Featured Articles

February 2021

Volume 64, Number 2



Nuclear News on the Newswire

Fukiushima Daiichi: 10 years on

The Fukushima Daiichi site before the accident. All images are provided courtesy of TEPCO unless noted otherwise.

It was a rather normal day back on March 11, 2011, at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant before 2:45 p.m. That was the time when the Great Tohoku Earthquake struck, followed by a massive tsunami that caused three reactor meltdowns and forever changed the nuclear power industry in Japan and worldwide. Now, 10 years later, much has been learned and done to improve nuclear safety, and despite many challenges, significant progress is being made to decontaminate and defuel the extensively damaged Fukushima Daiichi reactor site. This is a summary of what happened, progress to date, current situation, and the outlook for the future there.

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ITER updates: Components, commitments converge toward first plasma

The ITER site in Cadarache, France. Photo: ITER Organization

With first plasma operations at ITER planned for 2025, milestones are being reached in quick succession. While several of the 35 countries contributing to the construction of the super-sized fusion tokamak are pursuing fusion programs of their own, they remain committed to ITER and are eager for the data and operating experience it is expected to yield.

Euratom leads the project being built in Cadarache, France, as the host party for ITER. On February 22, the European Council approved the continuation of European financing of ITER from 2021 to 2027, with a contribution of €5.61 billion (about $6.86 billion) in current prices.

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Former SCANA CEO pleads guilty to fraud

The latest episode in the continuing saga of the failed nuclear expansion project at South Carolina’s Summer plant played out in federal court last week when the former chief executive officer of SCANA, Kevin Marsh, pleaded guilty to charges of fraud. According to the state attorney general’s office, Marsh will serve two years of a 10-year sentence, followed by three years of probation, provided he continues to cooperate with prosecutors. Marsh will also part with $5 million, which is to be used to help low-income ratepayers with their utility bills.

“This case is a good example of the power of our state grand jury and how our office uses it to hold the powerful accountable,” said South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson. “While this criminal proceeding is not meant to repay the customers who spent billions of dollars on nuclear plants that were never finished, we hope they take some comfort from the fact that the former CEO of SCANA has pled guilty for his role in this debacle. A public utility and its officers must serve the public.”

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The NRC: Observations on commissioner appointments

In 2015, we wrote an article for Nuclear News analyzing the history of commissioners appointed to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and assessing their backgrounds, experience, and qualifications at the time of their appointment. At the time, ANS had not established a formal position statement on NRC commissioner appointees. Our article provided an objective assessment of historical patterns and was used to develop ANS position statement #77, The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (2016). This article draws upon the 2015 article and provides updated data and analysis. Also, the recommendations of the position statement are applied to the current vacancy on the commission.

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FERC to look at grid reliability

Spurred by last week’s power grid failure in Texas, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday announced that it will open a new proceeding to examine the threat that climate change and extreme weather events pose to electric reliability. The proceeding, FERC said, will investigate how grid operators prepare for and respond to these events, including droughts, extreme cold, wildfires, hurricanes, and prolonged heat waves.

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Granholm confirmed as new DOE head

Granholm

The Senate earlier today confirmed Jennifer Granholm as the nation’s 16th secretary of energy. The final tally was 64–35, with several Republicans joining Democrats in support of the former Michigan governor. Granholm becomes the second woman (after the Clinton administration’s Hazel O’Leary) to hold the post.

Picked to helm the Department of Energy last December by then president-elect Biden, Granholm testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on January 27, and on February 3, the committee voted 13–4 to advance her nomination.

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UN partners expand use of nuclear technology to combat disease

The IAEA headquarters.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have worked together to address the global challenges of food insecurity, climate change, animal/zoonotic diseases, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic over 57 years of partnership. On February 23, the directors general of both organizations signed a Revised Arrangement committing to upgrade their collaboration and increase the scope of their work.

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Exelon to split into two companies

Exelon's Byron generating station in northern Illinois. The future of Byron is uncertain at this time and could impact the new power generation company, once it's formed.

Exelon Corporation announced yesterday that it intends to spin off Exelon Generation, its competitive power generation and customer-facing energy businesses, from Exelon Utilities, its group of six regulated electric and gas utilities.

The split into two publicly traded companies will “establish the nation’s largest fully regulated transmission and distribution utility company and the largest carbon-free power producer paired with the leading customer-facing platform for clean, sustainable energy solutions,” Exelon said in its February 24 announcement.

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U.K. endorses nuclear for green hydrogen future

Nuclear power could produce as much as one-third of the United Kingdom’s clean hydrogen needs by 2050, posits the Hydrogen Roadmap, a 12-page report recently approved by the Nuclear Industry Council (NIC) and released last week by the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA).

The NIC, co-chaired by the British government’s minister for business, energy, and clean growth, and the chairman of the NIA, sets strategic priorities for government-industry collaboration to promote nuclear power in the United Kingdom.

The road to net zero: The report outlines how large-scale and small modular reactors could produce both the power and the heat necessary to produce emissions-free, or “green,” hydrogen. Existing large-scale reactors, it says, could produce green hydrogen today at scale through electrolysis, as could the next generation of gigawatt-scale reactors. Also, according to the report, SMRs, the first unit of which could be deployed within the next 10 years, could unlock possibilities for green hydrogen production near industrial clusters.

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