Friday, May 29, 2015

NRC Prepares for TVA’s New Nuclear Power Plant

Watts Bar 2
Watts Bar 2
May 28, 2015—As the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar 2 project completes its transition from construction to operational readiness, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted its Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation the authority to issue a full-power operating license once it is satisfied that all regulatory requirements have been met.

TVA hailed the move toward the start-up later this year of the 1,150-megawatt reactor.

“The commission’s action was a critical regulatory step necessary to keep Watts Bar 2 on track to become the nation’s first new nuclear generation of the 21st century,” TVA Chief Nuclear Officer Joe Grimes said in a statement. “The delegation of this authority signifies confidence that NRC inspections show Watts Bar 2 is being built according to rigorous regulatory requirements and industry standards.”


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The case for nuclear power – despite the risks

The Conversation - Gary Was:  Nuclear power is likely the least well-understood energy source in the United States. Just 99 nuclear power plants spread over 30 states provide one-fifth of America’s electricity. These plants have provided reliable, affordable and clean energy for decades. They also carry risk - to the public, to the environment and to the financial solvency of utilities.

Risk is the product of the probability of an occurrence and its consequence. The probability of dying in a car accident is actually quite high compared to other daily events, but such accidents usually claim few individuals at a time, and so the risk is low. The reason nuclear energy attracts so much attention is that while the probability of a catastrophic event is extremely low, the consequence is often perceived to be extremely high.


Friday, May 15, 2015

China's Coming Nuclear Power Boom

Ramping up growth in the nuclear industry will be crucial to achieving China’s emissions goals.

Get ready for China’s nuclear industry to boom (no pun intended): The China Nuclear Energy Association (CNEA) predicts that eight new nuclear reactors will begin operation this year. If so, that will mark the largest single-year increase in nuclear power production in China’s history.

China is looking to more than double the number of nuclear power plants in operation — there are currently 23 operating, with 26 under construction. If all the projects are completed as planned, it would bring China’s nuclear energy capacity up to 49.9 gigawatts, compared to the current capacity of 21.4 gigawatts. Plus, CNEA expects an additional six to eight nuclear energy projects to be approved this year.

Zhang Huazhu, the chairman of CNEA, called 2015 “an important yet for China to resume its nuclear power program.” Like many countries, China slammed the brakes on nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster in Japan; the industry in China is just beginning to regain its footing. A rapid expansion of nuclear power is critical for weaning China off of coal and reaching emissions reduction targets, but safety concerns (and public fears) continue to plague the industry. In 2014, China didn’t approve a single new nuclear power project, and investment in the industry dropped by 6.6 percent, Zhang said, speaking an industry conference in Beijing.

Currently, nuclear energy accounts for less than 3 percent of China’s total power generation. “In the coming decade, China will maintain a rapid pace of nuclear power development so that it can reach the target of nuclear installations by 2020 and make better use of energy,” Zhang said.  China’s stated goal is to have 58 gigawatts in nuclear power capacity by 2020, but that goal may be difficult to reach given the slowdown in construction after 2011.

Germany’s Nuclear Cutback Is Darkening European Skies

If Germany wants to phase out nuclear power, coal is the only realistic option

 Germany’s influence in Europe is unquestionable, but it appears that some of its neighbors may be adversely affected by recent German decisions; and Greece is not the neighbor in question here. France has been reporting heavy levels of air pollution which authorities in the country are blaming on diesel cars there. But the real culprit may in fact be the renewed German penchant for coal power.

Up until a few years ago, Germany, along with France, was at the forefront of nuclear power use. But after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011, the Germans were quick to begin phasing out nuclear power. In some countries, phasing out nuclear power would be easy, but in 2011, Germany obtained 25% of its power from nuclear sources. This nuclear power generated no carbon dioxide emissions of course, and little in the way of other forms of pollution. But after starting the phase out of nuclear power, Germany still needed to find a source of replacement power.

Renewables like wind and solar sound great in theory, but the sporadic nature of power generation from those sources makes them imperfect substitutes for the consistency of nuclear. In that sense then, battery solutions like that announced by Tesla last week, or the solutions from General Electric, may eventually provide a solution for Germany. But as of now, the grid battery industry is still too nascent to provide serious help to Germany.

Rethinking the U.S. Surrender on Nuclear Power

The ghosts of Lenin and Mao might well be smirking. Communist and authoritarian nations are moving to take global leadership in, and profit from, the commercial use of nuclear power, a technology made possible by the market-driven economies of the West. New research and development could enable abundant, affordable, low-carbon energy as well as further beneficial products for industry and medicine

Yet outdated and burdensome regulations and restrictions have stifled nuclear innovation in the U.S. and other Western nations, and are pushing these opportunities to China and Russia.
China is joining Russia to build five new reactors in Iran—regardless of what becomes of the current negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program. Beijing and Moscow are also marketing nuclear technology and infrastructure to other Mideast and Asian nations. China and Russia have a clear commercial and strategic purpose in advancing nuclear technology abroad, technology that the West seems loath to exploit.

If the world is serious about shifting to low-carbon energy, nuclear energy is the most direct path. Nuclear power is the densest (in watts per square meter of land) and safest (in deaths per joule) form of energy known to man. Yet the expansion of nuclear power and other commercial applications of nuclear reactions have stalled in the West since the 1980s.

This is partly due to fears of unseen radiation and memories of accidents like the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, at a facility originally designed to produce weapons, in the now defunct Soviet Union. Mainly, though, what holds back nuclear power is its high cost, which is almost entirely due to government regulations and restrictions that have kept the industry confined to minor yet expensive improvements to existing reactor designs. Out-of-the-box thinking on new reactor concepts that could be far cheaper and safer is systemically discouraged. The most common retort to any new idea in the nuclear industry is along the lines of “that will never be approved in my lifetime.”

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