Elk River - Rural America's First Atomic Power Plant

Elk River Generating Station, Rural Cooperative Power Association, Elk River, Minnesota.

The Elk River reactor, as it was generally known in the AEC parlance of the day, was a pioneering effort in America's nuclear energy history.  Hailed widely as "Rural America's first atomic power plant," the intention was to provide a pilot installation of a small, simple, and inexpensive nuclear steam supply system that could be duplicated at many far flung locations.  Unfortunately for the concept, the Elk River plant in the end proved unable to meet the task for technical reasons; yet, it remains firmly in history as one of the well known early nuclear energy installations.  What follows is a brief history of the project and its major players.

Nuclear Energy for Puerto Rico

BONUS nuclear plant as it appears today;  photo courtesy US DOE

BONUS nuclear plant as it appears today (Photo courtesy US DOE)

Among the many different reactor concepts being investigated in the late 1950s and early 1960s was the idea that the steam produced by a boiling water reactor, which normally goes straight to the turbine building, could be superheated (or have further heat added once it was already steam) by nuclear energy. This would greatly increase the efficiency of the plant, as well as make dry steam at a high pressure that would allow the use of (less expensive) commercially available equipment in the steam plant. Two reactors were built to investigate the idea of performing both processes in essentially the same reactor-one in South Dakota and (perhaps incredibly to today's readers) another of a very different design on the island of Puerto Rico.

DTE Energy to receive COL for Fermi-3

Yesterday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that its commissioners had approved the award of a Construction and Operating License (COL) for DTE Energy's prospective Fermi Unit 3, to be built on the site of the existing Fermi-2 near Detroit, Mich. The COL will also notably be the first for the GE Hitachi ESBWR, or "Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor," a Gen-III+ nuclear plant with passive safety.

Reflections on Vermont Yankee - 1

Although the nuclear power station known as Vermont Yankee had another 18 years left on its license, it was shut down for economic reasons at the end of 2014. Entergy Corporation,the plant's owner, and others have cited the low price of natural gas in the region as deterministic, but the reality is that many other issues were also at play.

The Final Entrant - Last Nuclear Utility in Japan Applies for Restart

Shika NPP Unit 2.  Courtesy Hokuriku Electric Power Co.

Shika NPP Unit 2. Courtesy Hokuriku Electric Power Co.

Yesterday, the saga of nuclear energy in post-Fukushima Japan reached an important milestone as the final utility that owns nuclear power plants in that country applied to the regulator for restart, in an event that snuck under the radar of most news venues.

Pathfinder: A Path Not Taken

Pathfinder Atomic Power Plant.  Press photo, Will Davis collection.

Pathfinder Atomic Power Plant. Press photo, Will Davis collection.

The recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announcement of policy regarding carbon emissions from power plants has triggered a renewed interest in nuclear energy over the past few weeks; along with this of course comes a focus on small modular reactors (SMRs) and their availability for replacing existing fossil-fueled plants or facilities. We have discussed this topic here at ANS Nuclear Cafe before, in terms of the possibility of adding an SMR onto an existing facility-see "The Hook-Ons."

Decommissioning of Private Assets is Public Matter in Japan; TEPCO Forges Ahead

FukushimaDaiichi5and6breakwall

Fukushima Daiichi Units 5 (left) and 6 (right) seen in October 2012 behind the newly completed breakwall.

Earlier this month, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe conducted a visit to Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station to examine conditions at the site and to gauge TEPCO's response to numerous ongoing problems. When Abe spoke to reporters after the visit, he mentioned (for reasons still unknown) that he had suggested to TEPCO that it decommission Unit 5 and Unit 6 on the site, so that it could focus its efforts squarely on the work required to recover from the nuclear accidents at Units 1, 2, and 3. This was reported with some surprise in many quarters.

Fukushima Two Years Later

At about a quarter to three in the afternoon on March 11, 2011, a gigantic and unprecedented earthquake struck just over 110 miles off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture in Japan. The quake was followed, just over 40 minutes later, by the first of several rounds of tsunami, which inundated enormous areas and eradicated entire towns and villages. Over 19,000 people were killed or are still missing, and over 6,000 survivors were injured.

Spent Fuel Pool at Oyster Creek

As the Eastern half of the United States falls under siege by Hurricane Sandy and combined weather fronts-which together are being termed "Frankenstorm"-the nuclear community is targeted by nuclear opponents keen on capitalizing on this severe weather event. A recent piece quoting Arnold Gundersen asserts that Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station is facing serious problems should it lose offsite power, saying essentially that the plant will be unable to provide cooling for the spent fuel in its spent fuel pool.

Ballot initiative to close California’s nuclear plants

There's not much new happening in DC right at the moment, so this month I'll discuss something that's going on in the state of California. That is, a proposed ballot initiative to shut the two remaining nuclear power plants-the two-unit Diablo Canyon and the two-unit San Onofre-in the state.

Priorities for 2012 in Vermont Politics

Vermont's "Citizen Legislature" meets from January to May/June. During this term, the major issue is Hurricane Irene and its aftermath. The hurricane caused major devastation, but, thankfully, few lives were lost.

"I&C" in Nuclear News

The December issue of Nuclear News magazine, which contains a special section on instrumentation and control, is available in hard copy and electronically for American Nuclear Society members (must enter ANS user name and password in Member Center). The special section contains the following stories: