Experts comment on planned nuclear facility | Messages

KEMMERER – The Wyoming Energy Authority and the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources recently hosted a webinar entitled “Advanced Nuclear 101” to provide expert information and questions about the proposed sodium nuclear power plant to be built near Kemmerer. to answer.

Expert statements were made by Dr. Steve Aumeier, Senior Advisor at Idaho National Laboratory; Dr. Josh Jarrell, manager, Used Fuel Management Department, Idaho National Laboratory; and Dr. Todd Allen, Professor of Engineering and Chair of the Department of Nuclear and Radiology at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Aumeier began his perspective on nuclear power in Wyoming.

“We are proceeding very differently than we were with nuclear energy 10 – even 20 – years ago,” said Aumeier. “We have been using nuclear energy in the US for over 65 years, and the role of the national laboratories is to test and validate for the federal government. Based on decades of research and development in the National Laboratories of the Department of Energy (DOE), the new advanced reactors will be smaller, more integrated, more modular and safer. ”

Aumeier has years of experience with nuclear power, having served on the first nuclear submarine; lived in the first US city to be powered by the Idaho National Laboratory’s first nuclear power plant; worked on the first mobile nuclear power plant for the US Army demonstration of a self-sufficient fuel system.

Aumeier explained the different reactor sizes. Small reactors use molten fluoride or chloride as a coolant and an average of 1 to 20 MW (megawatts) that is used for base load power, heat, and evolution of hydrogen products. There are currently none in the United States. The first will be in 2029.

By 2025, microreactors will be used to provide power in remote locations, for the military, space missions and disaster relief. They take up less than an acre of space.

The medium-sized reactor uses liquid sodium or lead as a coolant, has an average of 20 to 300 MW and is used in a medium-sized market area.

Large reactors are gas-cooled and have an average MW of 300 to 1,000 and more. He said the large reactor is efficient and meets rapidly growing energy demands. There are currently 95 large reactors in operation in the United States, most of them built between the 1950s and 1980s.

“All of the different reactors have a history of safety,” said Aumeier. “Clean nuclear power can change the Wyoming economic paradigm. It is a power source embedded in advanced industrial production. Micronuclear technology leads to the use of steel, new chemical processes, hydrogen for vehicles and industry, electricity, manufacturing, fabrication and can lead to advanced exports. ”

Aumeier encouraged Wyoming residents and officials to partner with university and energy authorities to plan and engage government oversight for operational excellence, including job creation; a supply chain, the value chain and the development of global markets.

The community, Aumeier said, should build partnerships and have short- and long-term plans for the fuel cycle. He encouraged anyone with questions to consider the scientific facts and draw on the laboratories’ 70 years of knowledge.

The storage of “spent radioactive fuel” from nuclear reactors has raised concerns and questions among some environmental groups, so Dr. Jarrell, who manages spent nuclear fuel at Idaho National Laboratories, manages all aspects of uranium used in nuclear reactors from extraction and enrichment to the disposal and storage of the “spent fuel”.

Jarrell explained that there are three types of uranium oxide mining in Wyoming: the open pit mine, the underground mine, and the in situ leach mine. There has been almost no production in any of these mines in the past five years.

According to Jarrell, in order for the uranium oxide to be used in a nuclear reactor, it must first be enriched by at least 5% by centrifuge or diffusion. Once enriched, it is converted back to an oxide and made into a final feed to a nuclear reactor.

After about five years of use, the fuel is used up, can no longer be used and is now radioactive. It’s taken to a screened area where it’s chilled in pools for three to five years and then stored dry – concrete canisters lined with stainless steel. These canisters can then be safely transported on a rail vehicle in a structure weighing more than 100 tons.

“We’ve been shipping these canisters for several decades without incident,” said Jarrell. “It is a very safe and robust transport system. There are no active storage facilities in the US, so canisters are currently being stored on-site. We are in the process of looking for solutions, and our goal is to finally bring the canisters to a permanent repository – privately or with the DOE. ”

There is international consensus, Jarrell said, that deep geological disposal is the answer for the permanent isolation of spent fuel and other long-lived radioactive waste and that several countries in Europe are working towards it.

He added that the advanced reactors have different challenges in handling spent fuel because their spent fuel is made from different materials.

In the future, says Jarrell, a closed fuel cycle consisting of reprocessing and recycling could be developed, but a system for storage and disposal would still be needed.

Dr. Allen, professor of nuclear and radiology at the University of Michigan, focused on what Americans value: energy, pure water, clean plumbing, and more. Americans want clean, affordable, resilient and equitable energy, he said.

“We need to rethink energy,” said Allen. “It’s an amazing transition, but complicated. We use wind and sun, computer technology and nuclear power. We want emissions reductions, less carbon and particles and cleaner systems. ”

Relying on a single fuel as a source of energy carries risks, Allen continued, but the use of transportation and dual fuel capabilities reduces the risk. Workplaces and supply chains are important, and the ability to influence international safety and other regulations is important. There are many values ​​and choices around energy, Allen said, and the energy industry and environmental agencies need to work together.

Everyone focused on what the communities can do to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the construction of the advanced sodium nuclear reactor in Kemmerer.

“There is a synergy between the reactor facility and its use,” said Allen. “You have to think of joint ventures that can use the energy to produce by-products such as hydrogen. The possibilities are endless, such as a training center for high tech jobs, supply chain opportunities, and spin-off technology and manufacturing. ”

The webinar ended with answering questions sent by the audience via email.

The first questions addressed questions and concerns about the storage of the spent fuel and were answered by Dr. Jarrell answered, who had already discussed the options.

Jarrell said, “The community needs to think about where the spent fuel will be stored on site and needs to plan ahead.”

Further questions and concerns related to topics that were partly dealt with in the lectures of the three experts on water consumption; Water pollution; the history of the environmental impact on low-income peoples; the economic cost; Safety; and the schedule for construction and operation.

Responses included the fact that the cost of nuclear energy was found to be far cheaper for heat and electricity than any other source; Products that can be made from this low-emission energy offer another financial benefit; and water pollution from the open pit had been a problem and aroused many concerns.

One final question related to the Union of Concerned Scientists’ recent report on the Sodium Nuclear Reactor and its Proven Safety.

All three experts replied similarly that the experience with pool reactors has been very good and has proven to be very safe.

Regarding terrorist security concerns, the response was that non-proliferation should be taken seriously and that preparations should be made. They added that the US now has more control over nuclear technology. They encouraged the audience to look at all of the scientific data and information on the sodium reactor.

Jarrell concluded, “Our goal for this webinar was to be transparent, have a neutral opinion, and be scientifically sound.”

Aumeier added, “It’s important to have an ongoing dialogue about what the community is getting and what it can do.”

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