The art of the 10,000-year warning

How to warn future generations to the location of buried long-lived radioactive waste has been debated for decades. Everything from massive obelisks inscribed with ominous warnings and fields of concrete “thorns,” to “atomic priesthoods” and cats that change color when exposed to ionizing radiation—all are real ideas that have been proposed. Others argue, rather convincingly, whether any such warning is needed at all.

The multifaceted issue of nuclear semiotics is the subject of a recent article in the web magazine BBC Future.

Menezes confirmed as deputy energy secretary

Menezes

In a bipartisan 79–16 vote, the Senate on August 4 confirmed Mark W. Menezes to be the nation’s deputy secretary of energy. Prior to his confirmation, Menezes had served as undersecretary of energy to both Secretary Dan Brouillette and his predecessor, Rick Perry. An official swearing-in ceremony will take place at a later time.

Before joining the Trump administration in 2017, Menezes was an executive with Berkshire Hathaway Energy. He has also worked on Capitol Hill as chief counsel for energy and environment for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, where he served as chief negotiator for the House majority in the enactment of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Sponsored Content

I&C vendor insights: safety digital technology selection to win the energy market

RadICS-based RPS-ESFAS system

Commercial nuclear power plants in the United States (U.S.) face tough competition from sources of alternative generation (e.g., solar, wind, etc.), cheap natural gas, especially in the unregulated market. It is recognized that 35 percent of the U.S. nuclear power plants, representing 22 percent of U.S. nuclear capacity, are at risk of early closure due to economic factors. Plant operators have been reluctant to adopt modern digital technologies for safety-related systems even though these technologies offer many benefits to improve safety and reliability, as well as achieve operating cost reductions.

EDF fined millions for disseminating misleading information about U.K. nuclear project

The Enforcement Committee of the Autorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF) has imposed a fine of €5 million (about $5.9 million) on Électricitéde France for providing false information about the Hinkley Point C new-build nuclear project in the United Kingdom. The committee has also imposed a €50,000 (about $59,000) fine on EDF’s former chairman and chief executive officer, Henri Proglio. According to a July 30 statement from the AMF, the false information was spread via an October 8, 2014, news release.

The AMF is described on its website as an independent public authority that regulates the French financial marketplace and its participants.

Critical Look

Melodrama trumps science in Radioactive portrayal of Marie Curie

Marie Curie has been quoted as saying, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” We can only wish that the creators of Radioactive, a feature-length biopic released on Amazon Prime Video on July 24, had increased their own understanding of the applications of nuclear technology before making the film. While celebrating Curie as an uncompromising woman of science, they present a curious mix of respect and fear, explicitly linking radiation and nuclear technology to death and destruction.

TerraPower looks to turn DOE’s waste uranium into actinium-225

This vial contains traces of actinium within a mixture of thorium and uranium. Photo: Isotek

An article recently published in Chemical & Engineering News describes TerraPower’s efforts to extract actinium-225, a radioisotope with therapeutic potential, from highly radioactive uranium-233 owned by the Department of Energy and slated for disposal. While others are working to ramp up production of Ac-225 by using a linear accelerator or cyclotron, TerraPower hopes to harvest between 200,000 and 600,000 doses a year from U-233 to increase the global supply.

China’s Tianwan-5 attains first criticality

Reactor operators bring Tianwan’s Unit 5 to first criticality. Photo: CNNC

Unit 5 at the Tianwan nuclear power plant in China achieved initial criticality on July 27, marking “the completion of the commissioning of the overall system and equipment of the unit,” according to Jiangsu Nuclear Power Corporation, the plant’s owner and operator.

Barrasso: The future of nuclear energy is American

Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) authored an op-ed that was published in the Casper Star Tribune this week on the importance of rebuilding domestic uranium production. The article was published on the heels of a draft Senate bill, the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020, that was released on July 29.

UAE’s Barakah-1 achieves first criticality

Initial criticality is achieved at Barakah-1. Photo: ENEC

Nawah Energy Company has successfully started up Unit 1 of the United Arab Emirates’ Barakah nuclear power plant, according to an announcement from Nawah’s parent company, Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC). One of four 1,345-MWe APR-1400 pressurized water reactors at the plant, Unit 1 achieved initial criticality on August 1.

Metal frameworks could capture krypton-85 during reprocessing

Separation of Kr-85 from spent nuclear fuel by a highly selective metal organic framework. Image: Mike Gipple/National Energy Technology Laboratory

According to a story published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on July 24, the capture of gaseous fission products such as krypton-85 during the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel could be aided by the adsorption of gasses into an advanced type of soft crystalline material, metal organic frameworks(MOF), which feature high porosity and large internal surface areas that can trap an array of organic and inorganic compounds.

Court upholds Virginia ban on uranium mining

A Virginia circuit court judge has upheld the state’s 38-year-old moratorium on uranium mining, rejecting Virginia Uranium Inc.’s (VUI) argument that the ban was an unconstitutional violation of the company’s rights regarding its Coles Hill property. On July 27, Judge Chadwick Dotson ruled in the state’s favor, declaring that while the mining prohibition does amount to a taking or damaging of private property within the meaning of the state constitution, Virginia had a compelling interest to do so.

62 years ago today: The USS Nautilus passes under the North Pole

USS Nautilus, circa 1965. Photo: U.S. Navy

Being stuck under the ice with no obvious exit route is a classic movie scene that is guaranteed to instill fear in any audience. There is no doubt that Cmdr. William R. Anderson and the crew of the USS Nautilus must have felt some of this fear when they circumvented the polar ice cap 62 years ago, reaching the North Pole on August 3, 1958.

Although it was already known that the Nautilus could operate almost indefinitely underwater, there were many unknowns for such a trip. There was uncertainty in the relative ice thickness to water depth, and the magnetic pole required the use of new navigation technology. Being trapped or lost under the ice was a very real possibility, and there would be no rescue.

Input sought on environmental review of Westinghouse fuel plant

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is requesting public comment on the scope of the environmental impact statement (EIS) it intends to prepare for Westinghouse Electric Company’s application to renew the operating license for its Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility (CFFF), according to a notice published in the July 31 Federal Register. Comments must be filed by August 31 and can be submitted by email to WEC_CFFF_EIS.resource@nrc.gov; by regular mail to Office of Administration, Mail Stop: TWFN–7– A60M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555– 0001; or by visiting the federal rulemaking website and searching for Docket ID NRC-2015-0039.

The CFFF, located in Columbia, S.C., produces fuel assemblies for use in commercial nuclear power reactors.

NNSA funding opportunity looks to boost U.S. production of Mo-99 by 2023

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration on July 30 issued a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to foster commercial-scale domestic production of the medical isotope molybdenum-99 without the use of high-enriched uranium. Mo-99 is used in more than 40,000 medical procedures in the United States every day.

Through the FOA (DE-FOA-0002303), the NNSA is soliciting applications from U.S. companies to help achieve commercial-scale Mo-99 production by December 31, 2023. Companies have until September 30 this year to respond to the FOA with proposals.

Feature Article

The race for outage efficiency

Working in INL’s Human Systems Simulation Laboratory, senior R&D scientist Ahmed Al Rashdan co-developed the Advanced Remote Monitoring project for the LWRS Program.

There are numerous similarities between auto racing pit crews and the people in the nuclear power industry who get us through outages: Pace. Efficiency. Diagnostics. Teamwork. Skill. And safety above all else.

To Paul Hunton, a research scientist at Idaho National Laboratory, the keys to successfully navigating a nuclear plant outage are planning and preparation. “When you go into an outage, you are ready,” Hunton said. “You need to manage outage time. You want to avoid adding delays to the scheduled outage work because if you do, it can add a couple million dollars to the cost.”

Hunton was the principal investigator for the September 2019 report Addressing Nuclear Instrumentation and Control (I&C) Modernization Through Application of Techniques Employed in Other Industries, produced for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Light Water Reactor Sustainability (LWRS) Program, led by INL. Hunton drew on his experience outside the nuclear industry, including a decade at Newport News Shipbuilding.

Philippines to take another look at nuclear power

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on July 24 signed an executive order that calls for a study to determine the feasibility of introducing nuclear energy into the country’s power generation mix. Citing “the experience of a number of countries” showing nuclear power to be “a reliable, cost-competitive, and environment-friendly energy source,” the order creates the Nuclear Energy Program Inter-Agency Committee (NEP-IAC) to carry out the work.

Senate bill aims to recharge U.S. nuclear industry

Barrasso

Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) on July 29 released a draft bill to revitalize the United States’ nuclear sector—the same day that GOP colleagues in the House introduced similar legislation. According to the senator, the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020 (ANIA) would enable U.S. international leadership, preserve America’s uranium supply chain, reduce carbon emissions, and strengthen the nation’s economic, energy, and national security. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, of which Barrasso is chairman, is scheduled to hold a legislative hearing on the draft on August 5.

Nuclear-powered Perseverance begins seven-month journey to Mars

An Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on board launches on July 30. Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The launch of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover went ahead as scheduled on July 30, lifting off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 7:50 a.m. (EDT) . The rover was onboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket.

Minutes later, NASA reported that all flight milestones were being met as planned. There are several more milestones to reach before Perseverance—the fifth rover that NASA has sent to Mars—lands on the Red Planet in seven months.