Tag Archives: Nuclear Energy Institute

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Nuclear Power Plants Safe from Terrorist Attacks

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

Plane

Since 2001, much of the Western world has been living with what’s been called the “New Normal,” which came in the shadow of the 9/11 attacks.

Increased security at airports, borders and major public events is part of this new way of life.

Being part of critical infrastructure, the nuclear power industry is often cited in media stories as a potential terrorist target.

Shortly after 9/11, there was much media speculation, especially in the U.S., about the possibility of terrorists hijacking a commercial airliner and flying it into a nuclear reactor causing a meltdown.

In 2002, the U.S. Nuclear Energy Institute released a study that concluded, “The structures that house reactor fuel are robust and protect the fuel from impacts of large commercial aircraft.”

In Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has also examined the issue of an airliner attack on a nuclear plant and concluded that the public would not be at risk to radiation exposure as a result of such an event.

“Robustness design covers the physical design of nuclear facilities for sufficient robustness against anticipated threats, such as protection against a malevolent aircraft crash,” the CNSC said in a 2013 report.

“The assessment and ratings for this specific area are based on licensee performance in meeting the commitments provided to CNSC staff through an exchange of correspondence, including the submission of detailed aircraft impact assessments.  Licensees have demonstrated, through analysis using conservative initial assumptions and significant safety margins, that vital areas and critical SSCs (structures systems and components) are protected to the extent that no offsite consequences are expected for general aviation aircraft impact.”

Even before 9/11, nuclear reactors in the U.S. were designed and built with thick concrete walls to withstand strong earthquakes and hurricane force winds.

In 1989, Sandia National Labs in New Mexico conducted a test that sent a rocket-propelled F-4 fighter jet into a containment wall at 480 miles per hour. The jet exploded but there were less than three inches of penetration of the wall. And there’s video to prove it.

Okay, so a plane cannot penetrate a reactor from the side. But what if it made a precise nose dive into the top of the reactor?

The NEI study examined that scenario. Here’s its conclusion.

“The wing span of the Boeing 767-400 (170 feet) – the aircraft used in the analyses – is slightly longer than the diameter of a typical containment building (140 feet). The aircraft engines are physically separated by approximately 50 feet. This makes it impossible for both an engine and the fuselage to strike the centerline of the containment building,” the NEI study concluded.

“As a result, two analyses were performed. One analysis evaluated the ‘local’ impact of an engine on the structure. The second analysis evaluated the ‘global’ impact from the entire mass of the aircraft on the structure. In both cases, the analysis conservatively assumed that the engine and the fuselage strike perpendicular to the centerline of the structure. This results in the maximum force upon impact to the structure for each case.

“The analyses indicated that no parts of the engine, the fuselage or the wings – nor the jet fuel – entered the containment buildings. The robust containment structure was not breached, although there was some crushing and spalling (chipping of material at the impact point) of the concrete.”

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Carbon Crisis a Help for Nuclear, Not a Cure-All

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

The climate challenge will likely prove a modest, not a dramatic, help to nuclear energy, according to experts who spoke at this year’s Nuclear Energy Assembly in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Broad-brush policies on carbon are not happening, they emphasized at the conference that was attended by representatives from the Canadian Nuclear Association.

Global treaties failed, U.S. cap-and-trade legislation failed, and Congress will not put an explicit price on carbon.

The experts also correctly predicted that U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration would use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations to set climate policy.

On June 2, 2014, the Obama administration unveiled a bold new Environmental Protection Agency rule that would reduce carbon emissions 30 per cent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

David Victor, a modeller with the University of California at San Diego, said the climate models call for modest, but not vast, new investment in nuclear.

As a way of decarbonizing the atmosphere, more nuclear power appears to be competitive with encouraging forest growth (as a carbon sink), and with generating power from biomass combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS).

There are many “paper technologies,” Victor said, for reducing atmospheric carbon, but they tend to be pushed by technology-boosters with little knowledge of real-world investing and regulatory conditions.

Victor’s advice to policymakers is to focus on adapting. Limiting global warming to two degrees is now impossible and that “huge adaptation” is not only needed, but inevitable.

His advice to the nuclear energy industry is:  Focus less on climate policies, more on “what your real competition is” for effective carbon mitigation.

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Outlook Bright for New Nuclear Worldwide

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

The outlook is bright for the global nuclear energy picture, according to speakers and experts at this year’s Nuclear Energy Assembly (NEA) in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Seventy two reactors are currently under construction worldwide, and the World Nuclear Association base case predicts 55 per cent growth in nuclear generation by 2050.

Former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the conference, which was attended by Canadian Nuclear Association President John Barrett and CNA policy director John Stewart, the global revival of nuclear energy is a unique opportunity for U.S. trade in both large and small reactor designs and advances critical U.S. interests.

Kirk, who is also co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, cited Commerce Department statistics that show the international nuclear export market will be worth up to $740 billion over next decade. He said most opportunity for new nuclear builds will come from emerging markets.

NuScale CEO John Hopkins told the NEA his company is focusing on attracting investment and that small reactors are now “going to happen.”

Hopkins said the focus now is on replacing coal. There are also small reactor applications in the oil and gas sector, and an active market opportunity in the UK.

Meanwhile, the conference was also warned about potential issues that may come with the globalization of nuclear energy.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chair Allison Macfarlane asked for industry’s engagement to help improve regulatory regimes in countries that are new to nuclear.

“I also believe that we each have a particularly important responsibility when it comes to countries considering new nuclear power programs,” she said.

“I would argue that the presence of an effective, independent, well-resourced nuclear regulator is a strength – but perhaps more importantly, the absence of such an organization should be viewed as a threat, both to a good investment and to nuclear safety.”

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Nuclear Outlook Weak in Market-Driven North America

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Liberalized North American energy markets and a shale gas boom have made the financing of new nuclear plants extremely difficult, according to experts and U.S. industry executives.

Leading U.S. nuclear CEOs told the Nuclear Energy Assembly in Scottsdale, Arizona, on May 20, current market conditions are also now causing the premature closure of existing nuclear power plants, accelerating a loss of baseload power and a loss of fuel diversity. Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) President John Barrett and CNA policy director John Stewart were in attendance at the conference.

The closure of the Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin last year stunned the industry. Market forces, not reactor age or safety, was cited as the cause.

William Mohl, an executive with Entergy Corporation, predicted that more nuclear plants will close without reform to the electricity market structure.

U.S. electricity prices are chronically too low, partly due to a politically-driven push for renewable energy combined with cheap natural gas and the short-term focus of liberalized electric power markets.

NEA participating experts said U.S. decision-makers, both public and private, will be slow to recognize the threat from loss of energy diversity, just as they were slow to recognize the implications of the shale revolution in oil and gas.

Lawrence Makovich, vice president at IHS CERA, said the reliability of the diverse generation mix is being taken for granted in the energy policy debate and many policymakers do not understand the problems associated with the intermittency of renewables.

“When people get this notion that solar is a substitute for conventional generation, you can see a country like Germany, with the solar intensity of Anchorage, Alaska, closing nuclear plants and replacing them with solar (facilities),” he told the conference.

Gerald Anderson, CEO with DTE Energy, also said there was a problem with the structure of markets. High capital intensity and price volatility have to led to distress and instability in the electric sector. He also said there is trouble attracting capital to invest in new build.