Nuclear Innovation Alliance formally launched

On November 19, 2015, the Nuclear Innovation Alliance formally announced its existence. The group, based in Cambridge, MA, has the following mission description:

The NIA’s mission is to lead advanced nuclear energy innovation.

The NIA assembles companies, investors, experts, and stakeholders to advance nuclear energy innovation and enable innovative reactor commercialization through favorable energy policy and funding.

The NIA researches, develops and advocates policies that enable the efficient licensing and timely early-stage demonstration of advanced reactor technologies.

The Clean Air Task Force has been one of the leaders in identifying the need for the group and in helping to get it organized. That process has been in progress for about a year.

When she testified to Congress in December 2014, Dr. Ashley Finan, Senior Project Manager for Energy Innovation Clean Air Task Force, described how she had been working with what was then an informal group of advanced reactor stakeholders calling themselves the Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA). The NIA includes entrepreneurs, environmental organizations, investors, nuclear experts in academia, policy experts and other stakeholders who are interested in finding ways to finance, develop and deploy advanced nuclear technology.

NIA members believe that the United States has a range of valuable assets that should enable it to lead the world in developing nuclear energy into the kind of affordable, reliable, dispatchable, ultra low emission energy source that would be a welcome tool to address many of our more pressing challenges, including avoiding rapid climate change.

The U.S. is home to some of the world’s most innovative developers, a world class university system, an infrastructure of national laboratories, a federal agency with a large budget for energy supply systems, a respected technical regulator whose approval of designs and procedures provides valuable credibility and capable investors willing to provide financing under appropriate conditions.

If all of those assets were reasonably well aligned, there might not be a pressing need for the NIA, but that’s not the case. For a variety of reasons, the U.S. is not leading in the deployment of new nuclear technologies.

Some observers have sounded almost jealous of the apparent successes of countries like China, Russia and South Korea in nuclear technology because they have autocratic governments that can decide to invest in deployment without much public opposition. Though I don’t believe that the free market can solve all problems, I’m also not willing to be a subject of an autocratic regime.

The NIA seems to be taking a more constructive approach of figuring out how to bring more democratic decision making and investment concepts with a proven track record of success to nuclear technology.

An example of a major issue that the NIA plans to tackle is the current process for obtaining permission to build and operate nuclear facilities.

Our current licensing system takes an all or nothing approach, without any fixed stages that can be established as investor milestones to show that firm progress is being made. Many sources estimate that achieving a design certification requires an investment decision to spend about a billion dollars; there is no partial credit for an organization that starts the process and need to attract additional investors in order to finance the completion.

Under current conditions, the initial investment decision would be even larger for non-light water reactor designs that cannot rely on decades worth of experience, code development and testing validation.

The NIA is advocating a staged licensing processes with more moderately achievable decision points. Their proposed modifications to the current system can be attractive to all kinds of investors, from private venture capitalists to public power organizations.

The NIA also plans to address the difficult challenge of moving from paper reactors to operating machinery while recognizing that the currently visible path is fraught with risk. The NIA recognizes that there needs to be something between a paper design and full commercial construction under a combined operating license.

Many of the advanced concepts rely on technical concepts and models that work well in theory but will most likely need full scale demonstration in a prototype facility before they can be validated and approved for commercial use.

Though prototype/demonstration plant licensing is allowed by current regulations, there are no established prototype application review plans. Conversations with regulators and close attention to their public commentary leads me to believe that they would default to adapting the current standard review plans for a full scale commercial license.

Perhaps the NIA can help the NRC recognize that the Atomic Energy Act section 104(c) (p. 43) says that the Commission “is directed to impose only such minimum amount of regulation of the licensee needed” fulfill its obligations under the Act to “promote the common defense and security and to protect the health and safety of the public and will permit the conduct of widespread and diverse research and development.”

Their idea of using federal land and infrastructure as a place where private sector partners can build and test their concepts is also intriguing.

I recommend reading what the NIA says about the importance of Advanced Reactor Technology, especially its four part strategy for achieving the goal to maintain and enhance the U.S.’s capability as a nuclear technology leader.

In case time is tight, here is the short version of the strategy.

  1. Provide a staged, and ultimately more technology-neutral licensing process based upon risk-informed principles.

  2. Provide a test bed where nuclear innovators in the private sector can demonstrate advanced technologies.
  3. Cooperation to provide for international commercial testing, demonstration, and deployment of advanced technologies.
  4. Financial support for early stage technology development and early commercial deployment.

The NIA has capably identified a number of important issues that need to be addressed. Their approach seems reasonable and well focused. It would be good for the U.S. and for the rest of the world for the newly announced Alliance to achieve each part of their strategic plan.

Atomic Show #248 – Dr. Pete Pappano, VP Fuel Production X-Energy

On Thursday, November 19, 2015, I interviewed Dr. Pete Pappano, vice president of fuel development for X-Energy. As described in X-Energy introduced its company and first product to Virginia chapter of ANS, X-Energy is a start-up company based in Maryland that is developing a modular high temperature gas cooled reactor.

Each module will produce 50 MWe using a helium-cooled, high temperature reactor. The reactor thermal power output and geometric configuration have been selected to ensure that the highest temperature in the hottest part of the core under all postulated accident conditions will remain below 1600 degrees C. If the modeled scenarios can be validated, and if they are determined to be challenging enough to encompass the worst credible conditions, the reactor may be considered passively safe.

Xe-100 side view

Xe-100 side view

The enabling technology is the highly refined TRISO fuel particle. That fuel, first developed in the early 1960s, has been steadily improved and rigorously tested, most recently as part of the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) project. X-Energy plans to leverage the work done as part of the NGNP as it develops its own design and licensing strategy.

X-Energy fuel form

X-Energy fuel form

Dr. Pappano and I talked about fuel performance, the overall reactor design, and some additional safety considerations. We also talked about whether or not a small pebble bed reactor using fuel consisting of TRISO particles compacted into spherical elements would need a containment as part of a defense-in-depth strategy.

I hope you enjoy the conversation.


John Holdren nuclear energy’s importance as ultra low carbon power source – White House Summit on Nuclear Energy (WHSNE)

John Holdren holds what might be the longest complete title available in the current Administration. He serves as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). In his role as an […]

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Labor and Business perspectives from White House Summit on Nuclear Energy – Liz Shuler (AFL-CIO) and Danny Roderick (Westinghouse)

On November 6, 2015, a Friday afternoon, the White House hosted a Summit on Nuclear Energy. The seats in the conference room had been filled before much information about the event had been released, but the organizers provided a live stream on the web. That turned out to have been at least as informative as […]

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What did the Cove Point protest on Monday Night Football have to do with nuclear energy production in Virginia?

During the November 2, 2015 Monday Night Football game between the Carolina Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts, a small group of protesters rappelled from the upper deck and unfurled a banner directed at Bank of America, one of the largest employers in Charlotte, NC, the site of the game. The banner said “BoA Dump Dominion […]

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U. S. State Department Bureau of Energy Resources input on energy and climate at Central Europe’s Tatra Summit


Tatra Summit is an initiative of the Center for European Affairs (CEA), begun with the immodest goal of shaping the future of Europe. Launched in 2013, it periodically brings together a diverse group of leaders to discuss important European topics. There is a meeting happening now during the period of November 4-6, 2015. This morning, […]

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Deeply troubled by FitzPatrick and Pilgrim announcements. We need their clean electricity production to continue

Several of the therapists I have visited over the years have told me that I need to stop taking too much responsibility for events that are beyond my control. It’s not always easy advice to follow even for someone who has been aware of similar advice from the Serenity Prayer for the better part of […]

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Treasure trove of documents about the ML-1, the US Army’s trailer-mounted, nitrogen-cooled, atomic fission-heated generator

I recently published an article featuring a video from the Army Nuclear Power Program that focused on the Army’s mobile, low power closed cycle nitrogen cooled nuclear reactor designated the ML-1. The article generated a good discussion that indicated a strong desire for more information about the program. My initial searches didn’t turn up a […]

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ANS Winter Meeting – “Nuclear: The Foundation of Sensible Policy for Energy, Economy and the Environment”

In less than a week, I will be joining about 1200 or more of my fellow members of the American Nuclear Society at the annual winter meeting. The gathering place is the Marriott Wardman Park; the dates are November 8-12. This year the meeting theme is “Nuclear: The Foundation of Sensible Policy for Energy, Economy […]

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X-Energy introduced its company and first product to Virginia chapter of ANS

On Tuesday, October 27, three leaders from X-Energy spoke to the Virginia ANS chapter about their company and the Xe-100, the high temperature, pebble bed gas reactor power system that they are designing. During the presentation, meeting attendees learned that X-Energy is an early phase start-up with a total staff of a few dozen people, […]

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Several important nuclear energy developments from the Westinghouse press office

On October 28, 2015, Westinghouse issued a press release titled AP1000® RCP REACHES FULL QUALIFICATION confirming a rumor I heard during my visit to Knoxville last week. The release contained wonderful, sigh of relief, news indicating that the hard-working, under-the-gun engineers and technicians at Curtiss-Wright’s EMD division had achieved their task of building and successfully […]

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Another blogger for nuclear energy – Ecomodernist Mom

This morning I ran across a relatively new blog titled Ecomodernist Mom that deserves to be visited with some regularity. I feel a bit of a kinship to the publisher; she lives in Florida but loves mountains enough to feature them in her site’s banner. She’s a busy mom struggling with raising kids in suburbia, […]

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