Complaint filed with FERC over Grand Gulf management

The Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC), the New Orleans City Council, and the Arkansas Public Service Commission on March 2 filed a complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission against Entergy Corporation, seeking damages of more than $360 million for what they term the utility’s “imprudent operation” of the Grand Gulf nuclear plant.

Located in Port Gibson, Miss., Grand Gulf is a single-unit plant with a 1,433-MWe boiling water reactor. The unit, which entered commercial operation in 1985, supplies power to customers of Entergy Louisiana, Entergy Mississippi, Entergy Arkansas, and Entergy New Orleans.

Ohio Senate votes to repeal nuclear plant subsidies

After months of unsuccessful efforts by Ohio lawmakers to contend with the fallout from H.B. 6—the now-infamous nuclear subsidies bill signed into law in 2019—the state’s senate on March 3 passed a measure, S.B. 44, to repeal those subsidies. The vote was 32–0.

For those who may need reminding, federal prosecutors on July 21, 2020, arrested Larry Householder, then speaker of the Ohio House, and four lobbyists and political consultants for their involvement in an alleged $61 million corruption and racketeering scheme aimed at guaranteeing passage of H.B. 6, whose subsidies had kept Ohio’s Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants from premature closure.

H.B. 6 established a seven-year program to charge the state’s electricity consumers fees to support payments of about $150 million annually to the plants’ operator, Energy Harbor Corporation, then known as FirstEnergy Solutions (FES). FES had announced in March 2018 that it would be forced to close Davis-Besse and Perry without some form of support from the state. (The payments to Energy Harbor were blocked last December by an Ohio Supreme Court injunction, which complemented an earlier lower court ruling.)

China on course to lead in nuclear by 2030, says IEA

China will have the world's largest nuclear power fleet within a decade, an International Energy Agency official noted during a session at the High-Level Workshop on Nuclear Power in Clean Energy Transitions, World Nuclear News reported on March 3.

The workshop was held jointly by the IEA and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The IEA official, Brent Wanner, head of Power Sector Modelling & Analysis for the agency's World Energy Outlook publication, said that as nuclear fleets in the United States, Canada, and Japan reach their original design lifetimes, decisions will have to be made about what will happen after that. Absent license renewals, the contribution of nuclear power could decline substantially in those countries while China’s reactor building program will boost it into the first position.

Uranium reserve bill reintroduced in House; Grand Canyon mining ban progresses

The House of Representatives produced some good news for the nation’s uranium mining industry in late February, but also some of the opposite variety.

Latta

First, on February 25, Rep. Bob Latta (R, Ohio) reintroduced the Nuclear Prosperity and Security Act (H.R. 1351), initially brought forward by the congressman last July. The bill would direct the secretary of energy to establish and operate a uranium reserve in the United States to ensure the availability of the element in the event of a market disruption and to support U.S. strategic fuel cycle capabilities.

“The United States has fallen behind in the competitive development of nuclear energy, and now we rely heavily on foreign sources of uranium,” Latta stated. “In order to avoid threats to our nuclear supply chain, we need to build up our domestic uranium mining, production, and conversion by establishing a uranium reserve. The Nuclear Prosperity and Security Act would establish a domestic uranium reserve that will result in lower carbon emissions, new jobs and economic growth, and a more secure world.”

H.R. 1351 has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

ANS webinar updates progress at Fukushima

The accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011, has sparked many safety improvements in the nuclear industry over the past decade. Lessons from the accident and its aftermath will influence firms and regulators as they consider the future design, construction, operation and decommissioning of nuclear reactors.

An American Nuclear Society webinar, “Nuclear News Presents: A Look Back at the Fukushima Daiichi Accident,” held yesterday was attended by more than 1,550 viewers and generated about 150 questions to the panelists. The attendance was the largest ever for an ANS webinar.

The panelists were Mike Corradini, emeritus professor, University of Wisconsin; Dale Klein, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Joy Rempe, principal, Rempe and Assoc. LLC; Lake Barrett, senior advisor, Tokyo Electric Power Company and Japan’s International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID); and Paul Dickman, senior policy fellow, Argonne National Laboratory.

The webinar’s recording and slides are available here, along with an e-version of the March issue of Nuclear News, which features a cover story on the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

Virginia’s plan for nuclear in state’s energy strategy released

Virginia’s nuclear-sector stakeholders, led by the Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium Authority (VNECA), have drawn up a plan for helping the state reach its goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity generation by 2045.

Released late last month, Virginia is Nuclear: 2020–2024 Strategic Plan is the result of legislation, SB 549, signed into law last year. The law directed the state’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy; Secretary of Commerce and Trade; and Secretary of Education to work with VNECA and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority to develop a comprehensive blueprint for the role of nuclear energy in Virginia’s overall clean-energy strategy.

“The nuclear industry is vital to Virginia, and the Lynchburg region in particular,” said state Sen. Stephen Newman, who sponsored SB 549. “Jobs, economic growth, and clean air are just three of the benefits the state will see from the plan. I am proud of the industry and look forward to seeing them move forward with the plan.”

Browns Ferry-2 outage to include turbine work, loading of 3D-printed parts

A replacement rotor is lifted and staged for the upcoming Browns Ferry-2 turbine work. Photo: TVA

The Tennessee Valley Authority has begun a refueling and maintenance outage at Browns Ferry-2 that includes the largest scope of turbine deck work since the unit’s construction, as well as innovations in fuel assembly components, the utility announced on March 1.

On deck: All three of the 1,254.7-MWe boiling water reactor’s low-pressure turbines will undergo a comprehensive replacement of major components, including new rotors, inner casings, steam piping and bellows, and turbine supervisory instruments, requiring the support of more than 500 additional outage workers. TVA said that 600 crane lifts will need to be performed for some components, such as the rotors, which weigh up to 327,888 lb., and inner casings, which weigh up to 200,000 lb.

ORISE reports uptick in nuclear engineering master’s degrees

An increase in the number of master’s degrees awarded in the United States in 2019 pushed the total number of nuclear engineering degrees to its highest level since 2016, according to a study conducted by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) that surveyed 34 U.S. universities with nuclear engineering programs. The report, Nuclear Engineering Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2019 Data, includes degrees granted between September 1, 2018, and August 31, 2019, as well as enrollments for fall 2019. It was released by ORISE in February.

Details: The 316 nuclear engineering master’s degrees awarded in 2019 represented a 21 percent increase over the 2018 total, and a 12 percent increase over the number awarded in 2017. The 194 doctoral degrees awarded in 2019 represented the second-highest level recorded since 1966.

Strategy for U.S. leadership in advanced nuclear released

The Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) and the Partnership for Global Security (PGS) have released a joint report laying out a comprehensive strategy for U.S. leadership in the commercialization of next-generation nuclear power.

The 34-page report, U.S. Advanced Nuclear Energy Strategy for Domestic Prosperity, Climate Protection, National Security, and Global Leadership, says that collaboration between government, industry, civil society, and other nations can bring advanced reactors to market to reduce global emissions, provide domestic jobs, and support national security.

The report was released with a 58-minute webinar available on YouTube.

ITER updates: Components, commitments converge toward first plasma

The ITER site in Cadarache, France. Photo: ITER Organization

With first plasma operations at ITER planned for 2025, milestones are being reached in quick succession. While several of the 35 countries contributing to the construction of the super-sized fusion tokamak are pursuing fusion programs of their own, they remain committed to ITER and are eager for the data and operating experience it is expected to yield.

Euratom leads the project being built in Cadarache, France, as the host party for ITER. On February 22, the European Council approved the continuation of European financing of ITER from 2021 to 2027, with a contribution of €5.61 billion (about $6.86 billion) in current prices.

Former SCANA CEO pleads guilty to fraud

The latest episode in the continuing saga of the failed nuclear expansion project at South Carolina’s Summer plant played out in federal court last week when the former chief executive officer of SCANA, Kevin Marsh, pleaded guilty to charges of fraud. According to the state attorney general’s office, Marsh will serve two years of a 10-year sentence, followed by three years of probation, provided he continues to cooperate with prosecutors. Marsh will also part with $5 million, which is to be used to help low-income ratepayers with their utility bills.

“This case is a good example of the power of our state grand jury and how our office uses it to hold the powerful accountable,” said South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson. “While this criminal proceeding is not meant to repay the customers who spent billions of dollars on nuclear plants that were never finished, we hope they take some comfort from the fact that the former CEO of SCANA has pled guilty for his role in this debacle. A public utility and its officers must serve the public.”

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.

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.

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.

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.