Thursday, March 10, 2011

NRC renews Vermont Yankee license

Rock blunts scissor ~ the federal agency concludes the reactor is safe to operate for another 20 years

Rock_Paper_Scissors__Wallpaper_by_Mattie_PIn the classic strategy game of rock, scissors, paper, as it has played out in the dispute over the relicensing of the 600 MW Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor, the governor and the legislature have done everything possible to cut the future of the plant off at its knees. That’s scissors.

However, as things have turned out, the NRC’s sometimes ponderous proceedings have rolling along like a rock in a river proving that federal legal process has blunted the scissors of state political opposition.

While many in Vermont have genuine concerns about the reactor, Gov. Shumlin went much further in leveraging those concerns into his successful campaign to be elected governor last November.

The fat lady has finally sung. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has voted to renew the operating license for the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station near Brattleboro, Vt., for an additional 20 years. [NRC web page on Vermont Yankee license renewal]

jaczkoEven more significantly, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who was widely criticized by the pro-nuclear community for the appearance of pandering to the anti-nuclear crowd in a controversial visit to the reactor last July, now stepped up to the plate to explain the NRC’s decision.

“ This is the final step in the NRC’s detailed technical and legal process of examining whether it’s appropriate to issue a renewed license,” said NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko. (left)

“Since there are other approval processes outside the NRC, we’ll continue to ensure Vermont Yankee is meeting the appropriate public health and safety standards regardless of the reactor’s ultimate status.”

In a conference call with the news media, Jaczko said, "“We believe Entergy, through the exhaustive review that we’ve done for license renewal, meets all of our requirements and standards needed to be able to operate for another 20 years.”

Dispute moves to Vermont legislature

The Vermont legislature and the Governor Peter Shumlin are going to be very unhappy about the NRC’s action today. The plant needs a state certificate of "public good" to keep generating electricity. In 2010 the state Senate voted to prevent state utility agency from issuing one.

The governor made closing the reactor a center piece issue of his successful election campaign. Now they will have to contend with a classic legal confrontation of constitutional proportions.

As a matter of law, the state legislature doesn’t have the ability to over turn the NRC decision. However, in matters involving rates, state environmental and other regulatory issues, the governor can throw a spanner or two in the works. This story will develop as the legislature and the governor respond to the NRC’s action.

Anti-nuclear group irate and pressing forward

smoochKevin Kamp, a spokesman for 'Beyond Nuclear' told this blog the NRC has "relicensed a dinosaur."

"NRC is showing that no matter how old the reactor, no matter how dangerously degraded with age, no matter how badly leaking radioactivity into the surroundings, it will, in the end, rubberstamp these 20 year license extensions."

"And of course, the nuclear establishment in industry and government is now talking 80 years, not 60 years, of operations. They seem intent on running these dinosaurs till they break."

Groups opposed to the continued operation of Vermont Yankee plan to take their case to the state legislature March 22. Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research will be testifying to the Vermont legislature on Monday, March 22nd.

His trip to Vermont is sponsored by Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance, and co-sponsored by the Citizens Awareness Network, New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, Nuclear Free Vermont by 2012, Safe & Green Campaign, and the Sierra Club of the Upper Valley.

Pro-nuclear activists elated and relieved

On the other hand, Howard Shaffer and Meredith Angwin, two pro-nuclear activists, told this blog they are elated over the NRC decision. Angwin, who publishes the blog Yes Vermont Yankee said the NRC decision “vindicates the fact that the plant is safe.”

As recently as last week, Angwin was on the stump at the University of Vermont debating the future of the reactor with Arnie Gundersen, a special consultant hired by the legislature to provide technical information on the plant.

Angwin says she is still amazed by “Gundersen’s fish stories,” but said the news that the reactor has been relicensed is a strong vote for reason.”

See Angwin's breaking news report at Yes Vermont Yankee

Even Entergy (NYSE:ETR) has something to celebrate. The firm has made no bones about its offer to sell the reactor to anyone who wants to roll the dice with the Vermont legislature. The NRC decision might flush some takers out of the financial woodwork.

The license renewal process started five years ago

The decision to renew the license comes after the NRC staff’s thorough and extensive safety and environmental reviews of the application, submitted Jan. 27, 2006, by the plant’s operator, Entergy Nuclear Operations.

The application and the staff reviews were also examined by the NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS), an independent body of nuclear safety experts that advises the NRC, and was the subject of an adjudicatory hearing by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), a quasi-judicial arm of the NRC that handles licensing matters.

Key documents issued nearly three years ago

nrclogoThe NRC staff issued its Safety Evaluation Report (SER) on the Vermont Yankee license renewal application, NUREG-1907, in May 2008, and issued a supplement to the SER in September 2009.

The staff is in the process of issuing a second SER supplement, which will be available soon. The staff issued its Vermont Yankee-specific supplement to the generic license renewal Environmental Impact Statement (NUREG-1437, Supplement 30) in August 2007.

In September 2006 the ASLB accepted requests by the State of Vermont and the New England Coalition (NEC) for a hearing challenging the renewal of the Vermont Yankee license. Once the NRC technical staff concluded its review of the renewal application, the Board conducted its evidentiary hearing in Newfane, Vt., in July 2008.

New England coalition contentions denied

The Board issued its initial decision in November 2008, requiring Entergy to revise its metal fatigue analysis for two important nozzles. Entergy submitted its revised analyses in March 2009, and NEC challenged the adequacy of the new analysis. In July 2009 the Board denied NEC’s new challenge.

Meanwhile, the NRC staff and NEC appealed various aspects of the Board decisions. In July 2010 the Commission rejected all of the appeals except one, which was returned to the Board.

During consideration of that remaining issue, NEC requested that a new and different contention be admitted. In October 2010 the Board ruled on the remaining issue and rejected NEC’s new contention.

NEC appealed that ruling; the Commission's vote today affirms the Board’s denial of NEC’s new contention and concludes the hearing.

Vermont Yankee will be the 63rd reactor license renewed by the NRC. Twelve other applications are currently under review. Information about the license renewal process is available on the NRC website’s Reactor License Renewal page.

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Three senators offer bill to build small reactors

The Senate Nuclear Power 2021 Act promotes design standards

six packSens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced legislation to direct the Department of Energy to develop innovative, low-cost nuclear reactors.

The Nuclear Power 2021 Act (S. 512) proposes a program to design and certify small modular reactors (< 300 megawatts) which can be built and operated in combination with similar reactors at a single site. This is the so-called "six pack" option.

Second bite at the apple

All three senators strongly endorsed the legislation which is a repeat of the same bill that was unanimously approved by the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee in 2009. The new bill is also co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo, (R-Idaho) and Sen. Mary Landrieu, (D-Louisiana)

Sen. Bingaman: “Modular reactors make sense because they do not require as large up-front capital investment as conventional reactors. They will keep construction costs down at a time when the expense of building a traditional plant has become so high.

Sen. Murkowski: “This legislation will help address existing challenges and overcome roadblocks by making the development, licensing, and deployment of small reactors a priority.”

Sen. Udall: “Small reactors have the potential to make nuclear power more cost-efficient and secure. This bill will help bring small modular reactors to the market."

Cost sharing between government and industry

Under the Bingaman-Murkowski-Udall bill, the Federal effort would be cost-shared with the private sector and selected under a competitive merit review process that emphasizes efficiency, cost, safety and proliferation resistance.

The Nuclear Power 2021 Act authorizes the Secretary of Energy to work in a public-private partnership to:

  • Develop a standard design for two modular reactors, one of which will not be more than 50 MW;
  • Obtain a design certification from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for each design by 2018; and
  • Obtain a combined operating license from the Commission by 2021.

Design limits?

hyperion mini_nuclear A spokesman for the committee said the bill language limiting one of the designs to 50 MW was in the original 2009 bill and came from a recommendation by the National Academy of Sciences.

Only two of the pending designs are that small. There are substantial design differences between them.

One is NuScale Power's LWR design at 45 MW. The conventional LWR design uses uranium fuel enriched to about 5% U235.

The other is Hyperion Power’s 25 MW fast reactor is being developed in New Mexico. (right). The Hyperion reactor is reported to be specifying a uranium oxide fuel enriched to up to 19% U235. It is reported to be considering using a lead-bismuth metal-cooled system.

The senate committee spokesman declined to comment whether any special reference to NuScale or Hyperion is intended by the limit on power rating in the proposed legislation for one of standard designs. The other reference design has to be less than 300MW according to the committee spokesman.

SMR market developments

Other small modular reactor (SMR) designs include B&W’s mPower 125 MW LWR and several 100-300 MW designs including GE-Hitachi’s PRISM reactor at just under 300 MW.

TVA is working with B&W to develop a 125 SMR project at the Clinch River site near Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Several other SMR developers are pursuing development of an energy park at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

Smaller reactors can be less capital intensive than the larger 1000-megawatt reactors currently being licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They also have the potential to be built in a modular and step-wise fashion. Finally, because of their lower total capital cost, they would allow utilities to get into the nuclear game without betting the company.

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High five for GE-Hitachi new reactor design at NRC

ESBWR gets final safety evaluation report

vicotry lapGE-Hitachi is due a victory lap after learning this week that the NRC has issued the final safety evaluation report for the firm's 1,500 MW ESBWR reactor design.

It is a major milestone toward certifying the reactor for sale in the U.S. Because the NRC certification is considered to be the "gold standard" internationally in terms of regulatory scrutiny, this step will likely produce new interest in global markets and boost the reactor's prospects for sales.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in a press statement it issued a final safety evaluation report (FSER) and final design approval for GE-Hitachi’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR).

The approval, which indicates the NRC finds the design technically acceptable but does not fully certify the design, is good for 15 years.

Caroline Reda “The ESBWR is one final step away from becoming a reality,” said Caroline Reda, (left) president and CEO of GEH. “The FSER and FDA mark a crucial step forward for the ESBWR’s global commercial prospects. We appreciate the diligence of the NRC during the review process, which enables the ESBWR to remain on track to receive the NRC’s final design certification by this fall.”

U.S. prospects improved over two years ago

Michigan utility DTE Energy has selected the ESBWR design for a potential reactor project, Fermi 3, next to its existing Fermi 2 plant south of Detroit. The NRC is currently reviewing DTE Energy’s license application for the Fermi 3 project, which serves as the “reference combined license application” for the ESBWR design.

Assuming the auto industry comes back in Michigan, the car plants are going to need that electricity. Maybe to boost sales GE-Hitachi should take a page from Chrysler's playbook and start running TV ads like the two-minute macho masterpiece aired at the 2011 Superbowl.

A single ESBWR project would create several thousand construction jobs and several hundred permanent engineering positions while also creating opportunities for local equipment and service vendors.

International prospects better

Poland is proposing to build two nuclear power plants. GEH has been expanding its network of local equipment suppliers and engineering firms to prepare for potential reactor projects. In February 2011, GEH signed an MOU with the Institute of Atomic Energy in Poland (POLATOM), a research institute that advises the Polish government on nuclear energy issues.

In January 2011, in Gdansk, GEH signed preliminary agreements with Poland’s Stocznia Gdansk, a major shipyard, and RAFAKO S.A., Europe’s leading boiler equipment manufacturer, to pursue opportunities to build nuclear reactor components for GEH.

Separately, in February 2011, GEH and Lockheed Martin Corporation signed an agreement for Lockheed Martin Corporation to design and manufacture the main reactor control room systems for the ESBWR. It will be a digital system from the ground up.

India sticks it to U.S. over liability law

Another of those key commercial prospects is India, which as part of its massive nuclear energy expansion program has identified a site that would feature multiple GEH ESBWR reactors. GEH CEO Caroline Reda has been gung ho in pursuit of business with India traveling there as part of an official U.S. trade mission in February 2011.

To ink deals there, the Indian government will have to set aside a draconian supplier liability law that has locked out American firms from entering the market. Despite considerable diplomatic pressure, and a visit from President Obama last November, the Indian government hasn't budged on the issue.

Instead, it has inked deals with Russia's Atomstroyexport and French nuclear giant Areva. Two of the new Russian reactors, 1,000 MW VVER's, will be commissioned and enter revenue service this month.

Troubled past now overcome

dump truckThe success this week at the NRC is a major turn around for GE-Hitachi. It hasn't always been this way. In the past three years, three major U.S. utilities unceremoniously dumped the ESBWR as the referenced reactor design in their license applications for new reactors. Exelon, Entergy, and Dominion all changed their minds, albeit for different reasons.

Because of delays in the ESBWR reactor design certification process in 2008, the Department of Energy downgraded Exelon's application for a loan guarantee for the Texas site. Subsequently, Exelon changed its mind about a license application altogether and filed an Early Site Permit for the Victoria, Texas, site. It has proposed to build twin reactors there.

Entergy had plans to build new twin reactor sites in Louisiana and Mississippi. When the recession hit in 2008, it stopped work on both license applications and opted for an uprate to an operating reactor.

Dominion reconsidered a number of economic and technical factors and changed horses now referencing Mitsubishi's APWR reactor for its North Anna, Virginia site.

Final rule making ahead

NRC staff has spent approximately five years considering whether to certify the reactor. Separately, the NRC is considering GE-Hitachi’s request to certify the design through rulemaking. The Commission is currently considering the NRC’s staff’s request to publish that proposed rule.

signpost1“Our technical experts have asked tough questions to ensure GE-Hitachi has appropriately addressed the NRC’s requirements, and after their extensive technical evaluation they’re satisfied with the ESBWR design,” said Michael Johnson, director of NRC’s Office of New Reactors.

“If the Commission agrees with the staff, we’ll move on to fully certifying the design, incorporating it into our regulations using a rule-making process that includes a public comment period.”

Neither a final design approval nor design certification grant permission to build or operate a reactor. Full certification, if granted by the Commission following the staff’s recommendation, is valid for 15 years and allows a utility to reference the design when applying for a Combined License to build and operate a nuclear power plant. NRC has long sought standardization of nuclear power plant designs to help enhance safety and bring efficiency to the reactor licensing process.

Status of other reactor design certifications

The NRC has certified four other designs: the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), System 80+, AP600 and AP1000. The agency has issued proposed rules to certify revised versions of the ABWR and AP1000.

The staff is reviewing applications to certify two other designs: Areva's U.S. Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) and Mitsubishi's U.S. Advanced Pressurized Water Reactor (APWR).

The final rule on the AREVA EPR is due in winter 2013 according to a calendar published by the NRC.

The NRC has not published a date on its regulatory calendar for a final rule on the Mitsubishi APWR. Work on reactor license applications at Luminant’s Comanche Peak (2 1700 MW APWRs) and Dominion’s North Anna site (1 1500 MW APWR) has been delayed by 18 months by the NRC while it finishes design certification of the APWR.

The delays on the license applications are not seen as being that serious as neither utility is in a hurry to start construction. The reasons are the lack of federal loan guarantees and the need for improving demand for electricity.

ESBWR documents

The FSER will be available through the NRC’s electronic documents database, ADAMS, by going to: and entering accession number ML103470210

More information about the ESBWR design review can be found on the NRC’s website.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Davis-Besse to flip its 2nd lid in 2012

Replacement of the reactor vessel head will start in October 2011

Pot-Lid-OrganizerFirstEnergy (NYSE:FE) Nuclear Operating Company's Davis-Besse 893 MW PWR at Oak harbor, OH, near Toledo, will enter a fuel outage in October 2011, which is earlier than called for in the usual outage schedule.

During this extraordinary outage, a new reactor head with new control rod channels, or nozzles, will installed at the plant. The nozzles are actually tubes that guide the control rods through the reactor's lid and into the core.

FirstEnergy had originally scheduled the lid replacement for 2014. However, inspections revealed new cracking in the reactor's second lid much earlier than expected by engineers and the NRC. The NRC and the utility determined an earlier replacement date was a better solution than trying to extend the life of the current head which was installed in 2004.

Davis-Besse returned the reactor to service last July after modifications to the reactor head control drive mechanisms. It was shut down in February 2010. Changes were made to 24 of 69 nozzles that were found to have small cracks. The changes included the use of robotic welding. The reactor lid is 17 feet across. It is a one piece casting which is nearly 7 inches thick. It contains 69 holes for control rods of which eight are spares.

The cracking occurred in the reactor lid as a result of elevated reactor core temperatures which plant engineers say accelerated the cracking of the nozzle material. The problem occurs at other reactors as well. Cracks in the nozzles have the potential to cause leaks and uncontrolled releases of radioactivity.

Second lid needs replacement

thermometerThis is the second time the nozzles, or control rod guides through the reactor head at Davis-Besse, have been found to have developed cracks. The current lid, its second, is from a Michigan reactor which was never used.

To prevent future cracking until second lid can be replaced, the reactor temperature will be lowered below the 600F range that caused the cracking in the first place.

Also, the reactor's fuel assemblies will be reconfigured placing the newer, and hotter fuel assemblies away from the center of the reactor to distribute heat more evenly inside the core.

Todd Schneider, a spokesman for First Energy, told this blog that cracks occurred in nozzles at in the center of the reactor lid which is where the hottest temperatures were experienced by the materials.

Hot graphics

· See this multi-part graphic from the Cleveland Plain Dealer which illustrates the elements of the nozzles and the reactor lid.

· See this photo from the NRC of the nozzles in place with one removed.

Next steps for the core

PWR core The corrective measure, Schneider said is that, "newer fuel assemblies burn hotter so they will be positioned away from the center. Older assemblies in their second or third cycle, which produce less heat, will be moved to the center."

The reactor has 177 fuel assemblies and about one-third of them will be changed out during the next fuel outage. Until then, moving the fuel assemblies around keeps the reactor in revenue service.

During the 2012 fuel outage period, a new reactor lid manufactured by AREVA will be installed with nozzles that have 15% chromium in the steel. The old nozzles had 10% chromium. The higher percentage of the new metal alloy is expected to be more resistant to high temperatures.

FirstEnergy did not disclose how long the reactor outage to replace the lid would take or what it would cost including the price of the lid itself. The U.S. does not have the manufacturing capability to make new reactor lids which is why it came from AREVA.

Davis-Besse was completed in 1978 by Babcock & Wilcox and is currently applying for a 20-year license extension from the NRC.

Update 03/10/11: NRC spokeperson Victoria Mitlyng told this blog that reactor lid replacement is common in the U.S for a variety of reasons. However, there isn’t a single list with all of the reasons for the replacements.

Also, NRC said that the Davis-Besse plant is a Babcock & Wilcox reactor, a PWR design that runs hotter than almost every other commercial reactor. Finally, NRC said that the 2nd lid, installed in 2004, was seen by the agency as an interim solution and never intended to be a permanent fix.

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TVA Energy plan will swap out coal for nuclear energy

A 20-year look ahead is based on higher energy density and lower carbon emissions

copyThe Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has published its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) filing a copy with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The plan will be presented next month to TVA's board of directors.

TVA President Tom Kilgore said in a statement the IRP places greater emphasis on lowering carbon emissions. It emphasizes greater use of nuclear energy, natural gas, renewable energy technologies, and energy efficiency measures by customers.

TVA said in the plan its twin objectives "are to lead the nation in improved air quality and increased nuclear production."

Kilgore added that relying on a diverse portfolio of energy sources in the future makes more sense than the utility's past heavy reliance on coal. Kilgore said the new strategy "reduces long-term risks and keeps costs steady and predictable."

Read the full details exclusively at CoolHandNuke online now.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Social media meet-up at ANS 2011 National Meeting

The use of online tools to tell nuclear energy’s story is a rapidly growing field of practice

blog symbolThe American Nuclear Society national meeting taking place in Hollywood, Florida, June 26-30, 2011 has an evening session on social media and the nuclear energy industry.

Meet-up momentum

A meet-up of anyone attending the ANS winter meeting is interested in the use of social media in the nuclear industry will be held Tuesday, June 28th from 6:00-8:00 PM in the Westin Diplomat. the conference hotel, which is a short ride from the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, airport.

This is the third time such a meeting has been held. At the 2010 ANS Winter Meeting held in Last Vegas, NV, about 60 people turned out for an informal round-robin discussion.

Here’s a link to the ‘ANS News’ report on the Nov 2010 social media panel and discussion. It is a 1.6 Mb PDF file of several pages scanned from ANS News for January 2011.

The ANS Public Information Committee is the official host of the meeting.

We are seeking corporate sponsorships to cover the costs of the room and light refreshments.

Will other pro-nuclear blogs please cross-post this note or a pointer to it? Thanks!

Help develop the agenda for the social media session

blogging The plan this year, as in the past, is to have an informal discussion about how social media, including blogs, instant messages, video, and web services are shaping public perceptions of the nuclear energy industry. Also, this is an opportunity to meet others who work with these tools in the nuclear industry.

This year we'd like to have a more organized approach to the discussion with the idea of generating an article about lessons learned and opportunities for the future at the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Here's a starter list agenda of ideas to address . . .

  • What are the barriers and benefits for using social media in the nuclear industry?
  • How does the use of social media compliment traditional public affairs outreach by nuclear utilities?
  • Is it all Facebook all the time, or are there other channels that are better for different types of messages and audiences?
  • What benefits will nuclear supply chain vendors gain from using social media?

What other topics should be on the discussion agenda? Post a comment here or drop me a line

Conference links

Registration for the ANS conference is now open. Click here.

And here is the link to the Preliminary Program.

I look forward to see you in Florida this June.

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Chernobyl at 25

Every nuclear reactor is not an accident waiting to happen

firestorm2The ANS Public Information Committee has published a set of slides on occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident (April 26, 2011).

The slides are available in Powerpoint and PDF format.

The slides were prepared by a group of nuclear engineers and public relations specialists based on the extensive materials organized by ANS for the 20th anniversary.

Anti-nuclear groups are gearing up to use the 25th mark to get into the press with their message. They are betting they can “tag” every reactor with the “Chernobyl” legacy and that the news media will buy it.

These slides are useful to share with editors and reporters as they are specifically written in plain English and for use by the news media. Feel free to down load these resources for use in your community.

For more information contact Laura Scheele at ANS Outreach Dept lscheele@ans.org

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