Uranium recovery facility opens at Framatome’s Richland site

Framatome’s new uranium recovery facility in Richland, Wash. Photo: Framatome

Framatome recently announced the opening of a $20-million scrap uranium recovery facility at its fuel manufacturing site in Richland, Wash., one of the French firm’s 14 North American locations. Construction on the approximately 11,000-square-foot building, which replaces a 35-year-old solvent extraction facility, began in July 2017, and it was declared fully operational on September 21, 2020.

According to Framatome’s October 6 announcement, the facility houses new and upgraded equipment for utilizing the solvent extraction process to separate uranium from feed streams containing non-uranium contaminants such as gadolinium. (Non-uranium contaminants, the company noted, include powders, pellets, and liquids that contain non-uranium impurities, making them unsuitable for other forms of recovery.) The recovered uranium is fed through the ammonium diuranate process to extract uranium dioxide. The extracted UO2 is then processed to make nuclear fuel pellets for fuel rods.

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Vision 2020

On March 9, the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) released its first strategic plan in several years. Titled “A Time of Transition and Transformation: EM Vision 2020-2030,” and called the Strategic Vision1, the document outlines the past accomplishments in cleaning up legacy nuclear waste and provides a broad overview of the initiatives that EM plans to put into motion over the next decade, “laying the groundwork for a long-term plan to realize meaningful impact on the environmental cleanup mission.”2

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NRC denies challenge to Three Mile Island’s emergency plan

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has rejected a petition by Three Mile Island Alert (TMIA) challenging Exelon’s request to revise its site emergency plan for the closed Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. Exelon submitted a request to the NRC to amend its TMI-1 license to reflect the reduced risks of the defueled reactor, which was permanently shut down in September 2019.

In an order issued on October 8, the NRC commissioners upheld a decision by an NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board denying TMIA’s petition to intervene and request a hearing in the license amendment request. That decision, issued on January 23, 2020, found that the antinuclear group had not established standing in the case and that its contentions were inadmissible.

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Inspection of Inaccessible Areas of Metal Tanks and Containment Vessels or Liners

Figure 1. Double-shell tank of the type used at the Hanford site. There are 28 of these at the site; all are buried underground to provide radiation shielding. The annular region between the primary tank and the steel liner can be reached to allow inspection of the inaccessible regions of these vessels.

Nuclear power plant containment vessels have large regions that cannot be inspected with conventional techniques, because these areas are not directly accessible. These regions of the vessels often are encased in concrete and/or soil or sand, or, in the case of vessel liners, hidden behind equipment attached to the wall. Similar constraints affect inspection of double shell tanks designed to store nuclear waste, illustrated in Figure 1, which have an inaccessible region at the tank bottom, where the primary shell is supported on the secondary shell. Present methods to monitor containment integrity primarily rely on partial inspections of accessible areas or estimation of corrosion rates; these approaches cannot account for nonuniform localized corrosion or cracking.

Nuclear cogeneration concept gets royal treatment in new report

The future of nuclear energy is in cogeneration, according to a policy briefing released on October 7 by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society. (The equivalent of the United States’ National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, founded in 1660, is the oldest scientific institution in continuous existence.)

Cogeneration, the briefing explains, occurs when the heat produced by a nuclear power plant is used not only to generate electricity, but also to meet such energy demands as domestic heating and hydrogen production. It also allows a plant to be used more flexibly, switching between electricity generation and cogeneration applications.

Popular Mechanics takes the wind out of renewables study

A wind farm in East Sussex, England, is flanked by 400-kV power lines from the Dungeness nuclear power plant. Photo: David Iliff/Wikimedia Commons

A paper out of the University of Sussex that correlates the carbon output of 123 countries with their nuclear power programs has received a critical look from Popular Mechanics, which takes to task some of the researchers’ premises in an article by Caroline Delbert.

In the paper, the researchers make the claim that nuclear and renewable energy programs do not tend to coexist well together in national low-carbon energy systems but instead crowd each other out and limit effectiveness. Delbert, however, points out that suggesting that nuclear power plants don’t play a significant role in reducing carbon emissions is “wild and baseless.”

Candidates nominated for 2021 ANS national election

Candidates have been named to fill seven ANS leadership positions with terms beginning in June 2021.

Arndt

McDaniel

The candidates for a one-year term as vice president/president-elect are Steven A. Arndt and Corey McDaniel. Arndt, ANS Fellow and member since 1981, is a senior technical advisor with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and McDaniel, ANS member since 2008, is chief commercial officer and director of industry engagement at Idaho National Laboratory.

The elected candidate will succeed current ANS Vice President/President-Elect Steven Nesbit in June 2021, when Nesbit becomes president.

Report finds Hanford’s waste tanks at risk

The Office of Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Energy is raising concerns about the ability of the department to safely store radioactive waste in underground tanks at the Hanford Site until its cleanup mission there is complete. Specifically, the IG said that the tanks, which include 149 single-shell tanks (SST) and 28 double-shell tanks (DST), have deteriorated over time and there may not be enough space in the DSTs to accommodate waste from failed tanks.

The audit report, Tank Waste Management at the Hanford Site (DOE-OIG-20-57), was posted to the IG'S webpage on October 5.

Security equipment repository for Asia-Pacific region established

During a virtual meeting between the Atomic Energy Licensing Board of Malaysia, Japan’s Permanent Mission in Vienna, and the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, an agreement was signed to establish a pool of nuclear security equipment, including items pictured here, in Malaysia. Photo: I. Pletukhina/IAEA

The International Atomic Energy Agency has joined with Malaysia’s Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) to establish a pool of radiation detection equipment available for loan to support nuclear security training and detection capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region, the IAEA announced October 7

This is the first such repository facilitated by the IAEA. The equipment was purchased with Japan’s contribution to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund.

Argonne microreactor designed to charge long-haul trucks of the future

A team of engineers in Argonne National Laboratory’s Nuclear Science and Engineering Division have designed a microreactor called MiFi-DC that could be factory-produced and installed at highway rest stops across the country to power a proposed fleet of electric trucks. The reactors are described in an article, Could Argonne’s mini nuclear reactor solve the e-truck recharging dilemma? and a video released by Argonne on October 6.

Pairing a liquid metal thermal reactor with a thermal energy storage system, each reactor could fuel an average of 17 trucks a day.

U.S., Russia finalize amendment to uranium import agreement

The U.S. Department of Commerce and Rosatom, Russia’s state atomic energy corporation, have signed a final amendment to the Agreement Suspending the Antidumping Investigation on Uranium from the Russian Federation. The amendment extends the 1992 pact through 2040 and reduces U.S. reliance on uranium from Russia during that time period, the DOC announced October 6.

Previously, the agreement was set to expire on December 31 of this year. According to the DOC, the document’s expiration “would have resulted in unchecked imports of Russian uranium, potentially decimating the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle in the United States.”

The final amendment is unchanged from the draft version, released for public comment on September 11. (For more specifics on the amendment, see our story on the draft here.)

Deadline for proposed Welsh plant extended; third-party interest expressed

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

Hopes for the construction of a two-unit nuclear power station in Wales—dashed some three weeks ago when Hitachi Ltd. officially announced its withdrawal from the proposed Wylfa Newydd plant—rose again slightly last week when the United Kingdom’s Planning Inspectorate agreed to delay its decision regarding issuance of a development consent order (DCO) for the project.

The original deadline for the decision had been September 30, but following the receipt of a pair of letters from Horizon Nuclear Power—the Hitachi subsidiary in charge of the project—the inspectorate consented to a December 31 extension.

What does the Supreme Court have to do with nuclear waste?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the American Nuclear Society.

As if COVID-19 and a rancorous presidential election were not enough, over the next few weeks we will also be dealing with the confirmation of a justice to fill the open seat on the Supreme Court. What does that have to do with the American Nuclear Society and nuclear technology? Well, nothing directly, but there is an interesting connection between the Supreme Court and a notable case on nuclear waste decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in August 2013.

Proposals being accepted for $21 billion Savannah River contract

Savannah River’s integrated mission contract will combine liquid waste work with nuclear materials management.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) has begun accepting bids on a new 10-year, $21-billion contract for the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. EM issued a final request for proposal for the SRS integrated mission completion contract (IMCC) on October 1, posting it to EM’s dedicated SRS IMCC website.

The IMCC would coalesce the work of two current contractors, including Savannah River Remediation, the site’s liquid waste contractor led by Amentum with partners Bechtel National, Jacobs, and BWX Technologies, into a single contract, combining liquid waste work with nuclear materials management.

The deadline for proposals for the site contract is December 1.

Nuclear plays key role in new jobs recovery plan

A recently published paper on clean energy policy for economic recovery calls for the preservation of the current U.S. nuclear reactor fleet and the deployment of advanced nuclear technologies.

The paper, Energy Transitions: The Framework for Good Jobs in a Low-Carbon Future, was released last week by the Labor Energy Partnership (LEP), formed earlier this year by the Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) and the AFL-CIO. According to a joint press release from the two organizations, the LEP was established to “develop policy solutions for a 21st century energy system that creates and preserves quality jobs while tackling the climate crisis.”

The LEP is jointly chaired by Ernest Moniz, founder and chief executive officer of EFI and former U.S. energy secretary, and Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

EIA: Nine of top 10 electricity generators in 2019 were nuclear plants

Graph: EIA

Of the 10 U.S. power plants that generated the most electricity in 2019, nine were nuclear plants, a recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration states.

These 10 facilities produced a combined 230 million megawatt hours of electricity last year, accounting for 5.6 percent of all electricity generation in the United States, according to the report. The report also notes a shift in the makeup of the top plants over the past 10 years, from a mix of nuclear and coal-fired generators in 2010 to nearly all nuclear in 2019.

Coal’s share of U.S. electricity generation dropped from 45 percent in 2010 to 23 percent in 2019, the reports says. Stricter air emission standards and decreased cost competitiveness relative to other generators are given as the key reasons for coal’s decade of decline.

Building radiation-resistant and repairable electronics

CMOS sensors such as this could be made more tolerant to ionizing radiation. Photo: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

High-energy radiation can be detrimental to electronic equipment, necessitating the use of radiation-hardened and -resistant electronics in nuclear energy, decommissioning, and space exploration. The online newsletter Tech Xplore reports on a radiation-hardened and repairable integrated circuit being fabricated by researchers at Peking University, Shanghai Tech University, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The radiation-immune and repairable circuits developed by the researchers are based on field-effect transistors (FET) that use a semiconducting carbon nanotube transistor as a channel, an ion gel as its gate, and a substrate made of polyimide. According to the article, the FETs have a radiation tolerance of up to 15 Mrad, which is notably higher than the 1 Mrad tolerance of silicon-based transistors. The FETs are also capable of being recovered by annealing at moderate temperatures (100 °C for 10 minutes).

PSEG pursues ZEC extensions for Hope Creek, Salem

New Jersey–based Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) has filed applications to extend zero-emission certificates (ZEC) for its Hope Creek and Salem nuclear power plants, co-located in Hancocks Bridge, N.J. Hope Creek is home to one 1,237-MWe boiling water reactor, while Salem houses two pressurized water reactors, with Unit 1 rated at 1,169-MWe and Unit 2 at 1,181-MWe.

According to an October 1 announcement from PSEG, Hope Creek and Salem deliver more than 90 percent of all of New Jersey’s carbon-free energy and are essential to the state’s ability to achieve its goal of a 100 percent carbon-free energy supply by 2050, as outlined in the state’s Energy Master Plan.

More: An addendum to PSEG’s announcement, with information and documentation in support of the ZEC applications, can be found here.

A closer look at SPARC’s burning plasma ambitions

Cutaway of the SPARC engineering design. Image: CFS/MIT-PSFC, CAD rendering by T. Henderson

Seven open-access, peer-reviewed papers on the design of SPARC, Commonwealth Fusion Systems’ (CFS) fusion tokamak, written in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, were published on September 29 in a special edition of the Journal of Plasma Physics.

The papers describe a compact fusion device that will achieve net energy where the plasma generates more fusion power than used to start and sustain the process, which is the requirement for a fusion power plant, according to CFS.

The timeline for this planned device sets it apart from other magnetic confinement fusion tokamaks: Construction is to begin in 2021, with the device coming on line in 2025.

CFS expects the device to achieve a burning plasma—a self-sustaining fusion reaction—and become the world’s first net energy (Q>1) fusion system. The newly released papers reflect more than two years of work by CFS and the Plasma Science and Fusion Center to refine their design. According to CFS, the papers apply the same physics rules and simulations used to design ITER, now under construction in France, and predict, based on results from existing experiments, that SPARC will achieve its goal of Q>2. In fact, the papers describe how, under certain parameters, SPARC could achieve a Q ratio of 10 or more.

Crystal River-3 operating license transferred to decommissioning company

The Crystal River-3 nuclear power plant

Duke Energy and Accelerated Decommissioning Partners (ADP) on October 1 announced the completion of a transaction to begin decontaminating and dismantling the Crystal River-3 nuclear power plant this year instead of in 2067. ADP, a joint venture of NorthStar Group Services and Orano USA formed in 2017, was chosen by Duke Energy in 2019 to complete the decommissioning of the pressurized water reactor by 2027—nearly 50 years sooner than originally planned.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the transfer of Crystal River’s operating license from Duke Energy to ADP on April 1, and the Florida Public Service Commission unanimously approved the transaction on August 18. Duke Energy permanently ceased operations at Crystal River-3, in Citrus County, Fla., in 2013, initially placing the reactor in safe storage (SAFSTOR), whereby the decommissioning work would begin in 2067 and end by 2074.