Uncategorized

Why Get Rid of a Good Thing?

Old carBy John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

I once had a beloved old car – a 1984 Volvo – that didn’t look great, and needed regular work, but ran beautifully. I only scrapped it because my girlfriend hated it. That decision, I figure, cost me several thousand dollars over the next two years as I paid for a pricey lease on a new car.

The two most basic ways to get value out of equipment are to make sure you use it, and to keep it a long time.

Cars are getting more expensive and complex, but this doesn’t stop us from buying them. It does lead us to keep them 50% longer than we did a decade ago.

These days, my wife and I share our old car with my brother and his wife. We spread the fixed costs of ownership across two families’ driving needs, cutting the fixed costs per family in half.

Equipment that’s expensive can still be highly economic. Up-front cost isn’t an obstacle if the equipment runs efficiently, gets used a lot, and lasts a long time.

A nuclear reactor is a big piece of equipment, and the business of owning one is like owning a vehicle, only more so.

Nuclear power plants are designed to run extremely well for a long time, and they do it. They typically produce electricity at 80% or more of their designed capacity, and they last – with refits – for fifty or sixty years. That’s a lot of use over a very long time.

How many products do you – or even your employer – own that you know will have five to six decades of life? The result is cheap, reliable power, as this chart from the Ontario Power Authority shows, nuclear refurbishment is the lowest cost option for generation and ranks very close to the cost of energy efficiency:

relative-cost-of-electricity

Quebec recently decided to decommission its only nuclear plant, rather than give it a mid-life refit.

The decision came one week after the election of a new provincial government – before it had even been sworn into office. The government then asked for an economic analysis. In other words, they made their decision – it was written into their election platform – and then asked for backup.

The province’s electrical utility, which had planned to refit the plant, came back with re-worked numbers that raised the refit cost by 126%, and the cost of shutting it down by only 12%. Surprise, surprise:  the new numbers justified the announced decision.

The utility’s new estimate for refit cost was $4.3 billion. But a refit of a similar reactor came in at $2.4 billion in neighbouring New Brunswick. There, Energy Minister Craig Leonard was quoted saying, “If you look at the market today and try to obtain 700 megawatts of baseload emission-free power for $2.4 billion, you’re probably going to be searching for quite a while.” (iPolitics.ca, July 16, 2013, item by K. Bissett).

This story isn’t unusual. We often get rid of good things for poor reasons and many, like Quebec’s, are political.

Greenhouse gas emissions, clean air, long-term fossil fuel pricing and long-term carbon pricing are sometimes overlooked in political decisions. Some jurisdictions are closing good nuclear plants in favour of currently cheap fossil fuels. This is like scrapping our cars because the local taxi service is giving us a month’s worth of free rides. The problem, of course, is what happens at the end of the month. We’re caught without cars, we’re hostages to the taxi business, and we’re paying taxi fares two to four times a day. Our cost of getting around has quintupled! This is why so many countries continue to choose nuclear.

According to the WNA, nearly twice as many reactors will start up as shut down by 2030. India has six new units under construction, Russia has ten and China has twenty-eight. A long list of other countries are as well, including Turkey to Saudi Arabia to Argentina.

Yes, nuclear power generating capacity has a large capital cost and it takes time to build. But as we have seen, high capital cost is compatible with good economics. Good efficient equipment, used well and maintained well throughout its optimal operational life, pays off.

Uncategorized

Nuclear Refurbishment: The Best Deal for Ontario

CalculatorOne of the biggest criticisms about nuclear power is that renovations are expensive.

But even with a big price tag up front, the refurbishment of nuclear reactors is still cheaper than the alternatives for reliable baseload power (the minimum amount of electric power delivered or required over a given period of time at a steady rate).

In Ontario, refurbishments are planned for both Bruce Power and Ontario Power Generation. Bruce Power is estimating it may spend up to $15 billion to refurbish six reactors at its Kincardine station beginning in 2016. And OPG’s Darlington refurbishment is estimated at $10 billion.

Combined, the two plants represent about 10,000 MWs of generation capacity. They produce about half of Ontario’s electricity. They have provided clean, cheap and reliable electricity to Ontarians for almost 25 years. As they come to the end of the first phase of their initial life cycle, the Ontario government concluded that refurbishment is a lot less expensive and cleaner than replacing that power.

“We needed to determine how that power is going to be replaced,” Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said in a recent television interview with Global News.

“We made a determination that refurbishment is the least-cost type of generation. It’s 50 per cent less than the cost of new nuclear and less the cost of replacing those megawatts with gas. So we’re moving ahead because of the cost factor.

“The best cost deal in replacing the existing nuclear is to refurbish what we have.”

Chiarelli went on to explain that he is not expecting either refurbishment to go over budget.

“We built off ramps,” he said. “If OPG cannot deliver on budget and on time then there’s a real likelihood that cabinet will not proceed with the additional refurbishment.

“Building refurbishment is the best cost deal for the province by a large, large margin. The estimates we have now are reliable estimates.”

As for the other options, wind power is intermittent and cannot be relied upon as a base load power source. If you back up wind with natural gas, the price goes up and there is no price certainty over long periods of time for gas, which is currently cheap, but is prone to price changes.

While the price tag for refurbishment can be large, rates are affordable because it can be amortized over a 30 year period.

That was the case in New Brunswick with the refurbishment of the Point Lepreau Generating Station.

Even though refurbishment there went over budget, New Brunswickers will not see their power rates increase as the cost overruns will be paid back over 27 years.

“The costs related to Lepreau have been fully accounted for in our projections, and we intend to recover these costs through equal payments – similar to a home mortgage – made monthly during the 27-year life of the plant,” according to Gaetan Thomas, president of NB Power.

Former New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord, whose government approved the refurbishment project in 2005, told Global News recently that when compared with the alternatives, refurbishment was “actually better than any alternatives.”

CNA2015

Noted Academic Matthew C. Nisbet to Share Research at CNA2015

NisbetMatthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Affiliate Associate Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University.

He is a Senior Editor at Oxford University Press’ Research Encyclopedia Climate Science and “The Age of Us” columnist at The Conversation.

Nisbet studies the role of communication, media, and public opinion in debates over science, the environment, and technology. The author of more than 70 peer-reviewed studies, scholarly book chapters, and reports, at Northeastern University he teaches courses in Environmental and Risk Communication and Health Communication. Nisbet holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Communication from Cornell University and a BA in Government from Dartmouth College.

Nisbet has recently focused on shattering some of the myths about the challenges facing climate change advocates.

“One of the things that remain one of the common explanations of why we have inaction on climate change is that the mainstream media continues to engage in false balance about the fundamentals of climate science,” he explains. “In part I think this explanation is no longer true.

“What we know from research over time is that false balance remained a problem in the early 2000s and the late 1990s.” He says false balance disappeared in the mainstream media by 2007.

But false balance remains in outlets in U.S. political talk radio, Fox News and the conservative blogosphere, but people who use those sources of media are already have doubts about climate change and this serves as just a reinforcing factor.

He also questions the myth that environmental groups are being outspent by big business. Nisbet’s research found that in 2009 environmental groups brought in $1.7 billion in revenues with $390 million spent on climate and energy advocacy, while conservative think tanks and groups brought in $900 million in revenues and spent $240 million on climate and energy advocacy.

“To say that environmental groups are massively underfunded or they face a spending disadvantage against their long standing opponents in conservative think tanks, industry associations and advocacy groups is a false argument.”

Dr. Nisbet is among the featured speakers at CNA2015.

CNA2015

CNA2015 Presents Transatomic Power Co-Founder Dr. Leslie Dewan

Leslie DewanDr. Leslie Dewan is a key figure in the future of nuclear power generation.

In 2011, she co-founded Transatomic Power, which is making steadfast progress towards commercializing an innovative molten salt reactor fueled by nuclear waste.

“We’re developing a new type of reactor that can run entirely on used nuclear fuel,” she says. “It consumes the fuel and it reduces its radioactive lifetime while at the same time generating an enormous amount of electricity.”

Dewan said the company is aiming to break ground on a demonstration facility within five years and have it operational a few years after that. “For the nuclear industry, it’s very fast-paced,” she says.

Since last July, Transatomic has raised $4.5 million in startup funds.

The new funding will be used for lab testing of key components involved with the reactor design, and for refinement of the design for a prototype reactor. The company will be testing materials under a three-year research agreement with the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT.

Dr. Dewan graduated from MIT with a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering, with a research focus on computational nuclear materials. She also holds S.B. degrees from MIT in mechanical engineering and nuclear engineering.

“At MIT everyone around there was so excited about building crazy things and were just totally free and unrestrained in all the cool engineering projects they were putting together,” she recalls.

Before starting her Ph.D., she worked for a robotics company in Cambridge, MA, where she designed search-and-rescue robots and equipment for in-field identification of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.

Leslie has been awarded a Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship and an MIT Presidential Fellowship. She was named a TIME Magazine “30 People Under 30 Changing the World” in December 2013, an MIT Technology Review “Innovator Under 35″ in September 2013, and a Forbes “30 Under 30″ in Energy in December 2012.

CNA2015

Colorado Biologist Michael H. Fox on Nuclear

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

More and more highly credible environmentalists are arguing the case for nuclear energy. The case was already strong, and  the flood of new high-profile advocates doesn’t in itself make it any stronger.

Where the flood of advocates does help us is in giving us more and more great writers and speakers to choose from. One of these, the renowned climate scientist James Hansen, will speak at the CNA Conference on February 26.

fox book coverAmid the crush of conference preparation, I made time to skim the work of another of these very strong new advocates. He is Colorado State University’s Michael H. Fox, whose book Why We Need Nuclear Power: The Environmental Case was recently published by Oxford University Press. If you want to strengthen your own knowledge with a compact, solid primer on a raft of timely topics – including atmospheric science, the climate controversy, fossil fuels, alternative energy sources, nuclear technology, radiation and energy safety – it’s for you.

Fox is genuine, honest, direct and comprehensive, and a very good writer, so I’ll excerpt a few of his own words to get you started.

The largest factor in global warming is CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels (75%)…A substantial part of the fossil fuel emissions comes from burning coal to produce electricity…Natural gas is not really the solution…it is clearly better than coal…but it will still be a major contributor…

Wind and solar have a place…but they do not solve the energy problem…They can contribute the most power in places where relatively few people live, requiring a huge and expensive new network of transmission lines…They are expensive…They have very large footprints, which restrict them in many places. They are not very long lived…And they do not reduce the need for fossil fuels…because of their intermittent nature…Wind and solar are not able to wean us from our addiction to coal and natural gas…

Michael H. Fox
Michael H. Fox

A nuclear reactor will outlast several alternative energy projects but will cost far more upfront…The market alone is unlikely to be able to support either renewable energy projects or nuclear power projects because they are very expensive. But nuclear power alone has the potential to substantially reduce the CO2 emissions, which neither solar nor wind can do…[In the USA from 1950-2010] nuclear power and renewable energy (mostly wind and solar) each accounted for 9% of the total [federal government] incentives…Most of the incentives for nuclear power were for R&D…while for renewable energy about one-third were for R&D…

[U.S.] States with regulated rates set by public utility commissions are far more likely to build more nuclear…the energy crisis in California in 2000-2001…was an object lesson in how not to deregulate markets. Regulated states [provide] a climate in which the long-term costs of nuclear power plants can be amortized, resulting in low, stable rates. Since new nuclear power plants are designed for a 60-year lifetime, they will provide cheap electricity in future years, just as current reactors that were built 20 or more years ago provide cheap electricity now. Investments in nuclear power are truly long-term infrastructure investments that will pay off over a long time.

I and other pro-nuclear environmentalists find ourselves in an interesting conundrum. Many of my fellow liberal environmental activists are opposed to nuclear power, while many conservatives who are staunch deniers of global warming are supportive…Suppose we liberal environmentalists are wrong about global warming being caused by human influences. Would it really be such a bad thing if we actually reduced emissions of carbon dioxide?…And to environmentalists, is nuclear power really as bad as coal? Choices must be made, and every choice entails some risk. If you continue to oppose nuclear power, coal will still be providing most of the world’s electricity 50 years from now. The choice is up to us.

Maybe we’ll see Fox at a future CNA Conference. In the meantime, buy his book; like nuclear technology, it’s a long term asset that’s worth every penny. And we’ll be very excited to hear from James Hansen on Thursday.

Uncategorized

Applying Nuclear Expertise to Solve the Auto Industry’s Challenges

This article was originally printed in the Winter/Spring 2015 edition of Lead, Reach and Connect, which is published twice per year for the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA). It has been reprinted with permission from the APMA and Matrix Group Publishing Inc. and cannot be reproduced without prior written consent. To view the full edition of the magazine, please go to https://apma.ca/news/publish/finallowresapmawinterspring15websitepdf#content-head.

By Clemente Angiolillo and Daniel Banks

neutron beamlines
The neutron beamlines at the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor protrude out from the shielding wall around the reactor to allow materials to be analyzed non-destructively in the beams.

Situated two hours northwest of the nation’s capital on the scenic shores of the Ottawa River, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), Canada’s national nuclear science and technology organization, has been a key player in the global nuclear sector from its inception over 60 years ago. Through the work done at Chalk River Laboratories, CNL gave the world a uniquely Canadian reactor design known as CANDU, and put forth pioneering innovations in the area of nuclear medicine and environmental remediation technologies, just to name a few areas of expertise.

However, as several auto parts suppliers will attest, the solutions offered by nuclear technologies have application in other industries as well. Today, as the auto industry grapples with many technical challenges to meet stringent fuel efficiency targets— achieved partly by obtaining favourable strength-to-weight ratios for motor vehicles— as well as enhancing quality assurance of parts and components, researchers at CNL are bringing their unique facilities and expertise to the auto industry’s doorsteps, and with remarkable results.

in-situ examination
A visiting researcher prepares an advanced in-situ examination of an alloy’s properties under various conditions of applied load on a neutron beamline.

“On the heels of CNL’s participation at the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA) Annual Conference & Exhibition held in Windsor, ON in early June, we were pleased to announce that we had secured a new customer named AGS Automotive Systems Inc. to perform metallographic and surface analysis of various chrome plated parts,” says Elliott Gillespie, CNL director of marketing and international business.

The recently appointed marketing director says the technical challenge of this commercial contract is to perform indepth studies on the components to locate potential particulate or contaminants residing between very thin material plating layers, thus ensuring optimization of longterm corrosion resistance once the parts are placed in extreme weather conditions. AGS Automotive is a Tier 1 automotive parts supplier (and APMA member) specializing in bumper impact assemblies with capabilities in metal stamping, chrome-plating, Class A painting and welding. The company operates 10 facilities in North America and has approximately one-third of the chromeplated bumper business—producing mainly front and rear impact system assemblies and modules, as well as some general stampings, running boards and exterior painted trim parts such as grills—as sister company Tiercon Corp. Customers include GM, Toyota, Chrysler, Volkswagen and other major original equipment makers.

Years of automotive research 

new alloy sample
A visiting researcher makes small adjustments to the positioning of a new alloy sample on a neutron beamline to map its properties in three dimensions.

Lest one get the impression that CNL’s work in the automotive parts sector is a recent business activity, think again. Years of research on technologies to make lightweight car engines reliably have been afoot at Chalk River and may soon pay off with big dividends to parts suppliers. In addition, the value of CNL’s contributions to these technologies are being recognized by peer organizations and partners such as the Canadian Academy of Engineering (CAE), who recently bestowed a CNL researcher with a prestigious honour.

Dr. Dimitry Sediako, a Senior Research Officer, was inducted as a Fellow of the CAE in June 2014 in recognition of his contributions to improving manufacturing technologies in engine block casting and heat treatment, among other achievements. According to CNL customer Nemak Canada, these technologies, when implemented, will speed production times and reduce energy usage, thereby saving millions in manufacturing costs.

Some of these achievements and applications strike automotive manufacturers as novel and have potential customers wondering how exactly nuclear technologies can deliver value to the auto parts sector. Part of the formula for success is having diverse supporting facilities and the right expertise, but the other important piece is direct access to industry partners. And then there is the power of neutrons.

The power of neutrons

CNL hosts the only major neutron beam laboratory in Canada at its multipurpose National Research Universal reactor. Neutron beams, like no other tool, can be used to non-destructively probe deep inside engine blocks and determine the amount of stress in the material at any given point, which is a key factor in the reliability of the engine. Having honed this capability for decades, CNL’s researchers are world leaders in using neutron beams to determine properties of metallic materials, and have examined parts for jet engines, car engines, ship hulls, pipelines, bridges, and rail tracks, in addition to parts for nuclear reactors.

Dr. Dimitry Sediako
Researcher Dr. Dimitry Sediako sets up an engine block for non-destructive examination of residual stress on a neutron beamline at the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL).

Although not yet standardized in the automotive industry, leading companies are now beginning to make use of this hightech tool. Dr. Sediako has built partnerships with researchers from Nemak Canada, major automotive manufacturers such as General Motors (GM) and Ford Motor Company, four universities (Ryerson University, University of British Columbia, University of Waterloo, McGill University), and Canmet Materials Laboratory, each of which contributed their own tools and expertise in metallurgy, mechanical testing and computer modelling.

In one line of research, Nemak’s objective was to find the best way to build robust V-6 aluminum engine blocks. These engines have extremely low tolerance for distortion in the shape of the cylinder holes in the block. Stress relief methods are used after casting the block to increase stability, and yet each manufacturing step comes with its own costs and impacts on the materials properties. To improve over current manufacturing practices, the team needed to understand more clearly the factors contributing to stability.

Nemak and its research partners from Ryerson University accessed Chalk River’s neutron beams for several studies with Dr. Sediako’s assistance to acquire and interpret the neutron diffraction data. These studies included elucidating the stress distribution and microstructure in new aluminum alloys and in engine blocks, before and after stress relief methods such as heat treatment. Additionally, they included pioneering observations of microstructural evolution during solidification of the alloys.

The results were vital contributions to the success of the research, helping Nemak to determine that simplifying the heat treatment process is feasible without compromising reliability. Nemak is now moving forward to validate the new process by performing final tests before the engine can be used in vehicles sold to customers, such as putting a prototype engine block in a test vehicle.

Neutrons help GM

During a recent webinar organized in conjunction with APMA, CNL worked with Nemak and GM to showcase the application of nuclear technology to develop better engine components, and elaborate on the range of nuclear capabilities available to automotive companies through CNL.

GM uses neutron beams to accelerate the development of engine heads and blocks. These projects span three primary research areas:

• Evaluating effectiveness of heat treatment and quenching methods.
• Directly observing phase precipitation during solidification.
• Creep testing to make better predictions of reliability over the long-term.

In the first area of evaluating effectiveness of heat treatment and quenching methods, neutron experiments clearly falsified a hypothesis for GM that air quenching of cylinder heads would be a benefit over water quenching because of an overall reduction in residual stresses. The results showed significant stresses remained with air quenching deep inside the cylinder heads, at a depth of about one centimetre.

On the second research area of directly observing phase precipitation during solidification, GM uses modelling software to try to predict the properties of the components or alloys after they solidify, but sometimes the models fail to predict the actual results. Neutrons can uniquely identify phases that precipitate during solidification. In other words, they allow GM to “watch” the solidification process experimentally to better understand what is causing the discrepancies.

The third research area is concerned with “creep testing,” which in essence means determining how the shape of the part may change over time and eventually fail or cause problems. The neutron beam experiments allow GM to look at how the arrangement of the atoms is changing in the material to better understand how these changes take place.

Neutrons help Ford

CNL has an ongoing research project with Ford to examine new ways of joining dissimilar materials together to be used in light-weight vehicles. For example, self-piercing riveting (SPR) is a leading alternative to traditional welding methods, and has been widely used by Audi, Mercedes, BMW, and Jaguar, as well as Ford on their aluminum cars and sports utility vehicles. SPR joints have excellent mechanical properties and high fatigue resistance. But the 3D residual stress field in a mixed metal SPR joint had not been experimentally studied before, making prediction of fatigue life of such SPR joints difficult. Ford turned to CNL’s neutron beam capability because other ways of determining stresses were too difficult, considering the complex geometry and number of different materials involved. It plans to use the results from the neutron analysis to validate its existing residual stress prediction method, and document these findings to inform broader manufacturing processes.

“We know there are tremendous opportunities in the automotive and related advanced manufacturing sectors,” concludes Gillespie. “These industries are capital intensive and commercially focused with resources dedicated to R&D [research and development] advancement. We are confident that in the near future CNL will be regarded as a valued supply chain partner and an active participant in their respective product development and quality assurance programs.”

International discussions are also driving work in this area. The recently announced United States-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue, initiated by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama, recognizes lighter-weight, sustainable materials as a key research area in the development of next-generation vehicles.

In addition to neutron beams, CNL is offering potential customers a wide range of expertise and facilities that it has been using to solve unique problems for clients outside the nuclear industry, including surface science tools and burst testing services, to name a couple examples.

About CNL

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories is a world leader in nuclear science and technology offering unique capabilities and solutions across a wide range of industries. Actively involved with industry-driven research and development in nuclear, automotive, aerospace, defence, security and life sciences, we provide solutions to keep these sectors competitive internationally.

With ongoing investments in new facilities and a focused mandate, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories is well positioned for the future. A new performance standard reinforced with a strong safety culture underscores every activity.

For more information on the complete range of services at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, please visit www.cnl.ca or contact communications@cnl.ca.