Tuesday, October 11, 2016

As Hurricane Matthew Approaches Florida, Nuclear Plants Prepare (Bumped with Update)

Matt Wald
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.

When hurricanes approach, experts tell people to stock up on drinking water and on food that doesn’t require refrigeration, top off their car gas tanks and batten down the hatches. Nuclear reactors also make preparations, with a more formal procedure. With Hurricane Matthew approaching Florida's coast, those procedures are already well advanced.

Plant operators make sure their fuel tanks are topped off too. In this case, it’s diesel fuel, for the emergency generators that would start up and provide electricity for on-site needs if the high-voltage grid went down. The diesels are tested at regular intervals, in foul weather or fair, to assure a reliable back-up supply of electricity.

Plant workers secure anything that could blow away.

The plants are prepared to house and feed a full complement of workers, who would stay at the sites if the roads became impassable.

If the winds are anticipated to reach hurricane force, typically 70 to 75 miles per hour, operators will shut the reactors down, two hours in advance. They may also shut down if exceptionally high tides or other water levels are expected.

And the plants are in constant contact with the a round-the-clock operations center at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. If landlines and cell phones are knocked out, they have satellite phones. In addition, NRC inspectors will be present in case of severe weather.

The plants themselves are designed with hurricanes in mind, as well as tornadoes, earthquakes and other potential threats. All the safety-related equipment is set up to withstand the worst that nature can throw at it.

In addition, each site has a building filled with portable generators and pumps, couplings and hoses, designed to allow a flexible response to unexpected problems. Similar equipment is stored at emergency response centers in Phoenix and Memphis, each near an airport, for quick delivery anywhere in the country if needed.

In the course of a hurricane, some plants will use the official government classification system to declare “unusual events” or “alerts,” and will notify local and federal officials that they have done so. The procedure provides a structure for alerting relevant officials to unexpected events at a plant, but in this case the activities are responses to very obvious external developments.

Shutting down a generating station, whether nuclear or fossil, does not create shortages of power on the grid, because so much of the distribution system is lost in a hurricane anyway, as falling trees tear down power lines and utility poles.

The preparations at nuclear plants are part of the larger effort by electric companies in affected regions. The utilities have a highly-developed system of mutual assistance, in which they loan each other crews and equipment for post-storm clean-up. Exactly who will loan and who will borrow is ad-hoc, depending on the path of the storm, but the crews are on standby, ready to roll.

Historically, nuclear plants returning to service after catastrophic hurricanes have provided energy essential for recovery efforts.

MONDAY UPDATE: Matthew clobbered roofs, roads and utility poles. But, as expected, nuclear power plants in the region performed as they were designed and came through the storm ready to resume production of electricity, which is a vital component of regional recovery. Some plants ran all the way through the storm, and others are awaiting the OK to re-start, which they will do as soon as Federal officials have checked that the areas surrounding the plants, the roads are passable and the emergency sirens are still in place.

Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas saw a lot of damage to infrastructure, but the nuclear infrastructure was designed and built with weather more severe than Matthew in mind. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, U.S. plants have protected public health and safety through numerous weather challenges. They operate reliably year round. The U.S. nuclear infrastructure provides the strong backbone to get areas that are damaged by such storms back on their feet and focused on recovery.

Throughout the region, the need to generate electricity was sharply reduced because so many power lines were knocked down by wind or falling trees.

Matthew killed more than a dozen people in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, and caused yet-uncounted billions of dollars in damage, to private property and public buildings and infrastructure. Recovery will be difficult but electricity from the regions’ nuclear reactors will help lay the groundwork for that.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Innovation Fuels the Nuclear Legacy: Southern Nuclear Employees Share Their Stories

Blake Bolt and Sharimar Colon are excited about nuclear energy. Each works at Southern Nuclear Co. and sees firsthand how their ingenuity powers the nation’s largest supply of clean energy. For Powered by Our People, they shared their stories of advocacy, innovation in the workplace and efforts to promote efficiency. Their passion for nuclear energy casts a bright future for the industry.

Blake Bolt has worked in the nuclear industry for six years and is currently the work week manager at Hatch Nuclear Plant in Georgia. He takes pride in an industry he might one day pass on to his children.

What is your job and why do you enjoy doing it?

As a Work Week Manager at Plant Hatch, my primary responsibility is to ensure nuclear safety and manage the risk associated with work by planning, scheduling, preparing and executing work to maximize the availability and reliability of station equipment and systems. I love my job because it enables me to work directly with every department on the plant site. I get to help the different teams execute the schedule safely and successfully. My day-to-day activities have a direct impact on “moving the needle” at Plant Hatch, and I leave work every day knowing I’ve accomplished something meaningful.

What is your vision for the future of nuclear in America? 

My vision for the future of nuclear in America includes an industry made up of a diverse operating fleet—from AP1000s and advanced BWRs to newer conceptual reactors. I think that by diversifying our industry with different vintage reactors, both old and new, our industry will be able to better navigate and withstand the constantly changing economic and political environments.

What is your favorite story of nuclear advocacy?

Social media is one of the most powerful tools available to us today, and I’m excited to see groups like NAYGN, NEI and Southern Nuclear taking advantage of that. Just last month, I signed a petition to the White House that NAYGN had shared on Facebook to “Keep America’s Nuclear Power Plants Working for Us.” The following week at work, I received emails from a BWR Owners Group and SNC’s Communications Director asking me to sign the same petition! It was exciting to see something that started with a single employee gain so much momentum through social media and beyond. 

How are you bringing innovation into the nuclear energy industry? 

Innovation is often hard to define; it is not always a “widget” you can lay your hands on. Sometimes it is simply a different way of thinking. One way my group and I are bringing innovation into the nuclear energy industry is by constantly asking ourselves why we are doing what we are doing. To stand still is to fall behind, and by being in a mode of constant self-evaluation, we are always pushing ourselves to the next goal and eliminating practices that add no value. 

What does Delivering the Nuclear Promise mean to you? 

For so many people across the industry, nuclear power is a “family” business—it was one of the reasons I chose this line of work. My father, brother and wife all work in the nuclear power industry. To me, Delivering the Nuclear Promise means that one day my children will have opportunities to work in the nuclear power industry. I hope to one day be able to pass on the same passion for nuclear power my father had to my children.

Blake Bolt and Sharimar Colon

Sharimar Colon has been working in the nuclear industry for three years and is currently an electrical design engineer. She and her team pursue innovation to drive efficiency at Farley Nuclear Plant in Alabama. 

What is your job and why do you enjoy doing it?

I work as an electrical design engineer responsible for design development of electrical systems and equipment for commercial nuclear power. I perform electrical system design evaluations based on nuclear codes, standards and licensing requirements. I enjoy working with a diverse and friendly group of engineers that are always willing to help. I also enjoy exchanging ideas to develop the best design products and the opportunity to learn every day.

What is your vision for the future of nuclear in America?

I see nuclear power becoming the dominant source of energy in America based on its ability to provide cost-effective and safe power production.

What is your favorite story of nuclear advocacy?

During a refueling outage, emergent issues require immediate actions to avoid delays. A design request proposed preparing a design change for the control circuitry of a pump. Various iterations of the design change were prepared, until an engineer questioned the approach in its entirety. The engineer pushed to perform more troubleshooting and determined that the issue was in a different part of the system, and that the proposed design change would not have fixed the issue. This is one of many examples of the importance of applying technical conscience and using resources effectively. 

How are you bringing innovation into nuclear energy industry?

In addition to my electrical design engineer duties, I was assigned the task of design working-list coordinator. I have been making the process more visible and robust. I implemented many initiatives to bring awareness to plant personnel of the list and its importance and have also developed different communication methods to make processing of the list more efficient. This increase in efficiency translates directly to lower operating costs by providing high-quality products that prevent the organizational strain caused by missed milestones. 

What does delivering the nuclear promise mean to you? 

Delivering the Nuclear Promise means using our resources in the most efficient manner so that nuclear is the dominant cost-effective energy source in America. I personally have supported this by performing designs that previously would have been contracted to an outside architecture/engineering firm. This has saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is this new way of doing business that will propel the industry forward.

Share this story of nuclear’s benefits with your network using #whynuclear. To learn more, go to nei.org/whynuclear.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

NRC and Palo Verde Focus on Making Nuclear Outages Safer with FLEX

Bob Bement
The following is a guest post by Bob Bement, Executive Vice President at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station (PVNGS).

Learnings from the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March of 2011 are actually impacting U.S. nuclear industry operations today, making a safe fleet even safer.

One of the most significant post-Fukushima initiatives was the implementation of Diverse and Flexible Coping Strategies (FLEX), which utilizes reliable portable equipment to provide operators with a powerful tool box for responding to the most extreme situations. The industry has made great strides in improving safety using the portable equipment to protect against events similar to the one at Fukushima, however there is still significant potential for increasing safety in other areas with this equipment. We’re doing just that at Palo Verde today and, with the support of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), it will be done industry-wide.

Palo Verde achieved a green risk level for the full duration of our latest spring outage. We accomplished this by deploying the extra sets of FLEX equipment to serve as an additional level of defense while performing maintenance functions. It’s important to note that before any of these strategies are implemented, personnel ensure that these uses would not cause a potential for the plant to shut down automatically, or they would not potentially fail or actuate a safety-related system.

One innovative strategy we implemented was deploying a FLEX pump to provide temporary back up cooling to the spent fuel pool. Having this pump staged allowed the option of providing cooling from an alternate water tank while the normal back up water tank was undergoing normal maintenance during our outage. Additionally, Palo Verde deployed portable FLEX generators while online as backups to improve safety. The generators were connected in a way to prevent any adverse impacts on the plant.
Jason Seymour of APS inspects a mobile pump.
Last May, David Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists visited Palo Verde and saw firsthand how we were implementing this equipment and taking necessary precautions. By staging this equipment, we not only improve safety directly, but we familiarize our personnel with the FLEX equipment and how to deploy it.
The site is justifiably proud of its successes; it is also aware of the consequences from failure. Complacency is an easy trap to fall into. While no one desires to be trapped, the PVNGS backs up its desire with vigilant awareness.

–David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists
Originally, operators ran nuclear plants using technical specifications, and then we added risk management action levels. Now we want operators to always consider how they can improve plant safety using FLEX equipment.

Staff at Palo Verde explain use of FLEX equipment.
Key leaders from NRC came out to Palo Verde earlier this month, to see firsthand how we are leading the use of FLEX equipment in this innovative manner. One area of ongoing discussion is with the effectiveness of the FLEX preventative maintenance (PM) programs. The industry and NRC invested a significant amount of resources into FLEX, including implementation of an approach to the PM programs that would be used industry-wide, ensuring its effectiveness. These programs continue to be rigorous enough for additional beyond design basis enhancements to safety.

The industry and the NRC have a common goal of improving safety using FLEX equipment. I believe that NRC leadership recognizes the potential of this equipment. Fortunately, our joint efforts on FLEX implementation over the last five years have laid the foundation to improve safety in this innovative way.

Monday, September 26, 2016

On Eve of Presidential Debate, Nuclear Energy is One Area of Agreement

Matt Wald
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.

We’ve said it often: nuclear power is a foundation of a reliable power grid, holds down carbon emissions and is a staple of local economies. But it’s nice to hear it from others as well, and earlier this month, all those points were made by the Washington State Democratic Central Committee.

The committee passed a resolution calling for continued operation of the Columbia Generating Station, a publicly-owned reactor that since 1984 has been churning out 1,190 megawatts of power, enough to meet the needs of about a million households, and about 8.2 percent of the electricity generated in the state in 2014.

The reactor’s output is “continuously available regardless of weather conditions,” the resolution pointed out, and can help back up the rising levels of intermittent solar and wind power. Shutting it would mean the loss of 1,500 jobs directly, and three times that number in indirect jobs, and would double the state’s output of carbon dioxide from natural gas, the resolution said.

Gov. Walker signs bill ending Wisconsin's moratorium.
The Washington State Democrats are not alone in realizing the value of nuclear power. In February, Wisconsin ended a 33 year moratorium on construction of new nuclear plants. That moratorium was initiated over concern about what to do with used fuel, but Wisconsin, and the Democrats in Washington State, concluded that the problem is not urgent, because the fuel can be successfully stored for many decades in steel-and-concrete casks. The casks keep the fuel dry, and are cooled by the natural circulation of air.

In New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo said when he called for the establishment of a clean energy standard that “maintaining zero-emission nuclear power is a critical element to achieving New York’s ambitious climate goals.’’

The NY Clean Energy Standard: it all adds up.
The governor acted to protect nuclear plants that were threatened by financial problems brought on by flaws in the electricity market. He said, “A growing number of climate scientists have warned that if these nuclear plants were to abruptly close, carbon emissions in New York will increase by more than 31 million metric tons during the next two years, resulting in public health and other societal costs of at least $1.4 billion.’’

Nationally, in a presidential campaign in which the candidates do not agree on much, they both like nuclear power. Scientific American magazine recently asked Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump various questions about energy and environment, and published their answers.

Mrs. Clinton said, “Meeting the climate challenge is too important to limit the tools available in this fight. Nuclear power—which accounts for more than 60 percent of our zero carbon power generation today—is one of those tools. I will work to ensure that the climate benefits of our existing nuclear power plants that are safe to operate are appropriately valued and increase investment in the research, development and deployment of advanced nuclear power.’’

Mr. Trump is not a believer in human-caused climate change, but he likes nuclear too. He said, “Nuclear power is a valuable source of energy and should be part of an all-the-above program for providing power for America long into the future. We can make nuclear power safer, and its outputs are extraordinary given the investment we should make. Nuclear power must be an integral part of energy independence for America.’’

With the first in a series of debates in the Presidential campaign just hours away, it’s nice to think that not every issue divides the nation so deeply.

Monday, September 19, 2016

What the Colonial Pipeline Teaches Us About Fuel Diversity

Matt Wald
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.

Six southern governors have declared states of emergency in the last few days, because a gasoline pipeline sprung a leak near Birmingham, Alabama. The pipeline, which runs from East Texas to New Jersey, normally carries 50 million gallons a day, after the leak was discovered on September 9, some gas stations have run dry and others have long lines. Gas prices have surged, and it’s not clear when the pipeline will re-open.

So what is the lesson for those six states (Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia) and the rest of us?

It’s that hand-to-mouth energy systems will intermittently face disruption.

Pipeline ruptures are not unusual. They can be caused by corrosion, or because floods washed away the soil under them, or because something was wrong with the steel before it was installed. Sometimes the pipe was hit by excavation equipment.

But they don’t even have to break to cause problems; they simply have to face bad weather. In the winter of 2012-2013 in New England, a polar vortex triggered a sharp demand in natural gas for heating, but there was no way to deliver more. The shortage pushed natural gas prices up sharply; electricity followed, running at four to five times its normal cost for a sustained period.

Florida has suffered from natural gas shortages after hurricanes disrupted production from offshore platforms. California faced an electricity crunch for all of this summer because a gas storage field called Aliso Canyon leaked and had to be emptied.

The pipeline with a problem this time is for refined oil, not natural gas, and little oil is used for electricity production. But this event highlights vulnerabilities shared by all pipelines.

It might be time to think about pipelines and supply diversity.
And it’s not just pipeline fuels like gasoline and natural gas that can face problems. Coal delivery is generally reliable – often you can look out the window at a coal plant and see the next month of fuel in piles on the ground – but in January, 2014, during another cold snap, coal piles froze, and so did some equipment. PJM, the energy market that covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland and parts of ten other states, stretching west to Chicago, reported that nearly 14,000 megawatts of coal capacity was disabled, enough to run hundreds of thousands of houses and businesses. In Texas in February, 2011, a cold snap knocked out 50 power plants, some coal and some natural gas, and produced 8 hours of rolling blackouts, in which grid operators played eeny-meeny-miney-moe with customers, turning them off in shifts.

Hydroelectric plants don’t often break down, but they do cut production when they’ve run out of water. In 2015, California got less than 7 percent of its electricity from hydropower, down from an average of 18 percent between 1983 and 2013. Wind droughts are not so obvious to the public, but they happen too.

Nuclear power, in contrast, is the energy equivalent of extra canned food on a basement shelf. Nuclear plants stop to refuel only once every 18 to 24 months, and the few truckloads of uranium fuel assemblies needed for a refueling typically arrive weeks or months before they are used. Nuclear plants have been known to shut down in advance of oncoming hurricanes, but in such cases, they are usually ready to resume production long before the transmission and distribution systems have been rebuilt.

We wouldn’t want a 100 percent nuclear system any more than we’d want a diet of only canned food. But the best electric system is a diverse one, in which we have hedged our bets with many different sources. One of the benefits that nuclear power brings to the system is that neither snow nor rain to heat nor gloom of night will stop it from churning out megawatt-hours when they are needed the most.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Innovating to Deliver the Nuclear Promise

The following was written by Maya Chandrashekhar, project manager for Nuclear Steam Supply Systems Engineering at AREVA Inc, for the Powered by Our People promotion. She has been with AREVA and the nuclear industry since 2007.

Maya Chandrashekhar

What you do and why you enjoy doing it?

As a project manager, my main goal is to help our customers solve their engineering problems expeditiously, economically and in the safest manner. I work with AREVA’s engineering, procurement and operations teams, customers’ engineering teams, our suppliers and partners. The synergies and teamwork evolving on these projects are always unique and it is wonderful to see different parties from different companies and different countries work in unison towards fulfilling the nuclear promise. I enjoy the partnerships, collaboration, the unpredictable day to day challenges and anecdotal stories each of these projects bring with them.

What is your vision for the future of nuclear in America? 

The demand for energy in the United States and worldwide is ever increasing and with it is increasing the challenge of having an environmentally friendly, low-carbon energy option. Nuclear is a reliable energy source for providing baseload power “when the sun doesn’t shine and wind doesn’t blow.” Nuclear is a strong contributor in the environmentally friendly energy mix and should remain there in the future. 

The United States has a robust regulatory field of experience and should be a steward in helping other countries establish a strong regulatory and safety nuclear culture across the world. 

We need increased R&D spending to attract younger generations of engineers and innovators to make and keep nuclear safer, economical and viable in the eco-friendly energy mix of the future. We have to lead the world in innovation of new generation nuclear technologies and modernization of the current fleet of operating plants.

Share your favorite story of nuclear advocacy. 

At AREVA, we sponsor a lot of STEM related activities in local schools and community and take the opportunity to educate our communities about nuclear power. I love going to classrooms and talking to students and teachers about nuclear power. It never fails to amaze the teachers and students when I show them the graphic of how one small pellet of uranium, weighing about 7 grams, can generate as much energy as 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas or 1,780 pounds of coal.

It is surprising that most people don’t realize that nuclear power represents clean energy or connect the dot between carbon free energy and nuclear. Some of the first things that come to peoples’ mind when they think nuclear are Fukushima or Chernobyl or nuclear waste. We find that people are always surprised that they know so little of the good aspects of nuclear power!  

How are you bringing innovation into the nuclear energy industry?

In the area of project management I follow earned value management techniques to ensure our projects finish on time, under budget and safely. I use integrated planning and scheduling between the different AREVA disciplines, customers, and suppliers to manage the project as a whole to ensure on time delivery. 

What does Delivering the Nuclear Promise mean to you? 

Delivering the Nuclear Promise is everything we can do today to ensure that nuclear power has a place in the foreseeable future as a reliable energy source. In my work, I constantly challenge myself and my teams to think differently to optimize our solutions and bring efficiencies. 

In the current market, the Nuclear Promise is to make our operating fleet efficient and economical to continue to be the safest and reliable producers of electricity. AREVA’s global award winning innovation in the area of Alloy 600 mitigation using Cavitation Peening technology is a very good example of how AREVA supports the Nuclear Promise. This break-through innovation gives utilities a viable option of mitigation without having to exercise cost prohibitive options of repair or replacement of aging components. It demonstrates our commitment to innovating solutions that help our customers deliver on the nuclear promise.

Monday, August 29, 2016

How Nuclear Energy Can Help Count the Cost of Carbon

Matt Wald
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.

A Federal appeals court recently ruled against companies that make commercial refrigerators in a case involving energy efficiency standards. What does this have to do with nuclear power? Potentially, a lot.

The Federal government’s goal is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, which the Intergovernmental Climate on Climate Change and the Environmental Protection Agency have found are destabilizing the climate. But the United States does not have a tax on carbon, or even an overall limit on emissions. This gap in regulations is one reason that nuclear power plants usually do not get credit for the fact that their production is carbon-free.

But the government does have an emerging tool, called the "Social Cost of Carbon." That cost, determined jointly by several federal agencies, puts a dollar number on the damage caused by an additional ton of carbon dioxide emissions.

As of last year the cost was put at between $11 and $56 per ton of carbon dioxide.

The recent decision, by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, concerned appliance efficiency standards. The Energy Department sets efficiency standards for 60 categories of devices, everything from ceiling fans to light bulbs to air conditioners, under a 1975 law intended to cut oil consumption (oil was widely used to make electricity in those days) and to produce “potential environmental benefits.” And it used that law to set a standard for commercial refrigerators.

As part of the cost/benefit analysis, it counted the benefits of reduced carbon dioxide production from reduced electricity demand. But the refrigeration industry argued that the Department of Energy was not authorized to use the Social Cost of Carbon. In fact, the department has been doing so for several years now. Here’s a list of standards in which the social cost of carbon played a role.

The Court ruled that the government can, in fact, use the social cost of carbon and count carbon pollution reduction as a benefit when it decides on energy efficiency standards.

The case, may be relied on in a variety of future decisions by the Energy Department and other agencies, and other courts as well, as they consider arguments over rules and policies that have an impact on climate change.

This is another step in the acceptance of the Social Cost of Carbon, a yardstick for determining the value of avoiding a ton of carbon emissions.

Recently New York State used the Social Cost of Carbon to calculate the value of electricity production from several nuclear reactors whose continued operations were threatened by inexpensive natural gas and subsidized wind power.

And the court decision in the refrigerator case made another significant point: because U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide affect the climate globally, “those global effects are an appropriate consideration when looking at a national policy.” Thus the Energy Department was permitted to use a measure of global damage avoided by a carbon-saving measure when it calculated benefits and costs. Other governmental agencies can also take account of the global benefits.

On Friday, for example, the Justice Department cited the decision in the refrigerator case in defending a case against the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to put state-by-state limits on carbon emissions from power plants.