Thursday, August 27, 2015

Recognizing Clean Nuclear Plants in the Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan will be with us for a long time and will be discussed pro and con for months and years. One aspect of the plan that stands out is its rather bizarre notion that all currently running nuclear plants will keep running, thus continuing to contribute emission-free electricity.
The EPA is likewise not finalizing the proposal to include a component representing preserved existing nuclear generation in the BSER [best system of emission reduction]. On further consideration, we believe it is inappropriate to base the BSER on elements that will not reduce CO2 missions from affected EGUs [electric utility generating units] below current levels. Existing nuclear generation helps make existing CO2 emissions lower than they would otherwise be, but will not further lower CO2 emissions below current levels.
EPA also says it cannot know which nuclear facilities might close due to economic issues and thus cannot credit them. “[W]e believe that it is inappropriate to base the BSER in part on the premise that the preservation of existing low-or zero-carbon generation, as opposed to the production of incremental, low-or zero- carbon generation, could reduce CO2 emissions from current levels.”
Of course, closing nuclear plants sets back the overall effort.  Nuclear (and hydro, too, for that matter) have done most of the heavy lifting on emission reduction over the last decades and together produce about 25 percent of U.S. electricity generation and 63 percent of zero-carbon electricity.
Let’s see how NEI addresses this:
“We are disappointed, however, that the ‘best system of emission reduction’ in the final rule does not incorporate the carbon-abatement value of existing nuclear power plants—the largest source of carbon-free electricity. This is surprising since EPA clearly recognized in the proposed rule that some of these plants are at risk of premature shutdown. 
“In the final rule, EPA notes correctly that ‘existing nuclear generation helps make existing CO2 emissions lower than they would otherwise be, but will not further lower CO2 emissions below current levels.’ What the final rule fails to recognize is that CO2 emissions will be significantly higher if existing nuclear power plants shut down prematurely.
That’s the crux of it. If a plant closes, you lose its benefits.
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The Third Way tries a quantitative approach to this issue with a report called “When Nuclear Ends: How Nuclear Retirements Might Undermine Clean Power Plan Progress,” done in collaboration with researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Right on point, isn’t it?  Here’s the conclusion:
If America’s nuclear plants begin retiring in droves, achieving the Clean Power Plan emissions reductions could be impossible.
Depending on different scenarios, emissions could go up 12.5 percent or more from this year if reactors retire after their initial 40-year license expires. These are enormous increases, equivalent to adding up to 76 million cars to the road, or about 30 percent of vehicles registered in America today. 2025 emissions would revert to close to 2005 levels, undermining progress towards a lower-carbon energy system.
Most economic projections in all fields do scenarios because, of course, we cannot predict the future, we can only show what might happen. The Energy Information Administration uses as its baseline the current situation projected forwards.
Read the whole report to understand its methodology better. The bottom line is this: you cannot have nuclear energy plants close and not pay a significant price in emission reduction goals. Third Way demonstrates this pretty definitively.
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Here’s the thing: anyone can write anything – and make a pretty darn convincing case - but nothing beats the experiential. That is, what happens with emissions when a country closes a nuclear plant or reopens one. We wrote about the restart of Japan’s Sendai nuclear facility last week. Here’s a germane tidbit on that event:
When operating Sendai 1 avoids the emission of more than six million tons of carbon dioxide each year, compared to coal-fired generation.
And I guess three million tons compared to natural gas. And that’s one reactor! Six million tons coal, three million tons natural gas, zero nuclear. And Japan turned on some of its oil burning plants, too. It’s doesn’t take a nuclear scientist to see how the Clean Power Plan has missed a beat – several beats - here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Nuclear Powers On in the Texas Heat While Wind Wilts

Michael Purdie
The following is a guest post by NEI's Michael Purdie.

Major cities in Texas were subject to numerous 100 degree-plus days this month. Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin all had record setting electricity demand. If you have ever been to these cities during one of these days, it’s hot and there is very little breeze to cool you down.

The most extreme day for the grid was August 13, when power prices peaked above $1,000/MWh. When this occurs, the grid operator (in this case, ERCOT) takes action. ERCOT called for conservation measures because electricity reserves were below 2,500 MWs during the peak.

Why did this occur? Simple. The wind generating units in Texas produced less than 20% of what they’re capable of providing. By operating at less than a 20% capacity factor, wind units provided 633 MWs of power less than what ERCOT predicted during the daily peak demand. The chart below depicts the planned and actual wind generation during hours of the day. The power price curve is positively correlated with electricity demand. This graph shows that when wind resources are most plentiful is also when the electricity is least valuable.

Source: Platts Megawatt Daily, Aug. 17, 2015

A representative of a fossil fuel generator told Platts Megawatt Daily that gas and coal were operating at approximately 90% of their potential. What did better? Texas’ four nuclear reactors (two each at the South Texas Project and Comanche Peak) operated at 100% for the whole week. These four reactors provided nearly 5,000 MW of electricity when Texans needed it most. Assuming a 90% capacity factor over one year, the four Texas reactors provide power for 2.74 million people. This is roughly equal to the population of Dallas and San Antonio combined.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Nuclear Energy for This Generation, and Beyond

Tiffany Williams is a security operations supervisor at Entergy’s Waterford 3 nuclear facility and has worked in the nuclear industry for more than 18 years. She started her career as a fire watch contractor and held other positions increasing in responsibility including nuclear security officer and alarm station operator.

Tiffany Williams
Tiffany Williams

I owe my love of nuclear power to my father. As a child, I remember him coming home from work and sharing stories of what he did that day. We were fascinated because it was like nothing else we heard before. He was actually making history by helping build Waterford 3 – Louisiana’s first nuclear power plant.

Throughout the construction period, my father would explain the importance of what he was building. The Waterford 3 Steam Electric Station would provide safe, clean and reliable electricity for Louisianans. It would also provide great paying jobs and local community support. To fully understand the importance of Waterford 3, he made sure I visited the Entergy Education Center so I could see firsthand how nuclear power is produced. I’ve been intrigued ever since.

So, it was a pretty proud moment when I began working at the plant in 1992 during a refueling outage – alongside my father.

Since then, I’ve grown a rewarding career in Waterford 3’s security organization. I play an important role as a security supervisor, responsible for the overall protection of the plant and station personnel to ensure the public’s trust is maintained while safely and reliably providing electricity.

Nuclear power plants take security very seriously. Waterford 3’s security organization continually challenges each other to stay ahead of any potential threat. No one person in the security organization can operate alone. We depend on each other to do what has been instinctively taught through standardized training – observe, report, react and respond.
Tiffany Williams and her father
Tiffany and her father
Our security force must meet the rigorous standards set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We do this by completing hundreds of hours of training prior to joining the security organization and then we complete regular testing and drill requirements, including participation in large scale force-on-force exercises designed to test our defensive capabilities. 

Our job is to protect the plant, its workers and the community from any potential threat. We do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

I’m proud to be a second generation nuclear worker. Just like my father, I will continue to educate people about the safe, reliable and clean air energy generated from nuclear. It’s important for America’s energy future.

The above post by Entergy is a part of NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion which showcases the innovators within the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Radiation All Around Us All the Time

2005. Former U.S. President Jimmy CarterThe dreadful recent news about former President Jimmy Carter brought back happier memories. Some years ago, my wife and I stood next to and chatted with the then-Governor of Georgia and  First Lady while waiting to get into a concert at Atlanta’s Omni complex. I wouldn’t call it the most memorable moment in my life, but it doesn’t have to be to be fondly recalled.

Carter was dipping into a bag of boiled peanuts – a southern specialty I then considered foul – and we compared notes on various music halls and local bands. The Carters were likely more familiar with Macon than Atlanta at the time, but they had clearly canvassed the local music scene – and knew more about it than we did – and we were the college students.

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President Carter’s treatment at Emory University has already begun and radiation therapy will be part of it.

Thursday afternoon, Carter was to undergo radiation treatment.

On Wednesday, the hospital fitted him with a mask that will hold his head perfectly still to make sure the radiation goes into the right places in his brain. "Focused radiation as compared to general radiation has shown some success," said Dr. Manmeet Ahluwalia. "That they are really small makes it more likely that these lesions can be controlled."

I’ve read elsewhere that this kind of treatment, combined with medicines, does not always completely clear the cancer, but can make the disease manageable, as AZT does with AIDs. We nervously but hopefully await a good outcome.

We wish President and Mrs. Carter all the best.

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Time has stolen away some of the fear traditionally associated with radiation. In the 50s, radiation was often used in movies to enlarge people and animals to monstrous proportions, but, in case you haven’t noticed, that hasn’t happened in real life. And the medical uses of radiation have saved or lengthened many lives, as we hope it will for President Carter.

Radiation may not carry quite as potent a charge as it once did because people recognize that it is everywhere around us all the time and it always has been. That’s the idea Gizmodo author Maddie Stone runs with, with a dose, so to speak, of the unexpected places ionizing radiation is found. These include: bananas, concrete, cigarettes, and water. You name it, there’s likely to be ionizing radiation in or around it.

You will often see mSv as the unit used for representing radiation dose. Sieverts measure the biological impact of ionizing radiation, with one sievert considered potent enough to induce radiation poisoning in a human being. That’s a lot of radiation, though, making the unit problematic as a measuring instrument – every use of it would almost always be expressed as a decimal. Enter the millisievert: it is much more useful and manageable, representing 1/1000 of a sievert. All the items on Gizmodo’s list carry a relatively small number of millisieverts, which makes comparing one against another easy.

This is a “More You Know” kind of article and it’s information is worth knowing. Anything that helps people understand radiation is a plus – for the nuclear industry, of course, but just for general knowledge, too. Many of us have benefited from radiation in our real lives and know it; it is worth saying it and learning more about it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

NRC Vote Eliminates Need for External Containment Filters

Earlier this week, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided in a 3-1 vote not to pursue a rulemaking with regard to reactor containment protection and release reduction for boiling water reactors with Mark I and Mark II containments. As readers of the blog will recall, NEI COO Maria Korsnick explained in a post back in June why external containment vents were unnecessary in the wake of a new innovation that was developed by the industry in conjunction with the Electric Power Research Institute:

While this order clearly improved safety, we believed we could obtain additional safety benefit if we could ensure water could be added to the reactor to cool the damaged core and also prevent containment failure.

Working with my counterparts in the industry and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), we remedied this problem by including water addition under these conditions. This was included in the industry’s guidance for implementing the vent order and endorsed by NRC.

Interestingly, the same water to cool the core will also act as a filter in containment. As industry and NRC research show, because the external filters are just tanks filled with water, the water in containment can be just as effective as an external filter. Taken together, it’s a solution that is innovative, elegant and cost-effective, one that ought to be a model for nuclear safety around the world going forward.


Click here to read the whole thing.

Refreshed Safety Messaging at Diablo Canyon

The cornerstone of safety in the nuclear industry is safety culture. It's identified as the core values and behaviors resulting from a collective commitment by leaders and individuals to emphasize safety over competing goals, to ensure protection of people and the environment.

The nuclear industry is proactive in ensuring nuclear energy facilities have a strong nuclear safety culture. NRC is responsible for providing effective oversight. And the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) promotes high levels of safety and reliability in U.S. nuclear plants by setting performance objectives, criteria, and guidelines industry-wide for nuclear plant operations, and by conducting regular evaluations of nuclear plants.

Safety -- and safety culture -- isn't static. Earlier today our friends at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant shared with us this image of a fresh coat of paint adorning a hallway leading to a site turbine building, reminding plant staff of the unwavering safety commitment required by Pacific Gas & Electric and the nuclear industry. 

"Operators operate the plant. The rest of us give them a safe plant to operate."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Mystery of the Missing Atoms

question-markLet’s see if you can see what I see. It’s kind of a mystery.
This is from the New York Times

But with the shrinking of the industry, coal interests “are losing their clout, and they’re not going to get it back,” Mr. Goodell said. “It’s becoming clear where the future is going. The politically smart thing is to jump on the renewables bandwagon.”
Goodell is Jeff Goodell, author of the 2006 book “Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future.”
Let’s try another one. Same thing as above, this time from the Hill.
We’re thrilled about any opportunity to replace coal directly with renewable energy, because the whole idea of natural gas as a bridge fuel has become debunked as we get more and more understanding of how bad natural gas is, and how ready to go renewable energy is,” said Julian Boggs, the global warming outreach director for Environment America. “Deploying as much renewable energy as possible is essential to solving global warming. Natural gas can’t solve global warming.”
These are both about the Clean Power Plan. We’ll let the coal and renewable folks take care of themselves. It’s just that this death of coal/birth of renewables meme seems much too binary, with Mr. Boggs having no trouble throwing natural gas onto the island of misfit energy types.
But can you replace base load energy – and a lot of it – with intermittent renewable energy? And is natural gas the only conceivable solution? Could there be – something else?

What could that be? – and emission free – and base load energy, to boot. Hydro, maybe? That’s pretty tapped out – you could call it peak water, but really, it’s the environmental hurtles of building new dams that make a difference. Surely this complex tangle of a mystery requires superb sleuthing abilities to resolve.

Let’s try one more story, this one from Bloomberg, to see if this crime against electricity can be solved.
The race for renewable energy has passed a turning point. The world is now adding more capacity for renewable power each year than coal, natural gas, and oil combined. And there's no going back.

Solar, the newest major source of energy in the mix, makes up less than 1 percent of the electricity market today but could be the world’s biggest single source by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.
The story has a correction that points out that EIA projections are based on different scenarios which may or may not prove out. They’re really not meant to prove out. It’s a government agency looking at possibilities, not the Amazing Kreskin.

Still, Bloomberg sees what the Clean Power Plan means to do, it recognizes that solar has great potential but no market share yet – and misses the obvious player in the energy market. Hercule Poirot would be slapping his forehead.

We get that reporters cannot be expected to know everything and sometimes give too much time to interested parties as interview subjects, but come on, ink slingers, try a little harder.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fuel Manufacturing Innovations at AREVA Provide Reliable Global Electricity

Manuel Seubert is a process engineer in ceramics manufacturing for AREVA. He has been in the nuclear industry for 7 years. He also serves as treasurer of the NAYGN AREVA Richland chapter.

Manuel Seubert
Manuel Seubert
Why are you a nuclear engineer? Why do you like working where you do?

I’m a process engineer in AREVA’s uranium dioxide fuel pellet manufacturing facility in Richland, Wash. I worked in a similar position at our AREVA facility in Germany before relocating to Richland. The opportunities and variety of challenges presented in my job is what I enjoy most. I am responsible for solving technical problems, investigating the source of process disconnects, as well as improving the performance of the new and existing manufacturing processes. I enjoy working in manufacturing in a technical engineering support role because it offers a wide range of exposure and it always presents interesting challenges.

Why do you think nuclear energy is important to America’s energy future?

Nuclear energy is important not only for America’s energy future, but for the energy future of any industrialized nation that has a need for a reliable and clean source of energy. Other energy sources may be just as reliable or just as clean, but the combination of reliable and clean is what makes nuclear energy unique and important.

How are you bringing innovation into the nuclear energy industry?

There are many ways to bring innovation into the nuclear energy industry. I participate in monthly meetings with my colleagues from the other AREVA sites in Germany and France where we exchange operational experiences and discuss best practices in fuel manufacturing within AREVA. With AREVA’s recent introduction of new fuel designs, it is important that the process engineers are aligned globally. AREVA just announced its delivery of the GAIA lead time assemblies for its next generation pressurized water reactor fuel design.  We have also delivered lead time assemblies for our new ATRIUM 11 boiling water reactor fuel design, and are currently in the process of designing new fuel for the next generation nuclear plant. Innovations are unlimited in our industry and I am excited to participate in an organization that leads the change for a more reliable, safer and cleaner energy solution.

The above post by AREVA is a part of NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion which showcases the innovators within the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sendai Nuclear Happy Times

We’ve reported a few times in the past about Japan’s efforts to restart its nuclear energy industry. This seemed inevitable because the country was not officially closing its plants, because it was rebuilding its regulatory regime to mirror that of the United States (that is, not linked to efforts to promote nuclear technology and focused exclusively on public safety) and, not least, because resource-light Japan has very few options in the energy sphere if it wants baseload carbon dioxide emission-free electricity. If it had completely abandoned nuclear energy, that would be unfortunate but comprehensible. But it made no moves to do so.

So that’s where we’ve been for the last five years. Here’s where we are now:
Kyushu Electric Power began to restart its Sendai No. 1 reactor on Tuesday, the company said, the first attempt to reboot Japan's nuclear industry in nearly two years after the sector was shut down in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
The utility, which supplies electricity to the island of the same name in southwestern Japan, began the restart of the reactor at 10:30 a.m. (0130 GMT) as scheduled, a spokesman said.
Much of the news about this is found in European and, obviously, Japanese sources. It’s been very lightly covered in the U.S. But it would be a good thing to promote it here. Because some of the Japanese rationale for returning to nuclear energy is true here, too.
Since shutting down all nuclear plants, Japan has been relying on imported fossil fuels for its energy, at huge expense. The government has said nuclear power must resume to cut both import bills and growing CO2 emissions.
That’s the problem with being on an island with few energy-related resources. Importing relatively little uranium versus copious amounts of coal and liquefied natural gas takes a toll.
But, of course, it’s the emissions produced by those sources that cause deeper concern. From Reuters in April:
Japan's greenhouse-gas emissions rose to the second-highest on record in the year ended March 2014, revised government figures showed on Tuesday, reflecting a rise in coal-fired power after the indefinite closure of nuclear power plants.
Emissions rose 1.2 percent to 1.408 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent from a year earlier, according to the revised data published by the Ministry of Environment. That was up 0.8 percent from 2005 and up 10.8 percent from 1990.
Same source, July:
Japan said on Friday it would slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2030 from 2013 levels and would submit the plan to the United Nations later in the day as its contribution to a global summit on climate change in Paris in November.
The target is based on the government's power generation plan for 2030 that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) finalized on Thursday. The plan calls for relying slightly less on nuclear power than on renewable energy following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Which seems to me a realistic way to balance nuclear and renewable energy in a highly industrial society while keeping a watchful eye on CO2 emissions. Reuters also provides a sense of what Japan will not need by restarting Sendai:
The scheduled restart of Japan's first reactor in nearly two years next month would save around 850,000 tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) per year, according to Reuters calculations based on data from the country's industry ministry.
And this is one reactor! Sendai 2 is prepping to return online in October, so the profile for imports will very rapidly improve.

And the future?
[Japan Prime Minister Shinzo ]Abe’s [energy] blueprint envisions stable, round-the-clock power sources such as nuclear, coal, and hydroelectric growing from about 40 percent of the electricity mix today to 60 percent in 2030. The rest of Japan’s electricity would come from natural gas and renewable energy like wind and solar power, complemented by increasingly aggressive efforts to boost energy efficiency.

While there are no hard-and-fast targets yet for nuclear power in the new plan, officials say it would represent about 20 percent of the total — slightly more than the 15 percent that Abe had sought, but much less than the 30 percent of Japan’s electricity in the years before Fukushima. With all its reactors offline, Japan currently doesn’t get any electricity from nuclear power.
Well, a third more than Abe suggested but a third less than it had before. That’s okay – Japan’s trying to find the right balance to power its society and meet its carbon goals. However it does that is fine by me – and that it includes nuclear energy basically means that Japan recognizes both its economic and emission avoidance qualities. Win-win.

The PJM Capacity Auction and Nuclear Energy

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

There’s an important change in the electricity system that starts with an auction taking place this week. The organization holding the auction is big in the electricity world but you may never have heard of it, and the thing being auctioned is obscure, too, so let me explain.

The organization is called PJM, which once upon a time stood for Pennsylvania-Jersey-Maryland, but now it covers those states plus parts of 10 others. It runs the electric system stretching all the way from Delaware to Chicago. Some of the transactions it manages are second to second, some are in intervals of a few minutes. This one is year by year.

The thing being auctioned is not energy, but capacity. When you measure energy, you spin the little wheels on an old-fashioned electric meter. But capacity means the ability to generate. If you are a utility and you’ve got customers to serve in the PJM market, you have to buy capacity equal to the highest amount your customers are going to demand.

Capacity is a little like the size of the water pipes that a city builds. It doesn’t matter if you can supply enough water in 24 hours; you’ve got to supply it when its needed, or on a hot day, the fire hydrants and the toilets must not run dry. And somebody’s got to pay for that capacity, namely the water customers.

The same is true in electricity. Generators get paid for energy but they also get paid for capacity, for being ready to supply when you switch on your air conditioner or your microwave. Or the computer you’re using to read this blogpost.

PJM tracks this very carefully, and each day calculates the expected demand, and the amount of capacity on hand.



PJM has held capacity auctions for a while now, but this one is a little different, because PJM has changed the rules a bit. This year in this auction, you get paid more if you are a reliable generator. If you are a natural gas plant and you had to shut down during a polar vortex because you couldn’t get enough gas, or a coal plant that has to shut down when it can’t get enough coal, then you’re not a high-reliability supplier. Under the new rules, if you sell your capacity but then fall down on the job, you can face financial penalties.

We hear a lot lately about growing wind capacity. Wind can enter the capacity auction, but it’s discounted 87 percent. That means if you’ve got a 100 megawatt wind farm, it’s treated as 13 megawatts, because you can’t count on more than that. Solar is discounted 63 percent, which means if you’ve got 1 megawatt of solar, you can enter 380 kilowatts.

Why is this important? Because in PJM, the way you decide what power plants to build and what power plants to operate is based on the income you get from electricity customers.

Nuclear plants run about 90 percent of the hours in a year, and they operate reliably through peak periods, like the hottest summer days and the coldest winter nights. Nobody is certain how this auction is going to come out, but the experts think that prices will rise a bit, and nuclear plants will get a little more income.

Reactors don’t get paid for being carbon-free or for not producing the pollutants that lead to smog. It’s important that they at least get paid for being there when the system needs them. Reactors face challenges in this period of cheap natural gas and heavily-subsidized wind, and a stronger capacity market won’t solve those problems. But it will help a bit.

ADDENDUM: The results are in, and the auction will help reactors, but not some of the most threatened. Exelon is considering the retirement of five reactors whose profitability has been hurt by competition from low natural gas prices and subsidized wind. One such plant, Quad Cities, did not clear in the auction, meaning that it will not receive any revenue for its capacity during the period auctioned, the year that begins on June 1, 2018. If the plant is operating, though, it will earn revenue from selling energy. (Two other Exelon reactors did not clear, Oyster Creek, which is already identified for closure later in this decade, and Three Mile Island.) Exelon said the results of the auction would “begin to level the playing field.” Capacity prices varied by region, but some rose by more than a third.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Global Nexus Initiative to Explore Links between Climate Change, Nuclear Energy and Global Security

Mary Pietryzk
The following is a guest post by Mary Pietryzk, Manager of Policy Development at NEI.

What if a thoughtful group of accomplished professionals decided to explore the issues and linkages around climate change, nuclear power and global security? The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) and the Partnership for Global Security (PGS) have teamed up for a two year project to explore those linkages. Today marks the launch of the Global Nexus Initiative (GNI): Where Climate, Nuclear, and Security Meet. You can follow the work of the Initiative on Twitter using the #globalnexusinitiative hash tag.

Putting their heads (and contact lists) together, PGS and NEI have created a working group of 17 highly accomplished, multidisciplinary policy professionals from the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. This is a team of energy, nuclear, climate change, and security experts that boast impressive resumes and well-earned reputations for finding creative solutions to challenging global problems.

The group includes three ambassadors from the Middle East, Europe and the United States (Amb. Hamad Alkaabi, Amb. John Bernhard and Amb. Kenneth Brill), the co-founder and executive director of the Clean Air Task Force (Armond Cohen), the first director of the IAEA Office of Nuclear Security (Dr. Anita Nilsson) and a former Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Dr. Richard Meserve). Their goal is to develop a set of realistic and actionable policy recommendations for international leaders and policymakers on these issues.

Keep an eye out for the results of the GNI’s first workshop this September where the working group will consider the role of nuclear power in a carbon constrained world. This will be the first in a series of workshops at which the GNI members explore how to ensure the safe and secure use of existing and new nuclear energy sources, support economic vitality, and protect people and the environment.

For more information about the project and Working Group, please visit the Global Nexus Initiative website. The project organizers will post additional content, including presentations, videos, and short policy memos from the workshops.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Nuclear Industry Skeptic Turns into Believer

My name is Jennifer Correa, and I am a mechanical engineer with Structural Integrity Associates. I have been in the nuclear industry for about 13 years. At Structural Integrity, I co-manage the Fatigue Management Product, which deals with the fatigue of metal components due to changes in pressure and temperature in nuclear power plants. If the conditions that lead to metal fatigue are managed well, the components can operate safely for many years, well beyond the original licensing period.

Jennifer Correa
Jennifer Correa
Before I came to Structural Integrity, I didn’t know much about nuclear power. I understood it at a basic level, but only so far as the introduction that I received as part of my general mechanical engineering coursework. It was kind of mysterious and I had a vague idea that it was dangerous and risky. I’m a Californian and the opposition to nuclear power is strong in parts of this state. When I came to work for Structural Integrity, I was skeptical of nuclear power. Yet, over time, as I learned more about the design and operation of the plants, and about the regulatory environment in which the plants operate, I became convinced that nuclear power is an important part of our power mix and that we don’t take undue risks by having nuclear plants in our country.

My favorite part of my job is working with our clients to solve aging management issues. We help them determine the best course for their plant’s needs and then use our tools to meet those needs. This includes help with License Renewal Application preparation, ASME Section III fatigue analyses, Environmentally-Assisted Fatigue analysis, and so on. One of the tools of which I am especially proud is a cycle and fatigue management software called SI:FatiguePro 4.0, which we developed here at Structural Integrity (originally under EPRI sponsorship in the 1980s). Our software can be customized to the needs of each plant and is used to help manage fatigue by tracking plant transients and fatigue usage in critical components over time. With this software, plant engineers can monitor metal fatigue at their plants to ensure that cycle and fatigue limits are not exceeded. If any limits are projected to be exceeded, then the software gives them an early warning so that they can make plans to correct the issue before it becomes a problem.  

I think that the public would be more accepting of nuclear power if people understood the basics of how nuclear plants work. Most people would be surprised to learn that the amount of nuclear fuel used to operate nuclear plants is very small and that this fuel is used only as a heat source to turn water into steam, just like any other electrical generating plant that uses steam to run its turbines. The hyperbolic cooling towers, which have come to symbolize the nuclear power industry, are just cooling towers for secondary-side (non-radioactive) water – these types of towers are widely used in applications where large volumes of hot water must be cooled quickly, not just for generating nuclear power. The steam that we see coming out the top and the water being recirculated back into lakes, rivers, and oceans is closely monitored to ensure levels of radioactivity are well below federal limits. The water that runs through the reactors themselves, which does contain radioactive particles, is isolated from the water released back into the environment.  

Nuclear power generation is the only currently available method of generating large amounts of electricity, 24 hours a day, without producing any carbon emissions. Also, nuclear reactors do not emit any of the six air pollutants identified in the Clean Air Act: ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide or lead. In our current environment, we are focused on reducing carbon emissions, and this makes nuclear energy an extremely important part of the power generation mix for fighting pollution.  

The above post by Structural Integrity Associates is a part of NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion which showcases the innovators within the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

For more on this promotion, follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Nuclear, The Clean Power Plan and the Press

NewsboyHow has the Clean Power Plan gone over in the press? In general, pretty well, though the response tends to scan with a paper’s view of other subjects, such as their views on coal-fired energy and climate change.

The New York Times, not always the best friend of the atom, rather grudgingly finds a place for nuclear energy.

It [the plan] will shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants and give fresh momentum to carbon-free energy sources like wind and solar power, and possibly next-generation nuclear plants.

You know what? This-generation nuclear plants fill the bill. But we’ll take it – possibly.

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The only paper we saw that went a bit further on nuclear was the Virginia Beach Pilot, which includes a quote from Dominion’s CEO.

“The compliance targets for Virginia have moved in a positive direction that fairly recognizes the role of natural gas generation in reducing emissions,” said Thomas F. Farrell the utility’s chief executive. “The administration missed an opportunity, however, to provide appropriate incentives to ensure the viability of the existing nuclear fleet that is critical to meeting the goals of the Clean Power Plan.”

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Mark Perry writes (furiously) in his op-ed column in the Detroit News:

No amount of pious rhetoric about reducing the nation’s carbon footprint can disguise the fact that the president’s plan provides no incentives for utilities to build new nuclear plants or renew the licenses of existing nuclear plants like Fermi 2. In contrast, the Obama plan subsidizes solar, wind and energy efficiency.

Never mind that there’s a growing body of research showing that the cost of solar and wind are expected to rise as they become a larger percentage of the electricity grid, due to the high cost of bringing on intermittent sources of energy. Further leave aside the fact that neither solar nor wind generate energy when the weather isn’t cooperating.

I’ve seen variations of this argument at several sites – see this piece by Jeff McMahon at Forbes for more. It does no harm to sound the klaxon, though we’ll have to see the extent to which states recognize the value of nuclear energy as a climate change agent. It’s too soon to assume it will be neutral or worse.

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We might do a fuller review of academic responses in the future, but this one is unusually interesting and worth pointing out. 

Harvard Business School Professor Joe Lassiter believes nuclear power is an essential ingredient in fighting the worldwide threat of coal-fired power plant emissions. Lassiter, the Senator John Heinz Professor of Management Practice (Retired) at HBS, has spent more than a decade studying the intersection between immediate energy needs and environmental concerns. 

There’s a video at the site with Lassiter explaining his position.

"There's presently a billion private dollars invested in nuclear energy in North America today," he says, adding a minute later that "nuclear is ripe for disruption."

Provocative stuff.

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From the Peoria Journal-Star

Coal was the source of half the nation’s energy a decade ago, now that’s at 39 percent and dropping, thanks to the emergence of much cleaner natural gas, wind power and nuclear.

And a bit more:

If opponents intend to argue states’ rights, well, the White House establishes goals here, not how to get to them — alternative energies, nuclear, cap and trade, fuel efficiency standards, all the above? — meaning they can be the laboratories we’ve long heard states’ rights proponents insist they’re supposed to be.

That’s kind of novel – not exactly what states rights advocates have in mind, I think. Frankly, most editorials have focused on the perils of/for coal as their main subject. I suspect nuclear energy – and its cousins in the renewable sphere - will figure more heavily as states bruit their solutions.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan: Nuclear Wins and Discontents

towersThe Environmental Protection Agency released its final rule for limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. You can view the rule here, watch President Barack Obama’s announcement here, and, not least, read NEI’s initial reaction here.

“In the days ahead, the Nuclear Energy Institute will more closely evaluate the final Clean Power Plan rule to determine how EPA has treated nuclear energy facilities as part of its plan to transition to a lower carbon electric sector. Based on our preliminary review, the final rule appears to require larger carbon reductions than the proposed rule, and places a greater emphasis on mass-based compliance approaches. Those two factors alone should drive increased recognition of the value of existing nuclear power plants.
Existing carbon-free generation is, of course, automatically valued under a mass-based approach. The press release goes into more detail – there are pluses and minuses in the plan that we’ll get to here – but we thought we would take a look at what some interesting commentators are saying about it.
Let’s start with The Drudge Report. It links to a Bloomberg story with the teaser “Obama Loves Nukes.” That’s not really the the focus of the story; the Bloomberg title is “How Nuclear Power Seen as Big Winner in Obama’s Clean Power Plan.”
Why?
States can take more credit for carbon-free electricity to be generated by nuclear power plants that are still under construction as they work to comply with emissions-reduction targets set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The boost for new nuclear was outlined in the Obama administration’s final Clean Power Plan released Monday.
Under last year’s draft of the plan, the yet-to-be completed reactors were counted as existing units that wouldn’t be fully credited for carbon reductions generated in the future after they had started operating. The nuclear power industry complained that amounted to a penalty on the plants and made state targets harder to achieve.
That’s five reactors in three states currently, but it certainly could encourage a look at nuclear energy throughout the country. We’ll see.
Our friends over at The Breakthrough Institute are all over the rule – and all over the place. Here’s Alex Trembath:
So if we’re going to achieve and dramatically improve on the EPA’s carbon targets, we’ll need big improvements in technologies including nuclear power, carbon capture, electric vehicles, and renewables. So at the end of the day, we should support incremental regulatory action like the Clean Power Plan. But let’s not let big-ticket demonstrations of climate commitment distract us from the real action that will deliver climate benefits: technology.
Can you guess what his focus is? We just wrote about interesting new nuclear technologies a few days ago, so we’re in sync with his interest in technology.
Here’s a more dour note from Breakthrough:
States that close existing nuclear power plants could be allowed to increase carbon dioxide emissions under a final EPA rule regulating carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.
For this and other reasons, the EPA acknowledged that its rule would likely not alter existing rates of deployment or decommissioning for either nuclear or renewables — all “will remain generally consistent with what their trends would be in the absence of this rule,” the EPA says.
The title of this story is “Anti-Nuclear Bias in Clean Power Plan Could Allow Emissions to Rise.” This is kind of a Catch-22, which the NEI press release also picks up on:
“In the final rule, EPA notes correctly that ‘existing nuclear generation helps make existing CO2 emissions lower than they would otherwise be, but will not further lower CO2 emissions below current levels.’ What the final rule fails to recognize is that CO2 emissions will be significantly higher if existing nuclear power plants shut down prematurely.
And that could happen and has happened, most recently with Wisconsin’s Kewaunee and Vermont Yankee. Replacing coal-fired generation with natural gas gets you in the right direction emissions-wise, but nuclear energy with natural gas? Not so much – in fact, it takes you backward.
Still, nuclear energy’s qualities are rehearsed by the EPA. The rule itself says:
“Like generation from new RE [renewable energy] generating capacity, generation from new nuclear generating capacity can clearly replace fossil fuel-fired generation and thereby reduce CO2 emissions … Existing nuclear generation helps make existing CO2 emissions lower than they would otherwise be.”
EPAS also endorsed the principle that “nuclear generation and renewable energy should be treated consistently when it comes to CO2 emission rate adjustments. The EPA has determined that generation from new nuclear units and capacity uprates at existing nuclear units will be eligible for use in adjusting a CO2 emission rate, just like new and uprated capacity renewable energy.”
Jeff McMahon over at Forbes picked up on this issue:
And EPA will allow states to count uprates at nuclear plants . Uprates allow reactors to run hotter than their initial power level, sometimes through the use of richer uranium fuel, taking advantage of overcapacity built into the plants.
I might hesitate on “run hotter.” Uprates often require new equipment, so it’s not just a question of turning up the heat. It’s a way of generating more electricity with the plant you have and without building a new reactor. Still, it’s a good point and clearly a fair inclusion in the EPA rules. After all, if you added more turbines to your wind farm, you’d want them credited – same thing here. McMahon also lists nine plants considered at-risk. Losing these would really reverse progress, especially in Illinois and New York.
The EPA rule contain directives for states and utilities, so they’ll have to work together to find energy policies that meet the carbon emission reduction targets. It’s hard to imagine nuclear energy not benefiting from the rules and these upcoming policy discussions.
Early days. We’ll have much,much more to say about the EPA Clean Power Plan in future posts – over, I expect, several years. You’ve got to set down a marker somewhere.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Why SMRs Should Have Smaller Emergency Planning Zones

Marcus Nichol and David Young
The following is a guest post by Marcus Nichol and David Young of NEI.

In a recent decision, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission directed the agency staff initiate a rulemaking to revise emergency preparedness (EP) regulations and guidance for Small Modular Reactor (SMR) facilities. Small, scalable nuclear energy facilities are anticipated to become an important addition to the nation's electric power grids. However, in order for SMRs to fulfill this promise, it is important that an EP framework for these facilities recognize their advanced design characteristics and safety features.

Nuclear power plants must have plans in place to cope with any possible emergency. For the current fleet of large light water reactors (LWRs), these plans include two Emergency Planning Zones (EPZs) around each nuclear power plant facility – one of about 10 miles for actions to protect from a possible radioactive plume (a plume exposure pathway EPZ) and the other of about 50 miles for monitoring potential contamination of food and water supplies (an ingestion exposure pathway EPZ). Compared to large LWRs, an accident at an SMR facility can be expected to result in a much smaller and slower release of radioactivity to the environment, and thus have significantly reduced offsite consequences. For this reason, an SMR facility should be able to justify EPZs that are smaller than those required for a large LWR, along with a commensurate reduction in the amount of resources directed to EP activities.
NuScale SMR facility (artist's conception).
Although the effort to establish an EP framework appropriate for SMRs is underway, significant work remains to provide the regulatory clarity, predictability, and stability needed for the deployment of these facilities. To support this goal, NEI submitted a white paper that proposes EP regulations and guidance for SMR facilities, and is intended to serve as a vehicle for engagement with the NRC. The industry’s proposed requirements will maintain the important role that EP plays in providing defense-in-depth for the protection of public health and safety.

Clinch River site (approximately 40 miles west of Knoxville)
Details on how the industry plans to implement EP for SMRs are expected to be submitted to the NRC soon. First, in early 2016, TVA Nuclear is expected to seek approval for an Early Site Permit (ESP) associated with its Clinch River site and, in support of its request, include two proposed emergency plans – one with a plume exposure pathway EPZ boundary at about 2 miles and the other with a plume exposure pathway EPZ encompassing only the Owner Controlled Area (i.e. a site-boundary EPZ). TVA's approach reflects the fact that the different SMR technologies may need different EPZ sizes. The first vendor application for certification of an SMR design will be submitted by NuScale in late 2016 and followed by the first SMR facility combined license application from the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) in late 2017 or early 2018.

We look forward to engaging with the NRC and other stakeholders to define EP requirements for SMRs in support of industry’s upcoming SMR applications.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Nuclear Safety and Innovation: Alive and Well in Georgia

Jennifer Harrelson and Wesley Williams both work for Southern Nuclear at the Plant Vogtle and Hatch nuclear facilities respectively. Each brings their personal touch to the industry, helping their company develop its enterprise of sustainable, clean energy. Both took questions about their commitment to best practices in the industry, how they cultivate innovation and offer views for America’s energy future. From family bonds, to new safety valves, here are their stories.

Jennifer Harrelson has worked in the nuclear industry for four years. Prior to 2011, she worked in the Engineering and Construction Services organization of Southern Nuclear’s parent company, Southern Company. In her current role, Harrelson is the Engineering Supervisor at Southern Nuclear’s Vogtle 3 and 4 project, one of the major new nuclear construction projects now underway in the United States.

Jennifer Harrelson and Wesley Williams
Jennifer Harrelson and Wesley Williams

What is your job and why do you enjoy doing it?

HARRELSON: I currently lead a team of ambitious engineers as the Digital Instrumentation and Controls Design Supervisor. Our role is both challenging and enjoyable because we’re working to define the processes needed to place the first fully digital nuclear units into operation.

How are you bringing innovation to the nuclear industry?

HARRELSON: Some of the first digitally operated nuclear units in the United States are being constructed at Vogtle. Digital instruments and controls are used in a limited scope at other nuclear plants and are used fully at some fossil and manufacturing plants. However, we have to be innovative to ensure we have addressed every aspect from a nuclear perspective.

How does working in the nuclear industry affect your personal life?

HARRELSON: The nuclear industry ties directly into my personal life since my husband also works at Vogtle 3 and 4. We both have operating and construction experience, so we realize the importance of nuclear safety from both an operating and a pre-operational standpoint. We take our role as nuclear workers very seriously and realize that protecting the safety and health of the public also protects our family.

Why do you think nuclear energy is important to America’s energy future?

HARRELSON: Each type of energy fuel source has its benefits, and some of uranium’s benefits are that it is a clean, affordable and reliable source. In addition, Vogtle Units 3 and 4 are providing both construction and long-term jobs for those in our community. And once operational, the two new units will provide low-cost electricity to our customers. 

Vogtle 3 construction
Construction at Vogtle 3
With more than five years in the industry, Wesley Williams, a System Engineer for the Nuclear Boiler System and a Program Engineer for Safety Relief Valves (SRVs), takes pride in his job directly contributing to protecting the safety of the public.

Why do you think nuclear energy is important to America’s energy future?

WILLIAMS: Nuclear is high energy density, which means the amount of energy released in a nuclear fission reaction is ten million times greater than the amount released in burning a fossil fuel atom like oil and gas. So, the amount of fuel required in a nuclear power plant is much smaller compared to those of other types of power plants.

How are you bringing innovation to the nuclear industry?

WILLIAMS: I am bringing new innovation to the nuclear industry as the system engineer for the new modified 3-stage Target Rock SRVs. The new modified 3-stage SRVs have removed the corrosion bonding issues that were found with the Target Rock 2-stage SRVs. Hatch is an industry leader with the new modified 3-stage designs.

How does working in the nuclear industry affect your personal life?

WILLIAMS: Working in the nuclear industry has positively affected my life by being able to generate electricity safely and reliably for my family, friends and neighbors. I receive great joy in being a part of a company that is in construction phase of the first nuclear reactor in the United States in over 20 years — now that is something special.

Learn more about the Vogtle 3 and 4 project, including a fact sheet, current photos and videos.

The above post was sent to us by Southern Nuclear for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. It aims to showcase the best and the brightest in the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

For more on this promotion, follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels. 

Monday, August 03, 2015

Why the Electric Grid Needs Diversity

Matt Wald
NEI's Matt Wald sat down for an enlightening Q&A with the EPRI Journal on how we ought to be managing the nation's electric grid. Here's an excerpt:
EJ: Wind and solar are growing by leaps and bounds because of tax subsidies, state mandates, and improving technology. Where is this leading the grid?

Wald: There is a limit to how much is desirable. Consider this analogy. In February in Washington, the National Symphony Orchestra performed the Eroica Symphony. Just as Beethoven specified, there were two oboes, two flutes, two bassoons, three horns, and timpani. If the price of oboes dropped, would the symphony use more of them? Of course not, because the conductor isn’t hiring on price. And as it turns out, the price of oboes is pretty stable, at least in relationship to flutes, bassoons, horns, and timpani.

Unlike the Eroica Symphony, the power grid has an oboe problem. Generation works largely on price in most of the country, and the grid is going through rapid price changes. Renewable energy sources are a bit like oboes; they are useful and distinctive. And they are getting cheaper. But how many can the system use? The grid is threatened by the “silver bullet syndrome.” In the popular mind, mandated solar and wind will solve our climate woes. But that idea could lead to more intermittent power than the system can assimilate, as has occurred in Hawaii, and soon in parts of California.

When solar is cheaper than coal, coal will disappear without a trace, like the Soviet Union or Pokemon or disco music or some similar bad idea, right?

Well, maybe.

When the electric system runs well, it is like a symphony. You might really like oboes, but making up a whole orchestra of them is going to cause problems.
Read the rest right now.