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.

The year in review 2020: Research and Applications

Here is a look back at the top stories of 2020 from our Research and Applications section in Newswire and Nuclear News magazine. Remember to check back to Newswire soon for more top stories from 2020.

Research and Applications section

Report finds uranium resources sufficient for foreseeable future

Adequate uranium resources exist to support the long-term, sustainable use of nuclear energy for low-carbon electricity generation, as well as for other applications, including hydrogen production. That assessment is contained in the latest (28th) edition of Uranium—Resources, Production and Demand, a global, biennial reference prepared jointly by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The publication adds, however, that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent reductions in uranium production and exploration could affect available supplies, suggesting that timely investment in innovative mining and processing techniques would help assure that uranium resources are brought to market when needed.

Feature Article

Nuclear Education and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States on a wide basis in March of this year, and life as we knew it changed. “Social distancing” and “essential workers” entered the jargon and working from home for many became the norm.

The number of remote meetings skyrocketed, and various companies have seen that business can be conducted without having employees in the office.

For universities, distance learning has been common for a while now, but with COVID it has become essential.

Nuclear News asked some nuclear engineering professors about how their programs have been dealing with the pandemic. We posed three questions and asked for responses to any or all of them:

How has COVID affected your NE program, and what have you learned from the experience?

Has your NE program been able to contribute to your university’s broader COVID response (e.g., through research or volunteer programs)?

What opportunities or challenges do you foresee in the next year for your program and your students?

The following are responses received by NN.

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Report: Nuclear and other low-carbon generation becoming cost-competitive

The levelized costs of electricity generation from low-carbon technologies, including nuclear, are dropping and are increasingly below that of conventional fossil fuel generation, concludes a new report from the International Energy Agency and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA).

The 223-page report, Projected Costs of Generating Electricity—2020 Edition, the ninth such jointly produced analysis, includes plant-level cost data on power generation from nuclear, natural gas, coal, and a variety of renewable sources, including wind, solar, hydro, and biofuels. The report provides data from 243 plants in 24 countries.

Vogtle project team reports delays, holds to approved start dates

In testimony filed last week with the Georgia Public Service Commission, Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear acknowledge that the “aggressive” target dates set in July for some of the Vogtle construction project’s upcoming milestones have had to be pushed back by a few months. At the same time, however, the companies continue to express confidence in being able to meet the regulatory-approved commercial start dates for the new reactors—November 2021 for Unit 3 and November 2022 for Unit 4.

The testimony was filed in support of Georgia Power’s Twenty-third Semi-annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring Report, released in August, which covers the period from January 1 to June 30, 2020.

Bruce Power harvests Co-60 for use against COVID-19

Bruce Power has harvested a second batch of Co-60 this year. Image: Bruce Power

Bruce Power announced on October 22 that it has completed its second harvest of cobalt-60 this year during an outage of Unit 8 of the Bruce nuclear power plant in Kincardine, Ontario, Canada. The company said that with this latest harvest, it will have provided the world enough of the medical isotope to sterilize 20 billion–25 billion pairs of gloves or COVID-19 swabs.

The Co-60 will be sent to Ottawa-based Nordion for processing and distribution over the next several weeks, according to Bruce Power. From there, the isotope will be shipped around the world for use in gamma irradiation to sterilize medical devices such as single-use gowns, surgical gloves, scalpels, syringes, and other critical health care equipment.

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Bruce Power unveils net zero by 2050 strategy

The Bruce nuclear power plant. Photo: Bruce Power

Speaking last week at a virtual event of the Empire Club of Canada, Bruce Power president and chief executive officer Mike Rencheck announced “NZ-2050”—the company’s strategy for helping Canada achieve its stated goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Canada’s only private sector nuclear generator, Bruce Power operates the Bruce Nuclear Generation Station, located in Kincardine, Ontario. The plant houses eight units, all CANDU pressurized heavy-water reactors, with a total output of 6,288 MWe.

IEA report: Nuclear needed for sustainable energy goals

The International Energy Agency released its annual World Energy Outlook on October 13, noting the massive disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and calling for a surge in well-designed energy policies to put the world on track for a resilient energy system that can meet climate goals.

According to the latest IEA analysis of the pandemic’s impact, drops are expected in 2020 in global energy demand by 5 percent, energy-related CO2 emissions by 7 percent, and energy investment by 18 percent. This year’s report focuses on the pivotal period of the next 10 years, exploring four different pathways out of the crisis.

More information on the report is available here. The full publication can be purchased for €120 (about $140).

IAE, IAEA warn that climate challenge would be much harder without nuclear

Birol

Grossi

“Given the scale and urgency of the climate challenge, we do not have the luxury of excluding nuclear from the tools at our disposal,” the leaders of the International Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency wrote in an op-ed article posted on the CNN website last Friday.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the IAE, and Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the IAEA, said that the COVID-19 crisis not only delivered an unprecedented shock to the world economy, it also underscored the scale of the climate challenge the world faces: Even in the current deep recession, global carbon emissions remain unsustainable.

IAEA kicks off annual meeting in Vienna

IAEA General Director Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks to socially distanced attendees at the agency’s 64th General Conference plenary session on September 21. Photo: D. Calma/IAEA

With special precautions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Atomic Energy Agency commenced its week-long 64th General Conference yesterday with a plenary session that included remarks from Rafael Mariano Grossi, the agency’s director general.

“The latest IAEA annual projections show that nuclear power will continue to play a key role in the world’s low-carbon energy mix, with global nuclear electrical capacity seen nearly doubling by 2050 in our high-case scenario,” Grossi said, referring to a recently released agency report. “Climate change mitigation remains a key potential driver for maintaining and expanding the use of nuclear power.”

The IAEA conference runs through September 25.

Hitachi pulls plug on Wales nuclear build project

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

Tokyo-based Hitachi Ltd. today announced that it is withdrawing from the currently suspended Wylfa Newydd nuclear-build project in northwestern Wales. The announcement dashes the hopes raised last month by reports that Horizon Nuclear Power, the Hitachi subsidiary in charge of the project, was in talks with the U.K. government regarding a possible resuscitation.

Hitachi had put the project on hold some 20 months ago, and in today’s announcement the company cited the length of the suspension and the COVID-19 investment environment as factors in its decision.

Canada’s Darlington-3 refurbishment begins

Ontario’s Darlington nuclear power plant. Photo: OPG

The latest phase of the Darlington nuclear power plant’s refurbishment project began last week with the start of the defueling of Unit 3, according to Ontario Power Generation (OPG). Originally scheduled to begin in May this year, Unit 3’s refurbishment was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Located in Clarington, Ontario, Canada, the Darlington plant houses four 878-MWe CANDU pressurized heavy-water reactors, all of which entered commercial operation in the early 1990s. The 10-year refurbishment project—which was 10 years in the planning—commenced in earnest in October 2016, when Unit 2 was taken off line (NN, Dec. 2016, pg. 45). The refurbished Unit 2 was returned to service in early June, and in late July Unit 3 was shut down and disconnected from the grid in preparation for its refurbishment.

Letter from the CEO

Low-dose radiation has found its analogue

Craig Piercy

Originally published in the September 2020 issue of Nuclear News.

This issue of Nuclear News is dedicated to highlighting advancements in health physics and radiation protection as well as the contributions of the men and women who serve in these fields. It comes at a time when COVID-19 is providing the entire world with an immersive primer on the science of epidemiology and the importance of risk-informed, performance-based behavior to contain an invisible—yet deadly—antagonist.

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Georgia Power provides Vogtle project update, addresses COVID concerns

Vogtle Unit 3, in August. Photo: Georgia Power

The target in-service dates for the Vogtle nuclear expansion project remain November 2021 for Unit 3 and November 2022 for Unit 4, plant owner Georgia Power announced in an August 31 report to the Georgia Public Service Commission. The project is now approximately 87 percent complete.

Kazatomprom to continue reduced uranium production through 2022

Kazatomprom is extending uranium production cuts. Photo: Kazatomprom

Kazatomprom, Kazakhstan’s state-owned uranium production company, will continue “flexing down” production by 20 percent through 2022, compared to the planned levels under subsoil use contracts, the company announced last week. It will also maintain its 20 percent reduction against subsoil use contracts in 2021, with no additional production planned to replace volumes lost in 2020 due to measures taken to combat COVID-19.

Kazatomprom does not expect to return to full subsoil use contract production levels until a sustained market recovery is evident and demand and supply conditions signal a need for more uranium, the company noted.

UWC 2020: A call for transformational change

Bowing to current COVID-19 realities but buoyed by the success of June’s virtual Annual Meeting, ANS event planners returned to the virtual realm for this year’s Utility Working Conference. Originally scheduled for August 9–12 at Marco Island, Fla., the condensed event was held Wednesday, August 11, wherever registrants’ computer devices happened to be located.

In addition to 26 educational sessions and workshops, UWC 2020 featured an opening plenary session titled “Achieving Transformational Change: A leadership discussion,” moderated by Bob Coward, MPR Associates principal officer and ANS past president (2017–2018). Plenary panelists included representatives from three utilities—Arizona Public Service (APS), Exelon, and Xcel Energy—plus the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In addition to coverage of the opening plenary further below, Newswire also covered other UWC sessions from the day, which are available for reading here:

  • More from UWC 2020 Click here
  • More from UWC 2020: Round 2 Click here
  • More from UWC 2020: Round 3 Click here

The opening plenary coverage starts directly below:

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.