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Showing posts from July, 2015

The Ford Nucleon, Electric Cars and the Swiss Thought Experiment

Here’s something I did not know existed, even as far as it did exist:In the 1950s, perhaps the height of the so-called Atomic Age, Ford developed a concept car called the Ford Nucleon. This nuclear-powered automobile was designed, according to Ford, based on the assumption that future nuclear reactors would be smaller, safer, lighter and more portable. The design called for a power capsule located in the rear of the car, charging stations replacing gas stations and 5,000 miles of driving before recharging or replacing the fuel. As is the case with many concept cars, Ford never built the Nucleon-only a model car half the size of a normal car.Obviously, the most famous nuclear car is the DeLorean DMC-12 from the Back to the Future movies. The nucleon could not be powered because the technology to do it wasn’t plausible at that time – still, pretty neat, even if we are waiting for a flux capacitor.In the meantime, where nuclear energy and cars can find common cause is with electric cars…

From the Navy to the Commercial Nuclear Industry

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

How long have you been in the nuclear industry? 

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

What is your job and why do you enjoy doing it? 
Currently, I am a Chemistry and Radiation Protection Technician on a temporary rotation as an I…

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

We’ve sometimes taken a look at nuclear energy support – nascent or realized – in several states. Communities have occasionally weighed in, as potential hosts for consolidated storage sites, for instance. The folks of Lea and Eddy Counties in Nevada have consistently voiced support for Yucca Mountain. Washington City, with a population of about 22,000, has gone a little further.During a meeting Wednesday night, the City Council approved an agreement with the “Carbon Free Power Project” that will provide funds toward identifying potential sites for a nuclear power plant.On first glance, this is a bit puzzling, as the city would seem unlikely to set up and run a nuclear facility without state and industrial cooperation – at least, not by itself. Indeed, this is true.NuScale Power has proposed to build a power plant housing 12 of the compact reactors and produce an estimated 600 megawatts of power. The plant is slated to be built in the area of Idaho Falls, Idaho. If the project comes to…

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

Under the somewhat alarming title, How Startups Can Save Nuclear Tech, Fortune writer Katie Fehrenbacher offers a survey of, well, startups promoting nuclear technology.Fortune finds this interesting for reasons that have become obvious to anyone who has looked at recent energy policy:But four years after the infamous accident [that is, Fukushima], environmentalists, nuclear advocates, and researchers are now looking at nuclear tech as an almost necessary way to generate power without carbon emissions that, if used correctly, could be crucial to help the world avoid the worst of global warming. And unlike with solar and wind, nuclear reactors generate power around the clock.The article zeroes in on the investor community, which, even if your primary interest is new nuclear technology, drives that technology to market. It makes sense for Fortune to spin the nuclear diamond to this particular facet – it’s the magazine’s bailiwick – and provides a unique perspective.Last month, beneath t…

Nuclear Safety Is Top Priority at Idaho National Laboratory

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

As a nuclear safety analyst, she is responsible for creating and maintaining the nuclear facility safety basis for the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) Complex at the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory. Anne's work ensures the appropriate controls are established to maintain safe operations that are in compliance with nuclear regulations and laws. She also provides independent reviews of safety basis documents, such as experiment safety analysis plans and core safety assurance packages.
Anne knows all too well how important nuclear energy is to the future of America’s energy industry. “Our nation’s energy needs will only continue to increase,” she explains. “Nuclear energy provides a safe, reliable, carbon-free energy source on a scale that can meet those demands.”

The work Anne does for the AT…

Southern Exposure 2015: The Value of Emergency Preparedness Exercises

The following is a guest post by Sue Perkins-Grew, Senior Director, Emergency Preparedness and Risk Assessment at the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Preparedness” is at the core of the nuclear energy industry culture, one reason why reactor operators have a half century of safe operations in the United States.

Part of the job of every licensed plant operator involves training to ensure they are prepared to address a spectrum of unlikely events that do not occur during normal operations. In fact, plant operators essentially work their entire careers without experiencing such events. Yet they still practice on simulators regularly, where they are tested with redundant failures of plant systems to gain proficiency in their response to various accident scenarios. This way, they are skilled in taking actions to control and correct any abnormal event. A qualified, multi-disciplined emergency response organization completes annual training and performance evaluations by participating in drills…

Amazon’s Windy Path to a Nuclear-driven Data Center

What becomes a data center most? Electricity – and lots of it.[Mark] Mills [founder and CEO of the Digital Power Group] says the growth of information technology over the next two decades will “radically alter” the electric sector, reducing the use of electricity in many areas while consuming vast amounts itself. The big takeaway from this transformation, he says, is the paramount importance of reliable electricity supplies. […]A few-thousand-square-foot [data center], Mills says, uses more electricity than a 100,000-square-foot shopping mall. He adds that there are tens of thousands of data centers around the country, “each consuming as much electricity as an entire town.”Actual numbers for what data centers needs can be a little tough to pin down. But here’s a stab at it from someone who should know:David Christian, the CEO at Dominion Generation, which operates Dominion Virginia Power’s four reactors at North Anna and Surry, agrees, noting that several new data centers have been b…

Nuclear Editorial Choices in Ohio and Virginia

The title of the Akron Beacon-Journal’s editorial is “A Compromising Position for FirstEnergy and Ohio.” Uh-oh – what could this be about? As it turns out, nothing bad at all:Too many environmentalists have a blind-spot for nuclear power. Yet, if the problem of climate change is dire — and it is — how reckless to cast aside a clean power source capable of generating an ample and steady supply. Those who applaud the Obama White House for preparing to issue limits on carbon emissions also should cheer plans to keep Davis-Besse in operation.FirstEnergy wants to charge ratepayers a bit extra to keep Davis-Besse and a coal plant afloat while natural gas remains inexpensive. You might expect the local newspaper to find fault with that – it could be made to sound like a greedy utility with its hand out - but it doesn’t. This is an exceptionally mature viewpoint, a recognition that what’s true now – low natural gas prices – won’t be true forever. What the newspaper does not point out is that,…

Exploring Pluto and Other New Horizons With Nuclear Energy

The following is a guest post by Richard Rolland, an intern in NEI's Nuclear Generation Division.


Like many of my colleagues in the scientific community, I’m looking forward to viewing pictures of Pluto and its moons from the images taken by the space probe New Horizons on Tuesday morning. My excitement is enhanced by the knowledge that these pictures are made possible by nuclear power. New Horizons is powered 100% by nuclear power with a radioisotope thermal electric generator.

The two most common power sources for space probes today are solar power and RTGs. The benefits of solar power rapidly decrease the further a probe travels away from the Sun.  While radioisotope thermal electric generators (RTGs) function by utilizing the heat created from radioactive decay to produce electricity no matter the location. As we venture further into the depths of interplanetary space, nuclear power provides our space probes with a reliable source of electricity no matter the distance. With…

Diablo Canyon is Helping Fight California's Drought

Last month NEI's Nuclear Energy Overview team covered news that the Diablo Canyon Power Plant has on site a desalination facility that it uses to generate fresh water from seawater. And lots of it  -- the Diablo desal facility is capable of producing 1.5 million gallons of treated water a day. So in addition to producing 2,300 megawatts of carbon-free power, nearly 10 percent of all electricity generated in California, and enough energy to meet the needs of more than three million Northern and Central Californians, Diablo Canyon is poised to be a source to aid California with its historic drought. From the coverage:
Plant operator Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has entered into a five-year agreement to use the facility’s excess capacity to provide the county’s Office of Emergency Services with fresh water to help tackle the ever-present risk of wildfires.    This news merits broader coverage, and credit the San Luis Obispo Tribune for following through. Its coverage notes that the…

On Bill McKibben, The New Yorker & Reducing Carbon On the Electric Grid

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Last month Bill McKibben wrote in The New Yorker magazine about a family in Vermont that had insulated its house, replaced its oil burner with electric heat pumps, added solar panels to the roof and, presumably, cut its carbon footprint. It’s a noble concept but I’m not sure it’s working.

Bill and I go back a long way. We took a trip together in September, 1984, to Hydro-Quebec's James Bay plant, then nearing completion, and he wrote about it in March, 1986, in an article in The New Yorker about the various sources of energy for his apartment in New York. I believe it was one of Bill's first assignments for The New Yorker. I was then a reporter at The New York Times and wrote about the project immediately. Both of us have closely followed the evolution of energy and climate science ever since, but our paths have diverged somewha…

STPNOC Brings 24 New Apprentices Onboard

As part of the STP Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC) ongoing workforce development efforts, 24 entry-level apprentices were recently brought onboard with STP. The apprentices will join Operations (10); Electrical Maintenance (5); I&C (4); and Mechanical Maintenance (4).

The new employees were all part of the company’s “Grow Your Own” initiative, which is a focused effort on building pipelines through partnerships with local community colleges and four-year institutions. The employees were part of the Educational Incentive Program as well as Nuclear Regulatory Commission Scholarship students.

“We couldn't have accomplished attracting this many solid candidates without the NRC’s scholarship investment,” said Clarence Fenner, Workforce Development/Knowledge Transfer Coordinator. “Our company’s and the NRC’s efforts to build a pipeline of knowledgeable candidates who are ready to work in the nuclear industry are paying off for STP,” Fenner said.

Most, with few exceptions, of the…

How Much Land Does Nuclear, Wind and Solar Really Need?

Not too long ago, we reviewed a report that looked at nuclear energy (and other energy sources) as biodiversity agents. This had to do, in part, with the amount of land a facility needs to function. Nuclear energy and fossil fuel plants use relatively little, wind farms and solar arrays quite a lot of land.
Based on an objective and transparent analysis of our sustainable energy choices, we have come to the evidence-based conclusion that nuclear energy is a good option for biodiversity conservation (and society in general) and that other alternatives to fossil fuels should be subjected to the same cost–benefit analyses (in terms of biodiversity and climate outcomes, as well as sociopolitical imperatives) before accepting or dismissing them. Writer Barry Brook, who collected 75 scientists to endorse his paper, is interested in land use as it impacts flora and fauna. Biodiversity concerns do not get as much play as they might – and, when they do, it annoys many when land is withdrawn d…