Jump on the Advanced Reactor development and deployment bandwagon
On February 10-11, 2016, the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council (USNIC) sponsored the 3rd annual Advanced Reactor Technical Summit. Oak Ridge National Laboratory provided the venue for the event.
Though he wasn’t the first speaker, I’d like to begin my reports from the event with Jeffery Merrifield’s stage setting talk. Merrifield is a man with a long resume in nuclear energy that includes an Atomic Show interview for show #167. He was a two-term commissioner on the NRC, serving from 1998-2007. He is the chairman of the USNIC Advanced Reactor Task Force.
This speech shares Merrifield’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of his current employer, the Pillsbury Law Firm. He provided permission to publish his talk, both as written and in a recorded audio file as delivered, with associated Q&A.
Remarks of Jeffrey S. Merrifield Third Annual Advanced Reactor Summit February 10, 2016
I would like to join David Blee in welcoming you to the Nuclear Infrastructure Council?s 3rd Annual Advanced Reactor Summit. As the Chair of the NIC Advanced Reactor Task Force, it is my pleasure to provide the kickoff industry remarks on Advanced Reactors.
With the exception of President Dwight David Eisenhower’?s Atoms for Peace speech in 1953, ?Hallmark Moments? in the nuclear industry tend too often to focus on the darker moments in the history of nuclear power. Like the proverbial Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, the hyper-focus on TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima and the unfortunate, but understandable concern about the shutdown of units like Vermont Yankee, the nuclear industry?s own rhetoric and self-doubt contribute to public questioning about this technology and cast this industry in negative way. Unfortunately, this attitude tends to obscure what is truly an exemplary hallmark of achievement.
I think it is quite appropriate that we have our conference here at Oak Ridge, which is one of the world?s premier facilities in developing Advanced Reactor technologies. To put it in its simplest form, scientists from around the world, spurred by the events of World War II, worked at this and it sister facilities to take mere radioactive dirt and harness it to create vast amounts of energy. Through the subsequent development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy in the 1950?s at Oak Ridge and its sister facilities, the American people today benefit from clean, safe nuclear power that provides 70% of the U.S. carbon free generation and 35% of the world?s carbon free power. This is an achievement worthy of boastful pride.
Today, the vast majority of individuals in the United States support nuclear power and they are increasingly aware of its significance in fighting global climate change. While many anti-nuclear activists are slowly converting to a begrudging acceptance of nuclear power, or are slowly dying off, there is a growing and enthusiastic group of individuals under the age of 40 who embrace technology, who are not stuck in the past, and who are excited about the promise of Advanced Nuclear Reactors.
Two Thousand Sixteen will be noted for a number of very positive events in the renewal of nuclear power development in the United States.
- ? First, later this year, in this very state, Watts Bar II will begin adding power to our nation?s electric grid becoming the first nuclear power plant to do so since its sister unit, Watts Bar I, began operations in 1996.
- ? Second, on Friday, January 15, 2016, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced the selection of two companies, X-energy and Southern Company with TerraPower, to further develop Advanced Nuclear Reactor designs. These awards, with a multi- year cost share of up to $80 million for both companies, is intended to support work to address key technical challenges in the design, construction, and operation of next generation nuclear reactors. This followed on the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (?GAIN?) program, which the Obama Administration announced in late 2015 to spur further innovation and development of Advanced Reactors.
- ? Third, on January 12, 2016, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, by voice, vote passed H.R.4084 ? the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act. This legislation which was introduced by Chairman Randy Webber (R-TX) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) would promote nuclear research infrastructure and enable the private sector to partner with the National Labs to develop new innovative reactor technologies as well as test and demonstrate novel reactor concepts. A little over two weeks later, on January 28, 2016, the United States Senate, by an overwhelming vote of 87-4, passed companion legislation, S. 2461, which was introduced by Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island). Having worked in the U.S. Senate for 10 years, I have to say it has been decades since a pro-nuclear measure passed with this level of support.
- ? These are, indeed, very positive developments for nuclear power.
In mathematics, the word inflection point is defined as that point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs ? or in common lexicon it is considered a turning point.
While some in the U.S. nuclear industry have focused on the recent shutdown of operating reactors, I believe that the recent events in the Advanced Reactor community represent an inflection point in the development of nuclear power in the United States. Recently, I had a chance to represent NIC at a Third Way conference on nuclear reactors. For those of you not familiar with Third Way, it is a Democratic Leaning think tank which seeks common ground on issues such as energy and the economy. I was struck by the broad based and bi-partisan support at the conference for Advanced Reactor technologies and the enthusiasm, among both Republican and Democratic Members of Congress for the hope and promise that this technology represents.
I commend both President Obama and the leadership of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate for their support of Advanced Reactors. However, hope and promise are not enough. While these are solid first steps, they support a beginning, not an end.
As I look out at this sell out conference ? which likely could have sold twice as many tickets ? I am struck by the sheer number of technology developers that are represented in this room. Unlike the circumstances of a dozen years ago where a buyer of nuclear technologies in the United States had three choices ? GE, Westinghouse or AREVA ? the Advanced Reactor community represents a broad range of sizes, shapes and designs. From the more traditional reactor vendors to the college- based startups, Advanced Reactors vendors represent a far different and larger cohort than their predecessors.
To fully harness the technology, the capabilities and the enthusiasm for this technology, we need to go big and we need to be bold.
The recent funding announcements were a wonderful commitment and they were the best that the Obama Administration could do within the currently authorized programs. However, if we believe that global climate change is real, if we truly want to make a difference in developing these reactor technologies, and if we want to electrify the world, we must put significantly more money on the table — and I am talking billions, with a B.
Just so you understand what I am talking about, according to the Energy Information Agency, if you added up the amount that the federal government spends on renewable and biomass programs in 2015 – including direct expenditures, tax expenditures and R&D, the amount would total $15 billion dollars. The comparative amount for nuclear is $1.66 billion. That means that nuclear receives just 11% of what is dedicated toward renewables, despite the fact that nuclear is the only way we will achieve meaningful carbon reduction targets. As a country, we must get our priorities straight and provide the nuclear research, development and deployment monies needed to help these technologies succeed.
We must be able to move beyond a program where one or two ?winning? companies can move forward with the full support of DOE. To fully embrace the vision that dates back to President Eisenhower, we must create a truly promotional focus within DOE that could support over a dozen reactor designs. Additionally, the President and Congress need to come together to create a robust research and demonstration program that not only provides the fast spectrum test reactor capabilities needed for fuel and component research, but comes with sufficient funding to allow their robust use and development.
Given the time I spent as a Commissioner at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (?NRC?), I am well aware of the dedicated and talented people who staff this agency and the commitment that each and every one of them has to their independence and safety focus. That said, I think it is vital that Congress turns sufficient attention to the Agency as it prepares to review Advanced Reactor designs. For its part, Congress needs to understand that the current fee based framework creates a significant hindrance to early development and deployment of Advanced Reactors. Congress needs to provide the NRC with sufficient sources of funding ? off the fee base ? to develop a risk informed framework for these reactor designs.
Likewise, the Commission needs to recognize that the Advanced Reactor community needs a review process that is risk informed, timely and embraces the significantly smaller source term represented by most of the Advanced Reactor designs. I believe that there are committed individuals at the NRC and within the Commission who understand that changes need to be made and are working hard to identify potential solutions. In my view, the NRC needs to develop a review program that will allow these reactor designs to be approved in less than half the time as currently required for large light water reactors as they represent commensurately smaller risk to public health and safety. While the Agency cannot and should not promote Advanced Reactor designs, it can enable them by creating a regulatory framework that recognizes their comparatively safe design and provides a commensurate licensing footprint.
Finally, I would like to make some remarks focused on the Advanced Reactor Developers represented in the audience. To paraphrase an aphorism made famous by President John F. Kennedy, ?A rising tide lifts all boats?. The greatest danger that this group faces, is if Advanced Reactor developers attempt to promote their technology by trying to undercut or tear down others within this community. To do so will only help to undermine the effort as a whole and will diminish the enthusiasm and support for these technologies. This is not to say that design concerns should be ignored, but this group needs to identify opportunities to work collaboratively to achieve advancements that can benefit multiple technologies and allow a myriad of these technologies to develop and thrive.
In Washington, it has long been proved that people like a winner. The sheer number of groups that have jumped on the Advanced Reactor bandwagon, both inside and outside the beltway, is indicative of the type of enthusiasm these technologies have attracted. With all these voices, the Advanced Reactor community and the companies that wish to purchase these technologies need to be careful that they are not pushed and pulled in separate directions. Recently, Steve Kuczynski, the President of Southern Nuclear, stated his view that the Advanced Reactor Community would benefit from clear and unified voice. Steve and I agree As he chairs the NEI Advanced Reactor Working Group and I chair the NIC Advanced Reactor Task Force, we are working together to find a common approach to help this group move forward.
With that comment, I will leave you with a final thought. As a nuclear community, we cannot and should not allow ourselves to be measured solely by the achievements and events of the past. We need to look to the future. The developers and supporters of Advanced Nuclear Reactor technologies recognize that these designs represent truly transformational opportunities to provide energy and heat for people around the world. The carbon free, clean generation provided by these designs has the ability to improve the standard of living for billions of people around the world. It is within the power and financial capability of our great nation to advance the cause of these beneficial nuclear technologies and we can and should come together to make it happen.
Thank you and have a great conference.
Note: The attached audio file was recorded with a portable recorder for note taking purposes, so the sound quality is not as good as if it was pulled directly from the conference sound equipment. It’s still worth your time for a listen.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 28:45 — 26.3MB)
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Wow! Was that remark directed at some of the participants in the comments section of this blog?
Probably not, but it should have been.
One thing that will hold back development is Intellectual Property. State granted monopoly privileges stifle innovation and add to costs.
Reactor designers should have a moratorium from filing patents and go open source. At least until advanced nuclear has sold a significant number of of new reactors.
Great way to hand the entire industry to China.
Perhaps, but when has China respected IP protections like patents? It’s analogous to the phrase that you often hear about guns “The only people restricted by gun laws are those who obey the law.” The only people constrained by patents and copyrights are those who pay attention to the law and are within legal reach of the patent holder.
IMHO, there is a mountain to climb before any of these GEN IV designs get built in meaningful numbers. Handing the industry to China is the least of our worries when time is now so short.
Seeing as the era of huge State investment (China excepted) in reactor research is over, there needs to be openness and sharing in the industry if we are going to see rapid progress.
For example, in a recent presentation, Ian Scott (moltex) announced he’s discovered that by galvanising stainless steel with Zirconium, expensive alloys are not needed to prevent corrosion by salts.
If true, this could solve a lot of issues faced by other MSR designers. But only if Scott either hasn’t patented the idea, or charge them an exorbitant licence fee(which he might well be advised to by his business partners).
Interesting comment. I just replayed the Atomic Show interview with Moltex founders on my way back from Oak Ridge. Ian Scott’s presentation reminded me of their interesting technology and history.
Based on the way that John Durham described his motivations for footing the start-up costs, it seems that he would be quite willing to be in a share and share alike community of atomic makers.
For the record, I put my Adams Engine patent into the public domain back in about 2002. There was no commercial reason to pay the renewal fee. It would have expired by now anyway.
I tend to agree with you; worrying too much about IP protection will delay the needed industrial investments to the point where they might never occur. This is one of the reasons why I’m glad that Intellectual Ventures has not shown any interest in high temperature gas reactors.
You are advocating the development of technology as a altruistic endeavor. Admirable, but pie in the sky. With the costs involved in your hoped for rennaisance of nuclear innovation, investors will expect a return on their investment. Giving away technological advantage ain’t exactly how the Trumps and Kochs in our capitalistic society roll. Dream on.
I’m not advocating an altruistic endeavor. I just don’t think that traditional IP is all that valuable in this business. The technology was mostly developed decades ago, often with government money.
There’s also plenty of precedent for patent pools in the software industry. Think H.265 video codec standard. The key players get together and cross-license their relevant patents for a nominal fee, the non-key players get locked out, and everyone has a share.
Patent pools are a good example of what I mean by “share and share alike.” Numerous players who all have contributions to make work together on common issues like materials, software, regulatory changes, etc. Entities who don’t contribute don’t get to use the output for free. It’s the way that functional communities work.
So were the computer codes that are used to analyze these reactor designs, Rod, but just try getting a copy of one of these codes from RSICC (the Radiation Safety Information Computational Center at Oak Ridge) without paying a fee, unless you are doing work for the US government.
Frankly, I’m less worried about IP issues than I am about the US export restrictions.
Frankly, I’m less worried about IP issues than I am about the US export restrictions.
I agree. We need to get information and equipment associated with special nuclear materials utilization facilities out from under the control regime designed to control equipment and information associated with special nuclear materials production facilities.
We must firmly press the point that the language used as the basis for the restrictions doesn’t consider “military” uses like engines for ships and submarines to require the onerous controls, just facilities aimed at producing special nuclear material.
Producing used nuclear fuel, though it contains a tiny portion of plutonium mixed in with about 100 times more uranium and fission products, is NOT producing “special nuclear material.” New fuel is already “special nuclear material” because it is enriched in U-235.
So..if onerous restrictions are hampering inovation here, why the concern about exportation and asian development? Isn’t the idea to demonstrate safety, reliability, environmental wisdom? If you can’t do it here, perhaps the chinese will. And as far as a global issue of environmental damage due to coal and oil, what country needs clean energy more than China does? If China cleans up its act, it benefits everyone that resides on this planet. I realize some here, such as Brian, have a very hard time seeing issues through anything other than an “us against them” lens, but we all share the same planet, whether we like it or not.
poa – Shh! … The grown-ups are trying to have a conversation here.
Rod – Currently the export restrictions imposed by the US government are so vague and encompassing that all they do is hinder the US (and US citizens such as me) from participating in what has already become an international market.
The way that US law is worded, any nuclear technology can possibly be subject to US export restrictions simply because one American citizen worked on the technology. That’s crazy.
Are you talking about the law or 10 CFR 810?
The whole basis for Part 810 rides on a shaky interpretation of a single subparagraph of the Atomic Energy Act. As I read the law as passed by Congress and signed by the President, the export control restrictions should only be applied to nuclear technologies related to production of special nuclear material, not ALL nuclear technologies.
No nation can claim ownership of physics, chemistry and material science.
poa – Shh! … The grown-ups are trying to have a conversation here.
No need to be insulting when what you really mean to say is that it’s an issue that is worth considerable investment in research in order to understand the nuances and the harm that is imposed on American nuclear technologists and supply corporations.
Rod – I’m talking about the law. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t have the exact statute or ruling at my fingertips. I’m just commenting on what I’ve seen in practice.
The situation is so vague that it’s just the fear of possible US export restrictions that will cause certain decisions to be made.
poa – Shh … name calling is not going to help you.
“No need to be insulting …”
Rod – Really? Then please tell your “guest” to stop calling people out. Normally I ignore him, but if he is going to mention my name, then I’m going to treat him like the child he is.
Please tell him to either grow up or just go away. His comments here are not productive in general, and I noticed that you’ve just deleted yet another of his less productive ones. I believe that he holds the record for the number of comments deleted from this blog.
“I believe that he holds the record for the number of comments deleted from this blog”
Thats because Rod doesn’t bother to delete your partisan ignorance, unfounded accusations of anti-semitism, and general right wing braying. Nor, unless prodded, does he delete blatant and despicable racism that rivals the doctrine of the KKK.
“Then please tell your “guest” to stop calling people out”
Carry on, adult. I didn’t realize whining was a sign of maturity either. You’ve got this “adult” thing knocked, doncha?
I don’t quite understand this. Most of ideas about how these advanced reactors work are published in the open literature. That’s how paper reactors are. It’s how you get people interested in them.
The ideas are available for anyone to take and develop themselves. The details (which is where the real money goes) will remain trade secrets.
I just wish to mention a nice development in my home state of Wisconsin. Our senate just passed a bill to lift our moratorium on new nuclear stations, as long as the designs were approved by the NRC after 31 December 2010. It will signed by Governor Walker in a few weeks.
It isn’t to say that any will be built anytime soon, but we still have an active nuclear engineering program (with a working research reactor) in Madison, so the odds are turning in our favor.
Terrific news. Can you help me locate a more hopeful and accurate report than the one that the Associated Press wire service issued before the vote?
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The state Senate is poised to pass a bill that would lift Wisconsin’s ban on new nuclear plants.
Currently, state regulators can’t approve new nuclear plants unless a federal facility for storing waste exists and such a plant doesn’t burden ratepayers. No federal facility exists, however.
The Republican bill would erase the storage facility and ratepayer clauses from Wisconsin law, clearing the way for new plants. The GOP says nuclear power is a viable renewable energy source and the ratepayer language duplicates other sections of state law that require regulators to determine that any new power plant won’t burden customers.
Democrats warn nuclear power is too dangerous, pointing to a meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima plant in 2011.
The Senate was set to take up the bill Tuesday.
I found an update that simply replaced the last line with the following:
The Senate approved the bill Tuesday 23-9, sending it to Gov. Scott Walker for signing.
I’d like to find a roll call vote tally. I find it hard to believe that a 23-9 vote was strictly along party lines as the AP piece implies.
Apparently it was bi-partisan, as you suspect, according to this republican State Rep…..
Thanks for the link, but it appears to have been referring to the Assembly’s vote, not the Senate vote.
As I’m learning, Wisconsin has a bicameral legislative body with both a Senate and a group of representatives whose collective name is Assembly, which is analogous to the House of Representatives at the federal level.
Wisconsin’s Senate is currently 19-14 in the Republican’s favor. Someone must not have voted, but the vote couldn’t have been along party lines. Some Democrats must have voted in favor of the bill.
Well, I found a few way to get at the vote tallies, but this is likely the best:
That is the page the shows all history for the bill, from when it was introduced in the Assembly to when it was passed by the Senate (the Senate’s identical version was SB288, but they went the easier route of simply passing the Assembly’s version).
In particular, you need the final roll call voting record:
Of course, it does not give party affiliation, but I did a bit of data magic to cross-reference. (Hey, I do it all day for work.)
All the Republicans voted in favor, as did four of the Democrats (Hansen, Lassa, Ringhand, and Shilling). One Democrat did not vote, and the other nine were opposed.
My own state senator (Shilling) was one of the democrats would did vote in favor. I sent her a letter of thanks.
I am embarrassed by the wrong words in that post. I mean, I write all day for work, and here I am merrily misusing words right and left…
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