Saturday, September 3, 2011

Catching up on the news

After a one-two punch of an earthquake and a hurricane, some news almost slipped away

China Completes Post-Fukushima Safety Tests

LingAoII3RPV_(CGNPC)11 Aug (NucNet): China has completed safety inspections of its nuclear power plants,  raising the possibility that work could resume on an ambitious reactor building program that was suspended in the wake of the March 2011 accident at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan.

According to a notice published on the website of the China Nuclear Energy Association (CNEA) today, safety inspectors completed a tour of the country's existing reactors and nuclear construction sites on 5 August 2011.

Ling Ao Unit 2 RPV, Photo: World Nuclear News

The CNEA said inspections had been carried out by a team of 50 experts and in line with International Atomic Energy Agency safety standards.

Particular attention had been paid to “serious accident prevention and mitigation” including the possibility of flooding and seismic activity.

China suspended all new reactor approvals and ordered a halt to the construction of nuclear facilities on 16 March 2011, five days after the Fukushima-Daiichi accident.

China has 14 nuclear units in commercial operation and 27 under construction.

On 7 August 2011, the second unit at phase two of the Lingao nuclear power plant in southern China began commercial operation.

The Lingao site is about one kilometre northeast of the Guangdong nuclear site, also known as Daya Bay, with which it shares a number of facilities.

China Guangdong Nuclear Power Company said the total combined gross capacity of the two plants is now 6,108 MW (5,764 MW net), jointly making Lingao-Guangdong the largest nuclear plant site in China.

Saskatchewan And Hitachi In Research Agreements For Small Reactor Technologies

26 Aug (NucNet): Canada’s Saskatchewan province has signed two nuclear research and development agreements with Hitachi-GE, GEH and Hitachi to include work on the design and feasibility of small reactor technologies.

Some 10 million Canadian dollars of funding (about 10 million US dollars; 7 million euro) for two memoranda of understanding (MOUs) relating to the project were announced yesterday by Saskatchewan innovation minister Rob Norris, Hiroto Uozumi, president of Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd., and Taiji Yoshida, general manger of Hitachi Ltd.

The MOUs will facilitate and support research collaborations in nuclear medicine, materials science, nuclear safety and small reactor design.

Mr Norris said the move followed an announcement earlier this year of a new research Center for nuclear medicine and materials science at the University of Saskatchewan. “Today, I'm pleased to announce a new partnership with Hitachi Ltd., Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd. (Hitachi-GE), GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Americas LLC (GEH), and Global Nuclear Fuel - Americas LLC (GNF-A), to further establish Saskatchewan as a leader in nuclear science and medicine.”

Nuclear safety will be another major research priority as Hitachi and Innovation Saskatchewan, a special operating agency of the province, consider research proposals pursuant to the MOUs. Mr Norris said another area of interest to Saskatchewan, Hitachi-GE, GEH and GNF-A is research into the reclamation of unused uranium fuel rods.

Under the MOUs, Innovation Saskatchewan will also work with Hitachi-GE, GEH and GNF-A on research into the design and feasibility of small reactor technologies although Mr Norris said any decision on whether to pursue nuclear power in Saskatchewan was “still many years away”.

Nuclear Energy Will Be ‘Locomotive’ To Drive India’s Development, Says PM

India Steam22 Aug (NucNet): India’s prime minister has said nuclear energy will be a "major locomotive" in driving the country’s development.

Manmohan Singh said yesterday he remained convinced that nuclear would play an "important role in our quest for a clean and environmentally friendly energy mix".

Speaking at the country’s Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in Kolkata, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, Mr Singh added: "We are in the process of expanding our civil nuclear energy program. Even as we do so, we have to ensure that the use of nuclear energy in India meets the highest safety standards. This is a matter on which there can be no compromise."

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, India has 20 nuclear power plant units in commercial operation and five units under construction.

Earlier this year, India’s government said it planned to create an "independent and autonomous" body, to be known as the Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India, to subsume the country’s existing regulator, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.

‘Megatons To Megawatts’ Program Nears Conversion Goal

25 Aug (NucNet): USEC said yesterday that some 425 metric tonnes of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) has now been converted into fuel for US commercial nuclear power plants under the US-Russia ‘megatons to megawatts’ program.

USEC said the HEU was equivalent to eliminating 17,000 nuclear warheads.

Megatons to megawatts is a 20-year commercially financed government-industry partnership under which 500 metric tonnes of Russian weapons-grade uranium is being down blended to low enriched uranium for use as commercial reactor fuel.

USEC president and chief executive officer John Welch said: “Under this program, we have built a strong long-term relationship with our Russian partners, which we expect to continue through our new enrichment supply contract starting in 2013 after the megatons to megawatts program is successfully finished.”

USEC, as executive agent for the US government, and Techsnabexport, acting for the Russian government, implement the program, which is on track to complete the down blending of the equivalent of 20,000 nuclear warheads into nuclear fuel by the end of 2013.

Details of the initiative are on USEC’s website:

USEC Still Waits For Decision On Enrichment Plant Loan Guarantee

19 Aug (NucNet): USEC has amended an existing agreement with investors Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox concerning plans to build the American Centrifuge uranium enrichment plant in Ohio.

The move allows USEC more time to obtain a commitment from the US Department of Energy (DOE) for a 2 billion US dollars (USD) (1.3 billion euro) loan guarantee to build the plant.

The existing agreement was valid until the end of July 2011, but has now been extended until 30 September 2011, USEC said on 15 August 2011.

USEC said the amended agreement provides time for it to finalize “a conditional commitment” with the DOE for the loan guarantee to support the construction of the centrifuge plant and “finalize the second phase of Toshiba and B&W’s investment in USEC”.

Japan To Continue With Plans For Two Units In Vietnam

12 Aug (NucNet): Japan will continue with plans to support Vietnam by building two nuclear reactor units in the country.

The decision was confirmed after a meeting of Japan’s state secretary for foreign affairs, Chiaki Takahashi, and Vietnamese deputy prime minister Hoang Trung Hai in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi on Thursday.

The governments of the two countries reached an agreement in October 2010 for Japan to build two reactor units with the first beginning commercial operation by 2021.

Vietnam’s initial nuclear plans are for four nuclear units in the southeastern province of Ninh Thuan.

An agreement has already been signed with Russia to build the first two units, with Japan scheduled to build the second two.

The agreement with Russia provides for the construction on a turnkey basis of two nuclear units, each of 1,000 megawatts.

According to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF), Vietnam plans to build 14 units by 2030 to meet the country's growing demand for electricity.

Japan’s prime minister Naoto Kan has called for Japan to reduce its dependence on nuclear power generation.

But Japan's government has decided to honour contracts for nuclear plants that have already been signed or are under negotiation, JAIF said.

Japan Confirms Plans For New Nuclear Regulator

15 Aug (NucNet): The Japanese government has announced plans to create a new nuclear safety agency under the Environment Ministry.

This will free the country’s national regulator – the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, or NISA – from the influence of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

The plans call for the new agency to be established in April 2012 by integrating NISA and the Cabinet Office’s Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC).

The decision to separate NISA from METI was first proposed in a 750-page report into the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident published in June 2011, three months after the accident.

The report said it was unclear at the time of the accident exactly who had ultimate authority for nuclear safety. NISA is the regulator, but it is a division of METI. That means NISA – which supervises the safety of nuclear energy – is overseen by the ministry that promotes nuclear energy.

To make the new agency independent from METI, the government said it would be established under the Environment Ministry, which does not have close ties to nuclear energy companies.

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Shifting views on nukes and quakes

Reactor operators and regulators scramble when the earth moves

The 5.8 magnitude earthquake that took place in central Virginia on Aug 23 has focused new attention on how well nuclear reactors can stand up to seismic events.

Not only to opinions vary, but the data needed to answer the question comes from different places and applies unevenly to plant infrastructure. Some parts of a nuclear power station stand up better to an earthquake than others. And some effects which seem to be earthshaking in their significance when described in the news media turn out to be an "oh never mind."

A case in point is the report in the Los Angeles Times that 25 dry casks with spent fuel inside them moved about one-to-four inches during the Aug 23 event at Dominion's North Anna reactor site. Each cask weighs 115 tons. None of them fell over.

Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), told wire services, "We would expect the casks to survive without leaks of radiation."

NRC schematic of spent fuel casks Examples of vertical and horizontal spent fuel casks – Image: U.S. NRC
A nuclear engineer I know who is familiar with these casks has this to say about them . . .

"Spent fuel storage systems are among our most over-engineered structures and equipment. For instance, not only do you have to prove that they won't tip over for any design basis scenario, you also have to prove that if they do tip over, the primary seal isn't breached and that any cask damage wouldn't preclude fuel removal with normal handling equipment."

Even more interesting is the view of Dominion, the utility that owns and operates North Anna, about the casks moving during the earthquake. According to the Bloomberg wire service, company spokesman Richard Zuercher said the utility has not made a formal report to the NRC about the casks shifting in the quake.

"We are evaluating whether there would be any benefit to moving them back to their original positions or whether they are fine where they are."

Dry cask storage is the de facto long term solution

What’s interesting about all the focus on dry cask spent fuel storage is that, separately, as time goes on more of the nation’s inventory of spent fuel will be in that mode. Fuel coming right out of the reactor is too hot, thermally and in terms of radioactivity, to put in dry casks. That’s why it is cooled in wet storage under 20 feet of water as shielding for about five years.

Also the federal government has kicked the can down the road repeatedly in terms of a long term solution for spent fuel. That’s another story. For now all of the fuel is stored at the reactors that used it.

The Blue Ribbon Commission announced the locations and dates to take public testimony on its draft report on management of spent fuel. There is a link to the full text of the draft issued July 29 on the same page. Check the website for updates on times, locations, etc.

NRC tells utilities to take another look at quake risks

On Sept 1 the NRC released a draft requirement for comment asking nuclear utilities to conduct new reviews of how well their reactors would stand up to an earthquake. This isn't a knee jerk response to either the Virginia quake or Fukushima.

Reactor coolant pump (MHI)According to the Wall Street Journal, the NRC has been looking at the issue for the past six years. The newspaper reports that the new requirements will be difficult for utilities to meet within a two-year time frame. The reason is the new requirements focus on "intricate details of many components and systems" not previously analyzed for earthquake risk.

Reactor coolant pump ~ Image: World Nuclear News

How much work nuclear utilities will have to do once they finish the assessments depends on whether the work "is justified by tangible improvements in safety." So far, according to the WSJ, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's trade group would say only that it will submit comments on the draft proposal by the end of October.

No one knows how to predict earthquakes or how strong they will be when they do occur. The threat to nuclear reactors isn't always just about the reactor itself or its containment structure. Plant managers also have to worry about pipes, pumps, and the equipment in the electrical switchyard.

The Associated Press has a long story on the wires this week that explores these issues in more depth. While the AP reports that a review of NRC documents shows the risk of core damage to reactors is low, it also reports that based on internal emails, the NRC thinks that plants need to take another look at whether risk assessments need updates.
AP reports that federal scientists update seismic assessments every six years, but there is no common process for applying the data to the nation's 104 reactors. In short, AP says, the NRC's understanding of earthquake risks is out of date.

The NRC isn't alarmed by this state of affairs but it has asked for comment on the new earthquake assessment process.

NRC seismic study announcement

Spent fuel cask - horizontal storageThe draft letter will is found in the agency’s electronic document database, ADAMS, by entering ML111710783 in the database’s search engine. The staff expects to hold a public meeting on the draft letter in mid-October to gather comments; meeting details will be announced separately in the next several weeks.

The letter represents the next step in the staff’s multi-year examination of updated seismic hazard information for the eastern and central United States, through the NRC’s Generic Issues program.

GI-199 was prompted by the seismic analyses included in applications from 2003 related to new reactor activity. The NRC issued an Information Notice in September 2010 regarding GI-199, including the agency’s conclusion that existing plant designs safely account for possible earthquakes. The notice is available in ADAMS by entering ML101970221 in the database’s search engine.

The NRC staff will consider the comments before finalizing the Generic Letter, which the staff expects to issue near the end of the year. The draft letter’s approach would have U.S. nuclear power plants perform their analyses within either one or two years, depending on the analysis method used, and deliver their results to the NRC. The agency will then determine whether additional actions are necessary.

What is a "design basis?"

My friend and colleague John H. Bickel, Ph.D., has a detailed technical analysis on his own blog - Evergreen Nuclear. Readers who want to review this information will find plenty of data that explains the issues. In his post Bickel takes take a closer look at what a design basis earthquake at a nuclear power plant actually means - and what it doesn't mean. Worth your time.

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Note to Readers - blog update

Faster load times with move of widgets to separate page

In an effort to get you to the information you want faster, I moved some of the resource hogging widgets, like Post Rank, to other pages. The Post Rank widget, which list the top ten blog posts, is now on the 'About' page.

Other widgets and some static listings are on a new 'Resources' page. I deleted the Sphere widget which stopped working due to changes at the hosting company. I added a Google + button to the bottom of each blog post in case you want to share it with others.  I deleted the "Twibes" twitter widget because there wasn't enough traffic on it to justify its presence here.

The blog roll is being kept current.  Any blog that doesn't update at least once a month is dropped from it.

If you look at an individual blog post, you will also see Blogger's share buttons, but you won't see them if you are looking at the whole blog. These changes should result in faster page load times for the main blog content.

I added a QR code and a mobile mode has been added for those of you who want to read the blog on smartphones.

Readers may wonder why this blog has no links to Facebook.  I've found that service isn't very good for business-related content. My social media services of choice are Twitter and Linkedin.

If you want to search for back issues, there are a couple of ways to do it.  You can use either the Google or the Lijit search boxes to find topics by keyword.

August has been a very busy month. Most of my work has been in support of the American Nuclear Society blog ~ ANS Nuclear Cafe - due to the combination of an earthquake and hurricane. The hurricane season isn't over yet, but for the moment we're in a quiet period.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Japan’s search for nuclear export deals

The hunt is on in Vietnam, Turkey, and elsewhere
The Japanese government, in close cooperation with some of the nation’s largest heavy industrial manufacturers, is seeking to export Japan’s nuclear technologies, products, and services despite the loss of six reactors on March 11 to a combination of a record earthquake and massive tsunami.

The replacement of Prime Minister Naoto Kan with 54-year-old Yoshihiko Noda, (right) a career politician and the current finance minister, may play a key role in achieving success.

Prime Minister Kan ended his term with a strong call for the nation to retreat from dependence on nuclear energy. At one point he also tried to shut down efforts to continue exports even though he had played a leading role inking a deal with Vietnam in October 2010 for two reactors.

When this policy tilt became apparent on August 5, Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano prevailed on Kan to back off. The country’s industrial exports are needed to pay for its lack of agricultural self sufficiency, and it depends on high value deals like new reactors. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Japan produces only 40 percent domestically of the food it needs to feed its population. Basic economics demands that the country sell finished goods abroad to pay for food imports at home.

Read the full story exclusively at ANS Nuclear Cafe online now.
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Monday, August 29, 2011

Debunking Rep. Ed Markey over hurricane Irene

Cassandra type warnings miss the issue of safety significance

cheesyIn a breathless press release issued early this morning (08/29/11), Rep. Ed Markey, D- Mass., claims that U.S. nuclear reactors impacted by hurricane Irene had a far rougher time that reported in the news media.

What’s important is that none of the information items in the NRC Event Report indicate that the safety of the reactors was compromised in any way. There were no injuries to plant personnel and no radioactive releases.

There are two points I’d like to make before turning to an expert’s review of Markey’s release. It appears the NRC gave Markey’s office an early look at the event report from its private stock of information before it was posted on the agency’s website. How else would he have gotten the press release out so fast. This is flat out cheesy work. All federal agencies leak like sieves. NRC just happens to push a little harder for Ed Markey.

There’s another problem with the NRC’s report, and that is that PR offices for the affected reactors never mentioned these reports to the NRC that took place throughout the weekend. And that comes after they were constantly providing updates via Twitter and Facebook. As for the NRC itself, why did it wait until Monday to release this information?

What’s safety significant and what’s not?

John_BickelMy friend and colleague John Bickel, Ph.D, (left) a nuclear engineer with nearly four decades of experience in nuclear plant operations, and an internationally recognized expert on safety, told me in an email today that Markey’s press release misses the mark on the issue of “safety significance.”

In the paragraphs that follow I’ll list the claim in Markey’s press release and Bickel’s comments. Bickel gave me permission to quote his email here. Also, these are his personal comments distinct from his work for any of his consulting clients.

Markey: Calvert Cliffs Unit 1 (MD) nuclear reactor shut down automatically after a large piece of metal siding blew off a building and contacted high energy lines associated with a main transformer. One of its emergency diesel generators was found to be inoperable due to flooding of its circuitry, and 66 out of 73 emergency sirens at the plant were out of service.

Electrical transformerImage right – a 388 ton electrical transformer being delivered to an Illinois nuclear power plant Nov 2010.

Bickel: Hurricane Irene when it passed north of Calvert Cliffs caused a Unit 1 trip. It did not cause a loss of offsite power. Diesel power was not required.

Editor Note: Here’s what the utility actually reported to the NRC.

"At 2248 on 8/27/2011, the Unit 1 Reactor experienced an automatic trip due to loss of load. This trip occurred due to a phase to phase short on the main generator output step-up transformer that resulted from a large section of turbine building siding breaking loose in high winds from Hurricane Irene and impacting the transformer. This impact resulted in an explosion (briefly until the trip removed power from the impact area) which met emergency action level declaration criteria A.U.6.2.2, 'Unanticipated explosion within Protected Area resulting in visible damage to permanent structures or equipment.' The Unusual Event was declared at 2302, 8/27/2011. Follow-up investigation determined no fire resulted from the explosion.”

Bickel: Diesel Inoperable: I'd like clarification on whether this was a "technicality" or whether the diesel actually failed to start or shutdown after it had started. There is a big difference.

Editor Note: In fact, had Markey read and understood the NRC event report on the diesel, he would have seen that it started just fine, but the power of the hurricane pushed water into the exhaust port causing it to shut down. None of the other diesel generators were similarly affected by the storm.

Markey: The power at Millstone Units 2 and 3 nuclear reactors (CT) was reduced as a precaution, the spent fuel pool at the decommissioning Unit 1 lost power for its cooling system, and Unit 3 lost one of six water circulation pumps.

Bickel: What was the time reach boiling in the Millstone 1 SFP? Its been shut down for years and heat loads from old fuel would be such that it would require days to weeks to reach temperatures which would be of concern.

Circ Water pumps at Millstone 3 are not safety related. They are for the condenser cooling. In many storms where there is kelp and seaweed buildup - one technique is to reduce net circ water intake to reduce flows through the strainers as a preventive measure.

Editor Note: Millstone isn’t listed in the NRC event report for 8/26-29/2011. Where did Markey get his information?

Update 08/30/11: The NRC said in an email response . . .

"Due to the storm, the NRC Operations Center provided special updates on Hurricane Irene to keep NRC management apprised of the status of reactors in the Hurricane’s path over the weekend. We in turn kept our Congressional oversight committees informed about the status of these facilities. The information was based on what our resident inspectors at the plants told us and as such was not fully vetted. The information about the spent fuel pool at Millstone did not rise to the level as a reportable event and had no safety significance."

Markey: 49 of the 172 emergency sirens at the Indian Point nuclear power plant (NY) and 74 of 113 emergency sirens at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant (MA) had to be placed on backup battery power

And from Indian Point, Entergy, this note . . .

Indian Point Siren"All of IPEC’s 172 sirens are operational. 51 of 172 are utilizing battery back-up power as designed. Entergy has crews who can recharge or replace batteries should they drain, however we have firsthand experience following a severe ice-storm last year that demonstrates batteries can remain charged for several days and in some cases a week to keep sirens operational and in service. The batteries actually demonstrate how well prepared IPEC is and the redundancy built into its various systems."

& & &

So there you have it. Mr. Markey got his early release of information from the NRC but utterly failed to address the safety significance of the information. You can’t run a nation on conjecture and the same goes for evaluating the performance of nuclear power plants.

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