Tag Archives: nuclear power plant

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What’s it Like to Work Inside a Nuclear Power Plant?

The planned refurbishment of 10 of Ontario’s nuclear reactors is going to help keep electricity prices low in Ontario. It’s a big project that will take 15 years to roll out – and it’s expected to create more than 10,000 jobs, about 90% of them inside the province. But what kind of jobs are they?

Peter Weekes should know: he’s been at Bruce Power since 1977, and has worked on many of the key projects in running the plant. And the variety is something he likes. “Within the company, there’s a breadth of experience to be gained,” he says. “I’ve alternated my time between engineering, operations, and large projects.”Editorial - jobs

Some of those projects are the restarting of the Unit 1 and 2 reactors in 2012, and managing the replacement of steam generators for the upcoming refurbishment. He retired during the restart of Units 1 and 2, but loved the work so much that he came back the next day as a contractor. “I like working with the people, particularly in planning for the major component replacement for the refurbishment,” he says. “The people here want the refurbishment to go forward – we feel we’re contributing to the future, and we are. We’re extending the reactor’s life and making it better.”

One of the people he worked with throughout his career is his wife, Linda, who was involved in the restarting of Units 1 and 2, and in changing the reactors’ fuel channels. Peter says that she was the only woman in the engineering program at Queen’s in the late ’60s and early ’70s. “It’s come a long way since then,” he says. “It’s a very diverse workforce – gender-wise, ethnically, religion, sexual orientation, and so on.”

But that workforce still needs new talent, he says. “We need to get people into the front end of the chain, so that they’ll be experienced by the time they can lead the projects later on. I see a lot of people from the next generation working here, and it’s rewarding.”

One of that next generation is Matthew Saldanha, who joined Bruce Power in 2013. As a senior technical engineer officer, Matthew is part of a team that manages any design changes to the plant. He works with his mentors to ensure that the plants’ design integrity is kept intact. By doing this, the team is able to protect the stations’ assets and the public.

As a new recruit in the nuclear industry, Matthew says, “It was a little overwhelming, but I had my mentors, and worked with a good group around me. The learning curve was steep, but I wasn’t doing anything by myself.”

Matthew describes relations between the plant and nearby communities as very good. “Most people living in the town work at the plant, and in some way or another the plant touches everyone’s lives. It only brings positive things to this area,” he says. Peter agrees, noting that Bruce Power contributes to the community through social events such as beach parties and golf tournaments, and by supporting charities. And both are very comfortable living so close to the plant. “I would live right up against the fence if that’s where I had to be,” says Peter.

Matthew expects his stay near Bruce to be long too. “I see myself staying here, though probably not at the same job: there’s lots of room to move up, and the company is very receptive to that. I’d recommend it to anybody.” Peter says that the refurbishment has opened up new career opportunities. “I might not have recommended it ten years ago, because the industry had levelled off: plans for the next station after Darlington had been shelved. Now that we’re on the cusp of the refurbishments, I would certainly encourage people to get into the industry. This work will last another generation.”

And even after the refurbishments are done, the plants will keep running for decades, needing skilled people. According to Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, a single nuclear reactor employs about 640 people full-time, with great pay – and Ontario has 18 of these reactors.

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When is the Best Time to Take a Nuclear Power Plant Offline?

By Erin Polka
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

What happens to greenhouse gas emissions when a nuclear power plant goes offline? Let’s look at the Bruce Power complex in Kincardine, Ontario. On April 15, Bruce Power shut down the four reactors in its B building to enable a vacuum building outage (VBO). The vacuum building, which is an essential safety feature, needs regular maintenance that should last about a month.

Shutting down Bruce B means some 3,268 MW of generating capacity needs to be replaced with some combination of hydro, gas and wind. Which combination is better for the environment?

Hydro capacity is highest in the spring, as winter snows melt and rivers run high. So it stands to reason that hydro power will make up for some of the shortage. (And, yes, the VBO was timed to match the availability of hydro.)

What about wind? Not as much help. Wind provides only four percent of Ontario’s electricity on average. Whether it could provide more would depend on whether the wind blows longer and stronger. Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t – hardly the reliability needed to replace the steady nuclear workhorse.

And then there’s gas. It can be fired up quickly and easily, it runs reliably, and it doesn’t cost all that much more than nuclear power – about twice as much.

In the best-case scenario, hydro would replace the power from the four Bruce B reactors. It’s the best case because hydro, like nuclear, generates no greenhouse gases. But there’s a problem. Hydro in Ontario is quite limited as a result of the province’s geography, and the province lacks sufficient transmission lines to import replacement power from Quebec. Also, even if the lines did exist, Quebec doesn’t have a spare hydro dam to match the output from the four reactors.

The next-best scenario would use all the available hydro power, keeping cost and emissions down, and use gas for the rest. Very likely, hydro could replace half the nuclear energy from Bruce B, and natural gas would replace the other half.

Is that a problem? After all, Ontario businesses and residents will still get steady, reliable electricity – just as they did with the Bruce reactors. But here’s the thing – natural gas emits greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, which is primarily responsible for climate change.

GiraffesReplacing half the nuclear output with gas means the province’s gas plants will emit an additional 295,095 tonnes of carbon dioxide. For perspective, that’s the weight equivalent of about 300,000 adult giraffes.

What else would produce 295,095 tonnes of CO2?

  • Driving a car 35,563 times around the Earth’s equator
  • Taking 82,394 round-trip flights from Toronto to Sydney

And that’s not all. Unlike nuclear and hydro, gas also emits nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx), and particulate matter (PM) during operation. These “other” greenhouse gases cause lung and heart disease, and make these conditions worse. They can also harm plants and animals on land and in the sea. And they can even cause building materials to deteriorate and weaken.

Drive around the worldOf course, if hydro weren’t able to stand in for the offline nuclear plants, then Ontario would need to use gas alone. And that would mean the weight of another 300,000 giraffes in greenhouse gas emissions, or another 35,563 trips around the world (“Are we there yet?”), or another 82,394 round trips to Sydney.

So, timing is everything. Scheduling the VBO in spring, when hydro reaches its peak performance, was a wise decision. Just how much hydro will be available, and how much gas is actually used, remains to be seen.

You can track the results on the CNA website, if you like. Check our emissions tracking.

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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.”