Time lapse of 83-day Sequoyah Unit 2 Steam Generator Replacement

This is just one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

In 2002, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) successfully received approval from the NRC for a 1.3 percent power uprate. Just two weeks ago on January 15th, TVA applied for license renewal. And now the steam generators necessary to transform 3,455 mega-watts to steam for another 20+ years are in place and pumping up the POWER!

sequoyah 1and2

TVA replaced all 4 steam generators at Sequoyah Unit 2. Crane operators be warned, this might make you H-O-T!!!


Modern Age Nuclear Construction

The nuclear industry has changed. Whereas, in the 1960’s and 1970’s nuclear plant designers built with a “customization to the customer” approach, construction today is based on a “tweaked standard design” approach. Let me explain.

There are but a few basic nuclear steam supply systems. The most utilized versions in the United States are based on a “light water” design, where purified water flows over fuel assemblies in a reactor vessel. Of the 104 operating nuclear reactors in the United States, there are 69 pressurized water reactors (where water in the core never boils) and 35 boiling water reactors (where water in the core boils). But these two designs are hardly the tip of the iceberg of  possible nuclear utilization designs.

Prior to 1986, a utility or owner of a proposed plant developed a basic reactor design in consult with a design firm with unique power characteristics and safety systems and submitted an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC, or Atomic Energy Commission, as the regulator was called prior to 1974) to prove its unique plant would not endanger public health and safety. Once a construction permit was issued, each plant was designed in detail as it was built, and the design changed as the plant was constructed in reaction to regulatory order or technological advancement. Regulator-mandated improvements and design enhancements and anti-nuclear intervenors bogged down the licensing and construction process, which led to cost overruns to the tune of billions, prompting utilities to reconsider the financial tenability of their investment. Several projects were scrapped mid construction. Bellefonte 1 & 2 and Perry 2 stand like paperweights beneath the fallout of nuclear agnst, while Marble Hill and Satsop are only failed memories now.

Today’s regulatory regime is different. Designs have been standardized to allow regulatory review of one design, which may then be built on any site whose characteristics are within the design limits. A site is deemed acceptable when its site specific characteristics such as seismicity, flood potential, maximum and minimum ambient temperature, and frequency and severity of inclement weather events and etcetera are proven to be less severe than the characteristics used to test or analyze a certified design. Non-standard portions of the design, which depend on site layout, foundation properties, and heat sink characteristics, are finalized by each utility separately in their Combined License Application.

Licensing a certified design limits the financial risk relatively small utilities incur due to regulatory changes or public intervenors. The public is still allowed the opportunity to challenge the technical merit design certifications, environmental permits, and operating licenses. But the public vetting process occurs once and relatively early in the process, limiting possible impacts to construction.

The current combined licensing regime should not imply that design changes would not be made to improve safety or to fix any technical issues incurred in present designs. Emergent issues, solutions thereof, and any other design changes, are evaluated with regard to their potential impact on the safety and security of the workforce and the public, and licensing amendment requests are made as necessary to meet the notification criteria prescribed in the design certification for each particular design in Part 52 to Title 10 Code of Federal Regulations.

The future of nuclear is bright with promise. Standard design certifications and the streamlined combined licensing process will improve financial certainty for utilities seeking to invest in clean, reliable nuclear energy while preserving the confidence of public safety ensured via regulatory oversight.

New U.S. Nuclear Plants – Сколько Лет, Сколько Зин?

Here are a few historical facts to put this accomplishment in perspective.

It’s been a good few months for the nuclear industry in the United States. In December, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission published the final design certification rule for the AP1000 Pressurized Water Reactor in the Federal Register. And recently, the NRC approved the issue of a combined construction and operating license to Southern Company for two AP1000 reactors to be built on the Vogtle site that has been in preparation for years. The combined license for Vogtle is the first new construction license issued by the NRC in 34 years.

34 YEARS!!!

Now, I myself cannot even remember 34 years ago. I was but an eating, crying, sleeping, pooping babe back when the last new nuclear construction license was issued. Which made me wonder, what else was happening the last time NRC green lighted a nuclear construction project? Here are a few historical facts to put this accomplishment in perspective.

  • In 1978 Jimmy Carter was president. The same year, Carter witnessed the signing of the Camp David Accord that eventually led to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. The Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin won the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for their work.
  • Almost every family in American had a TV by 1978. But U.S. politics lagged way behind technology, as usual. While British Parliament sessions began regular radio broadcasts in ’78, the United States Senate just managed to broadcast its first session over the radio waves.
  • In 1978, the average price of a gallon of gasoline was 63 cents, a stamp cost 15 cents and the Dow Jones was in the 800 range. (Even in the current recession, the Dow is almost 13,000!) 1978 was also the year the Susan B. Anthony coin was first minted.
  • In 1978, Volkswagen stopped making the Beetle. They tried to bring it back. But we all know how that went… (So much for the Beetle renaissance!)
  • In 1978, the first test tube baby was born, and the first ever mobile phone system was introduced.
  • In 1978, the Denver Broncos played the Dallas Cowboys in Denver’s first ever Super Bowl. The Broncos wanted to go to Disneyland. The Cowboys took them to school.

Now please enjoy some sexy nuclear pics!

Highly-enriched Uranium Shipments Make Good Nuclear Secrets

The fact is that the details of nuclear shipments are maintained classified for the protection of the public.

Every year, every month, every day, nuclear material is transported on roads in the United States and across the world. Uranium for power reactors, radionuclides for medical and instrumentation purposes, and other nuclear materials are transported safely on our roads everyday for safe utilization in our power industry, schools, hospitals and industry. Regardless of this fact, on occasion the media creates a public uproar with an article on shipment of some “weapons-grade” or “highly-enriched” nuclear material.

Highly-enriched uranium (HEU) has various uses. But for the most part, HEU is utilized in research reactors for creation of radionuclides for medical purposes and for various collegiate research. HEU can also be used to create nuclear weapons. Shipments of HEU are highly secure. And when I say highly, I mean AK-47s, and highly-trained security forces highly. In addition, routes, security details, quantities, schedules and the like will be classified Secret or Top Secret.

Such details are classified for good reason. Public involvement in transportation of HEU (and other nuclear materials, for that matter) would eliminate the very elements that render such transport secure. Details such as transport mode, route, security and schedules would be available to anyone participating in the public comment process – including terrorists and would-be criminals. Additionally, public involvement in nuclear transportation matters would allow interlopers to halt the vetting process by bogging down the public involvement process (by asking literally thousands of often already answered, or baseless questions) in paperwork. Slowing such shipments could have dire consequences to the health of people depending on medical treatments or diagnosis involving radioactive isotopes.

The media tends to muddle nuclear matters in eye-catching headlines laced with trigger words such as “weapons-grade”, “nuclear crisis”, “secret”, and “bomb.” As an example, a recent article in the Canadian Globe and Mail attempts to grab readers’ attention saying “Weapons-grade uranium shipments quietly heading south”. The headline infers that the Canadian government is covertly shipping dangerous bomb material underneath the nose of the public. In fact, the article incorrectly labels the material being shipped as “weapons-grade.” Used (spent), highly-enriched uranium is typically still categorized as highly-enriched; but is certainly not “weapons-grade” or “bomb-grade” for that matter. The Hill published a much more balanced article about the same shipments described in the Globe and Mail article, with citations by actual scientists.

If such shipment details were open to the public, interlopers could also pose a threat to transportation safety. Organizations such as Greenpeace regularly threaten the safety of transportation routes for crude oil carriers and other shipments they oppose. Such interference could cause traffic accidents that could threaten the security of shipments as well as the health and safety of the public. Too many people are injured and killed in traffic accidents every year. Combative resistance against nuclear shipments could add to this already too high number.

The fact is that the details of nuclear shipments are maintained classified for the protection of the public. Shipments of HEU do not pose a threat to public safety as long as their details remain classified. There are much easier ways for terrorists to obtain nuclear materials for dirty bombs than attempts at intercepting HEU shipments. I’ll save that blog for…um…never.

Fukushima radionuclide contamination data

Recently, the National Nuclear Security Administration, in cooperation with the Department of Energy and Japanese research agencies, released to the public data obtained during radiological surveys of the area and airspace surrounding Fukushima in the months after the Tohoku Earthquake. The data includes radiation analyses from surrounding soil samples, air samples taken during fixed-wing aerial surveys and helicopter surveys, and a study of dispersion and fallout of Cesium radionuclides from the Fukushima Daiichi station.

If you have Google Earth, or can download it onto your computer, you can study the raw KML files created by NNSA of the analyses results or create your own maps from the raw data available for download from Data.gov. They have also released a powerpoint detailing the results of their findings and conclusions.

Spreading the Nuclear Around

I hope my presence inspired some of these students (especially the girls!)

As I have stated before, I consider it my special responsibility to provide accurate information about nuclear power to my community. So today I was quite excited speak to first-year college students today about nuclear power and careers in nuclear. This was the largest group of people I have spoken to in quite some time. So it was an honor to have their attention for 90 whole minutes.

The students were from all over the east: West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, etc. The lecture was part of the “Out Of Class Experience” program that WVU sets up for their first year students. What an opportunity! They have professionals from all over the region come and give talks to their students about their work. Of course, we also had a program like this. But it wasn’t required. I wasn’t required to participate in such activities until graduate school.

I hope my presence inspired some of these students (especially the girls!) to pursue careers in engineering, and maybe even graduate school. Ya never can tell what a kid is going to do in his or her college years, even in that first year. But I always hope I can make an impression.


(Unless they are playing The Buckeyes, that is…)

Nuclear Disinformation vs. Public Education

My concern amidst all of the positive memories of 2011 ComFest was that participants in the event heard “environmental activists” on Bozo stage promulgate nuclear misinformation.

As a nuclear engineer, I consider it my unique duty to inform the public and communicate openly about the benefits and risks of nuclear power.  Each year, I anxiously anticipate The Columbus Community Festival because it gives me the opportunity to visit home to see and hear the sights and sounds of the town that raised me from a babe.  This year was especially memorable to me, as I was fortunate enough to reunite with many of my friends old and new (some I had not seen since my high school graduation).
My concern amidst all of the positive memories of 2011 ComFest was that participants in the event heard “environmental activists” on Bozo stage promulgate nuclear misinformation. This concerned me because I know one of the core principles of ComFest is working “for the collective good of all people.” I cannot justify how presenting false information as fact works for collective good.  These activists stated, “two plants in Nebraska are underwater”; regulators and corporations collude to “fatten their pockets”; and “without nuclear power… we would have all renewables like wind and solar” (as well as other claims). 
These statements are sensationalized anti-nuclear rhetoric!
To address some of the specifics, the following is some factual information that refutes the messages that were prominently presented as fact at ComFest: Nebraska Public Power District’s Cooper Nuclear Station and OmahaPublic Power District’s Fort Calhoun Station are not “underwater”.  Fort Calhoun has experienced flooding on their property; but, the reactor remains dry inside its watertight containment building.  This is due, in part, to recognition of deficiencies in Fort Calhoun’s flood response plan by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) resident inspector, and the subsequent implementation of improvements overseen by the NRC (reference letter LIC-10-0098 in ADAMS).  When the vessel head problems occurred at First Energy Nuclear Operating Company’s Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, the NRC fined the owners $5.5 million and kept the reactor shut down for years.  The NRC routinely inspects emergency readiness plans; and mandates owners design and operate their plants in accordance with strict safety standards.
The fact is nuclear power was developed for the collective good.  Nuclear power contributes to U.S. energy independence, and provides reliable, good-paying jobs across many trades and education levels. In 2010, nuclear power accounted for almost 20 percent of electricity generation and more than 68 percent of emission free electricity production in the United States.  The same year, electricity generation from nuclear avoided 1.6 million tons of Sulfur dioxide and 707 million tons of CO2 emissions.  Both Sulfur dioxide and CO2 are greenhouse gases and are detrimental to public health.
On the notion that nuclear can be replaced with renewable energy: with an average wind turbine of 1.5 megawatts – 830 wind turbines would be needed to replace the capacity of Perry Nuclear Power Plant (1,245 megawatts). I challenge these “activists” to explain, where in Ohio would we put 830 wind turbines?  Or in the case of small, residential wind turbines, what middle-class family can contribute roughly $40,000 in capital costs?
For me, ComFest used to symbolize friends and community.  This weekend left me wondering, when did ComFest come to symbolize deceptive activism?  I inquire of the ComFest organizers, whether they are aware that misinformation was spread and if they took any or plan to take any action to ensure that this kind of misleading information is not being spread at ComFest. If they are not planning an action, I respectfully request that they do. ComFest’s organizers, when addressing political issues affecting our community, should strive to present the facts and the opportunity to represent both sides of those issues.  Because isn’t promoting an informed public the best thing, in the end, for all of us?