Friday, August 26, 2011

Nuclear facilities prepare for Hurricane Irene

This is a mirror of the original report posted at ANS Nuclear Cafe It relies on information from NEI and the NRC. Set your web browser to access the ANS Nuclear Cafe throughout the weekend for updates.

1700 HRS Aug. 26, 2011—Nuclear energy facilities are prepared to safely withstand high winds and heavy rain as the eastern United States braces for Hurricane Irene to make landfall this weekend.

When hurricanes occur, electric utilities operating nuclear energy facilities take specific actions mandated by U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines and the plants’ emergency preparedness plan. These include:

  • Plant personnel monitor storm conditions, paying close attention to the path of a storm and wind speeds at the site.
  • Personnel inspect the entire facility and secure or move any equipment that could possibly become airborne due to high winds.
  • Each plant site has numerous emergency backup diesel generators that are tested and ready to provide electricity for critical operations in the event of a loss of off-site electricity supply. Diesel fuel tanks are checked and topped off to ensure there is a minimum of seven days of fuel to power backup generators.
  • As a precaution, a reactor will be shut down at least two hours before the onset of hurricane-force winds at the site, typically between 70 and 75 miles per hour.
  • Twelve hours before Hurricane Irene approaches nuclear energy facilities on the East Coast, plant operates at each site will provide status updates to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

If there is a loss of off-site power, reactors automatically shut down as a precaution and the emergency backup diesel generators begin operating to provide electrical power to plant safety systems. Plant operators also may manually shut down the reactor as a precaution even if off-site power is still available.

Nuclear power plants are the most robust facilities in the U.S. infrastructure, with reactor containment structures composed of steel-reinforced concrete that have proven their ability to withstand extreme natural events. In addition, nuclear plant operators are trained and tested one out of every six weeks to safely manage extreme events such as hurricanes. Plant operators also have multi-day staffing plans, and resources, to ensure that personnel are on-site and prepared to respond to situations that may arise as a result of the storm.

NRC notes reactor preparation

The NRC’s Roger Hannah told wire services Aug 26 that typically utilities begin shutting down reactors 12 hours before winds reach speeds of 74 miles an hour. He pointed out there is a big difference between a storm surge and a tsunami.

In Washington, DC, the NRC is mobilizing its emergency operations center to keep track of conditions at all the nuclear reactors up and down the U.S. eastern seaboard. The center stays in close touch with resident inspectors at the plants. If land lines go out, they switch to satellite phones to stay in touch. Once the storm has pass, the NRC works with FEMA to assess any damage.

Social Media

Roundup of site specific news

While preparations are generally the same at all reactors when faced with an imminent hurricane, here are some highlights from the different sites.

* At Dominion’s Millstone nuclear plant in Connecticut, which is located on Long Island sound near Waterford, CT, workers are preparing defenses against an expected storm surge. Staffing plans for storm emergencies are being put into effect. Outside maintenance project are being postponed until after the storm passes.

* At Energy’s Indian Point, protection of the two reactors there focuses on possible wind damage to the switch yard. If off-site power is lost, the plant will run on emergency diesel generators.

* Similar preparations are underway at Constellation’s two reactors at Calvert Cliffs, MD, and, at PSEG’s Salem and Hope Creek reactors which face the Delaware River estuary in southwestern NJ.

* At Constellation plant manager said that staff working in the Emergency Response Organization (ERO) will be tasked to 12 hour duty shifts and all ERO personnel will remain on site. Staff use a checklist to insure they bring necessary items with them for the shifts. Sleeping areas and round the clock cafeteria access are mobilized for the duration.

* At Exelon’s Oyster Creek reactor, which faces the Atlantic ocean in southeastern NJ, workers are securing equipment that might be impacted by high winds. Emergency diesel generators are checked to insure they are ready to run and have reserves of fuel.

* In North Carolina Progress Energy began preparations on Wednesday of this week at its Harris and Brunswick plants. Brunswick is designed to withstand a storm surge of 22 feet above sea level. The plant will continue to operate unless winds rise above 75 mph.

Plants are built to withstand high winds

Nuclear energy facilities are designed to withstand natural occurrences greater than those encountered in the regions where they are located. They are built to withstand floods, earthquakes and high winds, and have numerous safety systems that will operate and safely shut the reactor down in the event of a loss of off-site power. These plant designs are routinely reviewed and modifications are made to assure their integrity and safety.

# # #

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Blue Castle to file Early Site Permit with NRC in 2013

It's still a long way from a COL and breaking ground for a 3,000 MW site

road to green river utThe Blue Castle nuclear reactor project in Utah announced this week it is on schedule to submit an early site permit to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 2013. Tom Reston, COO, said in a press statement the firm is completing its site characterization work. Reston, a former nuclear energy executive with General Electric, is the driving force in terms of technical expertise behind the project.

Blue Castle's project is reported to be aiming to create a power plant capable of generating 3,000 MW of power most of which will be sold to utilities in Southern California. The City of Los Angeles cancelled its investment in a 900 MW coal-fired power plant a few years ago because green groups forced through a ordinance that prohibited new energy projects that significantly added to greenhouse gas emissions.

It's another example of California's "nuclear colonialism" in which the state cheerfully imports nuclear generated electricity from other states while banning new reactors within its borders. The primary example is Palo Verde in Arizona. It looks like Blue Castle is going to be another.

The proposed reactor site is in Green River, Utah, 180 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, UT. It has long been sought after as a site for uranium mills, natural gas and coal fired power plants, and other economic development projects because of its location on I-70 and the available water from the Green River.

The plant is requesting 53,600 acre feet of water per year to cool the reactors. The Early Site Permit will not reference a specific reactor design.

The Green River site is also noted for being seismically stable sitting on Mancos shale . It is located east of the Wasatch Fault that splits the state north to south.

The economic development agency of Emery County is offering an industrial park site for the reactors leased from the Utah Schools land trust.

aaron tiltonThe anti-nuclear group HEAL Utah told the Salt Lake City Tribune last June it would prefer to see the site developed as a natural gas power plant. Matt Pacenza, a spokesman for the group, told the newspaper this week he thinks the area's water should be reserved for melon farmers in the region and tourism trade in national parks.

As part of its long standing opposition to the project, HEAL Utah published an unflattering profile of Blue Castle CEO AaronTilton (right) in 2007. Other environmental groups have also lined up with HEAL Utah to oppose the plant based on its request for water.

License then sell

Blue Castle is not positioned to actually build the reactors. CEO Aaron Tilton has said in an interview with this blog in 2008 the firm plans to get a Combined Construction and Operating License, following the Early Site Permit, and then sell it to the highest bidder who would then seek to build several reactors.

LingAoII3RPV_(CGNPC)One of the challenges a future utility developer will face is how to transport the components of the reactor, including pressure vessel, steam system, and turbines, to the remote site.

Image left of 1,080 MW reactor pressure vessel. Note relative size of people to the component. Image source – World Nuclear News

Another is the town of Green River lacks the infrastructure to support a workforce of 5,000 people over the six-to-eight years the project would be under construction. Just about everything needed for the plant, including food for the workers, would have to be trucked in from Salt Lake City.

penny stockSimilar challenges face a project in Idaho being touted by penny stock firm Alternative Energy Holdings Inc. (PINK:AEHI). The firm is proposing to build its reactor at a greenfield site in rural Payette County which has few good roads and only modest transmission and distribution infrastructure to get the power to customers. AEHI has been the subject of scrutiny by the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), but so far the firm has fended off efforts by the agency to shut it down.

Private equity stake

The Blue Castle Project is privately held and has not revealed the names of its principal investors. In June 2010 Blue Castle announced it had inked a $30 million private equity funding deal with a New York firm – Lead Dog Capital L.P. – which is positioned as a hedge fund and tied to the Carlton Companies. The arrangement is for an equity line of credit which Blue Castle says it will draw on as needed over time.

The lead executive for the hedge fund is Chris Messalas of New York according to a profile in Forbes. In addition to energy firms, according to several stock listings at Edgar Online, he appears to be involved with investments in Shelby racing cars, healthcare products, and music entertainment firms.

The Blue Castle firm has a website that lists other relevant information. One of the executives of the firm is Reed Searle who previously was General Manager of the Intermountain Power Agency who's 900MW coal plant was ditched by Los Angeles. Nils Diaz, a former NRC Commissioner, is also a member of the executive team.

Aaron Tilton, the CEO, is a former Utah state legislator. He served one term and in April 2008 was ousted by the Utah Republican party in a fight over school vouchers which Tilton noted at the time has nothing to do with nuclear energy.

Prior coverage on this blog

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Patent reform will hurt American job creation

Guest blog post by Bruce Winchell, Attorney-at-law

Editor's note: The development of new nuclear energy technologies, especially for small modular reactors, could be impacted by this change.

H.R. 1249, as passed by the House, is entitled America Invents Act, and S. 23, as passed by Original patent for nitroglycerin the Senate, is entitled Patent Reform Act of 2011. Both change the U.S. to a First to File patent system. Presently, it is expected that the changes will become law in September of 2011. The First to File provision is expected to take effect 18 months after enactment.

Image of Alfred Nobel’s patent for nitroglycerin, June 1864. source: Wikimedia Commons

These bills had strong support from foreign business entities, large businesses in the U.S., and patent professionals who work for large businesses either as in house counsel or in law firms that have large businesses as their clients. That is because they are the big winners of such a first to file system.

Such a change will make the U.S. more like the rest of the world where first to file a patent application wins all bets and the patents. Presently in the U.S. most of the patents go to small businesses and individual inventors. In the rest of the world most of the patents go to large businesses who have patent professionals on their staff to assure that the company always files first to get the protection that they need. This is an incentive to file fast and not to invent.

The U.S. has a first to invent system because the U.S. Constitution in Article 1, Section 8 gives Congress the power to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to INVENTORS the exclusive right to their discoveries. The U.S. has a system that provides incentive to invent by giving the patent to the first to invent.

The big winners of a U.S. first to file system will be foreign entities which are used to a first to file system where research projects are not funded by companies until the patent applications are filed based on any conceptions of inventions in the proposal for the R&D funding. This helps the companies avoid funding projects where they would be blocked later from practicing the invention because some one else won the patent by filing first. Such entities never publish anything about such projects until the patent applications are filed.

The individual inventor, small businesses, universities, and national laboratories will be blocked by first to filers. One reason is that they allow publication before patenting. Another reason is that they try to prove the concept in the lab or reduce the invention to practice before they file patent applications. Americans sit on inventions way too long to be able to win any contest based on first to file. Showing anything to anyone before filing a patent application is risky in a first to invent system but it is suicide in a first to file system.

Foreign entities will likely file many more applications under the first to file system and will be more able to stop production in the U.S. for products that they own the patents that cover those products. Winning the patents will allow them to be more assertive to force the import manufactured goods. Also they will more likely force the U.S. Government to pay royalties to them for inventions the Government paid U.S. labs to invent because they sit on their inventions too long for a first to file system.

Since about 70% of all new jobs come from new small businesses, America is likely to be significantly less productive in creating new jobs in the future in a first to file system. This fundamental change to our intellectual property system will hurt small business and hurt job creation.

Author ID

clip_image001Mr. Winchell (right) is licensed to practice law in two states, a registered patent attorney in the United States, a registered patent agent in Canada, and Certified Licensing Professional.

Bruce Winchell
Technology Ventures Corporation
1155 University Blvd, SE
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106
Phone 505-843-4272

# # #

Profiles of exceptional women in nuclear energy

Hard-HatsNuclear energy, like many other highly technical science and engineering fields, was led in the post World War II era by men. In the decades that followed, many women entered the field.

An indication of how much that presence has grown is that the Women in Nuclear (WIN) organization now lists 4,500 members, according to a July 2011 press release from the Nuclear Energy Institute, which is a sponsoring organization for WIN.

The latest crowd sourced blog post at ANS Nuclear Cafe is a series of profiles of exceptional women in the nuclear energy field. ANS asked for brief profiles for publication and we are very pleased to present them here.

These are first person stories, e.g., “How I become a nuclear professional and the importance of what I have achieved” in terms of career satisfaction, work-life balance, career ladders, technical mastery, or meeting a management challenge.

ANS Cafe published these profiles because we think that they tell interesting stories, and we hope you agree.

Read the full story exclusively at ANS Nuclear Cafe online now.

# # #

Twitter posts outpace seismic waves

Source: XKCD

# # #

Dominion restores off-site power to North Anna

The plant ran on emergency diesel generating power overnight

RICHMOND, Va., Aug. 23, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Dominion Virginia Power's North Anna Power Station has restored off-site power, eliminating the need to rely on its back-up generators. The station remains in an Alert, the second lowest of the four emergency classifications of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The station's two nuclear reactors shut down following an earthquake near the station that occurred at 1:51 p.m. EDT today. The reactors shut down automatically and no damage has been reported to systems required to maintain the station in a safe condition. Several aftershocks felt in the region that occurred later today did not affect the station.

As designed, four diesel generators supplied power to the station while the off-site power was unavailable. One of the four generators was taken off-line to repair a generator coolant leak, but a fifth generator at the station was activated to replace it until the offsite power was restored. Repairs are complete to the diesel generator.

The company also inspected the Lake Anna Dam after the earthquake and determined it sustained no damage. Station inspections are continuing to assure no damage has resulted from the seismic event.

No release of radioactive material has occurred beyond those minor releases associated with normal station operations.

The earthquake was felt at the company's other nuclear power station, Surry Power Station in southeast Virginia, but not as strongly. Both units at Surry continue to operate safely. Surry has exited a Notification of Unusual Event (NOUE) it declared earlier today, the least serious of four NRC emergency classifications.

U.S. nuclear power stations, including Dominion's four stations, were built to seismic standards for their regions.

Dominion Virginia Power is a subsidiary of Dominion (NYSE: D). Headquartered in Richmond, Va., Dominion is one of the nation's largest producers of energy. For more information about Dominion, visit the company's Web site at

CONTACT: Dominion, Media: +1-804-771-6115

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake in Virginia ~ safe shutdown of North Anna reported

This blog post was updated at 8:00 PM (20:00 HRS) eastern time 2011 08 23

A 5.8 magnitude earthquake (USGS data) shook much of the east coast at 1:51 PM eastern time today. Dominion's North Anna reactors went off line safely and are on emergency power using four diesel generators. (See full text of NRC press release below)

The epicenter was reported the U.S. Geological Survey to be near Mineral, VA, (map) about 15 miles from the plant at a depth of about four miles below the surface. An aftershock was reported in the area at a magnitude of 2.8 on the Richter scale soon after.

Dominion reported its reactors shut down safely as a result of a loss of off-site power. The utility declared an "unusual event" to the NRC. The Wall Street Journal reported that the power loss was caused by problems in the reactor's switch yard.

"Jim Norvelle, director of media relations for Dominion Resources Inc., operator of the North Anna plant, said its workers inspected the switch yard, through which electricity enters and leaves the installation, and believe problems there caused the nuclear plant to lose access to grid power. When the plant lost access to grid power, it automatically shut down."

"We did lose on-site power, but all the diesel generators are up and running," Dominion spokesman Richard Zuercher said 30 minutes after the quake. "Everything appears to be operating just fine." Dominion is providing real time updates via its Twitter feed. @DomVAPower The first official press release from Dominion repeats this information.

NBC Nightly News reported at 18:45 HRs that one of the four emergency diesel generators did not start. Bloomberg Wire service reported one of the four diesel generators stopped working after startup, David McIntyre, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in an e-mail.

Zuercher said North Anna's operators were preparing to manually shut down the units after the quake when the power station's operating system automatically powered down both units.

Zuercher told local reporters that diesel generators started as expected to maintain cooling. Dominion's two-unit Surry nuclear power plant, also in the region, was not affected and continues to operate. Reuters reports that Dominion's two reactors at its Surry plant in Gravel, VA, continue to operate normally.

Twelve other reactors in the northeast that measured earthquake effects also reported them to the NRC, but none of them shut down. None of them reactors reported any damage from the earthquake.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Roger Hannah told wire services the agency was not immediately aware of any damage at nuclear power plants in the southeast. The NRC reported that all other nuclear reactors in the northeast continued to operate normally.

The North Anna site is composed of two Westinghouse PWR units that generate approximately 1,800 MW of power.

Unit 1 began commercial operation in June, 1978 and Unit 2 followed in December 1980.

NRC Press Release 2011 08 23; issued 16:45 HRS eastern time,
updated at 17:57 HRs

No. 11-153 August 23, 2011

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission headquarters in Rockville, Md., is monitoring an Alert at the North Anna nuclear power plant in Virginia, following today’s earthquake in central Virginia. The NRC is also monitoring Unusual Events, the lowest emergency classification, declared at several other Eastern U.S. nuclear power plants. In accordance with agency procedures, the NRC’s regional offices in King of Prussia, Pa., and Atlanta have activated their incident response centers. NRC resident inspectors at the affected nuclear power plants will continue to monitor conditions for the duration of the event.

North Anna declared its Alert, the second-lowest of the NRC’s four emergency classifications, when the plant lost electricity from the grid following the quake just before 2 p.m. Tuesday. Power is being provided by onsite diesel generators and the plant’s safety systems are operating normally. Plant personnel and NRC resident inspectors are continuing to examine plant conditions.

NRC staff in the Maryland headquarters felt the quake and immediately began checking with U.S. nuclear power plants. The NRC is in direct communications with North Anna and is coordinating its response with other federal agencies.

Nuclear power plants are built to withstand environmental hazards, including earthquakes. Even those plants that are located outside of areas with extensive seismic activity are designed for safety in the event of such a natural disaster. The NRC requires that safety-significant structures, systems, and components be designed to take into account the most severe natural phenomena historically reported for the site and surrounding area.

Plants declaring Unusual Events, which indicate a potential decrease in plant safety, include Peach Bottom, Three Mile Island, Susquehanna and Limerick in Pennsylvania; Salem, Hope Creek and Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Calvert Cliffs in Maryland, Surry in Virginia, Shearon Harris in North Carolina and D.C. Cook and Palisades in Michigan. All these plants continue to operate while plant personnel examine their sites.

# # #