A still from a video posted by MIT that illustrates the air pollution that would be generated over one year by a grid with no nuclear power. (Credit: MIT)
Nuclear power is the single largest source of clean energy in the United States, but how can the value of “clean” be measured? Two recent reports by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, respectively, measured the clean energy benefits of nuclear energy in different ways: the benefits to human health from the air pollution avoided and the future economic value of avoided carbon emissions.
CFS CEO Bob Mumgaard showing Sen. Warren (left) and Secretary Granholm (center) around the SPARC facility. (Photo: CFS)
Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) hosted visiting officials for a tour and ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open its new headquarters in Devens, Mass., on February 10. Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), and Sen. Edward Markey (D., Mass.) were among the national, state, and local leaders invited to celebrate what CFS heralded as a “fusion energy campus.”
The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.
There is still a chance for California’s last remaining nuclear power plant to stay open.
Last Friday, more than 50 nuclear advocates testified in support of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant at a California Energy Commission workshop. Many spoke of the need for California to shore up its electricity grid in the face of coming heat waves and power outages. Others emphasized that closing the plant, which generates 2.2 GW of electricity and currently provides 8.6 percent of the state’s total supply and about 15 percent of its low-carbon electricity, would be devastating to California’s emission-reduction goals.
PSFC director Dennis Whyte (left) and CFS chief executive officer Bob Mumgaard in the test hall at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center. (Photo: Gretchen Ertl, CFS/MIT-PSFC)
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) recently announced it will expand its involvement in fusion energy research and education under a new five-year agreement with Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), a fusion energy company that got its start at MIT and is now building what it says will be the world’s first net-energy fusion machine—the demo-scale SPARC.
“CFS will build SPARC and develop a commercial fusion product, while MIT PSFC will focus on its core mission of cutting-edge research and education,” said PSFC director Dennis Whyte in describing the collaboration.
The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors earlier this week endorsed extending the life of Diablo Canyon—California’s last operating nuclear power facility—which owner and operator Pacific Gas and Electric Company has scheduled for permanent closure in 2025. The two-unit, 2,289-MWe plant is located in San Luis Obispo County, near Avila Beach.
Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. (Photo: PG&E)
Last April, Entergy had to close its Indian Point nuclear plant. That’s despite the plant’s being recognized as one of the best-run U.S. nuclear plants. That’s also despite its 20-year license extension process having been nearly completed, with full support from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
This closure was due in large part to opposition by antinuclear environmental groups. These groups also mobilized existing negative public opinion on nuclear energy to get politicians to oppose the plant’s license extension. Another factor is unfair market conditions. Nuclear energy doesn’t get due government support—unlike solar, wind, and hydro—despite delivering clean, zero-emissions energy.
This large-bore, full-scale high-temperature superconducting magnet designed and built by Commonwealth Fusion Systems and MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center is the strongest fusion magnet in the world. (Photo: Gretchen Ertl, CFS/MIT-PSFC)
A high-temperature superconducting magnet reached and maintained a magnetic field of more than 20 tesla in steady state for about five hours on September 5 at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center. Not only is the magnet the strongest high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnet in the world by far, it is also large enough—when assembled in a ring of 17 identical magnets and surrounding structures—to contain a plasma that MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) hope will produce net energy in a compact tokamak device called SPARC in 2025, on track for commercial fusion energy in the early 2030s.
The right side of the cooling tower of MIT’s reactor has the new system installed, eliminating its plume of vapor, while the untreated left side continues to produce a steady vapor stream. (Image: MIT/courtesy of the researchers)
The white plumes of steam billowing from the cooling towers of nuclear power plants and other thermal power plants represent an opportunity to some—the opportunity to collect a valued resource, purified water, that is now lost to the atmosphere. A small company called Infinite Cooling is looking to commercialize a technology recently developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by the Varanasi Research Group, whose work is described in an article written by David L. Chandler, of the MIT News Office, and published on August 3.
Left: An experimental setup showing a shielded detector. Right: A DT neutron source showing three disks of 6Li doped glass scintillator mounted on a photomultiplier tube. (Photos: MIT)
Neutron resonance transmission analysis (NRTA) was developed by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory to identify unknown materials inside a sealed object using a beam of neutrons from a laboratory-scale apparatus. Recognizing that the potential nuclear security applications of NRTA were limited by the size and location of the apparatus, Areg Danagoulian, an associate professor in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, began about five years ago to consider how NRTA could be made portable to examine materials on location.