a naval nuclear propulsion plant, nuclear energy was, even as a fledgling technology, perhaps ready to answer the call first.

There were already considerable efforts behind the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), but in fact the real start of what might be today recognized as the program to develop power reactors had begun back in 1948 when the AEC established a Division of Reactor Development. In this organization’s years prior to Eisenhower’s new paradigm, a number of advances were made that directly affected the ability to jump-start civil power reactor development. For example, not only had the AEC established a National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho where it built and tested a number of concepts, it had developed a type of fuel plate known later quite generally as “MTR type,” which would in fact become one of the first standardized, off-the-shelf fuel elements offered to reactor designers (this would be by Sylvania-Corning). Studies undertaken in the early 1950s were either military-only with AEC funding, or else part of a 1951 invitation from the AEC to potential reactor vendors and engineering firms to study dual-purpose reactors for both weapons material production and power production. (While this concept spread widely later in the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, only one of this type was ever actually built and operated in the United States—the NPR, or New Power Reactor, at Hanford.)

The year 1948 was not, however, the first by any stretch that any entity in the United States had seriously considered nuclear energy for production of power. In 1939, the US Naval Research Laboratory began a study into the use of atomic energy to propel ships. This initial effort resulted in developing the thermal diffusion technique for enrichment of uranium, but nothing else concrete because the war effort soon dictated that all effort be focused on development of a weapon. However, the Navy picked right up again immediately after the war, when a team of Navy officers was assigned to study the prospective Oak Ridge helium-cooled power reactor. (One of these men was Captain Hyman Rickover.) Shortly, a contract to more formally study this project was given by the Navy to Allis-Chalmers—but the reactor project was cancelled very rapidly. Development of the Navy program is fairly well known after this point, leading to the already-mentioned prototype and another, less successful prototype using liquid metal coolant.

Diagram of projected gas cooled power reactor as perceived in 1947, to have been built at Clinton Laboratories at Oak Ridge (later known as Oak Ridge National Laboratory.)  The gas coolant was not yet determined, but helium, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide were being considered.  Fuel rods would have been movable for control.  Illustration from "The Science and Engineering of Nuclear Power," Edited by Clark Goodman.  Addison-Wesley, Cambridge Mass., 1947.

Diagram of projected gas cooled power reactor as perceived in 1947, to have been built at Clinton Laboratories at Oak Ridge (later known as Oak Ridge National Laboratory). The gas coolant was not yet determined, but helium, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide were being considered. Fuel rods would have been movable for control. Illustration from “The Science and Engineering of Nuclear Power,” edited by Clark Goodman. Addison-Wesley, Cambridge Mass., 1947.

What was necessary now to launch a civilian-based nuclear industrial complex was to release the stranglehold that the US government and military had on all materials, research, experience, and personnel relative to nuclear energy. That restriction was well known to Eisenhower who shortly after (February 17, 1954) issued an official message to the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy laying out particular details and recommendations for a way forward. In that message, he said in part, referencing the limitations of the original Atomic Energy Act of 1946;

“…The practicability of constructing a submarine with atomic propulsion was questionable in 1946; 3 weeks ago the launching of the USS Nautilus made it certain that the use of atomic energy for ship propulsion will ultimately become widespread. In 1946, too, economic industrial power from atomic energy sources seemed very remote; today, it is clearly in sight—largely a matter of further research and development, and the establishment of conditions in which the spirit of enterprise can flourish.”

This letter was the first actual executive communication—seen first naturally by the powerful Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, which oversaw all things nuclear-related in the legislative branch—that would lead to amendment of the original Atomic Energy Act to allow transfer of what had originally been government/military information, as well as materials to the civil sector. It would also lead directly to a great deal of documentation covering security requirements necessary to ensure that information was both properly transferred out of government/military auspices (by either straight declassification, or else by controlled transfer to entities entitled to possess it) and then, in the case of controlled transfer, properly controlled by those who had legally obtained it.

Eisenhower detailed his approach to the policy alterations that he felt would enable the development of a domestic atomic energy industry later in the same document of February 17, 1954. To wit:

“Domestic Development of Atomic Energy.

What was only a hope and a distant goal in 1946—the beneficent use of atomic energy in human service—can soon be a reality. Before our scientists and engineers lie rich possibilities in the harnessing of atomic power. But, in this undertaking, the enterprise, initiative, and competitive spirit of individuals and groups within our free economy are needed to assure the greatest efficiency and progress at the least cost to the public.

Industry’s interest in this field is already evident. In collaboration with the Atomic Energy Commission a number of private corporations are now conducting studies, largely at their own expense, of the various reactor types which might be developed to produce economic power. There are indications that they would increase their efforts significantly if the way were open for private investment in such reactors. In amending the law to permit such an investment, care must be taken to encourage the development of this new industry in a manner as nearly normal as possible, with careful regulation to protect the national security and the public health and safety. It is essential that this program so proceed that this new industry will develop self-reliance and self-sufficiency.”

Most of what Eisenhower laid out in this concept came true—although many would observe that the self-sufficiency part was the longest to iron out, since few corporations (acting as either vendors of reactors or as architects, engineers, or constructors of atomic power plants) were initially willing to risk such large projects entirely on their own.

Eisenhower’s specifically-delineated recommendations for legislative amendment were as follows:

1. Relax statutory restrictions against ownership or lease of fissionable material and of facilities capable of producing fissionable material.

2. Permit private manufacture, ownership, and operation of atomic reactors and related activities, subject to necessary safeguards and under licensing systems administered by the Atomic Energy Commission.

3. Authorize the AEC to establish minimum safety and security regulations to govern the use and possession of fissionable materials.

4. Permit the AEC to supply licensees special materials and services needed in the initial stages of the new industry at prices estimated to compensate the government adequately for the value of the materials and services and the expense to the government in making them available.

5. Liberalize the patent provisions of the Atomic Energy Act, principally by expanding the area in which private patents can be obtained, to include the production as well as utilization of fissionable material, while continuing for a limited period the authority to require a patent owner to license others to use an invention essential to the peacetime applications of atomic energy.

This mention of patent legislation was followed by a statement that the corporations that already had access to privileged information and material could conceivably build a monopoly based on patent rights, squeezing out any potential new entrants. Eisenhower wished to prevent such an outcome by ensuring at least for five years that patent information was shared until “industrial participation in the utilization of atomic energy acquires a broader base.” There stands much evidence in the record that there was considerable opposition to the AEC having unilateral rights to patents granted in this field, as surely would have been expected—and would be today.

Eisenhower wasn’t the only person at that time who believed that it was not only important but essential that atomic energy information and technology be made widely available, and that generation of electric power by atomic means eventually become profitable enough to stand alone without massive government subsidy because of the great good it could do. He was also not the only person who knew what it had done to date. Henry D. Smyth, a member of the AEC, made the following remarks in the closing of a speech he delivered to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in March 1954:

“To establish a nuclear power industry in this country will be a great achievement. If power becomes cheaper and more plentiful, our material standard of living will be raised. In other countries, the effect may be even greater. By the accident of history the first use of this great new discovery has been in the development of weapons of war, weapons of appalling magnitude. The nations of the world have today the means to destroy each other. They also have, in this same nuclear energy, a new resource which could be used to lift the heavy burdens of hunger and poverty that keep masses of men in bondage to ignorance and fear. Toward this peaceful development of nuclear power we have, all of us, a high obligation to work with all the ingenuity and purpose we possess.”

The die had been cast; the United States was going to launch an atomic energy program, and the civil sector was going to do a lot of the heavy lifting. While private corporations were certainly interested, few would continue to participate only in self-funded studies (such as that in 1951 for dual-purpose reactors) when there was little or no chance of financial return. Something concrete would have to be established, and opportunity for real work presented. It would not be long.

"Perspective drawing of atomic energy power plant," from Pacific Gas & Electric / Bechtel Corporation report to the US Atomic Energy Commission, 1952.  This is one of the dual pupose (power and weapons) studies performed for the AEC prior to Eisenhower's speech as described in the article; this consortium considered water cooled thermal and sodium cooled fast reactors for this plant, each rated 500 MWt.  From Reports to the US Atomic Energy Commission on Nuclear Power Reactor Technology, US AEC, May 1953.

“Perspective drawing of atomic energy power plant,” from Pacific Gas & Electric/Bechtel Corporation report to the US Atomic Energy Commission, 1952. This is one of the dual purpose (power and weapons) studies performed for the AEC prior to Eisenhower’s speech as described in the article; this consortium considered water cooled thermal and sodium cooled fast reactors for this plant, each rated 500 MWt. From Reports to the US Atomic Energy Commission on Nuclear Power Reactor Technology, US AEC, May 1953.

In our next installment, we’ll look at the AEC’s first Five Year Plan for Reactor Development. On July 31, 1953, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy asked the AEC to come up with “an outline of the objectives it seeks to achieve in the field of reactor development over the next five years and of its program for accomplishment of these objectives.” This plan would be integral with the Civilian Application Program, and together these two would shape the course of early commercial nuclear energy development in the United States.

Sources for this article include:

ATOMS FOR PEACE MANUAL—A Compilation of Official Materials on International Cooperation for Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. 84th Congress, 1st Session, Document No. 55. July 1955 US Government Printing Office.

THE ATOMIC ENERGY DESKBOOK. John F. Hogerton. Reinhold Publishing, New York 1963.

NUCLEAR PROPULSION FOR MERCHANT SHIPS. A. W. Kramer. Division of Technical Information, US Atomic Energy Commission, 1962.

REPORTS TO THE ATOMIC ENERGY COMMISSION ON NUCLEAR POWER REACTOR TECHNOLOGY. US Atomic Energy Commission, May 1953.

US SUBMARINES SINCE 1945. Norman Friedman. US Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1994.

Sources for photos are quoted in photo captions.

_________________________

WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013-2016. In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, is secretary of the Board of Directors of PopAtomic Studios, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants. He’s also an avid typewriter collector in his spare time.

Fukushima Daiichi: Current Hurdles, Options, and Future Expectations

by Will Davis

This week, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station’s long history was further appended by the approval of decommissioning plans for the site by Japan’s nuclear regulator, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). This approval both clearly sets guidelines for safety at the site, and puts the government stamp of approval on Tokyo Electric Power Company’s highly complicated timeline for the complete decommissioning and removal of Units 1 through 4 at the site.  This announcement follows closely the order by Prime Minister Abe to increase government oversight of cleanup efforts on site. What remains to be seen is whether or not the Japanese public has any more faith in their government regarding decommissioning of the site than it has with TEPCO, which by all accounts in the Japanese press is no longer considered trustworthy.

These developments, however, are largely underplayed in the media compared to reporting on the situation regarding contaminated water on the Fukushima Daiichi site. Indeed, the situation appeared so troubling, and the site itself so jumbled, that a recent tour of the site by Fukushima prefectural officials resulted in an immediate request to the NRA by the prefecture that the Japanese government completely take over the site—even though the Japanese government has no more experience in handling a nuclear accident site than TEPCO does. The realities of the situation are much less urgent than has been speculated in the press; less threatening to the public in the short-term, but indicative of a trend of continued nagging problems that incessantly hinder full remediation of the site.

Groundwater contamination

The biggest question surrounding the news of contaminated groundwater on the site, and leakage of some of this ground water into the waters off the shore of the power plant, is whether or not this contaminated water is affecting the food chain. “No, there’s no evidence of that,” said Leslie Corrice, a former Navy Nuclear Power Engineering Laboratory technician, and former commercial nuclear plant worker, who performed groundwater sampling at the Perry nuclear station in Ohio and has been writing about the Fukushima accident continuously since it occurred. “The contaminated water isn’t getting outside the inner harbor, the quay, which is sealed off.” Corrice also noted that there are indeed plans, speculative at the moment, to seal off the further or outer harbor area, and that land surrounding the station is unaffected “since water seeks the lowest level, and there, that’s the ocean.”

As has been reported elsewhere recently, TEPCO estimates that 1000 tons of water are coming onto the site every day from surrounding hillsides. Of that, 300 tons makes its way to the ocean uncontaminated; 300 tons is mixing with contaminated groundwater on the nuclear plant site and is moved occasionally to the waters off the plant, but inside the harbor area, when the tides move in and out; and 400 tons per day is making its way into the reactor, turbine, and other building basements. The leakage of groundwater into these buildings is increasing the amount of water that TEPCO has to pump, clean up, and store.

Corrice added that “the only isotopic increase found inside the quay has been tritium, and only at one location more than 100 meters north (next to Unit 1) of the suspected inflow point at the Unit 2 and 3 intake structures and the embankment in between, with no cesium in the quay. The current levels of non-tritium isotopes in the quay at all locations are within the range of testing data going back to April… in other words, no discernible increases.” He also noted that the area outside the quay shows nothing, not even tritium, and that samples in the Pacific Ocean on a 10 km radius show no detected radionuclides.

Water mitigation

“Right now, TEPCO is pumping groundwater from the area near the solidified soil by the harbor, and by the end of this weekend with 30 more pump locations will achieve 70 tons per day,” said Corrice. He added that the level of water in sample wells near this area has dropped 5 centimeters already. Eventually, TEPCO plans to solidify (chemically, using a glass-like material) the soil along the entire waterfront, which will reduce to an estimated maximum of 35 tons per day the water outflow from plant premises to the harbor area.

Of course, TEPCO needs to completely contain the highly contaminated water that is being generated on the site. This water is generated when cooling water, pumped into the three damaged reactors, leaks out into the primary containment vessels inside the reactor buildings, then into the reactor buildings, and finally into the turbine buildings. It was found in the past that this water was also in communication with piping and wiring tunnels that criss-cross the site; TEPCO has been working to seal off known leaking areas for some time.

A major new step under technical assessment by Kajima Corporation (original constructor of the nuclear station) would create an artificially frozen zone of soil around the plants, impermeable to water. Deep wells would be used to house refrigerant tubes that would freeze the surrounding soil, with frozen zones around each shaft spreading and eventually being conjoined. The depth of frozen soil could be up to 40 meters—this should be enough to prevent any water flow under an impenetrable wall. Kajima is tasked with studying the problem, and is due to issue a report on the concept March 2014. The soil would be kept frozen for a number of years while the reactor plants are defueled; the defueling of the reactors is scheduled to occur within 10 years after removal of all fuel from all spent fuel pools is completed, which may take up to two years.

This soil freezing technology has actually been employed previously at nuclear plants. “We did it at Midland,” said Glenn Williams, today a financial consultant in the energy field who has worked in energy for over 30 years, and in separate employments with Bechtel Corporation and Stone & Webster was involved with roughly half the nuclear plants in the United States. “We had a problem with soil liquefaction—you know, when what should be a solid acts like a liquid—under the nuclear plant, and it was decided to perform the soil freezing to allow the ground to be solidified where it needed to be. It’s actually an older technology than most people realize—we did this back in the ’80s.” The Midland plant, then under construction for Consumers Power Company in Michigan, was eventually cancelled without ever having started up. Williams recalled the use of the technique at another nuclear plant site in the United States as well, in addition to many non-nuclear applications.

Midland nuclear plant under construction, May 1978.  Wirephoto, Will Davis collection.

Midland nuclear plant under construction, May 1978. Wirephoto, Will Davis collection.

The freezing process (if employed, and if successful) would keep highly contaminated water within the immediate nuclear reactor plant area, and keep clean groundwater outside, but it won’t stop leakage of water from damaged reactors into adjacent buildings inside the ice shield perimeter. At present, TEPCO’s best guess is that nearly the entire reactor core of Unit 1, and parts of Units 2 and 3 have exited (melted out of) their reactor pressure vessels and fallen into the containments. The damaged pressure vessels are leaking water into the primary containments; the exact paths water is taking out of the containments into the reactor buildings are still under study and a source of wide debate.

In a recent presentation to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Shunichi Suzuki of TEPCO listed challenges in finding these leaks, including high radiation dose rate inside the buildings, the fact that a majority of suspected leak locations are underwater with poor visibility, and that repair work must be done in the midst of highly radioactive moving water while continuous core cooling is maintained. TEPCO and its contractors have been experimenting with a material it calls a “plastic grout” that can seal penetrations, even in locations where water is flowing, and has had promising results so far. Whether or not this can be used in the volumes required remains unproven, but tests with double concentric pipes have shown that the material can seal both annular spaces. Sealing of the lower portion of the primary containment, known as the suppression chamber, would finally halt the leaking of highly contaminated water, and would allow for a highly desirable “closed loop” system pumping water into and out of the primary containments to keep the reactor cores cool.

FukushimaCoolingFlow

Flow path of water used to cool damaged reactors at Fukushima Daiichi. From TEPCO “Mid and Long Term Roadmap,” Information Portal for Fukushima Daiichi Accident Analysis and Decommissioning Activities.

Once the flow of water has been halted, cleaning up the contaminated water on the site will be needed—TEPCO intends to have storage capacity on the order of 700,000 tons by 2015. For that purpose, a system conceived by EnergySolutions and manufactured by Toshiba, called the MRRS (Multi Radionuclide Removal System) has been constructed on site and is being moved to readiness. This system will take water that has been processed by systems built very rapidly on site after the accident (the “SARRY,” “KURION” and “AREVA” systems) and after desalination will remove residual radioactivity to a quality below detectable levels, according to Toshiba materials. In the most recent orders given TEPCO by the NRA, operation of this equipment is to be expedited.

Installation of MRRS equipment; photo courtesy Tokyo Electric Power Company

Installation of MRRS equipment; photo courtesy Tokyo Electric Power Company

Site decommissioning

TEPCO—and now the Japanese government, as well—face many obstacles in the full decommissioning of the damaged reactor plants, in a process expected to extend four decades. Some of these could be described as self-imposed. It was recently revealed that the rather quickly constructed enclosure around the Unit 1 reactor building will need to be totally taken down to permit removal of debris from the top of the damaged building and prepare for installation of equipment required to defuel the reactor. This will nullify the protection of the building, set up to halt atmospheric release of radionuclides, but TEPCO expects that emissions from the building will be managed during the process by the gas handling system, already in operation at all three damaged reactors.

News came out soon after the accident in 2011 that two U.S. consortiums were offering to bid on a complete contract to decommission the entire site (a group consisting of Toshiba, the Shaw group, and four additional firms; and a consortium of Hitachi, General Electric, Exelon, and Bechtel; AREVA was also occasionally reported to have been in this mix). Nothing like this came to fruition; it is not known how far negotiations, if any, were carried out on these original offerings.

Would any major firms, particularly experienced architect-engineer firms like Bechtel, conceivably take on such a project today, given what we have learned since the early days? Glenn Williams said, “Yes, I think they might if the terms were okay. The big questions are which firms are qualified to do the work… and would they be sure they would get paid?” Williams noted, “The terms and conditions of such a contract would drive everything,” and that he’s “not sure the Japanese government or TEPCO are prepared to write a contract anyone would sign because they don’t know the scope, scale, and cost of the entire project. The best arrangement for now, for both buyer and contractor, is continuing agreements for commercial services and systems… agreements that can be changed, rather than an overreaching agreement.”

Indeed, the early days when an endpoint seemed perhaps a contract away have now given way to a reality of day-to-day operations, challenges, advances and setbacks, and mutually achieved, unexpected solutions. At Three Mile Island, for example, the condition of the damaged reactor core was not even known for approximately two years; the condition of the three damaged Fukushima reactors is far worse, and early plans have been superseded many times by modified or completely new plans as knowledge about the actual state of the plants improves.

Given this information, it seems unlikely that the recent further imposition of Japanese government control over the work at Fukushima Daiichi will materialize into a solid outsourced contract, although it’s clear that the prefectural government would lean that way. Instead, it might be more sensible to predict that the operations at the site will continue to involve a wide and mixed array of various government entities and contractors engaged in separate but co-mingled projects as has been the case until now, with more thorough government oversight and control.

The people of Japan have expressed all too clearly their distrust of TEPCO, made worse by the recent revelation that TEPCO officials didn’t report the facts about contaminated groundwater on the site (and potential leakage to the sea, possibly continuously since the accident) immediately as soon as they were known. TEPCO management has expressed deep regret over this, with TEPCO’s chairman saying that he “felt we (TEPCO) had improved our ability to be honest with the public, but in fact we have not.” However, the public trust might be broken. This is the larger story surrounding the revelation about groundwater at the site. While contaminated water leaking to the ocean makes headlines and is a major (and expensive) engineering headache, the fact that TEPCO hid information about it will have lasting repurcussions.

Background and more information

Information Portal for Fukushima Daiichi Accident Analysis and Decommissioning Activities (joint Government-TEPCO site)

TEPCO’s storehouse of information on the decommissioning process and the Road Map to Recovery is located here.

Recent News Links

Japanese Government will take on more responsibility for Fukushima Clean-up.

TEPCO faces new setbacks at Fukushima Daiichi (ANS Nuclear Cafe) July 25

Fukushima Daiichi update (Atomic Power Review) August 6

NRA approves TEPCO decommissioning plan, urges solution for water problem

TEPCO begins pumping up contaminated ground water

Fukushima Accident updates – Leslie Corrice

Other news sources continue to report on conditions at Unit 4 and its spent fuel pool. The most recent soundness inspection by TEPCO can be found here. In addition, background can be found here. More can be found here.

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WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013-2016.  In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, is Secretary of the Board of Directors of PopAtomic Studios, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.  He’s also an avid typewriter collector in his spare time.

SMRs Get Further Push with Western Initiative for Nuclear

hauling NuScale 502x200

NuScale SMR on trailer; courtesy NuScale Power

by Will Davis

In the wake of the Department of Energy’s first funding award to Generation mPower for construction of small modular reactor (SMR) plants at the Clinch River Site earlier this year, other groups have begun to form to bolster the position of other SMR technologies—namely, the Westinghouse SMR, the Holtec SMR-160, and the NuScale Power SMR.

On the first day of July, the NuScale–centered effort became exponentially larger as that firm joined with Energy Northwest and UAMPS (Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems) to explore the complete design, construction, and demonstration operation of NuScale SMR reactors at the Idaho National Laboratory. The effort is named the “Western Initiative for Nuclear,” or WIN for short.

According to statements by NuScale Power chief commercial officer Mike McGough during a July 1 teleconference, the beginnings of WIN stretch back over two years to a Western Governors’ Association policy statement that brought new nuclear energy into focus and priority status. A primary goal of WIN is to “accelerate SMR’s to the marketplace,” according to McGough. Inclusion of Energy Northwest in the WIN consortium brings direct operating experience with nuclear energy to the effort (in the form of Columbia Generating Station, a General Electric boiling water reactor-5 that entered commercial service in 1984), with the direct expectation that Energy Northwest would operate the SMRs when built.

Ted Rampton of UAMPS (which has 45 member companies) noted during the teleconference that the UAMPS involvement is plainly because “members do need future baseload generating capacity,” and because UAMPS’ “Smart Energy Initiative” guides it to examine multiple kinds of resource alternatives. UAMPS’s considerations in backing the NuScale SMR design involved considerations of “size, configurable to fit requirements, economy and safety.” Rampton, during Q&A, noted that at this time his company’s involvement is “investigatory in nature only,” with no immediate monies involved and no capital expenditure presently projected as yet.

Utilities aren’t the only interested party in this effort, either. Rob Simmons, representing the office of the governor of Utah, was present at the teleconference and expressed the governor’s office’s interest in the project as a very direct and real matter. According to Simmons, the advantages to prioritizing such a project for Utah include “flexibility, and integration opportunities in a rapidly changing energy environment,” which might be taken as a hint that load-following SMRs (which the NuScale surely is) would be a good fit on grids with substantial renewable (solar, wind) inputs.

Siting

McGough clearly stated that the Idaho National Laboratory is NuScale’s “preferred startup location” for its design, saying that there is “no better place” to locate this initial effort. The plant itself would be owned, it is expected, by a consortium of utilities, while being operated by one of the owners with nuclear experience or else by a “qualified third party operator”—either of which almost surely will be Energy Northwest. He described the siting at INL as “the best, most feasible first step;” later, during the Q&A session, it was noted that there is in fact expected future energy demand in the area and that the plant (expected to comprise six to 12 reactors, and rated between 270 and 540 MWe) could commercially sell power, due to the fact that there are coal-fired generating assets in that area that are expected to be retired.

Of course, the Idaho National Laboratory has hosted very many prototype and development reactors. Known for many years as the National Reactor Testing Station, the site hosted many well known early nuclear prototypes such as the Experimental Breeder Reactor and EBR-II, the Special Power Excursion Reactor Test, BORAX (Boiling Water Reactor Experiment), and the U.S. Navy STR S1W (S = submarine platform, 1 = first generation core designed by the contractor, W = Westinghouse was the contracted designer), A1W (A = aircraft carrier), and S5G (G = GE) plants. According to McGough, the site has “hosted over 50 reactors over a span of 60 years.”

According to McGough, the plan is to have the first reactor operational in the 2024 time frame. NuScale had submitted the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) request to the DOE over the previous weekend (as had Westinghouse and Holtec); McGough expects to apply to the NRC for design certification in two years, describing that certification as “the long pole in the tent.”

Initiative leads to incentive

In the Energy Northwest press release, the company’s CEO Mark Reddemann is quoted as saying that the successful completion of the WIN effort at INL “could act as a catalyst for development of additional SMR projects with NuScale and others.” He added that “building one somewhere in the Northwest today may lead to building elsewhere tomorrow.” Energy Northwest had initially intended for a NuScale SMR to be built at its Columbia Generating Station—in a way, a direct parallel to the competitor Westinghouse SMR, which according to present plan may well be built first at Ameren Missouri’s Callaway Energy Center alongside Callaway-1, a very late Westinghouse pressurized water reactor plant that was part of the SNUPPS (Standardized Nuclear Unit Power Plant System) program. While the new WIN effort has shifted initial focus to INL, Reddemann points out that development of that project still has very significant positive implications for Energy Northwest’s customers, since, as he said, “if NuScale secures DOE funding, this effort will be an important step toward bringing new nuclear to Washington state when we need it… when that day comes, we’ll have the right people with the right expertise in the right place to make it happen.”

Competition

The competition has not been idle. Perhaps the Westinghouse – Ameren – Missouri collaboration has received the most notice, but Holtec just yesterday (July 10) announced that it has brought South Carolina Electric and Gas, and Chicago Bridge & Iron (who will act as architect-engineer for the plant, which is planned for construction at the Savannah River Site) into partnership with its own local economic development organization, NuHub. NuHub had previously worked with NuScale, but shifted its selected design to the Holtec SMR-160 earlier this year, according to Nuclear Street News.

The field of competitors to win the second round of DOE funding is certainly deepening, with reactor vendors now lined up with utilities and local economic development groups in the hope of presenting the best possible likelihood of completion before the DOE’s FOA process is really begun. One thing is certain—the number of utilities and organizations who believe in the SMR concept is growing continuously, which is a good thing for nuclear energy in the United States.

For more information

The present DOE offering is for funding and assistance through design licensing only. Click here to see the DOE page for the program.

S1WatNRTSJan201954

STR Mark 1, later known as S1W, pictured at National Reactor Testing Station, January 20, 1954. NRTS, now known as Idaho National Laboratory, has long been known for siting “first of a kind” or prototype reactor plants. It has remote location and existing infrastructure ideal for such projects. Wirephoto in Will Davis collection.

WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013-2016.  In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, is Secretary of the Board of Directors of PopAtomic Studios, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.  He’s also an avid typewriter collector in his spare time.

ANS Annual Meeting – New Nuclear Build Risks

NorthAnnaUnit3

by Will Davis

All in attendance sat up a bit in their chairs at the session “Managing the Spectrum of Risks in the Complexities on New Build Nuclear—Call for a New Business Model to Meet the Challenges and Opportunities in the U.S. and International Nuclear Markets” held Monday afternoon at the ANS Annual Meeting. Rob Graber of Energypath Corporation stated from the podium that “90 percent of the new build nuclear plants under construction today are being built in nations that have state capitalism systems,” meaning nations like China where the government is heavily involved with programs and the line between private and public investment is blurred. This was just one of the sobering but necessary observations offered during this highly valuable session.

The first speaker of the session was Bill Linton of Linton Consulting, pointing out that using a “strategic view” analysis, stretching many years into the future, is essential in the decision making for or against new nuclear plants in the United States. He noted that while there are about 69 reactors under construction world-wide right now, with somewhere between 150 and 200 more planned, 28 of these plants under construction are in China, 11 are in Russia, and 7 are in India. “The nuclear industry really is global today,” he observed, pointing out that the nuclear fuel cycle is already a global chain business, as is the business of plant components. While other nations are building nuclear plants at high rates, the U.S. industry has experienced, at home, a slow growth rate—which led to a slow build rate, and slow development that has inevitably led to a decline in U.S. nuclear construction influence worldwide. In fact, Linton mentioned that a Nuclear Regulatory Commission employee had remarked to him at one time that the United States’ nuclear industry “is 40 years into a 60-year business,” implying that after the current generation of plants reaches their life expectancy, that’s essentially the end.

Of course, the potential solution to this is both rapid development and innovative financing and operating arrangements, which Linton said are vital to the future of nuclear energy everywhere. He pointed out that Russia can “do it all”—finance, build, own, and operate nuclear plants anywhere. And Russia will do so in Turkey. He put the potential program of any nuclear state into perspective when he said that “nuclear power is at least a 100-year commitment, start to finish, by any nation.” Clearly, this includes spent fuel storage or recycling or transfer out of country, since the currently accepted range of prospective plant life is 60 to possibly 80 years.

Graber, in his presentation on Maintaining the Nuclear Option in the United States, started off by pointing out that, for investors, a high level of uncertainty about the capability of any sort of large project to complete can trigger a “no go” decision—and since only in nations with state capitalism systems is there little consideration of these factors, only those nations might see a large buildout of new nuclear plants.

However, on the bright side for U.S. nuclear plants, Graber pointed out that natural gas prices have (according to his calculation) a 31-percent volatility in any year—meaning that giant swings in price can erase all the economies of natural gas at just about any time. The implication is that in merit-based load dispatching scenarios, nuclear becomes a better option when that happens. Graber also noted that natural gas plants (because of the price and supply volatility) actually have a higher chance of NOT being operated, once built, than do nuclear plants. Thus, in one way, they can be a riskier investment than nuclear plants. He showed that for nuclear plants, there are a number of construction option premiums in his “Option Based Construction Model” throughout the whole cycle of plant build and operation (including delaying the plant, scaling back the plant, accelerating construction of the plant, or abandoning the plant) that make nuclear plants somewhat more attractive than might first appear to investors; in other words, the option model of construction (in use for the Blue Castle nuclear plant project) provides advantages over other types of plant that go up faster but may never run.

Graber outlined the process advantages in state capitalist nations, in comparison to U.S. builds that seem almost like FOAK (First Of A Kind) in every plant. He charted the process for these other nations with the details that these countries plan and order large fleets, which leads to a rapid (and somewhat steep) learning curve but a great increase of knowledge at a high rate. This allows development of “low cost options” for plant design, and thus reduced expenses as construction quickly reaches NOAK (Nth Of A Kind) status with many plants planned/ordered/building/operating. (Past ANS President Dave Rossin rose at another point in the meeting, questioning the wisdom of using the phrase “low cost option” with nuclear, which he claimed in the past has led to “lousy designs”—one of the humorous points of the meeting for some.)

FERMI2AND3plan

Amir Shahkarami, chief executive officer of Exelon Nuclear Partners and senior vice president of Exelon Generation, noted that during the heyday of nuclear plant construction, on average one new nuclear plant went on line about every 17 days, and that if the nuclear builds planned for the next several decades are realized, this rate will rise from the current low figure to once every 5 days by 2035.

Shahkarami predicted that “some of the larger nuclear fleets will merge,” and that owners of single units will “have a hard ride.” He said that more of these owners will sign operating and service contracts with large fleet operators, as happened with Fort Calhoun.

Other speakers gave points of view on the United Arab Emirates’ new regulatory body, construction challenges in China and in South Korea, and the new AP1000 builds; Sandy Rupprecht of Westinghouse noted that while there are eight AP1000 plants under construction right now (four in the United States and four in China), his company is expecting orders very soon for eight more in China, and has “about 20 more units under discussion.” The challenges of new nuclear financing and construction were fairly well laid out, and innovative financing arrangements (which may include such options as the vendor building, owning, and operating plants entirely for customers, or turning the plant over after a period of such operation, or other such concepts) were set up as perhaps the biggest key element that will continue the spread of nuclear plants outside of countries where the state heavily finances nuclear energy.

Perhaps a statement during the morning’s Opening Plenary summed it up best: Westinghouse’s Daniel Roderick said that his company “would certainly like to win the bid for every plant we can, but if we don’t, we still want to play in the game”— meaning that his company is left to manufacture such things as digital I&C equipment, as it’s doing for the South Korean–built plants in the UAE. Unless U.S. companies can provide innovative financing, as does ROSATOM in Russia, they may be left with a few large plant orders and some scraps.

•Illustrations:  Top, prospective North Anna Unit 3 in artist’s rendering.  Bottom, prospective Fermi Unit 3 in artist’s rendering.

ANS Position Statement on the Need for Near Term Deployment of Nuclear Power Plants

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WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he will serve on the ANS Public Information Committee 2013-2016.  In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, is on the Board of Directors of PopAtomic Studios, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.  He’s also an avid typewriter collector in his spare time.

Kewaunee: What does the future hold?

By Will Davis

kewaunee 200x92Shortly after 11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 7, 2013, the operators at Dominion Resources’ Kewaunee nuclear power plant opened its output breaker, disconnecting the turbine generator from the grid for the last time after just under 40 years of operation. Shutdown of the reactor followed, and the plant entered what for some is an uncertain (even if pre-ordained) future—a long-term storage period, followed eventually after many years by the complete dismantling and removal of the plant.

Prior to the shutdown, Dominion had announced its decision to change the plant’s status (after the shutdown) to what is called SAFSTOR, which, just as it sounds, implies “Safe Storage.” The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s official definition of SAFSTOR reads as follows: “A method of decommissioning in which a nuclear facility is placed and maintained in a condition that allows the facility to be safely stored and subsequently decontaminated (deferred decontamination) to levels that permit release for unrestricted use.” This definition implies that a long period of time will be allowed to elapse before serious and heavy dismantling and removal of key plant components is performed, and before the many site structures are completely demolished and removed.

While the intensity of radiation around the immediate vicinity of the reactor and steam generators is slight compared with when the plant was in operation (and those areas unoccupied), it is not insignificant. The time period between the final reactor shutdown and the beginning of the disassembly of the ‘heart’ of the plant will help in a major way to reduce the radiation exposure of the people who will be required to perform the work—not a small consideration, even in a relatively small nuclear station such as Kewaunee.

Briefly, in disposing of a shut down nuclear plant, there are three options: Decommissioning immediately, which means relatively quickly launching into demolition; SAFSTOR, as described above; and ENTOMB, wherein a plant and some of its components are sealed and abandoned in place for a long period of time or permanently. (Piqua and the Hallam Nuclear Power Facility are two examples of former commercial nuclear stations in this status.)

Dominion has, under federal law, 60 years to complete the entire complicated and expensive decommissioning process, which will see the nuclear plant site returned to “green field” status (releasable for any use) with the exception of a dry cask type spent fuel storage facility. According to Dominion’s latest 10-K filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, decommissioning cost overall will total $680 million; the decommissioning fund presently has roughly $578 million, with the rest expected to be made up by future earnings. Dominion took a $281 million after-tax charge in the third quarter of 2012 as a result of deciding to decommission Kewaunee.

SAFSTOR

Kewaunee is not by any means the only nuclear plant that will be in, or has been in, the SAFSTOR condition. There are a number of other plants that were placed in this condition either to prevent disruption of the operation of other plants on the same site and/or take advantage of economies of decommissioning multiple reactors at once (Dresden Unit 1, Peach Bottom Unit 1, and Millstone Unit 1 all fit in this category, since they are in SAFSTOR and occupy sites that in all cases contain two other operating nuclear plants.) Other plants, such as Dairyland Power Co-Op Genoa No. 2, which was much more commonly known by its Atomic Energy Commission title as the Lacrosse Boiling Water Reactor, was in a state of modified SAFSTOR for many years as most of the heavy work was deferred while some limited disassembly went on in irregular phases.

In the case of Kewaunee, Dominion will relatively soon (in the next months) remove the fuel from the reactor and move it to the spent fuel pool. Dominion will notify the NRC within 30 days, in writing, that it has shut down the reactor for good; after the reactor has been defueled, Dominion will again notify the NRC, which will issue a license amendment rendering the plant “possession only” in regulatory status, wherein Dominion cannot fuel, much less operate, the reactor.

A Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report (PSDAR) will be submitted to the NRC by Dominion within two years, which lays out expected procedures, timelines, and costs. Ninety days after the NRC receives this report, the plant owner could conceivably begin heavy demolition and component removal if the disposal choice were immediate decommissioning. However, in the case of Kewaunee, the plant will remain in a monitored state, with (very likely) some component removal taking place slowly.

A Dominion spokesman told Platts that the expectations are that Kewaunee’s spent fuel pool contents will be moved entirely to dry cask storage on site by 2020. Much later, in June 2069, heavy dismantling of the plant will begin with completion expected in August 2072.

Decommission

The difficult work will begin when Dominion finally commences the physical dismantling of the plant. Many readers may not be aware that a number of large (and small) nuclear power plants have been not only shut down, but completely demolished and removed. The challenges encountered at each included both expected and unique problems; the work is complex and time consuming, but is proven to be able to release a site completely for other use. A few examples are in order:

Big Rock Point containment under demolition; courtesy Consumers Power

Big Rock Point containment under demolition. (Consumers Power)

Big Rock Point: This plant (designated by the American Nuclear Society in 1991 as a Nuclear Historic Landmark) was an early General Electric boiling water reactor plant in a remote area of Michigan. The plant operated successfully from 1965 through 1997. Over the next nine years, Consumers Power completed major site surveys and engaged in the complete demolition of the plant. Heavy components such as the reactor vessel were shipped to South Carolina for burial. Thirty-two million pounds of concrete were removed; 53 million pounds of material labeled as low-level radioactive waste were transferred to storage facilities in other states.  Fifty-nine million more pounds of clean (uncontaminated) building materials were transported to landfills and buried. The entire 560-acre site was returned to “green field” or a natural state in August 2006, except for the independent spent fuel storage facility.

Connecticut Yankee: This plant, when shut down in 1996 after 28 years of operation, was designated for immediate decommissioning with no SAFSTOR period. The project to return the site (except for spent fuel storage) to green field took place over the period 1998–2007, and 525 acres of natural terrain were the result. Small sections of the property have begun to be turned over to other owners, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Yankee Rowe site as it appears today; courtesy Yankee Atomic Electric

Yankee Rowe site as it appears today. (Yankee Atomic Electric)

Yankee Atomic Electric: The nuclear plant constructed by this company was among the very earliest commercial power stations, yet operated for 30 years. After final shutdown in 1992, the plant began decommissioning the next year. From the official website of the plant: “Since the start of physical decommissioning in 1993, more than 21 miles of piping and tubing, 1071 valves, 8569 pipe hangers, 321 pumps, and 33 miles of conduit and cable tray have been removed. In addition, six large components weighing a total of more than 500 tons were also removed. Some of the material, including the large components, was sent to the Barnwell, S.C. low-level radioactive waste disposal facility for permanent disposal. Some of the metal was sent to a processing facility in Tennessee.” Over 1700 acres have been released by the NRC and are being considered for future use in a scenic, natural environment.

Component and structural removal

Eventually, the most solidly constructed components of Kewaunee will have to be removed; these are the reactor building and the components inside of it. Projects in the past have encountered special problems and considerations in this type of work, but enough ground has been laid in past years to provide ample experience in this project. Here are some interesting reactor plant related project links:

The International Atomic Energy Agency hosts an excellent presentation by Bluegrass on the processes used to remove the reactor vessel at the long-SAFSTOR but now decommissioning Lacrosse BWR in Wisconsin; see it here. Particular problems were encountered with very small clearances around the reactor vessel, especially at its lower head.

Saxton decommissioning; courtesy GTS Technologies

Saxton decommissioning; courtesy GTS Technologies

GTS Technologies has an impressive set of web pages showing the work it did to remove the reactor containment building at the former Saxton nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania.

The final result—in 60 years

Kewaunee employees right now aren’t thinking about whether or not someone will, eight or nine decades from now, be having a picnic or plowing a field on the spot where the plant’s turbine building once stood. They’re worried about where they’ll find work—Reuters has reported that 200 of the 630 workers will be laid off at the end of May, 100 more in another month. By the middle of 2014, the plant will have just under 300 permanent workers on site; this number will remain (along with outside contractors) for the duration of the procedures. Dominion has not yet announced whether or not it intends to contract some or all of the work to an outside company such as EnergySolutions, whose ZionSolutions unit is presently decommissioning Zion Nuclear Station.

Long after the memories of the stress of the workers’ movement and breakup of the Kewaunee Station’s family is over, it’s the intent that the plant site will be returned to as completely natural a state as is possible. As we’ve seen, even though this work will provide many challenging days ahead, it’s not only possible but proven—and perhaps, if we’re lucky, some entity will erect a sign at the site to tell future generations that a complete nuclear power station was built and operated here for many years, and then completely removed. It will be proper if a sign is needed in order to be able to tell.

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(For more information on the nuclear plant decommissioning process, you can read the NRC’s excellent pages on the topic by clicking here. In addition, other sites that have decommissioned include Maine Yankee, Rancho Seco, and Trojan. Part of the former Rancho Seco nuclear plant site is now the Rancho Seco Recreational Area.)

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WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; he will serve on the ANS Public Information Committee 2013-2016.  In addition to this, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and also writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

The Hook-Ons

by Will Davis

This week’s announcement by Babcock & Wilcox that it had signed the long-awaited funding agreement with the Department of Energy has been taken by advocates of small modular reactors (SMRs) as just the latest good news on the inevitable path to construction of at least one prototype nuclear plant using SMR reactor technology in the United States. It is widely hoped that this is the harbinger of the rapid spread of the market for SMR plants.

The chief advantage of SMRs other than cost reduction over large 1000–1600 MWe nuclear plants is that they can be located practically anywhere (assuming proper geologic characteristics and supply of cooling), since a primary design feature is that the major components of the reactor plant itself are to be easy to ship (i.e., by large truck over existing highways). This design asset potentially opens up locations previously considered unworkable (for large plants, with their enormous reactor vessels and other equipment that needs to be shipped intact to site) and may, in some cases, allow siting of SMR-driven power plants nearer to populated areas in order to take advantage of benefits to the grid (by siting source nearer to use) and even, if some have their way, to supply steam for process use to facilities already in existence or built new.

These concepts—siting closer to communities than with large commercial plants, and supply of steam for existing facilities—are, in fact, not new. In the early days of nuclear energy, a number of nuclear plants were built in order to supply steam to facilities already in use. In the cases of these early reactors, the facilities were all commercial electric power stations; the group of reactors came very loosely to be known as “hook-on” reactors. The concept of expanding the use of nuclear energy in such a way was actively pushed by the Atomic Energy Commission; three of the four plants we’re about to explore were (at least partly) funded under the AEC Power Demonstration Reactor Program.

ElkRiverPostCard04

Elk River  (Minnesota)

The Elk River Reactor, widely heralded as “Rural America’s First Atomic Power Plant,” was originally contracted to ACF Industries in 1959 for construction behind the Rural Co-Operative Power Association’s Elk River coal-fired plant (seen at far left in the above post card photo.) The reactor plant was a novel natural circulation, indirect cycle boiling water reactor that, while not fitting the modern definition of “small, modular” of today’s SMRs, did have a reactor vessel small enough to be shipped to the site on the smallest standard railroad flat car of the time (said cars measured 40 feet in length overall.) The 58-MWt reactor produced saturated steam at 922 psig and 536 °F, but the existing turbines in the plant required superheated steam. Construction of a coal-fired superheater interposed between the reactor plant and the power plant adjusted the steam conditions to 612 psig but 825 °F; of the total 22 MWe of generating capacity credited this installation, 7 MW was provided by the superheater.

The plant suffered teething pains that, today, seem not too surprising given the facts that the original reactor vendor was small, and that it was actually bought out by Allis-Chalmers while construction of the Elk River Reactor was in progress. Fuel element defects and reactor pressure vessel cladding cracks contributed (among other things) to delays in the start up of the plant, which did not achieve commercial operation until mid-1965, but after which operated with a very fair degree of reliability.

Eventually, further leakage from welds in the primary coolant system caused investigation into the overall condition of all welds in that system in 1968, and the determination was made that major rework would be required to fix the problems—a problem that looked all the worse given that Allis-Chalmers had decided to exit the nuclear power business in 1966. After considerable debate about what to do with the reactor plant (which was still technically AEC owned), the decision was made in March 1971 to decommission the reactor plant and completely remove it from the site. Below, a March 1971 UPI telephoto showing the plant as it looked at the time that the decommissioning decision was made.

ElkRiverUPITelephotoMarch1971

Piqua  (Ohio)

The Piqua Nuclear Power Facility (PNPF) was built in the early 1960s in the town of Piqua, Ohio, as a part of the second round of the AEC Power Demonstration Reactor Program. The reactor was unique among the world’s commercial power reactors in being an organic-cooled and -moderated design. A commercial terphenyl preparation (marketed widely as Santowax-OMP by Monsanto) was used for this plant that, because of the low pressure of the primary, originally was designed without any containment whatsoever. The Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, however, ordered that a containment be built. The reactor plant was built just across and down the river from the original Piqua municipal generating station, and supplied steam to it at 450 psia and 550 ºF through underground piping and a new bridge structure over the river. The reactor was rated 46 MWt, and the electric generating capacity credited to it was 11.4 MWe.

PiquaApril66

The Piqua Nuclear Power Facility is seen on the right, which is the east side of the Miami River; the municipal power plant is on the West side, just upstream.

PNPF began operation in 1963 and operated with occasional problems largely due to coolant breakdown until 1968 when a serious blockage occurred. The decision was made by the city of Piqua not to take over ownership of the plant, and it entered procedures to shut down and decommission immediately. The disposal method (after defueling) was selected by the AEC was SAFSTOR, in which the plant is left in place to allow decay of radioactivity at the same time guaranteeing no impact to the surroundings. The containment and support buildings are still clearly visible in Piqua to this day.

CVTR (South Carolina)

The Carolinas-Virginia Tube Reactor was built adjacent to an existing coal-fired plant (and hydroelectric dam facility) at Parr, South Carolina, under the third round of the AEC Power Demonstration Reactor Program in order to test out the pressure tube reactor concept. This plant was widely reported and heralded in the early 1960s as “The Southeast’s First Atomic Power Plant.” Westinghouse provided the 65-MWt pressurized (tube type) heavy water cooled and moderated reactor; Stone and Webster acted as architect-engineer. The plant (like Elk River, but unlike Piqua) required external superheating; of the rated electrical 17 MWe, 1.7 MWe was contributed by the superheater. The reactor and superheater provided steam at 415 psia and 725 ºF to the old powerhouse near by.

Carolinas-Virginia Nuclear Power Associates owned this plant; this organization was comprised of Duke Power Company, Carolina Power & Light Company, South Carolina Electric & Gas Company, and Virginia Electric and Power Company (the latter often referred to as VEPCO).

Below, a spectacular original pencil rendering of the CVTR plant facility, including the powerhouse and environs, from my collection. The drawing’s labeling is clear when blown up; it is signed “E.E. Grant 1960.” (Click to enlarge.)

CVTRdrawingFix01

The CVTR started up in 1962, and like the other plants we’ve shown so far, had a very short operating life (five years,) shutting down for good in 1967. The reactor was in SAFSTOR condition for many years, but in much more recent times has completely been decommissioned and removed, and today there is very little sign that the plant was ever there. Of course, the site of the former Parr generating station and the adjacent CVTR installation is quite near the Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station, which today is seeing construction of two Westinghouse AP1000 plants—so that the area of “The Southeast’s First Atomic Power Plant” is again at the cutting edge of nuclear energy’s advance.

Saxton (Pennsylvania)

A fourth early reactor actually is one that contributed the least to commercial power generation of those we’re visiting here, and is also that which is most commonly found in the literature to have the appellation “hook on”.

The Saxton Generating Station was selected to host construction of a nuclear reactor whose primary purpose was developmental testing of fuels, and which was to be officially known as the Saxton Experimental Nuclear Reactor. Owner of the reactor was Saxton Nuclear Experimental Corporation, a non-profit entity formed by Pennsylvania Electric Company, Metropolitan Edison Company, New Jersey Power and Light Company, and Jersey Central Power and Light Company—all of which were subsidiary companies of GPU or the General Public Utilities System. The diminutive pressurized water reactor, rated originally 20 MWt, had only a single loop (and thus one coolant pump and one steam generator) and provided steam to the center of Saxton Generating Station’s three turbine generators. While the containment was clearly visible beside the coal-fired plant, for safety reasons (considering the surrounding community) the reactor vessel was actually located some 15 feet below grade.

According to the February 1959 Atomic Industrial Forum “Forum Memo” magazine, in which the contract for the reactor was revealed, GPU had actually announced that it was considering a “hook on” at Saxton back in 1957 after terminating an investigation into building a pressurized water reactor in the Philippines (another GPU subsidiary was Manila Electric Company.) At that time, the rating of the Saxton plant was given as a very modest 5000 ekw (which we would now write as 5 MWe), although in point of fact later testing was planned at far above the original rated figures; the turbine to which the reactor piped steam was actually rated nominally at 13 MWe, allowing considerable room for uprating for temporary testing.

In the March 1959 issue of the Forum Memo, Elmer L. Lindseth, president of Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company and chairman of the Edison Electric Institute’s Committee on Atomic Power, was quoted as saying that Westinghouse would build the Saxton reactor plant at a fixed price of $6.25 million. GPU would under the same agreement provide the site, use of the No. 2 turbine, and bear operating and maintenance costs—all of which figured to roughly $2 million. Westinghouse also had exclusive fuel production rights for five years.

With Gilbert Associates serving as architect-engineer, construction of this unique “hook on” began in February 1960 (with AEC Construction Permit CPPR-6.) A provisional operating license was issued in November 1961, and the reactor fueled in early April 1962, with criticality achieved at 1:40 AM on April 13, 1962.  (Below, a view of the Saxton Experimental Nuclear Reactor next to the Saxton Generating Station.)

SaxtonBrochure01

As has been mentioned, this plant was not entirely intended as a commercial power reactor; rather, its focus was the development of technology for further, future reactors. Quoting GPU in a Saxton advertising brochure of the day, “Investor owned utilities, dedicated to serving consumers in all walks of life, have invested $8,500,000 of private funds in the nation’s newest operational nuclear reactor so that ‘unknowns’ can be converted into ‘knowns’ and personnel can acquire valuable operating experience for use in designing and manning larger reactors in the future.”

Among other concepts, Saxton experimented with chemical control of reactivity (“chemical shim,” or use of boron in the primary coolant to control reactivity instead of just control rods) and also conducted extended operations with plutonium fuel (MOX or “Mixed OXide” fuel, containing both natural uranium dioxide and plutonium dioxide) beginning in the mid-late 1960s.

As a result of the nature of the program, it appears in retrospect that the plant spent as much of its life operating as not. From the 1964 AEC Report to Congress: “The Saxton Nuclear Experimental Corp.’s pressurized light water reactor near Altoona, Pa., was returned to power operation on January 30, after having been shut down since the previous November for modifications. The reactor, while producing small amounts of electric power, is primarily used for experiments to determine ways in which more heat energy can be obtained from specified amounts of fuel.” It would thus in hindsight be appropriate to consider that the waste heat from the Saxton reactor was not entirely wasted, if we simply view it as a byproduct of advanced fuels testing, by way of connecting the plant to the Saxton Generating Station.

Saxton was finally shut down in May 1972, and after a prolonged period of decommissioning, there is nothing visible at the site to hint that a power station of any sort once existed there. The entire power plant and reactor facility has been removed down to several feet below grade, and the area has been backfilled.

In closing, it’s interesting to consider the notion that today’s concept of placing lower output, transportable nuclear reactors at a now-expanded range of possible locations actually had a roughly correlative precedent early in the construction of nuclear power stations in this country. In the siting of plants nearer to populated areas, and in the use of small plants on grids that could not handle extremely large single generating sources, the early experience was perhaps a herald of things to come, even if it did take another roughly half century and the development of truly integrated, truck transportable, and inherently safe SMRs in order to realize the dream held up for these early small plants. The wide design disparity and newness of the technology associated with these early plants seemed to hint at troubles, which surely were encountered, but today nuclear technology is a half century further down the road so that the question of operability is quite far removed from consideration. As it turns out, everything old is new again—but today, with far better promise of success.

(All illustrations – Will Davis collection. Please do not reproduce without permission.)

(“Atomic Industrial Forum” was a trade group formed in 1953; it is a lineal predecessor of today’s Nuclear Energy Institute.)

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WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society. In addition to this, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and also writes his own blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

Inherent and engineered safety: Did Weinberg predict today’s reactors a quarter century ago?

By Will Davis

Following the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident on March 28, 1979, it seemed to many as if a slowing nuclear energy industry in the United States had been dealt a death blow. It had not, but the public’s confidence was shaken, and this blow to public opinion built upon a decade’s worth of intensive, focused anti-nuclear effort on the part of a number of large well-funded special interest groups.

Weinberg

Weinberg

Once the causes of the TMI accident were well understood, the task was taken up to predict what would be desirable for increased public support for new reactor construction. Alvin M. Weinberg headed a group that performed such a study under a 1981 request by the Institute for Energy Analysis; the published result was the book The Second Nuclear Era—A New Start for Nuclear Power (1985).

The conclusions reached were numerous in terms of specific recommendations, and the determination as to reactor technology was clear: Contemporary light water reactor (LWR) plants at the time, given their previous safety record, were acceptable to the public—and future designs should be improved and be either inherently or passively safe, certainly in terms of cooling, and perhaps even in terms of shutdown. The group believed that the future of nuclear energy in the United States would initially be based on proven technologies, either already in wide use (LWR plants, specifically pressurized water reactors/PWRs), or already developed to the point of commercial application (high temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) plants, such as Peach Bottom-1 and Fort St. Vrain.)

Contemporary designs (1980s) and development

The earliest nuclear reactor plants were designed with basic water injection systems intended mostly to handle “makeup”—because of the early emphasis in design basis accident analysis for rapid-loss-of-coolant accidents, most had some way to rapidly make up water should a large primary coolant pipe break. This essentially covers most designs through the mid-1960s.

In the middle of 1966, ongoing work by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, in the processing of applications for comparatively very large reactor plants, began to “force the issue” of increased emergency core cooling systems (ECCS) to the forefront of discussion. The radioactive release possible with larger cores had not been considered in previous standardized siting criteria, or accident analysis. Dr. William E. Ergen was appointed by the AEC’s director of regulation to form a task force to study this problem; the major result was the determination that a relatively much larger, newer core, if uncooled, could cause melt-through of the reactor vessel (because larger power output plants did not have proportionately larger total area for heat dissipation, without added forced dynamic cooling; whereas earlier reactor cores could survive being uncooled.)

Indian Point 1

Indian Point-1

The Ergen Report made it clear that greatly enhanced ECCS capability would be needed to continue to prove safety, and AEC ordered that plants had to fit or backfit new, higher-capacity equipment meeting revised ECCS requirements by 1974. Plants that were unable to comply had to be shut down; Indian Point-1 shut down permanently in 1974 for this reason.

This improvement in ECCS focus led indirectly to the ability to build nuclear plants in locations previously not considered possible by then-used siting criteria. A letter from the ACRS to the chairman of the AEC in 1964, when early consideration of improved safeguards was underway, stated in part:

“It is the opinion of the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards that the including of properly engineered safeguards in reactor plants can permit the reduction of distances required for protection of the public and that engineered safeguards of selected type should make feasible the siting of power reactors at many locations not otherwise considered as suitable.”

Post-TMI:  Cancellations and public opinion

The causes of the TMI accident were many, varied, and in many ways intertwined. The complexity of the problems facing the industry became clearer as months of reviews and rulemaking dragged into years, and many nuclear plants under construction began to experience incredible delays—first, when all licensing was held up; and then, when plant owners and operators attempted to determine how to backfit or modify existing designs to bring new, but not-yet-started, reactors up to the present specification (which was itself a moving target). For example, in 1983, Detroit Edison stated that costs for its yet-to-start Fermi-2 had skyrocketed due to, among other things, $138 million in TMI-related backfits and modifications.

earth day 1970 150x150The effect of TMI on public opinion is commonly stated today in the press as something of a “death blow,” but this is inaccurate. First, public opinion about nuclear energy was starting to move since about 1970, with the first Earth Day and the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (which later would be used to force nuclear plants to consider environmental impact as a stand-alone topic, which was not done originally). According to a compilation of public opinion research and analysis entitled Public Opinion and Nuclear Energy (1983), public opinion in the United States was already shifting in the mid-1970s away from mostly supporting nuclear power, and public beliefs about reactor safety “changed somewhat from 1975 through 1980.” Public opinion was beginning to change before TMI happened.

Also, public discourse over cost, delays, and cancellations of nuclear plants was increasing. Over 30 nuclear plants had been cancelled, and a number of plants under construction had been pushed back, prior to TMI. This trend increased after TMI.

However, according to this study, opinions on nuclear energy in the United States still did not swing wholly anti-nuclear by any means as a result of the TMI accident. In this study’s summary of post-TMI surveys, it is concluded that

“Although a majority of the general public and most leadership groups believed that there is no guarantee against a catastrophic nuclear accident and that fundamental regulatory changes are necessary to keep risks within tolerable limits, a majority of the public and leadership groups favored the continued use and expansion of nuclear power.”

Weinberg and the direction to a second nuclear era

We have covered a “snapshot” of the development of the nuclear industry in terms of safety engineering (by no means complete; a detailed study would require a career or two) and a “snapshot” of public opinion when Weinberg and his group were tasked to imagine a “way out” for the nuclear industry and nuclear power. As it turns out, Weinberg’s general predictions (detailed earlier) were exactly correct; however, a shortcoming in the study’s conclusion was a dependence on either wholly new plant designs or the use of already-sidelined designs in pursuit of the stated goals.

pius 150x181

PIUS – click to enlarge

Weinberg and his cohorts did in fact admit that contemporary LWR designs (Westinghouse SNUPPS/Sizewell B, GE ABWR, Combustion Engineering System 80) were safe enough for public acceptance, but stressed a look forward to two other designs—the Process Inherent Ultimate Safety (PIUS) reactor, and a form of HTGR. The PIUS was a radically different type of light-water-cooled reactor, developed conceptually by ASEA-ATOM (Sweden), that used a gigantic prestressed concrete vessel, no control rods (reactivity control by boron and temperature only), and was said to have a “hands off” time of  one week, in which no operator action was required after any potentially damaging failure. The core would remain covered and cooled at all times in this unusual, and never-built, design. The other design that Weinberg’s team selected was a General Atomics HTGR, helium cooled and graphite moderated, with inherent safety features and guaranteed core cooling capability by virtue of basic design—also never built.

What is significant about the selected designs is their “walk away” capability, wherein no operator action was required after potentially damaging incidents (such as loss of all electrical power.) Weinberg was essentially correct in believing that this would be required to gain public acceptance on a wide scale; what he did not envision was a way to mate existing, developed reactor plant design (hardware) with his vision of inherent or “walk away” safety to arrive at a workable, licenseable, affordable, and realistic nuclear power plant. The industry had already, by that time, become wary of any design that was not a light-water-cooled reactor, either PWR or BWR, and the post-TMI licensing logjam practically guaranteed that no radically new design would be licensed in any realistic or desirable time frame (and a reduction in estimated electricity demand guaranteed that no utility would try.)

The future from the past—AP600 to AP1000

In 1992, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) conducted a study that, among other things, developed a list of promising reactor designs for future application. While the PIUS and another gas-cooled reactor still figured in the NAS report, the bulk of the recommended designs were LWR plants grouped into two categories—”Large evolutionary LWR” plants such as the ABB- Combustion System 80, the GE ABWR, and the Westinghouse APWR (later to become the Mitsubishi APWR and eventually the US-APWR designs) and also, interestingly, “Mid-size passive LWRs” which included a GE SBWR or “Simplified Boiling Water Reactor,” and a Westinghouse design known as the AP600, for “Advanced Passive 600.”

The AP600 design was originally developed with support from the US Department of Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute as a simpler, less complicated, and less expensive proposition than large commercial nuclear stations with net outputs over 1000 MWe. At the time the AP600 was conceived, modular construction was incorporated in the design (as it is with today’s familiar AP1000) and the innovative passive cooling features seen in today’s AP1000 were also incorporated—including the core makeup tanks, accumulators, and the IRWST or in-containment refueling water storage tank. After exhaustive review, the AP600 was given design certification by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in December, 1999.

The AP600 was not large enough to attract utilities in the United States, but a much larger 1000-MWe direct descendant—the AP1000—was; Westinghouse filed an application for design certification for this large, advanced passive-cooling plant in 2002, and the design was certified in December 2011.

©2013 Westinghouse Electric Company LLC.  All right reserved.  Image reproduced with Westinghouse’s permission.

Westinghouse AP1000
©2013 Westinghouse Electric Company LLC. All rights reserved. Image reproduced with Westinghouse permission.

In the requirements for passive safety—ECCS requirements that didn’t involve large offsite or onsite AC power supply, and didn’t require operator action—Weinberg, et al. were fully correct in their conception of what a continuous drive for safety, and thus public acceptance, demanded. Public misinformation about nuclear energy had so badly eroded realistic perceptions that, after TMI, many in the public actually believed that nuclear reactors could explode like nuclear weapons—which drove home the need for both a major shift in public perception and a major push in the industry for truly passive, and truly credible, core safety.

Weinberg and his team, however, did not anticipate that developments originally intended for intermediate-sized, less expensive plants for remote siting would be successfully applied to commercial (1000 MWe+) sized plants, giving both the safety required and the necessary dependence on the rugged engineering of decades of previous LWR experience. The selection of the recommended PIUS design, for example, was made in part because it could build on previous LWR experience; the text is quoted as saying “since PIUS is a modified PWR, much technology already in commercial use could be applied.”

What really happened was that passive features were eventually applied external to the core, and external to the containment, which along with rugged (and in some ways traditional) construction of the primary plant worked together to assure safety. There was no need for a radical departure at highest possible speed from most or all of conventional LWR technology; the best (and the ultimate) solution was to apply passive cooling principles to developed PWR design—a vision targeted not specifically by Weinberg and his team, but targeted perfectly in effect.

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bodansky, D.; Nuclear Energy – Principles, Practices and Prospects. New York.  Springer-Verlag 1986.

Detroit Edison Company; A History of Enrico Fermi Atomic Power Plant Unit 2. August 1983.

Nealey, S. M.; Melber, B. D.; Rankin, W. L.; Public Opinion and Nuclear Energy. Lexington, Mass. D. C. Heath and Company 1983.

US Atomic Energy Commission—WASH 1082, Civilian Nuclear Power—Current Status & Future Technical & Economic Potential of Light Water Reactors. March 1968.

US Atomic Energy Commission—WASH 1250, The Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors (Light Water-Cooled) and Related Facilities. July 1973.

Weinberg, A. M.; Spiewak, I.; Barkenbus, J. N.; Livingston, R. S.; Phung, Doan L.; The Second Nuclear Era—A New Start for Nuclear Power. New York. Praeger Publishers 1985.

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WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society. In addition to this, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and also writes his own blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

San Onofre debate now more public – and more technical

By Will Davis

The debate over the continuing investigations into steam generator U-tube problems at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) last week entered a new phase of heightened publicity and public scrutiny as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) released Mitsubishi documents which detailed that company’s investigations into the root causes of the problems.

Friday, March 8, saw the release of a pair of documents which had been redacted by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) (redaction here means that sensitive corporate information that competitors could use to advantage had been removed).  This followed the revelation within the previous weeks that an original of this document had somehow fallen into the hands of US Senator Barbara Boxer and US Representative Ed Markey, who then touted the documents as a “smoking gun” showing that plant operator Southern California Edison (SCE) had deliberately installed steam generators already known to be bad.  Allegations circulating the internet pointed to a “flawed design by Southern California Edison” and revealed a lack of clarity in the design process for such equipment.  SCE quickly and strongly responded to the allegations.

Allegations in this matter made by Friends of the Earth (FOE) turned out to be, in fact, complete falsehoods.  So it might be best to examine some of the facts surrounding this case and, as one recent San Diego Union Tribune op-ed piece hinted, “let the experts figure it out.”

RSGs and the Process of Replacement

RSG stands for “Replacement Steam Generator,” and the mystery in the public eye surrounding this process seems only to be growing.

In 2004, the owners of SONGS signed a contract with Mitsubishi to build four RSG’s for the two reactor plants on site.  The San Onofre nuclear plants were originally built by Combustion Engineering (CE), which was merged out of existence some years back (Westinghouse is now essentially the lineal descendant).  SCE chose to contract with Mitsubishi, which had been manufacturing steam generators of various types since 1970, to fabricate steam generators for the plants.

In this process, SCE provided to Mitsubishi a set of specifications—design standards to which the equipment had to adhere—for the steam generators.  The specifications address not just size and weight, but a number of more involved details, such as desired materials.  Mitsubishi then began work on a custom design for these plants based on the specifications.  Mitsubishi used as a reference design steam generators it had built as RSGs for Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station—also a Combustion Engineering plant, but smaller than San Onofre.  A typical steam generator from a CE plant is seen below.

In the original conception of pressurized water reactor plants, the replacement of steam generators was not intended.  In these old designs, however, deficiencies became apparent after some time in operation (which varied widely depending on the plant and particular design), so replacement of these massive pieces of equipment had to be considered.  In some cases, such as Trojan Nuclear Power Plant in Oregon, replacement was required, but instead the plant shut down permanently and was dismantled when the cost structure and public opinion went against them.  This example has not been the norm; and in fact many plants have replaced steam generators.

The original reactor vendors are not using the same facilities or contracts they did when the plants were newly built. The downsizing of the nuclear manufacturing complex after a new construction sales dropoff in the late 1970s led toward an almost wholesale outsourcing of RSG construction today. For example, since Westinghouse ended fabricating RSGs in the USA, it has used ENSA (Spain), Ansaldo (Italy) and Doosan (South Korea) as subcontractors for RSGs, while other RSGs have been supplied to US utilities by AREVA and Mitsubishi. A counter example to this trend is Babcock & Wilcox, which has a contract to replace Davis-Besse’s steam generators this year, as well as a contract for OEM replacements at TVA’s uncompleted Bellefonte units.

In the earliest steam generator replacements, only parts of the steam generators were replaced, but eventually entire units began to be fabricated.  Eventually, as with any technology, improvements were made in design, and RSGs began to be fabricated with the same new, improved materials—such as Inconel-690 tubes—and techniques that were being employed in steam generators being fabricated for entirely brand-new reactor plants.  Replacing steam generators gave operators an opportunity to incorporate both better materials and better designs; the possibility of uprating could also be realized if more heat transfer area were available in the RSGs.   The NRC, recognizing the need to ensure safety with this as with every other practice in the industry, requires that replacement steam generators comply with a strict code that dictates what can, and cannot, be changed—and requires license amendments be applied for and approved when needed.

The above process, as described, is fully what occurred at San Onofre:  SCE provided specifications to MHI, which then completed detailed design and fabrication of the steam generators.

Design Problems

In October 2012, after discovery of the issues leading to San Onofre’s RSG failure, MHI revealed it had made errors in computer analysis of the steam generator design.  An SCE release provided to this author last October contains the following statement:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) determined that computer modeling used during the design phase by the manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, underpredicted 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.

As we are now aware, this is only a part of the story. The phenomenon behind the vibration is called Fluid Elastic Instability (FEI). The real problem that allowed FEI to cause vibration serious enough to wear through tubes has to do much more with fundamental design assumptions and then, later, actual fabrication.

Reading of the linked MHI documents reveals clearly that the problem is partly theoretical, partly physical.  On the one hand, an assumption in force in steam generator design industry-wide has held that “if out of plane FEI is prevented by design, in-plane FEI can not occur.”  This has been proven wrong—at least in the San Onofre steam generators—although it must be stated clearly that this event at San Onofre is the first confirmed occurrence of in-plane FEI known in the industry.

We also see in the report (again, quite clearly) that the design of the Anti-Vibration Bars, which restrain the U-tubes, was slightly modified—and was thought to be improved—in Unit 3.  What actually happened was that making the parts to finer (closer) tolerances reduced their contact force—and thus their ability to restrain the U-tubes—and helped lead to the motion-related impact wear.

Public Relations, and Events Outside Regulatory Action

As might be expected, continuous attention is given this situation by the NRC, which has held numerous meetings, inspections, and public hearings on this issue.  The NRC is tasked with ensuring that the plant is safely operated and that it meets all technical requirements. The NRC certainly appears to be solidly on the job, given the sheer number of Requests for Additional Information (RAIs) that it has issued.

Politics has also become an integral part of this story.  Senator Boxer sent a letter to the NRC stating that she had proof that MHI and SCE knew that the equipment was flawed. The letter was issued prior to any release, or public analysis, of the MHI documents.

In her letter, Boxer “calls on the NRC to promptly initiate an investigation” in the midst of what surely must be one of the most deeply technical investigations in NRC history—or in the history of the manufacture of steam generators.  This clearly reveals a lack of perspective on where the MHI report falls in the path between discovery of the issues and development of a resolution.

In response to this ongoing situation, SCE yesterday issued a press release in which Pete Dietrich, SCE Senior VP and Chief Nuclear Officer, states:

The anti-nuclear activists have called the MHI report a ‘bombshell’ which couldn’t be further from the truth …. In fact, the MHI letter explains that SCE and MHI rejected the proposed design changes referenced in the evaluation because those changes were either unnecessary, didn’t achieve objectives or would have adverse safety consequences. 

Our decisions were grounded in our commitment to safety.  SCE did not, and would never install steam generators that it believed would impact public safety or impair reliability.

SCE goes on to state, “The MHI letter specifically confirms that at the time the replacement steam generators were designed, MHI and SCE believed that {excerpt from MHI report} ‘the replacement steam generators had greater margin against U-bend tube vibration and wear than other similar steam generators’.”

In the release, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Scott Peterson adds that claims by anti-nuclear activist group Friends of the Earth (whose anti-nuclear creed is clearly stated on its home web page) are part of a campaign of moving “from plant to plant with the goal of shutting them down.”  Pointing out the cherry-picked statements that both Senator Boxer and FOE are trying to posit as the ‘proof’ of wrongdoing of SCE, Peterson says: Not providing proper context for these statements incorrectly changes the meaning and intent of engineering and industry practices cited in the report, and it misleads the public and policymakers.”

What’s Next?

This author spoke to SCE’s Jennifer Manfre yesterday about where this continuously evolving situation is headed.  SCE would like to test operate Unit 2 at a  70% power limit for five months, followed by another complete RSG inspection, to assess if the calculational determination that FEI will be avoided here is demonstrated in operation.  Manfre stated that this 70% limit is “very conservative—we set a limit for avoiding FEI, and then set a new arbitrary limit below that to ensure safety, as is always our priority.”

NRC has raised some questions regarding the limit and has asked SCE to be able to demonstrate that the plant is actually safe at 100% power during any of this 70% testing which, as Manfre points out, “goes to the technical specifications for the plant.”  Manfre relates that SCE is preparing to submit, shortly, to NRC its Operational Assessment showing that the plant is indeed safe at 70% and also at 100% for this testing, saying “we essentially did both, to satisfy NRC and technical specifications.”

Manfre also clearly pointed out that the role of SCE in the RSG process is essentially that of being a customer with a required set of specifications, to which a detailed design is completed by a vendor (in this case, Mitsubishi).  SCE did take part in some of the design process (for example, the design of the AVBs) but is not responsible for the overall design of the RSGs.  Mitsubishi, who is responsible, has already begun warranty payments to SCE.

When Manfre was asked to speculate as to what a final resolution to this problem might look like—and was offered examples of a new operating license at a lower power rating to avoid FEI, or physical repairs to the steam generators to allow the full presently-rated power rating—she said we’re not even close to that yet; we need to get through this period of testing.” Anyone in the nuclear industry (and, it might be added, many other industries) can relate to the need to conduct operational testing and analysis before selecting final operational fixes to a complicated technical and physical problem which involves public safety.  Boeing’s problems with the 787 Dreamliner battery fire problem comes to mind as a timely parallel—as does the FAA’s handling of the situation.

Quite clearly with the voluntary release of the MHI documents, the process of investigation has unparalleled transparency for this sort of highly technical matter.  In a February 26 SCE press release, Dietrich says that “this question and answer process is an important part of safety-based technical solutions in the nuclear industry, and it strengthens our ability to communicate to stakeholders the safety principles and proven industry operating experience that the Unit 2 restart plan was built upon,” in reference to the open nature of the NRC Request for Additional Information Process. The latest MHI release builds upon this process.

This open process between plant operator and Federal regulator has now been added to—or, depending on point of view, detracted from—by inclusion in the public domain of releases of sections of the MHI documents taken out of context.   Dietrich, from yesterday’s SCE press release:

As with all engineering evaluations, the MHI letter and report describe a technical evaluation process and need to be read in their entirety to understand the conclusions reached …. The activists are taking portions of paragraphs and sentences out of context, and using them as the basis of their allegations that SCE knew of design defects when the generators were installed, but failed to make changes to avoid licensing requirements.  That is untrue.

Manfre also relates that another ‘next step’ will be the impending full cost summation of the entire RSG process to the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The California PUC is under great pressure politically and must demonstrate that all rate impacts are fair and reasonable.  She also points out an upcoming Atomic Safety & Licensing Board hearing covering the scope of the required license amendments.

All of the developing actions and public Federal regulatory hearings can be found on the NRC’s dedicated San Onofre pages.  Developments and press releases from Southern California Edison on this situation can be found on its own dedicated SONGS website.

[Illustrations of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station courtesy Southern California Edison]

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Will Davis is a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society. In addition to this, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and also writes his own blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

 

 

Preparing to restart: Tsunami safety measures at Japanese nuclear power stations

By Will Davis

The approach of the second anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011 finds nuclear energy in Japan at a crossroads. After the quake and resulting tsunami, the nuclear plants in Japan that did not shut down immediately eventually all had to shut down for their required, scheduled outages. Political pressures, for the most part, prevented any near-term chance of any of them restarting, it seemed at the time. When Tomari Unit 3 shut down in May 2012, Japan found itself with not one single operating nuclear power plant for the first time in decades. Since that time, only two nuclear units have restarted—Ohi Units 3 and 4 in July 2012. Other plants, rumored to be “next” to start up, have still not started up, although they may soon. The question that springs to mind is naturally, “When will the majority of the plants be allowed to restart?” The more insightful question, though, is, “What will have to be done in order to allow any plant to restart?” And how can we tell which will start first—is there any clue present now? Yes, there is.

Continued debate rages about the possibility of active faults being located beneath a number of plants—perhaps the most widely discussed being Tsuruga. For the plants experiencing this problem, restart is highly problematic—and highly politically charged. For the informed, it’s also no safe bet.

Other nuclear plants, however, are emerging as the “sure bets” of owner-operators who are pushing massive amounts of time, money, and material into them, preparing for restart whenever the Japanese government and the new Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) allows it. The sheer amount of work being put into two of these is our focus today as we look forward to the time when Japan will return to generating a fair portion of its electric power from nuclear energy.

The photograph above was taken in April 2011 by the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force, and clearly shows the debris and tsunami damage on the sea side of Units 1 through 4 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powers station. This damage—physical derangement of installed equipment, and water inundation of facilities—was the direct cause of the accident. (The tsunami was preceded by a massive earthquake that caused enormous power outages due to transmission line damage and reactor plant shutdowns, but did not lead to unusual events at the plant in and of itself.) This photo makes fairly obvious the damage, but perhaps not as obvious the height of the water to be defended against.

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa

At right, we see Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEOCO) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station. This station has for many years been the largest (highest total output) nuclear station in the world, with seven reactor plants on one site.  TEPCO (also owner of Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini) has been pouring money and material into facilities on and around this site in order to prepare it for certification to start up.

It must be said right off that the most important tsunami defense this plant has is its location; it’s on the opposite coast from Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini, and according to TEPCO the undersea faulting that does exist west of Japan is not thought to be able to generate tsunami at all. Even so, TEPCO has implemented massive works at the site; click on the following link to see a detailed video of the size and scope of the project. (The videos linked in this ANS Nuclear Cafe article are detailed and impressive, and are “must see” to understand the real scope of the efforts being exerted.)

TEPCO Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Tsunami Protection Enhancements

The provision of seawall protection is fully and redundantly backed up by the protection placed around the reactor buildings in TEPCO’s protection scheme; at Units 1 through 4, a large new artificial sea wall defending against even 15-meter tsunami is backed up by protection of the reactor buildings themselves by new added enclosures, also proof against 15 meters of water. All doors on the reactor buildings will be water-tight, and all openings below 15 meters will be shielded with covers to prevent water entry. On the other hand, the three newer units—Units 5, 6, and 7—already sit on higher ground and thus don’t require as high of a new seawall; further, these units were built having no low openings that water may enter through below 15 meters.

Also notable in the video is the installation of fixed structure to allow portable generating and pumping equipment to supply plant cooling needs in case of long-term station blackout (SBO) and even in the event of serious damage to the site. The portable equipment is located at a high elevation near the plant; it includes mobile generating trucks (using gas turbine engines instead of diesel engines), diesel powered skid-mounted fire pumps, fire engines, and mobile units containing water-to-air heat exchangers. According to TEPCO, the SBO/loss of ultimate heat sink survival time for this site after an earthquake and tsunami is said to be 196 days as a result of the additions and enhancements.

Construction of this new protection and provision of the new equipment is proceeding at a rapid pace; it is expected to be completed this year. A further detailed video, also well worth watching, shows more of the construction of the protection and its progress as of the middle of last year.

Tsunami Protection Enhancements at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa:  Progress, June 2012

The Kasiwazaki-Kariwa station has undergone a complete stress test at Units 1 and 7 (which should cover most eventualities at other units, generally), although it seems clear now that the NRA might be inclined to develop further requirements; the final result of NRA’s decision making is due mid-year. For what it is worth, TEPCO believes that the plant is also immune, after the implementation of seismic enhancements, even to very large earthquake accelerations (which is supported by the fact that none of the reports concerning Fukushima Daiichi has so far proven out any of the assertions that the quake itself led to crippling or even problematic system damage.) A TEPCO video covering the stress test can be seen here. The video describes the stress test steps clearly for anyone, even with no knowledge of nuclear energy. It is important to add though that the stress test video portion describing the spent fuel pool “cliff edge” for Unit 1 is actually describing the effect should water overflow the new, outer 15 meter tsunami sea wall and get inside the site.

Overall, the safety measures TEPCO is implementing at this plant are impressive, on a grand scale; comparatively, absolutely nothing of the sort has been done at its other undamaged nuclear power station, Fukushima Daini. This most likely reflects the Fukushima prefectural government’s repeated assertions that no nuclear plant will operate in its territory ever again—dooming the four reactor plants at Fukushima Daini and the two undamaged units (Units 5 and 6) at Fukushima Daiichi. Judging all advance indications (including TEPCO’s investments and the political atmosphere) if any of TEPCO’s nuclear stations would ever restart, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa would be first.

Hamaoka

Whereas it’s reported that TEPCO has spent as much as 70 billion Yen on enhancements at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, Chubu Electric Power Company has spent 100 million yen at its five-reactor Hamaoka nuclear power station, and has increased the estimated total amount required to 140 billion yen. It has also pushed the expected completion of physical construction/equipment acquisition back an entire year from the originally expected date, to July 2013. This nuclear station is located on the same side of the country as Fukushima, but is well to the south.

At right, Hamaoka nuclear power station, courtesy Chubu Electric Power Company. This station has five nuclear reactor plants; Units 1 and 2, nearest the right of the photo, are undergoing decommissioning, while the other three units are expected to operate in the future.

Preparations at Hamaoka, which comprise over 30 different construction projects, mirror those underway at TEPCO’s plant quite closely, through the provision of sea-side protection, backup power generating, and water pumping equipment, and of course all of the training required to implement the new procedures (using new and unfamiliar equipment). As stated by Chubu, the improvements to the site were begun before a full understanding of the experience at Fukushima Daiichi was widely known. The 40-billion-yen increase in cost, to be spread over several years, comes from alterations to the protection plan that were pointed up from real experience at Fukushima. For example, the design of reactor building doors to be fitted at Hamaoka was changed to a swinging design of watertight door to reduce the time required to shut and secure the doors. It has become clear that in emergency and disaster situations, minutes and seconds count.

Chubu Electric has also produced an excellent video (also in English) quite similar to those by TEPCO, showing the enhancements specific to its Hamaoka nuclear power station site. Click here to see it. Chubu offers the public an excellent PDF file report titled “Tsunami Countermeasures at Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station“ on site protection enhancements that is quite minute in detail.

In December 2012, Chubu Electric also announced additional “Severe Accident Countermeasures” to be taken at Hamaoka that are intended to do three things:  prevent an uncontrolled radiological discharge (during an accident), prevent damage to the containment vessels of the reactor plants, and provide increased DC power availability. Specific actions called out included installation of filtered PCV vents, installation of water spray lines in the reactor vessel pedestals (to ensure debris retention), enhanced containment spray (to knock down airborne contamination in event of release inside containment), special cooling for the PCV head (through which it is now believed that hydrogen gas escaped into the reactor buildings at Fukushima Daiichi), provision of upgraded storage batteries, and provision of alternative (and mobile) heat exchanger equipment for core cooling. These are all enhancements directly developed as a result of accident sequence events and site complications known to have occurred during the accident progression at Fukushima Daiichi.

The plans, and the future

Parallels between the TEPCO and Chubu Electric plans are fairly obvious—both are spending large amounts of money on presently shut down nuclear stations of large generating capacity in order to help ensure that they are allowed to restart. When they do, the companies will begin to earn revenue to pay for the disaster enhancements (and, in the case of TEPCO, to pay for many other things, including decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi and, in all probability, eventually Fukushima Daini) and in addition will help restart Japan’s economy. Both companies are relying on a complex mix of physical enhancements to site perimeters, reactor plants, and interconnecting infrastructure (such as new remote wires and pipes). Both are investing heavily in mobile equipment of many types. While the training required to integrate all of this new equipment hasn’t specifically been mentioned, we know that it is exceedingly complicated and will be very time-consuming to get right. Both companies continue to conduct drills on the use of this equipment, with site-wide timed ‘disaster scenarios.’

Another parallel that is important not to miss is that much of what TEPCO and Chubu Electric are doing is quite similar to the FLEX approach backed by the Nuclear Energy Institute and owner-operators in the United States.

One contrast between the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa and Hamaoka projects is that whereas the TEPCO plant, on the west coast, is being given 15m–high tsunami wall protection, Hamaoka, which is on the opposite coast, is being given 18m tsunami protection. This reflects the seismic environment of Japan, which as previously stated is much more likely to experience large tsunami on the eastern coastline of the nation.

It seems likely, given the Japanese public’s new well-publicized suspicion of nuclear energy (and particularly the Japanese government interrelations with the Japanese nuclear industry), that restarting plants in Japan will only come with a solid yet transparent combination of physical site protections, emergency backup plans, solid regulation and enforcement, and divorce of the regulator from industry interests. All of these are underway now, and as we’ve seen, at least two of the utilities owning nuclear plants are heavily investing on a nuclear future for Japan, even if the face it presents is very largely different to that it presented to a pre-Fukushima world.

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Will Davis is a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society. In addition to this, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and also writes his own blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

The Atlantic Generating Station

Recent announcements and news stories about a Russian project to build a floating and essentially portable nuclear power plant have been variously tabbed with the heading “new.” The idea of a floating, mobile nuclear plant (which is not self-propelled and not a ship) is indeed not new—the nuclear barge STURGIS, itself a converted Liberty Ship, served as a power source for the Panama Canal for many years, beginning back in 1967. The new Russian plants bring extra excitement because they are classed, properly, in the now-popular small modular reactor plant category, having been based on true seagoing designs. This, of course, hints at the fact that their output will not approach that of any of the large, conventional nuclear plants familiar today.

For the historian, the question might then come to mind as to what the largest nuclear plants ever seriously considered for construction to such a design were. The answer is very simply this:  Full size, commercial nuclear plants in the normal (>1000 MWe) range common today. While the plants weren’t to have been fully mobile in the same sense, they were to have been barge–mounted and would have remained floating while in operation.

In the late 1960s, Public Service Electric & Gas (New Jersey) began to invest very heavily in nuclear energy. The company bought a major investment in Philadelphia Electric’s Peach Bottom expansion, and also began to order units of its own. In 1966, PSE&G ordered Salem Unit 1, followed in 1967 by Salem Unit 2 (both from Westinghouse);  in 1969, PSE&G awarded a contract to General Electric for its Newbold Island nuclear station (two units), which eventually would be cancelled for siting reasons; however, with that cancellation, simultaneously the project was moved next to Salem to be built as Hope Creek. According to PSE&G literature of the period, because of increasing worry about the thermal effects (waste heat) of nuclear plants, it decided to make its next order for a nuclear plant a bold, radical step; it decided to contract with Westinghouse to construct nuclear plants essentially at sea, in a man-made structure and mounted on floating barges.

The site eventually chosen after some consideration and study was as shown here in an original advertising illustration from a PSE&G brochure on the project. The caption reads: “The proposed offshore site is 2.8 miles out in the ocean, off Little Egg Inlet, and approximately 12 miles north of Atlantic City.” The location chosen kept the nuclear station out of major shipping lanes.

The site itself would have been prepared (with a breakwater surrounding it) including two moored, side-by-side nuclear power plants, separate from each other but identical and which would have been mounted on gigantic rectangular barge structures. According to the PSE&G brochure, “The Atlantic Generating Station,” the construction process would have been as follows:

“The breakwater will be the largest and strongest structure ever built in the ocean. First, concrete caissons will be floated to the site, sunk, and filled with sand and gravel. Next, thousands of tons of rock will be brought by barge to create the artificial reef, within which the plants will be moored. The mound facing of the reef will consist of sand, gravel, and stones topped by an armor of interlocking pre-cast concrete units called ‘dolos.’ A typical large dolos weighs 42 tons and measures 20 by 20 feet. Approximately 70,000 of these dolosse, in various sizes, will be placed on the breakwater.” 

The structure and the plants were designed to survive 43 foot waves, sustained (continuous) hurricane winds of 156 miles per hour and tornado winds of 300 MPH.

Above, cross-section view of the installation as planned. (Our apologies for the slight imperfections in some of the illustrations, which are contained in vintage materials, are not always printed perfectly, and which are often printed across the center staple fold.) Below, an artists’  illustration of the plant, whose official name was in fact the Atlantic Generating Station, from the air.

The two plants that were to become the Atlantic Generating Station (AGS) were first announced in 1971, according to WASH 1174-71, but were not named at that time, nor was a location specified. In September 1972, according to the Atomic Industrial Forum (now the Nuclear Energy Insitute) report “Historical Profile of U.S. Nuclear Power Development,” 1985, the two plants were officially ordered from Westinghouse as Atlantic-1 and -2. (The reactor plants were to have been 1150-MWe four-loop PWRs.) The plants were to have been built at a wholly new dedicated facility in Jacksonville, Florida, as a part of a joint Westinghouse–Tenneco operation known as “Offshore Power Systems.”

PSE&G had printed, in its public relations materials of the time, that it intended to rapidly increase its nuclear generating assets. From a 1976 brochure on Hope Creek: “To prepare for the coming ‘electric economy’ when electricity will play an even greater role in our daily lives, PSE&G is relying on nuclear energy. From now until the end of this century, all new major generating units will be nuclear. It is our intention to phase out our oil and coal burning plants and eventually have approximately 50 percent or more of our electric capacity in the nuclear stations we share with other utilities. This nuclear capacity will provide approximately 75% of our energy needs by 1990.”

To that end, in November, 1973, PSE&G ordered two further nuclear units of the same type as ordered previously as Atlantic-1 and -2. While the AIF document previously mentioned does not give a plant name or site for these, a later Energy Information Administration/Department of Energy document identifies these plants as Atlantic-3 and -4.

The nuclear plants would have been mounted on barges approximately 400 feet square. The draft of the nuclear plant barge structures (that is, the depth to which they extended underwater) would have been roughly 30 feet; the breakwater/reef enclosure would have had a further 10 feet of clearance under the plants for water flow. In an interesting nod toward today’s AP1000 plant and its modular construction, PSE&G said about the AGS units that the shipyard fabrication plan “allows for assembly line production techniques, as well as standardization of design and licensing procedures—which will result in reduced costs and planning lead times.” Heavy underwater cables, instead of high tension towers, would have connected the plants to the grid. A shore base would have been built, to shuttle workers to and from the AGS and to station repair parts, consumables, and any other requirements for the nuclear station several miles out to sea.

Above:  “Artist’s conception depicts how the plant will appear on a clear day to a person standing on the nearest beach.” The illustration is meant to dispel the fears that the plant would be an eyesore.

Of course, we all know today how this overall plan played out. PSE&G did not experience nearly the expected growth in electric power demand that it had predicted. While a 1976 PSE&G brochure on Hope Creek also prominently features the Atlantic Generating Station, a 1977 brochure on Salem does not mention it at all. In 1978, PSE&G cancelled all four units ordered for its offshore nuclear power station program, and the AGS project died immediately. (Work did continue on the other plants mentioned earlier, but not even all of these were finished; work on Hope Creek-2 lagged, and that plant was finally cancelled in 1981, leaving Hope Creek-1 a single unit.)

As we can see, a large amount of challenging engineering and construction would have been required to complete the Atlantic Generating Station. One wonders if such a project could survive today’s regulatory environment—to say nothing of clearing approval by a utility’s ownership when the extra cost of constructing the artificial reef type breakwater and shore-based support infrastructure is considered. The best guess for both right off the bat is “probably not,” meaning that the Atlantic Generating Station was probably the closest we’ll ever get to a full-scale commercial nuclear plant situated well off shore.

Sources of information and illustrations: Various original PSE&G brochures—”The Atlantic Generating Station” (undated), “Hope Creek Generating Station” (8/76), “The Salem Generating Station” (4/77), “PSE&G: Nuclear Energy” (6/85).  Also, “The Nuclear Industry 1971″–WASH 1174-71, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. “Historical Profile of U.S. Nuclear Power Development,” Atomic Industrial Forum 1985. “Nuclear Plant Cancellations:  Causes, Costs and Consequences,” US EIA/DOE 1983.  All materials in Will Davis’ library.

For more on this topic, particularly the plant construction end of the project, see Rod Adams’ article from 1996 on Atomic Insights.

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Will Davis is a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society. In addition to this, Davis is on the Board of Directors of PopAtomic Studios, is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and also writes his own blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

Clinch River Site will once again lead nuclear development

By Will Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

ANS Winter Meeting 2012: Nuclear Technology Expo

The first of a series on people and events at the 2012 American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting

By Will Davis

The evening of November 11 saw the opening of the latest ANS Nuclear Technology Expo, in the spacious convention facility housing the ANS 2012 Winter Meeting at the Town & Country Resort in San Diego, California. The event did not disappoint.

The Expo opened with this evening’s ANS President’s Reception, with food and beverage of a high caliber provided for attendees. The turnout was shoulder to shoulder for much of the floor space in the exhibit area.

Over 50 groups were represented in the Expo; the majority were vendors, while some were regulatory or governmental bodies (the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the International Atomic Energy Agency), national laboratories (Argonne, Idaho National Laboratory) and universities. Every kind of information was available either by brochure or via conversation with attendant representatives. The displays were all quite interesting, with many tailored directly to a very focused audience. One display was appealing to all audiences: a remote grappling arm with sensitivity sufficient to delicately manipulate a very thin-stemmed wine glass.

Vendors represented at the Expo included the large reactor vendor companies including Westinghouse, GE-Hitachi, and Areva, and many other companies whose services are more specialized, including I&C (instrumentation and control),  measurement equipment, and engineering consulting. Remotely-controlled, rugged equipment used for decommissioning of nuclear power plants (in addition to general demolition) was represented as well.

Face to face conversation and networking are among the most valuable aspects of this expo event. I did not have the chance to thank Mimi Holland Limbach for her fine presentation at the ANS Annual Meeting in June that was so enjoyable—tonight gave me the opportunity to discuss and thank her in person. I conversed with many colleagues who I haven’t seen since June—that is, when they were not engrossed in deep conversation with other colleagues.

This author came away with, literally, a bag full of relevant, up-to-date technical material that will serve well in answering future questions asked by readers. And, yes, some really “cool” souvenirs—you’ve got to have something to bring back home for the family!

The Nuclear Technology Expo is open for two more days—this Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, hours are from 11:30 AM to 5:30 PM (opening with an ANS Attendee Luncheon until 1 PM), while on Tuesday the hours are from 10 AM through 2 PM. If you’re here in San Diego attending the Winter Meeting and didn’t have a ticket to tonight’s event, do find time in the next few days to explore the Expo. It’s well worth it.

Remember to follow events on the ANS Twitter account! Look for @ans_org. Tomorrow—the Opening Plenary Session, with live tweets. Hash tag #ANS12.

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Will Davis is a former USN Reactor Operator qualified on S8G and S5W reactor plants; is a writer and social media consultant for ANS; writes for Fuel Cycle Week; and also writes at his own Atomic Power Review blog.

ANS Meeting Preview: Social Media Gathering

WHO:   Anyone with an interest in use of social media

WHAT:   The ANS Social Media Gathering

WHEN:   Wednesday, November 14, 12 noon – 1 pm (PT)

WHERE:   The ANS Media Center, located in Terrace Salon Room 3.


If you would like to learn more about different social media tools and techniques—this is for you.

If you know more than we do about social media and can tell us a thing or two—this is for you.

If you have ideas of how to use Social Media in its myriad forms to help nuclear professionals to communicate more effectively with the outside world—then please attend.

Attendees are welcome to show up with ideas for discussion, questions, or problems.  This is a casual, interactive, interesting and fun session!

Please note that there is no food service available, so please feel free to bring your own lunch.

Let’s try to make this a session we can all walk away from knowing more than when we went in!

Spent Fuel Pool at Oyster Creek

By Will Davis

As the Eastern half of the United States falls under siege by Hurricane Sandy and combined weather fronts—which together are being termed ”Frankenstorm”—the nuclear community is targeted by nuclear opponents keen on capitalizing on this severe weather event. A recent piece quoting Arnold Gundersen asserts that Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station is facing serious problems should it lose offsite power, saying essentially that the plant will be unable to provide cooling for the spent fuel in its spent fuel pool.

This allegation is without merit.

This document—a memorandum from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission  staff to the then-operator of Oyster Creek—spells out the spent fuel pool (SFP) cooling arrangements in place back in 2000. It includes the following description of the SFP cooling arrangements:

Make up water to the SFP is normally provided by the condensate system from the condensate storage tank (CST) which has a nominal capacity of 525,000 gallons. The condensate pumps can provide 250 gallons per minute (gpm) with one pump operating or 420 gpm with two pumps. Additional makeup can be provided from the demineralized water storage tank (nominal capacity 30,000 gallons) by connecting the demineralized water transfer pumps to the SFP with hoses. The fire protection system can also provide makeup from the fire pond to the CST using the 2,000 gpm diesel driven fire pumps through a permanent connection.

The SFPCS {Spent Fuel Pool Cooling System} removes decay heat from fuel stored in the SFP through its associated heat exchangers to the reactor building closed cooling water (RBCCW) system. The SFP water is maintained within its TS limits by these systems. The SFPCS consists of two SFP pumps, two SFP shell and tube heat exchangers, two augmented fuel pool pumps, and one augmented fuel pool plate and frame heat exchanger. In addition, the SFPCS also includes interconnections with the condensate demineralizers and the condensate systems which filter and demineralize the SFP water as well as provide makeup water to the SFP. The SFPCS operates continuously to maintain the SFP water temperature at or below the Oyster Creek TS limit (maximum of 125 degrees Fahrenheit (F)).

As we can see, a total loss of offsite power (LOOP) scenario has clearly been considered—otherwise, diesel fire pumps would not have been mentioned.

Oyster Creek Nuclear Energy Facility

Plants designed to handle spent fuel pools during loss of offsite power

Oyster Creek, like all other operating U.S. nuclear plants, was built to design considerations (10 CFR 50 Appendix A) that set limits on design that includes the protection of spent fuel pool from events both man-made (operational) and natural. The plant has been designed to handle the full heat load of the spent fuel placed in the pool—even with a loss of offsite power.

Spent fuel pool cooling has received greater attention since the Fukushima Daiichi accident; during that accident and for some time after, many had wrongly assumed and asserted that the spent fuel pools were in dire condition. In fact, some even claimed that Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4 was going to collapse and that the spent fuel was going to trigger a cataclysm. Those allegations were refuted at the time, multiple times,  and have been proven false.

Even though early post-Fukushima assumptions about spent fuel pools were overly unrealistic, the NRC has emphasized SFP cooling and level measurement as a part of its post-Fukushima action plan. Many experts and the Nuclear Energy Institute consider this approach sensible. NEI points out, however, via NEI Nuclear Notes that moving SFP actions to Tier 1 in no way implies that operating U.S. nuclear plants aren’t already safe. Read that post here.

The Safety Evaluation Report related to license renewal of Oyster Creek at the NRC contains the following information about Oyster Creek’s spent fuel cooling system:

The SFPCS (Spent Fuel Pool Cooling System) is designed for both normal and accident conditions of loss of offsite power coincident with a single active component failure.  The augmented SFPCS is designed to provide a seismically qualified cooling loop capable of providing cooling during such conditions.

As if that were not enough:

Exelon – Oyster Creek Safety and Emergency Planning Fact Sheet

Clearly, there is provision for SFP cooling at Oyster Creek using two SFP systems—the one that was originally installed and an augmented system installed when the pool capacity was increased—and also it’s a fact that the plant, like all others in the path of the storm, is and has been well aware of the approach of this storm and has even more personnel (and NRC inspectors) on site than usual, making full preparation for any event. “Any event” includes extended loss of offsite power.

Oyster Creek has multiple cooling systems for spent fuel pool

UPDATE:  Exelon has re-confirmed to the American Nuclear Society by telephone and e-mail that Oyster Creek does in fact have numerous, redundant cooling systems for the spent fuel including closed-loop and service water systems. Exelon tells us that if required, two locomotive–sized diesel engines are ready and standing by should offsite power be lost, to provide power to those two backup systems during the refueling outage should an extended LOOP scenario arise.

Exelon has, as expected by many, declared an Unusual Event at Oyster Creek due to the rising water levels. Below are excerpts from Exelon’s press release on this declaration (emphasis added):

 Oyster Creek Generating Station Declares Unusual Event

Lowest of four NRC emergency action levels reached due to high water levels

Forked River , NJ (October 29, 2012) Exelon Nuclear declared an “Unusual Event” at Oyster Creek Generating Station at 7 p.m. today after water levels in the plant’s intake structure reached higher than normal levels.

This is an anticipated declaration required by procedures and is the result of Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the region. There is no challenge to the safety of the plant. Oyster Creek is currently shut down for planned maintenance and refueling.

Oyster Creek is a robust and fortified facility, capable of withstanding the most severe weather. When the storm was identified, operators performed a host of plant inspections to ensure that all safety systems were operational and that outside equipment and materials were properly secured.

An Unusual Event is the lowest of four emergency classifications established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There is no danger to the public or plant employees associated with this declaration.

Exelon Nuclear has notified all appropriate federal, state and local emergency response officials of the Unusual Event.

Oyster Creek is about 60 miles east of Philadelphia in Ocean County, New Jersey. The plant produces 636 net megawatts of electricity at full power, enough electricity to supply 600,000 typical homes, the equivalent to all homes in Monmouth and Ocean counties combined.

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For more information

Below is a brief video interview with the Nuclear Energy Institute‘s Everett Redmond, director of Nonproliferation and Fuel Cycle Policy. He breaks down in straightforward language the purpose and design of spent fuel pools to store used fuel at nuclear energy facilities. This is a basic overview that does not address specific nuclear energy facilities.

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Will Davis is a writer and Social Media consultant for ANS, is a Contributing Reporter to Fuel Cycle Week, owns and writes the Atomic Power Review blog, and is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W reactor plants.

ANS staff members also contributed to this report and compiled additional resources for readers.