Former NRC chairs issue vaccine timeline recommendation to CDC

Five former chairmen of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission—Stephen Burns, Allison Macfarlane, Nils Diaz, Richard Meserve, and Dale Klein—signed a letter to José Romero, Arkansas health secretary and chair of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) immunization advisory committee, requesting that the advisory committee update its recommendation for COVID-19 vaccine allocation guidance for the energy workforce (including nuclear energy workers).

Currently, the CDC has four phases for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Those phases are numbered:

  • 1a (the current phase), reserved for healthcare workers and those living in long-term care facilities;
  • 1b, reserved for people 75 years and older and frontline essential workers;
  • 1c, reserved for persons 65 to 74 years old, those aged 16 to 64 who have high-risk medical conditions, and other categories of essential workers (this includes energy workers); and
  • 2, for everyone else that was not named in the previous three phases aged 16 to 64.

Glick chosen to head FERC

Glick

This morning, on his first full day in office, President Joe Biden appointed Richard Glick chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Glick joined FERC as a commissioner in late 2017, having been picked for the job by President Trump in August of that year. His term ends June 30, 2022.

“I'm honored President Joe Biden has selected me to be @FERC Chairman, thank you Mr. @POTUS,” Glick tweeted. “This is an important moment to make significant progress on the transition to a clean energy future. I look forward to working with my colleagues to tackle the many challenges ahead!”

NRC issues EA & FONSI for Bellefonte construction permit extension

The unfinished Bellefonte nuclear plant. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued an environmental assessment (EA) and finding of no significant impact (FONSI) in connection with its proposed action to extend the completion dates for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Bellefonte plant reactor construction permits. If approved by the NRC, the construction permits for Bellefonte Units 1 and 2 would extend to October 1, 2021.

In a notice on the EA and FONSI published in the January 19 Federal Register, the NRC explained the reason for the proposed action. “In its March 31, 2017, and August 28, 2020, letters, TVA noted that it sold the Bellefonte property at auction, the sale of Units 1 and 2 did not close, and the purchaser filed a lawsuit against TVA,” the notice said. “TVA stated that an extension is needed to allow the parties additional time to obtain a decision in the lawsuit.”

Trump leaves space nuclear policy executive order for Biden team

A hot fire test of the core stage for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi was not completed as planned. The SLS is the vehicle meant to propel a crewed mission to the moon in 2024. Source: NASA Television

Among the executive orders President Trump issued during his last weeks in office was “Promoting Small Modular Reactors for National Defense and Space Exploration,” which builds on the Space Policy Directives published during his term. The order, issued on January 12, calls for actions within the next six months by NASA and the Department of Defense (DOD), together with the Department of Energy and other federal entities. Whether the Biden administration will retain some, all, or none of the specific goals of the Trump administration’s space nuclear policy remains to be seen, but one thing is very clear: If deep space exploration remains a priority, nuclear-powered and -propelled spacecraft will be needed.

The prospects for near-term deployment of nuclear propulsion and power systems in space improved during Trump’s presidency. However, Trump left office days after a hot fire test of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket did not go as planned. The SLS rocket is meant to propel crewed missions to the moon in 2024 and to enable a series of long-duration lunar missions that could be powered by small lunar reactor installations. The test on January 16 of four engines that were supposed to fire for over eight minutes was automatically aborted after one minute, casting some doubt that a planned November 2021 Artemis I mission can go ahead on schedule.

NNSA to hold virtual public meetings regarding Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration will hold two virtual public meetings on a new environmental impact statement for its Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program (SPDP). The meetings will be held on Monday, January 25, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) and Tuesday, January 26, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET). Participants can join by computer, telephone, or other device. A Notice of Intent contains a full description of the proposal and other options for providing public comment until February 1.

The program: The SPDP EIS will analyze alternatives for the disposition of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium using the capabilities at multiple sites across the United States. The NNSA’s preferred alternative, the dilute and dispose approach (also known as plutonium downblending), includes converting pit and non-pit plutonium to oxide, blending the oxidized plutonium with an adulterant, and emplacing the resulting transuranic waste underground in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), in New Mexico. The approach would require new, modified, or existing capabilities at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Pantex Plant in Texas, and WIPP.

Climate change needs an Operation Warp Speed

The government of the United States should throw its muscle behind ramping up a mammoth, rapid rollout of all forms of renewable energy through Operation Warp Speed, similar to what is being done with COVID-19, Clive Thompson writes in an Ideas column for Wired.

The rollout should include energy sources that we already know how to build—like solar and wind — but also experimental emerging sources such as geothermal and small nuclear, and cutting-edge forms of energy storage or transmission.

Feature Article

Fuel innovation: Powering nuclear modernization

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.

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U.S. boosts SMR development in Romania

U.S. ambassador to Romania Adrian Zuckerman (right) and SNN chief executive officer Cosmin Ghita at the January signing. Photo: U.S. Embassy in Romania

The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) has awarded a grant worth an undisclosed amount to Romania’s nuclear energy authority, Societatea Nationala Nuclearelectrica (SNN), for technical assistance to support the development of small modular reactors in that country, the agency announced on January 14.

The grant will be used to identify a short list of SMR-suitable sites, assess SMR technology options, and develop site-specific licensing roadmaps. SNN has selected Chicago-based Sargent & Lundy to carry out the assistance.

Feature Article

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

(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.

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More adjustments to Vogtle milestone dates likely

The initial shipment of nuclear fuel for Unit 3 arrives at the Vogtle site in December. Photo: Georgia Power

Largely as a result of the continuing COVID-19 crisis, the Vogtle reactor-construction project team expects to further adjust dates for achieving key project milestones, including the start of hot functional testing and fuel load for Unit 3, Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power announced on January 11.

The company added, however, that it continues to expect to bring Unit 3 into service this November and Unit 4 into service in November 2022. Additional updates on the project will be provided during Southern’s quarterly earnings call next month.

INL’s MARVEL could demonstrate remote operation on a micro scale

The Department of Energy launched a 14-day public review and comment period on January 11 on a draft environmental assessment for a proposal to construct the Microreactor Applications Research Validation & EvaLuation (MARVEL) project microreactor inside Idaho National Laboratory’s Transient Reactor Test (TREAT) Facility.

The basics: The MARVEL design is a sodium-potassium–cooled thermal microreactor fueled by uranium zirconium hydride fuel pins using high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU). It would be a 100-kWt reactor capable of generating about 20 kWe using Stirling engines over a core life of about two years.

The DOE proposes to install the MARVEL microreactor in a concrete storage pit in the north high bay of the TREAT reactor building. Modifications to the building to accommodate MARVEL are anticipated to take five to seven months. Constructing, assembling, and performing preoperational testing are expected to take another two to three months prior to fuel loading.

DOE releases blueprint for advancing U.S. nuclear

The Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE) last week released its Strategic Vision report, outlining its plan to support the current U.S. reactor fleet, demonstrate the latest innovations in nuclear energy technologies, and explore new market opportunities for nuclear energy.

The 36-page document identifies five goals to address challenges in the nuclear energy sector, help realize the potential of advanced technology, and leverage the unique role of the federal government in sparking innovation. Each goal also includes supporting objectives to ensure progress.

Baranwal departs Office of Nuclear Energy

Baranwal

Rita Baranwal, the Department of Energy’s assistant secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy, announced today via Twitter that she will be leaving her position at the end of the day. “It has been an absolute honor to serve in this capacity to help advance our U.S. nuclear energy R&D,” she tweeted. “I plan to continue to use my talents to promote, lead, and advance our nation’s largest source of clean energy so that our nation and my family will have a cleaner and more sustainable planet to protect.”

Baranwal previously directed the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative at Idaho National Laboratory. Before joining the DOE, Baranwal served as director of technology development and application at Westinghouse. She is a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society.

feature Article

Fusion and the bounty of electricity

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.

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The year in review 2020: Research and Applications

Here is a look back at the top stories of 2020 from our Research and Applications section in Newswire and Nuclear News magazine. Remember to check back to Newswire soon for more top stories from 2020.

Research and Applications section

The year in review 2020: Power and Operations

Here is a look back at the top stories of 2020 from our Power and Operations section in Newswire and Nuclear News magazine. Remember to check back to Newswire soon for more top stories from 2020.

Power and Operations section

Report finds uranium resources sufficient for foreseeable future

Adequate uranium resources exist to support the long-term, sustainable use of nuclear energy for low-carbon electricity generation, as well as for other applications, including hydrogen production. That assessment is contained in the latest (28th) edition of Uranium—Resources, Production and Demand, a global, biennial reference prepared jointly by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The publication adds, however, that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent reductions in uranium production and exploration could affect available supplies, suggesting that timely investment in innovative mining and processing techniques would help assure that uranium resources are brought to market when needed.

Bulgaria joins Nuclear Energy Agency

Bulgaria’s Kozloduy nuclear plant. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Gogo89873

Bulgaria has become the 34th member of the Paris-based OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA). With its several decades of experience operating VVER units, Bulgaria will reinforce the NEA’s capacity to address matters related to pressurized water reactor technologies and their operational characteristics, according to the NEA on January 4.

In addition, the NEA said that it will support Bulgaria’s efforts in technical and policy areas, including work to address nuclear skills capacity building, the development and application of nuclear data and simulation codes, and issues related to radioactive waste management, decommissioning, and nuclear economics.

ASLB established for North Anna SLR application

The North Anna nuclear power plant. Photo: Dominion Energy

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has announced the establishment of an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to address a hearing request filed last month concerning Dominion Energy’s subsequent license renewal (SLR) application for the two reactors at its North Anna plant. The application, submitted in August of last year, was docketed by the NRC in October.

The contention: Filed by three anti-nuclear groups—Beyond Nuclear, the Sierra Club, and the Alliance for a Progressive Virginia—the 71-page hearing request argues that Dominion’s environmental report, submitted in support of its application, “fails to satisfy” the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as 10 CFR 51.53(c)(2) and 51.45(a), “because [the report] does not address the environmental impacts of operating North Anna Units 1 and 2 during the extended SLR term under the significant risk of an earthquake that exceeds the design basis for the reactors.”

Exelon CEO urges Illinois legislators to save nuclear plants

Crane

Christopher Crane, president and chief executive officer of Exelon, wrote in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed, “The failure of national energy markets to support clean energy will soon force the premature retirement of two of [Illinois’s] six zero-carbon nuclear plants, putting thousands of people out of work, raising energy costs, and taking us decades backward in the fight against climate change."

Crane urged Illinois policymakers to act quickly, as they face critical decisions about the future of energy that will affect the state’s environment, the economy, and the health of every family for years to come.