A microreactor at every rest stop?

The MiFi-DC as portrayed in a video released by Argonne.

Electrifying the nation’s trucking industry could reduce consumption of fossil-based diesel fuel, but it would also pose new challenges. A cross-country 18-wheel truck needs five to 10 times more electricity than an electric car to recharge its battery. Where will that electricity come from?

A team of engineers at Argonne National Laboratory has designed a microreactor called the MiFi-DC (for MicroFission Direct Current) that they say could be mass-produced and installed at highway rest stops to power a future fleet of electric 18-wheelers.

Nuclear News reached out to the MiFi-DC team to learn more. The team, led by Derek Kultgen, a principal engineer at Argonne who also leads the lab’s Mechanisms Engineering Test Loop, responded to questions by email. While they emphasized that much more needs to be done before the MiFi-DC could become a fixture at rest stops across the country, the information the team shared sheds some light on the process of designing a tiny reactor for a specific purpose.

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Feature Article

Ratliff and Harris: Innovation for safety and reliability

Ratliff

Harris

When Floyd Harris began working at Duke Energy’s Brunswick nuclear plant about 24 years ago as a radiation protection technician, robotics and remote monitoring were considered tools for radiation protection and nothing more. Now, teams from across the site, including engineering, maintenance, and operations, rely on the system of robots and cameras Harris is responsible for. “If you want to put those technologies under one umbrella,” says Harris, who now holds the title of nuclear station scientist, “it would be monitoring plant conditions.”

That monitoring is critical to effective plant maintenance. As Plant Manager Jay Ratliff explains, the goal is to “find a problem before it finds us” and ensure safety and reliability. Nuclear News Staff Writer Susan Gallier talked with Ratliff and Harris about how robotics and remote systems are deployed to meet those goals.

At Brunswick, which hosts GE-designed boiling water reactors in Southport, N.C., ingenuity and hard work have produced a novel remote dosimetry turnstile to control access to high-radiation areas, an extensive network to handle data from monitoring cameras, rapid fleetwide access to camera feeds to support collaboration, and new applications for robots and drones.

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Final outage completed at Palisades plant

Palisades: The Covert, Mich., plant reentered commercial operation on October 21 for one last run. Photo: Entergy Nuclear.

Entergy Corporation’s Palisades nuclear power plant returned to service on October 21, following the completion of the Covert, Mich., facility’s final refueling and maintenance outage, which began on August 30.

The company invested more than $86.5 million during the outage, according to Entergy. The plant’s 600 full-time nuclear professionals worked with approximately 800 supplemental workers to replace reactor fuel and to inspect and upgrade hundreds of pipes, pumps, electrical components, and other equipment.

Nuclear champions make another push for NELA

Murkowski

Luria

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Elaine Luria (D., Va.), along with 29 of their colleagues, sent a letter last week to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, urging them to include the text of the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA) in the final fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Murkowski joined Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) and 18 other lawmakers in a similar letter to the Senate Armed Service Committee earlier this year. Murkowski and Booker introduced NELA on September 6, 2018 (NN, Oct. 2018, p. 39).

The House and Senate passed their respective versions of the NDAA in July, by votes of 295–125 and 86–14, respectively. (NELA provisions have been included in the Senate’s NDAA and in the House’s Clean Economy and Jobs Innovation Act.) Last month, speaking at the 2020 Defense News Conference, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said that the final House and Senate conference report on the NDAA should be coming out soon after the November election.

NRC okays power uprate for Farley units

The Joseph M. Farley nuclear plant, in Columbia, Ala.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved Southern Nuclear Operating Company’s request to increase the capacity of the two Farley reactors by approximately 1.7 percent. The company applied for the requisite operating license amendments on October 30 of last year. The NRC issued the amendments on October 9.

Located in Columbia, Ala., the Farley plant houses two three-loop Westinghouse pressurized water reactors. Unit 1 was connected to the grid in 1977, and Unit 2 came on line in 1981.

According to an NRC press release on October 21, NRC staff determined that Southern Nuclear could safely increase both reactors’ heat output, primarily through more accurate means of measuring feedwater flow. Southern Nuclear is also improving some plant systems not regulated by the NRC to more efficiently convert the increased reactor output to electricity.

NEI to help regenerate Romania’s nuclear sector

Chirica

The Nuclear Energy Institute and the Romanian Atomic Forum (Romatom) have signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation in civil applications of nuclear energy, according to Romatom on October 14.

The MOU was signed less than a week after the United States and Romania initialed a draft intergovernmental agreement for cooperation on the construction of two additional reactors at Romania’s Cernavoda nuclear power plant and the refurbishment of Unit 1. Cernavoda currently houses two operating reactors—Units 1 and 2, twin 650-MWe CANDU-6 pressurized heavy-water reactors.

Maria Korsnick, NEI’s president and chief executive officer, and Teodor Chirica, Romatom’s honorary president, signed the MOU during a webinar on investment opportunities and the capabilities of the U.S. and Romanian nuclear industries. Also in attendance were Tommy Joyce, the U.S. Department of Energy’s deputy assistant secretary for global energy security and multilateral engagement, and Dan Dragan, secretary of state in the Romanian Ministry of Energy, Economy, and Business Environment.

Major milestone reached at Vogtle-3

Vogtle-3, in September. Photo: Georgia Power

Georgia Power has announced the completion of cold hydro testing at Vogtle-3, one of two 1,100-MWe Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactors under construction at the Vogtle site near Waynesboro, Ga.

Unit 3 construction is now approximately 94 percent complete, and the total Vogtle-3 and -4 expansion project is about 88 percent complete, according to the company’s October 19 announcement. The last major test for Vogtle-3 before initial fuel loading is hot functional testing.

Cold hydro testing of Unit 3 confirmed that the reactor’s coolant system functions as designed and verified that the welds, joints, pipes, and other components of the coolant system and associated high-pressure systems do not leak when under pressure, Georgia Power said. The company also noted that it expects to meet the regulatory-approved in-service dates for the new reactors: November 2021 for Unit 3, and November 2022 for Unit 4.

U.S. signs on to development of civil nuclear energy in Poland

Brouillette

Naimski

Potential U.S. involvement in the development of a civil nuclear power program for Poland took another step forward on October 19 when U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette and Poland’s secretary of state for strategic energy infrastructure, Piotr Naimski, discussed the signing of the first intergovernmental agreement toward that end.

The 30-year agreement, which Brouillette has signed and which will be signed by Naimski once the document is received in Warsaw, becomes effective upon the exchange of diplomatic notes between the two nations informing each other that they have completed all applicable requirements for its entry into force, according to a Department of Energy press release.

With DOE funds in hand, UAMPS preps for NuScale SMR licensing phase

An artist’s rendering of NuScale Power’s small modular nuclear reactor plant. Image: NuScale

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) announced on October 16 that the Department of Energy has approved a $1.4-billion, multiyear cost-share award to Carbon Free Power Project LLC, a new business entity wholly owned by UAMPS that was created for the development and construction of a 720-MWe NuScale power plant—the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP)—to be sited at Idaho National Laboratory. The funding comes as UAMPS prepares to develop the first combined license application (COLA) for a small modular reactor.

New NRC Information Digest available online

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week announced the publication of the 2020–2021 Information Digest, which describes the agency's mission, responsibilities, accomplishments, and activities and provides general information on nuclear-related topics. The digest is published annually and, beginning this year, will be available electronically only on the NRC’s website.

The complete 227-page document or individual sections, including a handy nine-page “NRC at a Glance” section, is available for download. An audiobook of the digest is also available at the site.

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.

Feature Article

ATRC Upgrade

Reactor operators Craig Winder (foreground) and Clint Weigel prepare to start up the ATRC Facility reactor at Idaho National Laboratory after a nearly two-year project to digitally upgrade many of the reactor’s key instrumentation and control systems. Photos: DOE/INL

At first glance, the Advanced Test Reactor Critical (ATRC) Facility has very little in common with a full-size 800- or 1,000-MW nuclear power reactor. The similarities are there, however, as are the lessons to be learned from efforts to modernize the instrumentation and control systems that make them valuable assets, far beyond what their designers had envisioned.

One of four research and test reactors at Idaho National Laboratory, the ATRC is a low-power critical facility that directly supports the operations of INL’s 250-MW Advanced Test Reactor (ATR). Located in the same building, the ATR and the ATRC share the canal used for storing fuel and experiment assemblies between operating cycles.

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SLR application for North Anna units docketed

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has accepted for review an application from Dominion Energy to renew for 20 years the previously renewed operating licenses for North Anna-1 and -2, according to a notice published in yesterday’s Federal Register. Dominion submitted the application on August 24.

A version of the 1,899-page subsequent license renewal application without proprietary details is available to the public on the NRC’s website.

It’s time for the United States to demonstrate advanced reactors

After talking about it for decades, the United States is finally ready to take the next step in demonstrating advanced reactor technologies.

We have the bipartisan support from Congress. We have the best innovators in the world. Now it’s time to see what U.S. nuclear companies can really do with the support and resources of the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Energy is all in on new nuclear technologies and we just made our boldest move yet—selecting and supporting two U.S. reactor designs that will be fully operational within the next 7 years.

After evaluating the competitive U.S. reactor design applications that were submitted to our new Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program funding opportunity announcement, TerraPower LLC and X-energy were awarded $160 million in initial funding to test, license, and build their advanced reactors under this aggressive timeframe. Pending future appropriations by Congress, the DOE will invest $3.2 billion over 7 years in these projects that will be matched by the industry teams.

TVEL develops new fuel for Hungarian reactors

TVEL Fuel Company, a division of Russian atomic energy corporation Rosatom, has completed a project to develop and validate a new nuclear fuel modification for the Paks nuclear power plant in Hungary, the company announced on October 13.

According to TVEL, the full package of modification documents has been handed over to MVM Paks Ltd., the plant’s operator, for further licensing of the new fuel by Hungary’s national nuclear power regulator. TVEL added that the project’s first fuel assemblies passed acceptance testing at the company’s Elemash Machine-Building plant, a fuel fabrication facility in Elektrostal, near Moscow.

The first consignment of the modified fuel is scheduled for delivery to Paks later this year. The contract between TVEL and MVM Paks for development of the new fuel was signed in late 2017.

Report highlights socioeconomic impact of power plant closures

Communities that host nuclear power plants face “swift and severe” economic and social impacts following a plant’s closure, according to a report by the Nuclear Decommissioning Collaborative that was released on October 12. The free, 61-page report, Socioeconomic Impacts from Nuclear Power Plant Closure and Decommissioning, examines the effects of nuclear power plant closures on surrounding host communities, along with the barriers to planning and mitigation, and offers recommendations to nuclear closure communities across the nation.

According to the report, a typical nuclear power plant may operate in a relatively rural area and contribute upward of $400 million annually to the local and regional economics. That loss of revenue can have a severe impact on local public services such as schools and emergency responders. In addition to the economic benefits of operating nuclear power plants, the report points out that plant employees and their families strengthen host communities through their participation in local cultural, civic, and volunteer opportunities.

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).

Local pol goes digital to save Illinois nuclear plant

Demmer

Illinois State Representative Tom Demmer (R., Dixon) announced last week the creation of a website, savebyron.com, devoted to preventing the early closure of Exelon Generation’s Byron nuclear power plant.

According to the October 9 announcement, Demmer began working with the city of Byron, Ill.-based Wave Marketing to create the website following Exelon’s August decision to prematurely retire both the Byron plant and the Dresden nuclear plant, located in Morris, Ill., absent state legislation to aid the financially troubled facilities. Byron’s two pressurized water reactors are currently slated to cease operation in September of next year, followed in November by Dresden’s two boiling water reactors.

A national security argument for U.S. leadership on nuclear power

A recent commentary from Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy—the second in a series by the center’s Matt Bowen titled “Why the United States Should Remain Engaged on Nuclear Power”—examines the geopolitical and national security implications of the United States’ relinquishing the international nuclear energy marketplace to China and Russia.