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

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A push for Integral Fast Reactors.

Suzanne Hobbs has posted to the ANS Social Media list a link to an article that anyone interested in nuclear energy will find very thought provoking. It is also thought provoking for those interested in the high-level (fuel, that is) nuclear waste problem. The article describes the IFR, a plant that can actually be used to recycle waste into fuel.

We abandoned breeder reactor technology - a big step on the road to IFR technology and closing the nuclear fuel loop - some years back. In fact, the hard fight by the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy in the US Congress to get the Clinch River Breeder Reactor built, which the JCAE temporarily won, led to the all out push by environmentalists to disband the JCAE which (as I've commented here before) was the last single body in the government capable of providing leadership in the arena of nuclear energy. Sure enough, the Clinch River project got cancelled in the 80's.

From a post written by this author on this blog in June of this year:

The CRBR project was begun in the late 1960's by the AEC to develop a breeder reactor that would also produce a useful amount of energy commercially, and built on experiences gained from the EBR series of reactors and Fermi-1 near Detroit. Initial investigations and requests for bid proposals are mentioned in the "Nuclear Industry - 1969" volume produced by the AEC and the project was formally initiated in 1970. The project dragged out through developmental, budgetary and licensing problems for many years and was finally the subject of a bruising Congressional fight that began the end of the days of the JCAE and which led to the cancellation of the project for good in 1983.


Above, a 1973 illustration from APRA files showing the designed appearance of the CRBR project at that time. Below, the shot I used in June, showing the final designed site configuration.


This article makes you really want to see something get done on these lines; I strongly encourage everyone to read it.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ARTICLE ON BRAVE NEW CLIMATE.

6:02 PM Eastern Thursday September 29, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

Monday, September 26, 2011

71st Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers: @ NEI

NEI Nuclear Notes is hosting the 71st Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers. I highly recommend checking it out:

NEI NUCLEAR NOTES - 71st CARNIVAL

4:09 PM Eastern Monday September 26, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Two brief TEPCO movies inside reactor buildings

TEPCO has released to the press for distribution two movies taken while crane-lifted equipment - and a camera - were being used to collect particulate matter being emitted from the Fukushima Daiichi plants. These videos are not very instructive, but I offer them on the APR YouTube Channel for completeness and because they do actually show locations not yet filmed at the site.

The actual views are not obvious, so TEPCO has provided diagrams.

Here is the diagram for camera location for the film at No. 2 plant, followed by a direct link to the video at the APR YouTube Channel.


LINK TO VIDEO AT NO. 2 PLANT AS INDICATED ABOVE.

Here is the diagram for camera location (looking down this time) for the film at No. 3 plant, followed by a direct link to the video at the APR YouTube Channel.


LINK TO VIDEO AT NO. 3 PLANT AS INDICATED ABOVE.

2:15 PM Eastern Saturday September 24, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

APR Atomic Journal - Elk River part 2

In the first installment of this series, we discussed the origins of the Elk River Power Reactor (as it was called at the time) using as source material many original documents and sources. We conclude the story of the Elk River plant as shown in these documents with this installment of the APR Atomic Journal.

Construction underway

Our previous installment on Elk River ended with the announcement (in September, 1958) that Chicago Bridge and Iron had been selected to construct the containment for the Elk River plant. Other long term contracts (known as "long lead time" contracts) began to be awarded at the same time; Sargent and Lundy, Inc. were brought in as architect-engineers and the Maxon Co. of Dayton, Ohio was hired as the construction contractor. In the first quarter of 1958, the estimated total cost to the AEC for the Elk River project was almost $11.5 million, with the Rural Cooperative Power Association providing facilities costing about $1.75 million. The AEC cost included a fixed ceiling contract with ACF Industries to develop and construct the reactor plant, train operators and perform testing. At that time the plant was expected to be completed by October of 1960 (AIF Forum Memo magazine, May 1958.)

Groundbreaking for the new plant (actually, for the reactor plant portion at the site) took place on August 4th, 1958. Construction of the containment began in October, 1958. As noted before, the nuclear portion of the plant was entirely owned by the AEC; interestingly the AEC advance budgeting as announced in mid-1959 did include an earmark for $100,000 for operating funds for the year 1960, as opposed to construction funds, as it was considered at that time that the plant would be operational sometime in that year.

Vendor upheaval

In the middle of 1959, a major change occurred to the project; ACF Industries decided to exit the reactor business completely. In this transition for ACF it was decided to sell the nuclear products operations, but not the ERCO operations (the nuclear products and ERCO divisions had been merged together by ACF Industries on April 1, 1957.) ACF sold its entire nuclear business to Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company, including not only the Elk River project but the various test and training reactors it had under construction. This was the second of two rapid and somewhat major transactions in the nuclear energy field; also in 1959, General Nuclear Engineering Corporation was bought by and merged into Combustion Engineering, Inc.

Allis-Chalmers at this time had one power plant contract, which was for a boiling water reactor for Northern States which would become known as the Pathfinder Atomic Plant. Allis-Chalmers immediately integrated the ACF operations into its own, and in fact the 1960 Allis-Chalmers annual report supplement makes absolutely no mention of work underway as "ex-ACF" or any such thing; it is all A-C so far as this document is concerned.

Below we see our first photo for this installment. This is a previously unduplicated UPI Telephoto dated February, 1960.

This photo shows the arrival at the Elk River site on February 11, 1960 of the reactor pressure vessel on what appears to be a standard 40-foot railroad flat car. This pressure vessel was fabricated by Pacific Coast Engineering Company, of Alameda, California. The control rods on this reactor plant are bottom entry; thus, the lower end of the pressure vessel is at left. According to the caption on the UPI Photo (in the APRA collection) the vessel weighed 72 tons, and was to be placed in a minimum of 8 feet 3 inches of concrete shielding. The caption also states an expected date of completion of November, 1960.

Elk River plant details

Let's now briefly take a look at the design of the reactor plant in some closer detail. Below is an illustration from "Boiling Water Reactors," Andrew W. Kramer / Addison-Wesley 1958 as published as part of the 1958 Geneva Conference set in the APRA collection.

This illustration shows the reactor vessel in good detail. The reactor plant at Elk River was conceived originally as being convertible; although it was completed and operated only as an indirect-cycle BWR plant, it was convertible to forced circulation with the use of installed, but capped and welded, nozzles as indicated in the drawing above. None of the recirculation equipment was ever ordered.

The Elk River plant was rated at 22MWe; the thermal output of the reactor itself was rated 58.2 MWt, while the coal-fired superheater was credited with 14.8 MWt for a total thermal power of 78 MW.

In the photo showing the arrival of the reactor vessel, the nearly complete containment is visible behind it; below, also from "Boiling Water Reactors," is another illustration showing equipment layout inside the containment with the reactor plant complete.

In this view we can see the equipment labeled "evaporator," which in any other plant would be called a steam generator. This plant's use of the indirect cycle was intended to take advantage of the fact that the steam would carry no radioactivity into the turbine building (the turbine generator that Allis-Chalmers was designing for Northern States was very heavily shielded; that for Elk River was not.)

The control system for the plant used, as its primary input, the pressure of steam exiting the superheater. Variations in this pressure caused immediate but fine motion of the nine control rods, made of boron-steel.

This reactor was one of two early reactors (the other being Indian Point 1) which used uranium and thorium fuel to explore the thorium fuel cycle. The initial fuel loading for the plant was 195 kg of uranium and 4200 kg of thorium dioxide, all in pellets inside stainless steel tubes.

Construction, testing, delays

As has been the case with most nuclear plants, unexpected delays began to push the actual startup date back, then pushed it far off. Although the plant itself was practically completed by fall of 1961, almost a year off the initial target, problems with the reactor itself - fuel element defects and problems with the stainless steel pressure vessel internal cladding - pushed anticipated startup as perceived in late 1961 to probably late 1962. (Atomic Energy Deskbook, Hogerton, 1963.)


Above is a post card view (APRA collection) showing the Elk River plant in a state of partial completion in 1959. The reactor plant containment is visible on the right, the turbine building on the left. The interposed superheater section is not yet constructed.


Above is a photo taken from a very similar angle, which was included in the 1960 Allis-Chalmers annual report. This report states that construction at this time was virtually complete, and the final appearance of the plant is now established - except for the fact that, for whatever reason, the A-C art department has airbrushed the signage off of the front of the building which reads "Rural Cooperative Power Association - Owned by Those it Serves." (An almost identical photo, but with the sign intact, appears in the Atomic Energy Deskbook.)

Below, a photo I used to introduce this series but which is nevertheless fairly stunning. This is the cover photo of the 4th quarter, 1962 edition of "Allis-Chalmers Electrical Review."

In all of the old material thus far available, this is the only photo this author has seen that shows Allis-Chalmers technicians (note the A-C emblems on their coveralls) at work inside one of their plants; this is the initial fueling of the Elk River reactor. The caption inside reads as follows: "ELK RIVER REACTOR achieved sustained nuclear reaction in the 4th quarter, 1962, with 41 of its 148 fuel elements.... The station, with its coal fired superheater, is gradually being brought up to its full 22,000 kwe capacity by mid-1963."

The tractor enthusiasts' magazine "Old Allis News" issue of Summer 2007 contains a very interesting first-hand article which includes information from three operators at Elk River. (This great article was written by Mark Rusk and originally appeared in the Upper Midwest A-C Collectors' Club Newsletter.) One very interesting fact appears in this article - the statement by operators that, from the very start, it was known that there was a small amount of coolant leaking into the containment. Clearly, then, the problems with the PACECO-manufactured pressure vessel had either not been fully rectified, or perhaps not even fully discovered. Since the leakage was very small, operation was continued and the plant given its operating license at rated power.

Commercial operation - but only for a short time

The 1964 Annual Report to Congress of the Atomic Energy Commission (published January, 1965) includes the following notation about Elk River:

"During its preliminary test program, the AEC-Rural Cooperative Power Association's boiling water reactor at Elk River, Minnesota, attained its full design 58.2 thermal megawatt, 23,000 electrical kilowatt (ekw) {APR note: This must be gross kwe} power level and a full power, 28 day warranty run was completed March 21. {1964.} This was followed by a 60-day transition run to prepare the reactor operators for plant operation after transfer from Allis-Chalmers to RCPA. In November, the reactor was shut down for visual inspection of the control rods. They were found to be serviceable, and the plant was returned to power operation."

Thus, as we've just read, the Elk River plant was finally fully operational and on the grid roughly seven years after the first project, which saw one vendor dropped and the second one bought out and merged mid-project. The official date for initial power operation was July 13, 1964; the official date for commercial power operation was June, 1965.

In another section of the same "Old Allis News" is a one-page interview with former Elk River technician Donald R. McRae who intimates some of the developmental problems that slowed the Elk River plant's becoming fully operational. Most interesting of these is the fact that the plant's protection and alarm system was originally designed and constructed single-channel, causing many spurious trips and scrams. Technicians, according to McRae, convinced A-C to purchase and install "two out of three" coincidence equipment to make operation reliable.

According to both Old Allis articles and many other sources, the leakage of coolant into the containment remained a constant problem. Although the plant did generate power reliably for several years, it was shut down January 31, 1968 for a detailed investigation into the nature of the leakage. The investigation revealed small or hairline cracks in the vessel and piping, which would have necessitated heavy rework or replacement. This date became the official date for the end of commercial power operation of the Elk River Plant, because the RCPA did not elect to continue operation of the plant after the official AEC demonstration period which would in all likelihood have required the purchase of the plant from the AEC. (A similar set of events, along with problems, dictated the end of life of another well known rural power reactor, that being the one in Piqua, Ohio in that the end of the demonstration period did not lead to purchase by the municipality.)

At this point the Elk River plant was essentially doomed; what remained was the decision process to dismantle it. The first step was to defuel the plant; this was accomplished by September 16, 1969 which is the official AEC date indicating all fuel was shipped offsite. On March 15, 1971, the decision to dismantle the plant immediately was announced by the AEC and RCPA; on March 23, the AEC amended the plant operating contract to include dismantling. The plan for dismantling the plant was developed immediately and issued October 18, 1971; the order to begin dismantling was issued June 5, 1972. The work took roughly two years, with the final site survey being issued July 23, 1974 and the entire Elk River project termination order being issued September 30, 1974. "Rural America's First Atomic Power Plant," as the sign on the pressure vessel had indicated and as RCPA and the AEC had advertised, was gone - in the end, doomed essentially by material problems, economical viability with continued operation by, and eventual ownership by, RCPA not considered.

EPILOGUE

The site still sees use today, by a descendant of RCPA; Great River Energy now owns and operates plant, today known as the Elk River Energy Recovery Station and which now burns refuse, instead of coal and oil, to generate energy. Even with the addition of new equipment in the place of the long-gone reactor containment, the station is immediately recognizable even today as seen below in a photo taken by Great River Energy.


1:05 PM Eastern Saturday September 24, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New TEPCO video on RPV, PCV measurements

CLICK HERE TO GET TO APR YOUTUBE CHANNEL

TEPCO has released a new video detailing the status of instruments used to measure water level, pressure and temperature in the reactor pressure vessels and primary containment vessels at Fukushima Daiichi's three reactor plants. (The fourth did not have a core installed and is not included.)

While the video is interesting, unfortunately TEPCO did not convert the graphics to English as it did in some other videos. The narrative is very informative though and the video is fully worth watching.

In this video TEPCO reveals its assumption that some of the fuel is in the primary containment vessels. This is not the first time TEPCO has stated this, but the company's mention of this condition is very sparse. This has naturally been assumed by many for a long time, although the majority opinion is that most of the core material remains inside the pressure vessels; the spike in pressure at No. 2 plant upon initiation of core spray ring flow supports this theory very well.

The newest TEPCO video is presently (9/22) the featured video on the APR YouTube channel.

8:50 PM Eastern Thursday September 22, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

High resolution photos of Fukushima Daiichi

This last week, TEPCO released some high-res photos of various parts of the Fukushima Daiichi site; we'll show a few of these below. These blow up VERY large when clicked - and they are in some ways the best views yet of the reactor buildings post-accident.

Below, a view of No. 1 reactor building, looking roughly south-southwest. Note the structure of the reactor building visible inside the new framework for supporting the fabric panel enclosure. Note also the other reactor buildings visible beyond No. 1.


Below is another view of No. 1 reactor building looking more directly south. The turbine building is in view at left of the picture, as is the giant crane lifting one of the side panels of the new enclosure.


Below is a view of No. 3 reactor building, looking East (toward the ocean) and taken from the hillside along the reactor plants.


Below is a view of No. 4 reactor building. All these views were published by TEPCO for press use on September 17th.


Finally we see a large piece of construction equipment which will be used for rubble removal around and possibly on the reactor buildings.


7:55 PM Eastern Thursday September 22, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fukushima Daiichi No. 3 RPI continuity test

TEPCO has reported the results of a series of tests to determine wire continuity in the position indication probes (Rod Position Indication equipment) on No. 3 reactor plant at Fukushima Daiichi in order to attempt, indirectly, to determine condition of the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel.

As with this same test at No. 1 plant, TEPCO announces that the results are not in any way conclusive. None of the detectors passed any test. Below is an illustration from TEPCO just like that we saw for No. 1 plant. Of course it differs in that there are many more fuel elements, control rods and there are five sections or divisions of RPI equipment that don't match up neatly to quadrants.


TEPCO will in all likelihood complete this same test for No. 2 plant in the next day or two and we'll place that illustration here as well.

So far there is still no solid evidence as to the exact condition of the bottom of any of the pressure vessels beyond what we've been reporting on this blog for many months.

12:00 Noon Eastern Wednesday September 21, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

APR note: APR now on Twitter!

After much consideration, I have decided to open a Twitter account for Atomic Power Review in order to post relevant news and site updates. Prior to this time, the APR Facebook page was used for this purpose but it appears that this is not nearly the desired tool for getting word out on APR blog updates in a timely manner, to a wide audience.

LINK TO APR TWITTER PAGE @atomicnews

"atomicnews" is the Atomic Power Review name on Twitter. You'll see the familiar green and yellow APR image, just like on Blogger, your bookmarks, and on auto-update blog feeds on other sites and blogs.

You'll also notice a new TWITTER widget on the APR home page side bar.

10:35 AM Eastern Wednesday September 21, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

Nuclear power in Japan, China: Resurgent?

Two interesting notes on our news desk this morning...

Voice of America has carried comments by Japanese Prime Minister Noda that indicate he will push for restart of some or all of the idle Japanese nuclear plants in order to end the energy shortage, the rolling blackouts, the forced conservation and ultimately the growing trade deficit that Japan is experiencing. Noda has stated previously, as did his predecessor Naoto Kan, that a move toward a future non-nuclear Japan is desirable but seems now to have been hardened by sheer economic reality once seeing the realities of massive production and export (mainly automobiles) and how that is not workable with an electricity shortage. Noda hopes they will be restarted, certainly after the IAEA stress tests, by the middle of 2012.

Now, in China... Hindustan Times reports that China completed the safety inspections of all of its nuclear plants at the end of August and that the results will be made public soon. More importantly, the embargo on new nuclear construction is now over and new nuclear plants will now be approved for construction. Thus, the brief interlude for Chinese nuclear energy is over and it's full speed ahead once again.

The most interesting fact in the Hindustan Times story is that China, with more than 24 reactor plants under construction, represents roughly 40 percent of all reactors now being built anywhere. This number is sure to grow given China's ambitious plans for electricity growth / usage in its overall economic plan. Clearly, China will not wait for worldwide opinion on nuclear energy in order that it might satisfy public opinion - it will instead forge ahead with nuclear energy, with construction, then manufacturing and finally likely massive export of all sorts of fabricated and manufactured goods. A point well worth taking if you're in Japan.

9:20 AM Eastern Wednesday September 21, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

New TEPCO video: Fukushima Daiichi, Sept. 20

TEPCO has released a new video with scenes on-site at Fukushima Daiichi showing various parts of the operations there and which also shows some of the operations TEPCO is conducting off site, in terms of surveys of the evacuation zone and accomodations it makes for those who return temporarily to their home or business sites.

This video is online now at the APR YouTube channel. Link below:

APR YOUTUBE CHANNEL

9:00 AM Eastern Wednesday September 21, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New nuclear power projects

On the wires today are the following announcements:

-Brazil intends to build four nuclear plants to supplement the two it already operates, with one more in an advanced state of construction.

-South Africa intends to build six nuclear plants, to supplement the two plants it already has in operation.

According to the WNA database, Brazil has one nuclear plant site - Angra - which has two plants in operation and one under construction. The two operating plants are a Westinghouse two loop pressurized water reactor and a Kraftwerk Union PWR. The plant under construction is a KWU / Areva PWR.

South Africa's two plants are Koeberg 1 and 2, which are Framatome pressurized water plants.

Those who have decided for themselves that nuclear is a 'done deal' after the Fukushima Daiichi accident should note that many nations which have been planning nuclear construction or expansion for years are still going through with their plans.

For the record, about half of the operating commercial nuclear power plants in the United States received their operating licenses and were placed on the grid AFTER the Three Mile Island accident. Thus the news stories about other countries' plans to go ahead with nuclear power are not at all surprising to this writer.

Story notes from Energy Business Review; data from World Nuclear Association.

3:07 PM Eastern Tuesday September 20, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fukushima Daiichi: Reactor update

Two news reports on the reactors (as opposed to spent fuel pools or any other portions or locations) at Fukushima Daiichi...

First, TEPCO has greatly increased the amount of water being injected into No. 2 and No. 3 reactors through the core spray lines. This is an attempt to drive the measured temperatures down in order to establish a 'cold shutdown' condition.

TEPCO indicates that there was an increase in containment vessel pressure in No. 2 reactor plant shortly after the beginning of injection via the core spray line - thus it is certain that the water being injected through this line reached the core. It is important here to note that at this point, when either I or TEPCO use the term "core" this refers to the essentially deranged, or demolished, mass that contains the fuel elements' material and the control rods' material, in condition not fully known. (This is not news to long-time APR readers.)

After noting the success of the use of the core spray lines, TEPCO has decided to make a large increase in total water flow to these two reactors through the core spray lines (keeping the feed line amount the same) in order to attempt to determine what flow rate will give a cooldown rate to meet the desired 'cold shutdown' timetable. Even though the chances of recriticality are very remote, TEPCO has decided to inject borated water prior to each major increase (in steps) and monitor conditions closely.

The second news item concerns a test that TEPCO performed on No. 1 reactor's control rod position indication sensors. These sensors, one for each of this reactor's 97 control rods, are located below the reactor and are integral with the control rod drive mechanisms - mechanisms that position the control rods up and down in the core as required to adjust the core's power output. TEPCO believed that conducting some simple maintenance type tests on these units, which have a large number of magnetic switches inside to "mark off" the travel of the rods, might give a clue as to the condition of the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel.

Unfortunately, the results of the tests seem very inconclusive - or perhaps in better words, the results don't seem to give any sort of clear indication of the bottom of the pressure vessel because it seems as if the detectors and their interconnecting wiring may have been heavily damaged by heat, by radiation, and probably also by steam exposure for prolonged periods, all of which have affected the equipment such that any real idea of any specific damage location on the bottom of the RPV isn't detectable. In fact, only one of the 97 tested fully satisfactorily.

Below we see a part of the diagram TEPCO released showing some of the test results in what is unfortunately a very confusing graphic.


In the illustration above, we are looking down on the core. For control and indication purposes the core is divided into four sections or quadrants; note that there is a white line dividing these, and that each has its own color coded sensor system (again for the purpose of this illustration, we'll just refer to colors.) In terms of the small numbers in the blocks (each block represents one control rod drive mechanism position indicator) the lower the number, the better the test. As was reported by TEPCO, and apparently carried only widely by Kyodo News and then Fox News, we see that only one - the yellow block - passed fully.

If we assume that the general condition of all of the cable runs, the insulation and the containment penetrations is good then we might assume that RPV failure has occurred more in the area of the lower quadrants as seen here (note the black and the purple containment penetrations and wiring runs.) However, TEPCO states that it appears that there is enough indication of wiring damage that we cannot infer the condition of the pressure vessel from this test alone - the test results may be spurious. For example, the detectors might be OK but the interconnecting wiring shorted out. Thus, TEPCO feels that this test didn't really give it the kind of information it was looking for.

TEPCO might continue on with this test at No. 2 and No. 3 reactor plants; there is no sure word yet. What is sure is that this is the first deliberate test data TEPCO has taken to try to determine how bad the condition of the lower pressure vessel head might be at any of the plants.

We will keep up on this testing and relay results as they're available.

8:00 PM Eastern Sunday September 18, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

Saturday, September 17, 2011

70th Carnival!

The rotating Carnival this week is over at American Nuclear Society's NUCLEAR CAFE blog site. Be sure to check it out- especially Rod Adams' piece that uncannily seems to hammer the renewables slant as did the most frequent APR post, which incidentally is that featured by this week's Carnival.

70th CARNIVAL OF NUCLEAR BLOGGERS AT ANS NUCLEAR CAFE

6:00 PM Eastern Saturday September 17, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Are we still dealing with the fallout of the energy crisis?

The recent failure of Solyndra, a solar power equipment manufacturer who had received from the US Government $527.8 million dollars (Jim Snyder / Bloomberg, September 9) to manufacture solar panel equipment and which declared bankruptcy with liabilities of $783.8 million dollars, brings much of the US energy policy .. such as it is .. into sharp focus for us today. The decision by the Federal Government to investigate this firm for ties to the Obama administration further shines the spotlight on the situation not just for solar power manufacturers, but for the focus of the future energy policy of this country.

Even prior to the Three Mile Island accident, a growing segment of the US population felt that solar energy would be the most desirable power source for the future. If we look at a thorough work of the time, "Public Opinion and Nuclear Energy," Nealey / Melber / Rankin, Battelle Human Affairs Research Center 1983, we find, after very detailed information on many survey questions relating all kinds of energy production in the US, the summation in part reading thus:

"Since 1976 the public has given more support to solar energy compared to all other energy sources; there is strong majority consensus that efforts should be made to develop this energy source. Solar energy is selected most often as the best source for the future by the general public."

We might attribute this feeling, at this time, to the energy crisis - whether real or perceived. In this same volume on page 163 we see clearly that the public, in the 70's and early 80's believed in a real shortage both in energy supply and in raw materials. Many had felt that solar was the best answer prior to Three Mile Island; many more felt so after, even though as pointed out on this blog before at least twice, public opinion in favor of nuclear energy actually DID recover toward the positive beginning within a few years after the Three Mile Island accident. Regardless of where it was going to come from, though, the public at the time did believe everything was in short supply - except for oil, which we could not possibly control the prices of. Solar seemed the best answer for those who were averse to supply shortage (the sun still has well over three quarters of a tank of fuel left, if I may say) and were thinking in environmental terms as well.

Of course, one wonders immediately, given the strong positive feeling back then about solar energy, whether or not the public were being fed pipe dreams by either some industry components, universities with large grants to study solar, or the government. We might easily point, for such an example, to the continuing story of the perpetually "about twenty years away from practical power" area of fusion energy. The United States launched Project Sherwood prior to the end of the 1950's to work on fusion power; at that time, it was thought to be about 20 years away. Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Co. and RCA had been given a contract to build a large experimental device called a Stellarator, and C-Stellarator Associates Inc. was formed with these companies to build it. Fast forward to now, today, in the year 2011; we're still said to be roughly 20 years away. This is what we call a moving target, or better yet a pipe dream.

Solar is another less severe example of a pipe dream. Certainly, very much was being pushed in favor of solar energy during those years. "The Economics of Nuclear and Coal Power," Saunders Miller / Praeger 1976, which is really a volume that attempts to make no pretense about being wholly PRO-coal and anti-nuclear, includes the following statement discussing solar power:

"Because solar power will present the consumer with at least a partial alternative to the purchase of energy from a central distribution system, the sale of electrical units by power companies may begin to decline from the future levels currently projected; as discussed in Chapter 10, this may seriously impact the financial stability of utilities."

Anyone who remembers those years remembers the fairly constant flood of information on television and in magazines about the future of solar energy - and as such, in that context, it might have been possible to believe the last statement of the above quoted paragraph.

In today's context, and knowing what has actually happened in the last thirty years, that statement is ludicrous. No one would make such a claim today. While some people are installing solar heating and solar cell electric power equipment, and some factories are doing so as well, no utility is today threatened in its core stability by scores of thousands of homes and businesses "going off the grid," which is what this statement references.

Incredible - in the original sense of the word - as that 1976 perception seems now, it is that very type of thinking that appears still to be coloring much of our energy policy. All of the intervening years of safe and reliable nuclear plant operation in the United States since Three Mile Island have incredibly increased public opinion in favor of nuclear energy but apparently the failure of solar energy to really deliver on any promises in the widest, broadest sense implied by these now thirty plus year old works seems not to have dawned on anyone.

Perhaps now it will given the failure of three solar equipment manufacturers in one year.

The statements by Solyndra indicate that at least some in the company feel that Chinese competition cannot be beaten since it is funded by the Chinese government. One wonders what percentage of valuation constitutes "federally funded" or "nationalized," since Solyndra was into the US Government for almost $530 million dollars, had a peak valuation of roughly $1 billion or a little less than twice this (meaning the federal investment was over half) and now has debts in bankruptcy of roughly $780 million. Many people will want to know just what percentage, then, of federal funding would make the business competitive with China even if not profitable. (One wonders when the anti-dumping legislation motions will be made, if Chinese zero-profit or else sales on the loss are really the culprit.)

There can be no question that in a theoretical sense there is no better way to develop two of the things we need - heat, directly and electricity either directly or indirectly - from solar energy. There is no other source that can be placed on one's roof, the roof of one's business, on the roof of a whole apartment building, or in a field, say, to power a small town with no other effect than merely the weight of its mass and the space envelope required. At this stage of the game, that is where the long-made promises of solar energy meet the delivery; at the home and at the small factory and small community level.

Simple facts concerning long-range transmission of electric power make a giant solar farm "out West" powering the country, or most of it, a pipe dream. Weather conditions make construction of more localized solar farm power plants questionable at best in terms of the amount of time they can deliver their rated capacity (known as the 'capacity factor.') This limits, at least for now, the upper size of solar generating stations to something very flexible, very tangible, but not highly profitable for utility companies and more likely owned and installed by the end user.

Our federal investing in energy sources seems, then, upside down if our larger problems are considered either as supply related (cost of oil, total supply of oil, and others) or environmentally related (i.e. global warming.) Solar is in no position at this moment, domestically produced, to combat either of these usefully on a wide scale. (One quickly wonders what buying $500 million worth of solar equipment from China might have done in an experimental large installation.) Furthermore, as evidenced by the 1100 jobs lost when Solyndra shut down, it appears too that the ongoing job crisis cannot in any substantial way be solved by employing people in the areas of solar energy, be it manufacturing or installation.

Of course, keeping with the normal focus of this blog, nuclear energy is in the position to do all of the things solar has been either promising or has had assumed for it for these thirty years. Further, nuclear energy is "shovel ready" now, and thousands could be put to work now building new plants. Vogtle is just one example of a large mobilized work force from diverse fields having been assembled from the ether to do a very large (two plant APR1000) job. These workers will develop further experience and skill that could be expanded upon by others and spread.

In the final analysis, solar energy, unlike fusion energy, is not just on the horizon but here. We know how and where it will work. However, its myth even today stands larger than its delivery, and the risk in entering business to develop it seems far riskier given the year's events than any other energy technology. Solar energy still has yet to deliver as good as promised.

2:30 PM Eastern Thursday September 15, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fukushima Daiichi: Reactor buildings

Two types of brief updates on the reactor buildings at Fukushima Daiichi.

First, the steel framework has been completed for the "first type" or fabric panelled enclosure at No. 1 reactor building. In fact, as of this moment the panels are already going on. See below a shot, courtesy TEPCO, of the completed framework. Click to enlarge.


Second, dust sampling is being performed over the reactor buildings to determine just what kinds of particles are being sent into the atmosphere. First, a shot of the sampling device with its fabric hood; note the workmen's feet visible below the hood for a sense of scale.


Below we see the device being used on September 11th above No. 1 reactor building:


Below we see the device being used on September 12th above No. 3 reactor building:


Be sure to see today's earlier update concerning water injection to the three reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, and the accompanying video at the APR YouTube Channel.

4:22 PM Eastern Wednesday September 14, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

Fukushima Daiichi: Reactor water injection

TEPCO will be very shortly beginning water injection to the No. 2 plant's reactor through the core spray line, exactly as has already been done with No. 3 plant. The amount will be adjusted upward incrementally through the core spray line and reduced through the feed line to attempt to maintain constant temperature with reduced water flow - the idea being to reduce the feed line more than the core spray line adds. This moves toward the goal of keeping temperature low and minimizing the buildup of contaminated water.

Multiple sources of water, and multiple pumps are available. In the best TEPCO press video yet, the entire setup as it is right now is explained in good detail and shown in detail. Maps are used to show site locations. See the newest video on the APR YouTube channel now; it is already on line and is at this moment the featured video.

Click here to get to the APR YouTube channel.

3:50 PM Eastern Wednesday September 14, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Rabid Media - and the Marcoule incident

From time to time, I like to do the sort of thing you're about to see me do. I always thank Fintan Dunne for putting me on to this. Let's go!

First, look at the headline of the following article:

"What You Need to Know About the Nuclear Explosion In France."

There was no nuclear explosion in France. There was an industrial accident involving a furnace used to melt contaminated metal parts together into ingots for disposal. While this could involve, say, a fossil fuel explosion there isn't even a nuclear reactor in the facility in question.. and even THEN, there could not be a nuclear explosion because reactors cannot explode like nuclear weapons. So this has to be one of the most highly exaggerated headlines yet.

Here is just a horrible headline, and an even worse article:

France aims to limit fallout from nuclear accident.

Where shall I begin?

-Clever use of the word "fallout" hints at radioactive fallout, but they really mean public reaction to the event.

-Note the use of the different serious scary words such as "blast" and "blown up."

-See the implication that the press has learned from anti-nuclear Fukushima press hack media guidelines vis a vis age of sites in this article when it mentions that this is one of the oldest nuclear sites in France. This is one of their new hot button things - age.

-Note how the article ends with "hasn't learned the lessons of Fukushima." Yes, well, lessons learned from one of the most massive natural disasters in modern times and how that relates to GE-Toshiba-Hitachi boiling water reactors in Mk I containment buildings really has little to do with an explosion and fire in and around a furnace that melts steel.

"Blast rocks nuclear plant in France."

It's not a nuclear plant. It's a waste processing facility. Can't we get a handle on the differences here, media? Please? What, do I need to issue you all a media guide? Nuclear energy 101, maybe I'll call it. By the way - don't even bother reading the article actually linked above because it's almost perfect in its incorrectness from front to back, top to bottom. It's a masterpiece of total inaccuracy.

"Jitters after nuclear accident in France."

The Voice of Russia here makes it clear that they, and perhaps many others in Russia wish that something worse than Chernobyl would happen so that the spotlight is off them, and so that there's a new yardstick of "bad." Think I'm kidding? Read the last paragraph of this article twice slowly and you'll begin to realize I'm not.

I could go on and on like this, but I'd like you to compare all the articles you'll see in the blog roll on this site, and this site's own articles on the subject, with the various major media articles you have seen above on this post. The comparison - and the intent to scare and misinform by the major media - could not be more clear.

4:35 PM Eastern Monday September 12, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

ASN release - Marcoule event closed

Here is the most recent release from Autorite de Surete Nucleare, ASN which translates as the Nuclear Safety Authority of France:

-----

End of the event in Centraco (Gard) : press release #2

Paris, September 12 2011
Information notice


The event that occurred this morning in Centraco, nuclear installation located near Marcoule site (Gard) is considered as closed.

The explosion of a furnace dedicated for the melting of the metallic radioactive waste triggered a fire that ended at 13h00 (11.00 UTC)

The building where the explosion occurred was not damaged. Injured people do not suffer from any radiological contamination and all measures conducted by the licensee outside of the building have shown no trace of radioactive contamination.

One worker died and 4 others have sustained injuries, one of whom suffered deep burns.

This event does not involve any radiological issue and no protective actions was required for the population.

ASN, the French Nuclear Safety Authority, has suspended its emergency organization; ASN is still in permanent contact with the prefecture of Gard and the licensee Socodei. ASN will conduct dedicated inspections in liaison with Labour inspection in order to analyse the reasons of the accident.

Centraco is owned by SOCODEI. The installation is dedicated to the treatment and conditioning of low level radioactive waste, either by melting of metallic waste or by incineration of incinerable waste.

-----

This statement is clearly intended to "close out" the event. It appears that no radiological controls issues exist outside the actual furnace building, and any inside would be limited to what amounts to a controlled area anyway and thus would not necessarily require notification or detailing. Considering the wide press this event got all over the world, quickly, but briefly, I will keep an eye out for further details and post them if conditions warrant.

2:55 PM Eastern Monday September 12, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

Explosion at French nuclear facility

Here are the details as of now on the explosion at the French nuclear waste processing facility in Marcoule - in Southern France.

-The explosion occurred in or near a furnace that is used to melt down metal that has been slightly radioactively contaminated and is thus suitable for reprocessing by melting. This is not in itself an inherently highly dangerous practice and is a necessary step in processing some contaminated metals.

-No nuclear excursion of any sort was involved; this is not a nuclear accident in the sense of a reactor being involved, but rather in the sense that an accident (a chemical explosion) has occurred at a facility that handles nuclear waste material.

-This site does not only receive material from decommissioned nuclear plants or material removed from nuclear plants, but also from research and medical fields as well.

-One person has been confirmed killed. Four more are injured, one critically.

-There is no radioactive release to the environment of any kind at this time.

-This facility is operated by Electricite de France, or EDF. Perhaps more specifically it is operated by a subsidiary of EDF called SOCODEI.

-The ASN, the French nuclear authority did activate its emergency center. They are kept advised of all developments.

-The fires were out within two hours.

-Some reports have stated that there either is, or was, a tritium production reactor at the site. I will check this out, although it appears irrelevant.

These are the details as they are known now. Keep watching this blog and the others hot linked from the sidebar for new details.

1:40 PM Eastern Monday September 12, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

UPDATE: ANS indicates NO nuclear reactor at that site.

Friday, September 9, 2011

69th Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers

APR is proud to host, for the third time, the rotating Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers. This carnival is aptly named, travelling as it does from place to place and featuring the best that the pro-nuclear blog world has to offer. APR's regular readers have now become accustomed to the appearance of this feature from time to time and have, according to best reports, enjoyed it.

Twice before when hosting the Carnival, APR has included a feature entitled "What is this?" This third installment of the Carnival at APR is no different. Below, a photograph of something - this "something" is pictured sitting on a brochure whose cover is merely attractive and has nothing directly to do with the item pictured. Certainly many will recognize this item right off, but the real question in this case might be better put as "What is this, really?"

The answer to this question will appear after the Carnival entries and links for this week; APR declares, officially, "no fair" in scrolling to the bottom of this entry to discover the answer before fully reviewing the featured blog postings, thus rendering the Carnival when held at APR a cheap thrill ride.

With that, the 69th Carnival.

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Brian Wang - Next Big Future

The Institute of Energy Economic of Japan (IEEJ) says that for the past five years the cost of nuclear generation remained stable at around ¥7.00 ($0.09) per kilowatt-hour (kWh). However, even if compensation of up to ¥10 trillion ($130 billion) for loss or damage from a nuclear accident is taken into account, the cost of electricity generation with nuclear reactors increases to some ¥8.50 ($0.11) per kWh.

Link: Nuclear Cost Still Competitive / Uranium moves forward

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Rod Adams - Atomic Insights

Link: Wind & solar are not "intermittent"; they are unreliable, unpredictable, uncontrollable and worthless

Americans most likely associate the word “intermittent” with their easily controlled windshield wipers that can be adjusted to match the demand of clearing their windshield through a variety of conditions. However, people also describe wind and solar power as "intermittent" energy sources.

We have been using the wrong word and conveying the wrong meaning. Unlike our intermittent windshield wiper systems, with their responsive control systems that allow drivers to pick exactly the right speed to respond to changing demands, the desired output of wind and solar power systems are completely dependent upon the input weather conditions. No human can control the weather or make systems dependent on the weather produce the right amount of power at the right time.

We want our power to smooth, reliable, and utterly under control. Wind and solar do nothing to assist grid operators deliver a product meeting those requirements.

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Dan Yurman - Idaho Samizdat: Nuke Notes

Link: China Restarts Progress on its Nuclear Energy Program

China restarts progress on its nuclear energy program. Post-Fukushima safety checks are done, but the size of the new build will be smaller. This blog predicted last December that the size of the new build in the next ten years would not be 80 GW, but something closer to 25 GW. According to the latest statements in China’s state-owned media, the amount of construction by 2020 will be 30 GW with another 28 GW built between 2020 and 2030.

Also, China has hooked up a fast reactor to the grid supplying electricity from one for commercial use for the first time in that country. The China National Nuclear Corporation plant is generating 20 MW and has a capacity of 65 MW. It was built with help from a consortium of Russian state-owned companies.

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Gail Marcus - Nuke Power Talk

Link: Uranium - Not Just For Reactors

Gail Marcus takes a break from writing about Fukushima and, triggered by a new stamp from the US Postal Service, makes note of how uranium was used in days before the first the reactor ever split an atom.

APR note: Folks, this is really a fun post.

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Margaret Harding - 4Factor Consulting

Link: PEST(EL) in the Nuclear Industry - Social Factors (Part 6.)

Margaret is continuing her evaluation of the nuclear industry by looking at social factors affecting the industry. This week she examines the industry demographics of age and education.

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Steve Aplin - Canadian Energy Issues

Link: Darlington nuclear as an election issue: to support, or not support, thousands of real clean energy jobs

In a televised election debate last Wednesday, energy consultant Steve Aplin urged Ontario energy minister Brad Duguid to begin building new nuclear reactors at the Darlington station. Two days later, a group of anti-nuclear renewable energy advocates published a piece in the Toronto Star advising against new reactors at Darlington. Nuclear energy is now an election issue in Ontario.

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American Nuclear Society's ANS NUCLEAR CAFE

Link: Center for Advanced Engineering Research Opens with Nuclear Flavor

Rod Adams reports from the ribbon cutting ceremony of the Center for Advanced Engineering Research in Bedford County, Va. near Lynchburg -- a state-of-the-art, flexible high-tech research center that will advance the development of new nuclear energy projects in the United States

APR Note: Rod Adams actually appears twice in this Carnival go-around; once at his own blog and once on the ANS Nuclear Cafe blog as listed here.

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Meredith Angwin - Yes Vermont Yankee

Link: Broken Windows, Ruined Roads, the Glory Days of the Railroad, and Nuclear Decommissioning

In this post, Meredith Angwin describes the consequences Hurricane Irene. Her town won't refurbish the town hall or hold a railroad festival because they must clean and repair roads after the hurricane. She compares road damage to early decommissioning of nuclear plants, which also destroys a working asset.

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ATOMIC POWER REVIEW has its own Carnival entry as well:

APR Atomic Journal - Elk River 1

APR begins a new recurring feature, the APR Atomic Journal, which will include technical and historical pieces. This first installment is part 1 of the story of the Elk River Power Reactor. It includes much material never widely seen or distributed.

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And that's it for the 69th Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers, which APR is proud to be hosting this week. I encourage all of my regular readers to follow the Carnival as it moves around, as linked from APR from now on and also by the auto-update blog roll on the right panel of this blog.

Now to answer the question: "What is this?"

Many of you will have recognized this item as being a circular slide rule. For those of the calculator-only era, this is a device for performing mathematical computations.

According to my brother, David A. Davis, who is a long-time slide rule collector, this exact variant with this labeling is very rarely seen.. and in fact had I not purchased this item from its original owner I might not have had any clue exactly what its origin was.

The original owner was issued this slide rule when he was a member of the United States Naval Nuclear Power Program; he attended the Naval Nuclear Power School, where he was issued this slide rule, at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, California.

Above, we see the back of the slide rule on the left. On the right is one side of the thin insert which can be removed from inside the slide rule back itself.

So far as is known to the slide rule collectors' universe this is the only slide rule (model, that is) that can be directly attributed to having been issued at any NNPS. It might have remained a mystery had the seller not indicated its origin.

Now the second part of "What is this?" ... This slide rule is NOT totally specially made for the US Navy. It is a commercially made piece, whose inserts, in commercial production, can vary. When sold in normal markets outside the military this particular slide rule was known as the CONCISE 600. Below we see a very late production special edition of the Concise 600 marked and specially imported for the International Slide Rule Group as a commemorative model for the late Michael O'Leary, in comparison again with the USN NNPS version.


We'd welcome any of our friends out there to provide comments on this NNPS issued slide rule or others. Special thanks to David A. Davis for lending me his O'Leary / Concise 600 and for information. See his slide rule blog HERE.

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10:15 PM Eastern Friday September 9, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW

Thursday, September 8, 2011

APR Atomic Journal - ELK RIVER 1

-APR introduces a new recurring feature to its pages - the APR Atomic Journal. This non-uniformly cyclical feature will cover many historical and technical aspects of nuclear energy for both laymen and experts. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.-

Above: Initial fueling of the Elk River Power Reactor by technicians of the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company, late 1962.

THE ELK RIVER POWER REACTOR, part 1.

The nuclear power plant commonly known as "Elk River" was hailed in the early 1960's as "Rural America's first atomic power plant" by the Rural Cooperative Power Association, or RCPA, who was to operate the plant and supply power from it to its customers in and around Elk River, Minnesota. Atomic energy was still very new and very much anticipated, and this plant was a test to see, among other things, if a small reactor plant could be built and successfully operated as a part of a comparatively small electric utility's system.

I have been quite fortunate to acquire a large amount of historical material covering the early years of the atomic age in the United States, and while the majority of the focus is on more well known plants (Shippingport, Fermi, Dresden) the Elk River plant appears fairly regularly in this early material. It is for this reason that I present the following narrative details, in order to supplement historical information already available in print and on the internet. Most of what you are about to read has been generally unavailable until now.

THE BEGINNING - AMF ATOMICS

The first negotiations to build what became Elk River started in 1957 between AMF Atomics Inc. which was a division of AMF (formerly American Machine and Foundry) and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC.) The plan was to construct a small boiling water reactor operating on the indirect two-loop cycle (also known as the "closed cycle boiling water principle"), which would be owned by the Atomic Energy Commission. The utility involved, RCPA, would purchase steam from the plant (thus from the AEC) and would also provide the steam portion of the plant, as well as the operating staff of the entire plant once turned over from the reactor vendor, AMF. (In reality, a conventional steam plant already existed, having been built in 1950; RCPA would purchase additional equipment to install in the plant to accommodate the nuclear plant built nearby.)

We do not have any solid data on what the plant would have looked like. We do however have a design from an AMF Atomics sales brochure from that time which roughly matches the designed output and may well have been the basis for the opening of AMF's negotiations with the AEC.

Above, an illustration showing AMF Atomics' Closed Cycle BWR plant. As with all photos on this site, you can click to enlarge the photo.

This plant was to operate with a closed boiling water cycle on the primary side, with flow by natural circulation. According to the AMF information, the entire 20 MWe plant is contained in a concrete block 16 feet wide, 60 feet long and 50 feet deep. No external containment to this other than weather covering was to be provided. The concept of the plant was simplicity; stated advantages over a pressurized water design were the following: 1. No pumps or valves in the primary, saving cost and maintenance. 2. Lower primary pressure, allowing lighter pressure vessel. 3. High heat transfer rates and more effective use of heat transfer surface. 4. No radioactive steam supplied to turbine building. 5. Heat capacity of primary heat exchanger adds lag ("flywheel effect") to system, relaxing requirements on control system.

This brochure (bound in a large volume of various reactor brochures and reprints which we obtained from a former Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory employee) states that while the cost of such a plant per kwhr wasn't competitive with large central station plants, it was competitive with rural plants.

Now, looking at the drawing we can see one very interesting feature; this plant has a very primitive pressure suppression containment design - and an early one too, considering that the AMF data is from September 1955. Below the reactor cavity can be seen what is called the "Shielding water drain tank and containment quench tank." This is connected to the steel containment shell inside of which are the reactor, steam generator and all primary piping by a three foot diameter vent pipe. The design of the containment was such as to limit internal pressure under any circumstance whatsoever to 5 psig.

This plant would have been built, theoretically, adjacent to or near the existing Elk River Station and supplied a newly installed turbine in that building with steam. However, before any material was purchased, AMF was out of the running.

ACF WINS THE BID

The March 1958 edition of the Atomic Industrial Forum's FORUM MEMO magazine details the fact that in October 1957, AMF Atomics and the AEC had reached an impasse on the grounds that AMF could not agree on a price ceiling (knowing how the PDRP was working at this time, probably a "turnkey" price) which led to the AEC making an open offer for bids on the reactor portion of this project. In a later issue of the same magazine, RCPA President O. N. Gravgaard told the AIF that AMF had withdrawn its proposal for the project and had decided to get out of the power reactor business. However, RCPA had already ordered most of the conventional (non-nuclear) equipment for the project, causing concern to the company; as the AEC had opened up for bids, the company elected to construct another coal fired boiler on site and supply the steam equipment with this new boiler until an atomic plant was built on the site.

Taking a tangent for the moment, it is interesting to note Mr. Gravgaard's statement that AMF Atomics was getting out of the power reactor business, because it wasn't really in it, having received no other orders for power reactors even though it was fairly heavily advertising them. AMF did later on through 1958 however begin work on a project to construct exactly the type of reactor plant shown earlier in Cuba; this was later announced as having been dropped due to the unstable political situation in that island nation. With that cancellation ended any prospect of AMF Atomics building a power reactor.

Getting back to Elk River... Two bids were received by the AEC, one from General Electric and one from ACF Industries' Nuclear Products-ERCO Division. According to the AIF Forum Memo, other firms expressing interest to bid were American Radiator & Standard Sanitary Corp., Nuclear Development Corporation of America, and two other smaller companies with no nuclear experience. The deadline for proposals was February 3, 1958 and in March the AEC announced that ACF's bid had been approved. At the time of acceptance of ACF's proposal to begin a discussion that would lead to a fixed price ceiling, the basic schedule was for construction of the plant to begin in the Spring of 1958, critical testing at the end of 1959 and full operation of the plant on RCPA's grid early in 1960. RCPA agreed to operate the plant for five years.

ACF BEGINS WORK

ACF Industries formed its own nuclear engineering section in 1954 in order to allow it to enter the field first with tank type research reactors, and then later with power reactors. At the same time, ACF purchased a company called the Engineering and Research Corporation ("ERCO") and operated it as a division. April 1, 1957 saw ACF merge its nuclear engineering section of ACF Industries and its ERCO Division into one unit, which it then called the "Nuclear Products Divison-ERCO." This firm had several tank type research and training reactors under construction and more planned when it won the bid to construct the Elk River Plant's new atomic addition.

At the time that ACF won the bid, the original concept as outlined by Rural Cooperative Power Association (RCPA) stated that the plant would be completed in late 1959 for a total cost of $6.2 million. The growth of the cost, which killed the AMF bid because it kept going up, reached $8 million with no fixed ceiling and a completion not until 1961. ACF promised completion in 1960 at a cost of $11.4 million.

ACF immediately engaged Sargent & Lundy (Chicago) as the architect-engineer firm for the project, and the Maxon Construction Company of Dayton Ohio as its general contractor.

PLANT DESIGN

ACF's design for the plant was functionally identical to AMF's, in that a boiling water reactor was to be employed operating in a closed loop, with natural circulation; steam was to be generated in multiple heat exchangers which would then supply steam to the RCPA plant. Since the plant was designed for superheated steam it was necessary to incorporate in the new construction a separate coal-fired superheater to arrive at the proper steam conditions. We will now look at some early ACF advertising artwork showing the plant design.

Above (and again, click to enlarge) we see an ACF illustration which appeared as part of an advertisement in the May, 1959 issue of NUCLEONICS. From this ad: "The boiling water reactor concept is ideally suited for application in electrical generating plants such as the one ACF is now building for the Rural Cooperative Power Association at Elk River, Minnesota." The ad states that ACF was prepared to supply such plants at ratings up to 50 KWe (although the Elk River installation was to be a much more modest 22 KWe.)

This illustration clearly shows two horizontal tube and shell type steam generators connected to the reactor without forced circulation pumps; the steam outlets to, and feed return from, the generators is clearly visible as are the feed preheaters. A ring near the top of the vessel internal to the shroud is for emergency cooling water injection and/or borated water injection.


Above, detail of the cover illustration from an ACF advertising brochure. As with all illustrations, click to enlarge. This illustration shows essentially the Elk River plant design, and very largely the containment design actually built, but it is attached to a generic steam plant; for example, the control room in this illustration is between the reactor containment and the turbine building, which space at Elk River was actually occupied by the superheater plant. It is interesting to note that the turbine generator set illustrated here appears to be an Allis-Chalmers "centerline at floor level" machine. Notable in this illustration are six horizontal steam generators.

This brochure is undated, but indicates that ACF had already built two research type heavy water tank reactors (MIT, and Italian National Committee) and was building four light water tank type reactors in the USA, in Holland, and in Sweden. The brochure indicates that ACF had designed power reactors as well with outputs up to 150 MWt. This brochure is thus probably immediately pre-Elk River.

The ACF Horizons magazine issue of August 1958 - roughly five months after ACF won the Elk River contract - shows the following illustration.

This is the first illustration that shows the plant at Elk River essentially as it was built. The existing steam plant can be seen furthest from the point of view, with two stacks atop it. Between this plant and the reactor plant containment is the coal fired superheater. The containment is of wholly conventional, for that time, form and shape.

The October 1958 FORUM MEMO magazine mentions that in September 1958 ACF had awarded a contract to Chicago Bridge & Iron to build the containment for the Elk River plant for $500,000 which was to begin immediately. The June, 1959 issue of POWER REACTOR TECHNOLOGY gives the following details on the containment: The plate material was A201 steel (A300 heat treatment) of either 0.50 or 0.70 thickness depending on location; "A" numbers are ASTM standard. Gross internal volume of the containment was 405,200 square feet. Design pressure was 21 psig and test pressure was 26.25 psig with a specified leakage of 0.1, expressed as percent of volume (measured at STP) per psig.

NEXT APR ATOMIC JOURNAL: Construction, testing, operation and shutdown of the Elk River reactor. You don't want to miss the next installment!

7:20 PM Eastern Thursday September 8, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW