Monthly Archives: September 2010

Nuclear Technology: The Rewards and Penalties of Being Special

By Ted Rockwell

Years ago, a newspaper columnist intrigued me with a statement that science cannot tell us anything about real people. To the columnist, science could talk only about “average people,” which exist only in the imagination of the speaker. The scientifically average American, for example, has one testicle and one breast, 2.3 kids, and 0.6 dogs. Most of us don’t know anyone like that.

Growing up in such a world, it’s comforting to be assured by parents and teachers that “you are special.” Such assurance of specialness was granted the nuclear community. It brought respect, bright people, and high salaries, which in turn were used to create power plants of unprecedented safety, reliability, and performance.

In a commercial society, however, specialness can be made into a penalty. When you start to solve a problem in the usual way—by adapting solutions that work in similar, non-nuclear situations—you’re told, “Nuclear is special. Ordinary solutions are not good enough for nuclear applications.” That may benefit the contractor who supplies or installs the extra frills that your specialness is said to require. But if the frills don’t make the plant safer, or cheaper, or better in some way, then they merely add to the cost, and saddle you with a device or procedure that may bring problems of its own. Why should nuclear facilities be denied the problem-solving experience that everyone else depends on, and have to make do with impromptu suggestions and inventions?

So, what are the rewards and the benefits of being special? Here they are:

  1. It’s a classic stimulus program. The more special, the more money comes in. The nuclear community became very good at this.
  2. The money, credibility, and other resources enabled the nuclear community to develop improved organizational structures, tests, and procedures that led to power plants with unprecedented reliability and safety. Not one member of the public has been killed by a commercial nuclear power plant of the kind that have been operated in America for more than half a century—a full lifetime in many parts of the world, two human generations.
  3. The advantages of the disciplined approach are more than safety, although that alone is enough to recommend it. But the performance records being set by nuclear plants, year after year, are also unprecedented. Prior to the TMI reforms, a 60 percent to 80 percent capacity factor (i.e., a 1000-MW plant would generate 600 to 800 megawatt-years during the year) was an excellent achievement. America’s commercial nuclear plants now repeatedly exceed 90 percent.
  4. We proceed as if the lesson is that nuclear technology is so special that it requires a lot more restrictions and safeguards than other technologies. But that’s not what the real world shows us. Ordinary technologies, like drilling for oil, or operating gas-fired or oil-fired plants, are killing people by the thousands, and polluting the earth, year after year. And for a century, the lessons from those incidents are being repeatedly ignored.
  5. The advisory committee set up to look for lessons from the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill is recommending that the petroleum industry could benefit by reforming itself to operate more like the nuclear power industry. The benefits of being special are available to everyone. There is no basis for arguing that the nuclear business is especially hazardous, requiring additional specialness penalties. The evidence is all to the contrary.
  6. Saying that a lethal dose of radioactivity is worse than a lethal dose of mercury, arsenic, or botox, or that “man-made radioactivity” is 100 times more dangerous than “natural radioactivity,” makes a mockery of science. We should stop doing that. Rewarding endless reduction of trivial radiation doses can reduce safety for no health benefit. (The easiest way to reduce total radiation dose is to minimize the time that workers spend in radiation zones. But that is where the most critical equipment is located, needing inspection, testing, and preventive maintenance.)
  7. None of this should be interpreted as a call to reduce safety standards. Real safety measures pay their own way. Adding more and more “safety requirements,” however, does not necessarily make a system safer. There is wisdom in the advice, “Don’t fix what ain’t broke.”

Ted Rockwell

Ted Rockwell wrote his first published article on nuclear technology, “Frontier Life Among the Atom Splitters,” for the December 1, 1945, Saturday Evening Post.  He was Adm. Rickover’s technical director during the first 15 years of the naval propulsion program, while Rickover served as director of President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program.  Rockwell then co-founded the international engineering firm, MPR Associates, and the public interest organization, Radiation, Science and Health. He was the first recipient of ANS’s Lifetime Achievement Award, subsequently called The Rockwell Award.  He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the author of several books, papers, and patents, including “The Reactor Shielding Design Manual” in 1956,  which is still used as a standard textbook.

Rockwell is a guest contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

NEUP funding boosts university-driven nuclear R&D

By Rick Michal

Look for the Department of Energy to keep on heavily promoting university-driven nuclear energy research and development projects for as long as Warren “Pete” Miller is assistant secretary for Nuclear Energy. Miller, an ANS member, has taken “a personal interest in the success” of the DOE’s new Nuclear Energy University Programs (NEUP) initiative, according to Mary McCune, NEUP’s lead program manager.

The DOE created NEUP in 2008 to consolidate its university support under one umbrella, combining research and development support similar to that being conducted under the existing Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI, which is being phased out), along with infrastructure support and the Integrated University Program (which will continue under NEUP). According to a DOE Web site, NEUP’s funding supports program directed, program supporting, and mission supporting R&D activities; human capital development activities such as fellowships and scholarships; and infrastructure and equipment upgrades for university-based research reactors and laboratories.

Pete Miller

NEUP’s first awards were made in 2009; for fiscal year 2010, about $56 million—approximately 20 percent of the DOE’s nuclear energy R&D budget—was set aside for various NEUP projects. McCune explained that in FY 2010, NEUP set aside about $38 million for 42 nuclear R&D projects at 23 universities in 17 states. Another $13.2 million went to 39 schools for university infrastructure, while $5 million went to support 32 fellowships and 85 scholarships under NEUP’s Integrated University Program. For FY 2011, NEUP funding should be about $70 million, according to McCune. “I would say that it will keep expanding for as long as Dr. Miller is in charge,” she said.  (For comparison, the total NERI R&D funding since its inception in FY 1999 through FY 2007 was $185.4 million, according to a DOE Web site.)

New to the NEUP program for FY 2011 are the Integrated Research Partnership projects, which will be nuclear R&D efforts focused on three specific areas: fuel cycle simulation, fuel cycle aging of dry casks, and the development of advanced reactor technologies.

McCune said that the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy is looking to fund these projects in FY 2011 at about $13 million. The projects would be funded for three years, with the possibility of extensions of another three years, for a total of six years. She said that Miller is “encouraging universities to form partnerships with industry and national laboratories to work on these specific challenges for nuclear energy.”

Mary McCune

The R&D projects already funded in FY 2009 and FY 2010 by NEUP haven’t yet been gauged for success because basically they have just begun, but McCune said that it was important to highlight the FY 2010 infrastructure awards made to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and to Texas A&M University. “For funding university infrastructure projects, what we considered first were the safety-related types of upgrades,” she said. “We are trying to ensure that those types of upgrades come first. We awarded $624 000 to MIT and $451 000 to Texas A&M, mostly in support of radiation detection upgrades and operational safety. These are the upgrades that we are concentrating on, to make sure that these university reactors are able to keep their licenses and keep going with their research.”

In addition to supporting nuclear R&D at universities and improving infrastructures, NEUP’s goals are to attract the brightest students to the nuclear profession and to support the nation’s intellectual capital in nuclear engineering and relevant nuclear science, such as health physics, radiochemistry, and applied nuclear physics. Another goal is to facilitate the transfer of knowledge from the aging nuclear workforce to the next generation of workers.

The ANS Nuclear Cafe will continue with occasional blog posts on ongoing NEUP projects at universities. If you have a success story to tell, please contact Rick Michal at rmichal@ans.org or by phone at 708-579-8244.

Rick Michal is senior editor for ANS’s Nuclear News magazine and a contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Upcoming ANS meetings

ANS sponsors or cosponsors the following upcoming meetings:

  • 8th International Topical Meeting on Nuclear Thermal-Hydraulics, Operation, and Safety (NUTHOS 8 ), October 10-14, 2010, Shanghai, China. Sponsored by the Chinese Nuclear Society, with the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, the Korean Nuclear Society, the ANS Thermal Hydraulics Division, and others. Contact: Shanghai Jiao Tong University, phone +86 21 3420 5056; fax +86 21 3420 5182; e-mail nuthos-8@sjtu.edu.cn; Web www.nuthos-8.org.
  • Joint International Conference on Supercomputing in Nuclear Applications and Monte Carlo 2010 (SNA + MC 2010), October 17-21, 2010, Hitotsubashi Memorial Hall, Tokyo, Japan. Organized by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, with the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, and others, including ANS. Contact: JAEA, fax +81 3 5246 2537; e-mail info@sna-mc-2010.org; Web www.sna-mc-2010.org.
  • 5th International Conference on High-Temperature Reactor Technology (HTR 2010), October 18-20, 2010, Diplomat Hotel Prague, Prague, Czech Republic. Organized by the Nuclear Research Institute, with ANS and others. Contact: Teris, phone +420 261 210 325; fax +420 261 218 992; e-mail teris@teris.cz; Web www.htr2010.eu.
  • 9th International Conference on Tritium Science and Technology (Tritium 2010), October 24-29, 2010, Nara Prefectural New Public Hall, Nara, Japan. Organized by the National Institute for Fusion Science; minor cosponsorship by ANS. Contact: NIFS, phone +81 572 58 2083; fax +81 572 58 2610; e-mail tritium2010@nifs.ac.jp; Web http://tritium2010.nifs.ac.jp/index.html.
  • 2010 ANS Winter Meeting and Nuclear Technology Expo, November 7-11, 2010, Riviera Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nev. Sponsored by the American Nuclear Society. Contact: Alvin Trivelpiece, phone 702/492-1602; e-mail awt511@cox.net; Web www.new.ans.org/meetings/m_74.
  • Conference on Nuclear Training and Education (CONTE 2011), February 6-9, 2011, Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, Jacksonville, Fla. Sponsored by the ANS Education, Training & Workforce Development Division, with the European Nuclear Society. Contact: Stephen Kuczynski, Exelon Nuclear, phone 630/657-3776; fax 630/657-4323; e-mail stephen.kuczynski@exeloncorp.com; Web www.new.ans.org/meetings/c_2.
  • Nuclear and Emerging Technologies for Space (NETS-2011), February 7-10, 2011, Albuquerque Marriott, Albuquerque, N.M. Sponsored by the ANS Aerospace Nuclear Science & Technology Division and the ANS Trinity Section. Contact: Shannon Bragg-Sitton, Texas A&M University, phone 979/862-8446; fax 979/845-6443; e-mail sitton@tamu.edu; Web http://anstd.ans.org/NETS2011/AboutNETS2011.htm.

View from Vermont

Announcing the Energy Education Project

By Meredith Angwin

The landscape in Vermont has not seemed friendly to pro-nuclear advocates recently. Nuclear opponents have had a lock on forming “citizens groups” around here.

Or at least, they did until today.

Today we launch the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute.

I am chief cook and bottlewasher for the project.

We plan to affect Vermont’s future energy supply by providing people in the state accurate and timely information about the sources of electricity.

The Desperate Need for Accurate Information

Peter Shumlin, president pro tempore of the Vermont Senate, appeared on Fox News last spring and told the entire nation that “Germany gets 30 percent of its juice” from solar. Naturally, I put the video clip on my Yes Vermont Yankee blog.

Shumlin has led the charge against relicensing Vermont Yankee. Clearly, his understanding of energy sources is pretty weak. He was making energy decisions for the state with completely erroneous ideas about the ability of solar  to provide power in a northern climate. Germany gets about 1 percent of its power from solar.

Shumlin is not alone in his misconceptions. National surveys, including those done by Bisconti Research, show that people overestimate the contributions of solar and wind to the current and future electricity supply. This is also true in Vermont, but this is not by chance. Dedicated anti-nuclear groups are always on hand with glossy brochures with wind turbines on the front and scare stories about nuclear inside. The state is blanketed with such brochures.

What Can We Do About It?

For a long time, I had been writing letters to the editor, going to public hearings with Howard Shaffer, an expert in public outreach and a member of the American Nuclear Society’s Public Information Committee. Howard is also a regular contributor to this View from Vermont blog column.

Howard and I appeared at so many hearings that many people thought we were married. (We are, but not to each other!) Still, everything we were doing didn’t seem like enough.

In January of this year, I started blogging at Yes Vermont Yankee.

GlobeThis has been helpful. The Yes Vermont Yankee blog has been a good resource for plant supporters and for the press, but it also hasn’t been enough. With seven “local groups” raising funds and fighting Vermont Yankee, the usual news report “he-said, she-said” looks like this:

Joe of Save Our State from Nuclear accuses Vermont Yankee of (fill in the blank).

A plant spokesman denies it.

Not a very satisfying exchange.

The Energy Education Project

The Ethan Allen Energy Education Project plans to change false perceptions about nuclear energy in Vermont.

We have a clear plan of action, consisting of Education, Support, and Fellowship.

Education

We will have straight, no-nonsense information about energy reality and energy options. It may not be glossy, but it will be accurate.

Our first meeting is at the Montshire Museum of Science, on Thursday, September 30.  Please consider attending this Open House event!

There will be two presentations:

  • Understanding ISO-NE (the local grid dispatcher)
  • The history of Vermont Yankee

Support

For a small fee, you can become a member of the Energy Education Project and support education and outreach about energy, and especially about nuclear energy.

We accept donations of other amounts as well.

Please go to the Membership page of the Energy Education Project and join today!

The Energy Education Project is a charitable, educational not-for-profit.  All donations and memberships are fully tax-deductible.

Why do we need this? Let me give you a personal example.

I went to my town meeting with materials to explain the benefits of Vermont Yankee. Howard and I had written the material and copied it at our own expense, which we are used to doing. We had received some good material from national organizations, but it was not specific to Vermont Yankee. We were faced with stacks of glossy “Shut Down Yankee” brochures filled with anti-nuclear rhetoric that sacrificed scientific fact for science fiction.

This should not continue. Help us tell people the truth about nuclear energy.

Fellowship

I didn’t have glossy brochures at the town meeting, but I did have a good time.

Some people hugged me for being there. Many people support nuclear! In fact, national surveys show that a majority of U.S. citizens support nuclear … but surveys also show that individuals do not think that their friends and neighbors support nuclear energy. We need to spread the word!

People at the town meeting had never seen anybody show up at a meeting with something pro-nuclear, even something as thin as our little handouts. Some said, “I’ve always been for nuclear.” Others explained, “My brother was in the nuclear Navy.”

These pro-nuclear people had nobody to encourage and strengthen their support. We will have get-togethers that help people be comfortable supporting nuclear energy. In fellowship there is power, because you don’t feel alone.

If anti-nuclear groups can serve coffee and brownies to their adherents, so can we. I think that as an industry, we have underestimated the importance of this.

The Future

We are starting a grass-roots organization to support nuclear energy. With any luck, it will help Vermont Yankee win the public perception battle.

If Vermont Yankee doesn’t get its license, the opponents, flushed with victory, will move down to the next plant facing relicensing. Then they will move further south. They have stated this already.

That is why the Energy Education Project in Vermont is so important right now.

We are starting something new here.

Something that can make a difference.

Something that can be a model for other states.

Please think about joining. Or at least, wish us luck!

Meredith Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she led geothermal research projects and was a Project Manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  She is an inventor on several patents.  Angwin serves as a commissioner in the Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vermont

Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and Coordinator of the Energy Education Project.

20th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

The 20th Carnival of Nuclear Energy blogs is up at Idaho Samizdat  It is a roundup of featured content from the nation’s pro-nuclear blogs.

Past editions have been hosted at NEI Nuclear Notes, Atomic Insights, and several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog, and would like to host an edition of the Carnival, please contact Brian Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

This is a great collaborative effort which deserves your support.  Please post a Tweet, a Facebook entry, or a link on your website or blog to support the carnival.

Thank you.

ANS publishes white papers on small modular reactors


A six-pack of small reactors can be developed over time to meet a utility's growing needs.

The papers are the result of technical dialogs on generic licensing issues

By Dan Yurman

On September 3, 2010, the American Nuclear Society in a statement posted on its Web site said it has released the report of the President’s Special Committee on Small and Medium Sized Reactor (SMR) Licensing Issues.

The organization said, “The Society has taken a leadership role in addressing the SMR licensing issues because the licensing and eventual deployment of SMRs will lead to:

  • Job creation Export of U.S. goods and services
  • Benefits to national security and energy policy
  • Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

The SMR report is available at the ANS Web site by clicking here (large PDF file).

ANS Immediate Past President Tom Sanders (left) established the ‘ANS President’s Special Committee’ earlier this year. Sanders directed the group to develop solutions that are technology neutral for SMR generic licensing issues.  In addition to the eight papers released in September, the Committee is writing another six papers that it will complete by November.

While ANS is not directly engaging with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on licensing issues, it has provided its white papers to the agency and to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). Sanders briefed NRC Chairman Jaczko on the papers earlier this year and on the role of ANS.  Sanders said in the ANS statement:

“The SMR Special Committee led the nuclear science and engineering community in organizing a forum for technical dialogue on SMR licensing issues.”

Highlights of two papers

Committee Co-chair Philip Moor said that two of the papers highlight some of the issues being tackled in all eight of them. These two are the papers on reactor fees, which reimburse the NRC for the fixed annual portion of its regulatory costs, and on manufacturing licenses.

A clear trend emerges in the conclusions and recommendation of the completed white papers, namely that the current U.S. nuclear reactor regulations are focused on the safety and security of large light-water reactors. The ANS papers illustrate the incompatibilities of the current licensing rules with SMR designs. In general, applicants would have three possible approaches for licensing SMRs:

  • Seek exemptions to current rules
  • NRC rule making
  • Legislative changes

Each of these approaches implies a specific time frame for implementation, and in many cases the white papers provide near-term solutions as well as long-term solutions aimed at achieving regulatory stability.

Manufacturing licenses

Several SMR vendors plan to build factories in the United States to produce their reactors, and then assemble them on a customer’s site either in this country or overseas. SMR vendors seeking to export their technologies face significant challenges in negotiating a regulatory thicket of government requirements imposed on nuclear exports from the Departments of Energy, Commerce, State, and Defense.

The ANS paper calls on the NRC to clarify these requirements. One place that the NRC can start, the paper says, is to examine the way that aircraft and other high tech exports are handled by these agencies. The U.S. government has a long history of dealing with foreign ownership and control of the exported technology. There should be lessons learned from that experience that can be applied to SMRs.

The paper also analyzes some of the relationships between a manufacturing license and other NRC requirements. The paper concludes that a manufacturing license “offers an excellent vehicle” to control export of U.S. technology and expertise. In addition, it suggests that manufacturing licenses may provide superior protection of intellectual property to U.S.-based reactor designers and developers.

Reactor fees

The fees required of a licensee of an operating nuclear facility include fixed annual assessment and reimbursement for NRC staff time. With regard to the annual fee the amounts are currently assessed in a manner similar to conventional large reactors. This paper makes a series of recommendations to recognize that size matters when it comes to annual fees. A short list of recommendations includes:

  • Establish a sliding scale for fees based on thermal power.
  • Set a maximum fee for all reactors that have less than 2000 MW thermal power.
  • Ensure that the NRC is adequately funded to conduct its reviews.
  • Establish a fee structure for new large and small reactors that avoids imposing inequitable costs on the existing fleet of operating reactors.

Collaborative effort The white papers are written by ANS members in a collaborative effort with NEI, the Electric Power Research Institute , the Department of Energy, and the International Atomic Energy Committee.

NEI is also preparing a series of white papers on SMR issues that are informed by the ANS effort. NEI is representing the U.S. nuclear industry through its members in a series of meetings with NRC.

ANS members on the SMR committee participate as individuals and not as representatives of the SMR vendors, government agencies, or other organizations.

_______________________________________________________

Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy.

ANS Young Members Group evolves to meet challenges

By Peter Caracappa

It is sometimes a little hard for me to believe, but I have been involved in nuclear engineering education for more than 16 years. For many of those years, I was a student, climbing my way up to achieve a doctorate in nuclear engineering. Now I am an educator, which in many ways is just a different kind of student.

I often find myself standing in front of groups of students who are either considering the study of nuclear engineering or are completely undecided about the field they want to study, and I quickly fall into what has become a habitual promotion—the value of a nuclear engineering education. I draw a trend line of nuclear engineering enrollments, which shows enrollments topping 2000 students per year through the 1980s, plummeting through the 1990s to bottom out below 500 students a year, and then recovering to around 1500 students a year today. Then I point to the bottom of the trough in the graph and say, “This point here, this is when I got my degree. It makes me either incredibly smart or incredibly stupid. I’m not always sure which.”

Nuclear Engineering Enrollment Trends

Click on Chart to Enlarge

It gets a laugh (which is my primary goal) and the turnaround in enrollments suggests a confidence in the future prospects for the profession of nuclear engineering. It says that there is a demand for nuclear engineering graduates, and that their place in the workforce is as secure as can reasonably be predicted. Jobs are available and salaries are good. For most students, they don’t need to know any more.

But looking a little harder at that trend line illustrates another truth about the field that they plan to enter: my “generation,” the thirty-something “incredibly smart or incredibly stupid” members of the nuclear industry, are virtually absent from the workforce.

Does this matter? I think it does. Finding your way in the workplace, learning the ropes, taking on responsibility, and advancing your career are challenging under the best of circumstances. But when such a demographic chasm exists between younger workers and those who are more experienced, those incremental opportunities for responsibility and advancement become harder to come by. The transitions through one’s career appear rougher, and jumps in responsibility are steeper. These obstacles can be overcome, as in fact we have little choice but to do so, but it is a different kind of toolbox that we may have to develop as compared with our predecessors.

These challenges are not limited to the commercial workforce, either. The same phenomena are present in regulatory agencies, national labs, and professional organizations such as the American Nuclear Society. It was these sorts of challenges that motivated the formation of the Young Members Group within  ANS about five years ago, and it drives the Group’s activities today.

Young Members GroupThe Young Members Group of ANS has two primary goals: to give support to the new professional members and provide them opportunities to develop into the future leaders of ANS, and to advocate for the changes in ANS that will allow it to be successful in its service to the membership (and nuclear workforce) of tomorrow. The Group consists of all of the members of the Society who have not yet reached the age of 36, or have completed their education within the past five years, as well as any members with a professional interest in the challenges faced by this group. As this Group works to secure the future of ANS, we also hope that its lessons will spill over to the industry as a whole.

Even as the Young Members Group seeks to be an agent of change, we face our own needs to change. The demographics of the Group are shifting as more and more new graduates enter the industry. The evolution of technology is changing the way that we interact with one another personally and professionally, the speed nature of communication, and the storage and retention of knowledge. All of this is happening within the context of global changes in economy, environment, and politics.

The one constant that we can count on is change. The enrollment trend that resulted in this demographic void is unlikely to reoccur (although the future holds no guarantees), but the need to support and understand the newest members of the nuclear workforce is permanent. The Young Members Group of ANS is one small part of this greater picture.

For my students, the ones who are still considering a future in nuclear engineering, the prospects are indeed bright. It is up to all of us to make sure that the nuclear workforce they enter will be welcoming and conducive to their success.

If we do, then there is little doubt that 16 years or so from now, those students will look back at their decision to study nuclear engineering as one that is clearly “incredibly smart.”

Peter Caracappa

Peter Caracappa is a Clinical Assistant Professor and Radiation Safety Officer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He was a founding executive committee member of the Young Members Group and currently serves as its chair.