Wednesday, September 02, 2015

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.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Recognizing Clean Nuclear Plants in the Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan will be with us for a long time and will be discussed pro and con for months and years. One aspect of the plan that stands out is its rather bizarre notion that all currently running nuclear plants will keep running, thus continuing to contribute emission-free electricity.
The EPA is likewise not finalizing the proposal to include a component representing preserved existing nuclear generation in the BSER [best system of emission reduction]. On further consideration, we believe it is inappropriate to base the BSER on elements that will not reduce CO2 missions from affected EGUs [electric utility generating units] below current levels. Existing nuclear generation helps make existing CO2 emissions lower than they would otherwise be, but will not further lower CO2 emissions below current levels.
EPA also says it cannot know which nuclear facilities might close due to economic issues and thus cannot credit them. “[W]e believe that it is inappropriate to base the BSER in part on the premise that the preservation of existing low-or zero-carbon generation, as opposed to the production of incremental, low-or zero- carbon generation, could reduce CO2 emissions from current levels.”
Of course, closing nuclear plants sets back the overall effort.  Nuclear (and hydro, too, for that matter) have done most of the heavy lifting on emission reduction over the last decades and together produce about 25 percent of U.S. electricity generation and 63 percent of zero-carbon electricity.
Let’s see how NEI addresses this:
“We are disappointed, however, that the ‘best system of emission reduction’ in the final rule does not incorporate the carbon-abatement value of existing nuclear power plants—the largest source of carbon-free electricity. This is surprising since EPA clearly recognized in the proposed rule that some of these plants are at risk of premature shutdown. 
“In the final rule, EPA notes correctly that ‘existing nuclear generation helps make existing CO2 emissions lower than they would otherwise be, but will not further lower CO2 emissions below current levels.’ What the final rule fails to recognize is that CO2 emissions will be significantly higher if existing nuclear power plants shut down prematurely.
That’s the crux of it. If a plant closes, you lose its benefits.
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The Third Way tries a quantitative approach to this issue with a report called “When Nuclear Ends: How Nuclear Retirements Might Undermine Clean Power Plan Progress,” done in collaboration with researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Right on point, isn’t it?  Here’s the conclusion:
If America’s nuclear plants begin retiring in droves, achieving the Clean Power Plan emissions reductions could be impossible.
Depending on different scenarios, emissions could go up 12.5 percent or more from this year if reactors retire after their initial 40-year license expires. These are enormous increases, equivalent to adding up to 76 million cars to the road, or about 30 percent of vehicles registered in America today. 2025 emissions would revert to close to 2005 levels, undermining progress towards a lower-carbon energy system.
Most economic projections in all fields do scenarios because, of course, we cannot predict the future, we can only show what might happen. The Energy Information Administration uses as its baseline the current situation projected forwards.
Read the whole report to understand its methodology better. The bottom line is this: you cannot have nuclear energy plants close and not pay a significant price in emission reduction goals. Third Way demonstrates this pretty definitively.
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Here’s the thing: anyone can write anything – and make a pretty darn convincing case - but nothing beats the experiential. That is, what happens with emissions when a country closes a nuclear plant or reopens one. We wrote about the restart of Japan’s Sendai nuclear facility last week. Here’s a germane tidbit on that event:
When operating Sendai 1 avoids the emission of more than six million tons of carbon dioxide each year, compared to coal-fired generation.
And I guess three million tons compared to natural gas. And that’s one reactor! Six million tons coal, three million tons natural gas, zero nuclear. And Japan turned on some of its oil burning plants, too. It’s doesn’t take a nuclear scientist to see how the Clean Power Plan has missed a beat – several beats - here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Nuclear Powers On in the Texas Heat While Wind Wilts

Michael Purdie
The following is a guest post by NEI's Michael Purdie.

Major cities in Texas were subject to numerous 100 degree-plus days this month. Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin all had record setting electricity demand. If you have ever been to these cities during one of these days, it’s hot and there is very little breeze to cool you down.

The most extreme day for the grid was August 13, when power prices peaked above $1,000/MWh. When this occurs, the grid operator (in this case, ERCOT) takes action. ERCOT called for conservation measures because electricity reserves were below 2,500 MWs during the peak.

Why did this occur? Simple. The wind generating units in Texas produced less than 20% of what they’re capable of providing. By operating at less than a 20% capacity factor, wind units provided 633 MWs of power less than what ERCOT predicted during the daily peak demand. The chart below depicts the planned and actual wind generation during hours of the day. The power price curve is positively correlated with electricity demand. This graph shows that when wind resources are most plentiful is also when the electricity is least valuable.

Source: Platts Megawatt Daily, Aug. 17, 2015

A representative of a fossil fuel generator told Platts Megawatt Daily that gas and coal were operating at approximately 90% of their potential. What did better? Texas’ four nuclear reactors (two each at the South Texas Project and Comanche Peak) operated at 100% for the whole week. These four reactors provided nearly 5,000 MW of electricity when Texans needed it most. Assuming a 90% capacity factor over one year, the four Texas reactors provide power for 2.74 million people. This is roughly equal to the population of Dallas and San Antonio combined.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Nuclear Energy for This Generation, and Beyond

Tiffany Williams is a security operations supervisor at Entergy’s Waterford 3 nuclear facility and has worked in the nuclear industry for more than 18 years. She started her career as a fire watch contractor and held other positions increasing in responsibility including nuclear security officer and alarm station operator.

Tiffany Williams
Tiffany Williams

I owe my love of nuclear power to my father. As a child, I remember him coming home from work and sharing stories of what he did that day. We were fascinated because it was like nothing else we heard before. He was actually making history by helping build Waterford 3 – Louisiana’s first nuclear power plant.

Throughout the construction period, my father would explain the importance of what he was building. The Waterford 3 Steam Electric Station would provide safe, clean and reliable electricity for Louisianans. It would also provide great paying jobs and local community support. To fully understand the importance of Waterford 3, he made sure I visited the Entergy Education Center so I could see firsthand how nuclear power is produced. I’ve been intrigued ever since.

So, it was a pretty proud moment when I began working at the plant in 1992 during a refueling outage – alongside my father.

Since then, I’ve grown a rewarding career in Waterford 3’s security organization. I play an important role as a security supervisor, responsible for the overall protection of the plant and station personnel to ensure the public’s trust is maintained while safely and reliably providing electricity.

Nuclear power plants take security very seriously. Waterford 3’s security organization continually challenges each other to stay ahead of any potential threat. No one person in the security organization can operate alone. We depend on each other to do what has been instinctively taught through standardized training – observe, report, react and respond.
Tiffany Williams and her father
Tiffany and her father
Our security force must meet the rigorous standards set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We do this by completing hundreds of hours of training prior to joining the security organization and then we complete regular testing and drill requirements, including participation in large scale force-on-force exercises designed to test our defensive capabilities. 

Our job is to protect the plant, its workers and the community from any potential threat. We do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

I’m proud to be a second generation nuclear worker. Just like my father, I will continue to educate people about the safe, reliable and clean air energy generated from nuclear. It’s important for America’s energy future.

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

Monday, August 24, 2015

Radiation All Around Us All the Time

2005. Former U.S. President Jimmy CarterThe dreadful recent news about former President Jimmy Carter brought back happier memories. Some years ago, my wife and I stood next to and chatted with the then-Governor of Georgia and  First Lady while waiting to get into a concert at Atlanta’s Omni complex. I wouldn’t call it the most memorable moment in my life, but it doesn’t have to be to be fondly recalled.

Carter was dipping into a bag of boiled peanuts – a southern specialty I then considered foul – and we compared notes on various music halls and local bands. The Carters were likely more familiar with Macon than Atlanta at the time, but they had clearly canvassed the local music scene – and knew more about it than we did – and we were the college students.

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President Carter’s treatment at Emory University has already begun and radiation therapy will be part of it.

Thursday afternoon, Carter was to undergo radiation treatment.

On Wednesday, the hospital fitted him with a mask that will hold his head perfectly still to make sure the radiation goes into the right places in his brain. "Focused radiation as compared to general radiation has shown some success," said Dr. Manmeet Ahluwalia. "That they are really small makes it more likely that these lesions can be controlled."

I’ve read elsewhere that this kind of treatment, combined with medicines, does not always completely clear the cancer, but can make the disease manageable, as AZT does with AIDs. We nervously but hopefully await a good outcome.

We wish President and Mrs. Carter all the best.

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Time has stolen away some of the fear traditionally associated with radiation. In the 50s, radiation was often used in movies to enlarge people and animals to monstrous proportions, but, in case you haven’t noticed, that hasn’t happened in real life. And the medical uses of radiation have saved or lengthened many lives, as we hope it will for President Carter.

Radiation may not carry quite as potent a charge as it once did because people recognize that it is everywhere around us all the time and it always has been. That’s the idea Gizmodo author Maddie Stone runs with, with a dose, so to speak, of the unexpected places ionizing radiation is found. These include: bananas, concrete, cigarettes, and water. You name it, there’s likely to be ionizing radiation in or around it.

You will often see mSv as the unit used for representing radiation dose. Sieverts measure the biological impact of ionizing radiation, with one sievert considered potent enough to induce radiation poisoning in a human being. That’s a lot of radiation, though, making the unit problematic as a measuring instrument – every use of it would almost always be expressed as a decimal. Enter the millisievert: it is much more useful and manageable, representing 1/1000 of a sievert. All the items on Gizmodo’s list carry a relatively small number of millisieverts, which makes comparing one against another easy.

This is a “More You Know” kind of article and it’s information is worth knowing. Anything that helps people understand radiation is a plus – for the nuclear industry, of course, but just for general knowledge, too. Many of us have benefited from radiation in our real lives and know it; it is worth saying it and learning more about it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

NRC Vote Eliminates Need for External Containment Filters

Earlier this week, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided in a 3-1 vote not to pursue a rulemaking with regard to reactor containment protection and release reduction for boiling water reactors with Mark I and Mark II containments. As readers of the blog will recall, NEI COO Maria Korsnick explained in a post back in June why external containment vents were unnecessary in the wake of a new innovation that was developed by the industry in conjunction with the Electric Power Research Institute:

While this order clearly improved safety, we believed we could obtain additional safety benefit if we could ensure water could be added to the reactor to cool the damaged core and also prevent containment failure.

Working with my counterparts in the industry and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), we remedied this problem by including water addition under these conditions. This was included in the industry’s guidance for implementing the vent order and endorsed by NRC.

Interestingly, the same water to cool the core will also act as a filter in containment. As industry and NRC research show, because the external filters are just tanks filled with water, the water in containment can be just as effective as an external filter. Taken together, it’s a solution that is innovative, elegant and cost-effective, one that ought to be a model for nuclear safety around the world going forward.


Click here to read the whole thing.

Refreshed Safety Messaging at Diablo Canyon

The cornerstone of safety in the nuclear industry is safety culture. It's identified as the core values and behaviors resulting from a collective commitment by leaders and individuals to emphasize safety over competing goals, to ensure protection of people and the environment.

The nuclear industry is proactive in ensuring nuclear energy facilities have a strong nuclear safety culture. NRC is responsible for providing effective oversight. And the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) promotes high levels of safety and reliability in U.S. nuclear plants by setting performance objectives, criteria, and guidelines industry-wide for nuclear plant operations, and by conducting regular evaluations of nuclear plants.

Safety -- and safety culture -- isn't static. Earlier today our friends at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant shared with us this image of a fresh coat of paint adorning a hallway leading to a site turbine building, reminding plant staff of the unwavering safety commitment required by Pacific Gas & Electric and the nuclear industry. 

"Operators operate the plant. The rest of us give them a safe plant to operate."