Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Importance of the Nuclear Safety Culture

Ken Byrd
Ken Byrd
As director of engineering at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant, I’m privileged to be part of a workforce of professionals who recognize their responsibility for upholding safety and make it a priority every day. The U.S. nuclear industry is one of the safest industries in the world, due to close regulation by federal authorities, highly trained and experienced professionals, and a vigorous “safety-in-depth” philosophy applied to the design and construction of our facilities.

But perhaps the defining characteristic of the nuclear industry is a culture that puts safety above all else in everything we do.

Our industry is guided by a set of 10 principles that outline the traits of a robust nuclear safety culture and remind us each of the important role we play in upholding the health and safety of our communities. When put into practice, the nuclear safety culture principles ensure we are meeting the energy needs of our customers while also protecting the environment, our communities and our workforce in the most safe and efficient way possible.

The principles are grounded in the concept of personal accountability, where each individual takes ownership for upholding nuclear, radiological and personal safety in all of their work activities. They also emphasize a healthy questioning attitude, rigorous decision-making practices, and a problem identification and resolution process which together ensure conditions and activities are continuously challenged and fully and effectively addressed. And importantly, the principles place a high value on maintaining an environment where nuclear workers are encouraged to raise safety concerns without fear of reprisal for doing so.

I’ve seen the importance of a strong nuclear safety culture first hand as a longtime employee of Davis-Besse. In the early 2000s, I was an engineering supervisor at the site when we conducted an extended shutdown to address some significant equipment issues. Through a very honest, critical look at our performance, we identified the need to improve our process for challenging existing conditions and activities to ensure that every decision and action supported safe, error-free performance.

It was a sobering process, to be sure. Yet every one of Davis-Besse’s employees, from the site vice president to the individual turning a wrench in the plant, recognized the experience as an opportunity to learn from the past – another of the safety culture principles – and produce nothing short of world-class performance in the future.
Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station
Today, Davis-Besse is realizing that goal. In addition to twice receiving a most improved plant award, the site has been recognized for excellence in operations by the U.S. nuclear industry for the past six years. Davis-Besse has consistently attained a forced lose rate – which measures the percentage of time a unit is not producing electricity due to an unplanned power reduction or outage – in the top ten percent of the industry, and our capacity factor is above industry average and significantly higher than other forms of generation. The safest plants are also the most efficient and productive facilities, and that’s especially important as we consider the important role of nuclear power in delivering environmentally-friendly and affordable power.

All of these accomplishments mean we are delivering safe, reliable, clean and affordable power to customers, when they need it. None of this could have been achieved without a strong nuclear safety culture as our cornerstone.

I am proud of what I have accomplished in my 36 years as a nuclear professional, and even more fulfilled by the safe and reliable operating record attained as a team by my peers across the industry. As our country moves towards a clean energy future, the nuclear industry is poised to lead that shift with safety as our top priority.

The above post was sent to us by FirstEnergy's Ken Byrd for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. It aims to showcase the best and the brightest in the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

From Beaver Valley to NEI: Answering the Why Nuclear Question

In my role as a Project Engineer in Security at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), I deal with questions every day. These questions involve language in the code of federal regulations, inspection findings, operational experience, etc. However, whether it is friends, coworkers, and/or industry peers, the most common question I have to answer is “Why nuclear?”

AJ Clore
AJ Clore
Six years ago I wouldn’t have been able to answer that question. That is when I first started as an Armed Security Officer at FirstEnergy’s Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station. Beaver Valley is a two unit site located in Shippingport, PA, which is about an hour northwest of Pittsburgh, PA. When I was hired in 2009 by Securitas, I was a rookie in the nuclear arena. I was aware of what nuclear energy was, but knew nothing about how a plant operated or the importance of nuclear.

The four and a half years I spent at Beaver Valley taught me the importance of protecting the health and safety of the public, as well as why it is important to understand how a plant operates and the equipment involved. It was during this time that I began to take a keen interest in nuclear energy. I found myself paying more attention to politics, researching and asking questions to individuals on site (e.g., outage workers, maintenance, operators and radiation protection technicians). As a security officer I got to know a lot of people at the plant.

Fast forward to 2013, I was privileged enough to bring my interest and experience to NEI. At NEI, I have learned the importance and value of nuclear energy, not only to the United States, but to the world.

Nuclear security is managed by NEI’s Nuclear Generation Division. Within our security section, I handle a multitude of different projects. My primary tasks include planning/developing agendas and managing NEI's annual Force-on-Force Workshop and National Nuclear Security Conference (NNSC). I also manage multiple task force projects related to security including security frequently asked questions, decommissioning, regulatory documents, and Force-on-Force. I work with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on a daily basis on all of the aforementioned topics, as well as the Department of Homeland Security in matters related to nuclear security.

I thoroughly enjoy the work I do. Being at NEI allows me to interact with peers in different divisions, all striving for the same goals. The experience sharing and networking with nuclear industry subject matter experts in security on different projects has only added to my interest and fascination with nuclear that started in 2009.

One goal that NEI constantly strives for is innovation. In security, we look for innovation possibilities in everything that we do: ways to reduce burden on the nuclear industry, ways to change certain processes and procedures, and ways to promote safety and security in nuclear energy. In my role, I look with a fresh set of eyes at all security-related inspections a nuclear site has to have over the course of a year. We have had recent successes that have relieved some burden on the industry and have also been a cost savings. We continue to push forward to be innovative with our industry peers, the NRC and the public.

I will close by answering the most popular question I have been asked; “Why nuclear?”

I have spent almost 7 years in this industry and continue to learn every day. In that time I have learned the importance of nuclear, its beneficial uses, environmental benefits, reliability, safety and the role that nuclear plays in the energy arena. These are all answers that I have used to answer that question. My favorite answer to give is simple – “it is fascinating and interesting.”

The above post was submitted to us by NEI’s AJ Clore for the Powered by Our People promotion. It aims to showcase the best and the brightest in the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Tennessee vs. Florida: Rivals in Football & Nuclear Energy

Saturday afternoon will see the renewal of one of the greatest rivalries in college football when Tennessee visits Florida. But while the world might be riveted by the action in "The Swamp" tomorrow, our readers should know that the rivalry between these two members of the SEC extends far beyond the football field when it comes to nuclear energy.

Both Tennessee and Florida boast prestigious nuclear engineering programs, and here at NEI Nuclear Notes, we've told the stories about students from both schools who are well on their way to promising careers. Earlier this week, we told you about Alyxandria Wszolek, a senior majoring in nuclear engineering at Tennessee who will be stepping into a great job at Exelon when she graduates in 2016. In 2014, we published a story by Jitesh Kuntwala, then a graduate student in nuclear engineering at Florida, about how he and a group of Gators got together to lobby Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Power Plant Siting Board in favor of building Units 6&7 at Turkey Point. Today, Jitesh is a nuclear engineer with Duke Energy.

So who's #1? We'd like to hear what you think in our Twitter Poll. Today, we're asking the question: Which SEC school has the best nuclear engineering program: Tennessee or Florida? We'll keep the poll open until Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. Vote now!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Engineering America's Diverse Energy Portfolio

My name is Alyxandria Wszolek and I am a senior at the University of Tennessee, majoring in nuclear engineering with a minor in reliability and maintainability. I could not be more appreciative of the Department of Nuclear Engineering here. I have been given so many opportunities and experiences through this school, and many doors have been opened to me.

Alyxandria Wszolek
Alyxandria Wszolek
Although I only recently accepted a full time job offer to work in the nuclear industry, I have been surrounded by it all my life and passionate about pursuing this career for many years. I have interned at Exelon Generation in BWR core design group, Reactor Engineering at Three Mile Island, and both Reactor Engineering and Electrical Systems at Nine Mile Point. I accepted a full time position at Nine Mile in Reactor Engineering. I am currently president of the University of Tennessee Women in Nuclear Section. I am also involved on a national level in the U. S. Women in Nuclear Communications Committee, serving as the Facebook lead on the Social Media Team. 

I always knew that I wanted to be an engineer. Engineers are the creators of the world we live in. Mostly everything you see and use throughout the day has been engineered in one way or another, whether it was designed, optimized, manufactured, etc. I want to do these things and I want to help change the world. That is how I came to become a nuclear engineer. We all use energy, and we take it for granted. But what would we do if we turned on the lights and nothing happened or if we couldn’t charge our phones or laptops? The demand for energy is increasing, more and more each day. Not only that, but there many countries that struggle with energy availability. Energy makes it easier to teach, create, innovate, heal, and develop. I believe we need nuclear to help solve these issues to help generate electricity in an affordable, emission-free, reliable way.

I truly believe that nuclear is the best form of energy production to supply large amounts of baseload power. Right now, our country relies heavily on fossil fuels, but when you look at the facts, nuclear is a lot more efficient. One uranium fuel pellet creates as much energy as one ton of coal or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas. Nuclear is an emission-free energy source. Even moving forward with renewable energy, we will need nuclear not only for the transition, but also to provide the reliable baseload energy that would be needed to support. There is danger in relying on one sole form of energy production. A diverse energy portfolio is key to the protection and growth of our country’s energy consumption.

The above post was sent to us for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. It aims to showcase the best and the brightest in the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

An Energy Truth Shines Through

Amb. Jim Nicholson 
From Jim Nicholson, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See from 2001 to 2005:
Well, there's another thing that I hope he [Pope Francis] realizes, and that is that the best way to help the poor in this world is to help them come out of that poverty and get electricity. There are over a billion people in the world that still do not even have electricity, and fossil fuel is the hope for that electricity. It's cheap, it's readily producible, and if you can't refrigerate medicine and you can't read in the dark, and you can't grow out of that poverty and there's a real link there, and the Holy Father, I think, needs to be very careful about this green movement that he sort of seems to align himself with in this encyclical on global climate change, and I hope that he will realize that.
One may disagree with most of what Nicholson says here. But not with his main point: “the best way to help the poor in this world is to help them come out of that poverty and get electricity.” It’s such an important message – and important for the public to understand - that we’ll take it wrapped however anyone cares to wrap it. The rest will be resolved in the fullness of time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Finding Opportunities to Advocate for Nuclear Energy

As a child growing up on a farm in a small town in rural southwestern Michigan, I never imagined that one day I would be an engineer, let alone work at a nuclear power plant. I grew up in the 1990s watching The Simpsons – probably the worst stereotypical view of nuclear plant workers – and wasn’t even aware of nuclear energy in a different context. I certainly wasn’t aware of the amazing benefits that nuclear provides to America.

Terry Groth
Terry Groth
That all changed when I began my nuclear career. I majored in mechanical engineering at Western Michigan University. During my last semester, I applied to work at several companies in different industries but none of them afforded me the opportunity to have a major impact on society like working at a nuclear power plant does with all of its environmental and economic benefits to the local communities.

Southwestern Michigan will always be home for my family and me. Our great state has four nuclear reactors – Palisades Power Plant, Fermi Unit 2 and DC Cook Units 1 and 2 – which cleanly and reliably provide nearly 30 percent of the state’s electricity. But with the low cost of natural gas right now and the recent closure of a few nuclear plants, it’s essential for nuclear workers and proponents to advocate on behalf of the industry.

We must take every opportunity to explain that nuclear is a clean air energy, reliable, affordable and efficient. These discussions can happen in front of an audience at a local community college, face to face in the grocery store, with a social media post or retweet or even during a break at my son’s baseball game.

Being a nuclear advocate means I’m educating others about what I believe in. It also allows me to secure my family’s future in the great state that I love. Michigan’s four nuclear units provide thousands of dependable, well-paying jobs, as well as millions of dollars for state and local economies through taxes and contributions. Our communities would be devastated if nuclear power was no longer an option.

I take my nuclear advocacy role serious enough that I want to help others promote nuclear energy. Because of this, I am happy to be a member of my plant’s North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN) chapter. NAYGN works with the industry to align advocacy efforts around the country. It’s a great feeling to know that we’re a part of the hundreds of thousands of logged hours of activities to educate the public. It really makes you understand that yes, you as one person can make a valuable contribution to a more informed public. Into addition to NAYGN, the American Nuclear Society Young Members Group (YMG) also offers young professionals in our industry opportunities to engage in nuclear advocacy, professional development and advanced research.

I grew up as a 4-H member and the last line of our pledge was, “…for my club, my community, my country and my world.” I carry that pledge with me today, as a nuclear advocate; making sure the public is properly educated so my community, country and world are afforded all of the benefits of nuclear energy.

The above post was sent to us by Entergy's Terry Groth for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. It aims to showcase the best and the brightest in the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Swedish Study Examines Nuclear and Climate Change

From the land of lingonberries and aquavit:

In just two decades Sweden went from burning oil for generating electricity to fissioning uranium. And if the world as a whole were to follow that example, all fossil fuel–fired power plants could be replaced with nuclear facilities in a little over 30 years.

And if you did this?

Such a switch would drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, nearly achieving much-ballyhooed global goals to combat climate change. Even swelling electricity demands, concentrated in developing nations, could be met.

The Scientific American article says that this would be a heavy lift. Would it? The interesting thing is that someone worked out the numbers and figured it all out – well, at least the industrial and manufacturing parts. That someone would be Staffan Qvist, a physicist at Sweden’s Uppsala University.

Sweden gets about 50 percent of its electricity generation from hydro power and 30 percent from nuclear energy. Midnight Sun Land has had mixed feelings about nuclear, passing a bill to phase it out, then reversing course and deciding that new reactors can be built at existing facilities but only to replace end-of-life reactors. This torturous approach is a bit eye rolling – just split the atom, don’t split the difference. It’s as though Sweden has learned that nuclear energy has benefits it wants to leverage yet doesn’t want to seem too enthusiastic about it.

Scientific America’s write-up is good, though we wondered if we could get a look at Qvist’s study. And indeed, it is online and in English to boot. The title is (deep breath) “Potential for Worldwide Displacement of Fossil-Fuel Electricity by Nuclear Energy in Three Decades Based on Extrapolation of Regional Deployment Data.” The regions considered are Sweden and France.

Some features of the report seem obvious, but are not often stated in this context and can easily be overlooked as useful factors. Some of this reflects the growth of the industry over the last 50 years and what that means to countries who now want to implement nuclear energy now:

Countries adopting or expanding their nuclear production capacity today have comparatively little need to develop indigenous designs and supply chains in the way Sweden did, since turn-key products are available from a number of vendors on an open competitive market. It is considerably easier to buy plants and nuclear fuel internationally today than it was in the early days of the Swedish nuclear program, with a larger number of mature, internationally marketed commercial designs on offer today compared to the situation of the mid 1960s.

Nine of Sweden’s current fleet are home-grown boiling water reactors while three are American-sourced pressurized reactors. So Sweden did design and build most of its plants itself.

A lot of the paper is, as you’d expect, fairly dense, comparing coal to nuclear to determine their relative output. It all supports a conclusion that is loud and clear.

No renewable energy technology or energy efficiency approach has ever been implemented on a scale or pace which has resulted in the magnitude of reductions in CO2-emissions that is strictly required and implied in any climate change mitigation study—neither locally nor globally, normalized by population or GDP or any other normalization parameter.

The results indicate that a replacement of current fossil-fuel electricity by nuclear fission at a pace which might limit the more severe effects of climate change is technologically and industrially possible—whether this will in fact happen depends primarily on political will, strategic economic planning, and public acceptance.

I can’t imagine this being said any plainer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Nuclear Interest in a Government Shutdown

Government shutdown has been all the rage in Washington lately. Appropriations run out at the end of September, also the end of the fiscal year, and the government cannot fully function without them. Well, it can – it’s not like the treasury is empty aside from moths and dust – but without passing appropriation legislation, none of that money can be divvied among government functions, thus shutdown.

Now, obviously, essential activities continue regardless. When the government last shut down in 2013, the Department of Homeland Security furloughed about 15 percent of its workforce. But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission sidelined about 90 percent of its staff. Nothing “bad” happened, or was expected to, but it’s not a good situation.

There is a notable difference between DHS (and many other government agencies) and the NRC. NRC is 90 percent funded by the industry it oversees; in many ways, it’s a fee-for-service entity and one where the key goal, like that of DHS, is to protect public safety. Even though safety is well covered, shutdown or no, there seems a distinct gap between the NRC’s obligations and its response to government shutdown.

NEI’s President and CEO Marv Fertel addressed these issues in a letter dated September 4 to NRC Chairman Stephen Burns. This is available only on NEI’s member Web site, so we’ll quote it more fully here to give you  its full flavor and context.

In addition, as you know, approximately 90% of the NRC’s appropriations are offset by user fees, which licensees continue to pay during a funding gap. As a matter of fairness, those paying government fees should be able to receive the services for which they are paying. Our research identified a significant difference in this regard between the NRC’s approach and that of DHS as that department continued to allow normal operations during the October 2013 funding gap for a range of activities funded through DHS fees and multi-year appropriations (e.g., programs under the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Protection and Programs Directorate, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).

Fertel makes a series of suggestion on how the NRC might balance the needs of licensees and a shuttered government:

* ensuring its interpretation and implementation of the Anti-Deficiency Act is not unnecessarily conservative and more limited than required;

* ensuring it will maximize the use of carry-over funds and fee-based revenue to ensure continued operations during a lapse in appropriations;

* identifying lessons learned from DHS and other agencies to help the NRC to determine how it can forestall furloughs and continue normal operations;

* establishing in advance the bases for continuing commercial contract work during a funding gap;

* clarifying that power generation and grid reliability concerns can justify the processing of emergency and exigent licensing actions;

* engaging the relevant congressional committees to address statutory impediments to the NRC taking appropriate regulatory action and providing necessary services during a funding gap.

The NRC already recognizes the breadth of “excepted activities,” that is, those that can continue during a shutdown. It’s broader than you might think:

Excepted functions include a broad list of NRC responsibilities: event notification, emergency response, site operations, resident inspectors, enforcement, allegations/investigations, facility and nuclear reactor security and safeguards, commissioners, policy direction, legal advice, state liaison, international liaison, public affairs, congressional liaison, inspector general, financial management, administrative and information technology support, and human resources.

And that alone should justify a new look at the NRC’s shutdown contingency plan:

Given the breadth of this list, we believe the agency should look afresh at its shutdown contingency plan to ensure staff normally performing “activities essential to ensure continued public health and safety” and “activities that ensure production of power and maintenance of power distribution” are not furloughed.

Past government shutdowns have tended to include an element of brinksmanship, so, assuming that recurs this time, we may not know until September 30th or even October 1st whether one will occur. But the industry has provided good reasons and reasonable recommendations to ensure that the NRC continues its essential activities during any shutdown that may occur.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

NuScale Engineer Contributing to Nuclear’s Bright Future

As a nuclear engineer in 2015, I am privileged to be a contributor during a time of great change in the American and global nuclear industries. Energy policy and sustainability are at the forefront of our political and social landscape more than ever and are major concerns for Americans. After gaining a variety of technical skills during my eight years in the nuclear industry, my current role allows me to participate in innovative nuclear design and safety analysis that could set the standard for future designs. The realization that my work could positively affect the lives of millions and impact the nuclear industry for years to come is extremely humbling. Additionally, my work as a member of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) has facilitated the professional success of my colleagues, as well as myself, and provided us with opportunities to strive for change. It is thrilling for me to consider the fact that, as engineers, we exercise complex and hard-earned skills on a daily basis and are working towards contributing to greater prosperity and a brighter future.

Brett Rampal
Brett Rampal

The small modular reactor (SMR) technology being developed by hundreds of talented engineers at NuScale Power represents one of the first new types of reactor technologies, outside of boiling and pressurized water reactor technologies, to be designed in the U.S. in several decades. NuScale’s design, as well as those of other new nuclear start-ups, were barely dreams less than a decade ago, but now represent a powerful new approach to solving American and world energy challenges. NuScale technology is based on passive safety systems powered by the fundamental laws of nature. While the NuScale concepts are not new, the overall technological approach is innovative and has captivated the interest of the industry, including engineers, regulators, operators and investors. My role helps ensure that the many different facets of the new design operate safely and satisfy stringent regulatory requirements. NuScale technology is poised to become a strong part of the world energy infrastructure, contributing to safe, inexpensive electricity for millions.

As a forerunner in the nuclear energy start-up paradigm forming in the U.S., NuScale’s plans have struck a chord with young nuclear professionals around the country. As the vice-chair of the ANS Young Member’s Group (YMG), I am uniquely situated to ensure NuScale continues to lead the charge for new nuclear development. As shepherd to some of the most talented young individuals in the U.S., my role at NuScale provides me with the opportunity to better serve the members of the ANS YMG. Our members, who include professionals involved in all facets of the nuclear industry and graduate students, are committed to seeing those who are newest to the industry achieve the greatest possible success. Both the ANS YMG and North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN) offer young professionals opportunities to engage in nuclear advocacy, professional development and advanced research. These groups provide members with valuable tools to enhance their effectiveness and reflect constructively on our entire community.

After nearly a decade of working in the nuclear industry, I have gained a unique perspective on America’s energy program and continue to work towards affecting change from within. However, it is important to note that the future of our industry is not certain. Asking any nuclear professional why nuclear energy is important to our energy future will yield a wide variety of responses, but the over-arching answer would be that it is clean, safe, inexpensive and reliable. Operational American nuclear power plants contribute approximately 20 percent of the electricity generated in this country. It would be a disservice to future generations not to consider nuclear energy as a viable part of America’s energy portfolio, today and in the future. This is especially important because approximately 63 percent of America’s carbon-free electricity comes directly from nuclear power. I hope that my work as a nuclear engineer and as a member of the ANS YMG helps ensure nuclear energy remains a strong contributor to America’s energy future.

The above post was sent to us by NuScale Power's Brett Rampal for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. It aims to showcase the best and the brightest in the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Clear Signal for COP21 Negotiators

The following is a guest post from NEI Senior Vice President of Communications Scott Peterson, reporting from the 59th General Conference of the IAEA . 

Scott Peterson
Scott Peterson

With the 21st session of Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) just 10 weeks away, one hopes that this week’s United Nations conference in Vienna is setting the stage for negotiations around meeting the 2-degree reduction by 2050.

Leaders at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meeting today in the opening session of its general conference, echoed a resounding statement of support for nuclear energy to increase its share of electricity production globally as one way to meet the carbon reduction challenge. Nearly 440 reactors in 30 countries generate 11 percent of the world’s electricity.

“Nuclear power is one of the lowest emitters of carbon dioxide among energy sources when emissions through entire life cycles are considered,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said. “Nuclear power has low environmental impact and leads to significant avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions.” 

“I believe that appropriate consideration should be given to nuclear power in talks on climate change mitigation which are taking place under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” in December, Amano said. “The agency’s assistance to countries starting new nuclear power programs is paying off in tangible results.”

The industry is expanding nuclear energy beyond 438 commercial reactors, including five reactors being built in the Southeast and advanced reactor designs in various stages of development.

Meeting the 2-degree reduction may sound uncomplicated, but it will require a blend of all carbon-free sources, energy efficiency and conservation, and constant innovation to meet that goal while population and electricity demand rises. It will be even more difficult if carbon capture for natural gas- and coal-fired power plants continues to lag.  

The buzz in the IAEA hallways intensified further after Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz addressed the conference. 

“As we approach the upcoming Paris climate negotiations, countries must put forward ambitious climate commitments,” he said. “The threat of climate change calls for global responses, including expanded use of nuclear power to produce the electricity needed to sustain rising standards of living of the world’s growing population.”
The administration and Congress are partnering with U.S. industry to support the licensing and technical support of small modular reactor designs, which could begin the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing process next year. By incorporating “passive” safety systems into SMRs and new large reactor designs, the industry aims to provide a broader set of options for safe, reliable nuclear energy, Moniz said. 

“President Obama has made clear that nuclear energy is an important part of our ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy,” he added. “In partnership with our nuclear industry, the U.S. government is supporting the deployment of reactors with passive safety features both in the United States and around the world.”

Democrats in Congress also support nuclear energy as an option for the upcoming negotiations on worldwide policies for meeting the UNFCCC targets. 

“It’s clear that moving toward a safe, efficient and modern nuclear fleet should be an important part of our nation’s effort to combat climate change. That is why I’m pleased to see progress is being made on the construction and licensing of the first four new commercial power reactors in decades,” Rep. Frank Pallone, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during an NRC oversight hearing last week. “Advancements in nuclear technology, particularly in the area of small modular reactors, hold the possibility of a newer, safer generation of nuclear power.”

In the meantime, Pallone is keeping his eye on issues, such as demonstrating that new reactors can be brought online in a timely and cost-effective manner, maintaining safety in a post-Fukushima world, and meeting the financial strain of an electricity market characterized by some of the low natural gas and renewable energy prices.

“I believe there is an important role for nuclear energy to play in addressing global climate change, but I want to make perfectly clear that safety must come first,” Pallone said. 

No argument here. That’s also why sidebar events at the IAEA’s conference are sharing lessons learned on safety, human resources and other issues. 

To further complement the policy dialogue this week, Scientific American’s David Biello reveals a new study that points to the role of nuclear energy for countries seeking to reduce carbon emissions and should prompt dialogue among the U.N. delegates meeting in Paris. 

“If we are serious about tackling emissions and climate change, no climate-neutral source should be ignored," argues Staffan Qvist, a physicist at Sweden’s Uppsala University, who led the effort to develop this nuclear plan. "The mantra 'nuclear can't be done quickly enough to tackle climate change' is one of the most pervasive in the debate today and mostly just taken as true, while the data prove the exact opposite."

The discussion of nuclear energy’s current and future role in meeting increasing electricity demand and maintaining international development—all while preventing carbon emissions and other air pollutants—was advanced in Vienna this week. It would be a mistake of grave proportion if it doesn’t translate to the United Nations’ carbon reduction discussions at COP21. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Transatomic’s Nuclear Molten Saltiness

transatomic-logo-2x2We’ve written a bit about NuScale over the last week, primarily to spotlight its small reactor expo. The NuScale design includes a boiling water reactor, a technology that is, in its essentials, well-understood and time tested. It’s not the only such technology, but it is used in about a third of American reactors (pressurized water reactors are the others).

Plenty of other technologies have been developed over the life of domestic nuclear energy. Canada primarily uses home-grown pressurized heavy water reactors; it has exported its CANDU technology to other countries, notably India. Russia has developed light water graphite-moderated reactors, which are similar to boiling water reactors. (World Nuclear Association has a roundup of reactor types here.)

Another design that came to life in the 1960s is the molten salt reactor. WNA describes it thusly:

In the normal or basic MSR concept, the fuel is a molten mixture of lithium and beryllium fluoride (FLiBe) salts with dissolved low-enriched uranium (U-235 or U-233) fluorides (UF4). The core consists of unclad graphite moderator arranged to allow the flow of salt at about 700°C and at low pressure. Much higher temperatures are possible but not yet tested. Heat is transferred to a secondary salt circuit and thence to steam or process heat. The basic design is not a fast neutron reactor, but with some moderation by the graphite is epithermal (intermediate neutron speed) and breeding ratio is less than 1.

The design was created by Oak Ridge National Labs in the early-mid 60s and basically proved out, though never scaled up to commercial application. WNA does not speculate why this might be, but work on it petered out around 1976. It could be that the industry had standardized around different designs by then or the government killed financing and orphaned the technology.

So it has remained – or had remained:

There is now renewed interest in the MSR concept in Japan, Russia, China, France and the USA, and one of the six Generation IV designs selected for further development is the MSR in two distinct variants, the molten salt fast reactor (MSFR) and the Advanced High Temperature Reactor (AHTR) – also known as the fluoride salt-cooled high-temperature reactor (FHR) with solid fuel, or PB-FHR specifically with pebble fuel.

And that brings us back around to small reactors, because one of those companies that has renewed interest in molten salt technology is startup Transatomic. It want to tout its technology, of course, but this comparison with light water reactors is informative:

Molten salt reactors like Transatomic Power’s are fueled by uranium dissolved in a liquid salt. The fuel is not surrounded by cladding, making it possible to continuously remove the fission products that would otherwise stop the nuclear reaction. The liquid fuel is also much more resistant to structural damage from radiation than solid materials – simply, liquids have very little structure to be damaged. With proper filtration, liquid fuel can remain in a molten salt reactor for decades, allowing us to extract much more of its energy.

All designs have their unique qualities – a molten salt reactor produces less used fuel because more of it is used. In some designs, if something goes wrong, the liquid core (the molten salt containing the fuel) can be drained as though down a drain into a shielded container. Additionally, the fuel can stay in the reactor for decades.

Still, anything with the word salt in it also must mitigate potential corrosion, especially a big pot of salty broth such as Transtomic proposes, but that issue appears not to be one – and hasn’t been since the original design from the 60s. See here for an interesting discussion.

So we wish Transatomic luck with its molten salt small reactor. This is a technology whose time has been waiting to come for 50 years and the current interest in it is striking and (we may hope) significant.


This story about European interest in molten salt reactors is interesting and worth a look. This is the bit that stuck out:

For years nuclear scientists have talked about a revival of molten salt reactors, which are powered by a liquid fuel rather than solid fuel rods, that will help spark the long-awaited “nuclear renaissance.”

The “nuclear renaissance” and what will spark it. It reminds me of magazines that interview a hot young actor and tout him as “the new Brando.” It’s a meaningless phrase to justify writing about a topic.

As far as we can tell, nuclear is doing quite well in its, shall we say, Regency period. There are challenges, as there always have been – and there are opportunities, as there always have been. Molten salt reactors have challenges and present opportunities. That’s enough to make a story.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Texas WIN Leader Develops Next Nuclear Generation

Vivian T. Wagnon is an emergency response planner for the South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC) and has worked in the nuclear industry for 26 years. She is an active member of STPNOC’s Women in Nuclear chapter.

Vivian T. Wagnon
Vivian T. Wagnon
What is your role at STPNOC? Why do you like working where you do?

I am an Offsite Emergency Response Planner, working with the County of Matagorda, Texas and the State of Texas.

In my role with the county, I work with and provide support to our county’s Emergency Management Team. In addition, I provide offsite Emergency Responder Training to more than 200 individuals each year including local medical professionals. I am also the lead at the Joint Information Center (JIC) and I provide training to and evaluation of more than 84 ERO JIC members.

My role is the perfect platform to inform the public about our great industry; to put fables to rest and share the benefits and truth about the nuclear industry. I believe nuclear energy is the future, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to continue my life-long career in this industry. It is extremely interesting, I am continuously learning, and I am constantly being challenged. These three attributes of my position have kept me engaged every day.

Why do you think nuclear energy is important to America’s energy future?

Nuclear energy is vital to America’s energy future.  That is not to say coal, oil and natural gas are not needed in the energy mix. They are, just like solar and wind; however, nuclear is the most reliable source of energy by far.

And, it is through the use of nuclear energy that we as a nation have reduced our carbon dioxide emissions by more than 30% resulting in greater air quality.

The nuclear energy industry offers great economic benefits. It brings in local and state tax revenues benefiting our roads, schools and other infrastructure. In addition, individuals working in nuclear energy are well compensated. On average in the U.S., salaries during site construction and for permanent positions are 35% higher than those in the local area.

In my opinion, our world will not reduce its dependency on energy and nuclear energy must become a greater part of our electricity mix. Nuclear energy is produced in abundance, and it is a very affordable source of power. We must move to a world of less dependency on fossil fuels.  We must embrace carbon free nuclear energy.

How long have you been involved with Women in Nuclear (WIN)? What do you think of the organization and its purpose?

I served on the executive board of STPNOC’s WIN when it was formed in 2003. From that point on, WIN has been a large part of my professional career; I have held many offices and served on numerous committees. WIN has afforded me the opportunity to truly grow professionally, giving me an idea exchange network of knowledgeable nuclear workers in all areas of our industry.

A highlight of my time in WIN was mentoring a local high school student who showed interest and aptitude in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related fields in the STPNOC POWERSET program. My mentee became a part of the program her sophomore year; and we met on a monthly basis for three years. She has since graduated college with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and Physics and is enrolled in this fall’s Master’s Nuclear Engineering Program. She is currently working at STPNOC as a summer intern.

What is the greatest challenge facing the nuclear industry? How is WIN helping to address it?

I believe in our beginnings, we as an industry were not very successful in adequately educating the public about nuclear. We were successful in ensuring we met our top priority, protecting the health and safety of the public. Yet perhaps we didn’t address the public in a manner that demonstrated understandable and familiar context about the risks of nuclear power and radioactivity. We failed to give them the right story, and so they created their own: a story that was not complimentary to our nuclear industry.

I believe WIN is one of our industry’s greatest tools, a true catalyst to promote knowledge and understanding about our nuclear energy industry and nuclear technologies. This was evident this past year when U.S. WIN members expended greater than 13,477 hours reaching out to members of the public informing them of our phenomenal nuclear energy industry and the knowledge and benefits of the various nuclear technologies.

As our nuclear story evolves, we all should continue to impart greater knowledge about nuclear energy to the public and especially to the generation of tomorrow’s nuclear workers.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Nuclear by Northwest

energy_northwestAfter our visit to the northwest a couple of days ago (or posts below) why not stay in the rainy kingdom for awhile? It’s kind of interesting up there these days.

Washington State is in a good position because nearly all of our electricity generation is clean. Most comes from hydropower or the Columbia Generating Station, our nuclear plant, or wind. There is already a plan to phase out coal generation in the state. That alone should enable Washington to achieve our target.
This is Energy Northwest CEO Mark Reddemann speaking to Bloomberg News. He is saying something that has been missing of coverage of the Clean Power Plan. It’s this: hydro and wind are very important to reduce CO2 emissions. And so, insists Reddemann, is nuclear energy.
Nuclear energy is not a martyr or a victim nor does it require special pleading. The point is that nuclear energy answers in a big way to the goals of the Clean Power Plan, a point that has often been ignored in the press.
Reddemann redresses the balance:
The Clean Power Plan does have the potential to be effective in reducing carbon emissions from U.S. electricity generating resources, mostly by moving utilities away from coal generation to natural gas, nuclear and renewables. But we need to be seriously thinking about the alternatives for utilities that rely heavily on coal generation, which is a base load resource. Wind and solar are not viable replacements for that capacity. Natural gas is the current go-to replacement, but it emits carbon as well.
Nuclear, both the large plants that are being built in the southeast, and in 10 years, small modular reactors, can provide the capacity electricity grids need, and the carbon-free generation to meet Clean Power Plan goals. We need to do more to help make that happen.
With NuScale over the border in Oregon, it does seem that the northwest is becoming a regular modular alley for small reactors. It’ll be interesting to see what Energy Northwest does in this regard.
Of course, Reddemann heads a company that operates a nuclear facility. The importance of his point lies in the statistics: 68. 8 percent of Washington’s electricity is generated by hydro power, 7.8 percent renewable and 7.5 percent nuclear. Nuclear energy is not the solution to CO2 emission reduction, it is a solution.
That’s important in keeping options open in what promises to be a large transition in the energy profile of the United States. It’s good Bloomberg caught this aspect of the Reddemann interview and gave it some breathing space.
Unfortunately, Hamlet’s quote that provides the title doesn’t quite hit the right tone: “I am but mad north-northwest. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.”  Maybe we should do something with the hawk-handsaw thing.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Why Diablo Canyon is Safe from Earthquake and Tsunami

Every once in a while NEI's media team has to call out a journalist for egregiously unbalanced coverage. Today is one such day. Jenner Deal, “reporting” for Business Insider, produced a wildly unbalanced video, replete with anti-nuclear activist views and horror-film ominous sound, in labeling the Diablo Canyon Power Plant a "Fukushima waiting to happen."

The report wasn't entirely erroneous -- Deal got Diablo's acreage, location, and surrounding population correct. But thereafter her reporting lapses badly into anti-nuclear activism. "Many fear that a single earthquake could cause a repeat of the 2011 Fukushima disaster," Deal claims in the intro to her video. Actually, very few outside of California's anti-nuclear activist community do; scores of independent geologists and seismologists who've studied the site do not. Nor does the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has the authority to shut down Diablo Canyon or any other nuclear power plant in the U.S. if it isn't operating safely.

In attempting to link Diablo Canyon with Fukushima Daichii, Deal omits a number of important distinctions. Most basically, she fails to thoroughly examine that seismic and tsunami safety are continually evaluated at Diablo Canyon. In March 2015, two new studies confirmed that the plant’s design can withstand severe natural events, including earthquakes and tsunamis. For example, a new tsunami study predicts that the largest wave that could impact the plant site is about 30 feet high. Diablo Canyon sits 85 feet above sea level. Compare that to Daichii, which resided just 20 feet above ocean level. And Diablo, like all of the U.S. fleet, has notable backup safety systems in place that Japanese plants in 2011 did not.

It's also worth noting that as Japan begins to restart its commercial nuclear operations this fall that industry there incorporated many of the best safety practices long in place at nuclear plants in the U.S. Nuclear energy facilities here were designed and built with extra safety margin, in part to be able to withstand an earthquake even beyond the strongest ever recorded in the region for each site. And over the past decades, each time new seismic information became available, plant operators have confirmed, and in many cases, enhanced the facility’s seismic protection.

Diablo Canyon, located along California’s Central Coast, is understandably a subject of interest when it comes to seismic and tsunami safety. However, the plant is unique in that it maintains a Long Term Seismic Program, staffed with professional scientists, who continually partner with independent experts to ensure the plant is safe. As a result of this program, the seismic region around the plant is perhaps the most studied and understood seismic region in the country.

Between 2010-2013, PG&E conducted advanced seismic research by land and sea to further document the seismic characteristics of the fault zones in the region surrounding Diablo Canyon. The final report, completed in 2014, has given scientists and regulators an unprecedented view into the earth’s crust that significantly increases our understanding of the seismic characteristics near Diablo Canyon. Most importantly, it confirmed that the plant remains seismically safe.

It’s unfortunate that Deal either glossed over these facts or decided not to pursue them altogether. Her final product invites the interpretation that the fix was in for a hit piece from the beginning.

For a truly informative treatment of how Diablo Canyon was designed to withstand natural events, check out this video:  

After the Ball: NuScale and Its Small Reactor Expo

PrintHere’s something that might have been kind of fun to attend if you were rambling around Oregon in August:

NuScale Power announced today that it will host the first NuScale Exposition (also known as NuEx) on August 20 and 21, 2015 in Corvallis, Oregon. NuEx will provide the opportunity to learn more about the US leader in small module reactor (SMR) development, tour its facilities, talk with senior executives and interface with suppliers, investors and state and federal legislators.

NuScale also hosted a gala dinner featuring “some of the finest wines of Oregon.” I was happy to read in NuScale’s follow-up press release that our old friend, Washington state Rep. Sharon Brown, was able to make it over the state line to try out some fine Oregon wine:

“[S]mall modular reactors are not your grandpa’s nuclear. They are emerging technologies built on existing designs. New nuclear is smaller, safer, and carbon-free.”

Smaller, sure. Safer? Well, when the legislature is out of session, Brown herself works at the Hanford site where the Columbia Generating Station is sited. I’m sure she’d agree it’s safe. But she’s saying nice things about her host, so that’s fine.

Why zero in on an Expo that’s passed? Well, it explains some of the attention NuScale’s been getting in the press, presumably a motivation for the Expo. We liked that the company’s hometown paper, The Corvallis Gazette, is  supportive if lightly skeptical (which is about the right mix for a journalistic enterprise). Its editorial on the expo mentions Fukushima and invites comment from Greenpeace, but concludes thusly:

But the company may benefit from another factor: Nuclear power doesn’t generate any carbon emissions, so if you’re looking for power sources that don’t contribute to climate change, you have to at least give some thought to this new generation of nuclear reactor.

It goes a little further:

In fact, the Obama administration’s new policy aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants may have the result of encouraging people to look harder at nuclear power as an important option for the 21st century.

Indeed, just so. But attention to the Expo was surprisingly far-flung and exceptionally positive in tone. For example, consider this from the Albany (N.Y.) Democrat-Herald:

How big is the market potential? The numbers are breathtaking.

According to feasibility study released last year by the United Kingdom’s National Nuclear Laboratory, global demand for SMR energy generation could be 55 to 75 gigawatts by 2035 (excluding Russia, which is assumed to be closed to foreign suppliers).

That equates to between 1,100 and 1,500 NuScale power modules, the company’s chief financial officer, Jay Surina, told the audience at NuEx. Assuming a 25 percent market share and a 10-year deployment time frame, he predicted the company could be turning out 28 to 38 modules a year.

This is a long article, but well worth the read. Speaking of far flung, this article in Wind Power Engineering grazes against NuScale:

The Senator [Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.] further suggests the nation should build nuclear reactors instead of wind farms. He’s actually half right: We should be building small modular reactors (SMRs) powered by thorium along with wind farms because consumers expect inexpensive power 24/7. As the EPA shutters coal fired plants, natural gas and wind will pick up demand for some time to come.

SMRs will get here, eventually. Utah’s Associated Municipal Power Systems and NuScale Power in Oregon say they are planning a 600 MW nuclear plant of 12, 50-MW SMRs.

Naturally, this is much more wind-friendly piece, making its endorsement of small reactors especially interesting.

Whether it’s NuScale, Babcock & Wilcox, Holtec, TerraPower or the number of other companies promoting small reactor technologies, promoting the idea of small reactors can only be positive. (We’d say technology rather than idea, but that’s a bit reductive, as most of the designs are quite different from one another.) But the idea is a good one and seems to be gaining traction – and the expo clearly worked very well in bringing attention to where it can do some good.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Teamwork Keeps Plant Workers Safe at Beaver Valley

Claudia Sacha works as a radiation protection services supervisor at Beaver Valley Power Station in Shippingport, Pa.

Claudia and Dustin Van Dame, senior nuclear specialist,  review dosimeter processing information.
Claudia and Dustin Van Dame, senior nuclear specialist,
review dosimeter processing information. 
As a supervisor in Nuclear Radiation Protection Services, Claudia leads a team of eight employees, and to her, leadership means “respecting people, earning the trust of others, finding value in each person, taking ownership of undesired outcomes, and genuinely listening.”

Claudia’s supervisory role includes dosimetry, respiratory protection and radiation protection-related technical issues. Claudia and her team also are responsible for radiation protection software, the most notable being the software that logs employees in and out of radiologically controlled areas and tracks their radiation dose.

“The most challenging part of my job is balancing the need to operate and perform plant maintenance with the principles of radiation protection. The goal is to ensure safe, reliable plant operation as well as sound radiological safety practice. We have a great team that manages roles, communicates effectively and offers support to each other. We also have a strong ability to work through any challenges.”

When asked what she likes best about her job, Claudia said she enjoys being able to work with many areas. “As a support organization, we have the opportunity to interact with many other disciplines; I enjoy that interaction and being able to provide support to ensure smooth plant operations.”

And here’s an interesting note: Last year, Claudia and her team processed 3,123 dosimeters (to measure radiation dose), and reviewed every result before submitting the data to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Now that’s teamwork!

The above post by FirstEnergy is a part of NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion which showcases the innovators within the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.