Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Learning the Wrong Lessons from the Diablo Canyon Closure

Diablo Canyon
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. made national news when it announced last week that it will operate the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant through its original license period and then retire the facility in the mid-2020s. Some parties are suggesting—wrongly—that the agreement is a blueprint for nuclear plant retirements in other states.

Don't buy that argument. To be clear: The convergence of policies and events that drove the Diablo Canyon agreement is not desirable and should not be replicated. California residents now confront a risky experiment based on an unbalanced energy future. As NEI's Revis James wrote yesterday at Real Clear Energy:
The anti-nuclear lobby says that a future primarily powered by renewable sources of energy is upon us. We’ve done the math, and the equation doesn’t balance. Rather, this seems more like a flawed experiment that will put greater pressure on consumers through higher electricity prices while increasing, not decreasing, CO2 emissions. It’s not a gamble that others should try.
Some proponents of the agreement wrongly believe they can replace one carbon-free source of electricity with another instead of working to maximize carbon reduction by seeing all zero-emissions sources work together. But there is no guarantee that the anticipated increase in renewables, energy efficiency and energy storage will fully replace Diablo Canyon—which provides 24 percent of the state's carbon-free electricity—by 2025.

In Wisconsin, greenhouse gas emissions jumped more than 15 percent after the premature closure of the Kewaunee nuclear facility. In 2015, New England's emissions jumped by 7 percent because of the shutdown of Vermont Yankee the year before. Emissions will climb even higher when the Pilgrim reactor in Massachusetts closes in 2019.

A study by IHS Energy found nuclear energy's inclusion in a balanced energy portfolio lowers the cost of generating electricity by more than $93 billion per year compared to an energy portfolio limited to renewables and natural gas.

With that in mind, it's better to think of California as an anomaly rather than template for future energy policy.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Introducing “Generation Swipe”: Nuclear’s Newest Interns

The following is a guest post by Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides, senior manager of strategic workforce planning. 

Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides
Interns this summer will deliver more to the office than their energetic personalities, they will be bringing a new generation into the workforce. This year’s crop of interns includes the first wave of new post-Millennials who were born between the late 1990s through the 2010s. As we will see, these college students have grown up with a significant amount of their socialization being online and in a world where their schools are not always safe. It is now time for companies to understand what this new group of employees will bring to the table.

This generation after the Millennials has yet to be named, but I like to think of them as Generation Swipe. From an early age, these young adults were able to “swipe a finger” and create Minecraft worlds. They swipe to watch videos and they swipe to chat with grandma.

We know less about this new generation than we do about Millennials, but we know enough to have an idea of what Generation Swipe may be like in the workplace. First, let’s consider that technology is even more important to Generation Swipe that it was for Generation X and the Millennials. Generation Swipe grew up with the Internet available to everyone, everywhere. Wifi-enabled devices became common and these students literally grew-up with instant messaging in their cribs.

With Internet readily available, Generation Swipe had access to games, digital arts and education apps designed to give them complete creative control of their worlds. This accessibility will provide two likely outcomes. Generation Swipe may be the most creative generation the world has ever seen, but they are also going to want the most control. Nuclear companies should engage these new employees with cutting edge technology and allow them creative control to solve problems.

I promised I would explain the impact of school violence. Attracting Generation Swipe to nuclear careers will be different from what attracted Millennials and Generation X. School shootings have increased during Generation Swipe’s lifetime. These incidents have led to heightened physical security as a priority.

Generation Swipe has unprecedented cyber-literacy meaning they understand what hacking is and what harm it can cause. We can attract students with opportunities that will resonate with their interest like solving cyber and physical security issues. Nuclear Energy’s considerable focus on physical and cyber security rivals any other industry and is something companies should highlight as part of their recruitment strategies.

What do employers need from Generation Swipe? Eventually, leadership. On the leadership front, Generation Swipe might encounter a learning curve when they come to the office. Some of these challenges will take time and effort, but the industry is already preparing with the extensive work currently underway to address teamwork and leadership attributes.

Generation Swipe has more access to technology than any previous generation and specifically has had more screen time than any previous generation. All of that cyber literacy might have come with a cost as Generation Swipe has less experience with face to face conversations. Generation Swipe’s lack of human interaction may translate into this generation being challenged when transitioning into management. Companies can address this by including leadership training and development opportunities to the youngest of employees.

Change is not new for the nuclear industry. Generation Swipe will bring creativity and innovation to our industry. We should not worry when these bright-eyed teenagers arrive in our offices this summer. Instead, we should remember that every generation is different and the nuclear sector has always been able to adapt. Let’s work together to make this transition as smooth and beneficial as possible.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why Nuclear Cooperation with “Non-Nuclear” Norway is Important for U.S. Industry

Ted Jones
The following is a guest post by Ted Jones, Director of International Supplier Relations for NEI.

This week, the U.S. Congress received for review a renewal agreement for nuclear energy cooperation with Norway. When the pact comes into force, it will restore nuclear cooperation that lapsed when the original agreement expired in July 2014. Commonly known as a Section 123 agreement after the part of the Atomic Energy Act that governs international nuclear energy cooperation, a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement secures nonproliferation guarantees and provides a framework for nuclear energy commerce.

Given that Norway has no plans to operate a commercial nuclear power plant, some may ask, “What is the importance of Norway to the U.S. nuclear industry?”

The answer lies 75 miles southeast of Oslo in the town of Halden, where the United States helped to build a 20 megawatt test reactor in 1958. Now supported by 19 member countries and partly financed by the OECD, the Halden Reactor Project performs a wide variety of unique tests that are important to nuclear power plant safety and reliability. Currently it hosts 30 test rigs in its core. The users of the Halden Reactor Project span the range of the nuclear community, from licensing and regulatory bodies to suppliers, utility industry and research organizations.

For the U.S. nuclear industry, the Halden Reactor Project is a critical asset. As examples:
  • A joint U.S. DOE program with Westinghouse, GE Hitachi and AREVA to research, develop and test accident tolerant fuel (ATF) relies on access to Halden. The program aims to significantly increase the reaction time for a commercial nuclear reactor operator to deal with beyond-design-basis events such as occurred at Three Mile Island and at Fukushima. The ATF program will send test rodlets manufactured in the United States by General Atomics and Argonne National Laboratory to Halden for testing after the program’s first phase ends in September of this year.
  • Virginia-based Lightbridge plans to use the Halden Reactor Project for irradiation testing of advanced metallic nuclear fuel samples. The Lightbridge fuel design aims to provide greater safety and power while lengthening the fuel cycle duration. "These irradiation tests will generate quantifiable data needed to support licensing of Lightbridge fuel by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and ultimate deployment by nuclear utilities in commercial reactors around the world,” said Lightbridge CEO Seth Grae.
  • The Halden facility is favored not just for fuel safety testing. Of special value to the U.S. operating fleet, it offers flexible capabilities for testing the aging and degradation of reactor components. Aging issues under study at Halden include irradiation-assisted stress corrosion cracking, irradiation-enhanced creep and stress relaxation, and pressure vessel integrity.
Without a U.S.-Norway Section 123 agreement in force, U.S. access to testing at Halden is severely limited. That is because items such as fuel assemblies for testing can be exported from the United States only with a Part 110 license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And a Section 123 agreement is a prerequisite for a Part 110 license.

The Halden Reactor Project underscores the importance of broad international collaboration to U.S. industry competitiveness in an increasingly global market. With congressional approval, the U.S.-Norway Section 123 agreement will preserve this important advantage for the whole U.S. nuclear community.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The ROP, Clear Thinking & All Things Nuclear

"Be the change that you wish to see in the world."  Mahatma Gandhi

Change has come fast and hard to the nuclear industry, indeed to the entire energy sector.  We are in a race to adapt to new realities: abundant, cheap natural gas; little or no growth in electricity demand; mixed signals about the importance of controlling carbon emissions; and market rules tied to the old world order that inadequately reward 24-7 reliability, fuel supply diversity, and carbon-free baseload generation.  In the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, the U.S. nuclear industry is pursuing a thoughtful and ambitious program to simplify how we work together to ensure safety and reliability remain the clear and constant focus of our efforts.  It is inspiring to see how teams of experts from across the industry are, through the Delivering the Nuclear Promise initiative, sharing experience, good ideas and best practices to identify better ways to accomplish the myriad tasks required to maintain the outstanding performance of the U.S. nuclear fleet.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is also racing to adapt to new realities:  a mature industry facing the premature closure of several nuclear plants due to economic conditions; pressure from the Congress and public for greater transparency and accountability in management of budget and fees collected from industry; loss of corporate memory as senior staff retire and are replaced by less experienced personnel; higher expectations for timely and efficient decision making.  The NRC's Project AIM is but the latest and most significant effort to rethink how the agency works and address the changing pressures the agency faces from stakeholders on all sides.

In the tumult of such a dynamic environment, it is hard to know when to resist change and when to "go with the flow".  We're dealing with this very question in one of my areas of responsibility at NEI - the Reactor Oversight Process (ROP). 

Sixteen years ago, in a remarkable collaboration brought on by similarly strong forces of change, the NRC, industry and public stakeholders came together to transform the way in which NRC determined where to focus its attention within the operating fleet.  This collaboration enabled NRC to move from a subjective and inscrutable process known, now ironically, as the Systematic Assessment of Licensee Performance (SALP) process to the more rational and balanced ROP we have today.  In simplest terms, the ROP uses both NRC inspection results and industry-generated performance indicators to gauge the status of plant performance.  By contrast, the SALP process depended largely on a consensus judgment of NRC regional and headquarters management.  The basis for such judgments was difficult to quantify or reproduce, leading to great dissatisfaction among those affected by the results.

Today, the challenge is a continuing effort by the NRC to modify the ROP with, at times, little or no objective evidence of a specific problem that needs fixing.  Experience in our nuclear power plants tells us that in all things nuclear, every change in procedures and programs should be carefully thought out.  To us that means we should begin every change project with a clear problem statement.  That problem statement must be supported by hard data and analysis.  A concise project plan with a strategy, milestones, deliverables and schedule is needed in order for us to know how likely we are to succeed and how we will measure the outcome of our project once it is complete.

The NRC is working on two major changes to the ROP right now.  One is streamlining the so-called Significance Determination Process (SDP).  This project intends to improve NRC management of inspection results, so that the agency can complete its "safety grading" of results more quickly.  Our concern has always been that the agency might sacrifice accuracy of grading for speed.  Our concern is shared by Commissioners of the NRC, as well as members of Congress and public stakeholders. 

The other major change involves a procedure for inspecting the industry's corrective action programs.  Our plants rely on the so-called CAP process to capture, analyze and fix problems before they have a chance to grow larger or recur.  The NRC inspects this important process through samples taken in the course of several routine inspections, and then in a deep dive into the program taken through a biennial inspection known as their Problem Identification and Resolution (PI&R) inspection.  In our discussions with the staff about their plans to change the PI&R inspection, we have heard many ideas that sound like solutions in search of a problem.  We don't doubt for a moment the NRC staff's sincerity in this effort.  However, we approach this project with the same mindset with which we approach projects in our power plants - what is the specific problem this effort is meant to solve?  So far, we have not heard that clear and compelling problem statement that we need in order to explain to our stakeholders why this project is essential to advance safety.

As we and the NRC strive to adapt to our changing environment, we want to ensure that NRC's resources and ours remain focused on safety as our highest priority.  Projects undertaken without the basis of a clear problem statement, linked by objective evidence to a compelling safety issue, risk distracting both industry and NRC from our primary obligation as stewards of nuclear power - to embrace change thoughtfully and with due consideration, but to resist change for change's sake in order to preserve what works.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Apple Falls Near the Nuclear Tree

clip_image002Back in 2012, The New York Times noted a certain ethical laxitude about some of the biggest tech companies:

Internet companies often cloak themselves in an image of environmental awareness. But some companies that essentially live on the Internet are moving facilities to North Carolina, Virginia, northeastern Illinois and other regions whose main sources of energy are coal and nuclear power, the report said. The report singles out Apple as one of the leaders of the charge to coal-fired energy.

At the time, this just seemed silly. Companies needing a lot of electricity moved to states that had a lot of electricity or could easily generate it. If it came from nuclear energy, even if some people griped about it, so be it—believe it or not, if you need a lot of clean electricity, you couldn’t do better.

That was 2012. How are things going in 2016?

Apple is being criticized for trying to justify its placement of a data center in Ireland, by keeping it as far away from nuclear facilities as it can. According to one document, Apple chose to construct the data center at Athenry, County Galway as the best possible location, despite an apparent requirement for it to be at least 320 kilometers (198.8 miles) away from the nearest nuclear facility, though complaints suggest this to be not only a made-up detail to justify the location, but that the chosen plot is also within the supposed range of one nuclear site.

Ireland doesn’t have any nuclear facilities, but England does and therein lies the problem—because the proposed site is near enough to Sellafield and the shuttered Wylfa (in Wales). But frankly, who cares? There is way too much irony and even hypocrisy here to waste time on small details (why 198 miles, for example? Perhaps Apple calculated that was the number needed to makes its point – and goofed.)

For example, the Apple data center is going to need a lot of electricity—just like those in Virginia and North Carolina—and pitching your tent away from nuclear energy doesn’t improve the energy profile.

Opposition to the project claim Apple's center could cause a considerable strain on the national grid, consuming up to eight percent of the total available power. It is feared that this high usage could prompt energy producers to raise electricity bills of all users in Ireland, in order to cope with the increase in demand.

Hmmm! What might help the data center put less strain on the national grid? (Generally speaking, though, increasing output does not signal higher prices.) As it happens, Ireland has access to more electricity.

A nuclear reactor is unlikely ever to dominate the landscape of Carnsore, Co Wexford. In Co Leitrim not a single rock has been fracked – and none might ever be. Yet nuclear power and hydraulic fracturing are already in Ireland.


Ireland imports electricity derived from nuclear power from the UK through the East West Interconnector, an underground and submarine power cable that runs between north Wales and Rush, Co Dublin, connecting Ireland and Britain’s electricity grids. In time we will tap into cheap nuclear power from France and elsewhere through new interconnectors.

Irony? Perhaps. Hypocrisy? Well, that’s a little tougher. Apple says it wants to avoid nuclear plants to avoid being in the path of an accident. As a risk-benefit exercise, that’s nonsensical. We cannot really know Apple’s motives, but we can know this: nuclear is and remains beneficial, most notably to large data centers such as Apple’s—lots of electricity at low cost.

And try as it may, Apple cannot avoid it—nor should it.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Looking Back at #NEA16

Here at NEI, it seems as if the first five months of the year has gone by in a blur. January featured Third Way's Advanced Nuclear Summit and Showcase. February was our annual Wall Street Briefing.

March saw us participating in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory's Commission's Regulatory Information Conference. The Nuclear Industry Summit straddled March and April. And then the last two weeks of May rocketed past as we participated in a Department of Energy summit on preserving at-risk nuclear reactors, and then, just two days later, headed south to Miami for the 2016 Nuclear Energy Assembly.

Not that we're complaining. Our industry is facing some strong headwinds, and while the future is bright with prospects for a number of advanced reactor designs, we need to #ActForNuclear now in order to preserve the current fleet and the benefits it contributes to the nation in order to get there.

Many of those themes were echoed in the words of NEI Chairman Don Brandt in the annual State of the Industry address, where he urged his colleagues to help change the conversation about nuclear energy:
We also need to change the conversation. The nuclear industry has the facts on its side—about safety, reliability, clean air benefits and more—but a dry recitation of data does not stir people’s emotions or their imaginations. Unless we get people’s attention to nuclear energy’s benefits, our data mean little or nothing to them. We must promote the benefits of carbon-free nuclear energy as a critical part of a diverse, cleaner electricity supply.


Let’s do a better job of tuning in to stakeholders. Make sure we are talking about things that matter to them! Tell people why they should care about nuclear energy.

Tell them why it matters to them. Step out from behind our stacks of data and analysis and connect with people.

Because nuclear matters.
One person we managed to connect with was Australian climate activist Ben Heard. We first discovered Ben and his nuclear conversion story back in 2012, but this was the first time we got to meet him in person as he appeared in a panel discussion alongside Rachel Pritzker of the Pritzker Innovation Fund and Matt Bennett of Third Way. Ben was pretty direct about the need to humanize what we do, and his message met with a very receptive audience inside the hall in Miami.
Ben's appearance on stage was something of a watershed moment for us, as it was only a few minutes before that the Twitter hashtag for the conference, #NEA16, began to trend, just as #ActForNuclear had a few days before during the Department of Energy summit.

And speaking of that bright future, one couldn't help but be encouraged by what we saw from the younger industry employees in attendance. NEI's Tara Young arrived in Miami a few days ahead of the formal start of #NEA16 in order to attend the annual meeting of North American Young Generation in Nuclear, and with iPhone in hand, she did her best to get as many of her industry colleagues on video to help tell the story of our industry. Along with this blog feature by Entergy's Natalie Wood, it's a reason to cheer for what's coming up from the next generation of nuclear energy industry employees.

NA-YGN Videos
Sandra Stewart, Energy Northwest
Bristol Hartlage, Curtiss-Wright
Robert Ashworth, MPR
Ana Pisani, Duke Energy
Umar Faraz, AREVA
Gary Mingo, Southern Nuclear
Alexander Bauer, Dominion
Kirsty Gogan, Energy for Humanity

What else is there to say? Plenty. So much in fact, that we still haven't had time to unpack it all. So for now, here are the links to all of our exiting coverage from the Nuclear Energy Overview (NEO)team. Before the end of the week, we'll be posting more videos with industry employees talking about the future of the business and why despite the interesting times we live in, our industry is one with real purpose and hope for the future.

NEO Coverage
NEI Re-Elects Pinnacle West’s Brandt, TVA’s Johnson as Board Leaders
Next Era Energy Employees Win Top Industry Innovation Award
Ex-INPO CEO James Ellis Earns Nuclear Industry’s Leadership Award
Without More Nuclear, Global Climate Goals Won't Be Met
Now Trending: Advanced Nuclear Energy Technology

#NEA16 Panel Discussions (YouTube)
Building the Foundation for the Future
Preparing for New Reactor Development
Global Climate Panel