APR: your source for nuclear news and analysis since April 16, 2010

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Environmental Progress Illinois

We've seen in recent times the effects of closing nuclear plants before they're due to be closed by licensing or condition issues- more than once.  Kewaunee.  Vermont Yankee.  Already on the list is FitzPatrick in New York.  The effects on the local economies are clear enough, and so is the effect on emissions from the generation of electricity.

Pain from closing Vermont Yankee lingers

Emissions rose after Vermont Yankee closed

Now, Exelon Nuclear has warned (repeatedly) that some of its plants in Illinois are under the threat of closure, primarily due to an economic situation that does two things:

1.  Favors short term profit instead of long term sustainable business.
2.  Favors the popular public "cause du jour", which is renewables.

The two plants named specifically have been Clinton and Quad Cities; Exelon has vascillated over whether to shut one or both, with Clinton (being a single unit) clearly far more at risk if the most recent reports are to be believed.

Michael Shellenberger, who is co-founder and Senior Fellow at the Breakthrough Institute and one of the guiding lights of the Ecomodernist movement (which says very simply that if we are careful about our energy choices we can live the same high energy life we do now, and allow that to spread, without damaging the environment) has founded a group called Environmental Progress.  That group will announce Monday, April 4 a new chapter in Illinois whose first job will be to ensure that none of the nuclear plants in Illinois is shut down.

Shellenberger tells me that the reason to take action in Illinois is pretty clear.  "If just two (Clinton, Quad Cities) of Illinois' six nuclear plants were shut down, they would be replaced by natural gas or coal and pollution would immediately skyrocket," he says.  "Illinois' carbon emissions would increase the equivalent of adding TWO MILLION cars to the roads.  If they were replaced by coal the carbon emissions would almost double."  On the other side, keeping these plants open has a very clear positive effect on the environment - and on the citizens of Illinois.  According to Shellenberger "If they run their full 60 year lives, Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants will prevent between 2,468 and 5,474 deaths from coal."

It's important from a number of points of view to try to stop any and all nuclear plants from being closed while they're still operable if the reasoning behind that closure is a temporary economic situation - so I asked Michael why it's important to really try to draw the line in Illinois.  "Illinois could be a model for the world in including nuclear in the state renewable portfolio standard," he replied, which of course is an issue that has some history behind it in that state.  Further, Illinois is in a great position to champion the cause because of the contribution made already by nuclear which it would be protecting with such legislative action.  "Illinois generates more zero-emission electricity than any other state," Shellenberger remarked.  "Most of it comes from the state's six nuclear plants, which produce about half of Illinois' total energy and 90 percent of its low carbon electricity.  These plants are in their prime and could stay in service many more years and even decades."

Did you catch that?  Nuclear is about half Illinois' power.  It's 90% of its low-GHG power.

Shellenberger will be speaking at a public event in Downtown Chicago on Monday April 4th at 7 PM in the evening.  I would encourage anyone interested in the effort, or interested in attending, to follow this link to the American Nuclear Society's blog where you can read quotes from other participants and find the directions to attend.


For those who just want the details, the Saving Illinois Nukes event is at Medill School, 303 East Wacker, Room 1600.  This is downtown.  The event runs 7 PM to 8:30 PM and will feature three speakers (James Hansen, Michael Shellenberger and Rachel Pritzker) followed by an audience interaction session.

Let's hope this effort gets off on the right foot, to a fast start and has a strong finish.  Illinois deserves it, and so does our air.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Five Years From Fukushima: Where Are We Now?

Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Station under construction in the 1970's
We find ourselves at many different places, all at once, five years after the event that changed everything.  We see new opportunities, based on new ideas; we see some old places reawakening, all too slowly.  We watch as a nation struggles with its economy and need for energy, as elsewhere the concept that "an accident anywhere is an accident everywhere" leads to deliberate, voluntary entering of that power short, and power costly world Japan was thrust into in the months following March 11, 2011.  The world has indeed changed, and in many ways we might well have predicted these changes some time ago.

The spread of publications heralding this five year anniversary will no doubt be considerable; facing that, my presentation here must be either exceedingly brief, or else exhaustive to the point of intolerability in order to have any real chance of contributing to the overall discussion.  I shall choose brevity as much as possible over any attempt to document the thousands of personal actions, thousands of official report pages printed, hundreds of critical decisions made, in an attempt to reach some sort of bridge from then til now.

The Site

It is not any stretch to say that the conditions at Fukushima Daiichi are very considerably improved, and of course one asks "how could they not be?" after the five years since the tsunami that flooded the site with millions of tons of water and debris.  (Not to mention the destruction caused by the hydrogen gas explosions at Units 1 and 3, and the less forceful but still significant leaked-in gas burn at Unit 4.)  The workers at first had to rush to the emergency - had to meet the need where it was. There was no time to consider anything but utility, access, speed.  Over time, as the conditions of the nuclear plants made it clear that this would be not just a months but decades-long effort, TEPCO has moved to improve the accommodations for the workers as much as possible and actually, today, may be said to have afforded the legion of people, men and women alike, who are working at the site some identifiable measure of personal comfort.

Well worth watching is this latest TEPCO video, which itself looks back at five years' worth of events in an abbreviated form. (click link)

The Accident

For a long time, the real cause of the Fukushima Daiichi accident has been known -- that cause being what the industry refers to as Station Blackout, or that condition in which no electric power is available to operate plant indications, controls or systems.  The inundation of the site by the tsunami 46 minutes after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake (which the plants survived as they had survived other earthquakes, the operating units shutting down successfully and safely) caused the Station Blackout or SBO when the Emergency Diesel Generators and associated electric switchgear was flooded and made inoperable.  Many arguments have raged about the siting of the plant, or else if not that the location of the diesels in lower levels of the plant, or else of the failure to provide diesels at higher levels or even not immediately at the nuclear units.  Those considerations are, of course, specific to each nuclear plant site everywhere - and that is why, for example, Japan and the United States have chosen to supply large numbers of ready-use standby power supply and support vehicles which can be rushed to any site(s) needing them.

That the accident would have happened given only the tsunami, and letting dozens of possible scenarios play out after that, is almost unavoidable, although a sound case can be made that a serious tipping point was the hydrogen explosion at Unit 1 just after 3:30 in the afternoon on March 12.  When that event occurred, attempts to connect portable resources to other units was interrupted, and people were literally forced to flee the area for a time for reasons of personal safety. (No substantiated claims of persons fleeing the site out of sheer fear have arisen, although the false claims continue.) After that interruption in site-wide operations it then became more and more likely that accidents would occur at other units on site, and of course there were eventually meltdowns at the other two units (2 and 3) which had been operating.  Unit 4 oddly suffered the effects of a hydrogen gas explosion itself, not from the spent fuel (as was commonly assumed in the early days) but rather from gas leaked over from the stricken, neighboring Unit 3.  It must be pointed out that all of Unit 4's spent fuel was removed intact last year, finally vanquishing those claims that it had been uncovered, had overheated, or worse.

This customized, remote controlled tracked dumper is typical of the equipment used at the site in the early days.  Note the television camera on the engine housing; vehicles were controlled from a special trailer or building.

Getting Control, Seeking Normalcy

In the years since, TEPCO has continued to make various moves at the seriously damaged units to control their conditions.  It has, for example, erected a huge enclosure around Unit 1 - - which it is now removing.  It has removed rubble and debris from the refueling floor levels of Units 3 and 4, and is preparing an enclosure to get the spent fuel out of Unit 3's spent fuel pool.  The appearance has changed drastically as the wrecked buildings and distributed materials are replaced with something still disordered, yet less otherworldly.  Gone are the days of armored and shielded fork lifts, cranes and dump trucks removing girders and glass and crushed vehicles, only to be halted by discovery of a new hot spot; today, areas are mostly accessible on foot and buses transport workers around the site, on which full respiratory equipment is required less and less.

Parallels, Effects

In the months after the accident, there was no time to consider what the long run would be - who would be responsible for what, and what would happen to the owner (TEPCO), or the nation, or even what would happen regarding the nuclear regulator's actions.  There can be no doubt that the accident was directly responsible for the dissolution of NISA, the regulator at the time, and the setup of a new nuclear regulator (Nuclear Regulation Authority) completely outside of the Ministry of Trade and Economy.

Eventually, given the fact that all nuclear plants in Japan were shut down, and that every single utility had to scramble to get generating sources and fuel for those sources, it became clear that TEPCO would not be able to survive, and it more or less did not.  The company has been receiving infusions of cash from the Japanese government, who now effectively owns it - in different circumstances, the company would have gone bankrupt.  This of course almost happened to the owner of Three Mile Island, General Public Utilities, who managed to avert bankruptcy only after being allowed to restart its remaining nuclear unit and stop buying as much (very expensive) replacement power for its customers.  TEPCO in the last five years has been forced to agree to decommission the two undamaged units at Fukushima Daiichi; the fate of its four units at Fukushima Daini, miles to the south, is unclear but know this:  Fukushima Prefecture has stated repeatedly that no nuclear plant will again operate on its soil, and it's sure as the sunrise that eventually TEPCO will have to write off Fukushima Daini as well.

Of course, there is one other TEPCO nuclear plant -- the massive Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant on the opposite coast of Japan, and into which the owner has poured millions of dollars worth of upgrades and backfits and modifications to get it ready to pass NRA's inspections to start up.  Given the public mistrust of TEPCO, it may well be that a contract operator will need to be brought in to "assist" TEPCO in starting up and operating the plant (Units 6 and 7, the two new ABWR's, would be first) until such time as TEPCO has regained a grain of public trust.

Much has been made in the way of comparing the Fukushima Daiichi accident to the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear accidents, and now this recent name has joined the others on a short list of events that have reshaped an industry.  Parallels to the Chernobyl accident from an operational and business standpoint are few; the Soviet system was, as much as anything, responsible for and conducive to a situation in which that particular accident occurred, and there are so many systemic (political and operational) as well as physical differences between the old Soviet plants of that era and Fukushima's plants that comparison is more wasteful than helpful.

In terms of the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, there are a few further parallels.  Neither accident directly caused the death of anyone.  Both saw the burn of hydrogen generated in the accident, but the effect in the strongly built containment of the TMI plant was nil outside the containment itself.  Not so, as we've seen, at Fukushima.  In both cases too, we have seen that it was several years in and still no one was exactly sure what the condition of the melted nuclear fuel was.  In the case of the heavily damaged Fukushima plants, it will certainly be longer to find that out than it was at Three Mile Island.  Bringing back in Chernobyl for just a moment, the condition was suspected early and known fairly soon and was considered so bad that it was better to bury the destroyed reactor under lead and chemicals, and then build an enclosure over it; another, further outer enclosure is now being added.  Fukushima Daiichi will not see this fate, it is almost certain, making it between the TMI and Chernobyl experiences in terms of the cleanup.

Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 enclosure, courtesy Tokyo Electric Power Co.

A Tough Road

Just this week, after Kansai Electric Power had been allowed to restart its Takahama 3 and 4 units, it was ordered by a Japanese court to shut them back down.  This court action took place completely outside the nuclear regulatory atmosphere, and gives a clear message that nuclear restarts in Japan will from this point on be exceedingly problematic until a precedent is set (as we have in the US) that regulation of nuclear plants, and the determination of their safety, is a national (Federal) matter and is limited in scope to the nation's nuclear regulator alone.

The Japanese government and the vast majority of corporate entities are heavily for restarting reactors, to cut fuel costs and to get the Japanese economy (read as "export machine") moving again.  Various prefectures are for this, while some others aren't sure and still some others (Fukushima) are dead set against any interior or adjoining nuclear operation if they can help it.  To the extent that they can, antinuclear forces are also trying to call into question every possible tiny defect in the earth as an "active fault," so that any reactors near them cannot be operated -- this is the case in a number of places, and legal actions continue.  We certainly can say this:  The nature of the nuclear plant operations in the future in Japan cannot yet be augured with any sense of surety.

A Future, In Spite of Setback

As recently as the shutdown injunction was issued for Kansai Electric, another couple of announcements were made -- that UAMPS had obtained permission to begin investigating the old National Reactor Testing Station, now INL, for siting of a NuScale SMR power plant, and also separately that Bechtel Corporation was reinvigorating the effort to build the Generation mPower SMR.  The units that Korea Electric Power / Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power are building in the United Arab Emirates at Barakah are on time and on schedule, and construction arrangements for the four new AP1000 units underway in the USA have recently been streamlined and integrated with the bringing of the construction operation in-house by the reactor vendor.  Nuclear energy continues to move forward, all around the world.  Yes, in some places, it's going to slowly reduce (France) or be killed off (Germany.)  In others, it's growing steadily (South Korea) or very rapidly (China) while in other places the share is expected to grow (South Africa) or is expected to go from zero to something in the foreseeable future (Kenya.)

The Fukushima Daiichi accident did change very many things, but in one certain parallel to the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents, it did not and cannot kill off nuclear energy.  In none of these cases did worldwide overall opinion swing against nuclear energy.  It continues to be considered as vitally necessary in many places today -- and, as the environment takes on more importance every day, the fact that nuclear plants produce no exhaust or gaseous emissions makes them a very significant force in "clean energy."  While the nuclear entities around the world have much to do in terms of messaging, of ensuring communication with the public, and with gaining public trust, a great deal of that work has already been done simply by acknowledging the need for clean (low or no CO2,) reliable power.  It is on that cornerstone that the future of nuclear energy is being built.

3:20 PM Eastern March 10, 2016

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Historic nuclear ship NS SAVANNAH about to enter a new phase

Here's a press release from the NS SAVANNAH Association, Inc. on a recent significant development regarding the status of the historic ship:


February 16, 2016
For Immediate Release
            The NS SAVANNAH ASSOCIATION, INC. (hereafter, “NSSA”) has been informed that the Fiscal Year 2017 budget request submitted by the Maritime Administration includes a line item requesting $8 million “to begin the decommissioning process, including the dismantlement and decontamination of the defueled nuclear power plant on board the former nuclear ship NS SAVANNAH.”  The request also includes $3 million “to maintain the vessel in protective storage.”
            This step marks the first time since 2006 that a real chance exists that the ship will move forward with dismantling and decontaminating all portions of the power plant and auxiliary spaces, leaving the ship eventually roughly 7 years down the road with the nuclear license terminated, and thus no longer under any NRC obligations.
            It must be noted that the present plans for dismantling the nuclear plant do not include damaging or removing any other significant structures, or historic spaces, on board the ship.  We will be presenting more detailed information on the work to be done in the coming days.
            NS SAVANNAH holds three significant recognitions: The National Park Service declared the ship a Historic Landmark in 1991, and two professional organizations (the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Nuclear Society) have recognized the ship as an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark and a Nuclear Engineering Landmark, respectively.  The ship is the sole physical remainder of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous “Atoms for Peace” program intended to spread the economic, commercial use of nuclear technologies.  It is significant to note that the Maritime Administration has stated that the desired outcome of the program is the eventual preservation of the ship.
            NSSA will play a vital role in the preservation of the ship, and according to Erhard Koehler (Manager, NS SAVANNAH Programs for MARAD) already has played one.  Koehler told the NSSA Board of Directors in an email that “MARAD could not have articulated the case for SAVANNAH without the public presence we have in Baltimore, and the good work of NSSA in making the ship shine.  Your help will be needed as we go forward, and I look forward to working with you each step of the way.” 


There will be more details to come.  See the NSSA site here:  ns-savannah.org  

3 PM Eastern
February 16, 2016

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

SEVMORPUT Completes Trials After Overhaul; Signs for the Future

ROSATOMFLOT, operator of Russia's nuclear powered icebreaker fleet, recently announced that the unique nuclear powered, icebreaking cargo ship SEVMORPUT (which means "Northern Sea Route") has completed its shakedown cruise after undergoing a heavy overhaul.  The ship still requires two to three months worth of work to finish deck fittings and equipment, but is expected to return to revenue service in early 2016.

This ship has had a long history, which included a period of semi-abandonment at the pier in Murmansk (where the nuclear icebreaker fleet is based) during which it was intended at times to scrap the ship.

The project to create this ship began in 1978, when Russia had already had at least one nuclear icebreaker in service continuously for almost 20 years.  The idea was to construct a relatively shallow draft cargo vessel with a limited icebreaking capability for service on the Northern Route.  Construction began January 1982 and the ship was completed in December 1988.

SEVMORPUT has a single KLT-40 nuclear steam supply system, rated at 135 MWt.  Turboelectric drive through one screw (with variable pitch blades) provides 40,000 SHP to drive the ship at speeds up to just over 20 knots, although this is considerably reduced when breaking ice -- which the ship can break itself in thickness up to three feet at a speed of two knots.  If ice is beyond this thickness, a nuclear icebreaker is used ahead of the ship as with conventional vessels.

From January 2007 to December 2013 the ship lay out of operation at Murmansk.  At that time the decision was made to refit the ship rather than scrap it; as we now see, the process to return the ship to operation has consumed two years.  The reactor was refueled, and according to ROSATOMFLOT much of the equipment was disassembled for inspection.  The nuclear plant was given a life extension, and the operators are quoted as saying that the ship will operate for 15 years.

There is an important point to be made here, beyond the life extension / rebirth of the world's only operable nuclear powered cargo vessel.  That is that the Russians have continuously remained dedicated to the use of nuclear power for the purpose of navigating these difficult sea routes since their first nuclear icebreaker (the LENIN) was placed in service in 1959.  That's significant, but what may be more significant in the broad sense is the development that this has now enabled, which is shown below.

Shown above is an artist's conception of the floating nuclear power plant project now under construction by ROSATOM.  Named AKADEMIK LOMONOSOV, this plant will include two KLT-40S reactors derived from the KLT-40 of SEVMORPUT and the KLT-40M design used on the two "coastal" nuclear icebreakers TAIMYR and VAIGACH.   Electric power output of the plant will be 70 MWe.  The plant can be moved more or less anywhere in the world there's water access.

Above, floating nuclear plant AKADEMIK LOMONOSOV under construction.  This project began construction in 2007 at Sevmash but in 2008 was transferred to JSC "Baltic" in St. Petersburg.  Originally scheduled for completion in 2015, but this date seems to have been pushed back.

The benefits of having a fully mature, developed and reliable highly compact nuclear plant can be seen in the translation of that technology to this vessel.  Long time readers of this blog (and my writings elsewhere) will know the history of the original floating nuclear plant, built by the US in the 1960's and will realize that such floating plants have the potential to bring zero emission energy to coastal areas anywhere they can be docked.

The Russians are not the only ones developing such floating nuclear plants for provision of power, or even clean water, ashore.

Above, China General Nuclear Corporation's concept for the ACPR50S floating nuclear power plant.  Feasibility studies for this project were completed in 2010, with the conceptual design having been completed in 2012.  Construction of the first unit is expected to occur shortly (originally having been planned for 2015) and CGN intends to complete and operate the first example in 2018.  The plant will be able to provide electric power, clean water, and steam for building heating on shore.

The dedication to construct compact, powerful nuclear reactors for ocean going service has thus led directly to floating nuclear plants in Russia; the dedication to develop similar technology for SMR or Small Modular Reactor plants on shore has led directly to floating nuclear plants in China.  The message is clear enough that such plants could be an important part of the future energy mix -- and may someday be required for many commercial ships on the vast oceans as concerns about carbon emission, and eventually carbon penalties, come into play.

For now, though, we must be satisfied with the fact that the world's last remaining nuclear powered cargo vessel has been pulled from the brink, which surely even by itself is cause for hope.

Photos courtesy ROSATOMFLOT, ROSATOM and CGN Nuclear.

DECEMBER 30, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

ANS Winter Meeting 2015

This year's Winter Meeting of the American Nuclear Society (in Washington, D.C.) is shaping up to be a very important event.  As usual for such ANS meetings -- large ones like this are held twice a year -- there is a large list of experts and industry people who will be on hand to make presentations and take part in expert panels.

I will of course be there, and you'll see my reporting on the ANS' Social Media outlets (ANS Nuclear Cafe blog, Twitter and Facebook) as always.

I consider these meetings absolutely vital for networking with other professionals, and particularly for discussing communications about nuclear energy and technology.  If you're an ANS member, I hope you agree.

ANS has created a press release for this year's Winter meeting, and I'm passing that along here:


Climate Change and Nonproliferation Topics Lead
Nuclear Energy Meeting
ANS Members from Around the World to Gather in D.C. for Winter Meeting
LaGrange Park, IL, – Nuclear professionals from the U.S. and around the world will meet to discuss climate change, nuclear nonproliferation and the growth of nuclear technology at the 2015 American Nuclear Society (ANS) Winter Meeting November 8th – 12th in Washington, D.C.

ANS President Gene Grecheck will welcome hundreds of members in a plenary session on Nuclear: The Foundation of Sensible Policy for Energy, Economy and the Environment as the role of nuclear energy in combating climate change is at the forefront of national and global discussions. Many sessions throughout the week will expand on the role of nuclear energy as part of the solution to reducing carbon emissions and climate change.
International security and energy consultant Susan Eisenhower will present the first Dwight D. Eisenhower Award to George Schultz, former Secretary of State for Ronald Reagan and Dr. Sidney Drell, Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute. Drell and Schulz are being honored for their historical achievements in advancing nuclear nonproliferation, arms control and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
The meeting provides an opportunity for attendees to explore the current trends and important advances in nuclear technology and hear from notable nuclear experts from around the world. Technical sessions include cutting-edge nuclear topics such as advances in fast reactor designs, MOX fuel, SMR’s, and the prospects for construction of new nuclear facilities in the U.S. and around the world. A copy of the full program can be viewed at www.ans.org.

ANS Winter Meeting registration is available at
Press may register online at


Established in 1954, ANS is a professional organization of engineers and scientists devoted to the peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology. Its more than 10,000 members come from diverse technical backgrounds covering the full range of engineering disciplines as well as the physical and biological sciences within the nuclear field. They are advancing the application of nuclear technologies to improve the lives of the world community through national and international enterprise within government.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Entergy: Pilgrim closing by 2019

Today we got some news that we were expecting.  I don't mean to say about Pilgrim Nuclear Station being closed by 2019 -- I mean the news that some nuclear plant or another in the US was going to announce closure due to market conditions sooner or later.  This sort of feeling is becoming pervasive; it's not any sort of pall of doom, but the plain fact of the matter is that Pilgrim was only one of a number of plants today being threatened by forces that didn't exist when these plants were built.

What forces did exist when these plants were built?  Well, Pilgrim was ordered as a part of that very first breakout flood of orders for commercial nuclear plants in 1965, a year that saw seven units ordered.  1964 had seen none, and 1963 saw four commercial units ordered (one of which, Malibu, was cancelled.)  So 1965 really was the spark; 1966 saw 20 ordered, and 1967 saw 31.

The New England region was, back at that time, heavily in the grip of oil fuel.  This was used (in various grades or names) for electric power generation and for home heating, and was used perhaps more extensively here than anywhere else.  Coal had very little play here, as compared with the rest of the nation.  So, when oil prices started and kept going up, New England poured on the nuclear plant construction; it continued as clean air became more and more important in addition.

•1956:  Yankee Atomic Electric plant for Rowe, Mass. ordered
•1962:  Connecticut Yankee ordered
•1965:  Pilgrim and Millstone ordered
•1966:  Vermont Yankee ordered
•1967:  Maine Yankee and Millstone 2 ordered
•1968:  Seabrook announced (but not ordered)
•1972:  Pilgrim 2 and 3, Seabrook 1 and 2, Millstone 3 ordered
•1974:  Montague 1 and 2, and New England 1 and 2 ordered

(Above - conceptual view of New England 1 and 2, ordered in 1974 by New England Power.)

In about 1980, Boston Edison was using a mixture of 70% oil and 30% nuclear energy to generate electricity.  It said at that time that between 1970 and 1980 the cost of the oil it was burning had increased 1500% --- rising from about $2.22 per barrel to over $35 per barrel.  This caused Boston Edison (and as you can see a number of other utilities) to begin a rush of ordering of nuclear plants at first slowly in the end of the 60's, and then heavily in the first few years of the 1970's as the oil price trend became very clear.

Pilgrim by itself made up for about 7 million barrels of oil per year, saving the company's customers about $115 million per year (1981 numbers.)  It's quite easy to see why the large nuclear build was put on up in New England.

Of course, it didn't all pan out.  If one looks at Seabrook station today, the plant for all the world looks like a two unit nuclear plant.  But only one unit is complete and working.  Of the units listed earlier, Pilgrim 2 and 3, Seabrook 2, Montague 1 and 2 and New England 1 and 2 were never completed.  In fact, the last two projects never started real construction.  The reasons for this are many, but I'm getting to a point here.

Let's take a look at a key passage from the informative booklet "About: Pilgrim Station," published by Boston Edison in 1981:

"The New England Region relies more heavily on imported oil for its energy needs than any other part of the country.  Its uncertainty in both cost and availability mandates that this dependence be greatly reduced.  Thus, currently, nuclear power is the only option for the foreseeable future and represents the most economical, safe and readily available opportunity to reduce our reliance on expensive foreign oil."

Now, I want you to read this again, but this time substitute "natural gas' for "imported oil" or "foreign oil."  Because this is what New England is looking at -- it's looking at giving up its most reliable, lowest carbon base load power and becoming dependent upon a single fuel.  In the past that was oil; now it will be natural gas.  The implications are obvious -- if (when, actually) natural gas prices go back up there will be NO escape.

(Item:  At one time, a certain utility in Kansas was told by its natural gas supplier that there would be a sudden price increase and reducing availability scaled through the future as gas was then re-prioritized for home use.  The response?  It ordered a nuclear power plant--  Wolf Creek.  Think about this for a moment.)

Really what's happening here is that Entergy is losing about $40 million a year on Pilgrim, and since it's facing buying fuel next year for a 2017 outage and is also facing increased regulatory oversight and possible equipment backfit / modification implications, it's decided to go ahead and announce a final termination for plant operation.  This termination (not later than 2019) IS FLEXIBLE and may be moved up to the 2017 outage, or even sooner, the company says.

As I started out by saying, this was expected.  Several plants are known to be "on the block."  Kewaunee and Vermont Yankee have been the first to shut down for similar circumstances, and much as I hate to say it, it's almost certain this trend is not yet over.

You'll find some more information and some official links, as well as a really informative NEI link, by clicking here to get to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

2:30 PM Eastern
Atomic Power Review

Friday, October 9, 2015

Westinghouse announces Lead Cooled Fast Reactor initiative

On Friday, October 9, Westinghouse announced that it had launched a program to work with the US Department of Energy in the development of a new, lead-cooled fast reactor (commonly, "LFR") which would combine the advantages of lead cooling (high temperatures, primarily, as well as lower pressures) with advanced accident tolerant fuel to push the Gen-IV envelope to what it perceives as Gen-V --  a term that seems to imply the "state of the art" in perhaps 30 or 50 years down the road.

Westinghouse's press release:  Click Here.

Also, the US DOE announcement of the opportunity can be found here.

The action taken up to this point is that Westinghouse has, in acting on the requirements of the DOE opportunity, made an application to DOE for consideration as recipient of funding.  These applications were due by October 5.  Two awardees are expected to be named.


Westinghouse held an exclusive blogger teleconference on this announcement and on the new LFR program with Cindy Pezze, Westinghouse Vice President, Global Technology Development and Chief Technology Officer today; more than one nuclear blogger had been invited, but yours truly was the only one who called in.  As a result, the content below is an exclusive to this blog.

Pezze began by offering the observation that while Westinghouse was deeply involved in the launch of commercial nuclear power (with the PWR concept, first applied for commercial use at Shippingport Atomic Power Station, about which this author has written repeatedly) and thus has deep roots in the field, the company today is an extremely dynamic and much different looking company than it had been in the past.  She pointed out the company's pride in the involvement with no fewer than three simultaneous new construction projects (the AP1000 - one site in China, two in the United States) and described these as "the most advanced PWR nuclear plants anywhere."  Also mentioned were Westinghouse's venerable nuclear fuel program, and further Westinghouse's continued (if reduced) presence in the market for nuclear plant components and services. "Unfortunately, a field we have to address is decommissioning, decontamination and remediation" of closing nuclear plants, Pezze added - a field in which Westinghouse has an increasing presence as, clearly, the requirement for such work will continue to increase.

It is against this established background that Pezze contrasted the very new ("visionary," as she put it) approach by Westinghouse CEO Danny Roderick wherein Roderick challenged the Westinghouse engineers (which according to Pezze have been concentrated centrally to enable a "focus for innovation and for the enhancement of existing lines and technologies") this past February to take a clean sheet of paper and study, both from a nuclear design / feasibility standpoint as well as an economic standpoint, the various types of truly advanced reactors to "see what the future generation nuclear plant should look like."  Roderick emphasized that the selected technology had to incorporate both "unparalleled safety" and "unprecedented economics."

According to Pezze, this task was vigorously pursued and all types of reactor were considered, whether cooled by gas, various metals, and even molten salts.  Safety of each design was the key consideration, but economic viability (without which none could be built) was also a guiding consideration.  (She noted that "the team did even look at LWR or Light Water Reactor designs for this study as well.")

The study, including some 15 or 16 criteria appropriately weighted, resulted in a rather clear winner - the lead cooled fast reactor or LFR.  Pezze noted some of the outstanding aspects of this design throughout both the presentation and the Q&A portion of today's call; here, compiled, are some of those mentioned qualities:

•Inherent safety features such as reactivity feedback and high boiling point of the coolant
•Unpressurized coolant system which is inherently safer than those operating at high pressures (a pool type reactor was hinted at during the discussion, as opposed to a tank or sealed pressure vessel type)
•Coolant not reactive with air or water (as is sodium, also being pursued as a coolant in other Gen-IV designs)
•Fewer challenges with radioactive byproducts than other designs (perhaps molten salt.)

Not mentioned was the ability of such designs to assist in the disposal of spent fuel / transuranics by burning it in the reactor (appropriately processed into fuel, of course.)

Perhaps of major importance outside the electric utility field is the ability of the LFR, because of the high temperature of its coolant, to be very useful in the generation of process steam -- making economic production of hydrogen closer to reality, as well as being of benefit to industrial processes of all types.  Desalination of water is also a potential use for such a plant.  (The high steam quality also means that large wet steam turbines as are used at all conventional LWR nuclear plants will give way to much more common superheated steam turbines.)  The high temperature steam will add the benefit of improving plant efficiency, thus plant economics.  (This was one of the most pushed points of the old General Atomics gas cooled reactor program back in the 60's that resulted in two commercial but essentially prototypical plants, and no others in the US; it remains valid today, however.)

The ability of such plants to load follow was not addressed specifically on the teleconference but is noted in Westinghouse materials distributed to this writer; this is important should such a design be required to operate in concert with renewables in a situation in which the renewables have dispatch priority on the grid, and in which the LFR plant would then be expected to ramp.

Pezze observed that roughly 10 or 20 years ago, LFR projects were dropped or sidelined because materials problems appeared too daunting.  However, the decades of work in metallurgy have now caught up, and the LFR appears to be a short to mid term commercial reality now.

Inside Westinghouse this program has been loosely tagged as "Gen-V," which bears some explanation.  This simply refers to the fact that while Gen-IV reactors are classed as advanced designs having improved safety (above Gen-III / Gen-III+ LWR designs,) improved resistance to proliferation, reduced generated waste and improved economics, this concept by Westinghouse is hoped to provide (as noted) safety and economy on a not-yet-seen scale.  Pezze observed that it's the company's belief that much of the Gen-IV technology has not been commercialized at all yet (effectively) because it's simply not economical to do so.  The Westinghouse LFR project is intended to meet all the Gen-IV stipulations for overall design mentioned above, but also will be exceedingly safe and highly economical to build and operate.  She described the "Gen V" label as a target out in time at which this project is directed.

(Side note, and my thoughts only: This is an interesting exercise.  It essentially says that most or all Gen-IV designs are more or less a range of theoretical potential prototypes, into each of which as we all know variable amounts of money have been poured but for any of which, as conceived now, the economics are just not there.  This identification that extravagantly expensive and highly technically idealized nuclear plants will not get built may be a key, so far as this writer is concerned, to the success of Westinghouse's program.  We might well refer to the "technically ideal" fluid fuel, aqueous homogeneous reactors that died a difficult and well deserved death commercially in 1959 after which they were supplanted in all quarters of research and commercial construction by "less ideal" concepts which actually could get built and operated.  Keep in mind these are my observations, not those of Westinghouse or anyone associated with it.  Now back to the story.)

A key factor in safety for this new LFR program is noted by Pezze as being the use of advanced accident tolerant fuels, on which Westinghouse has been working and which have an increasing focus.  On the other end of the promise is economy - which Pezze points out is largely due to the fact that the primary coolant system is unpressurized, allowing components to be smaller and/or less expensive because they quite simply can be made thinner.  Having a non-reactive coolant (with water or air) also means simplification of plant safety systems as compared with other technology choices which embrace a reactive coolant to obtain other characteristics.  (To this writer, this move appears to be right in line with Westinghouse's continued desire to simplify nuclear plants, dating from the AP600 era and working right through to the present AP1000 and now, apparently, beyond.)

Pezze's description of the selection process included the thought line that if one selects a high pressure design of plant (NSSS or Nuclear Steam Supply System) then the protections against radioactive release from the plant get more complicated and expensive -- and of course the actual materials of the NSSS get thicker, heavier and more expensive.  Adding to these costs by using a reactive coolant (such as sodium) drives cost up even further.  Now, given that much research has been done on the use of lead in nuclear power as a coolant, and that Westinghouse feels that with dedicated work the materials problems can be solved in the short to mid term, then all these cost increases as described above are "off the table."  In other words, some advanced reactor design choices add a sort of self-inflicted cost and complexity increase over the LFR for no practical advantage.

So what are the next steps?  Pezze says that within several months the DOE announcement of who will be awarded the funds to develop an advanced design is expected, although no firm date is known.  Westinghouse is working with 12 different parties, said to be national labs and universities but cannot name them all specifically just yet (although that is coming eventually in a future press release; we'll have to wait and see.)  The DOE FOA is a five year program and we can expect further announcements and developments through that time frame.


There you have it.  Westinghouse has thrown its hat back into the advanced reactor field (it was once quite seriously in that field, as it was the lead reactor vendor for the Clinch River Breeder Reactor project.)  The design chosen has all the hallmarks, at least as presented to me today by Westinghouse, of something that may not be the furthest up the scale of "theoretically ideal" designs, but which can and will get built.  The notion that Westinghouse will focus on extreme safety AND extremely economical cost for the plant tell me that the company is paying attention to what the entire world is saying about nuclear energy -- and that Westinghouse also knows we need nuclear energy for many, many years to come.  One more thing - a big "thank you" to Westinghouse for reaching out to the nuclear blogging community.

Atomic Power Review
5:45 PM  10/9/2015

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

IAEA Director's Report on the Fukushima Daiichi Accident - September 1, 2015

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has just released an absolutely massive report on the Fukushima Daiichi accident.  While there are literally dozens and dozens of previous reports that any researcher can consult (check the stand alone page on this blog for a good list of these) this report appears to attempt to be definitive.  There are thousands of pages of report and annex to go through; I've downloaded the report (which has to be done somewhat laboriously through multiple links) and will report back here on this blog should I find anything especially surprising.


1 SEP 15

Monday, May 18, 2015

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 261

We've had to repost this Carnival because of  HTML errors that crept into the first post while it was being made.  

The Carnival is a rotating feature hosted among the top English language pro-nuclear blogs, and appears each week displaying the top selected posts as designated by either the authors or the publishers.


Next Big Future - Brian Wang

Supercritical Water Cooled Reactors part of Gen-IV Options:  China has announced that it is building a SCWR, with a rating of 1000 MWe and which is designated SCR-1000.  Euratom is collaborating on the fuel design.

X-energy developments;  X-energy recently convened a panel of nuclear energy experts to discuss the design of its pebble (bed) type fuel.  The company plans to utilize this fuel in its pebble bed reactor sometime in the mid-2020's.


Yes Vermont Yankee - Meredith Angwin

Celebrating, Traveling, and a book on Advocacy:  Meredith Angwin will be reducing her activities at her blog, taking some time off to travel.  However, she announces a new book is in the works that will reflect her wide nuclear advocacy experience.


Northwest Clean Energy - John Dobken

Too Much News from Few Facts:  Recently, some pipe flaw indications at Columbia Generating Station have made the news.  While the operator takes these indications seriously, the press has more seriously overblown the issue.  The post contains important data and graphics.

Update:  This second post provides updates to the first on the pipe flaw indications, with more data and graphics.  Readers will be able to have a good handle on the situation between these two posts.


Hiroshima Syndrome - Les Corrice

Gundersen 14 Meltdown Myth:  Arnie Gundersen may well have told the biggest whopper of his career when he asserted recently that Japan missed - by "luck" - having 14 reactor meltdowns after the Great East Japan / Tohoku quake and tsunami.  Les Corrice sets him straight.


Nuke Power Talk - Gail Marcus

The Future of Nuclear Beyond Gen-IV:  Recently Dr. Marcus was asked what the future of nuclear energy might hold, and might look like, beyond the presently considered "Gen-IV" reactors.  Taken by surprise by this question, she looks at the scope of future applications and asks readers to begin to imagine, guided by some suggestions, that very future.


Energy Reality Project - Rick Maltese

Guest author Michael Mann provides a look at R. E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plant, and gives a number of valid reasons why the plant's future is important to, and inextricably tied with, the future of the whole surrounding region.  The plant's performance, and focus on quality and safety, are particularly brought into view by veteran plant employee Mann.

Alex Cannara provides a letter to the California Energy Commission, and Rick Maltese talks about California energy, lobbyists, activists, and in particular the prospect of pro-nuclear advocacy by people who are knowledgeable.. and who are regular people too, just like us.  Well worth a look.


Forbes - Jim Conca

Why don't nuclear scientists get respect?  Jim Conca wonders (not to himself, fortunately for us) why it is that environmental scientists are, as an example, consulted by media on environment matters but why then, on nuclear matters, nuclear experts are not.  Instead, we are forced to sit through dissertations by pop-science talking heads who have never set foot in a nuclear plant.  Conca's article provides a sobering look at who we look to, societally, as "experts."


That's it for this week's Carnival!  All the entries are great, and I thank the authors and publishers.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Physical versus Political Realities and Nuclear Plants - Indian Point

Over the weekend, an output transformer at Indian Point Energy Center in New York failed in a somewhat spectacular manner, as is fairly often the case with oil filled transformers at any power plant or electric substation -- it leaked, burned and exploded and required water and then firefighting foam to extinguish.  This event would have been fairly unremarkable except for the fact that some of the oil, whose volume was added to by firefighting water and foam, went into the Hudson River.  Even that would have been something likely contained to local news services and stations, but because the event occurred at a nuclear power plant, and because politicians are adept at capitalizing on problems to turn them into crises, we now face some 600 news stories on the event world wide.

"Public perception (of nuclear energy) is hindered by the symbiosis of the anti-nuclear lobby (who need public exposure to survive) and the public media (who need controversy to entertain)," said Sir Walter Marshall in a speech to the Atomic Industrial Forum in 1985.  His remarks could be amended to say that anti-nuclear politicians, who also require public exposure and a following to keep their jobs, are tied inextricably to the media -- a media that in this country is largely biased to the left.  And on that left politically is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who missed none of the opportunity to show up at Indian Point's gate for the press.

Cuomo has long been an opponent of having (clean, reliable, carbon free, around the clock) Indian Point operating in his state; the record is quite clear on this fact.  He kept that vein when he issued some of his typically deeply insightful analysis of the plant's situation, as reported by the AP.

When asked about environmental impact of the oil that reached the river, he said "obviously it's not good."  Well, the fact is that Entergy Nuclear's environmental contractors were on site the same day and this morning's report from Indian Point is that the oil is mostly contained to an area set up by floating booms and that very little has entered the larger waterway.  So Cuomo, without any real knowledge of the spread or the impact (which he could have had none of at the early hour he made the quote) steps out on a limb of credibility -- a limb which none of the media will shake or test.

Cuomo is quoted as having uttered this gem:  "Luckily, this was not a major situation.  But the emergency protocols are very important.  I take nothing lightly when it comes to this plant specifically."

"This plant specifically?"  Well, naturally - you're against the nuclear plant itself.  You'd like to drive up energy prices, drive down grid reliability, and drive up carbon emissions overall by shutting it down -- which panders to your environmentalist base.  The problem is that the plant's operating experience shows it to be safe and reliable. This is why Cuomo must by needs speak in such vague terms. Vague accusations are the stock in trade of the anti-nuclear politician.  They are carried instantly and breathlessly by the compliant media who needs such fabricated controversy to sell advertising spa-- sorry, I mean to sell news stories.

So the situation boils down to this:  Unit 3 at Indian Point was forced to shut down immediately as a result of the failure, and because most folks don't have transformers this big just sitting around and because even if you do they take time to put in, the unit might be down several weeks.  The impact of the oil and extinguishing measures was mitigated and contained as rapidly as possible... probably FAR more rapidly than if it had occurred at some unmanned remote substation.  There was no impact to the public at large at any time.  However, hundreds of news items (many of which are just the same AP piece reprinted over and over) are carrying the klaxon alarm of Cuomo, who vows to get to the bottom of the event.

A transformer failed.  Some oil got in the water, but its impact is minimal.  The plant is all right; the nuclear portion is safe, and stable.  Return to your home, Governor Cuomo - there really is nothing to see here except you, grandstanding for votes.

Will Davis  - May 11, 2015