Saturday, June 26, 2010

State legislators launch pro-nuclear national group

Idaho elected officials kick off bi-partisan effort

Nuc_Logo-01_1_-255x198Legislators from six states have joined forces to form a bi-partisan organization to be advocates for the licensing and construction of more nuclear power plants to meet the country’s future energy needs.

Idaho State Rep. Erik Simpson, (R-Idaho Falls, ID) founder of the National Nuclear Caucus, was joined by U.S. Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) Saturday in Idaho Falls, Idaho, to formally introduce the organization.

Crapo is a co-chair of the U.S. Senate Nuclear Caucus, while Risch is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Energy.

“The National Nuclear Caucus will be a working partner with pro-nuclear organizations and with our elected officials in Washington,” said Simpson. “Involving state legislators across the country will add another voice in support of nuclear energy.”

Currently the organization has nine members from six states. They are;

  • Nevada Rep. Ty Cobb (R-Reno),
  • Washington Rep. Larry Haler (R-Richland),
  • Washington Sen. Jerome Delvin (R-Richland),
  • Idaho Rep. Erik Simpson (R-Idaho Falls),
  • Idaho Sen. Russ Fulcher (R-Meridian),
  • Tennessee Rep. Jim Hackworth (D-Clinton),
  • New Mexico Rep. John Heaton (D-Carlsbad),
  • South Carolina Sen. Shane Massey (R-Edgefield),
  • South Carolina Rep. J. Roland Smith (R-Warrenville).

Two members of the organization – Reps. Haler and Simpson – currently work at Department of Energy laboratories. Rep. Hackworth retired from Oak Ridge National Laboratory after 34 years working at the Tennessee facility. Combined, these members have more than 90 years experience working at nuclear labs.

Simpson mentioned that like his relationship with the state’s congressional delegation, other members of the caucus are reaching out to their Members of Congress with a positive message about nuclear energy.

Blog interview with Simpson – closing the gap

Simpson_E_IdahoThis blog spoke with Simpson (right) just prior to the press conference held June 26 during the Idaho State Republican Party meeting taking place in Idaho Falls.

He said President Obama showed leadership and settled some skepticism about his support for nuclear energy when last February he announced loan guarantees for a Georgia utility to build new reactors.

Simpson pointed out that the U.S. House and Senate have a nuclear cleanup caucus to promote common-sense waste management solutions. At the local government level, the Energy Communities Alliance (ECA), a group of community organizations and county and city elected officials, has a similar mission.

However, there is a gap in the middle. Simpson said no organization, consisting of elected officials, exists at the state legislative level to promote nuclear power development. A number of state legislatures have taken actions, pro-and-con, related to nuclear energy in the past two years.

Simpson emphasized the group has no official connection to any nuclear energy organization including the labs. He said the group hopes to develop a good relationship with the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) and is thinking about holding an informal gathering of interested members at the group’s next national convention to be held in July in louisville, KY.

Sen. Delvin, one of the founding members of the caucus, currently serves on National Conference of State Legislatures’ Nuclear Waste Subcommittee and Rep. Heaton is the vice- chair of the Radioactive & Hazardous Materials Interim Committee in New Mexico. NCSL as an organization officially testified in May 2010 before the Blue Ribbon Commission on nuclear waste.

Nuclear caucus objectives

The National Nuclear Caucus (NNC) is being formed he said to promote new nuclear reactor research and to advance nuclear power to meet the country’s future energy needs.

The NNC will be a pro-nuclear, advocacy organization Simpson said. He outlined a series of tasks.

  • educating the public of the benefits of nuclear power;
  • working with utility and fuel-cycle companies to ensure proposed nuclear projects move forward; and
  • working to ensure funding for nuclear power research and development,

Simpson said the group would also call for "common-sense nuclear waste management solutions.”

He referenced the fact the NRC has received applications for 18 new nuclear power projects, some with more than one reactor. There are several fuel cycle facilities planned or currently in construction.

“The National Nuclear Caucus will be following the progression of these projects and will be a proponent for new nuclear-related projects,” Simpson said.

Next steps

Funding for the organization was still in the development stage. There are no plans at this time to raise money for a political action committee (PAC). Simpson said and he emphasized the group’s priorities will be set by its members.

He added that the group is interested in adding state legislators as members who have commercial nuclear power plants in their districts along with other legislators who have rate payers that would benefit from low cost nuclear energy.

For further information about the National Nuclear Caucus, access the organization’s website at http:/www.NuclearCaucus.org

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Update on ARC-100 small reactor

Company reveals design information at ANS San Diego meeting

buzzlightyearBillionaire Bill Gates has generated lots of media buzz for TerraPower, which is creating a radically different reactor design called the “traveling wave.” However, its technology, size (500-1,000 MW), and untested fuel may make for a long path to commercial success despite $35 million in new venture capital announced in June.

By comparison, Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC), a Reston, VA, firm is developing a 100 MW small modular reactor (SMR) which relies on well-understood fuel developed for a sodium-cooled fast reactor that was actually built and operated at the Argonne National Laboratory West site in Idaho.

In an exclusive interview with this blog, Irfan Ali, ARC’s CEO, said the first round of design work is done and the hunt is on for serious investors.

“This is a major milestone,” Ali said. “We are now talking to potential customers and corporate investors.”

“We’re particularly interested in having conversations about developing a manufacturing capability to build these reactors.“

ARC released a white paper and a brochure with design information at the ANS conference held in San Diego earlier this month. Some of the principals on the design team have long experience with sodium-cooled fast reactors having worked at Argonne on the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) and EBR-II.

The attractiveness of the ARC-100, Ali says, is that, “Factory built SMRs at 100 MW are far cheaper per unit of delivered power than the big reactors at 1,000 MW built on site.”

Target customers

power_Lines[6]The target customer for the ARC-100 is most likely in a developing nation with an electrical grid that does not have the capacity to deliver 500 MW or more of electricity from a single plant to customers across the country.

The local customer could also be a water utility interested in desalinization or a local power authority interested in distributed power.

In some cases, Ali said, “the grid might not even be there which offers populations the opportunity to invest in localized electricity production.”

Ali says the ARC-100 is “sized for local or small grids.”

“We see customers buying a distributed fleet of the reactors because of their long refueling interval of 20 years.”

Getting power out of the reactor

The inlet temperature, according to a specification sheet, is 355 degrees C. The outlet temperature is 510 degrees C. The outlet temperature is what is made available to the balance of plant. The reactor immersed in ambient pressure liquid sodium. The intermediate loop is also liquid sodium.

Transfer of heat to a turbine is being developed to use to Brayton Cycle which uses liquid CO2 yielding an expected 40% efficiency rate for heat transfer. However, Ali said the company is also working with turbine manufacturers to develop steam applications. (Image: World Nuclear News)

Answer on nonproliferation issues

In an answer to critics of nuclear energy who worry about bomb makers, Ali points out the fuel for the ARC-100 is sealed in the reactor, used for 20 years, and then returned to the factor, or a regional fuel center, for reprocessing. The customer doesn’t touch the fuel, stores any on-site, or manages the used materials.

“The customer never has access to the fuel.” Ali said.

Adv Reactor Design conceptual drawing According to the first phase design information provided by the company, the “fuel cartridge” is inserted in an underground portion of the reactor. There are no safety-related systems in the balance of plant. The reactor vessel installed underground and is 15 meters high with a diameter of about 7 meters. See conceptual image left.

The fuel itself is enriched to an average of 14% depending on customer requirements. The specifications for the fuel are found in a database developed for the EBR-II reactor which means extensive first-of-a-kind fuel testing required for some of the other fast reactor SMRs won’t be needed for the ARC-100.

“It is a proven metal-alloy fuel,” Ali said.

On the reprocessing side of the fuel cycle, creating new fuel for the ARC-100 does not involve separating pure plutonium that could be used in nuclear weapons. Instead, it keeps the plutonium mixed with other long-lived radioisotopes so that it cannot be used in making bombs.

Next steps

Ali said the company is now holding “pre-application discussions” with the NRC ahead of formally submitting the reactor for design certification. Ali did not indicate a date when the firm would formally submit a package to the NRC.

Ali knows he faces the same challenges as other SMR developers. How fast ARC gets to a market position with a "fleet" of 100 MW units will be a function of the interest of investors, the efficiency of the regulators, developing a manufacturing capability, and, above all, getting customers to book orders.

Prior coverage on this blog

Other coverage
  • June 24, 2010 - The Capacity Factor blog has additional technical details.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Another blogger for nuclear energy

Noted journalist Steve Hedges launches ‘Nuclear Town Hall’

TownhallAward winning journalist Steve Hedges has launched a pro-nuclear blog called Nuclear Townhall. It features a website with news and a blog about the global nuclear energy industry.

It’s an exciting development. Here’s what Hedges has to say about where he is going with the project.

Nuclear Town Hall objectives

  • How do we keep the Nuclear Renaissance going?
  • How do we encourage licensing surety at the NRC?
  • How do we persuade people to invest?
  • How do we translate all that public support into action?
William Tucker, the author of Terrestrial Energy, provides some of the blog entries.

Hedges bio

Steve Hedges is currently CEO of Hedges Strategies, a Washington D.C.-based media strategy business.

As a national reporter for more than 25 years, Steve won numerous journalism awards during his 12-year tenure at U.S. News & World Report. In the past decade, he he worked as a reporter at the Chicago Tribune.

& & &

bloggingWelcome to the nuclear energy blogsphere Steve. It’s an interesting place.

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How to open running room for small reactors

Dialog and changes are needed with Congress, regulators, and government

The future of small modular reactors (SMRs), with power levels less than 300 MW, will be brighter in the next decade, but only if a daunting series of nearly two dozen issues get attention from a cross-section of policy makers, regulatory agencies, and the federal government.

SandersThomas Sanders, (right) who this month finished his term as president of the American Nuclear Society (ANS), is continuing his work as the head of a special committee on small reactors to address the issues.

In an exclusive interview with this blog, he lays out the agenda for the committee and the likely impact its work will have on the nuclear industry.

Sanders looks at the issues through two lenses. The first defines the practical issues of commercial success. SMRs are affordable. Utilities don't have to bet the ranch to build 100 MW of carbon emission free electricity generating capacity.

Sanders says, "the first one pays for the second one, which means utilities can pay as they go and as demand requires it."

The second lens are the international aspects of a national security imperative. For the U.S. to influence the commercial nuclear technology other nations use, it must have something to export. What Sanders means is that SMRs are a key element of the U.S. reassuming a global leadership role in nuclear reactor technology and nonproliferation risk.

"Export controls are the key. If you have nothing to export, you have nothing to control."

Sanders is making his views known to the federal government. Last February he was appointed to an Department of Commerce advisory committee on civilian nuclear trade policy.

In congressional testimony last December, Sanders said:

"Small reactors would have built-in nonproliferation safeguards that large plants don’t. The small reactors could be filled with nuclear material before they’re ever transported to their customers and then buried underground. When the nuclear fuel is spent in an estimated 10 to 20 years, the reactors can be shipped back for refueling.

This “cradle-to-grave approach” for the nuclear material would allow U.S. companies to “provide reactors to developing nations and not have to worry about refueling them for 10 to 20 years.”

The affordability of SMRs and their ability to fit into grids that can't handle significant new generation capacity, e.g., more than 500 MW, "means that power goes where the people are."

Sanders also notes that the affordability and limited capacity of T&D grids in developing nations means that SMRs "can complete with natural gas."

Getting from buzz to business

buzzlightyear"The buzz on SMRs has caught on," Sanders says, but translating that buzz into booked orders and creating thriving businesses in the SMR market segment is chock full of challenges. To meet them, Sanders' committee has two dozen workgroups developing white papers for publication.

"We are engaging the entire spectrum of the ANS membership and experience base," Sanders says. "The papers will be technology neutral, which means they will not embrace any specific reactor design or vendor product.”

The first focus is to help the regulatory agencies understand the distinctions in licensing issues, especially safety analysis and fees. For instance, do 100 MW SMR's need to meet all of the same safety requirements as their 1,000 MW big brothers especially if the SMR is buried underground and only refueled once every ten years? Also, should the NRC modify its fee schedule for SMRs given their small size and different safety analysis requirements?

Sanders says he's briefed NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko who reportedly responded that the NRC "is real interested" in reading the white papers the ANS working groups will start publishing later this summer.

Sanders said the white papers will be published in ANS News and also circulated to the NRC, Congress, firms in the nuclear industry, and trade associations. Copies will be available online at the ANS website. [This link will be updated when the white papers are available for public access.]

What keeps SMR CEOs awake at night?

owl stay-awakeSanders said that as part of his committee's work, it is in continuing communication with the CEOs and technical staffs of the SMR firms in the U.S.

I asked Sanders to sum up the top three things that keep these CEO's awake at night.

Who's on first? -- The first issue is who is going to be the first customer and who will be the first SMR firm to sell one of their units?

This is a two-edged sword. Both the first customer and the first firm to market assume a lot of risk being the first-of-a-kind project. Regulatory agencies will "learn" from the first unit imposing higher costs than for units that follow.

"Everyone learns from the experience of the market initiator," Sanders said. To reduce risk Sanders calls for a public/private partnership "that goes beyond loan guarantees."

He said the federal government could promote SMRs by building demonstration plants to provide electricity for military bases. He mentions two specifically – Ft. Bliss in Texas and Camp Pendleton in California.

"A 100 MW of generating capacity for either one would make sense," Sander said. “A military base would be a real good fit.”

What's on second? – Is the NRC ready to review license applications for SMRs? One industry observer told this blog via a comment published anonymously the NRC's view on SMRs goes something like this.

starship enterprise“I don’t have that much experience in warp phase induction coils, but I’ve done a bit of research. Scotty’s Handbook of Miracles seems like the go-to reference. I figure I could get a copy from the library and read up on it.”

That's a tough review, but the agency ability to get smart is hobbled by congressionally mandated budget policy. Sanders says the reason is its budget doesn't allow it to move up the learning curve ahead of industry intentions to submit license applications.

“There’s no money for R&D or to explore new technologies and reactor designs before they actually see one.”

This could be a problem for high temperature gas cooled reactors, which although they may be more competitive in some applications than light water reactors, will have a tougher time getting through the review process both for the reactor designs and for combined construction and operating licenses.

"The NRC will have a steeper learning curve for them. The NRC hasn't seen a gas cooled reactor design for at least 20 years."

By comparison, the light water reactors designs being developed for some SMRs " will be textbook exercises" because that's the technology the agency knows how to review.

Sanders thinks DOE’s work on the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) will help when it comes to gas cooled reactors, but it might not offer much help for liquid metal cooled reactors or other unconventional designs.

raising_capitalShow me the money – The third issue keeping SMR CEOs awake at night is securing investment to build the factories to produce the plants. Large firms like B&W may self-finance, Sanders said, but smaller firms like NuScale and Hyperion will need large industrial partners to get beyond the limited funding they can obtain from venture capital firms.

Sanders thinks TerraPower, which recently announced $35 million in venture capital funding, is in a class by itself because of its size, 500-1,000 MW, and its sponsor, which is the foundation of billionaire Bill Gates.

In a recent interview, Nathan Myhrvold, CEO of Intellectual Ventures, which organized and is funding TerraPower, said he doubts any of the firm's reactors will be sold in the U.S. Myhrvold also suggested that once the design is done, the firm will license it to a firm that wants to build it. This business model relieves Gates from having to pour several billion dollars into building a first of a kind 1,000 MW reactor.

Sanders said the second part of the money issue is changing the way the NRC charges cost recovery for SMRs. Fees should be targeted to the size of the reactor.

"It will boost investor confidence if the NRC can be flexible," Sander said.

Bringing the vision down to earth

Sanders said the ultimate goal for the ANS committee is to see changes made in the regulatory, financial, and policy arenas which will allow SMR designs to come to market and sooner rather than later.

It is a question of whether the U.S. will be a leader in SMR technology and be able to project that technical leadership into global markets through exports. In doing so Sanders says, the U.S. will also be taken seriously when it comes to nonproliferation issues.

"How do you improve proliferation risk? You answer the question of what concepts do it and how to resolve them"

Bringing SMRs to market is a means to multiple ends. Sanders is determined to achieve them by helping create conditions to that will speed up time to market for SMRs and to bolster the U.S. capacity to be a global leader in nuclear reactor technologies.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Southern signs $3.4 billion guarantee for new nuclear reactors

It's the first of at least four such agreements with utilities and the Department of Energy

raising_capitalThe Southern Company (NYSE:SO) has signed an agreement with the federal government for a loan guarantee covering $3.4 billion in costs for the project which involves two new Westinghouse 1,150 MW AP1000 reactors.

The agreement marks the formal acceptance of the terms and conditions of the government's "conditional commitment" for the loan guarantee. It becomes final when Southern gets its NRC licenses for the two reactors.

According to Georgia Power CEO Mike Garrett, the company pursued the agreement because, "it will provide [2.3 million] customers with significant savings."

CEO David Ratcliffe said in a statement the units are expected to enter revenue service at the utility's Vogtle power station in Waynesboro, GA, in 2016 and 2017.

Read the full details exclusively at Cool Hand Nuke, a nuclear energy jobs portal and a whole lot more.

coolhandnuke

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