Thursday, January 27, 2011

Power Uprates: An Investment in the Future

Although the construction of any new nuclear plant is at least a decade away, power plant owners are adding to their fleets through power uprates.

Utilities have been using power uprates since the 1970s as a way to increase the power output of nuclear plants. Uprate projects take advantage of digital technology, new materials and modern production techniques to increase output through equipment updates and enhancements.

Through dozens of uprates using efficiency gains, technological improvements and regulatory changes, power plants can increase their output from 2 percent to 20 percent based on a variety of factors.

To increase the power output of a reactor, typically more highly enriched uranium fuel and/or more fresh fuel is used. This enables the reactor to produce more thermal energy and therefore more steam, driving a turbine generator to produce electricity. To accomplish this, components such as pipes, valves, pumps, heat exchangers, electrical transformers and generators, must be able to accommodate the conditions that would exist at the higher power level.

For example, a higher power level usually involves higher steam and water flow through the systems used in converting the thermal power into electric power. These systems must be capable of accommodating the higher flows.

According to the NRC, there are three categories of power uprates:
  1. Measurement power uprates are less than 2 percent and are achieved by implementing enhanced techniques for calculating reactor power.
  2. Stretch power uprates are typically up to 7 percent and are within the design capacity of the plant and which do not involve major plant modifications.
  3. Extended power uprates are greater than stretch power uprates and have been approved for increases as high as 20 percent. These uprates require significant modifications to major balance-of-plant equipment.

The frequency and amount of uprates has varied from no added generation in a given year to as much as 1,000 megawatts in others.

At the forefront of this recent resurgence has been Exelon, the largest nuclear generator in the United States, with 17 generators with a capacity of nearly 17,000 megawatts. In the past decade, its uprate program has added the equivalent of 1,100 megawatts. Exelon is looking to add another 1,300 megawatts of capacity by 2017. Altogether, about 2,400 megawatts will have been added during the 18 years of the effort, the equivalent of two new plants.

In some instances, power plant owners will modify and/or replace components in order to accommodate a higher power level. Depending on the desired increase in power level and original equipment design, this can involve major and costly modifications to the plant such as the replacement of main turbines.

All of these factors must be analyzed as part of a request for a power uprate, which is accomplished by amending the plant's operating license. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reviews and approves all applications for power uprates.

Projects like power uprates boost local economies, providing engineering and construction jobs locally, and continue to be the wave of the future for nuclear power owners. 

The Global Energy Problem

2011 National Nuclear Science Week
January 26th
Nuclear Power

The Global Energy Problem

Our global energy problem is how to provide the energy requirements needed to support the lifestyle demands of the developed world markets while expanded in to emerging markets without destroying our environment.  Energy innovation and transformational concepts are expected to emerge mid-century to allow for revolutionary changes to the development, generation and use of energy sources. 

While the world is moving swiftly to new science and technologies and we have learned more about harmful byproducts of traditional energy supply like fossil fuels that are the basis for our energy economy and have been for the past century.  Green house gas (GHG) levels have increased in developed countries and emerging markets are adding to the problem.  Major users of the energy within traditional sectors like transportation, electricity production, residential users, commercial retail and industrial plant users are also demanding more energy for competitive advantage and producing more product while holding costs down through technology and process improvements. 

Today, the energy problem is being taken seriously.  Improvements in energy consumption from advanced materials, digital computers and microcircuits have brought the requirements per device down (portable computing devices, mobile phones, light bulbs, automobiles, etc.), but emerging technologies, expanding new markets and advanced ‘place utility’ (mobility and size portability) has increased demand.  Requirements for added functionality in smaller portable sizes have required improvement in electronic efficiency and battery life technologies and supporting storage devices.
We are fortunate in the nuclear power industry to take advantage of improvements in technology and our engineering and maintenance processes to improve equipment reliability.  With U.S. nuclear power plants producing 72% of the low carbon electric generation, we are continually challenged to maintain a high production output and have met that challenge of producing safe, clean energy for our customers.  This has been done while holding down cost that are competitive with other carbon emitting alternatives for power production that are linked to global warming.

Life extension of the American fleet beyond their initial life of 40 years is an opportunity to extend production for clean energy.  The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has a defined process to review records related to plant maintenance, operations, and environmental impact that will allow a 20 year extended operation opportunity for each of the 104 commercially operated U.S. nuclear power units.  So far, all units that have requested an extension have received them or are in final review phases.  The first 20-year extension will expire in 2029 and will allow us time to build new nuclear generation based upon current technology and incorporating improved safety designs, better materials and improved digital controls that allow for more efficient and safe operations.  The future is exciting in the nuclear power field and replacing carbon-emitting energy alternatives.  Nuclear energy continues to hold promise for on-going reduction in GHG levels and improving the earth for future generations. 

Many people are trying to conserve energy. Do you think those efforts will be enough or will new power plants still need to be built in the future?

John M. Mahoney, PMP
Entergy Nuclear
Manager, Business Development

Superstition and Safety

2011 National Nuclear Science Week
January 27th 
Superstition and Safety
The longer I live on this planet the more I realize that, no matter what you do or don’t do, there is always a risk involved.  It is the evaluation of relative risks and potential rewards that drive us to make a whole host of decisions.  This is an easy process when we deal with quantitative measures like dollars and cents, but it is a harder thing to do when the perception of risk is based on fear, myths, or superstition.  It is harder because superstitions, like walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror, black cats, etc., are not based on fact, but on fear.  In fact, the definition of a superstition is that it is a strongly held belief that is not supported by the facts.
This became very obvious to me recently when a golfing companion, who was familiar with the term “risk/reward” on the golf course, asked me if I were comfortable being an advocate of nuclear energy.  I told him I was very comfortable, but why did he ask?  He said, “Well, you know.  The safety issues.”  “What safety issues are you concerned about,” I asked.   At this point he rapidly cited references to the potential for a nuclear bomb-like explosion, Three Mile Island (TMI), lethal nuclear waste, and the exposure of the public to radiation from the nuclear plant.
“Whoa,” I said.  Let’s deal with each of those.  First of all, it is not possible to have a nuclear bomb-like explosion.  The fuel simply would not support such an event.  Secondly, TMI was the worst commercial nuclear accident in our history, but no one was killed, injured or exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.  As for “lethal” nuclear waste, it has never killed anybody.  All of our nuclear waste is safeguarded.   We know where it is. It is monitored and isolated from the public and the environment.   Compare that to how we have treated fossil fuel waste residues and gases.  As for radiation exposure, the dose received at the boundary of a nuclear power plant is about the same as one would get from a banana.  End of story.
But my friend persisted.  He said, “Well, how come you always read about safety issues at nuclear power plants?”  I told him that the nuclear industry takes safety very seriously.  After TMI the industry formed its own organization called “Institute for Nuclear Power Operations” or “INPO”.  It started with lessons learned from TMI.  INPO became the industry’s self policing organization.  They championed safe equipment, operations, training and culture.  In addition, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has resident inspectors at every nuclear plant.  Things that would be unreported in a refinery or a chemical plant get noted and reported in a nuclear facility.  These events often wind up in the news because the industry’s standards are so high that even relatively insignificant issues are reported to the NRC.
My friend said, “It sounds like it costs a lot of money to be safe.” “On the contrary,” I said.  “Being safe is good business.”  Since TMI and its aftermath, including the establishment of INPO, the nuclear industry has nearly doubled the amount of electricity generated from nuclear power plants.  Incredibly, this was accomplished without building anymore nuclear plants.  Operating safely, understanding margins in their designs and improving schedules for maintenance, inspections and refueling have all contributed to the growth of nuclear generated electricity.
At this point, my friend said he was trying to give his teenage daughter some ideas about potential career paths but had avoided the nuclear business because of his concern about safety in the industry.  He said they had discussed oil exploration, marine biology, real estate and investment banking, among others.  I cited safety statistics for him that showed the nuclear industry to be safer than any of those fields.  He was amazed to learn that there has never been a fatality in the commercial generation of electricity by nuclear power after more than half a century. 
As we finished the round of golf, my friend said, “How did I get it so wrong?”  I told him I didn’t know because the facts speak for themselves, but we all have a tendency to believe things that are repeated as fact without doing our own research.  Sort of like not letting a black cat cross your path.
What would you suggest to the nuclear energy industry that would increase understanding and trust among the public?
Clinton Wolf, Executive Director
Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Careers in the Nuclear Industry

2011 National Nuclear Science Week
January 25th
Careers in the Nuclear Industry

There are many different and exciting careers in the nuclear field.  For an individual just graduating from high school, there are basically two career paths an individual might choose – a technician career or a professional career.  Each of these may be obtained through a (1) certification program, for example, to start as a beginning level health physics technician (HPT); (2) a two or four year degree program in a field supporting the nuclear industry, such as, biology, chemistry, physics or engineering; (3) education and experience obtained through the nuclear navy.  Each of these paths has different time frames for completion and different salary ranges but appeal to varied individual likes and dislikes.  Ultimately anyone with the proper motivation can start at the bottom and the sky is the limit.

One nuclear field career that is currently experiencing a significant shortfall is radiation protection personnel, especially health physics technicians.  Starting in the 2006 timeframe, this was recognized as a “Human Capital Crisis.”  There are two dominant themes driving this shortage – an aging workforce and the resurgence of commercial nuclear power.  As a result, there are approximately 15 community college programs initiated to resolve this shortage.  Many of these programs provide options to take credit of hours accumulated for certificates, up to and including associate and bachelor degrees.

Do you know a person that works at a commercial nuclear power plant?

Mark R. Ledoux, CHP
Corporate Director, Radiation Safety

Monday, January 24, 2011

2011 National Nuclear Science Week

2011 National Nuclear Science Week
January 24th
Getting to Know Nuclear

The science of nuclear physics begins very early in the 20th century during one of the most fertile periods of discovery in the history of science.  In the twenty years between 1895 and 1915, the existence of atoms was conclusively demonstrated and their structure was shown to consist of a tiny nucleus of protons and neutrons surrounded by a much larger cloud of atomic electrons.  Also during this time x-rays, gamma rays and naturally-occurring radioactivity were discovered, all of which were later shown to be related to processes inside nuclei.

By about 1940, neutron-induced nuclear fission of heavy nuclei had been observed, and it was soon realized that this process could very efficiently produce enormous amounts of energy.  This led to the development of the atomic bomb that ended World War II, and subsequently both to the nuclear arms race and the peaceful uses of nuclear physics in medicine and the generation of nuclear power.

By about 1960, the central role of nuclear fusion in powering our Sun and all other stars was well understood.  Without the fusion process, life in the Universe would be impossible.  Further research has also shown that nuclear physics plays a key role in the creation of the Universe – from the formation, just after the Big Bang, of the deuterium and helium that is the material from which stars are made; to the processes inside stars that makes them shine; to the creation of nearly all the elements in the periodic table when stars near the end of their lives explode as supernovae.

These ideas illustrate the central role of nuclear physics in the most fundamental aspects of our existence and the existence of the Cosmos. For all these reasons, careers in nuclear science and technology are among the most fascinating around.  Think about it!

What part of nuclear physics do you find the most interesting and why?

Robert Eisenstein, PhD
Director and Co-Founder of the Santa Fe Alliance for Science

Get to Know Nuclear... National Nuclear Science Week Begings

What is nuclear science? What is the difference between fission and fusion? What is the human capital crisis in the nuclear field? These and many other questions will be answered and many great facts revealed as we celebrate National Nuclear Science Week January 24 -28, 2011.
The theme for the week is “Get to Know Nuclear” where the background of the atom and ideas to illustrate the central role of nuclear physics in the most fundamental aspects of our existence and the existence of the Cosmos will be discussed. The goal of the week is to advance education, stimulate participation and generate communication to provide learning, exploration and visibility for the achievements of the nuclear sciences. Each day will have a new theme and information about that area.  
With U.S. nuclear power plants producing 72% of the low carbon electric generation, it makes sense to recognize the contributions of nuclear power. Other technologies, such as nuclear medicine as way to gather information that may otherwise be unavailable, require surgery, or necessitate more expensive diagnostic tests, are also hugely important to all Americans. And of course there is safety. Nearly everything is radioactive, including you and me, the soil on which our houses rest, and most of the consumer goods we encounter daily. So how do we stay safe?
Check out the web site at for a “celebration guide” that includes free tips and tools. There are also suggestions for activities each day of the week. Followers can also access news about the week through Twitter, Facebook, and a nuclear science week blogspot.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Nuclear Power

I used to think the word “nuclear” was “bad” word.  I assumed anything nuclear was not good.  I was a kid in the 1980’s and knew vaguely of the Cold War.  I didn’t worry about getting ‘nuked’ by the Russian until the principal of my elementary school sent home a warning letter about the made for television movie The Day After  was to be aired, then I was scared. I lived within a 10 mile radius of the Limerick Power Plant in PA.  My family received a caution pamphlet very year about what to do if there was a nuclear meltdown.  Nobody told me any facts just the potential destruction of nuclear science.

I went to a small liberal arts school where I was required to take a class in a subject that was not part of my major.  I chose a class as far removed from my major (psychology) as I could.  The class I picked was Nuclear Science: Fact and Fiction.  The class focused on mainly the weapons side of nuclear science.  I read books like Richard Rhodes’ Making of the Atomic Bomb and watched films like Dr. Strangelove   I learned more about the dark side of nuclear science.  I never really thought that nuclear science could be beneficial to society.  While I was fascinated by the story of Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project, I was definitely anti-nuclear. 

This attitude was directed mainly towards weapons but I was anti-nuclear power because I didn’t really know anything about power except what I thought I knew about the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.  I assumed all nuclear power plants were destined to melt-down like Chernobyl.  And you know what happens when you assume.

Then I started working at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.  I was promptly schooled in the science of nuclear power.  I learned about how very different the US nuclear power program is very different from the Russian, so a ‘Chernobyl’ couldn’t happen here.  I also learned that the US has a lot to learn from the French nuclear power plant.  Then I started to research nuclear power for the Museum’s social media and found people like Patrick Moore of Green Peace and Stewart Brand publisher of The Whole Earth Catalogue supported nuclear power.  My tune was starting to change.  I still don’t dig nuclear weapons and cringe when people sing their praises but I can talk to people about the pros of nuclear power.  I can honestly say ‘I have learned to stop worrying and love nuclear power.’