Friday, May 27, 2011

Modeling meltdowns in reactors and the media

Computer predictions of failure at Fukushima

tsunamiWorld Nuclear News has a report that computer analysis of reactor damage at Fukushima has indicated more serious fuel melting has probably occurred than previously thought at units 2 and 3. Two simulations show the water levels in the reactor pressure vessels far below where battered instruments said they were following sea water injection.

WNN reports that for unit 2, the first scenario suggests that water only recovered to about three meters below the top of fuel, and the second shows levels below the core entirely. For both scenarios the fuel temperature would have risen to 2,700 F which resulted in the zirconium fuel cladding reacting with water that released hydrogen.

WNN reports for unit 3 the simulation puts the water level at two meters below the top of the fuel. Extremely high temperatures resulted with 48 hours.

TEPCO has already reported nearly complete destruction of the fuel assemblies in unit 1.

According to the Washington Post for May 26, nuclear fuel in reactors units 1-3 at the Fukushima site began melting just five hours after Japan’s March 11 earthquake, a Japanese nuclear engineer told a panel of U.S. scientists. About 11 hours later, all of the uranium fuel in the facility’s unit 1 reactor had collapsed to the bottom of the reactor.

University of Tokyo’s Naoto Sekimura told a committee of the National Academy of Sciences it took all of 11 hours for the melting fuel to punch holes in the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel. Now it is leaking radioactive water. (March 18, 2011 NHK TV interview)

The newspaper also reported that NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis said that NRC staff members “thought the cores were melting” early in the crisis.

According to the Post, this conclusion, and the lack of credible information from Japan, resulted in the commission’s controversial recommendation to evacuate Americans within 50-mile radius of the facility, which is four times larger than the 13 mile evacuation zone set by the Japanese government.

“The 50 miles was very conservative,” Apostolakis told a National Academy of Sciences panel. “You can’t say someone was right or wrong in this situation.”

IAEA may have known about potential for meltdowns in March

While these simulations were being reported this week, a Japanese English language newspaper credits a former scientist at the Idaho National Laboratory with coming to similar conclusions in late March. The Mainichi Times reported May 23 that Chris Allison, Ph.D., an independent software developer, told the IAEA a meltdown occurred at one of the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant three and a half hours after its cooling system started malfunctioning.

reactorcoreAccording to Allison's report, as obtained by the Mainichi, the simulation was based on basic data on light-water nuclear reactors at the Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Plant in Mexico that are about the same size as that of the No. 1, 2, and 3 reactors in Fukushima.

Nicole Stricker, Ph.D., a science writer at the Idaho lab, told this blog in an email that Allison’s work is independent of the lab and that neither the lab nor the Department of Energy had any communication about it with the IAEA.

“He took software developed at the lab and has been working with it on his own, but his current work is not affiliated with INL. Furthermore, it's worth pointing out that no simulation software can predict exactly what happened at Fukushima, especially without precise data about plant conditions.”

There is no word on what the IAEA did, if anything, with the results of Allison’s report. It’s not clear how the Japanese newspaper got word of it.

Dr. Allison received his doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Idaho in 1987 and BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wyoming in 1972 and 1973. He’s headed his own nuclear reactor software simulation firm located in Idaho since 1996.

Media meltdown gets a dose of reality

While reactor meltdowns in Japan were getting media attention, here in the U.S. people who follow the work of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have been wondering when the agency would respond to a piece of work published May 8th in the New York Times which portrayed the NRC as a toothless regulator in bed with the industry. bbq

The article, which is basically a BBQ of the agency roasting it on a spit turned by its critics, was penned by energy and environmental editor and reporter Tom Zeller, Jr., who has since left the newspaper to work for the Huffington Post.

It may be that what the critics of the NRC really want is to create a perception that the if the agency can’t do its job, that the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors should all be shut down. If so, Zeller helped them along toward achieving that objective with his article.

So it seems only reasonable and prudent that the NRC answered the NYT article with an OP ED published at the Huffington Post under the byline of NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko.

He defended the agency’s record with surprising fortitude reminding readers, and presumably the former NYT editor and reporter now working at HP, of the agency’s responses to issues like the reactor lid at Davis-Besse. Jaczko also pointed out the agency’s safety concerns about the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors design are long-standing.

The New York Times article can only be described as a shameful departure from the standards of ethics and fairness the newspaper claims to uphold. Federal regulatory agencies usually just roll over when newspapers swat them with articles like this one.

In his OP ED at the Huffington Post the NRC Chairman seems to have found some backbone standing up for the broad principles of nuclear safety rather than rolling with the tactics of political expediency which he has been accused of doing over Yucca Mountain. That’s a step in the right direction.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nuclear News Roundup for May 25, 2011

Europe Agrees On Parameters For Nuclear Stress Tests

stress test image25 May (NucNet): After “intense and thorough deliberations” agreement has been reached on the parameters of stress tests for nuclear power plants in Europe, European commissioner for energy G√ľnther Oettinger has said.

The European Commission confirmed that the stress tests will check the resistance of Europe’s 143 reactor units to natural disasters and “man-made failures and actions”, such as “plane crashes and explosions close to nuclear plants”.

Mr Oettinger told a press conference in Brussels that terrorist and security threats will not be part of the tests. Discussions will be held with member states to decide who will be responsible for such threats in each member state, he said.

Terrorist attacks dealt with separately

The commission and national nuclear safety regulators agreed that while comparable damaging effects from terrorist attacks, such as plane crashes or explosives, will be covered in the tests, measures to prevent an attack will be dealt with separately.

“The reason is that these concerns are issues of national security,” the commission said. “Measures taken to counter terroristic acts cannot be made public – while the stress tests will be published,” the commission said.

FUD_Just_Feels_RightThe stress tests will look at all issues relating to natural disasters, technology and possible human error.

They will particularly look at nuclear facilities’ preparedness for a combination of unexpected events such as the earthquake and tsunami that hit the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan on 11 March 2011.

“We agreed that in the light of Fukushima-Daiichi all issues relating to natural disasters need to be looked at,” Mr Oettinger said.

Those issues include earthquake, flooding, extreme cold and extreme heat.
“These will be looked at both singly and in combination,” Mr Oettinger said.

The tests will also examine the technology and see how safe and stable cooling equipment, energy supply and back-up generators are.

The possibility of human error at nuclear facilities will also be dealt with.

Three phases to tests

Mr Oettinger said there would be three phases to the tests. Plant operators will complete an audit and submit a report; national regulators will evaluate the report; and finally peer reviews of the report will be carried out by teams from EU member states.

Work on the tests will start on 1 June 2011 with first progress reports from national regulators due by 1 August 2011. Peer reviews will start this autumn and will continue into 2012.

In mid-June the EC will invite neighbouring countries who are important for nuclear safety to take part in the tests. Mr Oettinger said those countries would include Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Switzerland, Turkey and Lithuania.

Andrej Striter, chairman of the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (Ensreg), said ensuring the availability of power supply and heat removal in the event of an incident at a nuclear facility is crucial. “We are asking everyone to re-check and reevaluate what would happen in these areas in extreme cases,” he said.

“This would mean the consequences of any kind of accident, including terrorist attack, could be dealt with.”

Report Warns Industry Of Post-Fukushima Challenges

24 May (NucNet): The March 2011 natural disasters that led to the crisis at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan will have “far-reaching impacts” on the global nuclear power industry, a report from Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu says.

The report says governments should not turn their backs on nuclear energy, but points out that increased safety requirements likely to be implemented in the wake of Fukushima-Daiichi will possibly mean the end for some older nuclear plants.

The report also says new build plans could be affected because the greater emphasis on risk management will result in investors re-evaluating their plans.

“The challenges seen in recent years around cultivating private sector development of new projects appear set to continue – as highlighted by NRG’s suspension of fresh investment at the South Texas Project,” the report says.

In April 2011, NRG said that because of “uncertainties” following Fukushima-Daiichi, it would not invest additional capital to build two new units at South Texas Project.

No Need To Curtail UK Nuclear Program, Report Says

20 May (NucNet): There is no need to curtail the operations of nuclear power plants in the UK, but lessons should be learnt from the accident at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan, an interim assessment by the UK’s chief inspector of nuclear installations Mike Weightman concludes.

Mr Weightman identifies 25 recommended areas for review – by either industry, the government or regulators – to determine if “sensible and appropriate” measures can further improve safety in the UK nuclear industry.

These measures include reviews of the layout of UK power plants, emergency response arrangements, dealing with prolonged loss of power supplies and the risks associated with flooding.

Minimum Of GBP 17 Billion Needed For New Nuclear, Says UK

25 May (NucNet): A minimum of 17 billion pounds (GBP) (27 billion US dollars, 19.5 billion euro) will be needed to build up to six gigawatts of new nuclear generation in the UK by 2020, a government reports says.

The report also says an estimated GBP 4.7 billion is needed by 2020 to reinforce the transmission network to accommodate future renewable energy and nuclear generation.

It adds that nuclear energy is likely to play “a more significant role” from 2020 to 2030.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills report makes it clear that the UK is considering using a Green Investment Bank it plans to open in April 2012 to help fund nuclear power plants as it encourages consumption of more low-carbon fuels.

It says the transition to a green economy will need an estimated investment of up to GBP 200 billion in the energy system alone until 2020.

The report says nuclear power investments are under “high-level appraisal” along with offshore wind, carbon capture plants, marine energy and electric vehicle charging stations.

In a statement to politicians yesterday business secretary Vince Cable said the UK is committed in law to a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2025. He said much of the UK’s energy, transport and waste infrastructure will have to be revolutionized or even rebuilt in order to achieve that target.

The planned Green Investment Bank, which would be the first of its kind in the world, will play “a vital role” in addressing market failures unlocking significant new private investment into green infrastructure projects, the government said.

The Bank is one of a number of key policies which will help meet environmental objectives and promote economic growth. The policies are needed to provide the incentives for businesses to invest in new, green infrastructure, which by its very nature often only repays the investment over many years.

Other key policy initiatives include the creation of a National Infrastructure Plan, reforms to the electricity market, changes to the climate change levy, the introduction of a renewable heat incentive and the review of waste policy.

The government also announced that the former chairman of the nuclear operator British Energy, Sir Adrian Montague, has been appointed to direct the establishment of the Green Investment Bank.

Sir Adrian, who is currently chairman of 3i, the private equity firm, will lead a team of “independent financial experts” in setting up the radical institution before it starts work next year, Mr Cable said.

The UK’s coalition government has confirmed eight sites as potentially suitable for new nuclear units by 2025.

Only 29% Support Idea Of US Nuclear Phaseout, Says Survey

24 May (NucNet): Only 29 percent of likely voters in the US believe the country should systematically phase out the use of nuclear power over the next 50 years, according to a new survey.

The telephone survey by Rasmussen Reports indicates that 47 percent believe the US should not phase out nuclear power, while 24 percent are undecided.

Support for phasing out nuclear power plants is down from 35 percent in late March, two weeks after the earthquake hit Japan leading to the crisis at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant.

However, voters are more narrowly divided over whether there should be more US nuclear plants. While 38 percent believe more plants should be built, 40 percent do not want more plants. Twenty-two percent are undecided.

Support for the building of more nuclear plants is down from 42 percent in mid-April and ties the lowest level of support in nearly three years of Rasmussen Reports surveying.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New web site for Fuel Cycle Week

The nuclear industry trade newsletter has an eclectic niche unmatched by its competition

FCW_logo_smallAfter four years of working as a reporter for Fuel Cycle Week, I continue to be amazed by the breadth of topics, and depth of coverage, the newsletter crams into eight pages 48 times a year. 

So it is only fitting to let readers know the publication has a brand new website.

There are no more dreary photos of spent fuel canisters or uranium pellets. Kiss transport trucks goodbye.  Now we’ve got crisp, bright new graphics!   The brand new web site is located at

What is Fuel Cycle Week?

Fuel Cycle Week, a nuclear business newsletter based in Washington, D.C., is not your typical industry publication. Instead, it is fresh and unconventional, filled with straight industry news leavened with critical analysis, informed opinion and humor.

EvoFCW is read worldwide by several thousand nuclear industry professionals in the utility, uranium mining and enrichment sectors, as well as financial and investment institutions. In its pages you will find unparalleled discussion of new and ongoing economic developments in uranium and nuclear fuel production, especially in often-ignored parts of Africa and North America.  Here are some highlights.

Market Data

  • Access to real-time uranium pricing data from Evolution Markets Inc., a brokerage firm instrumental in the development of physical OTC trading, the introduction of hedging products in the financial markets, and the extension of transparency and liquidity throughout the nuclear fuel cycle;
  • The Oreninc Deal Log showing the opening and closing of financing deals by uranium prospectors and miners listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange 

We know the territory coverage

  • OrenincClose focus on new-build in Asia, the Middle East, Russia, Europe and the Americas;
  • Key insights from seasoned private- and public-sector insiders;
  • Political and policy events that could swing nuclear-fuel trade and new-build;
  • The funny yet dead-serious Nuclear Buzz opinion column that will keep you abreast of what is really happening, no matter what the rest of the press is saying.

As you can see we’re not like some of the other trade publications, and they, in turn, are unlikely to emulate our unique approach to news about the industry or style.  In short, you won’t get what you get from Fuel Cycle Week from anybody else.

See the website for access to a sample issue which includes publisher Andrea Jennetta’s “buzz column.”  You can also sign up for a trial subscription.

Prior coverage on this blog

As part of my working relationship with FCW, I get to repost some of my articles here on this blog.  Here’s a sample of recent work.

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