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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vermont Yankee debate continues

The matter of whether or not Vermont Yankee is allowed to extend its state-issued license (if you don't recall our post on this a while back, Vermont gave itself a hand in nuclear licensing state-wide) is clearly not over yet. This article, and especially the comments added to it, really gives a good view of what's going on in Vermont. Basically, the anti-nuke people are anti-nuke at heart, and that's it. However, they also mistrust Entergy for having supposedly been much less than honest over the years. Further, they're sure that power-sharing over the grid with entities outside the state is the way to go.

How long will it take to forget the big multi-state blackout? Apparently in Vermont they already did. Straining an already strained network isn't the answer. I applaud Andy Leader's article and agree that the anti-nuclear view in Vermont is indeed irrational.

Surry 1 & 2 uprate approved by NRC

The NRC has approved an uprate of the two Westinghouse PWR plants at Virginia Power & Light's Surry Nuclear Power Station. These plants were rated 2546 MWt / 799 MWe when built, according to NRC records; the present uprating is from 842 MWe to 857 MWe. Many plants around the US have been uprated - in many cases, inaccuracies in various measurements of plant parameters have been tightened, allowing an increased rating, while in others there have been actual equipment and/or core upgrades. According to this article, the plant uprate will occur in November. Artist's view of Surry 1 & 2 pre-completion from postcard in APRA library.

Dominion will build, even if it isn't nuclear

This article in Business Week describes the indication by Dominion Resources that it needs to increase its base load generating capacity - and that if the company doesn't go ahead with a third reactor plant at its North Anna station then it'll have to build something else. Of course, that could be natural gas or trash burning or a number of other things; we think nuclear makes more sense.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

State of the Renaissance

I can't put it any better than this article, just published in Industry Week and which is worth reading in whole. I've given the link to see the article all on one page to save you time and ad-reading.

Did we jump the gun? No. Everyone with any knowledge -- any real knowledge -- about nuclear has been behind it for years, hating the decline of the industry in our country and watching the sharing then handing off of technology, then responsibility and money, to Japanese firms (both Westinghouse and GE are deeply involved with Japanese firms in regards to nuclear power, while Babcock & Wilcox is not.) The problem is that every time something happens to get the public back in favor of nuclear energy the public quickly gets over whatever crisis frightened them in the first place and goes back to being frightened of nuclear energy. This time, it was the fear of the recession which led the President to, in part, get some money flowing to industry and utilities to stimulate jobs added to fear for the environment when the Gulf of Mexico oil spill happened. Most of the real, sensible reasoning behind both of those decision making paths is still valid now as it was then but the problem is that everyone would like to go back to worrying about which big screen TV to buy and forget about the environment or energy use.

Let's keep some things in mind: First, if we're going to prevent another major blackout, we'll need more generating capacity. That's both base load and peak capacity. Second, if we're going to get more independent from oil, we'll need more generating from something else. Third, if we're really worried about greenhouse gases, global warming and oil spills, we need something non-combustive to replace oil. The answer for all of these at once is nuclear. It's proven (see the FitzPatrick entry earlier today) and it's ready. Cost is a factor, but it'll buy peace of mind. Eventual spent fuel storage is a factor, but if the government goes ahead as promised originally with Yucca that problem is already solved.

It's right now that we're at the tipping point. The wind was blowing our way, pretty hard, for the last year or so. It's getting eerily calm right now.

FitzPatrick plant operation US record

Entergy's James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant (GE BWR-I, 2536 MWt / 852 MWe, online July 28, 1975) just set a US record with 702 days of continuous operation with no failures or safety issues. Read here for details and some other previous records. What a fantastic banner to fly for our side -- this is one that the anti-nuclear crowd can't talk down and can't ignore.

Awaiting shakeout of Piketon hearing

This article explained the meeting that was to be held the 13th for public discussion of construction of a new nuclear plant in Ohio. We're looking for the results and will report them when available. Duke may in fact be backing off on this particular plan and focusing on nuclear construction elsewhere, frankly, so we won't get too excited here.

Small RX plant at Savannah River?

World Nuclear News reported on the 10th that Hyperion has a fresh agreement with the DoE to construct one of its proprietary small, fast reactors for testing with an expected output of roughly 75 MWt / 25 MWe. Apparently there are some shortcuts through the red tape that would normally obstruct building this new design at, say, a commercially operated site since DoE plans to build this unit at the Savannah River Site. This fast-tracking would get the reactor built much sooner than if it were built for commercial power generation and operated by a utility. With the seeming very recent cooling down of the nuclear fervor, let's hope this gets done.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Looking back: Vallecitos

As I continue to follow the progress of the various projects here and abroad to advance nuclear energy, I can't help but wonder if we're all feeling just a tiny bit of the excitement and anticipation that was felt back in the 50's, when the technology was relatively in its infancy. This brings to mind Power Reactor License No. 1, issued by the AEC for GE's Vallecitos Boiling Water Reactor.

Left, VBWR illustration from AEC photo presentation made to 1958 Geneva Conference entitled "Atoms For Peace / USA 1958." Photo courtesy General Electric. While it's true that the Shippingport Atomic Power Station (a Westinghouse project) was the first nuclear power plant to be designed to provide commercial electric power and then get built and placed on line, GE did in fact beat that plant to the punch with the later but much smaller and simpler VBWR (in those days, all reactors had three or four letter designators, with the Shippingport plant being known as the PWR.)

VBWR was conceived in 1955 as a prototype and dress rehearsal for the much larger project that became Dresden-1, and a new Vallecitos Atomic Laboratory was built near Pleasanton, California. The construction permit from the AEC was received in June 1956, and very rapid construction led to completion one year later. VBWR was a test plant, and so could operate both as a direct-cycle boiling water reactor and as a dual-cycle boiling water reactor (which latter duplicated Dresden as finally built.) During the planning it was decided to actually build an electric generating station to connect to the Pacific Gas & Electric system, and PG&E shared costs and provided a 5000 KW generator salvaged from a ship and modified. Core power of VBWR was designed as 20 MWt but the reactor on test proved capable of developing 30 MWt with no adverse effects. Initial criticality occurred October 17, 1957; on October 24 the plant was placed on the PG&E grid and delivered the full rated 5 MWe. Later AEC documents for siting indicate, for purpose of source term calculation, a core power of 50 MWt. Operation continued through 1963, when the plant was shut down.

Vallecitos remains in SAFSTOR today, although it isn't alone like it was in the photo above. Another reactor was built alongside of it and although originally it was planned to operate in tandem as a superheater plant, eventually the second plant was left on its own.

Here we see, on the left, the original VBWR. In this illustration, an artist has added (from blueprints) on the right the plans for the ESADA VESR reactor. Empire State Atomic Development Associates, a group of seven New York state utilities, was formed to investigate three high-efficiency reactor designs through investment with, and contracts with, major reactor vendors. The VESR, or Vallecitos Experimental Superheat Reactor, was one of these. This was a 12.5 MWt reactor designed to be operated with steam supplied by the VBWR. According to the scant information available, this probably only happened for a short time if at all since the superheat reactor only started up for the first time in November 1963. After that, until the reactor was shut down and the license made 'possession only' in 1970, it operated on its own investigating superheating elements for boiling water reactors. In some early documents this same reactor is referred to as the EVSR or Experimental Vallecitos Superheat Reactor. It's easy to see why this letter system was abandoned.

We all know the result of GE's having built Vallecitos Laboratory; the highly successful Dresden Nuclear Generating Station, and many more (and much more advanced) GE boiling water reactors since.

Dresden Nuclear Power Station, Grundy County Illinois; first criticality October 1959. Original rating 626 MWt / 184 MWe, later 700 MWt / 200 MWe. Very complicated dual-cycle construction, with high external central steam drum and four secondary circulator loops each with pump and steam generator.

Big Rock Point, near Charlevoix Michigan. 240 MWt core power, although not initially; plant initially rated 48 MWe but later increased incrementally to 71 MWe although the target had been 75 MWe. First criticality September 1962.

I hope you've enjoyed this very brief look back in time - and now it's time to move forward!

A good day for Westinghouse?

Another hurdle for Vogtle cleared; click here to read a brief AP piece reporting that a draft report issued by the NRC has vacated any environmental concerns about the plan to build two new Westinghouse AP1000 plants at the Vogtle site. Given FPL's rate hike (see earlier post) it looks like a good day for Westinghouse.

FPL / Turkey Point 6 & 7 project funding

Rate increases have been approved for customers of Florida Power & Light, which is on track to acquire funds to construct two more generating plants at its Turkey Point Generating Station. A recent article can be seen here.

Turkey Point 1, 2 and 5 are conventional (ie, non-nuclear) plants while Turkey Point 3 & 4 are Westinghouse 3-loop PWR's whose construction began in 1967. These plants are rated 2300 MWt / 693 MWe. The intention is that Turkey Point 6 & 7 will be Westinghouse AP1000 plants, rated 3415 MWt / 1117 MWe. You can find a link to Westinghouse's site on the links section and there's a great pdf brochure on the AP1000 that's downloadable free.

Click here to see FPL's official information about Turkey Point 3 & 4.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Icebreaker LENIN

Our atomic showpiece vessel was, and remains, the N.S. Savannah; you can find links to see a great deal about this ship on this blog's home page.

The showpiece of the former USSR was the atomic powered icebreaker Lenin. Clicking here will take you to a fabulous photo tour including many incredible interior spaces, decorated fantastically for 1959 when it entered service. Viewed also are the actual reactor control room and a view into the reactor compartment. Enjoy!