NTI assessment shows little progress in nuclear security

The Nuclear Threat Initiative’s 2020 NTI Nuclear Security Index, released last week, finds that progress on the protection of nuclear materials and facilities has slowed significantly over the past two years, reversing a trend of substantial improvements between 2012 and 2018.

Published biennially since 2012, the NTI index assesses and tracks nuclear security conditions in countries around the globe, highlighting progress and trends over time. It is produced in cooperation with the Economist Intelligence Unit, the research and analysis division of the Economist Group media company.

Feature Article

Remote fuel cleaning from across the globe

Around the world in the mid-March time frame, conditions were changing rapidly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as was everyone’s understanding of it. For nuclear power plants, the pandemic meant dealing with new government regulations and restrictions that were put in place. “U.S.-based support of international clients was especially challenging,” said Mike Little, president and principal officer of Reston, Va.–based Dominion Engineering Inc. (DEI). “With border closures going into effect, we were not only focusing on the health and safety of our workers abroad, but also making sure they would be able to return home. Providing remote subject matter expertise from the U.S. through our international service partners was critical to successful job execution during this time.”

Southern CEO tests positive for COVID-19

Fanning

Tom Fanning, president and chief executive officer of Southern Company, on July 10 announced via Twitter that he has tested positive for COVID-19. One of the largest U.S. utilities, Southern is the parent company of the owners and operators of the Farley, Hatch, and Vogtle nuclear power plants.

Also on July 10, the state of Georgia obliterated its record for the number of COVID-19 cases in a single day, reporting 4,484 new cases, topping the previous record by more than 1,000. Fanning lives in Atlanta.

Prescription for pandemic recovery: Invest in nuclear

The World Nuclear Association (WNA) released a white paper yesterday, Building a stronger tomorrow: Nuclear power in the post-pandemic world, outlining why nuclear projects should be part of the world’s economic and employment recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the paper, recovery plans that include investment in nuclear energy could not only boost economic growth and jobs, but also fulfill climate change commitments and build a clean and resilient energy system.

Pandemic puts physical sciences at a “tipping point”

A new report from the American Institute of Physics declares the physical sciences to be at a “tipping point” between a “perilous” future and a “vibrant” one as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The 28-page report, Peril and Promise: Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Physical Sciences, outlines several areas where the scientific community has been tested by the pandemic and examines what the future could look like for the workforce, infrastructure, and conduct of research. Further, the report challenges leaders in government, academia, the private sector, and other areas who depend on the physical sciences to craft specific recommendations to address the pandemic’s impacts.

X-rays size up protein structure at the “heart” of COVID-19 virus

Overlapping X-ray data of the SARS-CoV-2 main protease shows structural differences between the protein at room temperature (orange) and the cryogenically frozen structure (white). Graphic: Jill Hemman/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

A team of researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge and Argonne national laboratories has performed the first room-temperature X-ray measurements on the SARS-CoV-2 main protease, the enzyme that enables the virus to reproduce.

The X-ray measurements mark an important first step in the researchers’ ultimate goal of building a comprehensive 3D model of the enzymatic protein.

NEA analyzes nuclear’s role post-pandemic

The Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency recently issued four policy briefs on the role that nuclear energy can play in the post-COVID-19 recovery:

Nuclear power and the cost-effective decarbonization of electricity systems

Creating high-value jobs in the post-COVID-19 recovery with nuclear energy projects

Unlocking financing for nuclear energy infrastructure in the COVID-19 economic recovery

Building low-carbon resilient electricity infrastructures with nuclear energy in the post-COVID-19 era

NRC amends fees for FY 2020

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is amending its regulations for the licensing, inspection, special projects, and annual fees that it will charge applicants and licensees for fiscal year 2020. The FY 2020 final fee rule, published in the June 19 Federal Register, includes fees required by law to recover approximately 90 percent of the NRC’s annual budget authority. A proposed rule was published for public comment on February 18 of this year, with a March 19 due date. The final rule goes into effect on August 18.

DOE to begin phased return to full operations

Brouillette

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said in a June 1 announcement to Department of Energy employees that given the recent lifting of stay-at-home orders in the Washington, D.C., area, the department will allow some federal employees to return to work at DOE headquarters, beginning on June 8.

Elettra designated an IAEA collaborating center

A collaborating center agreement was signed by Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste and the International Atomic Energy Agency in May. The agreement focuses on advanced light sources and will support countries in research, development, and capacity building in the application of advanced and innovative radiation technologies.

Letter from the CEO

Making the best of the "new normal"

Craig Piercy


Dear ANS Members,

In the midst of a global pandemic, it feels insufficient somehow to begin a letter with the oft-used expression of hope that it “finds you well.” We are all affected by COVID-19 in some way that makes us less “well” in our lives, whether caused by the virus itself or the socioeconomic ramifications of our response to it. Perhaps it is more realistic for me to hope that you and your family are healthy, generally well-provisioned, and gainfully occupied as we all, collectively and individually, find a way to make the best of our “new normal.”

President's Column

Staying positive

Marilyn Kray

What can be said that hasn’t already been said about these “uncertain times”? There are numerous mottos and catchphrases out there. I choose to follow this one: “Stay home. Stay positive.”

I’ve been staying home, which is quite a change for me since I spent over half of the first two months of 2020 traveling. It all came to a screeching halt in early March. Working remotely is not that different for me, as I’m used to working in hotels and on planes. The biggest difference is that when my husband walks by and I order a Diet Coke and extra pretzels, he doesn’t respond like an American Airlines flight attendant!

IAEA COVID-19 project draws more than $28 million in funding

A health worker at the IAEA Seibersdorf Laboratories in Austria packs a COVID-19 support equipment package, which includes personal protective equipment, PCR machines, reagents, and laboratory consumables. Photo: D. Calma/IAEA

An initiative by the International Atomic Energy Agency to help nearly 120 countries contain the COVID-19 pandemic has received a financial boost from member states and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited.

The IAEA announced on May 13 that Takeda, a biopharmaceutical company based in Tokyo, donated 500 million yen (about US$4.7 million). Two days earlier, the IAEA announced that pledges from more than 10 member nations totaled €22 million (about US$23.8 million).

Feature Story

Waste Management Conference: Focused on the future

2020 Waste Management Conference plenary speakers included (from left) Michael Lempke, of Huntington Ingalls Industries, William Magwood, of the NEA, and the DOE’s William “Ike” White. Photo: WM Symposia/Flash Gordon.

The 2020 Waste Management Conference, held March 8–12 in Phoenix, Ariz., kicked off just days before the World Health Organization declared the spread of the novel coronavirus a pandemic. When the conference began, it was still unclear how extensive the coronavirus outbreak would be, and meeting organizers later learned that two attendees were tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in the days following the meeting. Fortunately, neither of the attendees tested positive.

NRC declines call to suspend public proceedings

A request to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it suspend all rulemakings and other activities involving public comment or participation has failed to receive the petitioners’ desired response from the agency.

In a letter dated April 8, representatives of 82 largely antinuclear organizations—including Beyond Nuclear, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Public Citizen, and the Sierra Club—argue that the public’s role in NRC rulemaking and licensing decisions is not being properly protected during the coronavirus pandemic.

Global nuclear output expected to drop due to COVID-19

Birol

Nuclear energy demand and output could be reduced by 2.5 percent this year compared with 2019, according to the report Global Energy Review 2020 from the International Energy Agency (IEA). The report states that global nuclear power generation fell by about 3 percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019, adding that the decline was due to lower electricity demand as well as delays for planned maintenance and construction of several projects.

Vogtle work slows, but start dates remain

The Vogtle-3 containment vessel in March. Photo: Georgia Power

Despite its recent decision to trim the workforce at the Vogtle reactor construction project by about 20 percent to better address the COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Company is confident that Units 3 and 4—twin AP 1000 pressurized water reactors—will be up and running according to schedule.

BWXT makes progress on TRISO production restart

BWX Technologies has announced the successful formation and sintering of uranium oxycarbide (UCO) fuel kernels that, once coated, will make up the fissile core of TRISO (tristructural isotropic) fuel particles. With that process demonstrated, BWXT has shifted the focus of its TRISO production restart to bringing two more furnaces online—an additional sintering furnace, used to apply heat and pressure to a solid fuel kernel, and a coating furnace.