Nuclear News on the Newswire

NRC’s Inspector General issues report

Overall findings of a survey of Nuclear Regulatory Commission personnel indicate that while the NRC maintains a few strengths compared to external benchmarks, results have declined since 2015 in a number of areas, according to a recent report from the NRC’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

The survey was conducted in February 2020 by Willis Towers Watson, a global risk-management, insurance brokerage, and advisory firm that has partnered with the OIG for more than 20 years to assess the NRC’s safety culture and climate, as well as other aspects of employee experience.

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UWC 2020: A call for transformational change

Bowing to current COVID-19 realities but buoyed by the success of June’s virtual Annual Meeting, ANS event planners returned to the virtual realm for this year’s Utility Working Conference. Originally scheduled for August 9–12 at Marco Island, Fla., the condensed event was held Wednesday, August 11, wherever registrants’ computer devices happened to be located.

In addition to 26 educational sessions and workshops, UWC 2020 featured an opening plenary session titled “Achieving Transformational Change: A leadership discussion,” moderated by Bob Coward, MPR Associates principal officer and ANS past president (2017–2018). Plenary panelists included representatives from three utilities—Arizona Public Service (APS), Exelon, and Xcel Energy—plus the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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Supporters of nuclear infrastructure bill testify at Senate hearing

The draft American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020 (ANIA) received support—albeit some of it qualified—from three energy experts at a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing on August 5. The legislation had been introduced the previous week by Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), the committee’s chairman.

Testifying before the committee were Amy Roma, a founding member of the Nuclear Energy and National Security Coalition at the Atlantic Council and an attorney at Hogan Lovells; W. Paul Goranson, chief operating officer of Energy Fuels Inc. and president of the Uranium Producers of America (UPA); and Armond Cohen, executive director of the Clean Air Task Force (CATF). (For more on the CATF, remember to check out next month’s Nuclear News.)

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Fuel loading starts at Belarusian NPP

The Belarusian nuclear power plant. Photo: Rosatom

Fuel loading has commenced at Unit 1 of the Belarusian nuclear power plant, according to Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation. The first fuel assembly was loaded into the unit at 11:45 a.m. (local time) on August 7, the company said, adding that a total of 163 assemblies will have been loaded by month’s end.

The plant, Belarus’s only nuclear power facility, houses two 1,109-MWe VVER-1200 pressurized water reactors. Unit 1 is scheduled to begin commercial operation later this year, with a Unit 2 startup slated for 2021.

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McNamee stepping down from FERC

McNamee

Bernard McNamee, one of the four current members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has announced that he will be leaving the agency next month, narrowing its majority to two Republicans to one Democrat. As Newswire reported on July 30, the White House intends to nominate Republican Mark C. Christie to fill McNamee’s seat and Democrat Allison Clements to fill FERC’s remaining Democratic seat.

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Remembering Vice Admiral Wilkinson on the 102nd anniversary of his birth

We owe a debt of gratitude to Dennis Wilkinson, born 102 years ago today. Dennis did so much for the nuclear power industry—both in the Navy and in the commercial sector. When people first met him, he invariably stuck out his hand, grinned, and said, “Hi, I’m Dennis.” No pretense, no pomposity, no self-importance. Supremely confident and brilliant, he was also compassionate and warm with an engaging sense of humor. Many people he met became life-long friends, as he often said that “friendship is forever.”

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Penfield and Enos: Outage planning in the COVID-19 era

Penfield

Enos

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.

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Two cross-lab teams get funding for computing innovations

On August 4, the Department of Energy announced it will provide $57.5 million over five years to establish two multidisciplinary teams to take advantage of DOE supercomputing facilities at Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The goal is to spur advances in the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Funds of $11.5 million have been made available for Fiscal Year 2020, with future funding contingent on congressional appropriations.On August 4, the Department of Energy announced it will provide $57.5 million over five years to establish two multidisciplinary teams to take advantage of DOE supercomputing facilities at Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The goal is to spur advances in the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Funds of $11.5 million have been made available for Fiscal Year 2020, with future funding contingent on congressional appropriations.

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ARPA-E Energy Briefs highlight innovations and programs

The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is at work developing and demonstrating novel energy technologies and connecting those technologies with private-sector investors. The researchers and innovators behind ARPA-E want to tell you all about it in a series of “Energy Briefs” available through the agency’s YouTube channel.

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Menezes confirmed as deputy energy secretary

Menezes

In a bipartisan 79–16 vote, the Senate on August 4 confirmed Mark W. Menezes to be the nation’s deputy secretary of energy. Prior to his confirmation, Menezes had served as undersecretary of energy to both Secretary Dan Brouillette and his predecessor, Rick Perry. An official swearing-in ceremony will take place at a later time.

Before joining the Trump administration in 2017, Menezes was an executive with Berkshire Hathaway Energy. He has also worked on Capitol Hill as chief counsel for energy and environment for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, where he served as chief negotiator for the House majority in the enactment of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

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