A day in the life of the nuclear community

The November issue of Nuclear News is focused on the individuals who make up our nuclear community.

We invited a small group of those individuals to tell us about their day-to-day work in some of the many occupations and applications of nuclear science and technology, and they responded generously. They were ready to tell us about the part they play, together with colleagues and team members, in supplying clean energy, advancing technology, protecting safety and health, and exploring fundamental science.

In these pages, we see a community that can celebrate both those workdays that record progress moving at a steady pace and the exceptional days when a goal is reached, a briefing is delivered, a contract goes through, a discovery is made, or an unforeseen challenge is overcome.

The Nuclear News staff hopes that you enjoy meeting these members of our community—or maybe get reacquainted with friends—through their words and photos.

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White paper shines light on significance of irradiation

With input from the American Nuclear Society and other organizations, the International Irradiation Association has published a white paper summarizing all of the significant uses of radiation processing and the global economic, social, and environmental benefits that arise from the technologies. The nontechnical document, Uses and Applications of Radiation Processing, is aimed at people and organizations that are not familiar with radiation processing, highlighting how irradiation is routinely used in an array of diverse and beneficial applications.

“Though largely unknown by the public, radiation processing, or ‘irradiation,’ touches everyone’s life,” states the paper, which was released on November 24.

The 11-page white paper goes on to summarize the applications of radiation processing, including medical sterilization, food irradiation, wastewater treatment, and other uses. An overview of the different technologies used to irradiate materials, including gamma, electron beam, and X-ray sources, is also provided.

NUREG published on high-burnup spent fuel storage and transportation

A final report on the dry storage and transportation of high-burnup spent nuclear fuel (NUREG-2224) has been issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. NUREG-2224 provides a technical basis in support of the NRC’s guidance on adequate fuel conditions as it pertains to hydride reorientation in the cladding of high-burnup spent fuel (over 45 gigawatt-day per metric ton uranium).

NUREG-2224, “Dry Storage and Transportation of High Burnup Spent Nuclear Fuel,” was made publicly available on November 23 on the NRC’s ADAMS website with Accession No. ML20191A321.

OPG resumes planning for new nuclear at Darlington

Darlington nuclear power plant. Photo: OPG

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) recently announced the resumption of planning activities for future nuclear power generation at its Darlington site, with a goal of hosting a grid-size small modular reactor as soon as 2028. Originally, plans for the Darlington new nuclear project were focused on the construction of traditional large reactors.

Located in Clarington, Ontario, Darlington is the only site in Canada currently licensed for new nuclear. OPG was granted a license from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) in 2012 to allow site preparation activities for the project. The company has applied to renew the license, which is set to expire in August 2022. The CNSC will hold a public hearing on June 9–10, 2021, to consider the license renewal.

Early last month, OPG announced that it was working with three grid-scale SMR technology developers—GE Hitachi, Terrestrial Energy, and X-energy—to advance engineering and design work, with the goal of identifying options for future deployment.

Senate bill introduced to reestablish U.S. leadership in nuclear energy

Barrasso

Whitehouse

The American Nuclear Infrastructure Act (ANIA), S. 4897, released as draft legislation in July and supported by a panel of energy experts at a Senate hearing in August, has been introduced in the Senate.

The bipartisan bill—sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), and cosponsored by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.), Mike Crapo (R., Idaho), and Cory Booker (D., N.J.)—was introduced on November 16.

Second license renewal sought for Wisconsin plant

Point Beach nuclear plant. Photo: NRC

NextEra Energy submitted a license renewal (SLR) application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seeking to add 20 years to the licenses of the two units at the Point Beach plant. The plant is located on the shore of Lake Michigan, in Two Rivers, Wis.

The application, submitted November 16, is the first SLR application for a Midwestern nuclear plant, according to NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng.

Point Beach’s initial license renewal was issued in 2005.

For more on the story, see this Wisconsin State Journal report.

New research planned for high-energy physics

The DOE is expected to fund high-energy physics research at its Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, shown in this rendering. Image: Fermilab

The Department of Energy plans to provide $100 million over the next four years for new research in high-energy physics. The research is expected to focus on topics such as the Higgs boson, neutrinos, dark matter, and dark energy in an effort to advance understanding of the universe at the most fundamental level. The Office of High Energy Physics (HEP) within the DOE’s Office of Science is sponsoring the research funding opportunity.

The DOE’s funding opportunity announcement, “FY 2021 Research Opportunities in High Energy Physics,” can be found on the HEP funding opportunities page.

High-energy physics serves as a cornerstone of America’s science efforts, the DOE said on November 17, adding that it plays a major role in nurturing top scientific talent and building and sustaining the nation’s scientific workforce. Applications will be open to universities, industry, and nonprofit institutions, with awards selected by competitive peer review and contingent on congressional appropriations.

2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: More on advanced nuclear reactors and power systems

The third part of the“Advanced Nuclear Reactors and Power Systems” sessions during the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting featured an examination of the status of various advanced reactors. The sessions were sponsored by the Operations and Power Division and chaired by Piyush Sabharwall of Idaho National Laboratory.

Here is an article on the first "Advanced Nuclear Reactors and Power Systems” session.

Presentation topics in the third and final session included using Modelica for system-level modeling and simulation of advanced reactors; the testing of fast-spectrum reactors’ gears and bearings in liquid sodium; and the creation of a simple core analysis tool called the Thermal hydrAulic COre Calculations using the single heAted channel meThod (TACOCAT) code.

Here are some of the highlights:

Feature Article

Robotics for Plant Maintenance: Now and in the Future

Diakont technicians prepare an NDE inspection robot for deployment into a diesel tank. Photos: Diakont

Robotics and remote systems have been used for supporting nuclear facilities since the dawn of the atomic age. Early commercial nuclear plants implemented varying levels of automation and remote operation, such as maintenance activities performed on the reactor pressure vessel and steam generators. Over the past several decades, there has been a steady progression toward incorporating more advanced remote operations into nuclear plants to improve their efficiency and safety. One of the primary forces driving the adoption of robotic tooling in U.S. nuclear power plants is money.

The economic model for the U.S. operating fleet has changed considerably over the past 10 to 12 years. Regulations in the nuclear industry have rarely decreased and, more often than not, have increased. This has led to nuclear plants in certain energy markets being hindered financially and thus needing to find ways to optimize their operations to do more with the resources they have. At the same time, the reliability and flexibility of robotics and automated systems have been increasing while their costs have been decreasing, making robotic systems much safer and more available to use. This has helped drive utilities to explore new ways of using robotics to overcome the obstacles they are facing. One of the obstacles that power plants have been tackling has been shortening the duration of their refueling outages to decrease their costs and increase their revenue.

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2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: Advanced nuclear reactors and power systems

“Advanced Nuclear Reactors and Power Systems-I” on November 18 during the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting was the first of a three-session set examining the status of various advanced reactors. The sessions were sponsored by the Operations and Power Division and chaired by Piyush Sabharwall of Idaho National Laboratory.

Presentation topics in the first session included the core design and helium Brayton cycle design of the Holos-Quad microreactor, a microreactor design for a truck charging station, and a levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) estimation on HALEU (high-assay low-enriched uranium) fuels for small modular reactors.

Here are some highlights:

2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: President’s Special Session

ANS President Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar took to the video screen on November 18 during the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting for the President’s Special Session on radiation risk, echoing a comment by Exelon Nuclear’s Bryan Hanson, the Winter Meeting’s general cochair, who earlier in the week characterized radiation as one of the most misunderstood aspects of nuclear.

“I think that’s very true,” Dunzik-Gougar said. “So much misconception and misunderstanding. I have always had a passion for communicating about such things as radiation, helping people understand the nature of radiation and the relative risks of nuclear, but mostly about its benefits. But I think we in the industry can better prepare ourselves with knowledge about radiation and its impacts and also educate ourselves on how to talk about the risks of radiation with people not in our own echo chambers to help change the perception among a broader scope of people.”

The panel of experts assembled to help impart some of that knowledge to session attendees included Amir A. Bahadori, assistant professor at Kansas State University; Donald A. Cool, a technical executive at the Electric Power Research Institute and a former senior executive at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Paul Locke, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Shaheen Dewji, assistant professor at Texas A&M University.

DOE tags INL as “preferred alternative” to host the Versatile Test Reactor

Rendering of the proposed Versatile Test Reactor. Image: Idaho National Laboratory

The Department of Energy won’t publish its draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) until mid-December. In a November 19 announcement on Twitter, however, the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy said that the yet-to-be-released EIS lists Idaho National Laboratory as the preferred alternative to site the VTR.

The DOE plans to submit the draft EIS for public comments early next month. The DOE won’t make a final decision on the design, technology selection, and location for the VTR until the completion of the EIS and record of decision in late 2021.

2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: Fusion technology start-ups showcased at TOFE 2020

The Fusion Enterprise-I and -II sessions, held on November 18 as part of the TOFE 2020 embedded topical meeting at the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting, were chaired by Ales Necas, principal scientist at TAE Technologies, and featured presentations by speakers representing companies in the commercial fusion area.

Testing for Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR under way with research partners

Terrestrial Energy and the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) have started a graphite irradiation testing program at NRG’s Petten Research Centre’s High Flux Reactor (HFR), located in the Netherlands. According to Terrestrial Energy, which is based in Ontario, Canada, the work is part of broader program of confirmatory testing of components and systems for the company’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR), designed to produce both electricity and industrial heat.

The testing program at NRG was planned to confirm the predicted performance of selected graphite grades throughout the seven-year cycle of an IMSR core. The testing was designed in cooperation with Frazer-Nash Consultancy, and will simulate IMSR core conditions at a range of operating temperatures and neutron flux conditions.

“Our work with NRG at its Petten HFR facility is an important element of our overall IMSR test program, now well underway. The start of in-core irradiation tests speaks to our progress and comes after many months of prior work,” Simon Irish, CEO of Terrestrial Energy, said on November 12. “The NRG work also reflects an important feature of our testing strategy. That is to engage existing laboratories offering existing capabilities rather than build those in-house, a strategy that is essential for our early deployment schedule.”

2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: Preview of NPIC&HMIT 2021

The November 17 session titled “Preview of NPIC&HMIT 2021” was sponsored by the Human Factors, Instrumentation and Controls Division. The session was chaired by Pradeep Ramuhalli, of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and featured four panelists: Ronald L. Boring, of Idaho National Laboratory; Jamie B. Coble, of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville; Raymond L. Herb, of Southern Nuclear Operating Company; and Hyun Gook Kang, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The panelists provided a preview of trends in I&C and human factors that are likely to be featured at the 12th ANS Topical Meeting on Nuclear Plant Instrumentation and Control and Human-Machine Interface Technology Conference (NPIC&HMIT), which will be held in conjunction with the 2021 ANS Annual Meeting in Providence, R.I., in June. Ramuhalli said that the paper submission process has begun. The NPIC&HMIT 2021 call for papers is available online.

Herb

The industry perspective: Herb, who works on digital modernization for Southern Nuclear’s reactor fleet, reflected on working early in his career with equipment that required daily calibration by I&C techs. “Operators running around the panels, checking here, checking there,” he said. “Now, I see a calm control room for operators at Vogtle-3 and -4 who can operate everything from one chair.”

Herb added that he is not a human factors expert. “All I can do is communicate the needs of the U.S. nuclear industry from my perspective,” he said. Among those needs are realistic task analysis and effective change management. While the U.S. fleet’s original analog control systems were “biased toward ‘no change,’” he said, Southern’s current fleet strategy “is incremental change with every design we put in, to shepherd our existing fleet to something that is closer to Vogtle-3 and -4.”

Boring

New modalities: Boring offered his take on what’s next for human factors. He pointed out that NPIC&HMIT 2019 had four sessions on validation, and that validation is critical because new digital control rooms need to be proven. “Many of our current fleet have had the same control rooms for 40 years,” he said. “We can’t hope to have a digital control room for 40 years—we have to support evolution over time.” He predicted that NPIC&HMIT 2021 will see an emphasis on validation and interaction modalities for new plants, such as microreactors and small modular reactors, including automation.

Coble

University support for data analytics: Coble talked about improving nuclear power economics through data-driven decision-making. Operating plants are being shut down, she said, and a big part of the problem is operating and maintenance costs. “How can we make nuclear more economical?” she asked. “The current approach of frequent equipment monitoring works to keep equipment reliability up but does not help with costs.”

Coble said that there is a need for development in sensors and in models and algorithms that mine large data sets. University research and training can help solve identified problems, she said, but while there is a well-developed data set on light-water reactors, equivalent data is not yet available for advanced reactors that operate differently, making it more difficult to set a risk-informed approach.

Kang

New topics: Kang took attendees on a deep dive into the topics that were presented at NPIC-HMIT 2019 and made some predictions for 2021. Control platforms and status identification and decision-making were well represented in 2019, as were newer topics of cybersecurity and wireless communications. In 2019, Kang said, “Operation automation was discussed, but ‘autonomous operation’ was not discussed yet. . . . I expect we will have more papers regarding this issue in the coming conference.”

That is just one of several topics Kang expects to see at the 2021 meeting, because, he said, I&C is a fast-moving area.

Other anticipated topics include the decision-making process between machine learning applications and human operators and practical cybersecurity solutions.

FY21 appropriations bills released, funds for U reserve included

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week released all 12 fiscal year 2021 appropriation measures and subcommittee allocations, including an Energy and Water Development bill that provides $150 million for establishing a U.S. uranium reserve, the same amount requested by the Trump administration in its February budget estimate.

The committee’s Republican majority decided to bypass the usual markup and full Senate consideration of the bills and instead proceed directly to negotiations with the House, in hopes of passing an omnibus bill by the December 11 deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

Shelby

“By and large, these bills are the product of bipartisan cooperation among members of the committee,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R., Ala.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee. “As negotiations with the House begin in earnest, I look forward to working with Chairwoman Lowey, Vice Chairman Leahy, and Ranking Member Granger to resolve our differences in a bipartisan manner.”

First RPV for Turkish nuclear plant arrives

The Unit 1 reactor pressure vessel arrives at the Akkuyu site. Photo: Akkuyu Nuclear JSC

Russian company Atommash has delivered the reactor pressure vessel for Unit 1 of the Akkuyu plant, the nuclear power facility under construction in Turkey, Akkuyu Nuclear JSC announced recently.

Atommash is a branch of AEM Technologies, which is part of Atomenergomash, the equipment-building division of Rosatom, Russia’s state atomic energy corporation. Akkuyu Nuclear, based in Ankara, was established to implement the Russian-Turkish project.

It took some three years to manufacture the 330-metric ton, 12-meter-long reactor pressure vessel and 20 days to transport it from the Atommash plant in Volgodonsk, Russia, to the eastern cargo terminal at the Akkuyu plant site, according to Akkuyu Nuclear.

2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: General Chair’s Special Session

The General Chair’s Special Session of the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting was held on November 17. Moderated by Paul Kearns, director of Argonne National Laboratory, and Bryan Hanson, executive vice president and chief generation officer of Exelon Nuclear, the session, titled “Nuclear Science and Industry: The next transformation,” featured a panel of science and industry experts discussing how innovation is transforming both the current fleet of reactors and preparing for a future with advanced reactors, integrated systems, and smarter grids.

In addition to the session’s respected panel members, the Zoom meeting included appearances from some top names in nuclear, including Holtec International’s Kris Singh, Sama Bilbao y Leon of the World Nuclear Association, Warren Miller, Jr. from Kairos Power and Texas A&M University, Terrestrial Energy’s David Hill, and many more. In a short, prerecorded video, these experts discussed many of the issues facing the nuclear industry today, which were then expounded upon by the panel members.

2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: Observing the 50th anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

The 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting opened on November 16 with a plenary session moderated by ANS President Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar and more than 700 people in attendance. The opening plenary session was followed by nearly 40 panel and technical sessions. Recordings of all the sessions are posted on the meeting platform and can be view by all registered attendees at any time.

Two sessions held in the afternoon of opening day were centered around the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Both sessions featured distinguished experts on the NPT to discuss its successes, challenges, future, and the role of the United States in international nonproliferation.