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Matthew Denman: On Probabilistic Risk Assessment

Matthew Denman

Probabilistic risk assessment is a systematic methodology for evaluating risks associated with a complex engineered technology such as nuclear energy. PRA risk is defined in terms of possible detrimental outcomes of an activity or action, and as such, risk is characterized by three quantities: what can go wrong, the likelihood of the problem, and the resulting consequences of the problem.

Matthew Denman is principal engineer for reliability engineering at Kairos Power and the chair of the American Nuclear Society and American Society of Mechanical Engineers Joint Committee on Nuclear Risk Management’s Subcommittee of Standards Development. As a college student at the University of Florida, Denman took a course on PRA but didn’t enjoy it, because he did not see its connection to the nuclear power industry. Later, during his Ph.D. study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his advisor was Neil Todreas, a well-known thermal hydraulics expert. Todreas was working on a project with George Apostolakis, who would leave MIT to become a commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The project, “Risk Informing the Design of the Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactor,” was a multi-university effort funded through a Department of Energy Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI) grant. Todreas and Apostolakis were joined in this project by a who’s who of nuclear academia, including Andy Kadak (MIT, ANS past president [1999–2000]), Mike Driscoll (MIT), Mike Golay (MIT), Mike Lineberry (Idaho State University, former ANS treasurer), Rich Denning (Ohio State University), and Tunc Aldemir (Ohio State University).

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Agencies assess power system performance during February freeze

To prevent future winter storms from causing the kind of widespread, lethal power outages wrought by February’s frigid blast through Texas and other states, the electric and natural gas industries need to bolster their winterization and cold weather preparedness and coordination, a just-released preliminary report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corporation concludes.

The two agencies had announced on February 16 that they planned to open a joint inquiry to identify problems with the performance of the bulk power system during the storm and to offer solutions. A team of FERC and NERC staff members presented the report at a FERC meeting on September 23.

A presentation of the report, February 2021 Cold Weather Grid Operations: Preliminary Findings and Recommendations, is available.

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NRC brainstorms ways to simplify microreactor licensing

The staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently released a draft white paper outlining strategies for streamlining microreactor licensing. The paper is to be used to facilitate discussion at an upcoming advanced reactor stakeholder public meeting.

“This paper,” the document emphasizes, “has not been subject to NRC management and legal reviews and approvals, and its contents are subject to change and should not be interpreted as official agency positions.”

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Effort to overturn Montana’s pronuclear law advances

A Montana citizens group received the go-ahead this week to collect signatures for a ballot initiative that could wind up repealing a recently enacted law that allows the state legislature to okay the construction of nuclear power facilities without direct input from the public.

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Hot U market and simmering interest in HALEU: It boils down to demand

For years, pressure has been building for a commercial path to a stable supply of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU)—deemed essential for the deployment of advanced power reactors—but advanced reactor developers and enrichment companies are still watching and waiting. In contrast, the uranium spot price soared after Sprott Physical Uranium Trust, a Canadian investment fund formed in July, began buying up U3O8 supplies, causing the price to increase over 60 percent, topping $50 per pound for the first time since 2012. Fueled by growing acknowledgment that nuclear power is a necessary part of a clean energy future, uranium is the focus of attention from Wall Street to Capitol Hill.

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Granholm, Grossi prepare for 2022 nuclear ministerial conference

U.S. energy secretary Jennifer Granholm and International Atomic Energy Agency director general Rafael Mariano Grossi met in Vienna yesterday during the agency’s 65th General Conference to launch preparations for the next IAEA International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century, slated for October 26–28, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

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TVA gives up construction permits for Bellefonte units

Nearly 47 years after being issued construction permits for two reactors at the Bellefonte site in northeast Alabama, the Tennessee Valley Authority has decided against renewing them, essentially extinguishing any remaining hope for the project, on which the utility has reportedly spent more than $5 billion.

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Results of advanced nuclear survey released

The U.S. Nuclear Industry Council has released the results of its 2021 Advanced Nuclear Survey.

The results, issued late last month, include information from 17 USNIC-member advanced nuclear developers on topics such as federal and state policies, types of reactors in development, U.S./Canadian licensing, need for control room operators, Nuclear Regulatory Commission fees, Department of Energy programs, and high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU). In addition, 24 companies (the 17 member firms plus seven nonmember firms) provided their perspectives on the NRC’s planned 10 CFR Part 53 regulation of advanced reactors.

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IAEA boosts projections for nuclear power’s potential growth

The International Atomic Energy Agency has revised upward its projections regarding the potential growth of nuclear power’s capacity for electricity generation over the next three decades. The upward revision is the first by the IAEA since the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011.

Released last week, the 148-page report, Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050, provides detailed glimpses into possible nuclear futures in North America; Latin America and the Caribbean; Northern, Western, and Southern Europe; Eastern Europe; Africa; Western Asia, Southern Asia, and Central and Eastern Asia; Southeastern Asia; and Oceania. Global and regional nuclear power projections are presented as low and high cases.

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ANS Standards Committee responds to the industry’s need for PRA and RIPB methodology

For more than two decades, the American Nuclear Society’s Standards Committee has recognized the benefit of incorporating risk-informed and performance-based (RIPB) methodology into ANS standards to improve their effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency. In general, standards using RIPB methods with properly identified and structured objectives need less modification and can be expected to remain valid for much longer periods.

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