Thursday, December 18, 2008

Argonne National Lab + Nuclear Simulations

A quick glance at some nuclear news showed this:

Basically, the Blue Gene/P system at ANL allows for extremely large simulations to be run. For nuclear engineering, this is a valuable tool for investigating the coupled physics in reactors without actually doing an experiment.

I've seen talks by Dr. Siegel--one of the investigators--and he puts it best, saying essentially that large scale simulations will never replace experiments; however, they will help to us use the analytic tools available to zero in on those designs, parameters, etc. that would be most valuable to investigate experimentally.

A Promise to Myself!

As this term winds down, and as I find myself with more time, I want to commit to keeping up with what I had started roughly one year ago. I want both to keep up on relevant literature--as much as seems relevant beyond what I need to do for my work--and on relevant news. I'm going to shoot for two-three hours a week. We'll see...

Happy holidays--whichever they may be!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

10 Reasons Not to Listen to 10 Other Reasons

My Google nuclear news filter popped up a little gem entitled “10 Reasons Not to Invest in Nuclear” put out by the Center for American Progress, an entity bolstering “progressive ideas for a strong, just, and free American.”

I read through their points, and it’s the same old stuff, and as I always think—at least to myself—here is why they’re wrong:

1. Nuclear faces prohibitively high-and-escalating-capital costs.

It is true the cost to build a nuclear plant has gone up since we last built one, but that’s to be expected—it’s been a long time. They cite AEP’s CEO Michael Morris as saying he doesn’t see new nuke in the near term. What, then, does he see? Coal. The article they cite, here, also states that new nuclear would cost about $4000 per kilowatt; the same article says new coal—potentially with sequestration—would be $3500. Nuclear doesn’t sound so “prohibitive”, especially when one considers the 20-50% increased cost of sequestered coal power.

Besides, if nuclear were absolutely so costly, we wouldn’t be seeing license submissions and orders for reactors. Bottom line? Nuclear is economically viable.

2. Plant construction is limited by production bottlenecks.

Sure, we all know Japan Steel is the containment vessel master of the world. They go on to state,

“even if Japan Steel increases its capacity [up from 4/year], American power companies would be buying components in a global market at a time when China and India are increasing their nuclear capacity to meet growing energy needs.”

Aren’t China and India the fastest growing coal users in the world, too? That’s what I get out of the recent G8 discussions. Sure, there will be competition for nuclear supplies, but that’s no different than any other energy—we have to accept that sooner than later. And about the vessels—I already know of one U.S. company who has one in construction.

3. New nuclear plants probably won’t be designed by American companies.

In 30 years, the United States has lost much of its indigenous nuclear infrastructure—that is true. However, it’s not the case the nuclear companies are foreign; rather, they are international. So what if Constellation teamed with Areva in a joint multinational endeavor? Areva, though headquartered in France, has 5000 U.S. employees. If Areva designs are used here in the U.S., that will mean more—not fewer—jobs for our workforce.

4. Unresolved problems regarding the availability and security of waste storage.

What do they mean there is nowhere to store used fuel? It has to be somewhere right now – and it is, on site, all around the U.S. They bring up a point of truth—Yucca would be at about capacity with what we have right now. They’re wrong, though, to say recycling wouldn’t help. Few understand that roughly 95% of what comes out as used fuel is still uranium, some of which is still usable as fuel (hence used fuel, not waste!). Take out 95% of the used fuel content for use as new fuel, and you’re left with “5% of the problem”, as it were. And that’s not a reduction? I think it is.

They also suggest recycling would increase electricity costs. However, this could very well be an issue for government—which is required by law to deal with civilian waste. And in fact they are looking at it here, here, and here. (I like the last, particularly).

5. Nuclear faces concerns about uranium supplies and importation issues.

Our foreign dependence on energy is no new thing. However, our dependence on foreign nuclear fuel would be much reduced if we went to a closed fuel cycle, i.e. recycling.

6. Nuclear reactors require water use amid shortages

“Large areas of the United States already face water shortages, and the effects of global warming are expected to exacerbate this problem.”

Nuclear power is the enemy of global warming. I like this quote from a rudimentary thermodynamics book:

“If this power plant [for which we just calculated oodles of numbers] were coal-fired rather than a nuclear plant, the quantities we have calculated would be little different. We would have essentially the same amount of heat...and the temperature rise of the river would be about the same. But there are other considerations. To supply the heat...would require about 6 tons/min [of coal]. The sulfur content...would produce about 600 lb of sulfur dioxide per minute...[and]...would pollute the atmosphere continuously. Thus the coal-fired plant would cause both thermal pollution and air pollution."

The extra water use is marginal; the emission-reduction is paramount.

7. Safety concerns still plague nuclear power.

“After the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents, the United States stopped granting licenses for new nuclear plants. The crises demonstrated that the nuclear industry is vulnerable to public concern.”

True, but rather mute given current public opinion; one poll shows 67% of American support new nuclear plants. (Five-to-one preferred a nuclear plant to a coal plant in their neighborhood)

8. Nuclear is already a mature technology—it will not get cheaper.

I don’t know anyone who has ever said any type of base load generation will get cheaper.

That said, the nuclear industry will benefit from any carbon emission mandates set by the government. Thus, nuclear will become comparatively cheaper as our nation commits to green.

9. Other clean energy technologies are cheaper, cleaner, and faster to build.

And other clean energies are not appropriate for round-the-clock base load generation.

I will state I do support research into other technologies, e.g. solar and wind, for I do believe they have their place. However, I did a calculation the other day. The results were something like this. In the next thirty years, our energy demands will grow. If we use just solar for that growth, we’d be covering the whole of Illinois in solar panels—not going to happen. Same sort of thing for wind. These sources simply are not the solution unless we plan to ramp back our energy consumption level to that of say 1950, and the statistics on American consumption don’t support that possibility at all!

10. Nuclear subsidies take money away from more effective alternative energy subsidies.

Look at 9. Why heavily subsidize technologies that simply cannot meet our needs?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

To Yucca or Not to Yucca (Now)...

...that is the question addressed by Sen. Pete Domenici R-N.M in a recently proposed bill. The Las Vegas Sun has more here. The key points, though, are that he's:
"...put forward a bill that would allow $1 billion annually from the fund designated for Yucca Mountain to instead go for developing nuclear recycling and interim waste storage sites run by public-private ventures...[The bill also allows] a stable funding stream for nuclear waste projects separate from Congress, where the Nevada delegation led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has successfully slashed Yucca Mountain’s budget in recent years."

What ever would we do without Harry Reid? It won't help matters that he's got a former adviser as an NRC commissioner--the current lineup which likely will undertake the licensing decision for Yucca submitted recently.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Obama discussed his energy policy yesterday; see the video here.

It all sounds "good"... except where he says McCain's call for 45 new nuclear plans is "not a serious" energy plan. He makes specific note of used fuel storage and Nevada, i.e. Yucca Mountain.

I understand oil is the big ticket item today. I understand families are hurting. However, if we limit our attention to oil in the context of total energy consumption, then we are missing the big picture. Renewables just do not count right now. Biodiesel/ethanol to me is a joke.

Baseload energy should be the focus. If we solved--I mean really solved--the baseload energy problem, our transportation cost crisis would be mitigated severely. Think nuclear and think either plug-in electrics or fuel cells.

I am war-weary, surely, but I am becoming suspicious of Obama's ability to lead our energy future.

Friday, June 20, 2008

GPM, not MPG!

A Duke professor thinks we ought to think in terms of gallons-per-mile (gpm), not miles-per-gallon (mpg) according to this article. Essentially, Richard Larrick believes we are often misled by what differences in magnitudes in mpg actually mean and that manufacturers should employ the gpm numbers instead.

For example, the cost-per-mile difference between a car getting 10 mpg and a car getting 20 mpg is greater than the difference between a 25 mpg car and a 50 mpg hybrid.

He tested his theory of misconception on college kids; not being asked, I decided to find out for myself.

miles / gallon 10 20 25 30
gallons / mile 0.1 0.05 0.04 0.03333
cost ($) / mile 0.4 0.2 0.16 0.13333
% improve each 10 mpg 0.0% 50.0% 20.0% 33.3%
$ improve from 10 mpg $0.00 $0.20 $0.24 $0.27
% improve from 10 mpg 0.0% 50.0% 60.0% 66.7%
$ improve from 25 mpg -$0.24 -$0.04 $0.00 $0.03
% improve from 25 mpg -150.0% -25.0% 0.0% 16.7%


40 50 75 100 1000
0.025 0.02 0.01333 0.01 0.001
0.1 0.08 0.05333 0.04 0.004
25.0% 20.0% 33.3% 50.0% 90.0%
$0.30 $0.32 $0.35 $0.36 $0.40
75.0% 80.0% 86.7% 90.0% 99.0%
$0.06 $0.08 $0.11 $0.12 $0.16
37.5% 50.0% 66.7% 75.0% 97.5%

Assuming gas costs 4$/g, we see going from the Excursion (i.e. 10 mpg) to my '93 Bonneville (i.e. ~ 25 mpg) gives rise to a 50% reduction in per-mileage cost. However, going from my Bonnie to say a good hybrid (~50 mpg) would also be a 50% price reduction... so something is fishy.

Ah! He must be talking about absolute cost! For the first 50% reduction (Excursion to Bonnie), we see the net reduction is 20 cents. For the Bonnie to Hybrid, we see the reduction is just 8 cents!

It makes sense, though, for what we pay per mile is an inverse function of our car's efficiency. Thus, we expect a hyperbolic cost function with the associated diminished returns.

It looks like my biggest impact move away from Bonnie will be to ride my bike!

Nonproliferation, revisited.

The Wall Street Journal has a good article by congresswoman Harman (D-CA) about the need for new nonproliferation activities. Read that here.

Speaking about Iran, she writes "the dangers posed by unsupervised, weapons-grade material in the hands of a regime that has threatened to 'wipe Israel off the map' are unacceptable."

I tend to agree, especially after attending a lecture on enrichment safeguards yesterday. To sum it up, we all got a glimpse of the Iranian centrifuge bank, with an estimated separations capacity of 3000 tonne-swu (a unit measuring how much separations can be done per year; to put it in context, a 5000 tonne-swu capacity can produce a enough for a weapon in one year...)

Now, I can't readily say I'm for preemptive war, for I've seen what that does. However, comments like "wiping" countries off the map coupled with the potential means to do so is alarming.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An Interesting Time

It's been some time, I must admit. Between finishing up my undergraduate degree at Wisconsin (+ thesis) and wrapping up an award winning year for our American Nuclear Society, I had little time for keeping up with things outside my world. Now, I'm settled back into the Lab environment to work on what ought to become my Master's work. With a DOE-funded Fellowship in tow, I should be fine.

Since Clinton dropped out two weeks ago, the playing field has been set. For me and others in nuclear, a big question has to be "where does Obama stand?"

McCain is already calling for more nuclear power, reminding us that it accounts for 20% of our energy. He also points out the agonizing fact that our national nuclear construction base is largely gone. The AP has a good review here.

From his own site, Obama says

"It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power from the table. However, there is no future for expanded nuclear without first addressing four key issues: public right-to-know, security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation."

He also believes Yucca "is not an option."

What is an option, Senator? I want a real, carb-cutting energy diet plan. I don't believe he's got that at this point. Whereas McCain says "If I am elected president, I will set [my emphasis] this nation on a course to building 45 new reactors by the year 2030, with the ultimate goal of 100 new plants to power the homes and factories and cities of America", Obama seems to say he will wait around passively as our percentage carbon-emission output, oil-dependence, and cost-of-living rise.

In other news, I've got two tank-like tires on my bike; no more flats. I baked some corn bread, too.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

And thus it begins....

Well, I suppose many who care already know, but we saw yesterday an important milestone in the rebirth of our nuclear industry.

Georgia Power (a subsidiary of Southern Company) entered into an agreement with a consortium comprised of Westinghouse and others to build two AP-1000 plants. Details can be found on their page here.

I am excited to see how this unfolds. Moreover, I anticipate this will be the first in a string of several such orders--a very good thing for us soon-to-be employable engineers in the field.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Continuous partial-attention

This isn't nuclear, but fascinating none the less:

It talks about how people are "living in their laptops", which, unfortunately, I do.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pro-Nuke at UW-Madison?

I once thought that UW-Madison being a relatively "liberal" campus would preclude any notion of "pro-nuke" among the general student body. However, recent articles (and subsequent discussion) seem to imply otherwise.

This article by a Badger Herald staff writer Sam Clegg supports nuclear in the context of recent state Assembly discussions regarding (lifting) the effective ban on new nuke in Wisconsin. Of course, the Republican majority passed on a bill only to fail to reach the (Democrat led) Senate floor.

In response to the article, a future teacher of America wrote this article. Suffice it to say I would not feel comfortable with the author being my own science, English, or geography teacher.

Finally, our ANS section's Public Information Officer lent his response to our teacher-in-training.

For each article, some pretty good debate has arisen; moreover, much of it has been pro-nuke.

WPUI Lunch: Advances in Nuclear

Nuclear engineering students of the University of Wisconsin - Madison were given a special treat today in the form of a day long program sporting the likes of Eugene Grecheck (VP Dominion), Ann Bisconti (President Bisconti Research), David Lochbaum (UCS), and others.

The program agenda can be found here. Video of the event can be found for the morning and afternoon portions.

The day presented a lot of good information, and if I weren't running on fumes, I would expound a bit on what was said...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Update: New Nuclear Exchange-Traded Fund

For those interested in investing in the future of nuclear, a new ETF (NYSE: PKN) for the world nuclear industry will be listed by PowerShares Capital Management on 4/3/08.

CNN Money has more details here.

I especially like the fund manager's viewpoint,

"Since 2001, nuclear power plants have achieved lower production costs than coal, natural gas and oil ... We believe higher oil prices, rising standards of living, and demand for cleaner sources of energy are favorable trends powering worldwide growth for the nuclear energy industry. The PowerShares Global Nuclear Energy Portfolio provides investors exposure to the performance of the global nuclear energy industry in the benefit-rich ETF format."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Tech Review - 4

As I begin reviewing the literature for my summer internship (and potential master's work), I think it is helpful to explain the background of the topic--burnup credit--and what implications it could have. A recent paper out of ORNL* summarizes quite well the value implementation of full burnup would have.

Burnup credit is the process of taking into account the reduction in reactivity due to irradiation of nuclear fuel (i.e. burnup). The reactivity is decreased via a net reduction of fissile isotopes and the introduction of parasitic neutron absorbers (i.e. non-fissile actinides and fission products).

The paper opens with a discussion of burnup credit and the varying degrees to which it has been implemented. For years, regulations called for the "fresh fuel" assumption. That is to say, when doing safety calculations for used fuel, the fuel was assumed to be unirradiated--which is a grossly conservative assumption! More recently, regulatory guidelines state the major actinides (i.e. changes in U and Pu) can be considered.

However, even these new guidelines neglect the roughly one-third of the possible decrease in reactivity produced by fission products (e.g. Sm-151, Rh-103). If a high-capacity, 32-assembly cask were to be used for shipping and containment, neglecting these fission products allows for only about 30% of current used fuel to be put in such containers; however, and the key point, up to 90% of such fuel could be shipped if we could account for all relevant fission products. The financial ramifications are huge: $156 million is a target minimum savings if we could actually move that much fuel around in these casks.

Thus, the goal is to strive toward guidelines allowing full burnup credit (i.e. accounting for ALL the reduction in reactivity).

Two problems exist: 1) we need better data that says exactly how much negative reactivity a given isotope introduces and 2) we need to know better exactly how much of said isotope is present in used fuel.

The first problem deals largely with our nuclear data and the nuclear codes we use for analysis. Essentially, we need to analyze our database of critical experiments that analyze the specific isotopes of interest with respect to their effect on reactivity. However, we can't just use any old critical experiments--they must be similar to our application, namely the cask and used fuel of interest. ORNL currently is evaluating some foreign experiments for this "similarity" or "applicability"; Sandia has performed one such experimental suite to probe Rh-103 specifically.

While this data all looks pretty good right now, we need more! Last summer, I looked at theoretical modifications to a given critical experiment to see how useful it could be in analyzing all the relevant isotopes. I found several setups that could be easy and useful to implement; I won't go in depth, because I hope to have it presented or published in the near term. Moreover, I expect this summer and for my M.S. thesis to expand on this work and design robust experiments that will satisfy the "applicability" requirements for the isotopes needed.

Furthermore, in regard to the second problem, chemical assays are needed of current used fuel. One might think this is easy enough to do, but suffice it to say, it is not easy for anyone--even the Labs--to get their hands on much of this stuff.

* C. V. Parks, J. C. Wagner, and D. E. Mueller, "Full Burnup Credit in Transport and Storage Casks: Benefits and Implementation," Proc. of the International High-Level Radioactive Waste Management Conference, Las Vegas, NV, April 30-May 4, 2006, pp. 1299-1308.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tech Review - 3

The past few weeks have been as hectic as I've seen in months. Exams and travel always make for squashed personal time! That said, I scoped out my favorite journals and found an article* co-authored by W. Newhauser out of M. D. Anderson discussing secondary neutron dose generated during proton therapy of the prostate. The topic is interesting to me because I did a more generic study of such secondary dose last term for a project in which I first reviewed the literature and then assimilated basic aspects into a single model. That this new study is prostate-specific is interesting, as I'm currently performing research in (an unrelated aspect of) the area. Finally, I was set to collaborate with the author two summers ago but ran out of time; perhaps in the next half year or so I will have time to rehash the proposed work.

The article first points out that over 200,000 new cases of prostate cancer are found every year in the U.S., certainly an important factoid for the gents out there. The big ticket treatment options have been brachytherapy, external-beam radiotherapy, chemo, and the more drastic removal of the prostate. Joining the group as of late has been proton radiotherapy.

In general, proton beam radiotherapy offers a good method by which to deposit quite locally a given dose. However, the high energy used leads to production of secondary radiation, most noticeably being neutrons. The paper's main goal is to determine the equivalent dose Hi to the ith sensitive organ and the total effective patient dose E from secondary radiation. (Note, I had to review what exactly these quantities denote: Hi = dose*weightA; E = sum(Hi*weightB)).

In calculating H for given organs, the authors point out an interesting fact. Typical ICRP protocol assumes only an external neutron fluence, whereas in this treatment a significant neutron population is generated in the patient. They argue then that "weightA" is actually a function of the local neutron fluence, not of the fluence incident on the patient. ( I am confused at this point, for "weightA" is defined simply by incident neutron energy, irrespective of where that neutron happens to be. They give little insight as to what exactly changes. I would think that in a given locality (i.e. organ) the neutron energy spectrum is available, and using that, any set of weights could be applied properly.)

To quantify equivalent and effective doses, the article employs the ratios (H/D) and (E/D), read "equivalent dose per therapeutic absorbed dose" and "
effective dose per therapeutic absorbed dose", respectively. D is simply the dose deposited by protons in the target region.

Their results indicate a typical treatment yields an (E/D) value of roughly 5.5 mSv/Gy. (H/D) values range from just under 2 mSv/Gy in the esophagus to nearly 13 mSv/Gy in the bladder. As one might imagine, these values are very dependent on proximity; the bladder neighbors the prostate, whereas the throat lays far from it.

These values match seemingly well with the study I performed last term. While I did not model a full patient phantom (I used a simple Lucite spherical phantom), I found the (H/D) value internal to the target to be roughly 50 mSv/Gy. Given this region could be broken into organs and assigned weights (as shown above), it is conceivable that I would have found a value near 5 mSv/Gy as the article presents.

* Fontenot, et al. "Equivalent dose and effective dose from stray radiation during passively scattered proton radiotherapy for prostate cancer", Phys. Med. Biol. 53 (2008).

Monday, March 3, 2008

Patrick Moore, Pro-Nuke Environmentalist

While I saw him previously laud the benefits of nuclear energy, Patrick Moore's keynote address at the ANS student conference conveyed even more strongly his support of nuclear and its value in addressing carbon-emissions while simultaneously calling attention to the illogic of many environmentalists.

A recent article details these views.

I especially like his pointing out that Finland's decision to build nuclear gave rise to the forward movement we see today. Now I simply wish I would have tried visiting the site while abroad!

Re-terming Nuclear: Quick and Positive Understanding

As a final message from the nuclear professional world, NRC executive director Luis Reyes gave students at this year’s ANS national student conference a tool for rethinking how we represent the changes in our field. Essentially, by changing the words used to describe ideas we often take for granted, we can both arrive more rapidly to the point in conversations with the public and convey a more positive image of nuclear.

Reyes noted that we should use “used fuel” in place of “spent fuel” as a means to rid from the concept of nuclear fuel its oft associated stigma; moreover, instead of “reprocessing” such spent fuel, we should “recycle” it.

The idiom shift does two things. First, the ideas of a “used” item and “recycling” are rather familiar for most people; contrarily, trying to understand exactly what “spent” or “reprocessing” means can leave many people befuddled. Second, and worse yet, putting “spent fuel” and “reprocessing” together leaves for some people the bitter taste of proliferation and other concerns, which are often outside the conversation’s context.

With that, we might all follow Reyes’ suggestion. By doing so and by continually looking for other better, more effective ways of communicating our positive message, we can facilitate the exciting future we all know nuclear has to offer.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tech Review - 2

Alas, another Sunday with coffee in tow.

In my reactor analysis course last semester, one group project focused on the effect the presence of U-236 would have on reusing uranium from spent nuclear fuel. It has long been known that U-236 introduces a long-lasting negative reactivity to the fuel. So-called penalty factors have been defined to quantify how many extra units of U-235 are needed to overcome the negative reactivity of one unit of U-236. These factors have been found to be roughly 0.30, or in other words, for every extra gram of U-236 produced, one must have present an additional 0.30 grams of U-235 to maintain the reactivity desired.

J. P. Renier et al. looked at this problem in depth, especially with respect to GNEP and waste disposal. The reuse scheme was to mix a sufficient amount of recovered uranium from an initial cycle with natural uranium to create fresh fuel for consecutive cycles. The first cycle was assigned 33 GWd/t burnup, typical of U.S. operations, and 55 GWd/t for subsequent cycles--why they focused on higher burnup for later cycles remains unclear to me. Perhaps it was merely assumed that future operations would employ such higher burnups.

Their conclusion states an asymptotic weight percentage of U-236 was found (~0.85%). The penalty factors for the cycles were roughly 0.25, which agrees pretty well with historical values.

Perhaps important to state is why U-236 would even be present. Uranium purification usually employs some form of centrifugal separation based on weight. For natural uranium, comprised only of U-235 and U-238, this works well, as the relative mass difference between the isotopes is large (enough). For U-235 and U-236 (produced during the cycle), this is not the case, and over half the U-236 remains with the re-enriched product.

The article is merely a transaction, so much detail is left out. What I'd like to know is how the data uncertainties look after propagation through 7 cycles. To me it seems perturbations in just about any factor could introduce significant changes in the U-236 concentrations (and hence the requisite U-235). Perhaps I'll solicit an opinion from the group who reviewed this work in class.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Renaissance: Job Market Impact

Nuclear power had its commercial roots in the 1950’s, touted from its birth as the “answer to humanity’s energy needs.” However, neither was its full promise realized nor did nuclear power continue its ascendancy; the 1979 incident at Three Mile Island effectively stopped commercial growth of nuclear in the U.S. Moreover, the 1986 disaster in Chernobyl induced worldwide fear of nuclear power.

Despite these incidents, nuclear power has remained important both in the U.S. and abroad as an energy source, and more importantly, it has seen greater support in recent years. In the U.S., utilities, investors, and the government are beginning to consider nuclear power again. The rest of this report details in what capacity they are doing so and how this could change the domestic nuclear job market.

Recent Maneuvers: The Industry Revisits Nuclear

2007 was a milestone year for the nuclear industry. Four companies—NRG Energy, NuStart, Dominion, and Duke Energy—submitted full Combined Operating License (COL) applications, the starting point with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for constructing new plants. A fifth company, UniStar Nuclear, has submitted a partial application (expected to be finished in early 2008) [1].

These applications are of paramount importance to future applications, as they are the first for several new baseline plant designs. In the NRC’s new application process, plant designs are first submitted for approval by vendors, after which the various generation companies adapt these basic designs for their needs and submit separate applications. Currently, two of four proposed reactor designs—the ABWR by General Electric and AP1000 by Westinghouse—have been approved by the NRC; all COL applications based on other designs would be contingent on reactor approval [1].

Given these submittals and the promise they provide, many within the nuclear industry feel 2008 will be even more flourishing. Another ten companies are expected to submit COL applications. Together with 2007 applications, this would amount to 33 new nuclear reactors in the U.S., roughly a 33 percent increase to the current fleet.

Investors: Money Where their Mouth Is

Certainly, a driving force behind any resurgence in nuclear construction will be support on Wall Street. While much skepticism still exists, there are vocal enthusiasts among financiers for several reasons. The following quotes elucidate some of these viewpoints.

Fitch Ratings Ltd. noted in its March 13, 2006 Wholesale Power Market Update,

High natural gas prices, continuing constraints on rail deliveries of coal, and longer term concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and a new mercury rule have made fuel diversity a more pressing priority on a national and state level. It is no longer a matter of debate whether there will be new nuclear plants…the discussion has shifted to predictions of how many, where and when. [2]

Financial power Merrill Lynch has reported, “We view large nuclear utilities as beneficiaries of the rising cost profile of coal generation and potential future carbon reduction … [We] believe that nuclear utilities represent a free option on potential future carbon-reduction legislation…” [3].

That coal costs have continued to rise has caused many to revisit nuclear as an environmentally-friendly tool, and with increased public support for stricter emissions standards, nuclear will continue to be one, if not the only, practical solution for large-scale energy production.

Nuclear Politics – Progress on the Back of an Elephant (or Donkey?)

To quote the recent Nuclear News, “…[The] general belief is that another Republican president would either accept or encourage new reactors, while a Democrat would oppose them…” [1]. This general view has been held widely within the nuclear community, but upon looking at the candidates, is it really clear a Democrat would nullify the near-term future of nuclear? A recent NEI release [4] offers an answer to this question.

Senator Hillary Clinton is “agnostic” toward nuclear power and is not against it if solutions to waste and financing issues are found. Senator Barack Obama is “open-minded” about the nuclear question and echoes Clinton’s concerns about waste. The only major player against nuclear was former Senator Edwards who has since dropped out of the race. The leading Republican candidate Senator John McCain has said, “The idea that nuclear power should play no role in our future energy mix is an unsustainable position.”

It would seem as long as a candidate is not openly averse toward a nuclear rebirth, than we in the industry should not worry excessively; however, given the Democratic majority in Congress, either Democrat could succumb to party pressures. Only Obama would have personal reasons for remaining at worst a neutral player—his Illinois is a leading nuclear market.

The People: Powering the Renaissance

While the future of nuclear is by no means set in stone, to ensure the industry lands running, the nuclear workforce has to be developed and ready for the challenge. An old adage says the nuclear workforce is comprised of individuals ready to retire; while not entirely true (average age is 48), the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) notes 27 percent of personnel could retire by 2011, leaving a gaping void in labor and knowledge [5].

What exactly are the prospects for new nuclear engineers? If there are to be no new nuclear plants, that exodus of retirees will leave nearly 20,000 jobs to fill (not all engineering) [6]. Additionally, the NRC looks to hire 600 new engineering staff, most likely to accommodate the workload associated with incoming licensee applications [6]. If NRC-approval of recent applications becomes imminent, we can expect utilities also to undertake massive hiring—which would likely tax the outgoing pool of the 29 U.S. nuclear engineering programs (of which there had been 38 some 30 years ago!).


In summary, it is impossible to quantify exactly the effect this nuclear “renaissance” will have on the nuclear job market, but what is clear is that it is already affecting it.


1. Blake, E. M., “Renaissance Now?”, Nuclear News. January 2008

2. Fitch Ratings, Special Report: Wholesale Power Market Update. March 13, 2006


4. Nuclear Energy Insight, publication of the Nuclear Energy Institute. May 2007

5. Howard, Angie, “Achieving Excellence in Human Performance: Nuclear Energy Training and Education,” American Nuclear Society. Conference on Nuclear Training and Education, Jacksonville, Florida. February 5, 2007

6. Washington, E. H., “Workforce issues big challenge for NRC”, Inside N.R.C., 2. November 12, 2007.

Tech Review - 1

Per my own goals and aspirations, I'm jumping into the Sunday morning tech review. For my first tidbit, I revisit an article I've read at least once before entitled "An Automated Deterministic Variance Reduction Generator for Monte Carlo Shielding Applications" by J. Wagner, a former mentor at ORNL.

In the article, Wagner notes that Monte Carlo methods are widely believed the best tool for solving radiation transport problems, but at the same time, are extremely computationally-intensive for difficult, "deep penetration" problems. The work described aims to provide a way in which to cut down on this computer time via variance reduction.

The method does two key things. First, it produces for the problem a so-called biased source, which is defined essentially as the space- and energy-dependent source, s(x,E) weighted over the entire detector response function via the adjoint flux, A, i.e.

--> s'(x,E) = A(x,E)s(x,E)/R

where R is just the integral of the numerator over all energy space. What this source does is that it gives to us those particles most important to the detector response of interest. If, for example, we had a fission source (think the Chi-spectrum) and detector separated by a thick concrete wall, we imagine our detector response is largely dependent on the fastest of those neutrons; as such, we bias the source to give more of those particles while simultaneously decreasing the per-particle weight to maintain "fair" biasing.

The method uses weight-windows for transport biasing. WW's are essentially a superficial grid placed on the problem geometry. The various superficial regions are assigned a range of particle importance that it will let enter; for those particle outside the range, either Russian roulette or splitting occurs (i.e. if the particle 'weighs' too much, it is split into two or more particles of appropriate weight, and if the particle 'weighs' too little, a game is played to see whether it can enter; if so, its importance is raised a consistent amount; if not, it is destroyed).

The lower bounds of the WW's are inversely proportional to the importance function, A. and proportional to the overall detector response. That is to say

--> wl(x,E) = R/(Ak)

where k is some constant I won't explain here. Suffice it to say, wl(x,E) is defined such that biased-source particle weights are in (wl,wu) to remain consistent; this reduces unnecessary splitting or rouletting straightaway.

The article goes on to apply these methods to difficult problems, namely a nuclear well-logging simulation (which I've done before!). Time is saved by several orders of magnitude, which makes this theory a very valuable one indeed.

In the future, I would like to couple the idea with charged-particle problems, namely with proton beam therapy facility shielding analysis in mind.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Statement of Personal Interests

To complement my last post of professional interests, I now give a (very) brief account of personal interests.

Having spent nearly a year in Finland studying, I must say that Finnish language and culture hold special places in my heart; note my blog's title, nyrtin kotisivu--Finnish for "the nerd's homepage". In fact, for a brief account of my stay and its importance, see my College's latest newsletter (~5mb pdf!).

Moreover, foreign languages in general are a favourite topic of mine. I know Spanish well enough to read most everyday sorts of things. My Finnish is rough despite my stay (see that newsletter), and I know a smattering of Russian (again, see newsletter). I also wish I had time to learn Estonian, German, Swedish, Sami, and perhaps the Classics.

Reading is important, too, and I find it frustrating that my better half does it so much more quickly than me. I did read B. Russell's article "Science and Art under Socialism" yesterday as fast as I could; I should also say it was while, hmm, doing one's business.

Cycling, running, and other forms of exercise make me feel better; and when I can, I try to do them.

Cooking and baking are newfound life loves; without them, I would certainly be yet again a ramen noodle connoisseur.

Writing, an activity I love so much, is, unfortunately, an activity neglected just as much.
E'er I wish to be an expert,
That I may succomb to comfort
In the words of mine own libro
Off'ring all a chance to know!

A Statement of Professional Interests

At some point it becomes relevant to write down one's interests; for me, I choose now.

My professional interests, as a student in nuclear engineering, are wide-ranging. I enjoy the computational aspects of nuclear engineering; simulations or analytical studies of nuclear phenomena are engaging and show how much we know (and do not know) about the physical world.

Specifically, I (think I) like methods of (neutral particle) transport; in other words, I like to know how radiation works in large-scale, real-world problems. I note my skepticism only because I have not myself actually dug deeply into the 'guts' of such methods; rather, I've simply 'used' them a bit.

As for applications of transport, I find reactor physics, shield analysis, and radiotherapy all to be stimulating.

To support this interest, I find also I like numerical methods in mathematics. Pure math has always seemed so abstract to me, and while beautiful, I cannot say it is 'relevant.' Additionally, high performance computing is a necessary companion to applied math and engineering.

During my research experiences, a number of relatively specific sub-genres within nuclear engineering have struck me as particularly engaging. Sensitivity analysis, especially with respect to nuclear data analysis is an important application of applied math and transport theory. Additionally, optimization, a rather broad topic within many science (or even all of life!) has come into play more than once.

Having stated these interests, which are certainly not exhaustive, I feel it is my duty as a good and soon-to-be graduate to keep abreast of the 'latest-and-greatest' within the fields. I will try using this blog as a technical log of those things which seem especially valuable. My goal will be every Sunday morning to browse a recent volume of a related journal for relevant material; upon finding an article of interest, I shall read it over coffee and then recount the very basics of it via this blog. I shall also try finding ways such work could be applied in my own work or expanded to be of further utility.