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."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Mystery of the Missing Atoms

question-markLet’s see if you can see what I see. It’s kind of a mystery.
This is from the New York Times

But with the shrinking of the industry, coal interests “are losing their clout, and they’re not going to get it back,” Mr. Goodell said. “It’s becoming clear where the future is going. The politically smart thing is to jump on the renewables bandwagon.”
Goodell is Jeff Goodell, author of the 2006 book “Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future.”
Let’s try another one. Same thing as above, this time from the Hill.
We’re thrilled about any opportunity to replace coal directly with renewable energy, because the whole idea of natural gas as a bridge fuel has become debunked as we get more and more understanding of how bad natural gas is, and how ready to go renewable energy is,” said Julian Boggs, the global warming outreach director for Environment America. “Deploying as much renewable energy as possible is essential to solving global warming. Natural gas can’t solve global warming.”
These are both about the Clean Power Plan. We’ll let the coal and renewable folks take care of themselves. It’s just that this death of coal/birth of renewables meme seems much too binary, with Mr. Boggs having no trouble throwing natural gas onto the island of misfit energy types.
But can you replace base load energy – and a lot of it – with intermittent renewable energy? And is natural gas the only conceivable solution? Could there be – something else?

What could that be? – and emission free – and base load energy, to boot. Hydro, maybe? That’s pretty tapped out – you could call it peak water, but really, it’s the environmental hurtles of building new dams that make a difference. Surely this complex tangle of a mystery requires superb sleuthing abilities to resolve.

Let’s try one more story, this one from Bloomberg, to see if this crime against electricity can be solved.
The race for renewable energy has passed a turning point. The world is now adding more capacity for renewable power each year than coal, natural gas, and oil combined. And there's no going back.

Solar, the newest major source of energy in the mix, makes up less than 1 percent of the electricity market today but could be the world’s biggest single source by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.
The story has a correction that points out that EIA projections are based on different scenarios which may or may not prove out. They’re really not meant to prove out. It’s a government agency looking at possibilities, not the Amazing Kreskin.

Still, Bloomberg sees what the Clean Power Plan means to do, it recognizes that solar has great potential but no market share yet – and misses the obvious player in the energy market. Hercule Poirot would be slapping his forehead.

We get that reporters cannot be expected to know everything and sometimes give too much time to interested parties as interview subjects, but come on, ink slingers, try a little harder.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fuel Manufacturing Innovations at AREVA Provide Reliable Global Electricity

Manuel Seubert is a process engineer in ceramics manufacturing for AREVA. He has been in the nuclear industry for 7 years. He also serves as treasurer of the NAYGN AREVA Richland chapter.

Manuel Seubert
Manuel Seubert
Why are you a nuclear engineer? Why do you like working where you do?

I’m a process engineer in AREVA’s uranium dioxide fuel pellet manufacturing facility in Richland, Wash. I worked in a similar position at our AREVA facility in Germany before relocating to Richland. The opportunities and variety of challenges presented in my job is what I enjoy most. I am responsible for solving technical problems, investigating the source of process disconnects, as well as improving the performance of the new and existing manufacturing processes. I enjoy working in manufacturing in a technical engineering support role because it offers a wide range of exposure and it always presents interesting challenges.

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

Nuclear energy is important not only for America’s energy future, but for the energy future of any industrialized nation that has a need for a reliable and clean source of energy. Other energy sources may be just as reliable or just as clean, but the combination of reliable and clean is what makes nuclear energy unique and important.

How are you bringing innovation into the nuclear energy industry?

There are many ways to bring innovation into the nuclear energy industry. I participate in monthly meetings with my colleagues from the other AREVA sites in Germany and France where we exchange operational experiences and discuss best practices in fuel manufacturing within AREVA. With AREVA’s recent introduction of new fuel designs, it is important that the process engineers are aligned globally. AREVA just announced its delivery of the GAIA lead time assemblies for its next generation pressurized water reactor fuel design.  We have also delivered lead time assemblies for our new ATRIUM 11 boiling water reactor fuel design, and are currently in the process of designing new fuel for the next generation nuclear plant. Innovations are unlimited in our industry and I am excited to participate in an organization that leads the change for a more reliable, safer and cleaner energy solution.

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

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sendai Nuclear Happy Times

We’ve reported a few times in the past about Japan’s efforts to restart its nuclear energy industry. This seemed inevitable because the country was not officially closing its plants, because it was rebuilding its regulatory regime to mirror that of the United States (that is, not linked to efforts to promote nuclear technology and focused exclusively on public safety) and, not least, because resource-light Japan has very few options in the energy sphere if it wants baseload carbon dioxide emission-free electricity. If it had completely abandoned nuclear energy, that would be unfortunate but comprehensible. But it made no moves to do so.

So that’s where we’ve been for the last five years. Here’s where we are now:
Kyushu Electric Power began to restart its Sendai No. 1 reactor on Tuesday, the company said, the first attempt to reboot Japan's nuclear industry in nearly two years after the sector was shut down in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
The utility, which supplies electricity to the island of the same name in southwestern Japan, began the restart of the reactor at 10:30 a.m. (0130 GMT) as scheduled, a spokesman said.
Much of the news about this is found in European and, obviously, Japanese sources. It’s been very lightly covered in the U.S. But it would be a good thing to promote it here. Because some of the Japanese rationale for returning to nuclear energy is true here, too.
Since shutting down all nuclear plants, Japan has been relying on imported fossil fuels for its energy, at huge expense. The government has said nuclear power must resume to cut both import bills and growing CO2 emissions.
That’s the problem with being on an island with few energy-related resources. Importing relatively little uranium versus copious amounts of coal and liquefied natural gas takes a toll.
But, of course, it’s the emissions produced by those sources that cause deeper concern. From Reuters in April:
Japan's greenhouse-gas emissions rose to the second-highest on record in the year ended March 2014, revised government figures showed on Tuesday, reflecting a rise in coal-fired power after the indefinite closure of nuclear power plants.
Emissions rose 1.2 percent to 1.408 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent from a year earlier, according to the revised data published by the Ministry of Environment. That was up 0.8 percent from 2005 and up 10.8 percent from 1990.
Same source, July:
Japan said on Friday it would slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2030 from 2013 levels and would submit the plan to the United Nations later in the day as its contribution to a global summit on climate change in Paris in November.
The target is based on the government's power generation plan for 2030 that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) finalized on Thursday. The plan calls for relying slightly less on nuclear power than on renewable energy following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Which seems to me a realistic way to balance nuclear and renewable energy in a highly industrial society while keeping a watchful eye on CO2 emissions. Reuters also provides a sense of what Japan will not need by restarting Sendai:
The scheduled restart of Japan's first reactor in nearly two years next month would save around 850,000 tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) per year, according to Reuters calculations based on data from the country's industry ministry.
And this is one reactor! Sendai 2 is prepping to return online in October, so the profile for imports will very rapidly improve.

And the future?
[Japan Prime Minister Shinzo ]Abe’s [energy] blueprint envisions stable, round-the-clock power sources such as nuclear, coal, and hydroelectric growing from about 40 percent of the electricity mix today to 60 percent in 2030. The rest of Japan’s electricity would come from natural gas and renewable energy like wind and solar power, complemented by increasingly aggressive efforts to boost energy efficiency.

While there are no hard-and-fast targets yet for nuclear power in the new plan, officials say it would represent about 20 percent of the total — slightly more than the 15 percent that Abe had sought, but much less than the 30 percent of Japan’s electricity in the years before Fukushima. With all its reactors offline, Japan currently doesn’t get any electricity from nuclear power.
Well, a third more than Abe suggested but a third less than it had before. That’s okay – Japan’s trying to find the right balance to power its society and meet its carbon goals. However it does that is fine by me – and that it includes nuclear energy basically means that Japan recognizes both its economic and emission avoidance qualities. Win-win.

The PJM Capacity Auction and Nuclear Energy

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

There’s an important change in the electricity system that starts with an auction taking place this week. The organization holding the auction is big in the electricity world but you may never have heard of it, and the thing being auctioned is obscure, too, so let me explain.

The organization is called PJM, which once upon a time stood for Pennsylvania-Jersey-Maryland, but now it covers those states plus parts of 10 others. It runs the electric system stretching all the way from Delaware to Chicago. Some of the transactions it manages are second to second, some are in intervals of a few minutes. This one is year by year.

The thing being auctioned is not energy, but capacity. When you measure energy, you spin the little wheels on an old-fashioned electric meter. But capacity means the ability to generate. If you are a utility and you’ve got customers to serve in the PJM market, you have to buy capacity equal to the highest amount your customers are going to demand.

Capacity is a little like the size of the water pipes that a city builds. It doesn’t matter if you can supply enough water in 24 hours; you’ve got to supply it when its needed, or on a hot day, the fire hydrants and the toilets must not run dry. And somebody’s got to pay for that capacity, namely the water customers.

The same is true in electricity. Generators get paid for energy but they also get paid for capacity, for being ready to supply when you switch on your air conditioner or your microwave. Or the computer you’re using to read this blogpost.

PJM tracks this very carefully, and each day calculates the expected demand, and the amount of capacity on hand.



PJM has held capacity auctions for a while now, but this one is a little different, because PJM has changed the rules a bit. This year in this auction, you get paid more if you are a reliable generator. If you are a natural gas plant and you had to shut down during a polar vortex because you couldn’t get enough gas, or a coal plant that has to shut down when it can’t get enough coal, then you’re not a high-reliability supplier. Under the new rules, if you sell your capacity but then fall down on the job, you can face financial penalties.

We hear a lot lately about growing wind capacity. Wind can enter the capacity auction, but it’s discounted 87 percent. That means if you’ve got a 100 megawatt wind farm, it’s treated as 13 megawatts, because you can’t count on more than that. Solar is discounted 63 percent, which means if you’ve got 1 megawatt of solar, you can enter 380 kilowatts.

Why is this important? Because in PJM, the way you decide what power plants to build and what power plants to operate is based on the income you get from electricity customers.

Nuclear plants run about 90 percent of the hours in a year, and they operate reliably through peak periods, like the hottest summer days and the coldest winter nights. Nobody is certain how this auction is going to come out, but the experts think that prices will rise a bit, and nuclear plants will get a little more income.

Reactors don’t get paid for being carbon-free or for not producing the pollutants that lead to smog. It’s important that they at least get paid for being there when the system needs them. Reactors face challenges in this period of cheap natural gas and heavily-subsidized wind, and a stronger capacity market won’t solve those problems. But it will help a bit.