FERC to look at grid reliability

Spurred by last week’s power grid failure in Texas, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday announced that it will open a new proceeding to examine the threat that climate change and extreme weather events pose to electric reliability. The proceeding, FERC said, will investigate how grid operators prepare for and respond to these events, including droughts, extreme cold, wildfires, hurricanes, and prolonged heat waves.

Manchin voices strong support for nuclear energy

Manchin

Speaking at a U.S. Senate committee meeting this week, Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.V.) said that continuing support for nuclear energy would be essential in meeting the country’s goals of reducing the emissions that fuel climate change, according to the Politico Pro newsletter.

Details: Manchin, who heads the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was highly critical of anyone suggesting that climate change can be addressed without nuclear energy being in the mix.

Granholm confirmed as new DOE head

Granholm

The Senate earlier today confirmed Jennifer Granholm as the nation’s 16th secretary of energy. The final tally was 64–35, with several Republicans joining Democrats in support of the former Michigan governor. Granholm becomes the second woman (after the Clinton administration’s Hazel O’Leary) to hold the post.

Picked to helm the Department of Energy last December by then president-elect Biden, Granholm testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on January 27, and on February 3, the committee voted 13–4 to advance her nomination.

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Inspecting Hidden Areas of Metal Tanks and Containment Vessels or Liners

Figure 1. The Hanford Site in Washington state stores millions of gallons of high-level radioactive waste in 28 double-shell tanks. The tanks are buried underground to enhance radiation shielding. The space between the primary tank and the steel liner can be used to allow inspection of the inaccessible regions of these vessels.

Nuclear power plant containment vessels have large, inaccessible regions that cannot be inspected by conventional techniques. Inaccessible regions often are encased in concrete, soil or sand, or hidden behind equipment attached to a wall. Similar constraints affect the inspection of double-shell tanks designed to store nuclear waste, illustrated in Figure 1, that have an inaccessible region at the tank bottom where the primary shell is supported by the secondary shell. Present methods to monitor the integrity of these vessels primarily rely on partial inspections of accessible areas or estimation of corrosion rates; however, these approaches cannot account for nonuniform localized corrosion or cracking.

UN partners expand use of nuclear technology to combat disease

The IAEA headquarters.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have worked together to address the global challenges of food insecurity, climate change, animal/zoonotic diseases, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic over 57 years of partnership. On February 23, the directors general of both organizations signed a Revised Arrangement committing to upgrade their collaboration and increase the scope of their work.

Exelon to split into two companies

Exelon's Byron generating station in northern Illinois. The future of Byron is uncertain at this time and could impact the new power generation company, once it's formed.

Exelon Corporation announced yesterday that it intends to spin off Exelon Generation, its competitive power generation and customer-facing energy businesses, from Exelon Utilities, its group of six regulated electric and gas utilities.

The split into two publicly traded companies will “establish the nation’s largest fully regulated transmission and distribution utility company and the largest carbon-free power producer paired with the leading customer-facing platform for clean, sustainable energy solutions,” Exelon said in its February 24 announcement.

Researchers report fastest purification of astatine-211 needed for targeted cancer therapy

Astatine-211 recovery from bismuth metal using a chromatography system. Unlike bismuth, astatine-211 forms chemical bonds with ketones.

In a recent study, Texas A&M University researchers have described a new process to purify astatine-211, a promising radioactive isotope for targeted cancer treatment. Unlike other elaborate purification methods, their technique can extract astatine-211 from bismuth in minutes rather than hours, which can greatly reduce the time between production and delivery to the patient.

“Astatine-211 is currently under evaluation as a cancer therapeutic in clinical trials. But the problem is that the supply chain for this element is very limited because only a few places worldwide can make it,” said Jonathan Burns, research scientist in the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station’s Nuclear Engineering and Science Center. “Texas A&M University is one of a handful of places in the world that can make astatine-211, and we have delineated a rapid astatine-211 separation process that increases the usable quantity of this isotope for research and therapeutic purposes.”

The researchers added that this separation method will bring Texas A&M one step closer to being able to provide astatine-211 for distribution through the Department of Energy’s Isotope Program’s National Isotope Development Center as part of the University Isotope Network.

Details on the chemical reaction to purify astatine-211 are in the journal Separation and Purification Technology.

Demolition of former radioisotope lab underway at ORNL

A view of the demolition of a hot cell inside a protective cover at the former radioisotope development lab at ORNL. Photo: DOE

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management and contractor UCOR have begun removing the two remaining structures at the former radioisotope development laboratory at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee.

“This project launches our next phase of major demolition and cleanup at ORNL,” said Nathan Felosi, ORNL’s portfolio federal project director for OREM. “Our work is eliminating contaminated structures, like this one, that are on DOE’s list of high-risk facilities and clearing space for future research missions.”

The project is scheduled to be completed this spring, OREM reported on February 23.

U.K. endorses nuclear for green hydrogen future

Nuclear power could produce as much as one-third of the United Kingdom’s clean hydrogen needs by 2050, posits the Hydrogen Roadmap, a 12-page report recently approved by the Nuclear Industry Council (NIC) and released last week by the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA).

The NIC, co-chaired by the British government’s minister for business, energy, and clean growth, and the chairman of the NIA, sets strategic priorities for government-industry collaboration to promote nuclear power in the United Kingdom.

The road to net zero: The report outlines how large-scale and small modular reactors could produce both the power and the heat necessary to produce emissions-free, or “green,” hydrogen. Existing large-scale reactors, it says, could produce green hydrogen today at scale through electrolysis, as could the next generation of gigawatt-scale reactors. Also, according to the report, SMRs, the first unit of which could be deployed within the next 10 years, could unlock possibilities for green hydrogen production near industrial clusters.

Exelon touts reliability of Illinois nuclear plants

The Byron nuclear plant is scheduled to close this September. Photo: Exelon

Amid all the talk of last week’s winter storm and the resultant grid debacle in Texas, Exelon on Monday issued a press release informing customers of just how reliably its Illinois nuclear power plants have been operating this winter.

The release might also be seen as a message to state lawmakers, who have yet to produce any legislation to aid the utility’s financially challenged nuclear facilities—of which two, Byron and Dresden, have been slated for retirement later this year, given the (so-far) absence of such legislation.

Public input requested on proposed revisions to NRC fees

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is seeking public comment on a proposed rule that would amend the licensing, inspection, special projects, and annual fees charged to the agency’s applicants and licensees for fiscal year 2021.

Published in the February 22 Federal Register, the proposed fee rule reflects a total NRC budget authority of $844.4 million, a drop of $11.2 million from FY 2020.

The amendments are mandated by the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA), the nuclear industry–backed legislation signed into law by President Trump in January 2019 (NN, Feb. 2019, p. 17). NEIMA requires the NRC to recover approximately 100 percent of its total budget authority in FY 2021, except for specific excluded activities. (Previously, the requirement was approximately 90 percent.) In addition, NEIMA established a new cap for annual fees for operating reactors and included requirements to improve the accuracy of invoice for service fees.

DOE steps up plutonium production for future space exploration

This high-resolution still image is from a video taken by several cameras as NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on Mars on February 18. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Perseverance rover, which successfully landed on Mars on February 18, is powered in part by the first plutonium produced at Department of Energy laboratories in more than 30 years. The radioactive decay of Pu-238 provides heat to radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) like the one onboard Perseverance and would also be used by the Dynamic Radioisotope Power System, currently under development, which is expected to provide three times the power of RTGs.

Idaho National Laboratory is scaling up the production of Pu-238 to help meet NASA’s production goal of 1.5 kg per year by 2026, the DOE announced on February 17.

ANS Fellows elected to National Academy of Engineering

Magwood

Peters

ANS Fellows William D. Magwood IV and Mark T. Peters have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).

Magwood, an ANS member since 1983, is the secretary general for the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. He was elected for “leadership and contributions to research programs that drive innovation in global nuclear energy enterprises.”

Peters, an ANS member since 2007 and the executive vice president for Laboratory Operations at Battelle, was elected “for leadership and contributions in advancing U.S. nuclear energy capabilities and infrastructure.”

Earthquake has impact on Fukushima Daiichi plant

The black star represents the epicenter of the February 13 earthquake. Image: USGS

There has been no off-site impact from the February 13 earthquake that struck off the east coast of Japan near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) reported on February 19. The earthquake, however, has caused a water leakage from two of the site's primary containment vessels (PCVs).

A nuclear alert order was issued by the plant about 20 minutes after the earthquake, and the water treatment and transfer facilities were shut down. Inspections after the event revealed no anomalies and the nuclear alert order was rescinded on February 14.

The nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture in northeastern Japan is now undergoing decommissioning.

Canadian survey reveals solid support for nuclear investment

A new survey exploring the attitudes of Canadians toward climate change and their expectations and level of support for government intervention to tackle the issue finds that 86 percent believe that Canada should invest in clean technologies, including renewables and nuclear energy.

The survey, conducted by research and strategy firm Abacus Data between January 29 and February 3, was commissioned by the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA).

CNA says: “It’s clear there is strong support for the government to implement a mix of solutions to address the [climate change] challenge, including investing in renewables and clean nuclear technologies,” stated John Gorman, CNA president and chief executive officer, in a February 18 press release. “We continue to see that the more understanding Canadians have, the more they support zero-emissions nuclear technologies to help reach our net zero 2050 goal. This includes investment in small modular reactors, which Canadians believe bring value to replace carbon-based fuels with clean electricity, decarbonize high-emissions industries, and transition remote communities away from reliance on diesel.”

Bulgaria to evaluate NuScale SMRs for Kozloduy

Bulgaria’s Kozloduy nuclear plant

Portland, Ore.–based NuScale Power has signed a memorandum of understanding with Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant–New Build Plc (KNPP-NB) to discuss the possible deployment of NuScale’s small modular reactor technology at Bulgaria’s Kozloduy site. KNPP-NB was established in 2012 to commission new nuclear power capacity at Kozloduy.

Specifics: Under the MOU, NuScale will support KNPP-NB as it analyzes the suitability of NuScale’s SMRs for Kozloduy, located in northwest Bulgaria. The analysis will include the development of a project time line “with milestone deliverables for a feasibility study” and a project-specific cost estimate, as well as engineering, planning, licensing, and other activities, according to a February 17 NuScale press release.

EPA awards $220 million in uranium mine cleanup contracts

The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded three contracts for cleanup efforts at more than 50 abandoned uranium mine sites in and around the Navajo Nation in the southwestern United States. The Navaho Area Abandoned Mine Remedial Construction and Services Contracts, worth up to $220 million over the next five years, were awarded to the Red Rock Remediation Joint Venture, Environmental Quality Management, and Arrowhead Contracting, the agency announced on February 11.

According to the EPA, the cleanup work is slated to begin later this year, following the completion of assessments in coordination with the Navajo Nation EPA, the tribe’s environmental agency. The sites are in New Mexico’s Grants Mining District and 10 Navajo Nation chapters. The companies selected have experience working on hazardous waste sites across the country, including cleaning up other abandoned mine sites in the Southwest, the EPA said.

NRC grants Duane Arnold emergency planning exemptions

NextEra Energy will be allowed to revise the emergency preparedness plan for its Duane Arnold nuclear power plant to reflect the plant’s decommissioning status, having been granted exemptions from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s emergency preparedness and planning requirements, the agency announced on February 17. A single-unit boiling water reactor plant located in Palo, Iowa, approximately eight miles northwest of Cedar Rapids, Duane Arnold was shut down in August 2020 after a derecho damaged the plant’s cooling towers.

The NRC regularly issues exemptions from its licensing requirements to nuclear power plants that are transitioning to decommissioning, where the risk of an off-site radiological release is significantly lower, and the types of possible accidents significantly fewer, than at an operating reactor.

Once NextEra implements the exemptions, state and local governments can rely on comprehensive emergency management (“all hazard”) planning for off-site emergency response should an event occur at Duane Arnold. As a result, there will not be a 10-mile emergency planning zone as currently identified in Duane Arnold’s license. The plant will maintain an on-site emergency plan and response capabilities, including the continued notification of state government officials in the event of an emergency declaration.

NASA’s radioisotope-powered science will persevere on Mars

Members of the Perseverance rover team in Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory react after receiving confirmation of a successful landing. Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA mission control and space science fans around the world celebrated the safe landing of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on February 18 after a journey of 203 days and 293 million miles. Landing on Mars is difficult—only about 50 percent of all previous Mars landing attempts have succeeded—and a successful landing for Perseverance, the fifth rover that NASA has sent to Mars, was not assured. Confirmation of the successful touchdown was announced at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., at 3:55 p.m. EST.

“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally—when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” said acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk. “The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation’s spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.”

Only radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG) can provide the long-lasting, compact power source that Perseverance needs to carry out its long-term exploratory mission. Perseverance carries an RTG powered by the radioactive decay of plutonium-238 that was supplied by the Department of Energy. ANS president Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar and CEO and executive director Craig Piercy congratulated NASA after the successful landing, acknowledging the critical contributions of the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.