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Penfield and Enos: Outage planning in the COVID-19 era
Energy Harbor’s Beaver Valley plant, located about 34 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Pa., was one of many nuclear sites preparing for a scheduled outage as the coronavirus pandemic intensified in March. The baseline objective of any planned outage—to complete refueling on time and get back to producing power—was complicated by the need to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
While over 200 of the plant’s 850 staff members worked from home to support the outage, about 800 contractors were brought in for jobs that could only be done on-site. Nuclear News Staff Writer Susan Gallier talked with Beaver Valley Site Vice President Rod Penfield and General Plant Manager Matt Enos about the planning and communication required.
Beaver Valley can look forward to several more outages in the future, now that plans to shut down the two Westinghouse pressurized water reactors, each rated at about 960 MWe, were reversed in March. “The deactivation announcement happened in the middle of all our planning,” Enos said. “It’s a shame we haven’t had a chance to get together as a large group and celebrate that yet.”
While the focus remains on safe pandemic operations, the site now has two causes for celebration: an outage success and a long future ahead.
If the nucleus of a heavy atom–such as uranium–absorbs a neutron, the nucleus can become unstable and split. This is called nuclear fission. Fission releases energy in the form of heat. Although fission can occur naturally, fission as encountered in the modern world is usually a deliberate man-made nuclear reaction.
Typical fission events release about two hundred million eV (200 MeV) of energy. In contrast, most chemical oxidation reactions (such as burning coal) release at most a few eV per event. So, nuclear fuel contains at least ten million times more usable energy per unit mass than does chemical fuel.
Fusion is the opposite reaction of fission. In fusion, atoms are fused together.For a fusion reaction to occur, it is necessary to bring two nuclei so close that nuclear forces become active and glue the nuclei together. Deuterium and Tritium, isotopes of hydrogen, are used in fusion reactors. Nuclear forces are small-distance forces and have to act against the electrostatic forces where positively charged nuclei repel each other. This is the reason nuclear fusion reactions occur mostly in high density, high temperature environment.
Recreating that environment is the greatest challenge to producing commercial scale fusion energy, but it’s a challenge well worth pursuing. Nuclear fusion can produce four times the amount of energy as nuclear fission.
Last modified April 14, 2020, 11:29pm CDT