Memories from the CNA’s 2016 Fall Energy Seminar

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Safety Versus Security: How the Nuclear Industry Balances Both

Nuclear safety and nuclear security are often paired together. Indeed, they almost seem synonymous. On the CNA website, “Safety & Security” is a single section. And in some ways, it makes perfect sense.

safety-firstNuclear safety and security have in common the aim of protecting people, property, and the environment. Safety and security measures have to be designed and implemented in an integrated manner to ensure synergy, and also in such a way that security measures do not compromise safety, and safety measures do not compromise security. However, there are some important differences that, at times, pit one against the other.

Safety is enhanced through transparency. Greater openness and awareness of procedures, measures and facilities designed to strengthen safety serve to reinforce public confidence in the industry and increase the public’s understanding and acceptance of nuclear technology..

Security, conversely, relies on confidentiality in order to be effective. The best security measures are the ones that limit access to sensitive facilities, procedures and sources so as to reduce possible interference or attack by criminal or terrorist entities. In short, security is dependent on the extent to which information is kept from wider exposure.

Though discussions typically group these two terms together, the reality is that there is a constant balance that must be struck between the openness of safety and the assurance of security. Some measures must remain confidential and protected in order to be effective in enhancing nuclear security. Yet, certain details must nevertheless be communicated so as to provide public assurance.

Each part of the industry has a different balance to strike between safety and security. It depends on the range of threats, risks and potential impacts of the nuclear technology in question. There is also the recognition that transgressions can occur internally, as well as externally.

Thankfully, the industry never rests on its laurels and is continuously working on finding new and better ways ensure safety AND strengthen overall security.


Young People with Passion – That is the Future of Nuclear Power

By Milt Caplan
MZConsulting Inc.

Originally posted at http://mzconsultinginc.com/.

We talk a lot about the merits of nuclear power in this blog. From economics and reliability to environment, we focus on why nuclear is now and should be an essential part of our future energy mix. But how do we get there? Again, we often talk about the challenges associated with public acceptance and how we can better position nuclear as the energy solution we all know it is.

But today we want to focus on something different. People. We have been privileged to work in this industry for more than 35 years. Often it’s hard to believe that this much time has passed since we were so excited to start our first jobs as a young engineers working on nuclear safety. Over the years there have been many challenges as the industry slowed, in part due to the accident at Chernobyl, in part due to the slowdown in energy demand growth in many industrialized countries, to the challenges of building capital intensive large projects into deregulated markets. But one thing has not changed; our passion for the industry – our passion for making the world a better place with clean reliable economic nuclear power. And we are not alone.

At a recent industry event, I spoke to many of our colleagues, many of whom have come out of retirement again and again simply because their passion for nuclear power as a solution to meeting our ever growing energy needs is simply impossible to extinguish. Some are well into their 70s and their enthusiasm is as strong as when they were in their 30s.

With nuclear power growing once again, it is time to ensure its continuity by instilling this passion into a new generation of young people. It is the fuel that will ensure the industry continues to be innovative and reaches its full potential going forward. That being said it is important to focus on what is important to this new generation of engineers and scientists; what will keep them enthused and committed. It is hard to imagine millennials thinking of utilities or large industrial companies as the growth companies of the future. Rather they think of companies like Google, Facebook and Uber when it comes to large innovative exciting companies – or they believe in being entrepreneurs and starting their own tech start-up. This ad campaign by GE (one example below) is a brilliant one as it tries to show young people that it can indeed be exciting to be in this large industrial company – that not everyone has to be coding and developing the next app that puts hats on cats – but that to truly change the world, it is the future of things like transportation and energy that really matters.

I love it (There are a series of these ads, just go to YouTube and you can see more).

In the nuclear industry we have the problem of a gap in age. There are many people in their 50s through to retirement age that have been in the industry for decades, and then there is a new cohort of young people who have joined the industry in the last 10 years or less. This new young cohort has different work expectations than the older group. They expect to be able to find a place and make a meaningful contribution in a relatively short time. They are impatient and expect to change jobs many times in their career. They do not expect to join one company and stay there until they retire.

Yet we are an industry that believes that it takes years to learn and become an expert. We need people with 10 years plus experience and we need experts who continue to grow as they gain the experience needed to make a difference.

Therefore, as industry leaders we need to understand and address the desires and concerns of those just starting out. We need to remember that 30 years ago when we were younger we quickly developed into experts as new techniques were established and we did not have the benefit of people like us to show us the ropes. We were at the leading edge and we loved working in this exciting young industry. We learned on the job. We were excited with every opportunity and put our best into developing a product that we strongly believed in. These are the conditions we need to replicate for this next generation. We need to ensure they are actively engaged, play a strong role in new projects and in innovating as the industry moves forward. We need to provide them with the opportunities they crave to develop their passion for this exciting industry. Competition for these people will be fierce and we need to show that the nuclear industry is where they can truly make a difference in the world.

Sometimes as conservative engineers, or as some of the anti-nuclear activists may state – that it is not fair to leave problems for future generations to solve; we need to push back. As one quite learned colleague once said, why solve every issue – we need to leave some things for the bright young people following us to solve – because they will be smarter than we are and bring new thinking to old issues.

While many think the future of nuclear power depends on public acceptance, or solving the waste issue, or improving nuclear safety; it actually depends on building a passionate next generation of young people to take it in directions that none of us has even thought of yet. Life is about passion – so let’s all work to bring out the passion in a new generation of nuclear people. The future is open to us – but only if we can attract the best and brightest people needed to make it happen.

If you are under 40 and have read this post – please comment explaining why you are passionate about working in the nuclear industry.


Why am I so Proud to Work in the Canadian Nuclear Industry?

By John Stewart
Director of Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Because my industry develops one of humanity’s most sophisticated, promising, and cleanest technologies, for human and environmental good.

Because labour unions in this industry believe as strongly in nuclear energy as I do, and advocate for it as strongly as I do.

Because leading environmentalists advocate for it as well.

Because my industry’s membership is united, not by a business model, but by this technology.  We are universities, laboratories, utilities, engineering and construction firms, standards and training organizations and a global mining company, working together to build a better future.

Because my country, Canada, is a world leader in nuclear technology.

It’s easy to be proud of this.


There’s Uranium in Seawater. And it’s Renewable.

According to Natural Resources Canada, “renewable energy is energy obtained from natural resources that can be naturally replenished or renewed within a human lifespan.” This typically includes sunlight, wind and rain. Uranium has never made this list, as it is generally believed that uranium resources are finite. However this is not the case.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory exposed this special uranium-adsorbing fiber developed at ORNL to Pseudomonas fluorescens and used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to create a 3-D X-ray microtomograph to determine microstructure and the effects of interactions with organisms and seawater. Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory exposed this special uranium-adsorbing fiber developed at ORNL to pseudomonas fluorescens and used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to create a 3D x-ray microtomograph to determine microstructure and the effects of interactions with organisms and seawater. Source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

While terrestrial uranium (the uranium we currently mine) is indeed limited in quantity, with known resources that will last another 100 years or so, there is uranium in seawater that naturally replenishes itself.

The uranium in seawater is controlled by steady-state chemical reactions between the water and rocks that contain uranium, such that whenever uranium is extracted from seawater, the same amount is leached from the rocks to replace it.

In fact, according to a Forbes Magazine article by James Conca, a scientist in the field of earth and environmental sciences, “it is impossible for humans to extract enough uranium to lower the overall seawater concentrations faster than it is replenished.”

Scientists envision anchoring hundreds of lengths of U-extracting fibers in the sea for a month or so until they fill with uranium. Then a wireless signal would release them to float to the surface where the uranium could be recovered and the fibers reused. It doesn’t matter where in the world the fibers are floating. Source: Andy Sproles at ORNL.
Scientists envision anchoring hundreds of lengths of uranium-extracting fibers in the sea for a month or so until they fill with uranium. Then a wireless signal would release them to float to the surface where the uranium could be recovered and the fibers reused. It doesn’t matter where in the world the fibers are floating. Source: Andy Sproles at ORNL.

Though the uranium concentration in seawater is only about 3 milligrams per cubic meter, the total volume of the ocean is about 1.37 billion cubic kilometers, which means there are about 4.5 billion tons of uranium in seawater at any given time.

There is currently a considerable amount of research being done on extracting uranium from seawater, most notably in Japan, China, and the United States. The latest technologies, which have emerged from Department of Energy’s (DOE) Pacific Northwest (PNNL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL), use polyethylene fibers coated with amidoxime to attract and bind uranium dioxide from seawater. These fiber braids are about 15 centimeters in diameter and can be several meters in length depending on where they are installed.

After a month or so, the fibers are brought to the surface, where they undergo an acid treatment that recovers the uranium and regenerates the fibers so that they can be reused.

“Finding alternatives to uranium ore mining is a necessary step in planning for the future of nuclear energy,” explained Stephen Kung at the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy to Forbes Magazine. But making the process economical is equally important.

The advances by PNNL and ORNL have reduced the cost of extraction by a factor of four in just 5 years, but the cost is still about $200/lb compared to traditional uranium mining which ranges between $10 and $120/lb.

Fortunately, the cost of uranium is a very small percentage of the cost of nuclear power. Therefore even at $200/lb, the cost of nuclear power would not increase dramatically.

Researchers continue to seek more efficient and economic ways to extract uranium from seawater, because the amount of uranium is truly unlimited. It is renewable energy in every sense of the word, and should be considered alongside solar, wind and hydro.


Top 10 Myths about Nuclear Energy

Myth #1: Nuclear energy is dangerous.

Fact: Nuclear energy is one of the safest forms of energy available. No member of the public has ever been injured or killed in the entire 60+ year history of nuclear power generation in Canada. In fact, recent studies have shown it is safer to work in a nuclear power plant than an office. (Source: NEI.org.)

Myth #2: A nuclear reactor can explode like a nuclear bomb.

Fact: It is physically impossible for a nuclear reactor to explode like a nuclear bomb. Reactor fuel does not have nearly enough uranium-235 to be explosive, and all nuclear reactors are constructed with multiple layers of safety controls and self-limiting features. It is also impossible for a person to intentionally or unintentionally modify a reactor, its controls or its fuel to cause an explosion.

Myth#3: Nuclear reactors emit dangerous amounts of radiation.

Fact: Nuclear reactors produce extremely small amounts of radiation. If you live within 75 km of a nuclear power plant, you receive an average radiation dose of about 0.0001 millisieverts per year. To put this in perspective, the average Canadian receives about 3 millisieverts per year from natural background sources of radiation.

Myth #4: Nuclear energy leads to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Fact: The Canadian nuclear industry is regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), which ensures that the country does not manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons, and that nuclear exports do not contribute to the development of nuclear weapons. In the history of Canadian nuclear exports, there has only been one breach of contract, which resulted in severe sanctions.

Myth#5: Nuclear energy produces a huge amount of waste.

Fact: Nuclear energy produces a very small amount of waste compared to other energy sources. In fact, all of the used nuclear fuel generated in every Canadian nuclear plant in the last 60 years would fill 6 NHL hockey rinks to the boards. Additionally, unlike the waste produced by fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, which is released into the air, nuclear waste is kept in secure storage.

Myth #6: There is no solution for the disposal of nuclear waste.

Fact: Nuclear waste is currently being safely stored at the nuclear site where it was generated. Two initiatives are currently underway in Canada to find Deep Geologic Repositories (DGRs) for nuclear waste – one for low and intermediate-level waste and one for used fuel – where it will be safe and secure for many generations to come. There are operational DGRs in several countries around the world.

Myth #7: Nuclear waste cannot be safely transported.

Fact: Nuclear waste is being safely shipped by truck, rail, and cargo ship. To date, thousands of shipments have been made without any leaks or cracks of the specially-designed containers. Some of the measures that contribute to the safe transportation of nuclear waste include expert engineering of vehicles and containers, rigorous screening and training of personnel, inventory tracking, and independent regulatory bodies.

Myth #8: Nuclear energy is expensive.

Fact: Nuclear power is one of the least expensive energy sources. In Ontario, it is second only to hydropower. Natural gas and wind are twice as expensive and solar is nearly ten times as expensive. Moreover, the cost of nuclear is very stable because uranium makes up only 30% of the cost of nuclear power, so an increase in the cost of uranium would have only a small effect on the total price.

Myth #9: Nuclear energy is being phased out.

Fact: Currently, there are 441 nuclear reactors in 29 countries producing 14% of the world’s electricity. Another 61 reactors are currently under construction in 15 countries. Furthermore, new reactor technologies, such as small modular reactors (SMRs), are under development, which will provide additional options for diverse countries around the world.

Myth #10: Nuclear energy is bad for the environment.

Fact: Nuclear reactors emit zero greenhouse gasses during operation. Over the entire lifecycle, which includes construction, mining, operation, and decommissioning, nuclear emissions are comparable to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Nuclear power also has minimal effects on aquatic habitats and uses less land than most other energy sources.