Speaking in support of nuclear energy in Oregon

(Following last week’s hearing on a nuclear energy task force in the Oregon legislature, we asked Sam Goodrich, a PhD student at Oregon State University, if he would write a blog post about his experience testifying before the committee.)

Sam Goodrich, PhD student at Oregon State University

Sam Goodrich, PhD student at Oregon State University

Last week I had the opportunity to offer testimony to the Oregon House Committee on Energy and Environment regarding House Bill 3445, which would have established a task force “to study and report on matters related to use of nuclear power.” The bill had expired by passing a legislative deadline and would not move forward this session but a courtesy hearing was held anyway. For my invited remarks I wasn’t given any prompts beyond “testimony regarding HB 3445” so I kind of just started calculating things to see if I could make an interesting point, and some interesting conclusions of these calculations can be found in my submitted testimony. It wasn’t the first time I’ve used research and my own calculations to draw conclusions.

In the beginning

When I was a sophomore in high school I chose to write a science report on the “evils” of nuclear power. There wasn’t a specific source of influence that I can remember which caused me to passively form a negative perception of nuclear energy, but at that point in my life, having never researched the topic for myself, the only information I had to go on was nuance, pop culture, and the viewpoints of others. If I had been asked to play the word association game about nuclear power I would have likely written “toxic,” “green slime” and some version of “leaking barrels with the yellow and black radiation symbol on the side.” When I began to do research for the report, the first thing that struck me was the significance of energy density and how it relates to various fuels. I found that coal, oil, natural gas and other typical combustion fuels had roughly similar energy contents by mass, but nuclear was in a category all its own.

Me in the LIFT lab at Oregon State University using an apparatus I designed to study natural convection flows using Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) to collect velocity field data.

Sam in the LIFT lab at OSU using an apparatus he designed to study natural convection flows using Particle Image Velocimetry to collect velocity field data.

Additionally, I could find no data to support the claims of environmental damage (think three-eyed fish from The Simpsons), widespread health effects, and the calamitous flooding of the earth with nuclear waste as broadcast by those vocally opposed to nuclear power. What I mostly found was a power source that could produce as much electricity from a truckload of Uranium as could be produced from a literal mountain of coal. I found that 40 years of nuclear power in the U.S. had generated enough nuclear waste to cover – a single football field. I also found that this so-called waste could be almost entirely re-used in another reactor, a practice the United States eschewed supposedly for non-proliferation reasons and continued for reasons of simple inertia. I found that those emissions highlighted in photos of nuclear cooling towers (which were often placed next to pictures of smoke stacks as though they were analogous) were plain old water vapor. Not clouds of toxic gas, not acid rain precursor, just plain, fluffy clouds made of the same thing as those produced in nature. The potential of such an energy source was so apparent to me at the time that I had to change the topic of my paper and wonder “why all the bad press for nuclear power?”

Making my case

At the hearing, there were some passionate individuals present to testify on the bill, myself included. Some of those in opposition to HB3445 raised the issue of Oregon ballot Measure 7 from the 1980 election, which reads “nuclear plant licensing requires voter approval” and the “existence of (a) federally licensed permanent nuclear waste disposal facility.” What Measure 7 does not prohibit is further discussion of an issue that passed with just 53% of the vote, 35 years ago.

Sam Goodrich testifying.

Sam Goodrich testifying.

The establishment of a task force to take a look at how nuclear power has changed in the last 35 years and how nuclear power could potentially fit into Oregon’s carbon-free energy mix does not directly or indirectly violate Measure 7. The main sticking point seemed to be the unchanged absence of a federal waste spent fuel disposal storage facility. The lack of such a facility, while inconvenient, does not prohibit safe operation of nuclear power plants (remember the 40 years’ worth of used fuel on one football field) since the current arrangement has led to nuclear plants storing used fuel on-site for decades without any issues. The only seemingly insurmountable hurdles to safely and responsibly dealing with spent nuclear fuel at a federal level up to this point appear to be political in nature, not technical, economical, or ethical.

Beyond the discussion of Measure 7, there was limited data, research, calculations or scientific evidence presented by those in opposition to HB3445. Recalling Aristotle’s modes of persuasion, it seems that pathos, or emotional appeal, is too often the method of choice used in energy policy discussions such as these. Perhaps it is because the alternatives, ethos (deriving from authority in a field) and logos (deriving from logic) are, well, hard. Calculations on energy are hard; analysis of decades of data is hard; understanding current technological capabilities and costs are hard; earning credentials to speak authoritatively on nuclear energy is hard. Energy policy decisions require hard work and they require logos (the persuasion based on logic) because energy policy is a technical endeavor that requires facts and scientific expertise. Honest pursuit of factual information allows for impartial comparison of various options, which can then be leveraged to make informed and optimal decisions.

Personally, when I came to the topic of nuclear power, I had a vague notion but only after research, data analysis, and calculations I was able to properly form my opinions regarding nuclear energy, not the other way around. Unfortunately, too often some form an opinion first, then only data and analysis supporting that opinion is judged to have merit.

The only option left standing

In order to determine the best of a field of choices, certain metrics need to be identified by which to judge the options. Common metrics for power sources include cost, CO2 emissions, reliability, fuel availability and environmental impact. If one were to create an energy source decision tree using these metrics, the path would inevitably lead to nuclear power. The sun deposits a finite amount of energy into earth’s energy budget, which is then harvested for our use in many ways including photovoltaic panels, wind farms, hydroelectric dams and even food crops. It seems like science fiction, but the energy demands of human civilization on earth will exceed the energy the sun deposits on earth someday soon, at which point we will need to find an energy source that doesn’t trace back to the sun, namely nuclear power. In the near future, nuclear power is attractive because of its energy density, fuel availability, and lack of CO2 emissions but slightly further into the future, it may be the only option that can power humanity.

In the arena

I wanted to give my testimony at the hearing because I believe nuclear energy and a rational approach to energy policy are absolutely essential in order for our state and nation to prosper in the near and far future. I couldn’t justly complain about current energy policy if I wasn’t willing to do what I could to spread what I see are good ideas to those who make the decisions.

Oregon state House Committee on Environment and Energy hearing.

Oregon state House Committee on Energy and Environment hearing.

Most of those who testified in opposition to nuclear energy seemed upset about the amount of time that representatives from NuScale took to present their invited testimony. At the outset, it appeared as though there was indeed a point to be made about the minor injustice of the hearing regarding how the time was allotted. However, on further reflection I realized that there was nothing unjust about the meeting at all. The House Committee on Energy and Environment is tasked with finding the truth about energy options and how they impact Oregon and its environment. The representatives from NuScale took less than 9 minutes each to present their technology as the only nuclear energy company in Oregon and one of the more innovative nuclear companies in the country. The following 25 minutes was taken up by questions from various representatives on the committee and the answers from Dr. Jose Reyes and Dale Atkinson of NuScale. Perhaps the committee felt no need to ask questions of those opposed to the bill because they offered no objective, quantifiable information to support their testimonies.

I enjoyed my experience giving testimony in this hearing and hope to do so again. The committee was respectful, interested and professional. For debate in the technical field of energy policy, logos is king, ethos is helpful and pathos is just noise. I can only hope that the Oregon legislature and the federal government agree.

-Sam Goodrich, Corvallis, Ore.

Sam Goodrich grew up on a farm in Bend, Ore. where he graduated high school. He earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering at BYU and a M.S. in nuclear engineering at Oregon State University. He is currently pursuing a PhD in nuclear engineering at OSU, an endeavor which his wife and three young children support him in. Sam has worked at Idaho National Laboratory, a fuel cell company, and various other research jobs. He’s worked in experimental research in the areas of combustion, pyrolysis, hydrogen fuel cells, steam reforming, and thermal hydraulics, among others. He currently works for TerraPower part-time as part of an initiative to look at alternative uses for nuclear heat beyond making electricity, such as to drive chemical processes and create fuel. His dissertation research is focused on characterizing criteria for determining laminar-to-turbulent regime transition for natural convection boundary layer flows adjacent to vertical heated cylinders.

A pretty remarkable moment in Salem

Last week, the Oregon House Energy and Environment Committee held a public hearing on HB 3445, a bill that would establish a nuclear energy task force to:

• Study and report on the methods used to procure nuclear energy, including methods that have been developed since the closure of the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant;
• Analyze and report on a variety of available technologies used to procure nuclear energy;
• Analyze and report on the costs and benefits of using nuclear energy to provide for this state’s energy needs; and,
• Recommend a strategy for the contribution of nuclear power to the provision of continued abundant, inexpensive and environmentally sound energy for this state.

The bill had no chance of moving forward as it was brought to a hearing past a key legislative deadline. So why the hearing?

From the hearing itself, one gets the sense it was an admirable show of bi-partisanship by the committee chair, Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson of Portland (the bill’s chief sponsor is a republican), and that, well, small modular reactor technology is cool and there is a budding major success story in the form of homegrown NuScale Power worth hearing more about.

There is also a glaring disconnect in the state of Oregon.

“We have one of the leading nuclear engineering programs at Oregon State University. But these world-renown nuclear engineers must leave Oregon to pursue their careers. These students take their skills and expertise elsewhere,” Rep. Jim Weidner, the bill’s chief sponsor, testified.

While there are no operating nuclear plants in Oregon (Trojan shut down in 1993), the state’s voters passed a ballot initiative in 1980 that essentially prohibits any new nuclear energy reactors from being built. Much has changed since 1980, except in some minds. More on that later.

NuScale representatives Dr. Jose Reyes, chief technical officer, and Dale Atkinson, chief operating officer, walked the committee members through the NuScale story. It was the kind of inspiring testimony that fueled a previous blog post here.

Dr. Jose Reyes testifies at the committee hearing in Salem, Ore.

Dr. Jose Reyes testifies at the committee hearing in Salem, Ore.

Dr. Reyes talked about starting the company at Oregon State University with a $4,000 grant and a dream to create a new style of light-water reactor with passive safety features, meaning no operator action or additional cooling water or even additional power needed in the event of an emergency. On top of those safety features, the NuScale reactor delivers the same baseload, carbon-free energy we’ve all come to expect from nuclear. A two-fer and then some.

“Fluor invested in NuScale after Fukushima. So that’s very telling,” Dr. Reyes told the committee.

OSU PhD. student Sam Goodrich testified on nuclear energy’s carbon-free benefits. Goodrich pointed out that Oregon’s current energy mix, though dominated by hydro-electricity, still produces about 10 million metric tons of CO2 every year (from 1.8 gigawatts of generation). Goodrich said Oregon’s two million passenger cars emit about nine million tons of CO2 a year. “You could take every single passenger car off the road and it would have less impact than installing one large nuclear power plant in Oregon,” Goodrich testified.

The Oregon legislature recently looked at a bill that would ban so-called “coal-by-wire” to the state (as well as most new carbon-emitting forms of generation, such as large natural gas plants). Oregon is also a leader where wind power is concerned. But wind power is intermittent.

The Oregonian’s Ted Sickinger summed up the situation thusly:

Yet replacing even 1,000 megawatts of coal with the cheapest renewable available – wind energy – could prove impractical. It would require utilities to build some 3,000 megawatts of capacity, as wind turbines typically produce only about a third of their capacity.

That’s an enormous addition to the current wind fleet, and most of the best wind sites in Oregon are already taken. The intermittent nature of the resource could also create reliability issues, transmission logjams, and exacerbate oversupply issues in the spring and summer, when wind and hydroelectric dams already produce more electricity than the region can absorb. The Bonneville Power Administration says it has already tapped out its ability to integrate more wind energy in the region, which is typically accomplished by cycling the output of the federal dams up and down.

So how to supply baseload energy that doesn’t emit carbon and could also be used to balance the ups-and-downs of wind? And bring family-wage jobs to the state? Nuclear energy, particularly an SMR such as NuScale’s, can do all that.

Dale Atkinson, NuScale chief operating officer.

Dale Atkinson, NuScale chief operating officer.

“There’s a very large number of young (NuScale) employees who are so enthusiastic about what they’re bringing to the world to really change both nuclear, but more importantly, the quality of life and a solution to some really tough problems for the world and for Oregon,” NuScale’s Dale Atkinson told the hearing.

The other side

The Energy and Environment Committee also heard from those opposed to nuclear energy, including long-time Portland activist Lloyd Marbet, unsuccessful in three ballot initiatives to close the Trojan nuclear plant (Portland General Electric ended up doing that on its own).

Marbet focused on the used fuel that is still stored at the Trojan site, “just above the Columbia River.”

Trojan used fuel

The used nuclear fuel storage area at the closed Trojan nuclear plant.

But if the audience anticipated finally learning about the “dangers” of used nuclear fuel storage, they would be left wanting. (Facts here). Apart from mentioning the juxtaposition to the river, there was no testimony of any actual environmental harm from used nuclear fuel storage. By any of the anti-nuclear activists. There was plenty of talk about Yucca Mountain not being open, which is one of the main points of Measure 7 (no new nukes until a national repository is licensed and operating). However, we know quite a bit more about used nuclear fuel storage management than we did in 1980 – including that long-term temporary storage, though not ideal, is not such a bad thing.

In 1980, so soon after Three Mile Island and Hollywood’s China Syndrome, Measure 7 passed with just a little over 53 percent of the vote. A win, but a close one.

In written comments, a member of the Hanford Advisory Board, which focuses on defense waste clean-up in Washington state, said this: “The dangers and costs associated with spent nuclear fuel have not changed at all since 1980.” Hyperbole to be sure, but there follows no evidence to support that claim. He then added: “The fuel from the closed Trojan nuclear power plant remains in dry cask storage at the Trojan site…” Surely if there was an environmental impact from spent nuclear fuel, the evidence would have been brought forward.

The “live” testimony from the Physicians for Social Responsibility rep centered on the un-viability of the NuScale design (so unviable that Fluor has invested a quarter-of-a-billion dollars in it thus far). This is the same rep who said Columbia Generating Station’s spent fuel pool wasn’t designed for earthquakes because the engineers were too focused on the reactor – and forgot. He also cited a 2003 MIT study to talk about the challenges to developing new nuclear energy facilities. An update to that 2003 study, published in 2009, makes it clear that, again, times have changed:

In sum, compared to 2003, the motivation to make more use of nuclear power is greater, and more rapid progress is needed in enabling the option of nuclear power expansion to play a role in meeting the global warming challenge.

Knowledge is still power

What is clear from the anti-nuclear activist testimony is that conversations such as the one that took place last week in Salem, shouldn’t. That more knowledge where nuclear energy is concerned is a bad thing. That science and technology have not made any progress since 1980.

A Sony Walkman 2, with its battery case, circa 1982.

A Sony Walkman 2, with its battery case, circa 1982.

It was like watching the Sony Walkman crowd talking down this new-fangled iPod thingy. The Washington state legislature has a nuclear energy task force that held meetings across the state last year and even visited the NuScale facility in Corvallis, Ore. The sky didn’t fall. (The same people didn’t want those discussions to happen either.)

Remember, knowledge is power. In this case, it could (eventually) be nuclear power.

(Posted by John Dobken. In 2013, Energy Northwest joined a teaming arrangement with NuScale Power and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems as part of the Western Initiative for Nuclear Project collaboration to promote a commercial, small modular reactor project in the western U.S. Energy Northwest holds first right of offer to operate the project. By doing so, Energy Northwest will become one of the first industry experts for small modular reactor operation.)

UPDATE: Too much news from too few facts (Pt. 2)

Much has been made in some circles this week about an indication (which could be a mark, a scratch, a welt, or even a crack) on one of 10 inlet risers in Columbia’s reactor pressure vessel.

The risers are 19-feet tall. The indication is a little over an inch long. The picture below shows a mock-up of the type of jet pump assembly Columbia uses. The arrow shows the location of the indication.

Jet Pump Riser Mock-up

Inspectors first saw the indication during our 2011 refueling outage. We then looked at videotape back to 2001, where the indication was seen as well. There appeared to be no discernible change in the indication.

During the 2013 refueling outage, the riser was inspected again. The indication showed no discernible change.

This week, after a record-breaking 683-day continuous operation run in which Columbia generated 18-million megawatt hours of electricity, trained professionals again inspected the indication and found no change from the previous inspection.

Vessel Exam 1

Inspectors perform a visual inspection this week of Columbia’s reactor pressure vessel.

In the comment section of a story on the subject in the Oregonian, Meredith Angwin (who blogs here) provided some much needed technical expertise to the discussion. Here’s what Meredith wrote:

I was a project manager at the Electric Power Research Institute in renewable and nuclear energy.

In all energy projects and many manufacturing environments, equipment is periodically inspected with “non-destructive evaluation.” If something shows up during the inspection, this is called an “indication.” An indication can be a crack…or it can be a minor flaw in the metal due to some other cause, such as a slightly thicker area from the manufacturing process.

After an indication is found, it is evaluated. If the evaluation shows no immediate danger of leak or rupture, the indication is re-evaluated at the next inspection. Many (probably most) indications are basically meaningless, in terms of the integrity of the metal. In this particular case, as Energy Northwest has stated, this indication hasn’t changed in more than a decade.

Because of the stringent safety requirements of the nuclear industry, indications must be reported to the NRC.

However, indications that just sit there for decades are not problems that are growing and dangerous.

Calling an indication a “crack” is jumping to conclusions. Cracks have to be dealt with. Indications have to be watched. After fourteen years without changes, though, I suspect that any corrosion engineer would say that this particular indication is probably just going to sit there forever without changing.

Energy Northwest will review this indication at every outage. All nuclear plants are required to keep watching indications, and Energy Northwest will do so.

Please read the analysis of the required certifications for anyone who evaluates the results of non-destructive evaluation. This is not a casual business, by any means.

Here’s a photo from the most recent inspection on Thursday. Additional review of the indication raised no concerns.

2015 Inspection - Indication

Energy Northwest will continue its monitoring and inspection program of the indication going forward.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Too much news from too few facts

A few days ago a community radio station out of Portland received a “hot tip” about a crack in a component of the Columbia reactor. It reported that “local residents who have become aware” are calling upon Energy Northwest to keep Columbia offline.

Enter the spokesperson for “local residents who have become aware,” an anti-nuclear activist who has likened Energy Northwest and its 1,100-plus workers (including many military veterans) to terrorists, and believes we shouldn’t have clean energy nuclear plants operating anywhere in the world.

The “local residents” spokesperson is joined by a nuclear “expert” who represents an organization that equates safe commercial nuclear energy to military nuclear bombs. The expert calls for a “thorough inspection” at a time when, ironically, Columbia begins a 42-day outage to thoroughly inspect the entire plant, to include opening up and inspecting the reactor vessel.

Our “local residents” spokesperson has now sent a news release to every agency on Energy Northwest’s news release list (our regrets to you all; we didn’t see that coming) hoping to make further news out of an indication of a potential tiny crack in a component called a jet pump riser.

So here are the facts.

A jet pump is not a pump as you might think of a pump. It has no moving parts but is simply a set of 19-foot tall pipes that help force water through the reactor core.

Jet Pump Diagram edit

The talk about a “cracked jet pump” is a bit sloppy. The 1 ¼-inch crack indication – because there may be no crack – is in the inlet riser, which is part of the pump assembly. The actual pumps – Jet Pumps 17 and 18 (see graphic above) – have no issue. Further, it isn’t the size of the indication that matters, but the location.

We have evaluated the potential of the indication being a crack, and its location, and considered the possibility of crack growth at both tips under all conditions. There’s no doubt that the jet pumps and risers are capable of continuing to perform their intended function.

The jet pumps also do not control the power output of the reactor, as some anti-nuclear activists believe. The two reactor recirculation pumps handle that (and/or the control rods) and they are unaffected by the potential crack.

Background

In the picture, you can see the indication for yourself. In reality, the indication is this long:

___________________ (1.25”)

Jet Pump Indication edit2

In April, Energy Northwest sent a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission informing them of our assessment of potential crack growth rates on a single indication (the one in the photo above). The industry normally applies the same standard growth rate to both ends of a crack. The letter simply explains to the NRC that we are applying a slightly lower crack growth rate to one end of the potential crack and provided sound engineering support, including: the material condition at the potential crack tip; mitigation of cracking through effective hydrogen water chemistry; and, industry and plant experience which shows low crack growth rates for similar indications.

In fact this letter is similar to the 2011 letter to the NRC on the same issue. As stated in the 2011 letter to the NRC, the indication is more consistent with fatigue cracking, and “shows none of the characteristics associated with SCC (stress corrosion cracking).”

The common industry guidance is to assume a crack growth of approximately 0.44 inches per year on each end of a crack for any crack on a component inside the reactor. We are assuming that general growth rate at one end, but a slower growth rate at the other end; remember, our potential crack showed zero growth in the two years between 2011 and 2013, and we are inspecting it again during our current refueling outage.

Additionally, in 2005 we proactively installed slip joint clamps since these are designed to limit vibration and fatigue stresses.

The April letter to the NRC is a standard notification. It’s the second one we’ve sent since 2011. But it was new to the anti-nuclear activists so therefore an opportunity to push their agenda.

Going forward

Energy Northwest is treating the indication as if it were a “through-wall” crack, and has been since it was first discovered. That is an appropriate and conservative approach. We will take another look at the indication this refueling outage and see if there is any noticeable growth. If so, we will take the appropriate actions. The bottom line is always the safe operation of the plant.

(Posted by John Dobken)

The commitment we made

Blog post by Mark Reddemann, CEO

Today, Columbia Generating Station begins its biennial refueling and maintenance outage. We do so after operating the plant for 683 consecutive days, which is a record for Columbia. During that stretch, Columbia sent nearly 18 million megawatt hours of electricity to the Northwest power grid. Our capacity factor was greater than 98 percent.

Mark Reddemann, CEO

Mark Reddemann, CEO

More importantly, we’ve achieved these generation numbers safely. Looking at our industrial safety record, employees and contractors have now worked more than 950 days without a lost-time accident, equivalent to nearly 10 million hours worked.

I can’t tell you how proud I am of the Energy Northwest team for those accomplishments. When I first came to Energy Northwest in 2010, I made a commitment to the organization and the region that performance excellence would be the goal, and we would work hard every day to meet that goal. More importantly, we would be able to sustain that goal over the long term.

Columbia Generating Station has never run better in its 30 year history. The key to that success is our people. Our Maintenance department, Operations, our engineers and many, many others who work hard every day to help the organization achieve and sustain excellence. It has truly been a team effort.

Excellence is a word we use a lot

Energy Northwest employees implemented the Excellence in Performance initiative agency wide in July 2011 in direct response to Columbia Generating Station’s poor performance compared to the nuclear industry. The goal was (and is) to reach and sustain nuclear industry first-quartile plant performance within five years, and top performance, compared to energy industry peers, at our other generation projects.

Excellence in Performance is the relentless pursuit of the highest performance expectations through continuous improvement, zero tolerance for deviation from standards, and dedication to fostering an environment of teamwork. The initiative uses the Excellence Model, with supporting information and decision-making tools, to improve accountability at the individual, department and division levels.

The model is built upon the premise that behaviors plus results equal organizational performance. Originally developed by the Nuclear Management Company and adapted to Energy Northwest, the model is proven in the nuclear industry as effective in changing and sustaining workforce behaviors.

As a result of the Excellence in Performance initiative, Columbia broke its third consecutive annual generation record in 2014, generating nearly 9.5 million MWhrs.

We are equally focused on providing value to Northwest ratepayers. We’ve worked hard to increase Columbia’s generation, which has had a large impact in reducing costs. In parallel, we’ve also kept our capital costs in-line with our long-range plan. Our production costs, which includes operation and maintenance, and fuel costs, have decreased since fiscal 2009, on average, by $3.49 per megawatt each year, or 4.4 percent annually. (In fiscal 16 dollars, so we’ve adjusted for inflation).

With the combination of Columbia’s cost-of-power reductions and regional debt cooperation initiatives with Bonneville Power Administration, Energy Northwest will contribute more than $1.3 billion in total BPA rate case savings between 2012 and 2021.

The road ahead

Now – we are focused on successfully completing the refueling and maintenance outage. There are some major projects, important ones, that will improve our equipment reliability and our generation output when we are back up and running in June. As with our day-to-day operation, the key to outage success will be safety, and then predictably meeting our schedule.

Top5Producers

(Source: EIA)

As the third largest generation resource in the state of Washington, Columbia is a key part of the state (and regional) generation mix. Not only do we provide carbon-free, cost-effective electricity, but we deliver fuel diversity to an energy mix dominated by hydroelectric power.

We are looking forward to continuing to serve Northwest ratepayers with clean, reliable, cost-effective power. That is our commitment.