Feature Article

The CORTEX project: Improving nuclear fleet operational availability

We often define noise as an unwanted disturbance, especially acoustic in nature. Neutron noise, by contrast, is a direct measure of the dynamics of a nuclear core. It can be used for core monitoring without disturbing plant operation and by using the existing core instrumentation. The European CORTEX project aims to develop an innovative core monitoring technique using neutron noise, while capitalizing on the latest developments in neutronic modeling, signal processing, and artificial intelligence.

Feature Article

Digital engineering: Controlling costs for megaprojects

With a new generation of nuclear reactors in the works, Idaho National Laboratory has embraced digital engineering (DE) as a means of achieving the same efficiencies that companies in the private sector have been able to realize in everything from concert halls to aircraft engines.

DE—using advanced technologies to capture data and craft design in a digitized environment—has been evolving since the 1990s. For Mortenson Construction, a worldwide construction firm, using virtual design and construction resulted in a cumulative 600 days saved over 416 projects and a 25 percent increase in productivity. By building digital twins for assets, systems, and processes, DE has avoided more than $1.05 billion in customer, production, and mechanical losses.

Leaders at INL recognized in 2018 that DE could be useful in the design and construction of new commercial and test reactors. Managing construction costs, timing, and performance will be essential to maintain U.S. competitiveness.

Murkowski, Manchin make case for AEIA

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), the committee’s ranking member, put their rhetorical skills to the test earlier this week as the two urged colleagues to pass the American Energy Innovation Act (AEIA), a comprehensive piece of energy policy legislation introduced by the bipartisan pair in late February (NN, Apr. 2020, p. 14).

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Dems’ climate action plan makes room for nuclear

House Democrats on June 30 rolled out a vision of what U.S. climate change policy might look like in the event the Democratic party holds its current House majority, retakes the Senate, and wins the White House in November. The vision was presented in the form of a sweeping 547-page majority staff report entitled Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America.

OPG terminates repository project

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has officially canceled its plan to construct a deep geologic repository (DGR) for low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste at its Bruce site, withdrawing the project from Canada’s federal environmental assessment process. In a June 15 letter to OPG, Canada’s minister of Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson, accepted the company’s request to withdraw the project and end the environmental assessment.

OPG also informed the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission that the company was terminating the project and asked that its site preparation and construction license application be withdrawn.

ANS joins Equal by 30 campaign

Achieving gender equality in the clean energy sector by 2030 is the goal of Equal by 30, a campaign of the Clean Energy, Education and Empowerment (C3E) initiative. ANS joined the campaign on June 25 and is now one of nearly 150 public and private sector organizations committed to taking concrete action toward achieving equal pay, equal leadership, and equal opportunities for women in the clean energy sector by 2030.

Petition window opened for Oklo’s microreactor license application

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has announced a notice of opportunity to intervene in an adjudicatory hearing on Oklo Power’s combined license application (COLA) for construction of a microreactor at Idaho National Laboratory. The notice, dated June 24, was published in the Federal Register on June 30, opening a 60-day window for petitions.

France’s Fessenheim-2 closes permanently

Fessenheim nuclear power plant. Photo: EDF

After producing electricity generation for more than 40 years, Fessenheim-2 was disconnected from the grid on June 29, some four months after the retirement of its companion reactor, Fessenheim-1 (NN, Mar. 2020, p. 83). The action completes the closure of what had been France’s oldest operating nuclear power facility.

Both Fessenheim units are 880-MWe pressurized water reactors; Unit 1 began commercial operation in December 1977, with Unit 2 going on line in March 1978.

IAEA teams with Japanese university on boron neutron capture therapy R&D

The accelerator-based BNCT system under construction at Nagoya University, shows the electrostatic proton accelerator (on the left) and beam transport line toward the neutron production target (on the right). Photo: Nagoya University

The International Atomic Energy Agency has signed an agreement with Japan’s Okayama University that provides a three-year framework for enhanced cooperation in boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT), the IAEA announced on June 24. BNCT is a noninvasive therapeutic technique for treating invasive malignant tumors.

Nuclear power stats for 2019 now available

The International Atomic Energy Agency has released nuclear power status data for 2019 collected by the Power Reactor Information System (PRIS), the IAEA’s comprehensive nuclear power database. Developed and maintained by the IAEA for more than five decades, PRIS contains historical and current quantitative information on reactors in operation and under construction, as well as on units undergoing decommissioning.

Summary of 19th WNA fuel report released

Now available from the World Nuclear Association is an expanded summary of its latest Nuclear Fuel Report, published last September. According to the WNA, “This expanded summary will provide readers with explanations of what factors are affecting the growth of nuclear power, what new concepts were introduced in the 19th edition, and what developments the industry may require between now and 2040.”

IAEA seeks source of radioisotopes detected over Northern Europe

The International Atomic Energy Agency has emphasized that elevated concentrations of cesium-134, cesium-137, and ruthenium-103 recently detected over Northern Europe pose no risk to human health or the environment, even as the agency continues to investigate their origin.

Canadian province to open SMR-focused office

The government of Canada’s Saskatchewan province has unveiled plans to establish an office to coordinate nuclear policy and program work. The office, dubbed the Nuclear Secretariat, will have as its primary mission to develop and execute a strategic plan to deploy small modular reactors, according to a June 24 press release. The secretariat will be housed within the Climate Change and Adaptation Division of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment.

X-rays size up protein structure at the “heart” of COVID-19 virus

Overlapping X-ray data of the SARS-CoV-2 main protease shows structural differences between the protein at room temperature (orange) and the cryogenically frozen structure (white). Graphic: Jill Hemman/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

A team of researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge and Argonne national laboratories has performed the first room-temperature X-ray measurements on the SARS-CoV-2 main protease, the enzyme that enables the virus to reproduce.

The X-ray measurements mark an important first step in the researchers’ ultimate goal of building a comprehensive 3D model of the enzymatic protein.

U.S. Senate begins debate on FY 2021 NDAA

The U.S. Senate voted last week to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to S.4049, the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Debate on the legislation could take all this week, with hundreds of amendments already filed to the bill.

NEA analyzes nuclear’s role post-pandemic

The Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency recently issued four policy briefs on the role that nuclear energy can play in the post-COVID-19 recovery:

Nuclear power and the cost-effective decarbonization of electricity systems

Creating high-value jobs in the post-COVID-19 recovery with nuclear energy projects

Unlocking financing for nuclear energy infrastructure in the COVID-19 economic recovery

Building low-carbon resilient electricity infrastructures with nuclear energy in the post-COVID-19 era

DOE awards research grants to early career scientists

The Department of Energy on June 23 announced the selection of 76 scientists from across the United States—26 from the DOE’s national laboratories and 50 from U.S. universities—to receive significant funding for research as part of the DOE Office of Science’s Early Career Research Program. The effort, now in its 11th year, is designed to bolster the nation’s scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the crucial early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work.

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley national lab create new isotope

A team of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) scientists has discovered a new form of the human-made element mendelevium, LBNL reported on June 23. The newly created isotope, mendelevium-244, is the 17th and lightest form of mendelevium, which is element 101 on the periodic table.

The Nuclear News Interview

VanTassell and Smith: On having spare parts available quickly, efficiently, and at good value

Smith: “We look at these changes as very positive for our business and the industry, as tapping into these technologies will drive down costs and improve efficiencies.”.

VanTassell: “Why should the experience of buying nuclear parts be any different from the online experience of buying household items? We all want to get what we need quickly, efficiently, and at a good value.”.

In February of this year, Paragon acquired Nuclear Logistics LLC to form a third-party supplier of equipment solely focused on the nuclear industry. Engineering, design, manufacturing, testing, and qualification are performed in Paragon’s three facilities, located in Fort Worth, Texas, Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Schenectady, N.Y.

Paragon provides critical and safety-related equipment, including electrical, mechanical, instrumentation and control (I&C), HVAC, and specialty one-of-a-kind items; equipment maintenance; equipment qualification; and engineering services that include thermal aging, radiation testing, electromagnetic interference/radio-frequency interference testing, loss-of-coolant-accident testing, seismic testing, and software verification and validation.

Doug VanTassell is Paragon’s president and chief executive officer and has more than 31 years of experience in the power generation industry. He received his master of business administration (MBA) degree from Queens University in Charlotte, N.C. Prior to joining Paragon, VanTassell spent 25 years at AP Services, becoming owner and CEO in 2009. In 2012, Curtiss-Wright purchased AP Services, and VanTassell became the general manager for Nova and AP Services. In 2014, he joined ATC as president of its Nuclear Division. On August 30, 2017, VanTassell and Argosy Capital purchased ATC Nuclear and renamed it Paragon.

Tighe Smith is chief operating officer at Paragon. Smith has spent the past 17 years working in various roles in the commercial nuclear power industry. His experience includes nuclear business management, product development, and safety-related system sales and service. He has a bachelor of science degree in nuclear engineering and is a graduate of the University of Tennessee’s MBA program. Smith served in the United States Army National Guard from 2001 to 2007.

VanTassell and Smith recently talked about supply chain issues with Nuclear News Editor-in-Chief Rick Michal.