Mark Nutt gives keynote speech at Powell Symposium
Mark Nutt, Nuclear Engineering Division, delivered the keynote speech at the 2010 Powell Symposium on September 16th, 2010 in Page Arizona. The title of the 2010 Powell Symposium is “Feeding the Grid,” and the focus was to take a closer look at the energy issues that affect this unique region of the Southwest United Sates – the Colorado Plateau. Mark was invited to deliver a talk regarding nuclear energy. His talk was titled Nuclear Power - Contributing to U.S. Energy Needs in the 21st Century?
The talk was opened by introducing the problem at hand – meeting increasing energy demands while decreasing the carbon footprint. Given the broad audience that was present, the basics of nuclear energy, fission and nuclear chain reactions, were summarized. Controlling the chain reaction within a reactor was then discussed and contrasted with nuclear weapons to show that while both depend on fission reactions; there are significant differences in the designs.
A brief history of nuclear power was presented, beginning with the first chain reaction at the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field through the present day. This brief history also touched on the generations of reactors - prototypes and research reactors through the current commercial fleet and those being constructed abroad today and expected to be constructed in the U.S. in the near future.
The basic design of a nuclear power plant was then presented. The underlying concept of “spinning a turbine” was introduced and the various ways that this can be done by a nuclear reactor were introduced (boiling and pressurized water reactors). Fuel design, reactor control, and defense-in-depth safety concepts were presented. The locations of reactors both within the U.S. and abroad were presented.
This was followed by a summary of reactor safety, namely the fundamental concept of not melting the fuel. The design of the plant, the operators, continual maintenance, and the automated reactor protection system , and regulatory oversight working together to ensure safety was emphasized. NRC safety performance indicators were then presented, showing a continually improving trend in the nuclear industry.
Three major nuclear “incidents,” Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Davis Besse, were summarized. The purpose of this discussion was to present what happened, but more importantly, what was learned and how the nuclear industry improved. In the case of Chernobyl, it was to emphasize that the design of reactors in the U.S. are significantly different and such an accident is not credible in the U.S.
The future of nuclear power in the U.S. was then presented. The status of license renewals in the U.S. was discussed, followed by a summary of the DOE LWR sustainability program, which is conducting research and development to extend the licenses of the current fleet of reactors beyond 60 years. This was followed by a discussion of building new reactors in the U.S. The “new” NRC licensing process was presented where early site permits, design certification, and combined operating licenses were described. The status of each was presented. The projected location for new reactors and the potential impacts of new reactors on the Colorado Plateau were touched on, in particular new reactors and uranium mining.
This portion of the talk closed with a discussion of issues that could affect the construction of new nuclear power plants. The issues include large capital cost, financing, risk management, the supply chain, and manpower resources. DOE’s loan guarantee program was summarized where it was pointed out that nuclear is one of the new energy related technologies where DOE is providing loan guarantees. The broader issue of spent fuel management was introduced, followed by a more detailed discussion.
The current status of the Yucca Mountain repository program was presented followed by a brief discussion on the efforts of the Blue Ribbon Commission for America’s Nuclear Future. Issues associated with very long-term dry storage of spent nuclear fuel, essentially the de facto policy of the U.S., were summarized along with the activities underway to address these issues. Given the audience, a summary of the Private Fuel Storage project in Utah was given.
The transportation of spent nuclear fuel and high level nuclear waste was then discussed, where it was pointed out that at some point it will have to be transported somewhere. This focused on summarizing the excellent safety record in transporting these materials both with the U.S. and abroad. The design of transportation casks and their capability to withstand severe accidents was discussed followed by a brief summary of how transportation is done safely, securely, and responsibly.
The talk concluded with a brief summary of on-going research and development pertaining to geologic disposal of spent fuel/high level waste and advanced nuclear fuel cycles that are under consideration.