Newswire will present coverage of sessions throughout the American Nuclear Society’s 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting. Here are notes on some of the sessions covered on June 9, the second day of the meeting. If you missed the opening day's coverage from June 8, check out the opening day’s recap and roundtable discussion on hydrogen production.
Uranium Mine Remediation
Tuesday’s Uranium Mine Remediation panel session explored work of both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Navajo Nation EPA to cleanup abandoned uranium mines in the southwestern United States. Discussion focused on the cleanup requirements of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), also known as Superfund. There are currently 523 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico and Arizona, leaving a legacy of contamination.
Radioactive contaminants: Stuart Walker, a radiation expert with the U.S. EPA, said the agency uses risk-based cleanup levels for radioactive contaminants, with levels expressed as risk levels and not radiation levels (dose limits). Walker added that CERCLA uses “slope factors” instead of dose conversion tables to estimate cancer risk from radioactive contaminants.
Technical guidance: Walker noted that the U.S. EPA’s CERCLA cleanup levels are not based on Nuclear Regulatory Commission decommissioning requirements, nor are they based on guidance outside the EPA’s risk range, including Department of Energy orders, as well as issued guidance from the NRC, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or other agencies. “We use a lot of this type of technical information in the models that we use, but we use a different risk management framework.”
Navajo Nation CERCLA process: “We’ve adopted the same process the U.S. EPA uses, but we’ve adopted it to include some of our traditional teachings,” said Dariel Yazzie, environmental program supervisor for the Navajo Nation EPA. He added that the Navajo process is important to community involvement in decision making and planning.
EPA 2020 10-year plan: Yazzie said the federal EPA’s recent 10-year plan to address the impacts of uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation needs work, including more tangible cleanup milestones. “I’m going to be very open about this, there are some things within these plans that I find to be discrepancies,” he said. “I value my partnership with U.S. EPA, but there are some areas that we really need to develop more and have more open discussions to move these efforts forward.”
Personal impacts: Yazzie, who said that as a child he would play on piles of uranium mill tailings, noted that he has personally been impacted by uranium mining on the Navajo Nation. He said that his grandfather died at an early age of cancer, his father has become ill, and he was previously treated for cancer. “I can’t tell you how much I resent uranium mining,” he said.
The panel session “Communicating Safety and Risk to the Public” brought together nuclear professionals to discuss their strategies for having clear, informative, and honest conversations with nonexperts about safety and risk in nuclear and about the positive role that nuclear plays in daily life.
Katie Mummah, a graduate student in nuclear engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, started the session by noting that risk does not mean the same thing to engineers as it does to the general public. “Nuclear power is something that people feel they don’t have control over,” she said.
Are nuclear professionals listening as much as speaking? “We want people to recognize the incredible potential of nuclear technology,” Mummah said, and it’s better to have a back-and-forth discussion with nonprofessionals than it is to lecture. “As long as you listen, the better your conversation will go,” she said.
Trust is key, Mummah emphasized. The public’s trust about nuclear has to be built up and earned. “Communication can be damaging if it’s poor communication and a one-way dialogue,” she said. Mummah pointed attendees to her website, www.nuclearkatie.com, for a list of journal papers about risk perception and risk communication.
Monica Trauzzi, senior director of external affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute, is a former journalist who understands the existing biases among journalists about nuclear. In order to lead to more positive stories about nuclear energy, NEI has been promoting nuclear as a carbon-free energy source that can combat climate change. NEI’s messages don’t focus on topics such as safety and risk. “Once journalists are ‘reached’ [and we gain] a level of trust, then topics like safety and risk can be brought up,” Trauzzi said.
NEI developed a fact sheet about the factual errors in the HBO series Chernobyl. Information in the fact sheet was picked up by magazines such as Wired and Vanity Fair. Trauzzi said that NEI uses social media to post positive messages about nuclear, including about the creators of Chernobyl, who are positive on nuclear energy.
Nick Touran, TerraPower’s deputy manager for nuclear design, created a website more than 14 years ago when he was a student at the University of Michigan. The site, www.whatisnuclear.com, contains facts and figures about nuclear technology. Touran said that during his university days, he would go out on the street to make videos for the website, asking people about their impressions of nuclear energy. The usual response, he said, was: “I don’t know anything about it, but my first impression is that I’m against it. I don’t have strong opinions, but I want to know more about it.”
Most people (65 percent) don’t know that nuclear is low carbon, Touran said, and so he leads with that pitch. His frequent communications have made him effective. “I think I know how to help nearly anyone consider changing their mind on nuclear, given 10 minutes of one-on-one discussion,” he said.
Matt Bucknor, principal nuclear safety and risk analyst at Argonne National Laboratory, emphasized that language matters. He said that nuclear professionals don’t always communicate the way the public does, and listed an alphabet soup of terms, acronyms, and units of measurement to prove his point.
Meanwhile, Bucknor noted, antinuclear groups promote simple messaging and common myths about nuclear that may reinforce concerns that the general public already have. Bucknor concluded that honesty in communications matters. “Instead of trying to sell nuclear as the perfect solution, I try to be honest. There is no zero-risk solution,” he said.
Heather Hoff, cofounder of Mothers For Nuclear, commented that the general public perceives the word “nuclear” as scary. She said that when people are asked the question, “When you think about [fill in the blank], what are the first three words that come to mind?” In response to the term “nuclear weapons,” most people respond with “death,” “destruction,” and “war.” When asked about the word “nuclear” itself, the greatest responses are “bomb” and “war,” but the positive response of “power” is included. When asked about the term “nuclear power,” the positive response of “energy” is often given, but so are “dangerous,” “war,” and “radiation.”
Hoff said that the nuclear industry harms itself by promoting messages such as that a nuclear plant has gone a long time without a worker accident. That can work against the industry, she said, adding, “If a restaurant said, ‘It’s been 30 days since the last rat incident,’ would you eat there?”
Hoff questioned the nuclear community’s need to talk about safety. “Defense in depth, barriers, controls—why does nuclear talk about safety so much? The public sees that, and it makes them uncomfortable,” she said. It would be better to move from fear to hope, Hoff said, such as hope for action on climate, clean air, land conservation, and affordable and reliable electricity. She said that it is important to talk about the value of nuclear and the benefits it provides to everyone. “Keep connecting with shared values,” she said. “People will act for what they care about, not for what you care about.”
In-Pile Testing of Nuclear Fuels and Materials
The Transient Reactor Test (TREAT) Facility and the Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR) were discussed by more than one presenter at this Materials Science and Technology Division session chaired by Kenneth J. Geelhood.
Transient boiling at TREAT: Colby Jensen of Idaho National Laboratory explained that the primary motivation behind in-pile transient boiling experiments at TREAT is studying cladding-to-coolant heat transfer, connecting out-of-pile experiment results with in-pile results. “The system is performing very well,” Jensen said. While COVID-19 has delayed the next series of in-pile experiments until the fall, those experiments will make use of expanded instrumentation to measure power input, according to Jensen.
TCR fuel design testing: Aaron Wysocki of Oak Ridge National Laboratory talked about system analyses conducted to inform transient testing of TCR fuel designs in TREAT. Those analyses have considered the impact of postulated events—including reactivity-initiated accidents—on fuel performance. With promising results for peak temperatures and stress levels, “this provides a very useful tool to define the conditions we want for future TREAT experiments,” Wysocki said.
Strontium diffusion: Taylor Mae Weilert, a senior graduate student at the University of Missouri at Columbia, presented work she had completed under a Department of Energy fellowship to measure strontium diffusivity in graphite. Strontium is considered a biologically relevant radionuclide known to be able to diffuse through intact TRISO particles, and new measurements were needed, Weilert said. “To the best of our knowledge these are the first time-release diffusion measurements of strontium in graphite,” she added.
TREAT testing capabilities: John Bess of Idaho National Laboratory talked about some of his work on expanding the testing envelope for TREAT. “We’re looking at what can we put in TREAT,” he said, to open the possibility of using different test vehicles and expanding the facility’s mission. Future work will address the impact of using TREAT upgrade fuel assemblies and bringing older TREAT fuel back into service with new cladding.
TCR materials: Annabelle Le Coq of ORNL reviewed the irradiation testing status of three TCR materials: silicon carbide, used for the fuel matrix; yttrium hydride, used for the moderator; and 316L stainless steel, used for the assembly structure. The accelerated testing that is possible using ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor and existing testing vehicles is allowing the quick collection of data on TCR materials to keep development of the microreactor moving at a rapid pace, Le Coq said.
ORNL is well-represented: Following Le Coq’s presentation, questions on yttrium hydride testing for the TCR prompted attendees Chris Petrie and Kurt Terrani, both of ORNL, to unmute and add some thoughts. “The monitoring we’re doing during the fabrication process gives us pretty good confidence in the microstructure of the material and how it might perform, so combining that data during manufacturing with the post irradiation data will give us a pretty good idea of microstructure property relationships,” Petrie said. A key takeaway, according to Terrani, was “the agility of how we make these advanced materials.”
Sharing of Good Industry Practices and/or Lessons Learned in Nuclear Criticality Safety
This panel session, sponsored by the Nuclear Criticality Safety Division, was chaired by Deborah Hill in the United Kingdom and Ellen Saylor in the United States, and focused on the best practices to establish a strong safety culture at nuclear facilities.
John Bess began the panel session with his presentation on “Good Practices Relating to International Benchmark Experiments Supporting Validation.” He discussed his experience with the ICSBEP and IRPhEP benchmark experiment projects and the publication of those projects as handbooks. Bess emphasized the importance of the handbooks as a knowledge capture tool and a way to keep researchers from duplicating efforts. The projects “set the standard for contemporary benchmark handbooks and are a great tool to get the younger generation and students involved,” Bess said.
Tyler Lovelace presented recent nuclear criticality safety assessments performed at the Y-12 National Security Complex, focusing on three programs: the Large Geometry Exclusion Area, the Inadvertent Accumulation Prevention Program, and the Uranium Holdup Survey Program. Lovelace reviewed the history of each program, the accidents that led to their establishment, and the assessment of their effectiveness. Lovelace said that the lessons learned included that documentation must be maintained and up-to-date, roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined, and each program should have proper oversight.
Doug Bowen was next up, talking about his experience with the ANS-8 standards and safety programs at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Bowen said that “a formality of operations is required to implement a robust safety culture.” He discussed his experience with the revision of ANS-8.1 and the use of “credible” and “unlikely” in the standard, and said that “the health of a site’s safety culture and formality of operations varies as a function of time.”
Deborah Hill concluded the session with a presentation on “Sharing of Good Practices in Criticality ‘Inspections.” Hill focused on how to maximize effectiveness and make an “inspection” approachable for facility staff, which begins with careful consideration of what the inspection is called. She provided numerous best practices on the scope and implementation of inspections.
Cutting-Edge Techniques in Education, Training, and Distance Education
An early-afternoon session tackled topics as diverse as online teaching and considerations for bringing a non-nuclear company into the nuclear supply chain.
Keith E. Holbert from Arizona State University discussed lessons learned through the PLuS (Phoenix-London-Sydney) Alliance nuclear engineering online course exchange program. The alliance is a partnership of Arizona State University (ASU), King’s College London, and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney. In particular, Holbert examined the exchange of nuclear engineering courses between ASU and UNSW.
Holbert said that the relationship leveraged the schools’ resources and was beneficial for students at both universities, who had access to more courses. In a COVID-19 postscript, Holbert said the experiences provided by the online courses resulted in a seamless transition for all involved when the pandemic forced universities to halt in-person instruction.
In a later presentation, Anne Leidich and Elina Teplinsky from Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman discussed considerations for bringing new suppliers into the nuclear supply chain. They advised that nuclear companies seeking to establish long-term relationships with non-nuclear suppliers should consider both regulatory and commercial issues that could arise over a long period with the potential for an increasing scale of performance.
Coming up on June 10
10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. (EDT)
General Chair’s Special Session: The Promise of Advanced Reactors during Uncertain Times: National Security, Jobs and Clean Energy
12:00 p.m.–2:10 p.m. (EDT)
General Topics in Instrumentation and Controls and Human Factors
General Topics in Decommissioning
Energy Storage Systems and Integration with NPPs—I
Chemical Treatment of Radioactive Waste
Sensors and In-Pile Instrumentation
Challenges and Opportunities in Thermal Hydraulics of High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactors–Panel
Meeting the Challenges in Non-LWR PRA Standard Development–Panel
Reactor Physics of Advanced Reactors
Balancing Competition and National Needs in the Medical Isotopes Market–Panel
2:30 p.m.–4:15 p.m. (EDT)
Online Monitoring and Prognostics
Energy Storage Systems and Integration with NPPs—II
Thermal Hydraulics of Nuclear Micro-Reactors and MSR
Managing Hydrogen Systems in Nuclear Facilities: Lessons Learned from the DOE Complex and Industry–Panel
Accelerated Materials Discovery
Aging of Materials
Reactor Analysis Methods—II
ANS-8 Standards Forum
Innovating Nuclear Through an Entrepreneurial Student Prize Competition
4:35 p.m.–6:20 p.m. (EDT)
Digital Instrumentation and Control
Operations and Power: General
Fuel Cycle and Waste Management: General
Computational Thermal Hydraulics—II
Sensitivity, Uncertainty, and Machine Learning
Reactor Physics of Micro Reactors for Terrestrial and Space Applications—II
New Developments in Shipping Packages Related to Criticality Safety–Panel