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Out of the Ashes, Vogtle Unit 3 Awakens ...
While Fusion Finds Another Fuel & Other Stories
Vogtle Unit 3 Achieves Initial Criticality
Georgia Power confirmed this week that Unit 3 of the Vogtle nuclear power plant had reached its first criticality. Initial criticality is a critical step toward the commercial operation of the reactor, demonstrating that operators have safely begun the nuclear reaction inside the unit for the first time.
The start-up of Vogtle Unit 3 NPP is a watershed moment in the nuclear industry because it is the first new nuclear reactor in the United States in more than 30 years. Following the bankruptcies of Westinghouse and Shaw Nuclear, two major heavyweights in the nuclear industry, the Vogtle project is critical for the reawakening of nuclear power in the United States. Toshiba's engagement in salvaging the project emphasizes the relevance of nuclear power in addressing the world's energy demands, as well as the importance of international collaboration to achieve this aim.
However, during its development, the Vogtle Unit 3 NPP had several delays and cost overruns that continued into 2021. The project's success will be determined by its capacity to show to the public and regulators the safety and reliability of nuclear electricity. The Vogtle project will also serve as an important demonstration of the new AP1000 reactor design, which has never been utilized in the United States.
Among the scattered ruins of the US nuclear power saga, a similar tale of woe is found in the history of the Comanche Peak Unit 1 NPP, which had its own severe construction issues, including delays and cost overruns.
One major difficulty was the finding of considerable concrete degradation in the plant's base, which necessitated expensive repairs. The plant's operator also had challenges in securing the appropriate permissions and licenses to run the plant.
Overall, while both the Vogtle Unit 3 NPP and the Comanche Peak NPP faced construction challenges, the Vogtle project's significance in the context of the 21st century US nuclear industry, as well as its role in the resilience of nuclear power in the United States, makes it a more critical industry milestone. The lessons acquired from the construction of Vogtle, such as the necessity of teamwork, safety, and reliability, will be critical for the future of nuclear power in the United States and around the world.
Over-optimism Never Pays: V.C. Summer and the B-side of Progress
Stephen Byrne, a former executive vice president at SCANA Corp., was sentenced to 15 months in prison for presenting overly optimistic construction progress estimates for two nuclear reactors at South Carolina's V.C. Summer Nuclear Station. The projects eventually went irreparably behind schedule and were abandoned, resulting in major losses for South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. and utility Santee Cooper.
Byrne's overly optimistic estimates of the project's progress mislead investors, regulators, and the general public and played a crucial role in the project's eventual failure. His actions broke public trust and harmed the nuclear industry's brand.
Byrne's sentencing, together with that of former SCANA CEO Kevin Marsh, who was also imprisoned for his involvement in the project's collapse, marks a watershed moment in holding nuclear power executives accountable for their acts. (what a concept!) If such convictions continue to occur, it may begin to send a strong message to this industry that deceiving investors and the public will not be accepted and that those who engage in such behavior will face penalties.
The crimes committed at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station project have been a huge setback for the US nuclear industry, showing the challenges in developing the behemoth nuclear plants that had been paused for decades resulting in the loss of manpower, expertise, and manufacturing capability.
If heeded, the lessons learned from this project will be useful for the industry in the future, ensuring that future nuclear projects are carried out with transparency, accountability, and an emphasis on safety and reliability. But as we’ve already seen in these storylines, barring catastrophe, the industry is slow to reform.
Upcoming Video Series: “Texas Pioneers in Consent-Based Siting”
As a governor-appointed Texas state official for 14 years, during which time the state developed, then abandoned, a state-run organization to manage low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) and then decided to go down the path of licensing a private party to manage that activity on behalf of the state, the issue of consent-based siting is something near and dear to me, as it has been for many dedicated opponents and proponents for over a decade.
While the key DOE leaders involved in the critical endeavor of consent-based siting were recently interviewed to share their insights — Kim Petry, acting associate deputy assistant secretary, Spent Fuel and Waste Disposal; Erica Bickford, acting office director, Integrated Waste Management; and Natalia Saraeva, team lead, Consent-Based Siting — this author plans to produce an interview series with the main participants in the history of consent-based siting.
Would you be interested in seeing that happen?
IMHO: Constructing Consent
The success or failure of consent-based siting for spent nuclear fuel storage is determined by a number of factors. Some of the fundamental elements that can determine whether consent-based siting is effective or unsuccessful are as follows:
Transparency and openness: One of the most important factors in successful consent-based siting is transparency and openness in the decision-making process. This includes involving stakeholders and the general public in decision-making from the start, giving accurate and understandable information about the proposed storage site, and being willing to listen to and address concerns and feedback from stakeholders and the general public.
Trust and credibility: For consent-based siting to be successful, the parties involved must have trust and credibility. This includes being honest and transparent about the hazards and benefits of the proposed storage site, as well as ensuring that stakeholders' and the public's concerns and opinions are taken seriously and addressed in a timely and effective manner.
Community involvement: For consent-based siting to be successful, the impacted community must be actively included in the decision-making process. This includes early engagement with stakeholders and the public, as well as chances for them to participate in decision-making and provide feedback.
Flexibility and adaptation: Effective consent-based siting necessitates decision-making flexibility and adaptability. This includes being willing to change plans or proposals in response to criticism and concerns from stakeholders and the general public, as well as being open to investigating alternative solutions.
Long-term dedication: Consent-based siting needs a long-term dedication to transparency, openness, and community involvement. This includes retaining stakeholders and the general public throughout the process, from early planning and site selection to ongoing monitoring and administration of the storage facility.
Ultimately, successful consent-based siting for spent nuclear fuel storage necessitates a dedication to transparency, openness, trust, and community involvement. It is feasible to construct a successful and sustainable storage facility that fulfills the interests of all parties concerned by involving stakeholders and the public early on and being willing to listen to and handle concerns and criticism.
Drones & Detectors: New Applications Flying onto the Scene
Flyability, a drone manufacturer, and Mirion Technologies, a radiation detection and monitoring equipment manufacturer, are collaborating on a project to integrate Mirion's RDS-32 radiation survey meter with Flyability's Elios 3 indoor drone. Operators can utilize the drone to collect radiation data remotely, removing the risk of irradiation for workers.
Drone technology combined with radiation detection equipment, including radioisotopic identification, has numerous and promising uses in the nuclear sector and emergency response.
One of the key advantages of deploying drones in radiation detection is the capacity to survey huge areas swiftly and safely, including those that are too dangerous or difficult for humans to access. Drones outfitted with radiation-detection technology can fly over a region and collect radiation data, including the location and concentration of radioactive elements. This data can be utilized to identify possible radiation threats promptly and make informed decisions about reaction and remediation operations.
Drones can be used for a range of functions in the nuclear business, including routine inspections of nuclear plants, radiation level monitoring during construction and decommissioning activities, and surveillance of areas for potential nuclear security risks. Drones can also be used to inspect and monitor nuclear waste storage facilities, assisting in the detection of any leaks or other concerns that may endanger the environment or public health.
Drones can be used in emergency response circumstances to quickly assess areas affected by a radioactive disaster, including identifying the location and degree of radiation exposure. This data can assist emergency personnel in making informed judgments about evacuation zones, decontamination efforts, and other response activities.
The combination of drone technology and radiation detection equipment has the potential to transform how we handle radiation detection and response in the nuclear industry as well as emergency response. It is crucial to stress, however, that the deployment of drones in these applications must be done with adequate safety and regulatory safeguards in place to protect workers and the public.
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New Fusion Fuel Signals Options for Industry
TAE Technologies of California and Japan's National Institute of Fusion Science have announced the development of a novel non-radioactive H2-boron fusion fuel.
This is a big step forward in the science of fusion energy.
Historically, hydrogen isotopes such as deuterium and tritium have been the primary fuels used in fusion reactions. However, these fuels have some disadvantages, such as the generation of radioactive waste and the requirement for specialized treatment and storage. Some of these concerns may be addressed by the creation of a new, non-radioactive fuel based on H2-boron, making fusion energy more realistic and feasible.
The successful start of a fusion reaction at the National Ignition Facility in the United States by LLNL is another key step forward in the development of fusion energy. While considerable work remains to be done before fusion energy may be commercially viable, these breakthroughs highlight fusion's potential as a clean, safe, and sustainable source of energy.
The use of fusion energy could have enormous societal benefits, such as lowering our dependency on fossil fuels and aiding in the mitigation of climate change. Furthermore, fusion energy has the potential to deliver a potentially unlimited supply of clean energy with no greenhouse gas emissions or radioactive waste.
It is crucial to highlight; however, that fusion energy development is still in its early phases, and considerable technical and regulatory difficulties must be addressed before fusion can become an economically viable source of energy. Yet, recent advances in fusion research, such as the unveiling of a novel non-radioactive fusion fuel, are encouraging and provide hope for a future powered by clean and sustainable energy.
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