Savannah River works to speed up shipments of surplus Pu to WIPP

April 9, 2021, 2:59PMRadwaste Solutions
Crews move equipment used to inspect drums holding diluted plutonium into a storage site in K Area at the Savannah River Site. Photo: DOE

Workers at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina recently finished transferring equipment to the site’s K Area in preparation of shipping downblended plutonium to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico for disposal. The plutonium is part of the 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium the National Nuclear Security Administration plans to ship to WIPP under the “dilute and dispose” option the department adopted following the cancellation of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility project.

Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth awarded $690 million contract extension

April 8, 2021, 6:59AMRadwaste Solutions
Workers remove asbestos siding panels from a Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant building. Photo: Business Wire

Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth, a joint venture of Fluor and BWX Technologies, along with engineering company Jacob, have received a contract extension valued at up to $690 million, including options, from the Department of Energy. The contract, announced April 6, is for environmental management work at the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant near Piketon, Ohio.

Rep. Newhouse urges DOE to uphold HLW interpretation

April 7, 2021, 7:02AMRadwaste Solutions


In a letter written to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R., Wash.) has urged the Department of Energy to maintain its 2019 interpretation of high-level radioactive waste. Newhouse was responding to a letter sent to Granholm by several special interest groups and state leaders asking that the DOE immediately rescind the HLW interpretation.

That special interests/state leaders letter, sent on February 26—one day after Granholm was confirmed as energy secretary—was signed by Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson, Washington State director of ecology Laura Watson, and Phil Rigdon of the Yakama Nation, along with representatives from Natural Resources Defense Council, Hanford Challenge, and Columbia Riverkeeper. The letter said, in part, “We look forward to working with you on the Department’s cleanup of legacy nuclear waste at sites such as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation located near Tri-Cities, Washington. Washington houses 60 percent of the nation’s High-Level Radioactive Waste with 56 million gallons stored in 177 underground storage tanks at Hanford."

General Atomics’ compact fusion design shows net-electric potential

April 6, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear News
The outside of the DIII-D tokamak, where testing that supports the development of the Compact Advanced Tokamak has been performed. Photo: General Atomics

Scientists at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility have published research on a compact fusion reactor design they say could be used to develop a pilot-scale fusion power plant. According to General Atomics (GA), which operates DIII-D as a national user facility for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the Compact Advanced Tokamak (CAT) concept uses a self-sustaining configuration that can hold energy more efficiently than in typical pulsed configurations, allowing the plant to be built at a reduced scale and cost.

An open letter to Secretary Granholm

April 6, 2021, 9:09AMANS NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

Madam Secretary:

Congratulations on becoming America’s 16th secretary of energy! Welcome to one of the most misunderstood, confounding, yet important and underappreciated agencies in the federal government.

Even the name—the U.S. Department of Energy—is misleading. Given that the majority of its funding and operational focus is dedicated in some form or another to the splitting and fusing of atoms, the DOE should probably be called the Department of Nuclear Technology and Other Energy and Science Stuff.

Research confirms ingredient in household cleaner could improve fusion reactions

April 5, 2021, 12:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe
Photos of physicist Alessandro Bortolon and the element boron; graph and photo showing the interior of a tokamak. Credit: Alexander Nagy and Alessandro Bortolon/Collage courtesy of Elle Starkman, PPPL

Research led by scientists at the Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) provides new evidence that particles of boron, the main ingredient in Borax household cleaner, can coat internal components of doughnut-shaped plasma devices known as tokamaks and improve the efficiency of the fusion reactions, according to an article published on on April 2.

Post-Fukushima safety enhancements

April 2, 2021, 2:47PMNuclear NewsLeah Parks, Carl Mazzola, Jim Xu, and Brent Gutierrez
A map of Japan highlighting the Fukushima prefecture.

March 11 will mark the 10-­year anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi event, when a 45-­foot tsunami, caused by the 9.0-­magnitude Great Tohoku Earthquake, significantly damaged the reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In response to this event, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission took actions to evaluate and mitigate beyond-­design-­basis events, including a new requirement for the staging of so-­called Flex equipment, as well as changes to containment venting and improvements to emergency preparedness. The U.S. Department of Energy also addressed beyond-­design-­basis events in its documented safety analyses.

Road to advanced nuclear: How DOE and industry collaborations are paving the way for advanced nuclear reactors

April 2, 2021, 8:58AMNuclear NewsCory Hatch

As electric utilities rush to reduce carbon emissions by investing in intermittent renewables such as wind and solar, they often rely heavily on fossil fuels to provide steady baseload power.

More than 60 percent of the nation’s electricity is still generated with fossil fuels, especially coal-fired and gas-fired power plants that have the ability to quickly ramp up or ramp down power to follow loads on the electric grid. Most experts agree that even with a radical advancement in energy storage technology, relying exclusively on wind and solar to replace fossil fuels won’t be enough to maintain a stable electric grid and avoid the major impacts of climate change.

To complete the transition to a carbon-free energy future, one key piece of the puzzle remains: nuclear power.

Partnership supports siting Xe-100 demo in Washington state

April 1, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News
U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R., Wash.) observes as (from left) Energy Northwest CEO Brad Sawatzke, X-energy CEO Clay Sell, and Grant PUD CEO Kevin Nordt sign the TRi Energy Partnership MOU on April 1 at the Port of Benton in Richland, Wash. Photo: Energy Northwest

Building the nation’s first advanced reactor is the goal of a partnership formed between X-energy, Energy Northwest, and the Grant County (Washington) Public Utility District (PUD).

The TRi Energy Partnership will support the development and demonstration of X-energy’s Xe-100 high-temperature gas reactor, which was selected by the Department of Energy for a cost-shared commercial demonstration by 2027 through the DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). The new partnership was announced on April 1, when Clay Sell, X-energy’s chief executive officer; Brad Sawatzke, Energy Northwest’s CEO; and Kevin Nordt, the Grant County PUD’s CEO, met in Richland, Wash., to sign a memorandum of understanding.

ORNL taps ANS Fellow Icenhour as deputy for operations

March 31, 2021, 12:01PMANS Nuclear Cafe


Alan S. Icenhour, an ANS member since 2002 and a Fellow, has been named deputy for operations at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He succeeds Jeff Smith, who is retiring this spring after serving in the role since UT-Battelle began operating the lab in 2000.

Background: Icenhour joined ORNL in 1990 as an engineer and served most recently as associate laboratory director for the Isotope Science and Engineering Directorate. He led the Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate from 2014 until the isotopes directorate was formed in October 2020, and he has held a variety of other leadership positions as well as an assignment as senior technical adviser to the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Past DOE Nuclear Energy officials hold panel discussion for ANS

March 30, 2021, 3:00PMANS News

Five former assistant secretaries of energy for the Office of Nuclear Energy—a position given the designation “NE-1”—gathered for a virtual panel discussion hosted by the American Nuclear Society on March 26. Rita Baranwal, John Kotek, Peter Lyons, William D. Magwood, and Warren “Pete” Miller each participated in the free event that was moderated by Benjamin Reinke, the former executive director in the secretary of energy’s Office of Strategic Planning and Policy.

GAIN vouchers connect three companies with national lab experts

March 26, 2021, 12:15PMNuclear News

The Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) announced that three nuclear technology companies—Radiant, Oklo, and Lightbridge—will receive GAIN nuclear energy vouchers to accelerate the innovation and application of advanced nuclear technologies. The second set of Fiscal Year 2021 awards was announced March 25.

Demolition of final Biology Complex building begins at Oak Ridge

March 26, 2021, 7:01AMRadwaste Solutions
Demolition begins on the six-story, 255,000-square-foot Building 9207, the final building in the former Biology Complex at Oak Ridge. Photo: DOE

Workers with the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) recently began demolishing the last facility standing in the former Biology Complex at the Y-12 National Security Complex at the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee.

As announced by EM on March 23, removal of the massive six-story, 255,000-square-foot Building 9207 creates a new chapter of transformation and modernization for Y-12. Completion of the Biology Complex demolition is one of EM’s 2021 priorities.

According to EM, the facilities in the Biology Complex presented significant structural risks due to their deterioration, and their condition landed them on DOE’s list of high-risk excess contaminated facilities.

Savannah River marks 25 years of operations for processing plant

March 24, 2021, 12:00PMRadwaste Solutions
Savannah River’s DWPF has been pouring high-level waste canisters for a quarter of a century. Photo: DOE

The month of March marked the 25th year of radiological operations for the Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF) at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina. Radiological operations at DWPF, which is used to treat Savannah River’s high-level radioactive tank waste, began on March 12, 1996, with the first canister of vitrified waste poured on April 29 that year.

To date, more than 4,200 stainless steel canisters of vitrified waste have been poured at DWPF, according to the DOE.

The only operating waste vitrification plant in the nation, DWPF is operated by Savannah River Remediation, the DOE’s liquid waste contractor at the site. According to the DOE, DWPF operations are expected to continue for approximately 15 more years, and about 4,000 more canisters are scheduled to be produced. The DOE expects to begin hot operations at a second waste vitrification plant later this year at its Idaho National Laboratory site.

2021 ARPA-E Summit to take place virtually May 24–27

March 23, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear News

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced last week that the 2021 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, hosted by the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E), will take place May 24–27 in a fully virtual format.

The Department of Energy’s ARPA-E Summit will bring together experts from industry, investment, academia, and government to discuss some of the toughest challenges facing the energy community. The 2021 summit’s theme is “Expanding American Energy Innovation,” a nod to both the agency’s energy research and development mission and its goal to grow the energy innovation community.

According to the DOE, the virtual event will combine the most popular elements from past ARPA-E Summits with new ways to stay connected in the virtual format, including four days of main-stage speakers and panels, a virtual technology showcase for attendees to meet with and learn about ARPA-E awardees, and networking sessions and news of other new ways to stay connected virtually.

Walls going up for new disposal unit at Savannah River Site

March 23, 2021, 9:30AMRadwaste Solutions
The first wall section of Saltstone Disposal Unit 8 is being constructed at the Savannah River Site. Source: DOE

The first wall section of Saltstone Disposal Unit 8 (SDU 8) at the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site in South Carolina was installed earlier this month.

SDU 8 will stand 43 feet tall and 375 feet in diameter, and have a 33-million-gallon capacity, just like two SDUs built recently at the site. The 25 wall sections of SDU 8 are being constructed using high-strength, reinforced concrete and will be wrapped with seven layers of more than 300 miles of steel cable for added strength.

The flooring of SDU 8 is more than halfway complete. The concrete floor sits on top of a multilayer foundation: a geosynthetic clay liner and high-density plastic liner sandwiched between two concrete layers called “mud mats.” The floor is being completed in 14 sections.

The disposal units are built to safely and permanently contain decontaminated salt solution processed at Savannah River, the DOE reported on March 9.

WSU students deliver nuclear safeguards designs for the NNSA

March 19, 2021, 9:30AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Meeting remotely, WSU students deliver two nonproliferation projects to NNSA and PNNL staff. Source: NNSA

In a program sponsored by the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, teams of engineering students from Washington State University designed, built, and delivered prototype equipment to address challenges encountered by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory staff in research on nuclear safeguards.

As reported on March 11 by the NNSA, two teams of WSU students presented their projects to PNNL staff during an online meeting in December 2020. One team created physical training aids for safeguards courses to demonstrate two methods of nuclear fuel reprocessing. The other team developed an enrichment monitor mounting bracket that the International Atomic Energy Agency could use to help monitor uranium hexafluoride gas in enrichment facilities.

Accelerator technologies get a boost from the DOE

March 18, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear News

The Department of Energy on March 16 announced $18 million in new particle accelerator technology funding that includes $5 million for university-based traineeships for accelerator scientists and engineers.

Accelerating solutions: Beams of charged particles are powerful tools for scientific research, and particle accelerators have also been used in medical imaging and cancer therapy, in the manufacturing of semiconductors, and as a nonchemical method of destroying pathogens and toxic chemicals.

ORNL mines Pm-147 from plutonium by-products

March 15, 2021, 9:29AMNuclear News

Technicians use a manipulator arm in a shielded cave in ORNL’s Radiochemical Engineering Development Center to separate concentrated Pm-147 from by-products generated through the production of Pu-238. Photo: Richard Mayes/ORNL, DOE

A method developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is allowing the Department of Energy to cull promethium-147 from plutonium-238 produced for space exploration. Under an ORNL project for the DOE Isotope Program that began last year, the lab has been mining Pm-147, a rare isotope used in nuclear batteries and to measure the thickness of materials, from the fission products left when Pu-238 is separated out of neptunium-237 targets. The Np-237 targets are irradiated in Oak Ridge’s High Flux Isotope Reactor, a DOE Office of Science user facility, to produce the Pu-238.

According to the DOE, the primary goal of the project is to reestablish the domestic production of Pm-147, which is in short supply. As a side benefit, the project is reducing the concentrations of radioactive elements in the waste so that it can be disposed of safely in simpler, less expensive ways, both now and in the future.

“In the process of recovering a valuable product that the DOE Isotope Program wants, we realized we can reduce our disposal costs,” said Richard Mayes, group leader for ORNL’s Emerging Isotope Research. “There’s some synergy.”

As Perseverance makes tracks, NASA must plan its next Mars move

March 10, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover took its first drive on the surface of Mars on March 4, traversing 21.3 feet and executing a 150-degree turn in about 33 minutes. The drive was one part of an ongoing check and calibration of every system, subsystem, and instrument on Perseverance, which landed on Mars on February 18.

The NASA team has also verified the functionality of Perseverance’s instruments, deployed two wind sensors, and unstowed the rover’s 7-foot-long robotic arm for the first time, flexing each of its five joints over the course of two hours.

With relatively little fanfare, the functionality of Perseverance’s radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG)—assembled at Idaho National Laboratory and fueled by the decay of plutonium-238—is also being proved. It is reliably providing the power that Perseverance’s mechanical and communication systems require.