Senate bill introduced to reestablish U.S. leadership in nuclear energy

Barrasso

Whitehouse

The American Nuclear Infrastructure Act (ANIA), S. 4897, released as draft legislation in July and supported by a panel of energy experts at a Senate hearing in August, has been introduced in the Senate.

The bipartisan bill—sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), and cosponsored by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.), Mike Crapo (R., Idaho), and Cory Booker (D., N.J.)—was introduced on November 16.

Baranwal reviews virtual STEM lessons for U.S. tribal communities

Baranwal

In a blog post to the Department of Energy’s website on November 23, Rita Baranwal, assistant secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy, commended recent virtual lesson projects from the Office of Nuclear Energy and the Nuclear Energy Tribal Working Group to increase STEM opportunities for Native American tribes.

The spotlighted lesson discussed in the article focused on a 3D-printed clip that turns a smartphone or tablet into a microscope with the ability to magnify items by 100 times. The Office of Nuclear Energy shipped nearly 1,000 of these microscope clips to students across the country, many of them going to U.S. tribal communities.

ANS Board of Directors votes to retire outdated position statements

The American Nuclear Society’s Board of Directors on November 19 voted to retire several outdated position statements, as requested by the Public Policy Committee. Among them are Position Statements #37 and #63, dating from 2010, which have been retired for lacking policy recommendations and for being redundant, as other position statements exist with language that better articulates the Society’s stance on those topics.

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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.

Second license renewal sought for Wisconsin plant

Point Beach nuclear plant. Photo: NRC

NextEra Energy submitted a license renewal (SLR) application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seeking to add 20 years to the licenses of the two units at the Point Beach plant. The plant is located on the shore of Lake Michigan, in Two Rivers, Wis.

The application, submitted November 16, is the first SLR application for a Midwestern nuclear plant, according to NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng.

Point Beach’s initial license renewal was issued in 2005.

For more on the story, see this Wisconsin State Journal report.

New research planned for high-energy physics

The DOE is expected to fund high-energy physics research at its Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, shown in this rendering. Image: Fermilab

The Department of Energy plans to provide $100 million over the next four years for new research in high-energy physics. The research is expected to focus on topics such as the Higgs boson, neutrinos, dark matter, and dark energy in an effort to advance understanding of the universe at the most fundamental level. The Office of High Energy Physics (HEP) within the DOE’s Office of Science is sponsoring the research funding opportunity.

The DOE’s funding opportunity announcement, “FY 2021 Research Opportunities in High Energy Physics,” can be found on the HEP funding opportunities page.

High-energy physics serves as a cornerstone of America’s science efforts, the DOE said on November 17, adding that it plays a major role in nurturing top scientific talent and building and sustaining the nation’s scientific workforce. Applications will be open to universities, industry, and nonprofit institutions, with awards selected by competitive peer review and contingent on congressional appropriations.

Palo Verde settles with NRC over apparent spent fuel storage violations

The Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona.

A confirmatory order issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Arizona Public Service Company documents the commitments the company has made as part of a settlement agreement with the agency. The settlement agreement stems from two apparent violations of NRC regulations involving spent nuclear fuel at APS’s Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Tonopah, Ariz.

The apparent violations involved APS’s failure to (1) perform a written evaluation for a change to the NAC MAGNASTOR dry cask storage system for spent fuel and obtain a license amendment for a change in methodology for performing tip-over calculations and (2) adequately analyze the consequences of a hypothetical MAGNASTOR CC5 spent fuel cask tip-over accident on the plant’s independent spent fuel storage installation pad.

The confirmatory order was issued on November 17. The apparent violations are described in a July 6 NRC inspection report.

2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: More on advanced nuclear reactors and power systems

The third part of the“Advanced Nuclear Reactors and Power Systems” sessions during the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting featured an examination of the status of various advanced reactors. The sessions were sponsored by the Operations and Power Division and chaired by Piyush Sabharwall of Idaho National Laboratory.

Here is an article on the first "Advanced Nuclear Reactors and Power Systems” session.

Presentation topics in the third and final session included using Modelica for system-level modeling and simulation of advanced reactors; the testing of fast-spectrum reactors’ gears and bearings in liquid sodium; and the creation of a simple core analysis tool called the Thermal hydrAulic COre Calculations using the single heAted channel meThod (TACOCAT) code.

Here are some of the highlights:

Feature Article

Robotics for Plant Maintenance: Now and in the Future

Diakont technicians prepare an NDE inspection robot for deployment into a diesel tank. Photos: Diakont

Robotics and remote systems have been used for supporting nuclear facilities since the dawn of the atomic age. Early commercial nuclear plants implemented varying levels of automation and remote operation, such as maintenance activities performed on the reactor pressure vessel and steam generators. Over the past several decades, there has been a steady progression toward incorporating more advanced remote operations into nuclear plants to improve their efficiency and safety. One of the primary forces driving the adoption of robotic tooling in U.S. nuclear power plants is money.

The economic model for the U.S. operating fleet has changed considerably over the past 10 to 12 years. Regulations in the nuclear industry have rarely decreased and, more often than not, have increased. This has led to nuclear plants in certain energy markets being hindered financially and thus needing to find ways to optimize their operations to do more with the resources they have. At the same time, the reliability and flexibility of robotics and automated systems have been increasing while their costs have been decreasing, making robotic systems much safer and more available to use. This has helped drive utilities to explore new ways of using robotics to overcome the obstacles they are facing. One of the obstacles that power plants have been tackling has been shortening the duration of their refueling outages to decrease their costs and increase their revenue.

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2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: Advanced nuclear reactors and power systems

“Advanced Nuclear Reactors and Power Systems-I” on November 18 during the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting was the first of a three-session set examining the status of various advanced reactors. The sessions were sponsored by the Operations and Power Division and chaired by Piyush Sabharwall of Idaho National Laboratory.

Presentation topics in the first session included the core design and helium Brayton cycle design of the Holos-Quad microreactor, a microreactor design for a truck charging station, and a levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) estimation on HALEU (high-assay low-enriched uranium) fuels for small modular reactors.

Here are some highlights:

2021 WM Symposia conference to go virtual

Citing ongoing developments with COVID-19, Waste Management Symposia has announced that it has decided to make its 2021 Waste Management Conference a virtual event. WM Symposia has been holding its annual conference for the management of radioactive waste, nuclear decommissioning, and related topics since 1974. The conference is typically held in early March in Phoenix, Ariz.

2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: President’s Special Session

ANS President Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar took to the video screen on November 18 during the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting for the President’s Special Session on radiation risk, echoing a comment by Exelon Nuclear’s Bryan Hanson, the Winter Meeting’s general cochair, who earlier in the week characterized radiation as one of the most misunderstood aspects of nuclear.

“I think that’s very true,” Dunzik-Gougar said. “So much misconception and misunderstanding. I have always had a passion for communicating about such things as radiation, helping people understand the nature of radiation and the relative risks of nuclear, but mostly about its benefits. But I think we in the industry can better prepare ourselves with knowledge about radiation and its impacts and also educate ourselves on how to talk about the risks of radiation with people not in our own echo chambers to help change the perception among a broader scope of people.”

The panel of experts assembled to help impart some of that knowledge to session attendees included Amir A. Bahadori, assistant professor at Kansas State University; Donald A. Cool, a technical executive at the Electric Power Research Institute and a former senior executive at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Paul Locke, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Shaheen Dewji, assistant professor at Texas A&M University.

Savannah River's Ford Building comes down

Demolition of the Ford Building at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina has been completed, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) announced on November 18. The large metal storage building formerly contained mechanical systems used during the Cold War to remotely raise and lower control rods within nuclear reactor vessels.

Workers have also sealed the Ford Building’s original concrete flooring with six inches of new concrete. Teardown of the facility brings the number of structures that have been deactivated and decommissioned at the site to 292.

DOE tags INL as “preferred alternative” to host the Versatile Test Reactor

Rendering of the proposed Versatile Test Reactor. Image: Idaho National Laboratory

The Department of Energy won’t publish its draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) until mid-December. In a November 19 announcement on Twitter, however, the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy said that the yet-to-be-released EIS lists Idaho National Laboratory as the preferred alternative to site the VTR.

The DOE plans to submit the draft EIS for public comments early next month. The DOE won’t make a final decision on the design, technology selection, and location for the VTR until the completion of the EIS and record of decision in late 2021.

2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: Fusion technology start-ups showcased at TOFE 2020

The Fusion Enterprise-I and -II sessions, held on November 18 as part of the TOFE 2020 embedded topical meeting at the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting, were chaired by Ales Necas, principal scientist at TAE Technologies, and featured presentations by speakers representing companies in the commercial fusion area.

Testing for Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR under way with research partners

Terrestrial Energy and the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) have started a graphite irradiation testing program at NRG’s Petten Research Centre’s High Flux Reactor (HFR), located in the Netherlands. According to Terrestrial Energy, which is based in Ontario, Canada, the work is part of broader program of confirmatory testing of components and systems for the company’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR), designed to produce both electricity and industrial heat.

The testing program at NRG was planned to confirm the predicted performance of selected graphite grades throughout the seven-year cycle of an IMSR core. The testing was designed in cooperation with Frazer-Nash Consultancy, and will simulate IMSR core conditions at a range of operating temperatures and neutron flux conditions.

“Our work with NRG at its Petten HFR facility is an important element of our overall IMSR test program, now well underway. The start of in-core irradiation tests speaks to our progress and comes after many months of prior work,” Simon Irish, CEO of Terrestrial Energy, said on November 12. “The NRG work also reflects an important feature of our testing strategy. That is to engage existing laboratories offering existing capabilities rather than build those in-house, a strategy that is essential for our early deployment schedule.”

2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: Preview of NPIC&HMIT 2021

The November 17 session titled “Preview of NPIC&HMIT 2021” was sponsored by the Human Factors, Instrumentation and Controls Division. The session was chaired by Pradeep Ramuhalli, of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and featured four panelists: Ronald L. Boring, of Idaho National Laboratory; Jamie B. Coble, of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville; Raymond L. Herb, of Southern Nuclear Operating Company; and Hyun Gook Kang, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The panelists provided a preview of trends in I&C and human factors that are likely to be featured at the 12th ANS Topical Meeting on Nuclear Plant Instrumentation and Control and Human-Machine Interface Technology Conference (NPIC&HMIT), which will be held in conjunction with the 2021 ANS Annual Meeting in Providence, R.I., in June. Ramuhalli said that the paper submission process has begun. The NPIC&HMIT 2021 call for papers is available online.

Herb

The industry perspective: Herb, who works on digital modernization for Southern Nuclear’s reactor fleet, reflected on working early in his career with equipment that required daily calibration by I&C techs. “Operators running around the panels, checking here, checking there,” he said. “Now, I see a calm control room for operators at Vogtle-3 and -4 who can operate everything from one chair.”

Herb added that he is not a human factors expert. “All I can do is communicate the needs of the U.S. nuclear industry from my perspective,” he said. Among those needs are realistic task analysis and effective change management. While the U.S. fleet’s original analog control systems were “biased toward ‘no change,’” he said, Southern’s current fleet strategy “is incremental change with every design we put in, to shepherd our existing fleet to something that is closer to Vogtle-3 and -4.”

Boring

New modalities: Boring offered his take on what’s next for human factors. He pointed out that NPIC&HMIT 2019 had four sessions on validation, and that validation is critical because new digital control rooms need to be proven. “Many of our current fleet have had the same control rooms for 40 years,” he said. “We can’t hope to have a digital control room for 40 years—we have to support evolution over time.” He predicted that NPIC&HMIT 2021 will see an emphasis on validation and interaction modalities for new plants, such as microreactors and small modular reactors, including automation.

Coble

University support for data analytics: Coble talked about improving nuclear power economics through data-driven decision-making. Operating plants are being shut down, she said, and a big part of the problem is operating and maintenance costs. “How can we make nuclear more economical?” she asked. “The current approach of frequent equipment monitoring works to keep equipment reliability up but does not help with costs.”

Coble said that there is a need for development in sensors and in models and algorithms that mine large data sets. University research and training can help solve identified problems, she said, but while there is a well-developed data set on light-water reactors, equivalent data is not yet available for advanced reactors that operate differently, making it more difficult to set a risk-informed approach.

Kang

New topics: Kang took attendees on a deep dive into the topics that were presented at NPIC-HMIT 2019 and made some predictions for 2021. Control platforms and status identification and decision-making were well represented in 2019, as were newer topics of cybersecurity and wireless communications. In 2019, Kang said, “Operation automation was discussed, but ‘autonomous operation’ was not discussed yet. . . . I expect we will have more papers regarding this issue in the coming conference.”

That is just one of several topics Kang expects to see at the 2021 meeting, because, he said, I&C is a fast-moving area.

Other anticipated topics include the decision-making process between machine learning applications and human operators and practical cybersecurity solutions.

2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: ANS honors more award recipients during President’s Special Session

American Nuclear Society President Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar recognized four Presidential Citation recipients and the Milton Levenson Distinguished Service Award winner on November 18 during the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting. The following awards were presented as part of the ANS President’s Special Session.

FY21 appropriations bills released, funds for U reserve included

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week released all 12 fiscal year 2021 appropriation measures and subcommittee allocations, including an Energy and Water Development bill that provides $150 million for establishing a U.S. uranium reserve, the same amount requested by the Trump administration in its February budget estimate.

The committee’s Republican majority decided to bypass the usual markup and full Senate consideration of the bills and instead proceed directly to negotiations with the House, in hopes of passing an omnibus bill by the December 11 deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

Shelby

“By and large, these bills are the product of bipartisan cooperation among members of the committee,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R., Ala.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee. “As negotiations with the House begin in earnest, I look forward to working with Chairwoman Lowey, Vice Chairman Leahy, and Ranking Member Granger to resolve our differences in a bipartisan manner.”