Nuclear News on the Newswire

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.

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Recapping the ANS/NEI Advanced Reactor Codes and Standards Workshop

As industry steps up its efforts to design, develop, and deploy advanced reactors, codes and standards must be developed to support these technologies. Toward that end, ANS and the Nuclear Energy Institute collaborated to host a virtual workshop on June 23 for industry partners to discuss the development of advanced reactor codes and standards.

NEI’s senior director of new reactors, Marc Nichol, welcomed more than 400 attendees to the online meeting, and ANS’s director of government relations, John Starkey, outlined the meeting logistics.

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Antinuke group fails in call for hearing on Fermi LAR

An Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has denied a Michigan antinuclear group’s petition for a public hearing on a DTE Energy license amendment request (LAR) concerning the fuel racks used in the Fermi-2 spent fuel pool (SFP). In its July 7 order, the ASLB rejected the arguments of Redford, Mich.’s Citizens’ Resistance at Fermi 2 (CRAFT), stating that the organization “plainly has failed to submit an admissible contention.”

The ASLB had agreed in April to hear oral arguments from CRAFT via a telephone conference (NN, June 2020, p. 15). The conference was held June 10 and included staff from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and representatives of DTE.

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Prescription for pandemic recovery: Invest in nuclear

The World Nuclear Association (WNA) released a white paper yesterday, Building a stronger tomorrow: Nuclear power in the post-pandemic world, outlining why nuclear projects should be part of the world’s economic and employment recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the paper, recovery plans that include investment in nuclear energy could not only boost economic growth and jobs, but also fulfill climate change commitments and build a clean and resilient energy system.

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Pandemic puts physical sciences at a “tipping point”

A new report from the American Institute of Physics declares the physical sciences to be at a “tipping point” between a “perilous” future and a “vibrant” one as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The 28-page report, Peril and Promise: Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Physical Sciences, outlines several areas where the scientific community has been tested by the pandemic and examines what the future could look like for the workforce, infrastructure, and conduct of research. Further, the report challenges leaders in government, academia, the private sector, and other areas who depend on the physical sciences to craft specific recommendations to address the pandemic’s impacts.

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IAEA launches competition for nuclear plant innovations

The International Atomic Energy Agency has initiated a crowdsourcing competition for innovative ideas to boost the competitiveness of nuclear power plants, the agency announced on July 3. The deadline is August 15 for the submission of abstracts, which should be based on practices already in place at plants. Chosen participants will be invited to present their ideas at the annual Nuclear Operators’ Forum, to be held during the IAEA’s 64th IAEA General Conference, scheduled for September 21–25 in Vienna.

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VVER units planned for Leningrad and Smolensk

Leningrad nuclear plant. Photo: Rosenergoatom

Preparations have begun for the construction of four nuclear reactors in Russia—two VVER-1200 units at the Leningrad plant and two VVER-TOI units near the Smolensk plant, according to Rosenergoatom, a division of Russia’s state-owned atomic energy corporation Rosatom.

Rosenergoatom operates all of Russia’s nuclear power facilities. Authorization to move forward with the new-build projects was signed by Alexey Likhachev, Rosatom’s director general.

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Draft appropriations bill hikes nuclear energy funding

The House Appropriations Committee yesterday released a draft of the fiscal year 2021 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill, calling for higher levels of funding for nuclear energy. The legislation would fund activities at the Departments of Energy and Interior, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and a number of related agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

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New polls show substantial support for nuclear energy

Sixty percent of respondents in a recent national survey favored the use of nuclear energy, with only 25 percent opposing its use. While the latest Bisconti Research poll focuses on nuclear power and electricity generation, its findings on public interest in climate change and using a spectrum of sources to meet energy needs are consistent with a recent Pew Research Center poll on a broad set of energy policy and climate change topics. The approaches the two online surveys took to measuring public opinion on nuclear energy yielded different numbers but found some common ground.

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