Meredith Angwin: The electric grid and reliability

June 14, 2021, 1:25PMNuclear NewsRick Michal

In her career as a chemist, Meredith Angwin headed projects that lowered pollution and increased reliability on the electric grid. Her work included pollution control for nitrogen oxides in gas-­fired combustion turbines and corrosion control in geothermal and nuclear systems.

Angwin, an ANS member, was one of the first women to be a project manager at the Electric Power Research Institute, leading projects in nuclear energy and renewables.

In the past decade, Angwin began to study and take part in grid oversight and governance. For four years, she served on the Coordinating Committee for the Consumer Liaison Group associated with ISO New England, her local grid operator. It was during this time that she realized what a maze of confusion surrounded grid rules and grid management.

Support for nuclear energy grows with climate change concerns

June 10, 2021, 3:09PMNuclear NewsAnn S. Bisconti

Public discourse on energy and climate increasingly includes nuclear energy, but how has that affected public opinion? The answer: a lot. A national public opinion survey conducted in May found that support for nuclear energy has rebounded, and politics, in part, may offer a window into why. For example, now Biden and Trump voters support nuclear energy about equally. Trump voters care more about affordable and reliable electricity. Biden voters care more about climate change, and their support is driven by perception of need. Perception of need is boosted by climate change, recent energy supply problems, and Democratic leadership endorsements. The importance of Democratic leadership endorsements is shown in the Obama bump in 2010 and the Biden bump in 2021. In both cases, the increase in overall support for nuclear is largely attributable to increased support among Democrats.

The survey, with 1,000 nationally representative U.S. adults, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points and was conducted by Bisconti Research Inc. with Quest Global Research Mindshare Online Panel. The report includes trend data going back 38 years.

The United States is losing nuclear power when we need it the most

June 4, 2021, 2:49PMNuclear NewsEd Kee

The Biden administration has a goal to decarbonize the U.S. electricity sector by 2035.1 Achieving this goal would require a massive nuclear power build program. The U.S. nuclear power industry’s size and historical success signal that we are in a good position to do this, but at present the U.S. nuclear fleet is shrinking. Why is this so, and what can be done to turn the trend around?

U.S. nuclear capacity factors: Reliable and looking for respect

May 28, 2021, 2:58PMNuclear NewsSusan Gallier
Fig. 1. All reactors. The median DER net capacity factor of the 96 reactors included in this survey for the three-year period 2018–2020 is 91.33 percent. For the five three-year periods between 1997 and 2011 shown above, 104 reactors were in operation. The 2012–2014 capacity factor includes 100 reactors, and 2015–2017 includes 99 reactors.

Capacity factor is a measure of reliability, and reliability delivers results. The U.S. nuclear power fleet produced about 789.9 TWh of clean electricity in 2020 and ended the year with 94 operating reactors. According to Energy Information Administration data, that’s about 37 percent more electricity than the 576.9 TWh produced in 1990 by a much larger fleet of 112 reactors.

Nuclear News has tracked and analyzed the capacity factors of the U.S. fleet since the early 1980s, before concerted industry efforts yielded unforeseen performance improvements. High nuclear capacity factors are now less an achievement than an expectation. So much so, in fact, that advanced reactors in development today are assumed to be capable of achieving capacity factors above 90 or even 95 percent.

The U.S. fleet has maintained a median capacity factor near 90 percent for 20 years (see Fig. 1), and the median design electrical rating (DER) net capacity factor for 2018–2020, at 91.33, does not disappoint—unless by showing virtually no change relative to the median of 91.34 recorded in 2015–2017. However, this lack of meaningful difference only underscores the consistent reliability of the U.S. fleet.

Advanced reactor economics and markets

May 21, 2021, 2:41PMNuclear NewsCharles Forsberg and Eric Ingersoll
TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy jointly developed the sodium-cooled Natrium reactor with the turbine hall, nitrate heat storage tanks, and cooling towers separated from the reactor at the back of the site.

The viability of nuclear power ultimately depends on economics. Safety is a requirement, but it does not determine whether a reactor will be deployed. The most economical reactor maximizes revenue while minimizing costs. The lowest-cost reactor is not necessarily the most economical reactor. Different markets impose different requirements on reactors. If the capital cost of Reactor A is 50 percent more than Reactor B but has characteristics that double the revenue, the most economical reactor is Reactor A.

The most important factor is an efficient supply chain, including on-site construction practices. This is the basis for the low capital cost of light water reactors from China and South Korea. The design of the reactor can significantly affect capital cost through its impact on the supply chain. The question is, how can advanced reactors boost revenue and reduce costs?

52nd annual Buyers Guide is available

May 13, 2021, 12:01PMNuclear News

Nuclear News magazine has just released the 52nd annual Buyers Guide. This nuclear directory lists more than 600 companies worldwide in 475 business categories used throughout the nuclear community.

For more than 50 years, this annual directory has been a useful resource for utility professionals and the broader nuclear community to find the products, services, and partners needed for their next project. In addition to industry use, the Buyers Guide (and the monthly issues of Nuclear News) serves the nation’s nuclear engineering programs and are delivered to the 10,000 members of the American Nuclear Society. This special issue helps keep the current and future workforce and industry leaders informed about vendors and their areas of expertise, as well as about the ongoing projects and new innovations and technologies being used throughout all segments of the nuclear industry.

Granholm eyes federal assistance for at-risk reactors

May 10, 2021, 12:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe

Granholm

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told lawmakers that she is open to offering federal subsidies to prop up struggling nuclear plants. Granholm spoke during a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, called to discuss the Biden administration’s proposal for the Department of Energy’s fiscal year 2022 budget.

What she said: “The DOE has not historically subsidized plants, but I think this is a moment to consider—and perhaps it is in the American Jobs Plan or somewhere—to make sure that we keep the current fleet active,” Granholm said on May 6, according to E&E News.

The consequences of closure: The local cost of shutting down a nuclear power plant

May 7, 2021, 3:01PMNuclear NewsTim Gregoire

When on May 7, 2013, the Kewaunee nuclear power plant in rural Wisconsin was shut down, it took with it more than 600 full-time jobs and more than $70 million in lost wages, not including temporary employment from refueling and maintenance outages. Taking into account indirect business-to-business activity, the total economic impact of the closure of the single-unit pressurized water reactor was estimated to be more than $630 million to the surrounding three-county area.

National Geographic looks at the future of nuclear power in the United States

May 6, 2021, 12:03PMANS Nuclear Cafe
Unit 3 of the Vogtle plant under construction (Photo: Georgia Power)

To reach President Biden’s goal of cutting U.S. carbon emissions in half by 2030 and to have a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, some environmentalists are reconsidering their opposition to nuclear energy’s role as a climate crisis solution. According to the article, The controversial future of nuclear power in the U.S., from National Geographic, nuclear power has a lot going for it. Its carbon footprint is equivalent to wind, less than solar, and orders of magnitude less than coal. Nuclear power plants take up far less space on the landscape than solar or wind farms, and they produce power even at night or on calm days.

A state of uncertainty: Nuclear power in Illinois

April 30, 2021, 5:01AMNuclear NewsMichael McQueen

If there is one U.S. state you might think would be on top of the nuclear-plant-retirement problem, it’s Illinois: With 11 power reactors, more than any other state, it is number one in nuclear generating capacity. In 2019, 54 percent of its in-state generation came from nuclear power. So why, at this writing in mid-April, does Illinois still face the possibility of losing two of its nuclear plants later this year?

Nuclear Power is New Jersey Power

April 25, 2021, 10:00PMNuclear NewsDylan Moon
Salem Nuclear Power Plant as photographed from Delaware Bay.

When a nuclear power plant closes, here is what happens:

Thousands of people lose their jobs. The local economy nosedives. Air pollution increases. Reliance on natural gas, often bought from out-of-state, goes up. Electricity on the grid becomes less reliable with the loss of the most reliable source of power. And electric prices can even rise.

Kurzgesagt YouTube channel asks: Do we need nuclear energy to stop climate change?

April 21, 2021, 12:01PMANS Nuclear Cafe
A screenshot from the Kurzgesagt YouTube video

The German animation studio Kurzgesagt released a new video to its English YouTube channel last week to answer the question, “Do we need nuclear energy to stop climate change?” The studio’s channel on YouTube is self-described as a small team working to make science look beautiful. Its videos discuss a variety of scientific, technological, philosophical, and psychological questions, and it has more than 14 million subscribers. The channel recently discussed the question of deaths caused by radiation—spoiler alert, nuclear is among the safest of all energy production.

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.

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.

Biden administration releases plan to build back U.S. infrastructure

April 1, 2021, 12:03PMEdited April 2, 2021, 6:09AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Biden

President Biden introduced a $2 trillion American Jobs Plan on Wednesday to overhaul and upgrade the nation’s infrastructure as part of his “Build Back Better” campaign pledge. His plan is ambitious: “It is not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said. “It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America.”

According to Axios, the policy would be “the most far-reaching federal investment to date in programs that would help curb greenhouse gas emissions. But it faces serious challenges in the closely divided Congress.”

The American Nuclear Society welcomes President Biden’s American Jobs Plan

April 1, 2021, 6:07AMPress Releases

On behalf of America’s nuclear engineers and scientists, the American Nuclear Society welcomes the release of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. We are thrilled to see the inclusion of America’s largest carbon-free energy technology, nuclear energy, in Biden’s infrastructure plan to reenergize and decarbonize our economy.

The Economist asks why are people afraid of nuclear

March 23, 2021, 3:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe

The Economist published a video earlier this month trying to answer the question of why is nuclear so unpopular. The video is paired with a story that appeared on The Economist's website advocating for a well-regulated nuclear industry. The video starts off with very dramatic images of nuclear weapons and scenes from popular culture like Godzilla, The Simpsons, and the recent HBO miniseries Chernobyl. The video provides a quick history of nuclear science and technology starting with Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace speech in an attempt to prove to the viewer that "nuclear is one of the safest, most reliable, and sustainable forms of energy, and decarbonizing will be much more difficult without it."

Safely decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi and revitalizing Fukushima

March 11, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear NewsAkira Ono

Akira Ono is chief decommissioning officer of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings and president of the Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination and Decommissioning Engineering Company.

The mission of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), and my personal mission, is to safely decommission the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station and thereby contribute to the revitalization of Fukushima.

In performing this important work, we are guided by the principle of balancing the recovery of Fukushima with the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, doing everything possible to mitigate the risks as we progress. Since the accident on March 11, 2011, we have stabilized the site and alleviated many of its crisis aspects.

Most significantly, we have been making efforts to improve the working environment by reducing the contamination on the site due to the accident. About 4,000 workers are currently engaged at Fukushima Daiichi. The average monthly radiation dose for those workers has been reduced from 21.55 mSv (2,155 mrem) immediately following the accident to 0.3 mSv (30 mrem).