Two cross-lab teams get funding for computing innovations

On August 4, the Department of Energy announced it will provide $57.5 million over five years to establish two multidisciplinary teams to take advantage of DOE supercomputing facilities at Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The goal is to spur advances in the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Funds of $11.5 million have been made available for Fiscal Year 2020, with future funding contingent on congressional appropriations.On August 4, the Department of Energy announced it will provide $57.5 million over five years to establish two multidisciplinary teams to take advantage of DOE supercomputing facilities at Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The goal is to spur advances in the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Funds of $11.5 million have been made available for Fiscal Year 2020, with future funding contingent on congressional appropriations.

ARPA-E Energy Briefs highlight innovations and programs

The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is at work developing and demonstrating novel energy technologies and connecting those technologies with private-sector investors. The researchers and innovators behind ARPA-E want to tell you all about it in a series of “Energy Briefs” available through the agency’s YouTube channel.

Feature Article

The race for outage efficiency

Working in INL’s Human Systems Simulation Laboratory, senior R&D scientist Ahmed Al Rashdan co-developed the Advanced Remote Monitoring project for the LWRS Program.

There are numerous similarities between auto racing pit crews and the people in the nuclear power industry who get us through outages: Pace. Efficiency. Diagnostics. Teamwork. Skill. And safety above all else.

To Paul Hunton, a research scientist at Idaho National Laboratory, the keys to successfully navigating a nuclear plant outage are planning and preparation. “When you go into an outage, you are ready,” Hunton said. “You need to manage outage time. You want to avoid adding delays to the scheduled outage work because if you do, it can add a couple million dollars to the cost.”

Hunton was the principal investigator for the September 2019 report Addressing Nuclear Instrumentation and Control (I&C) Modernization Through Application of Techniques Employed in Other Industries, produced for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Light Water Reactor Sustainability (LWRS) Program, led by INL. Hunton drew on his experience outside the nuclear industry, including a decade at Newport News Shipbuilding.

Demolition under way on last remaining building at ETTP in Oak Ridge

Demolition begins on Building K-1600 at ETTP. The 42,000-square-foot structure was formerly used as a test and demonstration facility for uranium enrichment centrifuges. Graphics: OREM

Demolition has begun on Building K-1600 at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), in Oak Ridge, Tenn., the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) reported on July 28. The work is being done by OREM and its contractor UCOR.

Record low uranium production noted as Congress debates reserve funding

Uranium producers around the world have suffered through years of record low uranium prices. In 2019 the United States recorded its lowest total uranium production—174,000 lb U3O8—since the U.S. Energy Information Administration began collecting data in 1949, according to the agency’s Today in Energy analysis of July 17.

U.S. uranium producers asked the federal government to come to their aid in January 2018, and President Donald Trump created the U.S. Nuclear Fuel Working Group (NFWG) in July 2019. While the NFWG issued a report in April 2020 recommending support for the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle, uranium producers are in a waiting game once again as the U.S. House of Representatives works on Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations legislation.

DOE marks 75th anniversary of Trinity Test by highlighting cleanup progress

On July 16, 1945, the research and development efforts of the nation’s once-secret Manhattan Project were realized when the detonation of the world’s first atomic device occurred in Alamogordo, N.M., more than 200 miles south of Los Alamos, in what was code-named the Trinity Test—a name inspired by the poems of John Donne.

On the 75th anniversary of this landmark event, the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) is highlighting the cleanup, long-term management, and historical significance of the Manhattan Project sites—Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Hanford, Wash.—that were conceived, built, and operated in secrecy as they supported weapons development during World War II.

House committee marks up Energy and Water Development bill

The House Appropriations Committee held its full committee markup of the Energy and Water Development bill on July 13. (The Bill Report provides a more detailed funding breakdown.) The final bill passed the committee by a party line vote of 30-21. No schedule for Floor consideration of the bill has been set, but it is likely to happen next week or the week after.

Feature Article

The ongoing effort to convert the world’s research reactors

The Ghana Research Reactor-1, located in Accra, Ghana, was converted from HEU fuel to LEU in 2017. Photo: Argonne National Laboratory

In late 2018, Nigeria’s sole operating nuclear research reactor, NIRR-1, switched to a safer uranium fuel. Coming just 18 months on the heels of a celebrated conversion in Ghana, the NIRR-1 reboot passed without much fanfare. However, the switch marked an important global milestone: NIRR-1 was the last of Africa’s 11 operating research reactors to run on high-enriched uranium fuel.

The 40-year effort to make research reactors safer and more secure by replacing HEU fuel with low-enriched uranium is marked by a succession of quiet but immeasurably significant milestones like these. Before Africa, a team of engineers from many organizations, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, concluded its conversion work in South America and Australia. Worldwide, 71 reactors in nearly 40 countries have undergone conversions to LEU, defined as less than 20 percent uranium-235. Another 31 research reactors have been permanently shut down.

Hanford workers prep for at-risk structures grouting

The DOE's OEM and contractor CHPRC are testing a conveyance system that will pump engineered grout through more than 1,500 feet of pipe to three underground at-risk structures at the Hanford Site. (Credit: OEM)

As the Hanford Site continues a phased remobilization of site operations, the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management and its contractor CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company (CHPRC) recently began designing and constructing a full-scale, off-site mock-up to support the stabilization of three underground structures with engineered grout, the DOE announced on July 7.

Located near the former Plutonium Finishing Plant, the structures—the 216-Z-2 Crib, 216-Z-9 Crib, and 241-Z-361 Settling Tank—received liquid waste during Hanford’s plutonium production operations and contain residual radioactive and chemical contamination. A 2019 report indicates that the structures are at risk of age-related failure.

BWXT awarded contract to expand TRISO production line

BWX Technologies has signed a $26-million, 20-month contract to expand and upgrade its TRISO fuel manufacturing line. The recently announced deal, awarded by Idaho National Laboratory, calls for the expansion of BWXT’s capacity for the manufacture of TRISO fuel compacts and the upgrading of existing systems for delivering production-scale quantities of TRISO fuel.

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.

DOE awards research grants to early career scientists

The Department of Energy on June 23 announced the selection of 76 scientists from across the United States—26 from the DOE’s national laboratories and 50 from U.S. universities—to receive significant funding for research as part of the DOE Office of Science’s Early Career Research Program. The effort, now in its 11th year, is designed to bolster the nation’s scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the crucial early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work.

NRC accepts Centrus Energy’s application for HALEU license expansion

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has accepted for review Centrus Energy Corporation’s application to produce high-assay low-enriched uranium at its facility in Piketon, Ohio, the company announced on June 23. HALEU-based fuels will be required for most of the advanced reactor designs currently under development and may also be utilized in next-generation fuels for the existing fleet of reactors in the United States and around the world.

DOE awards $350-million contract for Nevada site cleanup

Oak Ridge, Tenn.–based Navarro Research and Engineering has been awarded a 10-year environmental program services contract worth up to $350 million for cleanup services at the Nevada National Security Site, the Department of Energy announced on June 17. The new contract replaces the current NNSS cleanup contract, also held by Navarro Research and Engineering, which expires on July 31.

DOE moves on sale and disposal of depleted uranium

The Department of Energy has signed an amendment to a 2016 sales agreement with Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) that will provide the company with access to large stockpiles of DOE-owned depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF6) tails as GLE looks to build its proposed uranium enrichment facility at the DOE’s Paducah site in Kentucky. As announced on June 5, the amendment is one of the conditions of a 2019 agreement by Australia’s Silex Systems Limited, Canada’s Cameco Corporation, and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy for the restructuring of GLE, the exclusive licensee of Silex’s laser uranium enrichment technology.

Separately, the DOE announced on June 5 that it has issued a formal record of decision for the shipment and disposal of depleted uranium oxide from the former gaseous diffusion plants at the department’s Paducah and Portsmouth sites in Ohio to one or more disposal facilities in the western United States.

General Chair’s Special Session: Advanced reactors in uncertain times

The final plenary session of the American Nuclear Society's 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting was the General Chair’s Special Session, held on Wednesday, June 10. The session contained much information about the current and future role of advanced reactor technology. The session, with the subtitle “The Promise of Advanced Reactors during Uncertain Times: National Security, Jobs and Clean Energy,” featured two panels: the Lab Directors Roundtable and the Advanced Reactor Panel. The general chair is Mark Peters, Idaho National Laboratory director. The session was moderated by Corey McDaniel, of Idaho National Laboratory, and the assistant general chair of the Annual Meeting.

A few of the issues covered during the dual plenary session included challenges to advanced reactor deployment, public-private partnerships in research and development, nuclear non-proliferation and security, workforce issues, and market conditions and demand.

President’s Session: U.S global leadership in nuclear energy and national security

The President’s Special Session of the 2020 American Nuclear Society Virtual Annual Meeting, organized by ANS’s Young Members Group (YMG) and Student Sections Committee (SSC), featured an all-star group of nuclear policy luminaries opining on the current influence of nuclear technology on U.S. national security and where the nation stands with regard to leadership of the future global nuclear industry.

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.

Final RFP issued for $6.4-billion cleanup contract

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management on May 27 issued a final request for proposals for the cleanup of the Idaho National Laboratory site, near Idaho Falls, Idaho, and the Fort Saint Vrain facility near Platteville, Colo. The 10-year contract for the projects—collectively called the Idaho Cleanup Project—has an estimated ceiling of about $6.4 billion.