Nuclear News on the Newswire

Missouri S&T’s nuclear engineering program gains department status

Missouri S&T’s pool-type nuclear reactor. Photo: Sam O’Keefe/Missouri S&T

Sixty years ago, the Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T), then known as the University of Missouri at Rolla, was one of the first U.S. institutions to offer a nuclear engineering degree. Now, decades after it was offered as an option within metallurgical engineering, Missouri S&T’s nuclear program has attained new status as the Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Science Department, the university announced on October 20.

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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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U.S. agency to back NuScale in South Africa

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) has signed a letter of intent to support NuScale Power in the development of 2,500 megawatts of nuclear energy in South Africa, according to an October 16 DFC press release.

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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.

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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.

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Inspecting Hidden Areas of Metal Tanks and Containment Vessels or Liners

Figure 1. The Hanford Site in Washington state stores millions of gallons of high-level radioactive waste in 28 double-shell tanks. The tanks are buried underground to enhance radiation shielding. The space between the primary tank and the steel liner can be used to allow inspection of the inaccessible regions of these vessels.

Nuclear power plant containment vessels have large, inaccessible regions that cannot be inspected by conventional techniques. Inaccessible regions often are encased in concrete, soil or sand, or hidden behind equipment attached to a wall. Similar constraints affect the inspection of double-shell tanks designed to store nuclear waste, illustrated in Figure 1, that have an inaccessible region at the tank bottom where the primary shell is supported by the secondary shell. Present methods to monitor the integrity of these vessels primarily rely on partial inspections of accessible areas or estimation of corrosion rates; however, these approaches cannot account for nonuniform localized corrosion or cracking.

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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.

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U-233 processing restarts at Oak Ridge following upgrades

A fissile material handler uses a shielded glovebox to dissolve U-233 into a low-level form so that it can be mixed with grout for safe transportation and disposal. Photo: DOE

The processing and downblending of uranium-233 for disposal has resumed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, following a pause in operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Energy announced on October 20. Removal and disposition of the U-233 is one of the DOE Office of Environmental Management’s highest priorities at the site, as stated in its strategic vision released earlier this year.

The project is removing a significant risk by eliminating the inventory of highly enriched fissile material stored in Building 3019, the world’s oldest operating nuclear facility, according to the DOE. Employees, known as fissile material handlers, use shielded gloveboxes to dissolve U-233 into a low-level form so that it can be mixed with grout for safe transportation and disposal. The material dates back decades and was originally pursued as a fuel for reactors; however, it did not prove to be a viable option.

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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.

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