Monthly Archives: November 2010

Canada’s ZED-2 reactor defines the future of Candu designs

Blair Bromley visiting the ANS Media Office during the 2010 winter meeting in Las Vegas (11/09/10)

What is it that gets a Ph.D. reactor physicist up in the morning to do work associated with a 50-year-old research reactor located at the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited’s (AECL) Chalk River Laboratories?

With a worldwide shortage of trained nuclear engineers, Blair Bromley could potentially work in many other countries with growing nuclear power programs. What keeps him in Canada?

It turns out that Bromley likes the fact that with the availability of the ZED-2 low power research reactor, Chalk River is a “one-stop shop for nuclear R&D.”

ZED-2 logo

Bromley stopped by the American Nuclear Society’s media office at the Winter Meeting in Las Vegas in early November to talk about what he calls “the workhorse of Canada’s nuclear reactor physics design program.”

He pointed out that “fundamental reactor physics R&D from ZED-2 has been used in almost every Candu reactor ever built.”

See the ANS Nuclear Cafe blog post: AECL research reactor gets landmark status

Running the numbers

ZED-2 Graphite came from England

The ZED-2 heavy water critical facility (a low power research reactor) is used to produce measurement data for the validation reactor physics computer codes that predict and explain how a reactor will behave during actual operations.

About 30 people work on three teams at the facility. The first team develops computer codes. The second designs and runs ZED-2 experiments, and the third works on validation of codes based on measurements from reactor measurements.

Bromley, who earned his doctorate in nuclear engineering from the University of Illinois, pointed out that a many critical experiments were performed in ZED-2 in support of AECL’s new reactor design – the ACR-1000 (Advanced Candu Reactor).

Looking down on ZED-2

“It is relatively easy to configure the ZED-2 reactor for a variety of experiments,” Bromley said. “The core is a modest size, with a reactor vessel of about 3.3 meters in diameter and height.”

What’s next for the ZED-2 reactor? Bromley ticked off a series of potential new tasks, which may include:

· Finishing up experiments in support of the ACR-1000.

· Additional experiments in support of traditional Candu reactors.

· Testing the physics of experimental thorium-based fuels.

· Testing the physics of Candu-type fuel bundles using simulated recycled light-water reactor fuel.

· Testing the physics of fuel lattices representative of those that might be used in a super-critical-water-cooled Candu reactor (Candu-SCWR).

Global future for Candu?

The worldwide installed base of Candu reactors includes 20 units in Canada, four in South Korea, two each in Romania, China, and India, and one each in Argentina and Pakistan. Since the early 1970s, India has adapted the Candu design for its domestic commercial heavy water reactor program.

“The basic design (the Enhanced Candu-6, EC6) is a 700-MWe unit that runs on natural uranium,” Bromley said.

The future of the Candu design may be defined by its ability to run on spent fuel from LWRs, which has just 0.95 wt%U-235/U.

“I expect heavy water reactors to have a more important role in the future by taking advantage of the energy potential available in spent fuel. As the world reactor base expands, for every four light water reactors, there could be one heavy water reactor utilizing the spent fuel,” Bromley said.

The attractiveness of the Candu design is that it has what is known as a “high neutron economy” and can run on natural uranium, thereby avoiding the need for enriched fuel and large uranium enrichment facilities.

Another advantage is uranium resource utilization.

“With heavy water reactors, you don’t waste neutrons and you save more to generate fission. You get more megawatt-days of energy per kilogram of uranium mined, as much as 30 percent or more compared to a PWR,” Bromley said.

As we closed the interview with Bromley, the wire services were clicking with news that the federal government in Canada was considering the privatization of AECL’s reactor business, while retaining ownership and control of the R&D wing of the government-owned crown corporation.

Bromley declined to comment on these developments. He said that he is hopeful that whatever the outcome may be, the world is going to realize the advantages of heavy water reactors, as embodied in Candu technology, and will start to incorporate it into new fleets of reactors. When that realization occurs, Bromley and his colleagues will be ready to provide the numbers and technical support to show the world how it works.

ZED-2 Control Room (file photo courtesy AECL)

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The View from Vermont

The push for books

By Meredith Angwin

The Ethan Allen Energy Education Project has been running for about two months now. The Project will address current issues, such as relicensing the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. For me, the Project’s official start was the kickoff meeting on September 30.

We held the meeting at a local site, the Montshire Museum of Science, in Norwich, Vt. About 20 people attended, and a video of the meeting is available here (at bottom of linked page). Information is also available at my own blog site, Yes Vermont Yankee.

There are many proponents of the Vermont Yankee plant. In October, at Castleton College in Vermont, VY supporter Howard Shaffer (who also writes columns for these View from Vermont posts) debated a man from Public Citizen, the Nader organization headquartered in Washington, DC. Three hundred students attended the event. There also were many smaller events last month, as I noted in my last blog post, the View OF Vermont.

As the holidays approach, I am working on coordinating our pro Vermont Yankee efforts with others, and expanding our scope in new ways.

O’Donnell

Coordination. Patty O’Donnell is a former state representative for the town of Vernon, where the Vermont Yankee plant is located. She didn’t run for office this time around, and instead has devoted herself to Vermont Yankee advocacy. O’Donnell recruited some Vermont Yankee employees to accompany her (on their own time) to attend community meetings to give talks about Vermont Yankee. I knew that O’Donnell (R., Vt.) was doing this, and she knew that I was giving presentations, but only recently did we get together to set up some coordination.

Shaffer

About a week ago, Howard and I sat with Patty in her living room, planning future events. I looked around and thought, “Howard is the ANS Vermont Pilot Project coordinator.  I am head of the Ethan Allen Institute Energy Education Project. Patty is a former legislator who knows the ropes around Vermont.”

(Click here to see Patty O Donnell’s pre-election Op-Ed piece about Vermont Yankee.) 

It felt good to have people to meet with, have brownies, and coordinate plans.  Just having the meeting was a goal achieved for me!

Expansion. The Energy Education Project is expanding its scope. A man who is a member of the Project e-mailed me, saying, “I would love to buy every member of the Vermont legislature a copy of Gwyneth Craven’s book, Power to Save the World.”

I took him up on his offer. Actually, I asked him instead to sponsor the expenses for Cravens to visit Vermont, and I said that I would be the one to raise additional funds to buy the books for the legislators. Gwyneth Cravens will visit Montpelier this January, and all the legislators will be given a copy of her book. We have checked, and legislators can receive books and printed matter in Vermont, without declaring them as “gifts.”

Caldicott

Cravens

Helen Caldicott has done a similar thing, visiting the legislature and doing a booksigning, sponsored by Vermont Yankee opponents. This year, we will have our own celebrity booksigning, featuring Cravens. It feels good to plan something like this for the Vermont Yankee advocates.  Something positive, not just reacting to mud that is thrown at us.

By the way, ’tis the season for giving, and we plan to give away quite a few books. Please consider going to the Energy Education Project Web site and supporting nuclear energy. Your gifts are completely tax-deductible, and there is a “Donate” button through PayPal. Help to buy books!

The success of putting this together has led me to having more ideas. Opponents of the plant are not a homogeneous bunch, all with the same views of nuclear. For example, I have met with one group in Brattleboro that wants to build a new, extra-safe accelerator-driven thorium reactor on the Vermont Yankee site.

Now, these accelerator-driven reactors are only in the design stage, but at least the Brattleboro people are pro-nuclear at some level.

I hope that I will be able hold a public meeting in Brattleboro about the different types of advanced nuclear plants, including the one that the opponents favor. The meeting would feature a guest speaker that the opponents would provide, talking about the accelerator-reactor, and a guest speaker that we would provide, talking about Gen IV reactors. This could lead to increased acceptance of all sorts of nuclear energy (although not necessarily Vermont Yankee). Every little bit of goodwill helps. I’ll keep you informed of my progress on this.

Happy holidays!

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, Vt.

Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

29th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

The 29th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at Idaho Samizdat.  The carnival features blog posts from the leading U.S. nuclear bloggers and is a roundup of featured content from them. If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, this is where to find it.

Past editions have been hosted at NEI Nuclear Notes, Next Big Future, Atomic Insights, ANS Nuclear Cafe, Yes Vermont Yankee, 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 that deserves your support. Please post a Tweet, a Facebook entry, or a link on your Web site or blog to support the carnival.

Thank  you.


2011 ANS Special Award announced

Happy Thanksgiving! The topic for the American Nuclear Society’s Special Award in 2011 is “Innovations in Small Modular Reactors.”

The Special Award was established in 1962 by ANS to recognize individuals for meritorious contributions in research and/or developing understanding into the important areas of the selected topic. A different topic is chosen each year by the ANS Board of Directors based on recommendations from the society’s Honors and Awards Committee. Each topic is selected based on its importance to the peaceful applications of nuclear technology to mankind.

The award is intended to go to an individual, or individuals, rather than to a large group or institution. The candidate/s for the award should have played an outstanding role in the necessary research and analysis and/or in the interpretation and leadership associated with furthering the overall understanding of the topic. Nominees must be living, but need not be ANS members.

Nomination forms are available at the ANS Web site or from ANS Headquarters. Eight copies of the completed form and supporting materials must be received at ANS headquarters before April 1, 2011.

Plaques and a monetary award totaling $1000 will be presented to a winning individual or team at an ANS Annual Meeting in 2011.

Nuclear engineering, going forward

By Peter Caracappa

What does it mean to be a nuclear engineer? That question is not as
easy to answer as it once was.

Looking back on the field of nuclear engineering education in the past 20 years or so, some very interesting changes have taken place. In many ways, nuclear engineering is still a niche program. Compared with the “big boys” such as mechanical and electrical engineering (with hundreds of programs available), there are relatively few nuclear engineering programs – only about 30 – across the United States. Even at its height, there were no more than 50 programs. Many of them closed down as enrollments collapsed through the 1990s, and new programs have only very slowly begun to be added in recent years.

More importantly, there has been a shift in what it means to study nuclear engineering. What happened is that nuclear engineering began to take its  place – and I would say its rightful place – as one of the major fields of engineering.

Gas-cooled fast reactor schematic

The traditional view of nuclear engineering is the study of getting power from nuclear fission. There is plenty of interesting work to be done within this definition. With new reactors being built and Generation IV reactors being designed, there is a significant need for students in this area. But when nuclear engineering departments were struggling, many of them broadened their focus out of necessity more than anything else. They began to think of nuclear engineering as any application of nuclear and atomic interactions. Thinking of it this way, there are many more diverse applications in the field, such as homeland security, medical imaging, and plasma physics.

Considering the history of the different branches of engineering, they
all followed roughly the same pattern. They started out as a fairly
narrow field of study, and matured into a much more general and diverse
field. For example, when the first students began to study mechanical engineering, they all learned how to design steam engines and the things to do with them. Electrical engineering was largely the study of generators and motors. Chemical engineers worked mostly on the things that could be made from petroleum. Clearly, these fields are no longer thought of as narrowly as
that.

Atomic scientists, 20th anniversary reunion, 1962. They all participated with Enrico Fermi in the December 2, 1942, Chicago Pile-1 experiment. (Photo: University of Chicago archives)

What will these departments do now that enrollments are increasing and new construction is beginning? Some may choose to return to traditional definitions of nuclear engineering – to be a niche program feeding the nuclear power industry. The broader applications of nuclear science and technology, however, are only going to become more important. If the idea persists that being a “nuclear engineer” is about more than just fission reactors, nuclear engineering programs may just be as common as mechanical or electrical engineering programs.

With a population of graduates well trained in the applications of atomic and nuclear physics – think of the possibilities!

Caracappa

Peter Caracappa is a clinical assistant professor and radiation safety officer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in New York State. He was a founding executive committee member of the Young Members Group and currently serves as its chair. He is a contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

AECL research reactor gets landmark status

The international nuclear community designated the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited’s (AECL) Zero Energy Deuterium 2 (ZED-2) research reactor a nuclear historical landmark, presented by the American Nuclear Society.  The award, given on November 2 during a technical conference in Ottawa, honored the reactor for its 50 years of operation and for its outstanding contributions to the global nuclear industry.

Chalk River Lab

Over the past five decades, ZED-2 has been involved in testing fuel designs for AECL’s Candu reactor series and testing advanced fuel cycles for future reactors. The reactor continues to serve this purpose. Its landmark status, officially declared in September this year but not awarded until the November meeting, is being marked by a bronze ANS Nuclear Historic Landmark plaque at AECL’s Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario, where the ZED-2 is located.

The award was presented to AECL by ANS President Joe  Colvin, during the Canadian Nuclear Society’s (CNS) Technical Meeting on Low-Power Critical Facilities and Small Reactors, where industry experts and academics gathered to showcase nuclear accomplishments.

The landmark status is given to sites or facilities where outstanding physical accomplishments have taken place that were instrumental to the advancement and implementation of nuclear technology and to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Colvin

Colvin commented on the significance of the award. “The American Nuclear Society is pleased to present this Nuclear Historic Landmark Award to the ZED-2 Heavy Water Critical Facility in recognition of the valuable physics data it provided in heavy water reactors, an outstanding physical accomplishment instrumental in the development and implementation of nuclear technology and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” he said.

Benjamin Rouben, CNS executive administrator, added, “We have come from all over the world to mark the historic occasion of the 50th anniversary of ZED-2, and to articulate the important accomplishments that ZED-2 and similar facilities have made in scientific research.”

“This event is a true international celebration of the progress we’ve made in Canada through these nuclear facilities. The ANS award is recognition of this and Canadians should be proud of it,” Rouben said.

ANS certificate

Rick Didsbury, acting vice president and general manager of Research and Development at the Chalk River Laboratories, said, “Over the past 50 years, ZED-2 has proven to be a key facility in the advancement of nuclear science and technology for the benefit of people around the world. This prestigious ANS award is clear evidence of this.”

“This technical conference is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of this important research facility, as we gather to foster global partnerships around nuclear research,” he said.

About ZED-2
Built in the late 1950s, the ZED-2 Critical Facility achieved first criticality on September 7, 1960, and turned 50 years old earlier this year. ZED-2 is the successor to ZEEP – the first nuclear reactor outside the United States – and was initially built to test the fuel arrangements of Canada’s first power plant.

Since that time, ZED-2 has supported the development of the Candu industry by testing a wide range of fuel bundle designs and fuel arrangements at low power (usually between 5 to 100 watts) under a variety of operating conditions and simulated accident scenarios.

ZED-2 continues to operate today, actively supporting improvements to the current fleet of Candu reactors and to the development of next-generation reactor concepts, including advanced fuel cycles and thorium fuels. ZED-2 is also used to calibrate neutron detectors for use in power reactors.

For more information on the Technical Conference on Low-Power Critical Facilities and Small Reactors, please visit the AECL home page.

About AECL
Atomic Energy of Canada Limited is a nuclear technology company providing services to nuclear utilities around the world. Established in 1952, AECL is the designer and builder of Candu technology, including the Candu 6. AECL’s 5000 employees deliver nuclear services, R&D support, design, and engineering, construction management, specialized technology, refurbishment, waste management, and decommissioning in support of Candu reactor products.

The full list of nuclear historic landmarks can be found at the ANS Web site.

Federal Affairs brainstorming session: Communicating the benefits of nuclear energy

How to communicate the benefits of nuclear energy more effectively

During the American Nuclear Society’s Winter Meeting on November  7-11 in Las Vegas, Nev., the Society’s Public Information (PI) Committee sponsored a workshop titled “Focus on Communications: How ANS Members Can Carry the Nuclear Energy Message to the New Congress.” This always-popular workshop was hosted by Mimi Limbach, ANS PI Committee member and partner, Potomac Communications Group, and  Craig Piercy, ANS Washington representative and senior vice president of Federal Relations, Bose Public Affairs Group.

Using an interactive, open-microphone format, the workshop included a brainstorming session on how nuclear professionals can better
communicate the advantages and benefits of nuclear energy to the U.S.
Congress and to the public at large.

Here is the list of ideas offered by participants during the workshop:

Communications & Outreach Opportunities

  • Talk to your communities, ally with universities.
  • Don’t be dismissive of the critics – they have challenged us and we’ve become better.
  • Make nuclear energy more accessible to the public – develop a nuclear “Did you know?”’
  • Point out medical applications.
  • Sell the benefits of nuclear energy, don’t trash the competition.
  • Humanize the technology.
  • Social media is a powerful medium – use it! Viral videos, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, etc.
  • Find a cute mascot.
  • Energy Education vans – bring them back.
  • Bust stereotypes.
  • Establish a positive message with a backbone.
  • Need to communicate best practices among ourselves – help others build on what ANS local chapters have accomplished.

Educational Outreach

  • Concentrate on education from kindergarten through college.
  • Tackle the inherently anti-nuclear textbooks.
  • Entergy integrates nuclear energy materials into state curriculum in partnership with Global Energy Solutions; NA-YGN is going to adopt nationwide.
  • Target teachers, pair with nuclear engineering faculty.
  • Educate current nuclear science & engineering students to be good communicators.
  • Investments in student sections & outreach yield high returns.

Environmental & Natural Resources Benefits of Nuclear Energy

  • Natural resources (gas, oil) are finite = depletion of resources.
  • Position nuclear  energy as inexhaustible.
  • Nuclear energy density is sexy!
  • Emphasize why nuclear energy is a solution to energy sprawl.
  • Build coalitions with local environmental organizations.
  • Solar is really nuclear.
  • Do not concede used nuclear fuel as waste; reposition the Yucca Moutain repository as the “Strategic Nuclear Fuel Reserve.”

Economic Competitiveness of Nuclear Energy

  • Use the French experience as a model – cost efficiency.
  • Invest in nuclear energy to address potential inflation – value for investment.
  • Utilities should provide percentage and cost of each generating source.
  • Energy costs affect our global competitiveness.
  • The issue is financing – Wall Street . Nuclear energy is the only industry that takes care of its waste cradle to grave. Wall St. doesn’t understand financing a 60-year project.

Government Role(s) in Nuclear Energy

  • Change NRC cost recovery formula for Small Modular Reactors.
  • Simplify export rules.
  • Provide more incentive for utilities to build new plants.
  • Public needs to know about importance of government role in energy policy.
  • Need to level the playing field, RE: subsidies, but be careful, it’s a double-edged sword.
  • Government funding has helped make advanced nuclear power plants economically competitive.
  • Convene a workshop with pro-nuclear state legislators to develop a model statute for” Construction Work In Progress” (which allows public utility commissions to give utilities permission to charge ratepayers for a portion of the cost of nuclear plant construction before the plant goes into operation). Take worksops on the road to public utility commissions for feedback. Pitch to Council of State Legislators for support.

Non-Proliferation & National Security

  • Swords into plowshares – we’re not making nuclear weapons, we’re destroying them!
  • 15 percent-18 percent of U.S. defense budget is spent to guard the Straits of Hormuz for energy transport – nuclear is a national energy security solution.

Safety

  • One of safest industries in the nation – more dangerous to work in an office building than a nuclear energy facility.

This article first appeared on the ANS Nuclear Cafe.