Artificial intelligence could yield real advances for the nuclear reactors of tomorrow

April 9, 2021, 9:23AMNuclear NewsRichard Vilim

To build a next-generation nuclear reactor, you can teach it how to build itself

The nuclear reactors currently in operation in the United States are beginning to gray around the temples. Built decades ago using technology developed during the middle of the 20th century, these reactors have safely and reliably powered homes and businesses, but they produce waste that must be disposed of properly.

Road to advanced nuclear: How DOE and industry collaborations are paving the way for advanced nuclear reactors

April 2, 2021, 8:58AMNuclear NewsCory Hatch

As electric utilities rush to reduce carbon emissions by investing in intermittent renewables such as wind and solar, they often rely heavily on fossil fuels to provide steady baseload power.

More than 60 percent of the nation’s electricity is still generated with fossil fuels, especially coal-fired and gas-fired power plants that have the ability to quickly ramp up or ramp down power to follow loads on the electric grid. Most experts agree that even with a radical advancement in energy storage technology, relying exclusively on wind and solar to replace fossil fuels won’t be enough to maintain a stable electric grid and avoid the major impacts of climate change.

To complete the transition to a carbon-free energy future, one key piece of the puzzle remains: nuclear power.

Seismic preparation for nuclear plants: Lowering costs without compromising safety

March 26, 2021, 4:02PMNuclear NewsCory Hatch

Nuclear power plants not only provide the nation’s largest source of carbon-­free electricity, they also can operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to augment intermittent renewables such as wind and solar. Further, studies show that nuclear energy is among the safest forms of energy production, especially when considering factors such as industrial accidents and disease associated with fossil fuel emissions. All said, nuclear has the potential to play a key role in the world’s energy future. Before nuclear can realize that potential, however, researchers and industry must overcome one big challenge: cost.

A team at Idaho National Laboratory is collaborating with experts around the nation to tackle a major piece of the infrastructure equation: earthquake resilience. INL’s Facility Risk Group is taking a multipronged approach to reduce the amount of concrete, rebar, and other infrastructure needed to improve the seismic safety of advanced reactors while also substantially reducing capital costs. The effort is part of a collaboration between INL, industry, the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-­E), and the State University of New York–Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo).

Advanced liquid waste processing systems: Safely processing Fukushima’s wastewater

March 19, 2021, 2:07PMNuclear NewsJohn Fabian

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) became a household name a decade ago as the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, center of the largest nuclear accident in a generation. Now in 2021, as a result of the continuous mitigation efforts, TEPCO is currently storing 1.2 million cubic meters of treated wastewater—and counting—in more than 1,000 large storage tanks on site. This wastewater has been in the spotlight for the past few years since current projections show that storage capacity will run out by 2022. That spotlight intensified last year when a panel of experts from Japan named the Subcommittee on Handling of the ALPS-Treated Water (ALPS Subcommittee) recommended to the Japanese government that the treated wastewater should be released into the ocean. The ALPS Subcommittee’s report states, “The topic of how to handle the treated water is one of the most important decommissioning tasks, which has been discussed since 2013.” This issue has plagued the decommissioning and decontamination efforts for the past decade for one simple reason: a failure to effectively communicate about the low risk involved with processing, diluting, and discharging the water over a period of several years.

Nuclear waste policy status and prospects in 2021

March 11, 2021, 9:29AMNuclear NewsSteven P. Nesbit

Sooner or later, any discussion of the future of the role of nuclear power leads to the question, “What are you going to do with the waste?” Nuclear technology professionals recognize that there are good solutions available for the management and disposal of nuclear waste, but implementing them requires overcoming societal and political barriers that have proven daunting in this country. Currently, the United States has a nuclear waste policy, but the federal government lacks the will to implement it or change it. The past decade has been extremely frustrating to those dedicated to addressing waste issues here and now, rather than kicking them down the road. Prospects for the next decade are uncertain, at best.

Fukushima Daiichi: 10 years on

March 1, 2021, 2:12PMNuclear NewsLake Barrett

The Fukushima Daiichi site before the accident. All images are provided courtesy of TEPCO unless noted otherwise.

It was a rather normal day back on March 11, 2011, at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant before 2:45 p.m. That was the time when the Great Tohoku Earthquake struck, followed by a massive tsunami that caused three reactor meltdowns and forever changed the nuclear power industry in Japan and worldwide. Now, 10 years later, much has been learned and done to improve nuclear safety, and despite many challenges, significant progress is being made to decontaminate and defuel the extensively damaged Fukushima Daiichi reactor site. This is a summary of what happened, progress to date, current situation, and the outlook for the future there.

The NRC: Observations on commissioner appointments

February 26, 2021, 4:59PMNuclear NewsSteven P. Nesbit and Paul T. Dickman

In 2015, we wrote an article for Nuclear News analyzing the history of commissioners appointed to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and assessing their backgrounds, experience, and qualifications at the time of their appointment. At the time, ANS had not established a formal position statement on NRC commissioner appointees. Our article provided an objective assessment of historical patterns and was used to develop ANS position statement #77, The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (2016). This article draws upon the 2015 article and provides updated data and analysis. Also, the recommendations of the position statement are applied to the current vacancy on the commission.

ANS Task Force: Accelerating nuclear R&D investment is key to securing America’s clean energy future

February 17, 2021, 11:58AMNuclear News

The ANS Task Force on Public Investment in Nuclear Research and Development has just issued a report titled “The U.S. Nuclear R&D Imperative.” Visit ans.org/policy/rndreport/ to learn more and to read the report in its entirety.

The following article, originally published in the February 2021 issue of Nuclear News, describes the formation of the Task Force and the principles that guided its members as they developed specific nuclear R&D funding recommendations to ensure that a new generation of nuclear energy technologies is ready for deployment in 2030 and beyond.

Exelon Generation’s workforce development and knowledge transfer strategy

February 12, 2021, 4:10PMNuclear NewsHeather Davis

Students display items they received at a STEM workshop sponsored by Exelon. Photo: Exelon.

The landscape of Exelon Generation’s nuclear business has continued to evolve—even before the complications of a pandemic—but people will always remain the core focus. Our employees and our future employee pipelines are changing almost as fast as technology, which is why the development of the workforce, both present and future, along with the transfer of knowledge across all departments and levels of the organization, must remain adaptable and advance as well.

Wanted: A regulatory framework for commercial fusion energy

February 5, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear NewsJeffrey Merrifiel, Peter Lyons

Fusion devices have yet to sustain a burning plasma and produce usable energy, so it should come as no surprise that there is not yet a framework for regulating commercial fusion energy.

Fusion and fission are two very different ways to release nuclear energy. But how different could their regulation be? There are many possible answers to two central questions: Who will regulate commercial fusion (in the United States, that authority could reside with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or an Agreement State operating under NRC oversight), and what aspects of a fusion plant will they regulate?

A growing part of the fusion community

January 29, 2021, 12:27PMNuclear NewsGuest Contributor

Fusion energy is no longer a far-off goal. It is now routinely achieved at laboratory scale but requires more energy to control the fusion reaction than the fusion reaction has released.

The path to viable fusion power from a magnetically confined plasma source requires the creation of a burning plasma, whereby the primary heating source comes from the fusion reaction itself.

To begin to consider the economic viability of a fusion power plant, the reaction must have a significant energy gain, or “Q” factor (the ratio of output power to input heating power), in a reaction that is sustained over a time frame of minutes or hours.

Construction has begun on an international experiment—the ITER tokamak—that aims to achieve a sustained reaction, and numerous privately funded smaller experiments have the potential to move forward toward this goal.

Nuclear News reached out to companies in the fusion community to ask for insights into their ongoing work. All are members of the Fusion Industry Association. Most companies submitted briefs at a specified word count, while others ran long and some ran short. Their insights appear on the following pages.

Notes on fusion

January 22, 2021, 12:23PMNuclear NewsDavid Kingham and Josh Kennedy-White

The ST25-HTS tokamak.

Governments around the world have been interested in fusion for more than 70 years. Fusion research was largely secret until 1968, when the Soviets unveiled exciting results from their tokamak (a magnetic confinement fusion device with a particular configuration that produces a toroidal plasma). The Soviets realized that tokamaks were not useful as weapons but could produce plasma in the million-degree temperature range to demonstrate Soviet scientific and technical prowess to the world.

Following this breakthrough, government laboratories around the world continued to pursue various methods of confining hot plasma to understand plasma physics under extreme conditions, getting closer and closer to the conditions necessary for fusion energy production. Tokamaks have been by far the most successful configuration. In the 1990s, the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory produced 10 MW of fusion power using deuterium-tritium fusion. A few years later, the Joint European Torus (JET) in the United Kingdom increased that to 16 MW, getting close to breakeven using 24 MW of power to heat the plasma.

Fuel innovation: Powering nuclear modernization

January 18, 2021, 9:35AMNuclear NewsBen Holtzman

Today’s U.S. commercial nuclear power plants are fueled with uranium dioxide pressed into cylindrical ceramic pellets—and have been for decades. These pellets are stacked inside long fuel rods made of a zirconium alloy cladding. Innovation in nuclear fuel, however, can improve safety, reduce operating costs, and further enable the development of a new generation of non-light-water reactors.

Understanding the ITER Project in the context of global Progress on Fusion

January 15, 2021, 2:24PMNuclear NewsBernard Bigot

(photo: ITER Project gangway assembly)

The promise of hydrogen fusion as a safe, environmentally friendly, and virtually unlimited source of energy has motivated scientists and engineers for decades. For the general public, the pace of fusion research and development may at times appear to be slow. But for those on the inside, who understand both the technological challenges involved and the transformative impact that fusion can bring to human society in terms of the security of the long-term world energy supply, the extended investment is well worth it.

Failure is not an option.

Fusion and the bounty of electricity

January 8, 2021, 3:05PMNuclear NewsRoss Radel

From the time we discovered how the sun produces energy, we have been captivated by the prospect of powering our society using the same principles of nuclear fusion. Fusion energy promises the bounty of electricity we need to live our lives without the pollution inherent in fossil fuels, such as oil, gas, and coal. In addition, fusion energy is free from the stigma that has long plagued nuclear power about the storage and handling of long-lived radioactive waste products, a stigma from which fission power is only just starting to recover in green energy circles.

The Curious History of Neutrinos and Nuclear Reactors

December 31, 2020, 7:09AMNuclear NewsJonathan Link, Patrick Huber, and Alireza Haghighat

Neutrinos steal energy from the core and seemingly offer little in return. The science and history of neutrinos are closely linked to those of nuclear power, but if science and history are any guide, this ne’er-do-well particle may yet contribute to our nuclear future.

Award Winners: Fostering innovation in student research

December 29, 2020, 12:23PMNuclear News

The Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy created the Innovations in Fuel Cycle Research Awards program for university students in 2010. Now known as the Innovations in Nuclear Technology R&D Awards, the program aims to engage faculty and students in innovation and innovative thinking, increase experiential activities related to nuclear technology, and prepare students to engage in nuclear policy discussions.


Nuclear engineering programs: Building the new nuclear workforce

December 28, 2020, 7:01AMNuclear News

In order to deliver the next generation of nuclear power plants, the nuclear community needs to overcome a number of challenges identified in 2017 as part of the ANS Nuclear Grand Challenges presidential initiative. Knowledge transfer is one of the nine challenges identified. The goal of the challenge is to “expedite updates to the higher education Nuclear Engineering curriculum to better match today’s needs.”

The Nuclear Grand Challenges report noted that “effective means to transfer that knowledge to the newest group of scientists and engineers needs to be developed and implemented. With the advent of new reactor designs and the challenges within materials science to meet the needs of these new designs, the curriculum structure must be reviewed and updated to better meet the needs of industry, suppliers, and research organizations.”

Nuclear engineering programs at universities around the country are integral to training and developing the workforce to implement the next generation of nuclear energy. Nuclear News reached out to several such nuclear engineering departments, asking them to provide our readers with an update on how their unique programs are helping meet this important challenge.