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Showing posts from October, 2015

A World Without Nuclear Energy? How About No Energy?

Earlier this year, we discussed the idea of a United States without nuclear energy. It’s a scary thought.But also small potatoes: let’s talk big, let’s talk about a world without any energy. Occasionally, folks who take the Whole Earth Catalog a bit too seriously posit  an energy-free world, but that’s because they do their energyless thing with energy all around them. For most people, the prospect is terrifying, an invitation to anarchy, shortened lives – horror.Sapping the world’s energy has been used many times in movies and TV programs. The show Revolution (2012-2014) used it as its inciting event and the series then tried to unravel the mystery of what happened to the electricity – think Lost with megawatts. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951/2008)(both Rennie and Reeves editions) shows the humanoid alien peacenik easily able to shut down all energy sources. And lest we forget, nuclear energy has a small role too in this context. The most recent Godzilla (2014) showed giant inse…

Spiting Your Nuclear Nose in the Bay State

Here are two views on the closing of Massachusetts’ Pilgrim Generating Station:News that it will close by 2019 has state officials scrambling to fill an expected gap in energy production while meeting ambitious goals to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.Meanwhile, environmental groups are prodding federal regulators to shutter the plant even before 2019. Groups such as Environment Massachusetts view the plant’s pending closure as an opportunity to expand the use of solar and wind power in the state. They rallied at the Statehouse last week, urging state officials to act.What first struck me about this is that both groups are fretting about the same thing – reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the state – but one seems a bit more attached to, shall we call it, reality.Writer Christian Wade doesn’t miss this, either, via the area’s Congressional representative, Seth Moulton (D-Mass.):Moulton,said he finds it “ironic” that environmental groups and elected officials ar…

Ensuring Seismic Safety at America's Nuclear Power Plants

The following is a guest post by Timothy Rausch, Talen Energy’s Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer
Companies that operate America’s nuclear energy facilities today have made significant progress in their evaluations of seismic safety as part of a series of actions the industry is taking to implement lessons learned from the 2011 Fukushima accident.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2012 required energy companies to reevaluate potential seismic hazards for each of America’s 99 reactors.

Nuclear energy facilities were designed and built with extra safety margin, in part to be able to withstand an earthquake even beyond the strongest ever at each site. Nonetheless, over the past decades, the industry has re-evaluated the seismic safety of its facilities. Each time new seismic information became available, plant operators have confirmed, and in many cases, enhanced the facility’s seismic protection.  The nuclear industry is in the midst of a comprehensive review based on t…

Why Reforming the Reactor Oversight Process is the Right Thing to Do

Fifteen years ago, the NRC and industry cooperated on reforming the way in which NRC decided where to focus its attention across the U.S. fleet of power reactors.  Among the guiding principles of the reform was to make NRC decisions on operating reactor oversight more transparent and predictable, and ensure that additional NRC resources were applied where they would have the greatest benefit to safety.  Combining performance indicators and inspection results, the Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) is widely regarded as far superior to the largely subjective and non-public method it replaced. 

Over its 15 year life, the ROP has evolved.  As NRC and industry learned from experience, adjustments were made in various features of the ROP to ensure the program continued to meet its objectives and adhere to its guiding principles.  Two years ago, at the Commissioners' direction, the staff undertook an independent review of the ROP that solicited feedback from stakeholders within and outsi…

Refueling Outages: Delivering Fresh Fuel and Electricity Reliability

Outage management at nuclear power plants over the years has evolved into a sophisticated and meticulously chronicled endeavor, carried out over the course of about 30 days. This month I am being afforded an insider's view of Palo Verde unit 2's outage, and the planning and coordination associated with more than 10,000 jobs being carried out this month within the unit is nothing short of staggering.

The work performed during refueling outages is a cornerstone for reliable operations throughout the following operating cycle. The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station is perhaps the best-practiced site in outage work across the U.S. nuclear fleet, and for an obvious reason: by virtue of having three units, with staggered outage schedules, they carry off two refueling outages each and every year. Outage management at Palo Verde, to this observer's eyes, is as close to an exact science as is possible in this industry.

Nuclear plants enter refueling outages in spring and fall,…

Getting Smarter About Plant Maintenance at Palo Verde

The following is a guest post by Bob Bement, Senior Vice President of Site Operations at Palo Verde.

Palo Verde has taken the lead for a number of industry initiatives, including the implementation of the Diverse and Flexible Coping Strategies (FLEX), which improves a licensee’s defenses against some of the most extreme external events that a plant could face. Continuing in our lead efforts, we will be among the first plants to adopt Technical Specifications Task Force Traveler 505-A, Risk-informed Completion Times. Implementation of this initiative will allow us to use plant-specific safety analyses to manage equipment outages supporting safe and efficient generation of electricity for a substantial portion of the population in the Southwestern U.S.

From the onset of operation of commercial nuclear reactors in the U.S., technical specifications were developed for plants to govern key operational constraints. These constraints include the amount of time that equipment may be taken ou…

NFPA 805 and Improving Fire Safety at Nuclear Power Plants

The following is a guest post by Tom Basso, Director of Engineering Programs, and Elliott Flick, Senior Director of Engineering Operations, at Exelon.

Over the course of several decades, the nuclear industry and NRC have worked together to continuously improve fire safety at the nation’s nuclear reactors. By constantly examining relevant operating experience, we have been able to take on plant upgrades and make improvements to plant programs to reduce the probability and consequences of potential fire events. One major effort in this area has involved National Fire Protection Association Standard 805, "Performance-Based Standard for Fire Protection for Light-Water Reactor Electric Generating Plants” (NFPA 805).

This standard provides one approach to implementing fire protection at nuclear reactors, and while adoption of the standard is voluntary, roughly a third of the nuclear power plants in the U.S., including several Exelon plants, are in the process of implementing this stand…

Joining the Nuclear Workforce at Palo Verde

In January 2014 NEI made a remarkable investment in my professional development, shipping me out to Arizona for a month so that I could take Plant Systems Training offered by the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Plant Systems, an intensive four-week overview of operations at a pressurized water reactor facility, and a training unique to Palo Verde, is required training for virtually every employee at the site, but its utility and applicability is recognized widely across the industry. I remember studying very hard, passing all of my exams, and at the end of four weeks hugging a lot of new friends I'd made in the class and on the site.

At the end of 2014 I told my boss that I didn't want to allow my learnings to atrophy back at my desk in Washington, and suggested to him that I work an outage in 2015. What better place to be embedded in an outage workforce than among my classmates back out at Palo Verde?

The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, located about 55 miles w…

"Net Zero Energy" Isn't All It Seems

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

The hot new idea in energy and real estate is the “zero net energy building.” It usually means a building with enough solar panels on the roof so that over the course of a year, it produces as much energy as it consumes.

And that means the building poses no burden on the grid, right?

Well, no. In fact, the grid’s work may get harder when a zero net energy building is connected . And it means that in real life, the building still has a carbon footprint.

That’s not a fatal flaw for “zero” buildings or for solar on the roof. In fact, many aspects of a zero net energy building are unambiguously good and ought to be incorporated into a lot of structures – good insulation, high efficiency lighting and other devices, and placement of the building to make optimum use of the sun, for example.

And there’s a certain attractiveness to coming out…

NEI Welcomes Ex-Im Bank Discharge Petition; Calls for Vote ASAP

A few minutes ago, a discharge petition to bring a vote on the re-authorization of the Ex-Im Bank received its 218th signature. NEI issued the following tweets praising the action, and is now urging the House of Representatives to vote on the bill re-authorizing the Bank as soon as possible.
Thanks to @RepFincherTN08 and over 200 other House members who voted in favor of Ex-Im Bank discharge petition. #ExIm4Jobs (1/4) — Nuclear Energy Inst. (@NEI) October 9, 2015 Now that HR 3611 has escaped committee, a vote to reauthorize the Bank should be scheduled ASAP. #ExIm4Jobs (2/4) — Nuclear Energy Inst. (@NEI) October 9, 2015 A vote for Ex-Im is a vote for jobs, exports & US leadership in nuclear technology. #ExIm4Jobs (3/4) — Nuclear Energy Inst. (@NEI) October 9, 2015 Bipartisan majority in both Houses supports the Bank. A vote ASAP would be an exercise in bipartisanship/good government. #ExIm4Jobs (4/4) — Nuclear Energy Inst. (@NEI) October 9, 2015
For more on the Ex-Im Bank, please

Making Safe Nuclear Plants Even Safer at Southern Nuclear

The following is a guest blog post by Danny Bost, Executive Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer for Southern Nuclear.

If you’re reading this blog, it’s pretty safe to say that you’re a proponent of safe, clean, reliable and affordable energy. As the Chief Nuclear Officer for Southern Nuclear, it’s my job to ensure that our six operating units deliver exactly that to our customers across the Southeast.

I think we do that pretty well, but as a learning culture, we’re always looking for performance improvements. That’s why we are excited about the opportunity for Plant Vogtle to pilot the application of NRC Rule 10CFR50.69 “Risk-informed Categorization and Treatment of Structures, Systems and Components (SSCs) in Nuclear Power Plants,” a voluntary rule published in 2004.

Since probabilistic risk assessments were first undertaken in the 1980s, plants have continued to use those studies to identify key potential safety improvements. As these improvements have been made and the results…

On Chatham House and Nuclear Cyber Security

The following is a guest post by Bill Gross, Manager, Security Integration and Coordination at Nuclear Energy Institute.

On October 6, 2015 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued an unclassified version of a report assessing cyber security for the Nuclear Reactors, Materials, and Waste sector. The report was developed with input from the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), the DHS Industrial Control Systems Computer Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and others.

The report affirms that the nuclear plant cyber security program, “combined with the industry’s exacting standards and culture of back-up safety systems, will make it extremely difficult for an external adversary to cause a radioactive release.”

It is a breath of fresh air to see such conclusions from an independent cyber security assessment.

The recognition is well earned. The power plants and the NRC have been aggressive at addressing the cyber threat. A concerted…

How Swapping Coal for Renewables Equals Nuclear Energy

Electricity diversity is a defining value for utilities that maintain a reliable, stable supply. This is helpful in foul weather and in other situations, of course, but it’s also allows a utility to respond to new priorities. That’s what Xcel is doing in Minnesota (via the Rochester (Minn.) Post-Bulletin):Xcel Energy on Friday filed plans with state regulators that would shut down part of the state's largest coal-fired power plant.Why?Sherco's two older units would retire in 2023 and 2026 as part of the plan, which also calls for 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy, including a new 50 megawatt solar installation at the site of the Sherco plant in Becker.Sherco is short for Sherburne County Generating Station. It has three coal units and Xcel intends to build a new natural gas facility there.And nuclear energy?While two of Sherco's three coal units will retire, Xcel plans to keep running its two nuclear plants at Monticello and Prairie Island through 2030.Obviously, the Cle…

Nuclear Energy Is a Key Part of the Act

Now, there’s nothing wrong with pointing out nuclear energy’s shortcomings, but AA Clearinghouse (a group, not a single person) on Storify really goes the extra mile. It kicks things off by noting that President Richard Nixon wanted 1000 nuclear units by the turn of the century. That shows nothing except that Nixon was an enthusiastic booster. He wasn't the first and certainly wouldn't be the last.  
Otherwise, the article is just a half-baked attack. The Nuclear Industry claimed that it could solve the Climate Change issue and cost less than other sources of electricity. Yet the price of new reactors went through the ceiling - besides taking 10-15 years to complete.  Two sentences, almost all wrong. 
Consider: The nuclear energy industry never said it could solve the climate change issue - maybe some Nixon-like enthusiasm here and there. Nuclear energy is emission free and produces lots of electricity in a relatively compact space. Hydro is constant, emission-free, but a bit …