Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Nuclear Safety and Innovation: Alive and Well in Georgia

Jennifer Harrelson and Wesley Williams both work for Southern Nuclear at the Plant Vogtle and Hatch nuclear facilities respectively. Each brings their personal touch to the industry, helping their company develop its enterprise of sustainable, clean energy. Both took questions about their commitment to best practices in the industry, how they cultivate innovation and offer views for America’s energy future. From family bonds, to new safety valves, here are their stories.

Jennifer Harrelson has worked in the nuclear industry for four years. Prior to 2011, she worked in the Engineering and Construction Services organization of Southern Nuclear’s parent company, Southern Company. In her current role, Harrelson is the Engineering Supervisor at Southern Nuclear’s Vogtle 3 and 4 project, one of the major new nuclear construction projects now underway in the United States.

Jennifer Harrelson and Wesley Williams
Jennifer Harrelson and Wesley Williams

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

HARRELSON: I currently lead a team of ambitious engineers as the Digital Instrumentation and Controls Design Supervisor. Our role is both challenging and enjoyable because we’re working to define the processes needed to place the first fully digital nuclear units into operation.

How are you bringing innovation to the nuclear industry?

HARRELSON: Some of the first digitally operated nuclear units in the United States are being constructed at Vogtle. Digital instruments and controls are used in a limited scope at other nuclear plants and are used fully at some fossil and manufacturing plants. However, we have to be innovative to ensure we have addressed every aspect from a nuclear perspective.

How does working in the nuclear industry affect your personal life?

HARRELSON: The nuclear industry ties directly into my personal life since my husband also works at Vogtle 3 and 4. We both have operating and construction experience, so we realize the importance of nuclear safety from both an operating and a pre-operational standpoint. We take our role as nuclear workers very seriously and realize that protecting the safety and health of the public also protects our family.

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

HARRELSON: Each type of energy fuel source has its benefits, and some of uranium’s benefits are that it is a clean, affordable and reliable source. In addition, Vogtle Units 3 and 4 are providing both construction and long-term jobs for those in our community. And once operational, the two new units will provide low-cost electricity to our customers. 

Vogtle 3 construction
Construction at Vogtle 3
With more than five years in the industry, Wesley Williams, a System Engineer for the Nuclear Boiler System and a Program Engineer for Safety Relief Valves (SRVs), takes pride in his job directly contributing to protecting the safety of the public.

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

WILLIAMS: Nuclear is high energy density, which means the amount of energy released in a nuclear fission reaction is ten million times greater than the amount released in burning a fossil fuel atom like oil and gas. So, the amount of fuel required in a nuclear power plant is much smaller compared to those of other types of power plants.

How are you bringing innovation to the nuclear industry?

WILLIAMS: I am bringing new innovation to the nuclear industry as the system engineer for the new modified 3-stage Target Rock SRVs. The new modified 3-stage SRVs have removed the corrosion bonding issues that were found with the Target Rock 2-stage SRVs. Hatch is an industry leader with the new modified 3-stage designs.

How does working in the nuclear industry affect your personal life?

WILLIAMS: Working in the nuclear industry has positively affected my life by being able to generate electricity safely and reliably for my family, friends and neighbors. I receive great joy in being a part of a company that is in construction phase of the first nuclear reactor in the United States in over 20 years — now that is something special.

Learn more about the Vogtle 3 and 4 project, including a fact sheet, current photos and videos.

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

For more on this promotion, follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels. 

Monday, August 03, 2015

Why the Electric Grid Needs Diversity

Matt Wald
NEI's Matt Wald sat down for an enlightening Q&A with the EPRI Journal on how we ought to be managing the nation's electric grid. Here's an excerpt:
EJ: Wind and solar are growing by leaps and bounds because of tax subsidies, state mandates, and improving technology. Where is this leading the grid?

Wald: There is a limit to how much is desirable. Consider this analogy. In February in Washington, the National Symphony Orchestra performed the Eroica Symphony. Just as Beethoven specified, there were two oboes, two flutes, two bassoons, three horns, and timpani. If the price of oboes dropped, would the symphony use more of them? Of course not, because the conductor isn’t hiring on price. And as it turns out, the price of oboes is pretty stable, at least in relationship to flutes, bassoons, horns, and timpani.

Unlike the Eroica Symphony, the power grid has an oboe problem. Generation works largely on price in most of the country, and the grid is going through rapid price changes. Renewable energy sources are a bit like oboes; they are useful and distinctive. And they are getting cheaper. But how many can the system use? The grid is threatened by the “silver bullet syndrome.” In the popular mind, mandated solar and wind will solve our climate woes. But that idea could lead to more intermittent power than the system can assimilate, as has occurred in Hawaii, and soon in parts of California.

When solar is cheaper than coal, coal will disappear without a trace, like the Soviet Union or Pokemon or disco music or some similar bad idea, right?

Well, maybe.

When the electric system runs well, it is like a symphony. You might really like oboes, but making up a whole orchestra of them is going to cause problems.
Read the rest right now.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Ford Nucleon, Electric Cars and the Swiss Thought Experiment

Here’s something I did not know existed, even as far as it did exist:

In the 1950s, perhaps the height of the so-called Atomic Age, Ford developed a concept car called the Ford Nucleon. This nuclear-powered automobile was designed, according to Ford, based on the assumption that future nuclear reactors would be smaller, safer, lighter and more portable. The design called for a power capsule located in the rear of the car, charging stations replacing gas stations and 5,000 miles of driving before recharging or replacing the fuel. As is the case with many concept cars, Ford never built the Nucleon-only a model car half the size of a normal car.

Obviously, the most famous nuclear car is the DeLorean DMC-12 from the Back to the Future movies. The nucleon could not be powered because the technology to do it wasn’t plausible at that time – still, pretty neat, even if we are waiting for a flux capacitor.

In the meantime, where nuclear energy and cars can find common cause is with electric cars. These do not have the science fiction twang of nuclear cars, even if they have not yet found much traction with potential customers and remain for many a futuristic notion.

In an interesting thought experiment – in the form of a college thesis – fellow named Cihan Cavdarli looked at electricity demand if all cars (in his native Switzerland) went electric. I suppose some countries might consider mandating this over time, though none have to date. What Cavdarli found is that electricity use would rise 19 to 24 percent. How to power all these cars?

Anticipating the country's phasing out of nuclear power, Cihan looked at two scenarios. One assumes a high carbon footprint, with nuclear energy replaced by gas. The other boasts a low carbon footprint, with renewable energies stepping into the nuclear breach. "This latter scenario is the best fit for electric cars," added Cihan.

Cavdarli’s being realistic here, but what he is saying is clear enough. If Switzerland kept its nuclear plants open – it has five reactors in four facilities – then the country could power the cars without damaging the environment. But Switzerland, which is closing its plants as they reach 60 years old, will need to replace the plants – which will likely be with a mix of natural gas and renewable energy sources.

With the nuclear reactors, Switzerland is almost completely emission free (from power plants, anyway), as nuclear covers 36 percent and hydro 58 percent. And it is all base load energy. That’s very attractive for covering the needs of electric cars, something wind and solar cannot match. This seems a tough circle to square practically – and it’s distressing that it does not need to be squared. Switzerland is in a good spot already, if only they do it.

Anyway, that is, if electric cars become widespread, if Switzerland really closes its nuclear plants and if climate change begins melting the Alps. Lots of ifs – as we said, a thought experiment – with a lot to think about.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

From the Navy to the Commercial Nuclear Industry

Blain Highland is on a temporary rotation as a Chemistry and Radiation Protection Instructor at Diablo Canyon 1 and 2. He has worked at Diablo Canyon for more than four years, choosing to make a career in the industry after serving his country in the U.S. Navy.

Blain Highland
Blain Highland
How long have you been in the nuclear industry? 

I got my start in nuclear power in 2000 when I joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 17. I worked as an Engineering Laboratory Technician on a submarine and as a Radiological Controls Technician for the shipyard. I entered the commercial nuclear industry in 2010 as a contract Radiation Protection Technician for the decommissioning of Fermi 1. Nine months later I had the opportunity to join the Diablo Canyon team as a permanent Chemistry and Radiation Protection Technician. I’ve been a Pacific Gas and Electric employee here since January 2011.

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

Currently, I am a Chemistry and Radiation Protection Technician on a temporary rotation as an Instructor. The rotation in training is proving to be very enjoyable. Being able to see when something clicks in someone’s head is a rewarding experience. I’ve also found it’s true that in order to truly learn something, you should teach it. 

At the technician level, I enjoy my job because I am actively helping ensure that radioactive materials from the plant are properly controlled and I can personally assure people that their health and safety are our priority.

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

Nuclear energy provides a stable baseload for the country to build on. With newer designs and increased safety capabilities, I see nuclear facilities continuing to provide economical and clean energy. For its level of reliability and amount of base generation, nuclear energy should be a mainstay for all portfolios. 

How are you bringing innovation into the nuclear industry? 

In several instances, I alleviated paperwork burdens and reduced errors by automating tasks. I also partnered with a colleague at the plant to roll out an orientation program designed to engage our employees in the plant’s mission. 

How does working in the nuclear industry affect your personal life?

Working in the nuclear industry allows me to provide for my family while also knowing I am helping provide the community safe, affordable and reliable energy when they need it. If I didn’t know what I was doing was safe, I would not be doing it. The commercial nuclear power industry has given my family peace of mind. There is no fear that something will happen to me like there was in the military. Everyone knows that daddy is coming home to play at the end of every workday.

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

For more on this promotion, follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Going Nuclear in Washington City, Utah, Pop. 22,000

washington_cityWe’ve sometimes taken a look at nuclear energy support – nascent or realized – in several states. Communities have occasionally weighed in, as potential hosts for consolidated storage sites, for instance. The folks of Lea and Eddy Counties in Nevada have consistently voiced support for Yucca Mountain.

Washington City, with a population of about 22,000, has gone a little further.

During a meeting Wednesday night, the City Council approved an agreement with the “Carbon Free Power Project” that will provide funds toward identifying potential sites for a nuclear power plant.

On first glance, this is a bit puzzling, as the city would seem unlikely to set up and run a nuclear facility without state and industrial cooperation – at least, not by itself. Indeed, this is true.

NuScale Power has proposed to build a power plant housing 12 of the compact reactors and produce an estimated 600 megawatts of power. The plant is slated to be built in the area of Idaho Falls, Idaho. If the project comes to fruition, the plant will be built and operational by 2024.

“We’re looking at approximately 11 megawatts, or 11,000 kilowatts (for the city) from this facility once it’s up and running.” Washington City Manager Roger Carter said.

That’s much more plausible, but then, what site are they looking for?

The agreement Washington City Council unanimously approved Wednesday devotes funds to a two-phase study related to identifying viable sites for the power plant, and then conducting an in-depth study into the location’s overall feasibility.

“This is the first of probably numerous agreements we’ll see,” Carter said. The project will progress in phases, with participating cities being given the option to sign or step back from the project if they no longer wish to pursue the project.

The story doesn’t quite explain this, but I think the idea is that the towns that sign on to the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) all do this. The latter is a project of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), which describes itself as “a political subdivision of the State of Utah that provides comprehensive wholesale electric-energy, on a nonprofit basis, to community-owned power systems throughout the Intermountain West.” And it’s pretty specific about which carbon free power projects it has in mind:

The purpose and need of the CFPP is to provide for additional mid-sized baseload electrical generating capacity to meet the expected future needs of UAMPS' members. UAMPS has determined that new carbon free baseload capacity is necessary to replace the expected retirement of coal fired generating assets and that the UAMPS members need to have a carbon-free baseload generating asset as part of a balanced portfolio of generating assets. UAMPS SmartEnergy analysis concluded that small modular nuclear reactor technology is an important option for future consideration.

UAMPS has further determined that the proposed action will allow it to be responsive to EPA's Clean Power Plant Rule, which requires the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from coal fired power plants while recognizing the development of new nuclear generation as playing a vital role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the electric industry.

That ties it all together – and I imagine more cities through the UAMPS area will sign on as well. And why?

“Our concern of course is making sure that we have an adequate baseload come 2024, and power, especially with our growth,” [Washington City Manager Roger]Carter said. “What we’re finding is a lot of the baseload we’ve relied on in years past is fast disappearing.”

Indeed – the key words there are “adequate baseload.” And that nuclear energy can supply that.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Funding New Nuclear Technology (and There’s A Lot of It)

Under the somewhat alarming title, How Startups Can Save Nuclear Tech, Fortune writer Katie Fehrenbacher offers a survey of, well, startups promoting nuclear technology.

logo-terra-powerFortune finds this interesting for reasons that have become obvious to anyone who has looked at recent energy policy:

But four years after the infamous accident [that is, Fukushima], environmentalists, nuclear advocates, and researchers are now looking at nuclear tech as an almost necessary way to generate power without carbon emissions that, if used correctly, could be crucial to help the world avoid the worst of global warming. And unlike with solar and wind, nuclear reactors generate power around the clock.

heleonThe article zeroes in on the investor community, which, even if your primary interest is new nuclear technology, drives that technology to market. It makes sense for Fortune to spin the nuclear diamond to this particular facet – it’s the magazine’s bailiwick – and provides a unique perspective.

Last month, beneath the high-vaulted ceilings of the sleek offices of Founders Fund, a venture capital firm that backed Facebook, Airbnb and SpaceX, sits a small group of these passionate nuclear evangelists.

transatomicDoes nuclear energy fit the so-called sharing economy? Maybe not, but the SpaceX connection is interesting – it suggests a taste for counterintuitive thinking, in nuclear energy terms favoring alternatives to light water reactors and even fission.

Last Summer, Founders Fund invested a small $2 million seed round into an early stage nuclear startup calledTransatomic Power. Founded in 2011 by MIT nuclear scientists Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie, Transatomic Power is working on a nuclear reactor that uses molten salt and nuclear waste as a power source. While molten salt nuclear reactor tech is decades old, Dewan and Massie are using new designs and materials.

A bit about the venture capitalist Ray Rothrock:

Some of Rothrock’s nuclear ambitions are poured into a stealthy startup, Tri Alpa Energy, that is working on nuclear fusion (nuclear fission is what’s used in today’s reactors). Years ago Venrock backed Tri Alpha Energy, and the company now also has the financial support of the Russian government (through the nanotech company Rusnano), Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and Goldman Sachs. Rothrock is Tri Alpa Energy’s chairman.

Tri Alp[h]a is new to me and I guess new in general – it doesn’t have a Web site yet – that must be the stealthy part.

nuscaleThere’s more, including Helion Energy (fusion), UPower (small reactors), TerraPower (used fuel as fuel) and NuScale (small reactors). The focus remains largely but not totally on investment. Well worth a read – both for a reminder of how lively the nuclear technology scene is and for this presumption that is driving (some of) the investment.

A recent disturbing report predicts that despite a colossal number of new solar panels and wind turbines over the next quarter century, the planet will still face dangerous rising temperatures. Basically even if these widely embraced clean energy technologies are put on overdrive, we’re still probably screwed.

Indeed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Nuclear Safety Is Top Priority at Idaho National Laboratory

To continue building nuclear energy as a viable U.S. energy source, safety must continue to be the utmost priority. Nuclear safety is certainly Anne McCartin’s number one goal.

As a nuclear safety analyst, she is responsible for creating and maintaining the nuclear facility safety basis for the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) Complex at the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory. Anne's work ensures the appropriate controls are established to maintain safe operations that are in compliance with nuclear regulations and laws. She also provides independent reviews of safety basis documents, such as experiment safety analysis plans and core safety assurance packages.

Anne McCartin
Anne McCartin
Anne knows all too well how important nuclear energy is to the future of America’s energy industry. “Our nation’s energy needs will only continue to increase,” she explains. “Nuclear energy provides a safe, reliable, carbon-free energy source on a scale that can meet those demands.”

The work Anne does for the ATR ensures a safe and reliable platform for irradiating experiments, which support material testing for the next generation of nuclear power plants and DOE's Fuel Cycle Technology Program. Her team’s efforts also help provide additional research opportunities for universities and other national laboratories through the ATR National Scientific User Facility.

Anne is proud to contribute to national security by providing research support in nuclear propulsion for the U.S. Navy and in nonproliferation for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative.

Being a nuclear safety analyst is technically challenging and requires a high level of attention to detail, which suits Anne’s personality. She admits to enjoying the challenging nature of the work, and the complexity and variety of assignments provide her with ample opportunity to learn and grow.

“I also enjoy the people I work with,” says Anne. “The people at ATR understand and believe in the importance of our mission, so we share in our successes.”

Anne has dedicated 16 years to the nuclear energy industry. She is the technical lead for ATR Complex Facility Safety Engineering, and she’s a licensing member of the ATR Complex Independent Safety Review Committee.

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

For more on this promotion, follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels.