Former NRC chairs issue vaccine timeline recommendation to CDC

Five former chairmen of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission—Stephen Burns, Allison Macfarlane, Nils Diaz, Richard Meserve, and Dale Klein—signed a letter to José Romero, Arkansas health secretary and chair of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) immunization advisory committee, requesting that the advisory committee update its recommendation for COVID-19 vaccine allocation guidance for the energy workforce (including nuclear energy workers).

Currently, the CDC has four phases for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Those phases are numbered:

  • 1a (the current phase), reserved for healthcare workers and those living in long-term care facilities;
  • 1b, reserved for people 75 years and older and frontline essential workers;
  • 1c, reserved for persons 65 to 74 years old, those aged 16 to 64 who have high-risk medical conditions, and other categories of essential workers (this includes energy workers); and
  • 2, for everyone else that was not named in the previous three phases aged 16 to 64.

Glick chosen to head FERC

Glick

This morning, on his first full day in office, President Joe Biden appointed Richard Glick chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Glick joined FERC as a commissioner in late 2017, having been picked for the job by President Trump in August of that year. His term ends June 30, 2022.

“I'm honored President Joe Biden has selected me to be @FERC Chairman, thank you Mr. @POTUS,” Glick tweeted. “This is an important moment to make significant progress on the transition to a clean energy future. I look forward to working with my colleagues to tackle the many challenges ahead!”

NRC issues EA & FONSI for Bellefonte construction permit extension

The unfinished Bellefonte nuclear plant. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued an environmental assessment (EA) and finding of no significant impact (FONSI) in connection with its proposed action to extend the completion dates for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Bellefonte plant reactor construction permits. If approved by the NRC, the construction permits for Bellefonte Units 1 and 2 would extend to October 1, 2021.

In a notice on the EA and FONSI published in the January 19 Federal Register, the NRC explained the reason for the proposed action. “In its March 31, 2017, and August 28, 2020, letters, TVA noted that it sold the Bellefonte property at auction, the sale of Units 1 and 2 did not close, and the purchaser filed a lawsuit against TVA,” the notice said. “TVA stated that an extension is needed to allow the parties additional time to obtain a decision in the lawsuit.”

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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.

DOE looks to dispose of Savannah River process equipment as LLW

The Department of Energy is considering disposing of contaminated process equipment from its Savannah River Site (SRS) at a commercial low-level waste facility using its recent interpretation of the statutory term “high-level radioactive waste,” which classifies waste generated from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel based on its radiological content rather than its origin.

Trump leaves space nuclear policy executive order for Biden team

A hot fire test of the core stage for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi was not completed as planned. The SLS is the vehicle meant to propel a crewed mission to the moon in 2024. Source: NASA Television

Among the executive orders President Trump issued during his last weeks in office was “Promoting Small Modular Reactors for National Defense and Space Exploration,” which builds on the Space Policy Directives published during his term. The order, issued on January 12, calls for actions within the next six months by NASA and the Department of Defense (DOD), together with the Department of Energy and other federal entities. Whether the Biden administration will retain some, all, or none of the specific goals of the Trump administration’s space nuclear policy remains to be seen, but one thing is very clear: If deep space exploration remains a priority, nuclear-powered and -propelled spacecraft will be needed.

The prospects for near-term deployment of nuclear propulsion and power systems in space improved during Trump’s presidency. However, Trump left office days after a hot fire test of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket did not go as planned. The SLS rocket is meant to propel crewed missions to the moon in 2024 and to enable a series of long-duration lunar missions that could be powered by small lunar reactor installations. The test on January 16 of four engines that were supposed to fire for over eight minutes was automatically aborted after one minute, casting some doubt that a planned November 2021 Artemis I mission can go ahead on schedule.

ANS webinar to focus on low-dose radiation risk

Join ANS on Thursday, January 21, at noon (ET) for a Q&A with an expert panel as they discuss how to communicate about the risk of low-dose radiation. “Talking About Low-dose Radiation Risk” is a free members-only event that serves as a follow-up to the “Risky Business” President’s Session that took place during the ANS Virtual Winter Meeting last November. The session will take a deeper dive into the many questions generated from the thought-provoking discussion.

Register now to attend the webinar.

Nuclear law experts offer reasons for optimism

In a January 14 "Nuclear Industry Recap of 2020" blog post, attorneys Sachin Desai and Amy C. Roma list some of the actions taken by the federal government over the past 12 months to improve the status of the U.S. nuclear community.

Desai and Roma, both of whom practice nuclear and radioactive materials law at Hogan Lovells, look at actions by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, and Congress and find much to be optimistic about.

Slaybaugh named to lead Berkeley Lab’s Cyclotron Road

Slaybaugh

The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently named Rachel Slaybaugh, ANS member since 2003 and associate professor of nuclear engineering at the University of California–Berkeley, to lead the lab’s Cyclotron Road Division.

Get to know her: Prior to coming to Berkeley, Slaybaugh served as a program director for the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), whose mission is to advance high-potential and high-impact energy technologies. From 2017 through 2020 at ARPA-E, Slaybaugh led programs supporting research in advanced nuclear fission reactors, agriculture technologies, and sensing and data analytics for four years.

NNSA to hold virtual public meetings regarding Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration will hold two virtual public meetings on a new environmental impact statement for its Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program (SPDP). The meetings will be held on Monday, January 25, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) and Tuesday, January 26, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET). Participants can join by computer, telephone, or other device. A Notice of Intent contains a full description of the proposal and other options for providing public comment until February 1.

The program: The SPDP EIS will analyze alternatives for the disposition of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium using the capabilities at multiple sites across the United States. The NNSA’s preferred alternative, the dilute and dispose approach (also known as plutonium downblending), includes converting pit and non-pit plutonium to oxide, blending the oxidized plutonium with an adulterant, and emplacing the resulting transuranic waste underground in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), in New Mexico. The approach would require new, modified, or existing capabilities at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Pantex Plant in Texas, and WIPP.

Wisconsin professor hosts podcast series on nuclear science

Lesher

Shelly Lesher, a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse professor, is hosting the My Nuclear Life podcast series centered on how nuclear science is perceived in the community, La Crosse television station WXOW reported.

My Nuclear Life explores the intersection of nuclear science and society. Lesher, a 2020 American Physical Society Fellow, covers a range of topics, from the use of radium therapy for treating cancer to the U.S. environmental movement.

DOE lists five stories to watch in 2021

Despite all the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. nuclear energy community pulled out some big wins in 2020, and this year could be even bigger, according to the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy.

From deep space exploration on Mars to a historic new reactor coming online in Waynesboro, Ga., 2021 will be a record-breaking year for the industry—both good and potentially bad.

Find the full details on the DOE-NE website.

NNSA releases contractor performance evaluations

The National Nuclear Security Administration last week released performance evaluation summaries on the effectiveness of its management and operating (M&O) contractors in meeting the agency’s expectations during fiscal year 2020.

The summaries feature assessment “scorecards,” as well as links to M&O contractor performance evaluation and measurement plans. Also included are specific contractor accomplishments, plus issues requiring attention.

Climate change needs an Operation Warp Speed

The government of the United States should throw its muscle behind ramping up a mammoth, rapid rollout of all forms of renewable energy through Operation Warp Speed, similar to what is being done with COVID-19, Clive Thompson writes in an Ideas column for Wired.

The rollout should include energy sources that we already know how to build—like solar and wind — but also experimental emerging sources such as geothermal and small nuclear, and cutting-edge forms of energy storage or transmission.

NuScale SMR chosen for U.K. wind-nuclear hybrid

British hybrid clean energy company Shearwater Energy announced on January 15 that it is joining with U.S.-based NuScale Power to develop a hybrid project using wind energy and small modular reactor technology to produce power and green hydrogen.

According to news reports, the two companies signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on an initial project, which could be sited at the now-decommissioned Wylfa nuclear power station on the island of Anglesey, off the northwestern coast of Wales. No land agreements have been reached, however.

Feature Article

Fuel innovation: Powering nuclear modernization

Today’s U.S. commercial nuclear power plants are fueled with uranium dioxide pressed into cylindrical ceramic pellets—and have been for decades. These pellets are stacked inside long fuel rods made of a zirconium alloy cladding. Innovation in nuclear fuel, however, can improve safety, reduce operating costs, and further enable the development of a new generation of non-light-water reactors.

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U.S. boosts SMR development in Romania

U.S. ambassador to Romania Adrian Zuckerman (right) and SNN chief executive officer Cosmin Ghita at the January signing. Photo: U.S. Embassy in Romania

The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) has awarded a grant worth an undisclosed amount to Romania’s nuclear energy authority, Societatea Nationala Nuclearelectrica (SNN), for technical assistance to support the development of small modular reactors in that country, the agency announced on January 14.

The grant will be used to identify a short list of SMR-suitable sites, assess SMR technology options, and develop site-specific licensing roadmaps. SNN has selected Chicago-based Sargent & Lundy to carry out the assistance.

Feature Article

Understanding the ITER Project in the context of global Progress on Fusion

(photo: ITER Project gangway assembly)

The promise of hydrogen fusion as a safe, environmentally friendly, and virtually unlimited source of energy has motivated scientists and engineers for decades. For the general public, the pace of fusion research and development may at times appear to be slow. But for those on the inside, who understand both the technological challenges involved and the transformative impact that fusion can bring to human society in terms of the security of the long-term world energy supply, the extended investment is well worth it.

Failure is not an option.

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Biden taps Janet McCabe to serve as deputy at EPA

McCabe

The incoming Biden administration plans to appoint Janet McCabe to serve as deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, The Hill reported early Friday.

McCabe previously served as the acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation at the EPA for much of the Obama administration.

General Fusion boasts backing from Shopify, Amazon founders

Shopify founder Tobias Lütke is backing General Fusion with an undisclosed capital investment through his Thistledown Capital investment firm, the Canadian fusion technology firm announced January 14.

In an article published the same day by TechCrunch, Jonathan Shieber noted that a separate investments by Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, first made through his venture capital fund nearly a decade ago, means General Fusion “has the founders of the two biggest e-commerce companies in the Western world on its cap table.”