Is proximity key to understanding interactions on the nuclear scale?

An MIT-led team found that the formulas describing how atoms behave in a gas can be generalized to predict how protons and neutrons interact at close range. Image: Collage by MIT News. Neutron star image: X-ray (NASA/CXC/ESO/F.Vogt et al); Optical (ESO/VLT/MUSE & NASA/STScI)

In an MIT News article playfully titled “No matter the size of a nuclear party, some protons and neutrons will always pair up and dance,” author Jennifer Chu explains that findings on the interactions of protons and neutrons recently published in the journal Nature Physics show that the nucleons may behave like atoms in a gas.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology–led team simulated the behavior of nucleons in several types of atomic nuclei using supercomputers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory. The team investigated a range of nuclear interaction models and found that formulas describing a concept known as contact formalism can be generalized to predict how protons and neutrons interact at close range.

Bloomberg: Stanford prof a front runner to lead Biden DOE

Majumdar

Arun Majumdar, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University and former vice president for energy at Google, is a leading contender for secretary of energy in a Biden administration, according to a November 12 Bloomberg story.

Chosen on November 10 to lead Biden’s Department of Energy transition team, Majumdar was also the first director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-–Energy (ARPA-E), serving in that role from 2009 to 2012. Bloomberg quotes Jeff Navin, director of external affairs at TerraPower, as saying, “He had as good relationships with Republicans as he did with Democrats as the first director of ARPA-E, and he took the time to get to know key legislators personally.”

Newly connected Belarusian reactor powers down

On November 8, less than a week after becoming Belarus’s first nuclear reactor to be connected to the power grid, and only one day after a visit to the Belarusian site from the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, to celebrate the accomplishment, Belarusian-1 was forced to cease power production, a report from the Associated Press states.

BWXT restarts TRISO fuel manufacturing

BWX Technologies Inc. announced on November 10 that its BWXT Nuclear Operations Group Inc. (BWXT NOG) subsidiary has completed its TRISO nuclear fuel line restart project and is actively producing fuel at its Lynchburg, Va., facility.

With the restart, BWXT now manufactures fuel across four commercial and government business lines, the company said. In addition to the TRISO line, BWXT operates fuel production lines at BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada, manufacturer of approximately half of the fuel powering the commercial reactor fleet in Ontario, Canada; BWXT subsidiary Nuclear Fuel Services, sole provider of nuclear fuel for the U.S. Navy; and BWXT’s Uranium Processing and Research Reactors operation, the only North American supplier of research reactor fuel elements for colleges, universities, and national laboratories.

U.S. companies said to be in talks with U.K. on Welsh nuclear project

Artist's concept of the Wylfa Newydd project. Image: Horizon Nuclear Power

The London-based newspaper Financial Times is reporting that a consortium of U.S. firms is holding discussions with the U.K. government to revive Wylfa Newydd, the nuclear new-build project in Wales from which Tokyo-based Hitachi Ltd. withdrew in September. According to the November 10 FT story—which is based on an anonymous source—the consortium is led by Bechtel and includes Southern Company and Westinghouse.

Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island likely hydrogen demo site

Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island plant. Photo: Xcel Energy

Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island is the probable location for the nation’s first demonstration of high-temperature steam electrolysis at a nuclear power plant. Idaho National Laboratory, which plays a key role in a hydrogen demonstration project launched last year with Xcel Energy, Energy Harbor, and Arizona Public Service (APS), announced on November 9 that Prairie Island, which houses two 550-MWe pressurized water reactors, would likely be chosen over the one-unit boiling water reactor plant at Monticello.

Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy will work with INL to demonstrate a system that uses the plant’s steam and electricity to split water. The resulting hydrogen will be used at the power plant, but excess hydrogen could be sold to other industries. Hydrogen has applications in transportation and in industrial sectors, including steel and ammonia production.

More than $10 million in federal funding for the Xcel Energy demo was announced by the Department of Energy on October 8. It is just one phase of a project that showcases collaboration between the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Commercial hydrogen production via low-temperature electrolysis is being demonstrated at Energy Harbor’s Davis-Besse plant. APS, which operates the Palo Verde generating station, will build on the Xcel Energy demo to develop an initial design and feasibility assessment for plant modifications to integrate a reversible hydrogen electrolysis system with the plant’s secondary system and will include hydrogen storage infrastructure.

Chatterjee out as FERC chairman, Danly in

Chatterjee

The Trump administration on November 5 removed Neil Chatterjee from the chairmanship of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, replacing him with fellow Republican James Danly, who was confirmed to a seat on the commission in March.

Chatterjee joined FERC in 2017, serving as chairman from August to December 2017. He returned to the leadership role in October 2018, following the departure of Kevin McIntyre. In a tweet, Chatterjee said that he intends to complete his term, which expires in June 2021.

NRC proposes fine, issues violation notices over Watts Bar-1 incident

Watts Bar. Photo: TVA

One week after issuing a six-figure civil penalty to the Tennessee Valley Authority for violating Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules involving employee protection, the NRC has proposed penalties totaling more than $900,000 on TVA for a 2015 incident at the utility’s two-unit Watts Bar nuclear plant, located near Spring City, Tenn.

The NRC also has issued violations to two managers and a reactor operator for their roles in the incident.

The enforcement actions are the result of an NRC investigation—initiated in August 2016 and completed in May of last year—into events that occurred during and after the startup of Watts Bar-1 following a maintenance outage in November 2015.

Pb-210 used to track growing sedimentation in the Caribbean Sea

The IAEA is supporting countries surrounding the Caribbean Sea, facilitating their efforts to monitor and analyze the scale of sedimentation in the region. Photo: Tim Gregoire

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, between 750,000 and 1 million metric tons of sediments are discharged into the Caribbean Sea each year. The release of sedimentation into the world’s oceans, increasingly from human activities, degrades marine environments and jeopardizes regional fishing industries.

The IAEA is supporting Latin American and Caribbean countries in monitoring and analyzing the scope and scale of sedimentation in the region by providing training on the use of the lead radioisotope Pb-210 in the sampling, monitoring, and study of growing sedimentation in the Caribbean and its effects on marine life. That training has culminated in the publication of a study in the November 2020 issue of the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, the agency announced on November 5.

Gordon-Hagerty resigns as NNSA administrator

Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty has resigned as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration and undersecretary of energy for nuclear security, the Department of Energy announced on November 6. William Bookless, who had been serving as NNSA principal deputy administrator for the past year-and-a-half, was named as acting administrator. Bookless spent more than three decades as a senior physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory prior to joining the NNSA.

NRC seeks comments on language for proposed advanced reactor rulemaking

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is requesting public input on preliminary language for a proposed rule that would set out a risk-informed, technology-inclusive framework for the licensing and regulation of advanced nuclear reactors, according to a notice published in the November 6 Federal Register.

The Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, or NEIMA, signed into law in January 2019, tasked the agency with developing a regulatory infrastructure for the development and commercialization of advanced reactors.

SHINE announces first sale of medical Lu-177

Wisconsin-based SHINE Medical Technologies announced on November 4 that its Therapeutics division has made its first commercial sales of lutetium-177 to multiple customers. Lu-177 is a therapeutic isotope in demand by clinical trial sponsors because of its potential to treat a range of cancers.

SHINE said that its production process enables the company to produce the high specific activity, non-carrier-added Lu-177 that is required by today’s clinical trials. In the short term, SHINE will produce Lu-177 at Building One of the company’s Janesville campus while a larger facility is being constructed exclusively for the production of the radioisotope. Building One, which was completed in 2018, houses SHINE’s first integrated, full-size production system and is used to train staff and develop operating history with the equipment.

Groundbreaking for the larger facility is expected in November. According to SHINE, the new production facility will be able to scale to support the company’s anticipated Lu-177 demand for the next five years. It will be capable of producing more than 300,000 doses of Lu-177 per year, the company said.

TVA fined over employee protection violations

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on October 29 imposed a civil penalty of $606,942 on the Tennessee Valley Authority for violating the agency’s rules involving employee protection, after proposing the fine and issuing four related violation notices in August.

Following investigations completed in October 2019 and January 2020, the NRC concluded that two former TVA employees had been subjected to reprisals for raising concerns regarding a chilled work environment.

In a November 4 Federal Register notice, the NRC notes that TVA responded to the proposed fine on September 23, denying all four violations and arguing (unsuccessfully) that “if the NRC continues to believe that the violations occurred, then at a minimum the NRC should reduce the severity level of the alleged violations and commensurately reduce the civil penalty.”

John Wagner named INL director

Wagner

John C. Wagner, ANS Fellow and member since 1991, has been named as the next director of Idaho National Laboratory, Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) announced on Thursday. BEA manages and operates the laboratory for the Department of Energy.

Wagner will begin his new role on Dec. 11. He has been at INL since 2016 and has been an associate laboratory director for Nuclear Science and Technology since 2017.

Opinion: U.K. power stations could make hydrogen, heat homes, and decarbonize industry

Nuclear reactors have evolved to achieve more than just electricity generation and should be part of the U.K.’s plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Photo: Royal Society, authors provided

The United Kingdom needs to start rebuilding its capacity to generate nuclear power, according to an opinion article published Wednesday on The Conversation by two members of the U.K.-based Bangor University faculty.

Bill Lee, a professor of materials in extreme environments, and Michael Rushton, a senior lecturer in nuclear energy, argue that the plan by the Committee on Climate Change, which advises the U.K. government on the effort to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, is “strangely silent on nuclear power.”

Core Power thinks nuclear will make waves in commercial shipping

Illustration of Core Power’s modular MSR concept. Image: Core Power

Core Power is a tiny startup that is bullish on the prospects for nuclear-powered ocean transportation. The company announced on November 2 that it is part of a team that has applied for a cost-shared award from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) to build a prototype molten salt reactor (MSR). Core Power believes that MSRs could be used for propulsion or electricity generation to decarbonize the world’s commercial shipping fleet.

Based in London, England, Core Power is the only non-U.S. member of the team, which includes TerraPower, Southern Company, and Orano USA. As a marine engineering firm, Core Power says that it offers its ARDP partners “access to pent-up demand from a market with real customers.” An announcement of ARDP “risk reduction for future demonstrations” award winners is expected in December.

New NNSA website helps in nuclear safeguards reporting

The National Nuclear Security Administration has launched RAINS—the Reporting Assistant for International Nuclear Safeguards website—intended to assist users with the requirements surrounding international nuclear safeguards.

Nuclear safeguards are designed to verify that all nuclear material declared by a nation-state is not diverted for non-peaceful uses; detect any misuse of declared facilities or locations outside facilities; and detect any undeclared nuclear material or activities in the nation-state.

Holtec steps up efforts for SMR design certification

Artist’s rendering of a Holtec SMR-160 plant. Image: Holtec International.

Holtec International announced yesterday a drive to secure Nuclear Regulatory Commission design certification of the company’s SMR-160 small modular reactor on an accelerated schedule.

According to the announcement, Holtec met with NRC officials and staff on September 30 to present a licensing roadmap that charts what the company referred to as a “seamless progression from [10 CFR Part 50] to [10 CFR Part 52] and a licensing topical report submittal schedule to support an accelerated availability plan for our global customers.”

The first planned submittal, scheduled to occur within the next few weeks, is a topical report covering the SMR-160’s essential safety features: the Passive Core Cooling System (PCCS) and Passive Containment Heat Removal System (PCHR). These systems, Holtec said, “undergird the SMR’s guaranteed safety under the various operational occurrences and hypothetical accidents that may afflict the plant.”

The submittal also aims to demonstrate that the PCCS and PCHR comply with the NRC’s General Design Criteria (Part 50, Appendix A), “an important enabler to expedite licensing efforts,” according to Holtec.

Nuclear tech in space: What’s on the horizon?

Illustration of a Mars transit habitat and nuclear electric propulsion system. Image: NASA

NASA aims to develop nuclear technologies for two space applications: propulsion and surface power. Both can make planned NASA missions to the moon more agile and more ambitious, and both are being developed with future crewed missions to Mars in mind. Like advanced reactors here on Earth, space nuclear technologies have an accelerated timeline for deployment in this decade.

Space nuclear propulsion and extraterrestrial surface power are getting funding and attention. New industry solicitations are expected this month, and a range of proposed reactor technologies could meet NASA’s specifications for nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP). Nuclear electric propulsion could increase the feasibility of crewed missions to Mars with a shorter transit time, a broader launch window and more flexibility to abort missions, reduced astronaut exposure to space radiation and other hazards, expanded payload mass capabilities, and reduced cost.