Thursday, July 31, 2014

On Nuclear Power Plants and Water Use

Earlier this week, a pair of studies were published claiming that the world would soon face a critical shortage of drinking water, perhaps as soon as 2040 due to water consumed by power plants. I've come to view studies like these with a certain degree of skepticism given that they're often published by groups with an axe to grind.

This week was no different, as I couldn't help but notice that one of the studies was being proffered by Benjamin Sovacool, a long-time anti-nuclear activist, as well as the Vermont Law School, folks that we've tangled with before.

With that in mind, I reached out to NEI's Bill Skaff, our resident expert on nuclear energy and water use. Here's what he had to say.
We know of no reputable climate change modeling that finds any potential U.S. drinking water scarcity to be the result of power plant operations. In fact, electricity makes possible the purification and pumping necessary to produce potable water. Moreover, electricity will be essential in the future to desalinate seawater and brackish groundwater to augment drinking water supplies.

Here are some other facts to consider that provide some needed context that the news coverage this week has omitted. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 1995, the last USGS study to consider water consumption nationwide:
  • Electric power sector water consumption represents only 3.3 percent of the nation's water consumption.
  • Residential water consumption, at 6.7 percent, is more than twice power sector consumption.
  • Agricultural water consumption is 81.3 percent, 17 percent of which is water lost during conveyance that never reaches the crops it is intended to irrigate.
The Electric Power Research Institute, in a 2002 study, found that 98 percent of water withdrawn by the electric power sector is returned to the source water bodies.

The electric power industry, in partnership with businesses, universities, and the National Science Foundation, is supporting over a dozen research projects to develop power plant cooling technologies designed to reduce water consumption in the future.
Thanks to Bill for taking the time to answer my questions. For more on water use and holistic environmental management, please visit our website.

Photo Credit: Shot of running water by Flickr user Richard Smith. Photo used under Creative Commons license.

Why U.S. Needs Nuclear As Part of "All of the Above" Energy Strategy

Glenn McCullough, Jr.
The following is a guest post by Glenn McCullough, Jr. He served as Mayor of Tupelo, Mississippi and was Chairman of TVA from 2001 - 2005. Currently he is Chairman of the board for NuVision Engineering in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter, @GlennMcCJr.

On January 10, the Weather Channel broadcast an extraordinarily rare headline: “Coldest Temperatures of the Century for Some.” It was referring to the "Polar Vortex," that swept into states as far south as Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia in the early days of the new year.

On the flip side, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pegged 2012 as the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States. That summer, 99 million Americans experienced at least 10 days of temperatures above 100 degrees.

Here’s the point: extreme weather happens. Whether it’s a deep cold or a stifling heat, Americans deal with varying temperature changes throughout the year. It would be nice if the only thing those shifts affected was our decision to wear a sweater or a t-shirt. Unfortunately, weather variables have enormous impacts on our country’s electric power supply, stability and cost.

When I was appointed to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) board of directors in 1999, I was struck by TVA’s deep and unrelenting commitment toward safe, reliable, and affordable nuclear energy. As a result, the TVA and local power companies are able to keep the lights on year after year for 9 million people throughout the Tennessee Valley.

During my tenure at TVA, we embarked on a strenuous evaluation of every baseload electric generation option, including natural gas and coal, with controls to reduce harmful emissions. In 2002, the board made the decision to restart a reactor that had been offline since 1985. When evaluated for environmental impacts, financial and operational soundness and long-term reliability, restarting the Brown’s Ferry 1 reactor was the best option for future power generation.

The restart was meticulously planned with a $1.8 billion budget and a five-year timeframe. In 2007, Brown’s Ferry 1 was brought back online - both on schedule and on budget. President Bush personally traveled to the facility to commemorate the successful restart.

Today, Brown’s Ferry is reliably generating safe, clean, affordable nuclear energy. That reactor, along with other nuclear energy facility in 31 states, proves that nuclear energy plays a vital role in providing cleaner, reliable, and less expensive electricity for Americans.

Without nuclear energy, in fact, there’s no doubt consumers would have faced widespread electricity shortages during that summer of 2012 and this winter. And with the way our nation’s coal plants are shutting down due to EPA regulation, nuclear energy should play a more significant role in the years ahead.

No matter what the weather brings, Americans need reliable energy, especially in the face of record temperatures. When supply shortages are met with the high demand of summer and winter months, it always leads to higher prices for consumers. In the worst cases, it leads to blackouts. Those are the times we need reliable energy the most.

Currently, 100 reactors produce almost 20 percent of America’s total electricity. Nuclear plants operate safely and are online an industry-leading 91 percent of the time, generating clean, affordable electricity around the clock. That’s more reliable than other any other source of electricity, including natural gas and coal. They also produce nearly two-thirds of all carbon-free electricity nationwide.

It’s time to take a closer look at nuclear energy. It's clear that nuclear energy plays a key role in a balanced electricity production portfolio to power our economic growth and today’s digital lifestyle.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reauthorizing Ex-Im Bank is Vitally Important to Small Business

Seth Grae
The following is a guest post from Seth Grae, president and CEO of Lightbridge Corporation, a leading innovator of nuclear fuel designs and provider of nuclear energy consulting services.

There is a notion among some members of Congress that one way to shrink the U.S. government is to allow the U.S. Export-Import Bank to cease to exist at the end of September by refusing to reauthorize it. Allowing the Ex-Im Bank to die would actually increase the federal deficit by about a billion dollars per year and would be devastating to small businesses across the country. Overall, about 85% of Ex-Im’s transactions support US small companies.

Lightbridge Corporation (NASDAQ: LTBR) is a small company that has a world-class team of experts advising governments that are starting or expanding nuclear energy-generation programs. We have the opportunity to see the bid specs these countries use in procuring nuclear power plants. From what we’ve seen, if the US loses the Ex-Im Bank, US reactor vendors will not be able to meet the bid specs overseas. If this happens, the impact will ripple across the nation. When large US companies deploy reactors in other countries, they buy goods and services from smaller US companies through supply chains that reach hundreds of businesses. These supply chains often last for decades, during the operating life of the reactors.

Lightbridge has not applied for or received support from the Ex-Im Bank because we are paid directly by foreign governments and companies for services we provide, but we have firsthand knowledge of how vital the Ex-Im Bank is for other small US companies. Even where large American companies are not the reactor vendors, some US companies we work with receive support directly from the Ex-Im Bank for their involvement in overseas nuclear power programs.

These companies bring unique, world-leading expertise in vital areas, including nuclear safety and nonproliferation. The United States invented the nuclear reactor and our companies have the longest and deepest experience in running reactors safely. Having American personnel on the ground brings our expertise directly into foreign programs.

Congress’s failure to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank would cost taxpayers billions over the long term, hurt small businesses across the country, and limit the amount of American nuclear safety and nonproliferation expertise in foreign nuclear programs.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Global Energy Infrastructure: Teaching Students the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

The following guest post comes from Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides, senior manager of workforce policy and programs at NEI.

Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides
Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides
Supporting American students interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers was the goal of this latest joint volunteer effort. Employees from the Nuclear Energy Institute and members of the DC Chapters of Women in Nuclear and North American Young Generation in Nuclear facilitated NAYGN's Global Nuclear Fuel Cycle game for 280 middle and high school students at the Technology Student Association's (TSA) annual conference.

“It was energizing to see the students and volunteers from the various organizations engaged in this thought provoking, interactive game with roots in the nuclear industry and STEM,” said Suzanne McKillop, a member of DC WIN.

Suzanne McKillop
Suzanne McKillop
TSA hosted 6,800 attendees at their 2014 national conference from June 27 through July 1 in Washington, D.C. TSA is the only student organization devoted exclusively to the needs of students engaged in STEM. Middle and high school attendees participated in 60 STEM competitions and multiple special interest sessions during this year's conference.

The Global Nuclear Fuel Cycle Infrastructure game was one of these special interest sessions. Terry Lowe-Edwards, Marketing Manager for TSA said, "The nuclear volunteers’ admirable participation in the recent conference provided everyone with a valuable experience and, certainly, one they will remember."

The Global Nuclear Fuel Cycle Infrastructure game is a role-play where 14 teams representing different nations compete for resources to complete a nuclear fuel cycle for their country. Student participants worked in teams of 10 to develop a strategy for their nation and collaborated with other teams to find the resources to complete their fuel cycle.

Muhammad Fahmy
Muhammad Fahmy
"It was great to see both high school and middle school students not only participating in the activity, but truly understanding and retaining the activity’s intended messages and lessons,” said Muhammad Fahmy, a Bechtel NAYGN member and co-creator of the game. “This was the first time we’ve attempted the activity with participants this young; surprisingly though, we found that the dynamic learning element from the game was just as successful with students as it has been with adults."

Designers of the game originally wanted to help non-nuclear engineering professionals from industry better understand the complexity of the nuclear fuel cycle and the utilities’ role within it, ultimately so they could better engage with the nonproliferation community. The uniqueness of the game made it popular and has been used by many U.S. nuclear organizations, as well as internationally in England and South Africa.

McKillop added, “This was my first time participating in the Global Nuclear Fuel Cycle Game and the knowledge of the game’s creators made this a truly engaging experience for the students and volunteers alike. The students were able to quickly comprehend the complex nuclear fuel cycle and then role-play as if they were diplomats and industry giants.”

Monday, July 28, 2014

Nuclear's Contribution to a Positive Future

The following post was sent to us by Southern Nuclear’s Joshua Andrews for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. Powered by Our People is part of the Future of Energy campaign that NEI launched earlier this year. This promotion aims to communicate innovation in our nation’s nuclear facilities in the voices of the people working at them. 

Joshua Andrews is a nuclear engineer in the Nuclear Fuel Supply group at Southern Nuclear who has been in the nuclear industry for three years. 

For more on this promotion, take a look at the featured content on our website and follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels. 

Joshua Andrews
Why I enjoy working in nuclear 
My job allows me to make decisions that will directly and positively impact the lives of people I care about and the entire footprint of our service area. There will always be a need for electricity, so I can’t think of a more meaningful way to secure a positive future for myself and my family then to ensure that nuclear is seen as the most viable source of energy production.

Why I think nuclear energy is important to America’s energy future 
I think it’s important for all of the obvious reasons: it provides clean, affordable and reliable energy to customers. With increasing concerns surrounding global climate change, we have to prioritize how we are going to meet America’s electricity demand without negatively impacting the environment. In my opinion, no other energy source does that better on a large scale than nuclear energy, and I worry that most people don’t understand the full value that nuclear can bring to the table. To meet our goals as a country, nuclear energy needs to be part of the long-term solution.

How I bring innovation into the nuclear industry
I am innovating by bringing passion and a new perspective. Many of my colleagues and I graduated from college and immediately joined very seasoned teams. The senior members of those teams provide invaluable experience and knowledge. We bring an opportunity to suggest new approaches or challenge processes that have become unnecessarily burdensome. We are constantly looking for ways that we can optimize or automate tasks that were once monotonous and cumbersome. One of the best ways my colleagues and I bring innovation into the nuclear industry is through our experience and interaction with both social media and newer technologies. With each success, we spread that knowledge to a wide range of personnel, effectively freeing up more time for all of us to be spending on innovative practices.

How working in the nuclear industry affects my personal life 
I work at the utility that supplies electricity to a majority of my family, which has given me the opportunity to effectively educate and communicate with them about the many positive attributes of nuclear energy. My volunteer work with local organizations also lets me spread a positive word about the nuclear industry to others in my community. I’ve found that the majority of people are extremely curious about nuclear energy, and—given the facts—they are ready to shed the negative perception that’s clouded nuclear energy for decades. Additionally, I’m highly involved with North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN), which has also allowed me to further expand the reach of nuclear energy’s positive messages.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why Closing Indian Point In Summer is Like Shutting Down Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera
Let's turn back the clock to May 9, 2001 and visit the Bronx to play a game of "what if?"

The defending World Series Champions, the New York Yankees, are locked in a tight pennant race early in the season, trailing the hated Boston Red Sox by just a half game in the standings after beating the Minnesota Twins 2-0 at home. The win was locked up thanks to the efforts of Mariano Rivera, widely acknowledged to be the best relief pitcher in the game.  

As Yankees manager Joe Torre arrives for his postgame press conference, his demeanor doesn't reveal that he's about to drop a bombshell that will rock the baseball world. Looking to add a throwaway quote to a story, one reporter asks Torre to reflect on what Rivera's pitching has meant for the team.

"What else is there to say? Without Mariano, we don't win the World Series in '98, '99 or 2000. He's at the heart of everything we do around here. Which reminds me, as of tomorrow, we're shutting him down. There really isn't a reason I can point to right now. All I can tell you is that Mariano won't be available to pitch beginning tomorrow and won't be back in our bullpen for three months."

"How can the team possibly win the division without Rivera closing games? And what plan do you have to replace him?" asks another reporter.

"Well, we really don't have a plan. I guess we'll just make it up as we go along," Torre says.

Crazy, you say? Of course it wouldn't ever have happened (Torre wouldn't have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame if he had made managerial decisions like that). Unfortunately, something a whole lot like it is playing out on the New York electric grid and the consequences for Westchester County and New York City could be far more severe than losing a couple of baseball games.

Indian Point Energy Center
Last week in New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation held a hearing to propose that Indian Point Energy Center, the 2,045 MWe champion of the New York State electric grid, shut down every year from May 10 to August 10 to take pressure off of local fish populations. If you don't already know it, Indian Point provides 25 percent of the electricity used in Westchester and New York City every day.

As an alternative, local environmental groups have proposed Entergy install cooling towers, a multi-billion dollar project that would put additional pressure on New York electricity prices, already the highest in the nation.And for what it's worth, as far as Entergy's concerned, the complaints about the local fish population are completely without merit.

Needless to say, there are plenty of folks in New York ready to call this proposal out for what it is: stone cold crazy. Here's what the New York Post had to say: "Only in New York would a state agency suggest closing a power plant in summer, when electricity is needed most."

You'd think that more people would be able to understand that simple point, but the fact remains that too many seem to take electricity for granted. That's part of the reason why we published a special section of our website concerning nuclear energy's unmatched reliability. Every spring, nuclear plants around the country perform refueling outages to help plants run 24/7 for between 18-24 months at a time. That way, when demand spikes along with record high temperatures, nuclear plants like Indian Point Energy Center can serve as the reliable backbone of the nation's entire electric grid.

Last Summer, for seven straight days and nights, Indian Point did just that, working 24/7 as the New York Metropolitan area labored under record-setting high temperatures. Without Indian Point last Summer, New York's electric grid would have been in quite a pickle, just like the Yankees would have been in their glory years without Rivera.

When the heat is on, why in the world would you shut down the assets you depend on the most?

Photo Credit: Shot of Mariano Rivera by Keith Allison used under Creative Commons License. Click here for specific license terms. Photo of Indian Point courtesy of Entergy.

Aligning the Nuclear Energy Industry on Social Media

I have the privilege of speaking about NEI's alignment activities on social media at the 2014 U.S. Women in Nuclear Conference this Tuesday. I'll be joined on the Social Media in Action panel by Curtis Roberts of AREVA, Suzy Hobbs Baker of PopAtomic Studios and Paul Harwood of Twitter, with Susan Downs of PPL Susquehanna serving as moderator.

We are just a handful of the communicators in the nuclear energy industry who recognize the necessity and value of engaging with stakeholders through social media. The web has evolved into a social space where platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube allow multidirectional, unfettered conversations to occur across physical boundaries and social constructs. As a result, the marketplace of ideas has never been easier to access.

With increased access, of course, comes increased volume. The noise on social is at full blast, with endless opinions and updates being lobbed at us from every corner. Smartphones are within reach at all times as new channels for sharing words, photos and videos pop up each day. Despite the overwhelming growth and clutter, social remains a space where real discussions happen, where minds and hearts are won, where everyday folks are moved to the point of action. It is a space where we must be active in order to reach our stakeholders and inform and persuade them on the benefits of nuclear

That is why NEI is working to align member companies on social. The industry's stakeholdersproponents and opponents alikeare active online and we must meet them there, but we must do it in a smart way. The goal is to instill a "ducks fly together" mentality so that our messages have greater impact and cut through the noise. Another goal is to get hesitant communicators on board with social and to embrace the noise rather than fear it. Here are examples of the strategies and tactics we are using:
  • NEI's Social Media Digest: An email is distributed every Monday to social practitioners filled with content and best practices for Twitter and Facebook. The digest includes an overview of upcoming industry events and the latest news in digital media.
  • Training NEI employees on Twitter: Internal experts like Ted Jones serve as advocates on Twitter, giving credible input to online debates around top issues.

  • Storytelling: We want nuclear communicators to persuade with less logos and more pathos. This means showcasing more of the human side of the nuclear industry
  • Hashjacking: We let communicators know which tags are popular and when to use them in order to join the conversation stream, such as on Earth Day and during live chats like the White House Climate Chat.
  • Newsjacking: This involves capitalizing on the popularity of a news story to amplify our messaging. We alert members to upcoming events and news items, and prompt them to place messaging on social before interest peaks. NEI has successfully done this ahead of the release of Pandora's Promise and the premiere of Years of Living Dangerously.


Source: David Meerman Scott
Follow along with the social panel and entire WIN conference using the tag #USWIN2014. Find my tweets at @taryou, and introduce yourself if you will be in the crowd.

See you online!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Why the CERES Study on Clean Energy is Fatally Flawed

Vogtle: the nuclear plant that wasn't there.
Yesterday Ceres, a non-profit organization that advocates for "sustainability leadership," issued a study called, "Benchmarking Utility Clean Energy Deployment: 2014 - Ranking 32 of the Largest U.S. Investor-Owned Electric Utilities on Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency."

While we're happy to see some of our member companies get credit for their efforts in these areas, we were puzzled when four utilities with significant nuclear generating assets - Entergy, Dominion Resources, SCANA and Southern Company - were listed near the bottom of the rankings. After all, these are companies with balanced portfolios that use zero-emission nuclear energy to help bolster both grid reliability as well as hedge against price volatility and potential supply disruptions.

Yesterday afternoon we put the question directly to Ceres on Twitter:
This was their response:
So I grabbed the report and turned to page 14. Here's what I found (emphasis mine):
Utility-scale hydroelectric and nuclear power are important energy resources that contribute about a quarter of U.S. electricity generation; however, we do not include them in this report because nearly all of the country’s large hydro and nuclear generation was built prior to 1980, and neither resource is widely expected to constitute a large portion of the nation’s newly built carbon-free energy portfolio going forward.
Let's consider these assertions one at a time. While I can't speak to the first assertion when it comes to large scale hydropower, when it comes to nuclear it's manifestly false. Currently, there are 99 nuclear reactors operating in the U.S. Forty-nine came into service in 1980 or later.

According to my calculations, that's more than 55,000 MWe of emission-free generation that Ceres refused to consider in its study. And that also fails to take into account the four AP-1000 reactors that SCE&G and Southern Company are currently building at the V.C. Summer site in South Carolina and Plant Vogtle in Georgia, as well as the 1,180 MWe reactor under construction at Watts Bar in Tennessee. And I guess I shouldn't forget that after a speech here in Washington earlier this week, Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning told reporters that he'd like to announce plans to build two more AP-1000 reactors somewhere in the Southeast before the end of the year.

As for the second, every credible analysis (EPA, EIA, OECD) concludes that carbon reductions are impossible without major nuclear expansion. So what we have here isn't just a difference over methodology, we have a study that makes a pair of assertions that are false on their face. 

To finish up, I'll write it again: failing to credit utilities with nuclear assets for keeping air clean is deliberately misleading and a disservice to honest public debate. Please keep this in mind the next time CERES, or their partner in this study, CleanEdge. has anything to say about clean energy.

Energy Scalability and Carbon Reduction

Scott Peterson
The following is a guest post from Scott Peterson, NEI's Senior Vice President of Communications.

The New York Times, in an April editorial, wrote that “given new regulations on power-plant emissions of mercury and other pollutants, and the urgent need to reduce global warming emissions, the future clearly lies with renewable energy.” (The Times also supports the use of nuclear energy in a low-carbon energy portfolio.)

A new report by IHS CERA on the value of diversity of sources in the electric sector demonstrates why we cannot pin the future of America’s energy on any single fuel or technology. As with many things in life, diversity is vital and all no- or low-carbon power sources are essential as we move into a carbon-constrained energy future.

The U.S. Department of Energy projects that U.S. electricity demand will rise 28 percent by 2040. That means our nation will need hundreds of new power plants to provide electricity for our homes and continued economic growth. Maintaining nuclear energy's current 19 percent share of electric generation would require building one reactor every year starting in 2016, or 20 to 25 new reactors by 2040, based on DOE forecasts.

A study published by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions earlier this year pointed out that the existing nuclear energy facilities is an overlooked, yet critical element in the transition to a low-carbon future. Without 100 reactors in 31 states, U.S. carbon emissions would be 289 million to 439 million metric tons higher in 2014, and 4 billion to 6 billion metric tons higher over the period of 2012 to 2025.

The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP), a collaborative initiative by Columbia University Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs and others to understand and show how individual countries can transition to a low-carbon economy, recently released a study that calls for a profound transformation of energy systems by mid-century through steep declines in carbon intensity in all sectors of the economy—a transition called “deep decarbonization.” Nuclear energy is an important pathway toward global reduction of greenhouse gases.

The nuclear imperative has come full circle since the first commercial reactor was built in Shippingport, PA in 1957—a response to the tainted air quality in the Pittsburgh region. Today, reactors in the Northeast are a key factor in a nine-state compact to reduce carbon in the electric sector and will be essential to meet national standards being developed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant
When the Kewaunee nuclear plant south of Green Bay, WI closed in 2013, the state lost roughly 5% of its power supply. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported last month: “More importantly, the state lost an even bigger share of the power generation sources that produce no greenhouse gas emissions.”
The closure of the reactor has had "a definite impact on emissions from the state's electricity sector," said Paul Meier, an energy computer modeling expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Wisconsin Energy Institute.

The carbon dioxide emissions reductions the state achieved from building wind farms over the past eight years have largely been offset by the fossil fuels used to replace the power generated by Kewaunee, he estimates.
Maintaining operation of existing reactors and completing five reactors under construction in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee are an important complement to other low-carbon electricity sources, and a critical economic driver in the mostly rural communities where the facilities operate. The sheer scale of electricity production—and therefore emissions prevention—from nuclear energy sets it apart from other low-carbon choices. In Illinois, nuclear power plants displace 20 times more carbon emissions than wind, according to the Illinois Clean Energy Coalition.

Similarly, research and commercial demonstration of the next generation of reactors, including smaller factory-built designs, must continue for the future application of nuclear energy technology here and abroad. “We are developing a new type of new reactor that can run entirely on used nuclear fuel. It consumes the fuel and reduces its radioactive lifetime while producing an enormous amount of electricity,” says Leslie Dewan, chief scientist at Cambridge, MA-based Transatomic Power.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

5 Surprising Facts About Nuclear Energy

In putting together our new website section on nuclear energy's unmatched reliability, we uncovered some facts that the folks who aren't familiar with our industry might find surprising. Feel free to share them, and the below infographic, on social media.

1. Nuclear power plants are the most efficient source of electricity, operating 24/7 at a 90 percent average capacity factor.

2. A nuclear plant refuels once every 18 months, in spring or fall, replacing one-third of the fuel each time—so just-in-time fuel deliveries are never an issue.


3. One uranium fuel pellet creates as much energy as one ton of coal or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas.

4. A typical nuclear plant generates enough electricity for 690,000 homes without creating air emissions.

5. Nuclear energy generates more electricity than any other source in Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dominion’s Lisa Hilbert: Why a Fresh Perspective Keeps Nuclear Safe and Reliable

Lisa Hilbert
The following post was sent to us by Dominion’s Lisa Hilbert for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. Powered by Our People is part of the Future of Energy campaign that NEI launched earlier this year

This promotion aims to communicate innovation in our nation’s nuclear facilities in the voices of the people working at them. 

For more on this promotion, take a look at the featured content on our website and follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels.

Lisa Hilbert has worked in the nuclear energy industry for 24 years. She is currently the manager for nuclear outages and planning at Dominion’s Surry nuclear power station 17 miles from Newport News, Va. She began her career in the company’s mechanical engineering department, and held positions in operations, corrective action and nuclear oversight before joining the company’s Outage & Planning team.

What I do and why I enjoy doing it
Outage & Planning coordinates the preparation and execution of all scheduled work—including nuclear outages, when the reactors are shut down to replace used fuel and conduct scheduled maintenance. Although each outage only lasts a few weeks, planning for them begins more than a year in advance to ensure that all activities are performed safely and efficiently. My work is challenging and dynamic—never boring. I’m constantly learning, which I love!

Why I think nuclear energy is important to America’s energy future
Nuclear plants are the workhorses of America’s electricity generation system, and are an important component of a diverse mix of energy sources. Nuclear facilities operate safely, cleanly and dependably day in and day out. I believe that letting ourselves become overly dependent on any single fuel source would leave us vulnerable to swings in availability and cost, which could impact our ability to provide the electricity our society has come to depend on every minute of every day.

How I bring innovation into the nuclear energy industry
I am convinced that diversity in the workplace results in better decisions. I seek out input from people who are outside the mainstream of the nuclear industry. A fresh perspective, one not colored by “how we’ve always done it,” can open our eyes to creative alternatives.

What a typical nuclear plant employee thinks when he or she hears the word “reliability”
Equipment reliability is a key concept for those who work in nuclear power plants, which typically run at 100 percent power to provide reliable base load electricity to our customers. Plant equipment must not only be well maintained but kept up-to-date, to ensure that our plants can run for long periods of time. The preventive maintenance we perform during scheduled outages improves our equipment reliability and performance and helps decrease the need for unexpected repairs.

Some of the most significant projects I’ve helped implement to improve plant reliability include inspecting and coating the plant’s service water lines that ensure availability of cooling water for the facility’s nuclear safety systems.

We’ve also made modifications to the plant’s switchyard and safety systems in support of a planned high-voltage transmission line to enhance the reliable delivery of power to our customers.

For more on nuclear outage workers, check out the @nukeroadie’s article, "Nuclear Power Plant Outages ‘No Place for Cowboys.’"

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Nuclear Energy’s Unmatched Reliability

The following is a guest blog post by NEI’s Mitch Singer. Today, tomorrow and Thursday, we’ll be taking a closer look at how nuclear energy facilities function as the backbone of the electric grid, operating at full power when demand is at its highest in summer and winter. Click here to see why nuclear energy’s reliability is unmatched in the electric business. Later, take some time to better understand the value of "Always On Power," and then see "How Nuclear Power Plants Prep," for times when demands is at its height.

As we enter the height of the summer season when sweltering heat waves challenge utilities to keep pace with hundreds of millions of air conditioners running at full blast, it’s comforting for Americans to know that relief from stifling heat will be there when they need it.

The system is so reliable that we take for granted that, when we step inside our homes or workplaces, we’ll be met with a refreshing flow of cool air. Until it isn’t there. Some don’t have that luxury. In India, more than 300 million people – equal to the entire U.S. population – don’t have any electricity at all.


One reason Americans are able to maintain their comfortable lifestyle is that many utilities have invested in creating a diverse generating mix – one where nuclear energy provides the foundation to keep the grid up and running when demand is at its highest. It is no exaggeration to say the nuclear plants that provide 20 percent of America’s electricity are “always on.” They operate more than 90 percent of the time which helps mitigate disruptions when other types of plants fall off the grid; 96 percent of the time in July and August.

Why are nuclear plants so reliable? Plant reliability is directly tied to highly trained technicians and programs. Preventive and predictive maintenance is carried out daily during refueling outages. Workers tear down, inspect and replace equipment before it fails. Refueling outages bring in over a 1,000 workers and spend between $30 million-$60 million dollars during a typical 30-day outage. Nuclear plant operators undertake their month-long refueling and maintenance in the spring and fall when demand is low.

Thus when crunch time hits in the summer and winter the plants are ready to meet these peak periods.

Gabriel Verespej works on an Emergency Diesel Generator at Fermi 2. 
Reliable supplies of electricity are critical to the industries that drive the American economy. The manufacturing sector accounts for 18 percent of the American economy and uses the equivalent of the entire annual production of 100 large-scale (1,000 MWe) power plants. Just one of these plants can power a mid-size city like Boston or Seattle.

Ross Eisenberg, vice president, Energy and Resources Policy at the National Association of Manufacturers said,“Energy is the lifeblood of manufacturing. As consumers of one-third of the nation’s energy, manufacturers depend on a steady flow of electricity to power our plants and equipment. Even short interruptions of electricity service can be incredibly costly as production lines halt, batches are scrapped and equipment is damaged.”

An excerpt from a recent annual report of the Century Aluminum Company echoes many of the same day-to-day concerns:
“We use large amounts of electricity to produce primary aluminum. Any loss of power which reduces the amperage to our equipment or causes an equipment shutdown would result in a reduction in the volume of molten aluminum produced, and prolonged losses of power may result in the hardening or “freezing” of molten aluminum in the pots where it is produced, which could require an expensive and time consuming restart process.”

“We operate our plants at close to peak amperage. Accordingly, even partial failures of high voltage equipment could affect our production.”

“Electricity represents our single largest operating cost. As a result, the availability of electricity at economic prices is critical to the profitability of our operations.”
Food and beverage processors also need reliable power to stay online. Power outages can be expensive. Much like oil, hot chocolate is piped over long distances. If power is lost, chocolate congeals within 3-5 minutes. A plant could be down for 2 hours, or entire pipelines may have to be discarded at great cost.

We’ve all become used to getting information with the click of a mouse. And we get frustrated when websites are down or take too long to load. More and more information is being stored in “the cloud.”

On a yearly basis the computer and electronic products industries use the equivalent of the annual production of four nuclear plants. And it will only increase with the continued growth in cloud technologies and mobile computing.

Let’s take Google as an example.

Google products launch more than 100 billion searches every month, map information for more than 1 billion monthly users and host over 5 million businesses in the cloud. In 2012, Google’s electricity consumption totaled 3 million MWh, more than one-third of the total annual output of a nuclear plant.

If Google doesn’t have reliable electricity, just take a look at Twitter whenever Gmail suffers an unexpected service interruption. We’ve come to rely on these services so heavily, that we simply can’t live without them anymore – which means we can’t afford to live without reliable, affordable nuclear energy either.

Photo Credit: Interior shot of Google logo inside Building 43 on their Silicon Valley Campus by Robert Scoble. Photo used under Creative Commons license.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Higher and Higher: EEI Uncovers The Cost of Electricity in Germany

Here’s the bottom line on Germany’s drive to switch from nuclear energy to renewables:

[T]he lessons learned in Europe prove that the large-scale integration of renewable power does not provide net savings to consumers, but rather a net increase in costs to consumers and other stakeholders.

There’s more:

Moreover, when not properly assessed in advance, large-scale integration of renewables into the power system ultimately leads to disequilibrium in the power markets, as well as value destruction to both renewable companies and utilities, and their respective investors.

This is from a report prepared by energy consulting firm Finadvice (a Finnish company, though its web site and the report are in English) for the Edison Electric Institute and Finadvice’s European clients.

Neither EEI nor Finadvice have any particular brief for nuclear energy (in this context) and are interested in studying the transition primarily as a case study in quickly ramping up renewable energy sources. Nuclear energy is incidental to the analysis; this provides an interesting focus, though it also causes the report to miss a step here and there.

For example:

Household electricity prices in Germany have more than doubled, increasing from €0.14/kilowatt hour (kWh) ($0.18) in 2000 to more than €0.29/kWh ($0.38) in 2013.

This outcome has occurred with many of the nuclear plants still operating, so these costs presumably will only go higher after the plants close in 2021. (The cost for household electricity in the U.S. is about $0.13/kWh , for comparison).

The rapid introduction of renewable energy sources has other consequences, too:

As a result, wholesale prices in Germany for baseload have fallen dramatically from €90-95/megawatt hour (MWh) in 2008 to €37/MWh in 2013. This has created a large amount of load and margin destruction for utilities that built and financed thermal plants. Many new gas-fired power plants have been rendered uneconomical, leaving owners to shore up their balance sheets by undertaking large divestitures of some of their holdings, as well as by reducing their operational costs.

Wait – shouldn’t household prices go down if wholesale costs decline? You’d think so, but there are other forces at work.

One is subsidies granted to renewable energy sources. A second is a provision of Germany’s renewable energy law that mandates electric companies buy renewable energy ahead of thermal-powered energy regardless of need.

These actions, which the government intends as a way to prop up renewable energy until it can support itself, warps the cost of electricity tremendously, because it means that companies must  ramp down non-renewable plants, even when the electricity generated by them is less expensive.

Natural gas facilities takes most of the hit here, according to the report, and it’s rendering some of them unprofitable. Yet they and nuclear plants are still needed when renewable energy sources are not supplying electricity – at night and when the wind isn’t blowing.

Another factor is that Germany cannot allow electric companies to charge the full cost of electricity to industry – Germany is the largest exporter in Europe and it must remain competitive in world markets. This means that all the cost is pushed down to households. 

There’s a lot more to the report – it’s the most comprehensive (and most objective) view of the German situation I’ve seen. It also reconfirms every heavily biased view a nuclear advocate could possibly devise – but that’s just gravy. What it really confirms is that Germans are getting a raw deal.

Germany’s experience with renewables has often been portrayed as a success story. It undoubtedly met one of the objectives set by the EEG: the promotion of renewable generation. It remains unclear, however, how successful Germany has been in meeting the other stated goals of its renewable energy policy: mainly climate change mitigation, energy independence, reduction of fuel costs, conservation of fossil fuels, local economic development, and  expansion of the  domestic manufacturing base.

If you start promoting renewable energy by fiat, that’s going to succeed by definition. But all the rest of it? – the stuff that really empowers people and ensures a viable future? At best, the jury’s out and at worst, the jury foreman is looking at you with sad, sad eyes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

5 Myths About the Export-Import Bank

Later today, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) will be holding a briefing for House members on the Ex-Im Bank. Recently, the majority staff at Hensarling's committee published their list of "5 Things to Know About the Export-Import Bank." We think the title of the blog is something of a misnomer. Instead, the piece should have been titled, "5 Myths About the Export-Import Bank."

Here's our point-by-point rebuttal:

1. The Ex-Im Bank doesn’t create jobs.

Why this is wrong: The Ex-Im Bank supports just 2 percent of all U.S. exports, which from 2007 to 2014 amounted to $240 billion of export assistance. In terms of jobs, that’s support for 1.5 million U.S. employees.

According to the Bank, every $1 billion in export assistance supports 6,390 U.S. jobs. Countless testimonials by large, medium, and small businesses state that their ability to export would simply not occur without the Bank's assistance.

2. The Ex-Im Bank doesn’t return money to the taxpayers.

Why this is wrong: The Ex-Im Bank sent roughly $1 billion in profit to the U.S. Treasury in 2013. Those who argue against this point base their talking point on an alternative accounting method – fair value accounting – which for many reasons is not appropriate and is therefore not used. One reason is because comparable private rates do not exist for many of the loans given; therefore, fair-value accounting artificially assigns higher rates, causing the bank to appear to operate at a loss.

3. The Ex-Im Bank fails to help small businesses, even though it is required by law to do so.

Why this is wrong: Almost 90 percent of the Ex-Im Bank's customers in 2013 were small businesses. Businesses like Precision Custom Components of York, Pennsylvania.


And it’s also worth mentioning that the Bank’s overall default rate is currently at a historic low of 0.237 percent.

4. The Ex-Im Bank uses American taxpayers’ money to help foreign corporations, including businesses that are owned by the governments of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Why this is wrong: The Ex-Im Bank provides loans, insurance, and guarantees so that U.S. businesses can export. As a part of this, the Ex-Im bank will make a loan to a foreign borrower if it allows a U.S. firm to export. In the UAE, Ex-Im Bank loans supported a Korean-led nuclear construction project where IP and other services from Westinghouse were critical to the project. Ex-Im Bank also helped enable Westinghouse win a contract to build four advanced reactors in China. Ex-Im did not, in the end, make a loan or loan guarantee for the China transaction, but ECA support was a bidding requirement that enabled Westinghouse to compete for the tender.

Here's what NEI's Marv Fertel wrote yesterday in the National Journal::
Consider Russia’s negotiations last week with Argentina, during which Vladimir Putin signed a nuclear energy cooperation deal with to bolster trade ties and strengthen Russia's influence in Latin America. Rosatom, the state atomic energy corporation, has made an offer for the construction of two reactors in Argentina, including what Russia’s energy minister called "comfortable" financial terms to Argentina.

More than 60 percent of the world’s 435 operating reactors are based on technology developed in the United States. With the world’s largest civilian nuclear energy program, the U.S. industry is recognized for reliability, safety and operational excellence. However, new supplier nations have entered the growing global nuclear market, and multi-national partnerships and consortia have been formed to develop nuclear energy facilities. Many U.S. competitors are backstopped with government financing and other incentives.

To compete globally and drive domestic economic growth, the Ex-Im bank fills the gaps, offering loans, loan guarantees and insurance that leverage private finance in pursuit of U.S. commercial and strategic interests.
The following is from a letter sent by NEI's Alex Flint to Chairman Hensarling and HFSC Ranking Member Maxine Waters:
U.S. nuclear energy suppliers can compete and win on a level playing field. Advanced U.S. reactor technology, world-leading U.S. operational expertise, and broader partnerships with the United States in nuclear energy hold strong appeal to international nuclear energy customers.

However, a global market free of government influence is not the one that U.S. nuclear energy companies compete in today. U.S. companies compete against a growing number of foreign firms – many of which are state-owned and benefit from various forms of state support. All foreign nuclear energy competitors are backed by national export credit agencies (ECAs) or other state financing.

Export credit agencies play an essential role in financing nuclear power projects. ECA support is almost always a bidding requirement for international nuclear power plant tenders. In the emerging markets where commercial nuclear energy opportunities are concentrated, financing is often the most critical factor. Although risk in nuclear power projects is typically low, commercial lenders are unwilling to participate in financing nuclear power plants without an export credit agency’s playing a role as a result of higher capital requirements mandated under the Basel III accord.

Beyond their substantial benefits to U.S. exports and job creation, U.S. commercial nuclear exports provide the United States with substantial influence over other nations’ nonproliferation policies and practices, and help to ensure the highest possible levels of nuclear power plant safety and reliability around the world. U.S. commercial nuclear exports also maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear energy technology and support the U.S. manufacturing base.
5. The Ex-Im Bank financed only 1.6% of total U.S. exports in 2013.

Why this is wrong: This statement further proves the point that the Bank is a finely targeted program intended to address specific market failures that the private sector cannot serve.

For a closer look at all of the reasons why the nuclear industry supports the reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank, see our blog post from June 24, 2014.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Idaho National Labs: Taking Nuclear Energy into the Digital Age

The following blog post was submitted by Idaho National Laboratory’s Caleb Robison for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. Powered by Our People is part of NEI’s campaign called Future of Energy, which NEI launched earlier this year. This promotion aims to communicate innovation in our nation’s nuclear facilities—in the voices of their workforces.

Caleb Robison is an experiment system engineer who has worked at the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory for the past nine years. He also mentors the next generation of nuclear professionals by participating in INL’s internship program.

We can’t wait to highlight your facility’s innovators and their part in the #futureofenergy across our digital channels from July to September. Take a look at the featured content on our website.


Caleb Robison of the Idaho National Laboratory
Caleb Robison works at the lab's Advanced Test Reactor (ATR), where he prepares safety documentation for new experiments, coordinates experiment schedules with reactor operations cycles and provides system engineer support for a hydraulically-operated experiment system that can be loaded while the reactor is operating.

The job provides constant challenges and allows him to think outside the box to find solutions. Working with a research tool as versatile and powerful as the ATR, he says, is exciting. He’s excited to be part of helping develop new technology that takes nuclear to the next level. In short, he feels like he's contributing to "moving nuclear energy technology from the '70s to the digital age." 

"One of the reasons America is so powerful is that we have the energy to fuel our economy," Caleb says. "To continue this into the future we need cheap, reliable, diverse and environmentally responsible energy sources. No one source provides all the solutions to all of the country’s energy needs. I believe that any national energy portfolio that doesn’t include nuclear is unsustainable and will eventually fail."

The one-of-a-kind research conducted at ATR and the collaborative atmosphere created by its DOE National Scientific User Facility provides significant potential success for the nuclear industry worldwide. ATR research also helps extend the life of current reactors and better understand reactor aging phenomena. Caleb relishes being part of that contribution.

"I’m bringing innovation to the nuclear industry by supporting research and development of new materials and fuels for use by the United States Navy and by helping other researchers — international industry, universities and reactor vendors — push the envelope on reactor performance while increasing safety." Caleb especially enjoys opportunities to contribute to nuclear advancement by participating in public outreach opportunities, such as tours and other public forums.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

NEI's Lipman Testifies on Future of International Civilian Nuclear Cooperation

Dan Lipman
The following is a guest post from Dan Lipman, Executive Director, Policy Development and Supplier Programs at the Nuclear Energy Institute. Prior to his stint at NEI, Dan was responsible for managing the global deployment of new power plants at Westinghouse. While there, he led new plant projects in Korea and the deployment of 10 new AP1000 EPC contracts in China and the U.S. 

Later this morning, I will be testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on The Future of International Civilian Nuclear Cooperation. Having spent several decades around the world working for Westinghouse, I've seen first-hand how international nuclear commerce can help support American influence abroad as well as create jobs and economic growth back home

NEI believes that the global expansion of nuclear energy infrastructure provides the United States a unique opportunity to meet several national imperatives at the same time:  (1) increasing U.S. influence over nuclear nonproliferation policy and practices around the world; (2) ensuring the highest possible levels of nuclear power plant safety and reliability around the world, by exporting U.S. advanced reactor designs and America’s world-class operational expertise; (3) maintaining U.S. leadership in nuclear energy technology; and, (4) creating tens of thousands of jobs and maintaining a healthy manufacturing base for nuclear energy technology and services.

The global nuclear marketplace is extremely competitive. Our US industry has to go against enterprises from Russia, France, Korea and Japan. Most of these competitors are state-owned. No new nuclear market will just fall in the lap of US companies – we have to compete hard to win!

To maintain U.S. influence over global nonproliferation policy and international nuclear safety, the U.S. commercial nuclear energy sector must participate in the rapidly expanding global market for nuclear energy technologies (435 commercial nuclear reactors in operation around the world, 72 under construction, 172 planned or on order).  If U.S. exporters were able to capture 25 percent of the global market – estimated at $500 billion to $750 billion over the next 10 years – this would create (or sustain) up to 185,000 high-paying American jobs.  

The U.S. nuclear industry is competitive, but we must be allowed to compete. This requires policies that promote international civilian nuclear cooperation. The industry:
  • Supports efforts to limit the spread of uranium enrichment and used fuel reprocessing (E&R) technologies consistent with current U.S. policy.
  • Opposes inflexible preconditions to U.S. nuclear cooperation potential partners will not accept and that other supplier nations do not impose. Pragmatism should continue to guide the United States as it negotiates Section 123 agreements.
  • Supports prompt negotiation of new and renewal bilateral agreements for peaceful nuclear energy cooperation. These agreements are essential for meaningful U.S. nuclear exports.
  • Supports a proactive approach for the negotiation of Section 123 agreements with nations with new or expanding peaceful nuclear energy programs, including the ROK, Vietnam and China. It is in the U.S. national security, nonproliferation, nuclear safety and economic interest to secure agreements early and with a broad set of partners rather than to sit idly by as these nations partner with other nuclear suppliers. Without agreements in force, we forfeit exports, jobs and commercial benefits, and we will fail to influence these programs in terms of their nuclear safety, security and nonproliferation norms.
  • Supports policies that level the competitive playing field for U.S. exporters including reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, bringing the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damages into force, and modernization of export controls under 10 CFR 810.
To follow today's hearing, you can watch the committee's webcast beginning at 9:45 a.m. For more detailed analysis and commentary, please follow NEI's Ted Jones on his Twitter feed, where he'll be live tweeting today's hearing from start to finish.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Being a Nuclear Engineer at AREVA

Abbey Donahue
The following post was created by Abbey Donahue for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. Powered by Our People is part of NEI’s campaign called Future of Energy, which NEI launched earlier this year. This promotion aims to communicate innovation in our nation’s nuclear facilities—in the voices of their workforces. For more on this promotion, take a look at the featured content on our website and follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels.

Abbey is a Design Project Engineer for Areva TN and has worked in the nuclear industry for five years. Abbey is also the professional development chair of the North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN). Follow her on Twitter, @chatteyabbey.

“What do you do?” Like many places, in Washington, D.C., it’s a question that comes up in just about every conversation. “I’m an engineer at a nuclear energy company,” I reply. The most frequent reaction is an “Oh” that varies in intonation and accompanying expression. At times it reflects disinterest, other times, concern, and occasionally genuine interest. The fact of the matter is that I have tremendous passion for what I do. What might that be? I’m happy to share a bit about the what and the why.

What I do

AREVA's New Transport Cask
I’m a nuclear engineer by education, and started in nuclear analysis roles at AREVA in 2009, before AREVA TN. AREVA TN designs and manufactures systems to store, transfer, and transport nuclear material with a continuous focus on making them safer and more efficient. In my current role, I coordinate technical aspects of design projects across all analysis disciplines and licensing. Being in the design group allows me to play a role in developing those new designs. Recently you may have seen news about AREVA TN’s newest products, including our next generation high capacity and high performance Extended Optimized Storage (EOS) dry storage canister and our newly NRC-licensed transport cask for high burnup used fuel . These are just a couple of examples of safe, innovative products our company is bringing to market.
moving into project engineering at

I love that nearly every day presents a new technical challenge where I get to collaborate with other engineers and work towards a solution. The way our customers are operating their plants is different than when our dry storage systems were first designed. Used nuclear fuel still generates decay heat, even after it is done producing power in a reactor. These days the utilities are using their fuel more efficiently, and as a result, the used nuclear fuel generates more decay heat. AREVA TN has improved our NUHOMS® design to store fuel with more decay heat while maintaining the safety and quality standards demanded by the public, our customers and our regulator. This is achieved through calculation and methodology improvements, better understanding of material properties, and physical design improvements in license amendments or new system designs. It’s in these licensing amendments and new product designs that the design engineers get to exercise their innovation muscles and develop new solutions.

Working in the nuclear industry has been very rewarding, and there are many growth opportunities at AREVA. During the past five years, I have worked on pressurized water reactor (PWR) core design in Lynchburg, VA, boiling water reactor (BWR) core design in Richland, WA, and with the criticality and shielding group in Columbia, MD. These three positions were part of AREVA’s Voyager Program , a rotational program focused on internal mobility and developing engineering talent. Through these roles, I’ve been able to work on the front end of the fuel cycle – analyzing the fuel before it goes into the reactor and during reactor operations – and on the back end of the fuel cycle – where the fuel is used and ready to be removed from the fuel pool and put in dry storage.

Why it matters

It gives me a great sense of pride to be working on developing innovative solutions to support an energy source that provides nearly 20 percent of America’s safe, clean and reliable electricity. The de-carbonization of our energy mix is in progress, but our ability to maintain and improve upon our trajectory depends in large part on the contribution of the 100 nuclear power plants that currently provide nearly two-thirds of our low-carbon energy. I realize that a lot of people have questions and concerns about nuclear waste, even though the waste associated with an average American’s lifetime supply of nuclear energy fits into a container the size of a soda can. While current reactor technology does produce nuclear material that needs to be safely handled and managed (hence, my work in designing robust and secure storage solutions), research and development are underway to design reactors that could run on the used nuclear fuel currently stored in our dry-shielded canisters at nearly 50 percent of U.S. nuclear facilities.

I love what I do because it is challenging, and also because it is a way for me to contribute to our sustainable clean energy future. As my career has progressed, each day I develop a greater appreciation for what engineers do to have a positive impact. I’m proud to be a nuclear engineer, and am excited to continue contributing to an industry that supports safe, clean, reliable energy, and provides opportunities for people of my generation and future generations to make a difference.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Facts on the Spent Fuel Pool at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 5

Tom Kauffman
Last night, Fox News picked up a report from Russia Today concerning a leak in the spent fuel pool at Fukushima Daiichi Unit Five.
Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was forced to switch off the cooling system at Reactor Unit 5, after engineers discovered it had been leaking water. If the system is not repaired within the next nine days, temperatures are expected to soar, Russian news site RT reported Sunday.
As our readers might recall, our go to guy on Fukushima and spent fuel is Tom Kauffman, a former reactor operator from Three Mile Island. Here's what he wrote to me after I shared the Fox News link with him:
The used fuel has cooled to the point that even if all the water was lost, radiation levels would increase due to a loss of shielding, but there’s no way the fuel produces enough heat to damage itself let alone incinerate. A good rule of thumb: Even in a densely packed fuel pool, 107 days after fresh used fuel is placed in the pool, there is insufficient heat generation to cause fuel incineration even if all cooling water is lost.
Tom also passed along the fact that the volume of water leaking from the pool is so small, that TEPCO could compensate for it by simply running a garden hose to the pool. This isn't the first time we've asked Tom to weigh in on rumors like this one, and we're sure it won't be the last.

UPDATE: NHK is now reporting that the cooling system for the spent fuel pool at Unit 5 has been restarted without incident. Congrats to the team at TEPCO for resolving the incident.

FINAL UPDATE: Here's the final word from TEPCO on the incident.