Obama Administration announces actions to sustain and advance nuclear energy in US
07 November 2015
Although overshadowed by the announcement on denial of a Presidential Permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline (earlier post), on Friday, the Obama administration also on Friday announced and highlighted a number of actions to sustain and advance nuclear energy in the US.
In 2014, nuclear power generated about 60% of carbon-free electricity in the United States, and continues to play a major role in efforts to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector. According to the Administration, the continued development of new and advanced nuclear technologies along with support for currently operating nuclear power plants is an important component of the country’s clean energy strategy.
The President’s FY 2016 Budget includes more than $900 million for the Department of Energy (DOE) to support the US civilian nuclear energy sector by leading federal research, development, and demonstration efforts in nuclear energy technologies, ranging from power generation, safety, hybrid energy systems, and security technologies, among others DOE also supports the deployment of these technologies with $12.5 billion in remaining loan guarantee authority for advanced nuclear projects through Title 17.
The announcements on Friday included:
Launching the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear: DOE is establishing the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) to provide the nuclear energy community with access to the technical, regulatory, and financial support necessary to move new or advanced nuclear reactor designs toward commercialization while ensuring the continued safe, reliable, and economic operation of the existing nuclear fleet. GAIN will provide the nuclear community with a single point of access to the broad range of capabilities—people, facilities, materials, and data—across the DOE complex and its National Lab capabilities. Focused research opportunities and dedicated industry engagement will also be important components of GAIN, ensuring that DOE-sponsored activities are impactful to companies working to realize the full potential of nuclear energy. GAIN will feature:
Access to Capabilities: Through the Clean Energy Investment Center in DOE’s Office of Technology Transitions (OTT), GAIN will provide a single point of contact for users interested in a wide range of nuclear energy related capabilities and expertise. As an initiating step, Idaho National Lab will serve as the GAIN integrator for Office of Nuclear Energy capabilities.
Nuclear Energy Infrastructure Database: DOE is also publishing the Nuclear Energy Infrastructure database (NEID), which provides a catalogue of existing nuclear energy related infrastructure that will enhance transparency and support nuclear community engagement through GAIN. NEID currently includes information on 802 research and development instruments in 377 facilities at 84 institutions in the United States and abroad. Nuclear technology developers can access the database to identify resources available to support development and implementation of their technology, as well as contacts, availability, and the process for accessing the capability.
Small Business Vouchers: To support the strong interest in nuclear energy from a significant number of new companies working to develop advanced nuclear energy technologies, DOE plans to make $2 million available in the form of vouchers to provide assistance to small business applicants (including entrepreneur-led start-ups) seeking to access the knowledge and capabilities available across the DOE complex. This will enhance the ability of GAIN to serve a broader segment of the nuclear community.
Assisting Navigation of the Regulatory Process: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), consistent with its role as an independent safety and security regulator, will provide DOE with accurate, current information on the NRC’s regulations and licensing processes. DOE will work through GAIN with prospective applicants for advanced nuclear technology to understand and navigate the regulatory process for licensing new reactor technology.
Convening Second Workshop on Advanced Non-Light Water Reactors: The NRC and DOE will hold the Second Advanced Non-Light Water Reactors Workshops in spring 2016. The successful first workshop was held in September 2015. The purpose of the workshop is to explore options for increased efficiency, from both a technical and regulatory perspective, in the safe development and deployment of innovative reactor technologies. This would include examining both near-term and longer-term opportunities to test, demonstrate, and construct prototype advanced reactors, and evaluate the most appropriate licensing processes.
Supplementing Loan Guarantee Solicitation for Nuclear Energy: DOE is supplementing its existing solicitation that makes up to $12.5 billion in loan guarantees available to support innovative nuclear energy projects. The solicitation states that eligible projects can include construction of advanced nuclear reactors; small modular reactors; uprates and upgrades at existing facilities; and front-end nuclear facilities. In addition, the new supplement clarifies that project costs for an eligible project that are incurred as part of the NRC licensing process, such as design certification, construction permits, and combined construction and operating licenses (COL), could be eligible costs that may be financed with a loan guaranteed by DOE.
Establishing Light Water Reactor (LWR) Research, Development, and Deployment Working Group: DOE is formally announcing the establishment of the LWR Research, Development, and Deployment (RDD) Working Group to examine possible needs for future RDD to support the development of competitive advanced LWRs, as well as maintain the safe, efficient operations of currently operating nuclear power plants. The group will consist of federal, national laboratory, and industry participants. Recommendations are expected to DOE by February 2016.
Addressing Small Modular Reactor Needs through Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors: DOE’s Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL) is signing an agreement with NuScale to establish new cost-shared modeling and simulation tools under the CASL Energy Innovation Hub at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This agreement specifies the work that will be done by CASL to install and support the use of its virtual reactor tools on NuScale systems and by NuScale to simulate performance questions using CASL tools. Through this agreement, CASL tools will be expanded to better simulate SMR operation and inform design decisions. These efforts can lead to more efficient reactor designs that improve lifetime operation in a power plant.
Investing in SMR Licensing: DOE began investing up to $452 million dollars over six years starting in FY 2012 to support first-of-a-kind engineering costs associated with certification and licensing activities for SMRs through the NRC. By utilizing cost-share agreements with private industry through a licensing technical support program, DOE supports the domestic development of these innovative nuclear technologies, thereby strengthening American manufacturing capabilities and the associated nuclear supply chain, improving domestic employment opportunities, and creating important export opportunities for the United States. It is expected that the first SMR design application will be submitted to the NRC in late-2016.
Designing a Modernized LWR Control Room: DOE is partnering with Arizona Public Service’s Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station to design a modernized control room for an operating commercial LWR. Working together through a cost-shared partnership, DOE’s LWR Sustainability Program and Palo Verde will consider the best way to replace traditional analog systems with digital systems that optimize control room operations. This work supports the long-term sustainability and efficiency of the currently operating nuclear power plants by assisting nuclear utilities to address reliability and obsolescence issues of legacy analog control rooms.
If the Obama administration was serious about promoting nuclear, it would streamline and reduce the regulatory burden on the industry from the first steps toward testing new technologies to the excessive and unwarranted operational costs piled on in the name of "security" at plants which does absolutely nothing to protect the public.
Under the AEC, a plant could go from filing an application to breaking ground in less than a year. We need a return to that.
Posted by: Engineer-Poet | 07 November 2015 at 07:06 AM
Ah, nuclear power. A wet dream for engineer types. A nightmare for everyone else.
Posted by: drivin98 | 07 November 2015 at 09:23 AM
Loads of public funds for NPPs and all we got in the last 30+ years are higher initial cost (in all countries), month after month and year after year.
Could it be that NPPs are no longer compatible with low cost, safe e-energy and that 24/7 REs (with storage) are leading the way to future unlimited, safer, lower cost energy?
Hydro-Wind-Solar (mixed) sources will be around as long as we are around, with acceptable effects on the environment. Pumped hydro, batteries and H2/FCs can supply all the voltage regulation and energy storage required.
Posted by: HarveyD | 07 November 2015 at 09:28 AM
Yep, what do engineers know about, well, engineering power systems?
Far better to find an 'advocate' with the correct views, who does not worry about all that tedious number business, unless it is for polemical purposes.
Posted by: Davemart | 07 November 2015 at 09:29 AM
Some of the cheapest, greenest, most reliable energy here in California comes from our one remaining nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon. Capacity factor is in the mid-to-high 90s.
Posted by: Nick Lyons | 07 November 2015 at 09:42 AM
Diablo Canyon? You mean the nuclear power plant they had the great idea of building on top of or near several seismic fault lines? Even if it is now "safe" just think of the extra costs they had to incur to make it so.
Posted by: ai_vin | 07 November 2015 at 10:25 AM
While reading this there were two things I was looking for and didn't see: Public support and waste disposal. All this money and intellectual resources they are throwing at these "new designs" for nuclear power plants and they skip over the same old problems that have kept us from using more of the perfectly good designs we currently have.
Listen up! America is a democracy, if you can't get the public on board even the best idea is a non-starter.
Posted by: ai_vin | 07 November 2015 at 10:36 AM
Convening Second Workshop on Advanced Non-Light Water Reactors:
Posted by: SJC | 07 November 2015 at 11:02 AM
I am glad that the Obama administration is continuing to push for more nuclear power. He seems to believe in real world science and engineering or at least listens to some smart advisers.
I would far rather live near a nuclear power station than a wind turbine farm which I consider a blight on the landscape and a far greater safety hazard than nuclear power. Concerning the supposed problem of nuclear waste, there are new designs which will use the so-called nuclear waste as fuel and essentially burn it to completion. Also, the new designs have passive safety systems to do not require power to keep pumps running or any human intervention. Even with the older light water plants, the total nuclear waste that results from providing nuclear power for a person for a lifetime would fit in a 12 oz (355 ml) coke can.
And yes, I am an engineer with real dreams for the future. I think that it is smart to use roof top solar energy and maybe thin film solar windows but the idea of large scale solar farms covering the desert southwest are my idea of a nightmare. I think that wind power is safer than burning coal but if you think that wind power is absolutely safe, you should read this, http://www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk/AccidentStatistics.htm So far this year, there have been at least 15 fires, 14 blades failures, and 5 structural failures all of which are usually spectacular. One of the blade weighed 22 tons and the fires normally occur at heights where the only thing that can be done is to watch them burn from a safe distance.
Posted by: sd | 07 November 2015 at 01:29 PM
Diablo Canyon is built near some seismic faults, as are most places in coastal California. Diablo Canyon is well-equipped to handle any earthquake that might occur. Yes, money has been spent to upgrade the seismic safety of the plant as well as of the workers who spend their days there. Lots of money has been spent on redundant and expensive surveys of all safety aspects of the plant. Nevertheless, DCNPP continues to provide cheap, carbon-free, dependable electricity to California.
I live in the area and have toured the plant--I can tell you they run a tight ship over there, and I do not lose any sleep over our proximity to the place.
Nuclear power, even the early generation, pressure-cooker style plants we live with today, are statistically far safer than almost any other power source.
As for waste, I have seen the array of dry casks lined up on a pad behind the plant. They currently take up about as much space as a couple of tennis courts. They are not a danger to anyone. If we ever decide to dispose of them permanently (as opposed to recycling the fuel within), we can easily tuck them into a stable salt formation (such as WIPP in New Mexico) or drop them down a borehole far below any water table or bury them on the abyssal plan out in the Pacific, where they would sit for eternity, covered by the accumulating sediment. Waste is a political problem only.
Posted by: Nick Lyons | 07 November 2015 at 01:31 PM
Explain how mass immigration and gay marriage were shoved down the public's throat in spite of overwhelming opposition.
Nuclear's problem is that the FF industry (beginning with the Rockefellers) have been running both a fraudulent science operation and many "environmental" front groups against it and greenwashing the "alternatives". Did you know that the original motto of the Sierra Club was "Atoms Not Dams"? Money changed that, not principle.
Posted by: Engineer-Poet | 07 November 2015 at 01:43 PM
I see the nuclear decision as part of the President's policy of supporting all forms of clean energy. He even tried to support 'clean coal' until he discovered he was being bamboozled.
No question renewables are at the top of the list; however, it's been slow going to build them out, especially with the oil companies and their bought Republicans fighting every decision.
Nuclear should help speed up the transition off fossil fuels. However, I worry that the worse case analysis engineering won't be done properly as was the case in Japan, Russia, and California. If the design work is done correctly and the reactor managed well, the only worry remaining is how to handle the radioactive residue.
Posted by: Lad | 07 November 2015 at 01:59 PM
The spent fuel rods are only a few percent spent. Reprocessing rods can reclaim valuable fuel that can be used in Fast Neutron reactors. All the long term radioactive transuranics are used as fuel, so there is no long term radioactive storage problem.
Posted by: SJC | 07 November 2015 at 03:53 PM
sd, that is an interesting link to wind machine accidents and injuries. The absolute numbers seem small compared to electrocutions in the UK if I recall clearly. And certainly very small compared to highway accidents. But once a wind machine accident is over, it is pretty much over. Compare to Fukushima, which is (according to some accounts) nowhere close to being "over". The big problem for nuclear power generation is that private enterprise will not finance it, nor insure it. It has always been a creation of governments, perhaps trying to obtain economy of scale for their investments in nuclear military projects. And for the most part, nuclear power generation does not follow load, which is becoming a bigger part of the price of electricity. If you cannot throttle back when there is no demand, you are not competitive anymore. "Base Load" provision is like carbohydrates, the market is oversupplied with both. Witness negative electricity prices becoming more common.
Posted by: James McLaughlin | 07 November 2015 at 04:21 PM
Engineers can argue the merits all they want. Until investors step up with money no NPPs will be built. And investors will not put up that kind of money until the Government guarantees the investment, and all risks. I don't see it any time soon.
Posted by: JMartin | 07 November 2015 at 05:02 PM
Jmartin, there are 5 large nuclear units currently under construction in the US with the first scheduled to come online next year and 2 more in 2017. Currently the NRC has 7 applications for 12 total large reactors under review with more applications expected. See http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/col/new-reactor-map.html
Posted by: sd | 07 November 2015 at 05:37 PM
My biggest fear with nuclear power isn't the idea I might end up growing in the dark.
The real problem with the energy industry is the politics. Any large business is going to have a lot of cash to throw at the politicians. THAT is what causes the real trouble. I don't want to see us replacing King Coal and the Oil Barons with the Nuclear Princes. Renewable energy is "power to the people."
Maybe I should join the Green TEA party?
Posted by: ai_vin | 07 November 2015 at 06:40 PM
"Renewables" require huge tax credits, continent-spanning transmission networks to even out the spotty distribution, and other massive interventions... and people have the gall to characterize this as "power to the people"?!
A million people could literally get together and for a fraction of the price of a new car apiece they could hire management and build themselves a nuclear plant to provide themselves 1 kW/capita of power totally independent of anyone else, save a semi-load of new fuel every 18 months. But somehow this is NOT "power to the people".
Ignorance is strength. Freedom is slavery. War is peace. "Green energy" is your friend.
Posted by: Engineer-Poet | 08 November 2015 at 06:32 AM
"A million people could literally get together and . . . build themselves a nuclear plant"
A million people acting independently could put solar panels on their individual roofs.
Which is more likely?
Posted by: ai_vin | 08 November 2015 at 09:18 AM
Which only a few hobbyists would do if it weren't for mandates, huge tax credits and rebates.
The vast majority of those people are still on the "horrible un-democratic" grid. Without the grid, to provide 900 watts continuously (roughly what 1 kW of nuclear provides, given refueling outages) with PV at 22% capacity factor requires about 4.1 kW of PV ($4100/kW at $1/watt) plus storage. Lead-acid batteries are about $60/kWh but they can't be deep-cycled without wearing them out very rapidly. 900 watts for 2 days is 43 kWh more or less; 86 kWh of batteries is another $5000 or so. That's already more than $9000 ($10k/average kW) and I haven't even considered losses, charge controllers and inverters yet.
There's a reason this makes nuclear look cheap by comparison: IT IS.
People actually going off-grid on their own dime, you mean? Not going to happen.
Posted by: Engineer-Poet | 08 November 2015 at 10:07 AM
The planned nuclear plant at Hinckley point C in the UK is expected to cost £18 billion ($29 billion) to build - that's $9 per watt. Onshore wind is only $1.30 per watt installed with 30% capacity factor. Renewables combined with grid scale storage is already cheaper than nuclear.
Posted by: clett | 08 November 2015 at 11:34 AM
Double standard much?
E-P you talk of the "huge tax credits" solar gets, but not of the subsidies nuclear has received for the last 50+ years.
You talk of people with solar panels still needing to be on the "horrible un-democratic grid" but fail to mention those who go nuclear will also be on on the "horrible un-democratic" grid.
The point is that people who generate their own energy, even if it's only for part of their needs, are taking political power out of the hands of other people who may not have their best interests at heart.
The less money I give to the utilities the less money they have to line the pockets of politicians whom I might not agree with.
Posted by: ai_vin | 08 November 2015 at 01:40 PM
The self "insurance" fund is SO underfunded it represents billions of dollars per year in unfunded liability, a subsidy by any other name. Light water reactors are inherently unstable, the man who invented them said so and showed a far superior design back in the 1950s.
Posted by: SJC | 08 November 2015 at 07:26 PM
Define "nuclear", and exclude anything that is (a) military or (b) fusion-related, since neither has anything to do with commercial nuclear electric plants. What you will find is that commercial nuclear power is a big net taxpayer, and has been forced to pay service fees for services blocked by Congress (spent fuel disposal). Almost all the so-called "subsidies" are weapons-related parts of the Department of Energy budget or related to treaty obligations (e.g. the MOX plant currently under fire).
I thought you were smart enough not to fall for this stuff.
Now compare the pittance that remains with the 30% immediate tax credit and 5-year writeoff now given to "renewables" projects. Even the loan guarantees provided to nuclear come with "subsidy fees"!
I'm not the one calling the grid a bad thing, thus the scare quotes. I am calling radical expansions in LD transmission to support "renewables" a bad thing, because the tax cheats getting the benefits aren't paying for them; the general ratepayer is.
You wish. They are backing out their contributions to the upkeep of the grid, while maintaining their connections and ability to make sudden demands on it at any time—demands that they are no longer supporting. Under most rate regimes, those burdens fall on others. When the self-generators pay a separate demand fee and/or have their demand forcibly limited to what they're paying to support, THEN things will be fair. If they are not paying for what they get, someone else is. Usually that someone is less well-off and has less political pull than rich homeowners with the excess income and tax burden to merit a roof-full of tax credits.
As opposed to lining the pockets of the people backing "Green" initiatives, not because they'll accomplish the vision, but because they won't? Who do you think is collecting on all those tax write-offs?
The interests you should be worrying about are those pulling carbon out of the ground and shipping it (pipelines, railroads, barges). They have a massive amount of political patronage going; nuclear does not, and utilities in general don't have much.
Posted by: Engineer-Poet | 08 November 2015 at 09:35 PM
Way to trumpet your ignorance. There is no nuclear self-insurance fund in the USA. Price-Anderson requires all other nuclear plants to backstop the insurance of any plant with a disaster; this provision has never been triggered.
Again, ignorance. LWRs are normally undermoderated and are stabilized by thermal expansion of the coolant/moderator and Doppler effect due to heating of the fuel. What LWRs are is heavy and expensive due to the need for big vessels holding water under high pressure. The problem at the NRC is that it has no base of knowledge to even begin writing regulations to certify a non-LWR... which may be by design of the people who created the NRC. LMFBRs and MSRs operate at near atmospheric pressure and require no large pressure vessels, so they have the potential to be cheap. This is precisely the thing that worries fossil-fuel interests.
Posted by: Engineer-Poet | 08 November 2015 at 09:36 PM