U.K. launches study into nuclear-powered space exploration

A new research contract between the U.K. Space Agency and Rolls-Royce will see planetary scientists working together to explore nuclear power as an energy source for deep space missions in the decades to come. The effort is similar to one that the United States is undertaking through NASA.

"Space nuclear power and propulsion is a game-changing concept that could unlock future deep-space missions that take us to Mars and beyond," said Graham Turnock, chief executive of the U.K Space Agency, on January 12. "This study will help us understand the exciting potential of atomic-powered spacecraft, and whether this nascent technology could help us travel further and faster through space than ever before."

GAO: DOE could improve detection of contract fraud

In a report released yesterday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the Department of Energy’s methods for gathering information on its fraud risks do not capture all of the contracting fraud risks it faces.

The report identified nine categories of contracting fraud schemes that occurred at the DOE from 2013 to 2019: billing schemes, payroll schemes, product quality, theft, contract progress schemes, misrepresentation of eligibility, bid-rigging, kickbacks and gratuities, and conflicts of interest.

While acknowledging that the DOE has taken some steps to demonstrate a commitment to combat fraud and assess its contracting fraud risks, the GAO said that the department’s methods capture “selected fraud risks—rather than all fraud risks—facing DOE programs.” For instance, according to the report, the DOE’s risk profiles for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 did not identify four of the nine fraud schemes.

IAEA confirms Iran working on uranium metal for reactor fuel

Iran has started work on uranium metal-based fuel for a research reactor, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog and Tehran said on Wednesday. Kazem Gharib Abadi, Iran’s representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed that the country has started working on the fuel, saying that everything has been reported to the agency.

Iran's action is the latest breach of its nuclear deal with six significant powers as it presses for a lifting of U.S. sanctions.

Sponsored Content

Inspecting Hidden Areas of Metal Tanks and Containment Vessels or Liners

Figure 1. The Hanford Site in Washington state stores millions of gallons of high-level radioactive waste in 28 double-shell tanks. The tanks are buried underground to enhance radiation shielding. The space between the primary tank and the steel liner can be used to allow inspection of the inaccessible regions of these vessels.

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

Acting NNSA administrator to step down on Inauguration Day

Bookless

The acting head of the National Nuclear Security Administration will resign January 20, Inauguration Day, according to a report in the Aiken (S.C.) Standard. William Bookless, who has more than four decades of experience in the nuclear security field, will also retire from federal service that day, the agency confirmed to the Standard.

The NNSA has made no official announcement or named a replacement for Bookless as of Thursday morning.

To continue reading, log in or create a free account!

New year brings into force a new U.K.-EU nuclear pact

Along with the wider Trade and Cooperation Agreement it signed late last month with the European Union to address post-Brexit realities, the U.K. government concluded a stand-alone Nuclear Cooperation Agreement with the European Atomic Energy Community, better known as Euratom. The NCA went into effect January 1.

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.

EIA: Nuclear, coal will account for majority of U.S. generating capacity retirements in 2021

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s latest inventory of electric generators, 9.1 gigawatts (GW) of electric generating capacity is scheduled to retire in 2021.

In total, it appears that 30 plants (nuclear, coal, petroleum, and others) will be retired in 2021. Five nuclear reactors are included in the closure list—Indian Point-3, Byron (two units at the plant), and Dresden (two units at the plant). Those three plants produce 5.1 GW of power, accounting for more than half of the total capacity expected to be retired.

U.S., Canada complete nuclear material shipping effort

A four-year campaign to repatriate 161 kilograms of highly enriched uranium liquid target residue material (TRM) from Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario, Canada, to the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., has been completed, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) announced on January 12.

The campaign was conducted under the U.S.-Origin Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel Acceptance Program, established in 1996 to return U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel and other weapons-grade nuclear material from civilian sites worldwide. Other partners involved in the effort included the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM), Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS), and Savannah River National Laboratory as well as state and tribal governments.

The TRM is the by-product of the production of medical isotopes from AECL’s now-shuttered National Research Universal reactor. The repatriation of the material, begun in 2017 and completed in 2020, involved 115 separate truck shipments, covering some 150,000 miles, according to the announcements.

EPRI names Rita Baranwal as new VP of nuclear, CNO

Baranwal

The Electric Power Research Institute today announced Rita Baranwal as its new vice president of nuclear energy and chief nuclear officer. Baranwal succeeds Neil Wilmshurst, who was promoted to senior vice president of energy system resources in November.

Baranwal most recently served as the Department of Energy’s assistant secretary for its Office of Nuclear Energy, where she managed the DOE's portfolio of nuclear research for existing and advanced reactors and new designs. Baranwal unexpectedly resigned from that position late last week.

Hitachi sunsets Horizon

Hitachi Ltd. plans to close Horizon Nuclear Power, its U.K. nuclear development subsidiary, early this spring, according to weekend news reports. Horizon is the firm behind Wylfa Newydd, the proposed nuclear new-build project in Wales.

On January 10, citing a story that appeared earlier that day in The Times, Yahoo reported that Hitachi will close Horizon by March 31—a move, Yahoo said, that “could scupper a sale of the [Wylfa Newydd] site, which has attracted interest from bidders, including a U.S. consortium of Bechtel, Southern Company, and Westinghouse, and dent [the] U.K.’s clean energy goals.”

However, a January 11 item on a Welsh online news service stated, “It is understood that if a sale of the site is not secured before Horizon shuts, the sale process will be continued by Hitachi.”

Searching for lost revenue from shut-down nuclear plants, NY law allows towns to assess waste storage

Indian Point nuclear power plant. Photo: Entergy Nuclear

Communities across the United States where nuclear power plants have been shut down face huge gaps in tax revenues, sometimes in the tens of millions of dollars. States such as New Jersey, Illinois, Wisconsin, and California are watching events in New York now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a new law that says cities can “assess the economic value of storing waste” on sites where nuclear plants once operated, as reported by Bloomberg.

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.

Holtec SMR could be built at Oyster Creek site

The site of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in Lacey Township, N.J., could be the location for Holtec International’s SMR-160 small modular reactor, according to an AP News story published last week.

ARDP investment: Holtec received $147.5 million in Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program funding to demonstrate its SMR design. Company spokesperson Joe Delmar said, “As part of our application to the Department of Energy for its advanced reactor demonstration program, we expressed interest in possibly locating an SMR-160 small modular reactor at the Oyster Creek decommissioning site in the future. This concept is only preliminary and something we would likely discuss with Lacey Township and the community if plans to locate (the reactor) at Oyster Creek evolve.”

Increasing costs of climate change–related disasters reflects importance of nuclear

Hurricanes, wildfires, and other disasters across the United States caused $95 billion in damage last year, according to new data referenced by the New York Times. The cost is almost double the amount in 2019 and the third-highest loss since 2010.

The new figures, reported January 7 by Munich Re—a company that provides insurance to other insurance companies—are the latest signal of the growing cost of climate change. The spike reflects the need for increased reliance on clean energy sources such as nuclear, solar, and wind.

Illinois AFL-CIO releases updated nuclear impacts report

In response to Exelon’s announcement of the premature closure of two Illinois nuclear power plants—Byron and Dresden—the Illinois AFL-CIO released an updated version of the Brattle Group’s Illinois Nuclear Impacts Report.

The report highlights the economic losses and environmental impacts Illinois’ and its local communities will face with the retirement of these plants, according to a January 5 article posted to the 23WIFR website.

The year in review 2020: ANS News

Here is a look back at the top stories of 2020 from ANS News. This is the last post in our series on the top stories from 2020. See below for links to other top stories from our Power and Operations, Research and Applications, and Waste Management sections of Nuclear News magazine.

ANS News

  • ANS convenes new task force on federal nuclear R&D funding: The American Nuclear Society has formed a Task Force on Public Investment in Nuclear Research and Development to assess the R&D needs of the U.S. nuclear technology enterprise and the federal investment required to meet those needs. The task force will identify the overarching objectives of U.S. nuclear R&D and identify specific metrics that can be used to evaluate progress toward those objectives. Read more.

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.

To continue reading, log in or create a free account!