Tag Archives: EIA

U.S. Tritium Production for the Nuclear Weapons Stockpile – Not Like the Old Days of the Cold War

Updated 21 May 2020

Peter Lobner

1.  Introduction

Under the Manhattan Project and through the Cold War, the U.S. developed and operated a dedicated nuclear weapons complex that performed all of the functions needed to transform raw materials into complete nuclear weapons.  After the end of the Cold War (circa 1991), U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles were greatly reduced.  In the U.S., the nuclear weapons complex contracted and atrophied, with some functions being discontinued as the associated facilities were retired without replacement, while other functions continued at a reduced level, many in aging facilities.

In its current state, the U.S. nuclear weapons complex is struggling to deliver an adequate supply of tritium to meet the needs specified by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) for “stockpile stewardship and maintenance,” or in other words, for keeping the nuclear weapons in the current, smaller stockpile safe and operational. Key issues include:

  • There have been no dedicated tritium production reactors operating since 1988.  Natural radioactive decay has been steadily reducing the existing inventory of tritium.
  • Commercial light water reactors (CLWRs) have been put into dual-use service since 2003 to produce tritium for NNSA while generating electric power that is sold commercially.  The current tritium production rate needs to increase significantly to meet needs.
  • There has been a continuing decline in the national inventory of “unobligated” (i.e., free from peaceful use obligations) low-enriched uranium (LEU) and high-enriched uranium (HEU). This unobligated uranium can be used for military purposes, such as fueling the dual-use tritium production reactors.
  • There has been no “unobligated” U.S. uranium enrichment capability since 2013.  The technology for a replacement enrichment facility has not yet been selected.
  • The U.S. domestic uranium production industry has declined to a small fraction of the capacity that existed from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s.  About 10% of uranium purchases in 2018 were from U.S. suppliers, and 90% came from other countries. NNSA’s new enrichment facility will need a domestic source of natural uranium.  
  • There has been no operational lithium-6 production facility since the late 1980s. 
  • There has been a continuing decline in the national inventory of enriched lithium-6, which is irradiated in “targets” to produce tritium.
  • Only one tritium extraction facility exists.

The U.S. nuclear weapons complex for tritium production is relatively fragile, with several milestone dates within the next decade that must be met in order to reach and sustain the desired tritium production capacity.  There is little redundancy within this part of the nuclear weapons complex.  Hence, tritium production is potentially vulnerable to the loss of a single key facility.

This complex story is organized in this post as follows.  

  • Two key materials – Tritium and Lithium 
  • Cold War tritium production
    • Hanford Project P-10 (later renamed P-10-X) for tritium production (1949 to 1954)
    • Hanford N-Reactor Coproduct Program for tritium production (1963 to 1967)
    • Savannah River Plant tritium production (1954 to 1988)
    • Synopsis of U.S. Cold War tritium production
  • The Interregnum of U.S Tritium Production (1988 to 2003)
    • New Production Reactor (NPR) Program
    • Accelerator Tritium Production (ATP)
    • Tritium recycling
  • The U.S. commercial light water reactor (CLWR) tritium production program (2003 to present)
    • Structure of the CLWR program
    • What is a TPBAR?
    • Operational use of TPBARs in TVA reactors
    • Where will the uranium fuel for the TVA reactors come from?
    • Where will the enriched Lithium-6 come from?
    • Where is the tritium recovered?

I put supporting details in a separate post containing four timelines, which you’ll find at the following link: https://lynceans.org/all-posts/u-s-tritium-production-timelines/

2.  Two key materials – Tritium and Lithium

Tritium, or hydrogen-3, is naturally occurring in extremely small quantities (10-18 percent of naturally occurring hydrogen) or it can be artificially produced at great cost.  The current tritium price is reported to be about $30,000 per gram, making it the most expensive substance by weight in the world today. 

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen with a half-life of 12.32 years.  Tritium decays into helium-3 by means of negative beta decay, which also produces an electron (e) and an electron antineutrino, as shown below.


Source: nuclear-power.net

Tritium is an important component of thermonuclear weapons.  The tritium is stored in a small, sealed reservoir in each warhead. 

A tritium reservoir, likely manufactured at the 
DOE Kansas City Plant.  Source: 7 Feb 2013,
https://aikenleader.villagesoup.com/

With its relatively short half-life, the tritium content of the reservoir is depleted at a rate of 5.5% per year and must be replenished periodically.  In 1999, DOE reported in DOE/EIS-0271 that none of the weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal would be capable of functioning as designed without tritium.

During the Cold War-era, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC, and its successor in 1977, the Department of Energy, DOE) produced tritium for nuclear weapons in water-cooled, graphite-moderated production reactors in Hanford, Washington and in heavy water cooled and moderated production reactors at the Savannah River Plant (SRP, now Savannah River Site, SRS) in South Carolina.  These reactors also produced plutonium, polonium and other nuclear materials.  All of these production reactors were dedicated defense reactors except the dual-use Hanford-N reactor, which also could produce electricity for sale to the commercial power grid. 

Tritium is produced by neutron absorption in a lithium-6 atom, which splits to form an atom of tritium (T) and an atom of helium-4.  This process is shown below.

Natural lithium is composed of two stable isotopes; about 7.5% lithium-6 and 92.5% lithium-7. To improve tritium production, lithium-6 and lithium-7 are separated and the enriched lithium-6 is used to make “targets” that will be irradiated in nuclear reactors to produce tritium.  The separated, enriched lithium-7 is a valuable material for other nuclear applications because of its very low neutron cross-section.  Oak Ridge Materials Chemistry Division initiated work in 1949 to find a method to separate the lithium isotopes, with the primary goal of producing high purity lithium-7 for use in Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion (ANP) reactors.

Lithium-6 enrichment process development with a focus on tritium production began in 1950 at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Three different enrichment processes would be developed with the goal of producing highly-enriched (30 to 95%) lithium-6:  electric exchange (ELEX), organic exchange (OREX) and column exchange (COLEX).  Pilot process lines (pilot plants) for all three processes were built and operated between 1951 and 1955.

Production-scale lithium-6 enrichment using the ELEX process was conducted at Y-12 from 1953 to 1956.  The more efficient COLEX process operated at Y-12 from 1955 to 1963.  By that time, a stockpile of enriched lithium-6 had been established at Oak Ridge, along with a stockpile of unprocessed natural lithium feed material.

The enriched lithium-6 material produced at Y-12 was shipped to manufacturing facilities at Hanford and Savannah River and incorporated into control rods and target elements that were inserted into a production reactor core and irradiated for a period of time.  

After irradiation, these control rods and target elements were removed from the reactor and processed to recover the tritium that was produced.  The recovered tritium was purified and then mixed with a specified amount of deuterium (hydrogen-2, 2H or D) before being loaded and sealed in reservoirs for nuclear weapons.  

Tritium production at Hanford ended in 1967 and at Savannah River in 1988.  The U.S. had no source of new tritium production for its nuclear weapons program between 1988 and 2003.  During that period, tritium recycling from retired weapons was the primary source of tritium for the weapons remaining in the active stockpile. Finally, in 2003, the nation’s new replacement source of tritium for nuclear weapons started coming on line.  

3.  Cold War Tritium Production

3.1  Hanford Project P-10 (later renamed P-10-X) for tritium production (1949 to 1954)

The industrial process for producing plutonium for WW II nuclear weapons was conceived and built as part of the Manhattan Project.  On 21 December 1942, the U.S. Army issued a contract to E. I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont), stipulating that DuPont was in charge of designing, building and operating the future plutonium plant at a site still to be selected.  The Hanford, Washington, site was selected in mid-January 1943.

Starting in 1949, the earliest work involving tritium production by irradiation of lithium targets in nuclear reactors was performed at Hanford under Project P-10 (later renamed P-10-X).  By this time, DuPont had built and was operating four water-cooled, graphite-moderated production reactors at Hanford:  B and D Reactors (1944), F Reactor (1945) and H Reactor (1949).  Project P-10-X involved only the B and H Reactors, which were modified for tritium production. 

Tritium was recovered from the targets in Building 108-B, which housed the first operational tritium extraction process line in the AEC’s nuclear weapons complex.  The thermal extraction process employed started with melting the target material in a vacuum furnace and then collecting and purifying the tritium drawn off in the vacuum line.  This tritium product was sent to Los Alamos for further processing and use.  

Hanford site 100-B area.  B Reactor is the tiered building near the center of the photo. The much smaller 108-B tritium extraction process line building is sitting alone on the right.  Source: atomicarchive.com

Project P-10-X provided the initial U.S. tritium production capability from 1949 to 1954 and supplied the tritium for the first U.S. test of a thermonuclear device, Ivy Mike, in November 1952.  Thereafter, most tritium production and all tritium extractions were accomplished at the Savannah River Plant.  

DOE reported: “During its five years of operation, Project P-10-X extracted more than 11 million Curies (Ci) of tritium representing a delivered amount of product of about 1.2 kg.”  For more details, see the report PNNL-15829, Appendix D:  “Tritium Inventories Associated with Tritium Production,” which is available here: 

https://www.pnnl.gov/main/publications/external/technical_reports/PNNL-15829rev0.pdf

3.2.  Hanford N-Reactor Coproduct Program for tritium production (1963 to 1967)

This was a tritium production technology development program conducted in the mid-1960s.  Its primary aim was not to produce tritium for the U.S. nuclear weapons program, but rather to develop technologies and materials that could be applied in tritium breeding blankets in fusion reactors.  After an extensive review of candidate lithium-bearing target materials, the high melting point ceramic lithium aluminate (LiAlO2) was chosen.

Several fuel-target element designs were tested in-reactor, culminating in October 1965 with the selection of the “Mark II” design for use in the full-reactor demonstration.  Targets were double-clad cylindrical elements with a lithium aluminate core. The first cladding layer was 8001 aluminum; the second (outer) cladding layer was Zircaloy-2.

Hanford N Coproduct Target Element.  Source:  BNWL-2097

During the N Reactor coproduct demonstration, four distinct production tests were run, the first two with small numbers of fuel and target columns being irradiated, and the last two runs with over 1,500 fuel and target columns containing about 17 tons LiAlO2.  The last production test, PT-NR-87, recorded the highest N Reactor power level by operating at 4,800 MWt for 31 hours.

The irradiated target elements were shipped to SRP for tritium extraction using a thermal extraction process defined jointly by Pacific Northwest Laboratory (PNL, now Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PNNL) and Savannah River Laboratories (SRL).  The existing tritium extraction vacuum furnaces at SRP were used.

This completed the Hanford N Reactor Coproduct Program.

More details are available in PNNL report BNWL-2097, “Tritium Production from Ceramic Targets: A Summary of the Hanford Coproduct Program,” which is available at the following link:  

https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/7125831

This program provided important experience related to lithium aluminate ceramic targets for tritium production. 

3.3.  Savannah River Plant tritium production (1954 to 1988)

The Savannah River Plant (SRP) was designed in 1950 primarily for a military mission to produce tritium, and secondarily to produce plutonium and other special nuclear materials, including Pu-238.  DuPont built five dedicated production reactors at the SRP and became operational between 1953 and 1955: the R reactor (prototype) and the later P, L, K and C reactors.  

In 1955, the original maximum power of C Reactor was 378 MWt.  With ongoing reactor and system improvements, C Reactor was operating at 2,575 MWt in 1960, and eventually was rated for a peak power of 2,915 MWt in 1967.  The other SRP production reactors received similar reactor and system improvements.  The increased reactor power levels greatly increased the tritium production capacity at SRP.  You’ll find SRP reactor operating power history charts in Chapter 2 of “The Savannah River Site Dose Reconstruction Project -Phase II,” report at the following link:  

https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/savannah/Chapter_02.pdf

Enriched lithium-6 product was sent from the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant to SRP Building 320-M, where it was alloyed with aluminum, cast into billets, extruded to the proper diameter, cut to the required length, canned in aluminum and assembled into control rods or “driver” fuel elements.From 1953 to 1955, tritium was produced only in control rods. Lithium-aluminum alloy target rods (“producer rods”) were installed in the septifoil (7-chambered) aluminum control rods in combination with cadmium neutron poison rods to get the desired reactivity control characteristics.

Cross-section of a septifoil control rod.  Source:
The Savannah River Site at Fifty (1950 – 2000), Chapter 13

Starting in 1955, enriched uranium “driver” fuel cylinders and lithium target “slugs” were assembled in a quatrefoil (4-chambered) configuration, which provided much more target mass in the core for tritium production.

Cross-section of a quatrefoil driver fuel / target element. Source:
The Savannah River Site at Fifty (1950 – 2000), Chapter 13
 

Enriched uranium drivers were extruded in Building 320-M until 1957, after which they were produced in the newly constructed Building 321-M.  Production rate varied with the needs of the reactors, peaking in 1983, when the operations in Building 321-M went to 24 hours a day. Manufacturing ceased in 1989 after the last production reactors, K, L and P, were shut down.

K Reactor was operated briefly, and for the last time, in 1992 when it was connected to a new cooling tower that was built in anticipation of continued reactor operation.  K Reactor was placed in cold-standby in 1993, but with no planned provision for restart as the nation’s last remaining source of new tritium production.  In 1996, K Reactor was permanently shut down.

3.4.  Synopsis of U.S. Cold War tritium production

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) estimated that the total U.S. tritium production (uncorrected for radioactive decay) through 1984 was about 179 kg (about 396 pounds). 

  • DOE reported a total of 10.6 kg (23.4 pounds) of tritium was produced at Hanford:
    • About 1.2 kg (2.7 pounds) was produced at the B and H Reactors during Project P-10-X.
    • The balance of Hanford production (9.4 kg, 20.7 pounds) is attributed to N Reactor operation during the Coproduct Program.  
  • The majority of U.S. tritium production through 1984 occurred at the Savannah River Plant: about 168.4 kg (371.3 pounds).

You can read the FAS tritium inventory report here: https://fas.org/nuke/norris/nuc_87010103d_65c.pdf

4.  The Interregnum of U.S Tritium Production (1988 – 2003)

DOE had shut down all of its Cold War-era production reactors.  Tritium production at Hanford ended in 1967 and at Savannah River in 1988, leaving the U.S. temporarily with no source of new tritium for its nuclear weapons program.  At the time, nobody thought that “temporary” meant 15 years (a period I call the “Interregnum”).  

DOE’s search for new production capacity focused on four different reactor technologies and one particle accelerator technology.  During the Interregnum, the primary source of tritium was from recycling tritium reservoirs from nuclear weapons that had been retired from the stockpile.  This worked well at first, but tritium decays.

4.1 New Production Reactor (NPR) Program

From 1988 to 1992, DOE conducted the New Production Reactor (NPR) Program to evaluate four candidate technologies for a new generation of production reactors that were optimized for tritium production, but with the option to produce plutonium:

  • Heavy water cooled and moderated reactor (HWR)
  • High-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR)
  • Light water cooled and moderated reactor (LWR)
  • Liquid metal reactor (LMR)

Three candidate NPR sites were considered:

  • Savannah River Site
  • Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL, now INL)
  • Hanford Site

The NPR schedule goal was to have the new reactors start tritium production within 10 years after the start of conceptual design.  Details on this program are available in DOE/NP-0007P, “New Production Reactors – Program Plan,” dated December 1990, which is available here:  https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/6320732

The NPR program was cancelled in September 1992 (some say “deferred”) after DOE failed to select a preferred technology and failed to gain Congressional budgetary support for the program, at least in part due to the end of the Cold War. 

DOE continued evaluating other options for tritium production, including commercial light water reactors (CLWRs) and accelerator tritium production (ATP).

4.2  Accelerator Tritium Production (ATP)

A candidate ATP design developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) was based on a 1,700 MeV (million electron volt) linear accelerator that produced a 170 MW / 100 mA continuous proton beam.  The ATP total electric power requirement was 486 MWe.  The general arrangement of the ATP is shown in the following diagrams.


General arrangement of the ATP.  Source:  LANL

In this diagram, beam energy is indicated along the linear accelerator, increasing to the right and reaching a maximum of 1,700 MeV just before entering a magnetic switch that diverts the beam to the target/blanket or allows to beam to continue straight ahead to a tuning backstop.

Details of the Target / Blanket System.  Source:  LANL

The Target / Blanket System operates as follows:

  • The continuous proton beam is directed onto a tungsten target surrounded by a lead blanket, generating a huge flux of spallation neutrons.
  • Tubes filled with Helium-3 gas are located adjacent to the tungsten and within the lead blanket. 
  • The spallation neutrons created by the energetic protons are moderated by the lead and cooling water and are absorbed by Helium-3 to create about 40 tritium atoms per incident proton.
  • The tritium is continuously removed from the Helium-3 gas in a nearby Tritium Separation Facility. 

The unique feature of on-line, continuous tritium collection eliminates the time and processing required to extract tritium from the target elements used in production reactors.

ATP ultimately was rejected by DOE in December 1998 in favor of producing tritium in a commercial light water reactor (CLWR).

You’ll find an overview of the 1992 to 1998 ATP program here:  http://accelconf.web.cern.ch/AccelConf/pac97/papers/pdf/9B003.PDF

4.3  Tritium recycling

After the end of the Cold War, both the U.S. and Russia greatly reduced their respective stockpiles of nuclear weapons, as shown in the following chart.

Source:  Wikipedia

The decommissioning of many nuclear weapons created an opportunity for the U.S. to temporarily maintain an adequate supply of tritium by recycling the tritium from the reservoirs no longer needed in warheads being retired from service.  However, by 2020, after 32 years of exponential decay at a rate of 5.5% per year, the 1988 U.S. tritium inventory had decayed to only about 17% of the inventory in 1988, when the DOE stopped producing tritium.  You can check my math using the following exponential decay formula:

y = a (1-b)x

where:

y =    the fractional amount remaining after x periods

a =    initial amount = 1

b =    the decay rate per period (per year) = 0.055

x =     number of periods (years) = 32

Recycling tritium from retired and aged reservoirs and precisely reloading reservoirs for installation in existing nuclear weapons are among the important functions performed today at DOE’s Savannah River Site (SRS).  But, clearly, there is a point in time where simply recycling tritium reservoirs is no longer an adequate strategy for maintaining the current U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons.  A source of new tritium for military use was required.

5.  The U.S. commercial light water reactor (CLWR) tritium production program (2003 to present)

In December 1998, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson announced the decision to select commercial light water reactors (CLWRs) as the primary tritium supply technology, using government-owned Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) reactors for irradiation services.  A key commitment made by DOE was that the reactors would be required to use U.S.-origin low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel.  In their September 2018 report R45406, the Congressional Research Service noted: “Long-standing U.S. policy has sought to separate domestic nuclear power plants from the U.S. nuclear weapons program – this is not only an element of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy but also a result of foreign ‘peaceful-use obligations’ that constrain the use of foreign-origin nuclear materials.”

5.1  Structure of the CLWR program

The current U.S. CLWR tritium production capability was deployed in about 12 years, between 1995 and 2007, as shown in the following high-level program plan.

CLWR tritium production program plan.
Source: adapted from NNSA 2001

Since early 2007, NNSA has been getting its new tritium supply for nuclear stockpile maintenance from tritium-producing burnable absorber rods (TPBARs) that have been irradiated in the slightly-modified core of TVA’s Watts Bar Unit 1 (WBN 1) nuclear power plant, which is a Westinghouse commercial pressurized water reactor (PWR) licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).  

TVA’s Watts Bar nuclear power plant.
Source: Oak Ridge Today, 13 Feb 2019

The NRC’s June 2005 “Backgrounder” entitled, “Tritium Production,” provides a good synopsis of the development and nuclear licensing work that led to the approval of TVA nuclear power plants Watts Bar Unit 1 and Sequoyah Units 1 and 2 for use as irradiation sources for tritium production for NNSA.  You find the NRC Backgrounder here:

https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML0325/ML032521359.pdf

The CLWR tritium production cycle is shown in the following NNSA diagram.  Not included in this diagram are the following:

  • Supply of U.S.-origin LEU for the fuel elements.
  • Production of fuel elements using this LEU
  • Management of irradiated fuel elements at the TVA reactor sites
The current U.S. tritium production cycle.  
Source:  NNSA and Art Explosion via GAO-11-100

PNNL is the TPBAR design authority (agent) and is responsible for coordinating irradiation testing of TPBAR components in the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL).  Production TPBAR components are manufactured by several contractors in accordance with specifications from PNNL, with WesDyne International responsible for assembling the complete TPBARs in Columbia, South Carolina.  When needed, new TPBARs are shipped to TVA for installation in a designated reactor during a scheduled refueling outage and then irradiated for 18 months, until the next refueling outage.  After being removed from the reactor, the irradiated TPBARs are allowed to cool at the TVA nuclear power plant for a period of time and then are shipped to the Savannah River Site.  

SRS is the only facility in the nuclear security complex that has the capability to extract, recycle, purify, and reload tritium.  Today, the Savannah River Tritium Enterprise (SRTE) is the collective term for the facilities, people, expertise, and activities at the SRS related to tritium production.  SRTE is responsible for extracting new tritium from irradiated TPBARs at the Tritium Extraction Facility (TEF) that became operational in January 2007. They also are responsible for recycling tritium from reservoirs of existing warheads.  The existing Tritium Loading Facility at SRS packages the tritium in sealed reservoirs for delivery to DoD.  You’ll find the SRTE fact sheet at the following link:

https://www.srs.gov/general/news/factsheets/srs_srte.pdf

Program participants and their respective roles are identified in the following diagram.

The current U.S. tritium production program participants.  
Source:  NNSA 2001

5.2  What is a TPBAR?

The reactor core in a Westinghouse commercial four-loop PWR like Watts Bar Unit 1 approximates a right circular cylinder with an active core measuring about 14 feet (4.3 meters) tall and 11.1 feet (3.4 meters) in diameter.  The reactor core has 193 fuel elements, each of which is comprised of a 17 x 17 square array of 264 small-diameter, fixed fuel rods and 25 small-diameter empty thimbles, 24 of which serve as guide thimbles for control rods and one is an instrumentation thimble. 

Rod cluster control assemblies (RCCAs) are used to control the reactor by moving arrays of small-diameter neutron-absorbing control rods into or out of selected fuel elements in the reactor core.  Watts Bar has 57 RCCAs, each comprised of 24 Ag-In-Cd (silver-indium-cadmium) neutron-absorbing rods that fit into the control rod guide thimbles in selected fuel elements. Each RCCA is controlled by a separate control rod drive mechanism.  The geometries of a Westinghouse 17 x 17 fuel element and the RCCA are shown in the following diagrams.


Cross-sectional view of a single Westinghouse 17 x 17 fuel element showing the lattice positions assigned to fuel rods (red) and the thimbles available for instrumentation and control rods (blue). Source:  Syeilendra Pramuditya

Isometric view of a Westinghouse 17 x 17 fuel element showing the fixed fuel rods (red) and a rod cluster control assembly (yellow) that can be inserted or withdrawn for reactivity control.  Sources:  (L) Framatom ANP report BAW-10237, May 2001; 
(R) Westinghouse via NuclearTourist

To produce tritium in a Westinghouse PWR core, lithium-6 targets, in the form of lithium aluminate (LiAlO2) ceramic pellets, are inserted into the core and irradiated.  This is accomplished with the tritium-producing burnable absorber rods (TPBARs), each of which is a small-diameter rod (a “rodlet”) that externally looks quite similar to a single control rod in an RCCA.  During one typical 18-month refueling cycle (actually, up to 550 equivalent full power days), the tritium production per rod is expected to be in a range from 0.15 to 1.2 grams. The ceramic lithium aluminate target is similar to the targets developed in the mid-1960s and used during the Hanford N-Reactor Coproduct Program for tritium production.

A TPBAR “feed batch” assembly generally resembles the shape of an RCCA, but with 12 or 24 TPBAR rodlets in place of the control rods.  The feed batch assembly is a hanging structure supported by the top nozzle adapter plate of the fuel assembly and the TPBAR rodlets are hanging in the guide thimble tubes of the fuel assembly.  The feed batch assembly does not move after it has been installed in the reactor core. 

Since lithium-6 is a strong neutron absorber, the TPBAR functions in the reactor core in a manner similar to fixed burnable absorber rods, which use boron-10 as their neutron absorber.  The reactivity worth of the TPBARs is slightly greater than the burnable absorber rods.

In 2001, Framatome ANP issued Report BAW-10237,  “Implementation and Utilization of Tritium Producing Burnable Absorber Rods (TPBARS) in Sequoyah Units 1 and 2.”   This report provides a good description of the modified core and TPBARs as they would be applied for tritium production at the Sequoyah nuclear plant. Watts Bar should be similar.  The report is here: 

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.388.7747&rep=rep1&type=pdf

The feed batch assembly and TPBAR rodlet configurations are shown in the following diagram.

TPBAR feed batch assembly (left); details of an 
individual TPBAR and target pellet (right).  Source:  NNSA 2001

TPBARs were designed for a low rate of tritium permeation from the target pellets, through the cladding and into the primary coolant water.  Tritium permeation performance was expected to be less than 1.0 Curie/one TPBAR rod/year.  With an assumed  maximum of 2,304 TPBARs in the reactor core, the NRC initially licensed Watts Bar Unit 1 for a maximum annual tritium permeation of 2,304 Curies / year.

5.3. Operational use of TPBARs in TVA reactors

NRC issued WBN 1 License Amendment 40 in September 2002,  approving the irradiation of up to 2,304 TPBARs per operating cycle.

For the first irradiation cycle (Cycle 6) starting in the autumn of 2003, TVA received NRC approval to operate with only 240 TPBARs because of issues related to Reactor Coolant System (RCS) boron concentration.  Actual TPBAR performance during Cycle 6 demonstrated a significantly higher rate of tritium permeation than expected; reported to be about 4.0 Curies/one TPBAR/cycle.

TVA’s short-term response was to limit the number of TPBARs per core load to 240 in Cycles 7 and 8 to ensure compliance with its NRC license limits on tritium release. In their 30 January 2015 letter to TVA, NRC stated, “….the primary constraint on the number of TPBARs in the core is the TPBAR tritium release per year of 2,304 Curies per year.”  This guidance gave TVA some flexibility on the actual number of TPBARs that could be irradiated per cycle.  This NRC letter is available here: https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1503/ML15030A508.pdf

PNNL’s examinations of TPBARs revealed no design or production flaws.  Nonetheless, PNNL developed design modifications intended to improve tritium permeation performance.  These changes were implemented by the manufacturing contractors, resulting in the Mark 9.2 TPBAR, which was first used in 2008 in WBN 1 Cycle 9. PNNL also is conducting an ongoing irradiation testing programs in the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) at INL, with the goal of finding a technical solution for the high permeation rate. You’ll find details on this program in a 2013 PNNL presentation at the following link:  https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2015/08/f26/Senor%20-%20TMIST-3%20Irradiation%20Experiment.pdf

In October 2010, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported: “no discernable improvement in TPBAR performance was made and tritium is still permeating from the TPBARs at higher-than-expected rates.”  This GAO report is available here:  https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-100

In response to the high tritium permeation rate, the irradiation management strategy was revised based on an assumed permeation rate of 5.0 Curies per TPBAR per year (five times the original expected rate). Even at this higher permeation rate, WBN 1 can meet the NRC requirements in 10 CFR Part 20 and 10 CFR Part 50 Appendix I related to controlling radioactive materials in gaseous and liquid effluents produced during normal conditions, including expected occurrences.

The many NRC license amendments associated with WBN 1 tritium production are summarized below:

  • In License Amendment 40 (Sep 2002), the NRC originally approved WBN 1 to operate with up to 2,304 TPBARs.
  • Cycle 6:  TVA limited the maximum number of TPBARs to be irradiated to 240 based on issues related to Reactor Coolant System (RCS) boron concentration.  Approved by NRC in WBN 1 License Amendment 48 (Oct 2003).
  • Cycles 7 & 8:  WBN 1 continued operating with 240 TPBARs.
  • Cycle 9: First use of TPBARs Mark 9.2 supported TVAs request to increase the maximum number of TPBARs to 400.  Approved by NRC in WBN 1 License Amendment 67 (Jan 2008)
  • Cycle 10: TVA reduced the number of TPBARs irradiated to 240 after discovering that the Mark 9.2 TPBAR design changes deployed in Cycle 9 did not significantly reduce tritium permeation.
  • Cycles 11 to 14: NRC License Amendment 77 9May 2009) allowed a maximum of 704 TPBARs at WBN 1.  TVA chose to irradiate only 544 TPBARs in Cycles 11 and 12, increasing to 704 TPBARs for Cycles 13 & 14.
  • Cycles 15 & beyond:  NRC License Amendment 107 (Aug 2016) allows a maximum of 1,792 TPBARs at WBN 1.

The actual number of TPBARs and the average tritium production per TPBAR during WBN 1 Cycles 6 to 14 are summarized in the 2017 PNNL presentation, “Tritium Production Assurance,” and are reproduced in the following table.

Tritium production, WBN 1 Cycles 6 to 14 (Cycle 14, completed in 2011, is an estimate).  Source: PNNL, Tritium Production Assurance, 11 May 2017

The current tritium production plan continues irradiation in WBN 1 and starts irradiation in Watts Bar Unit 2 (WBN 2) in Cycle 4, which will start after the spring 2022 refueling.  Tritium is assumed to be delivered six months after the end of each cycle.

WBN 1 and WBN 2 TPBAR loading plans. 
Source: “Tritium Production Assurance”, report of the PNNL Tritium Focus Group, Richland, WA, May 11, 2017

See the complete PNNL presentation, “Tritium Production Assurance,” here: https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/06/f34/May%2011%20-%20Stewart%20-%20Tritium%20Production%20Assurance.pdf

As of early 2020, TVA and DOE are not delivering the quantity of tritium expected by NNSA. In July 2019, DOE and NNSA delivered their “Fiscal Year 2020 – Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan” to Congress.  In this plan, the top-level goal was to “recapitalize existing infrastructure to implement a plan to produce no less than 80 ppy (plutonium pits per year) by 2030.” To meet this goal, NNSA set a target for increasing tritium production to 2,800 grams per two 18-month reactor cycles of production at TVA by 2027. This means two TVA reactors will be producing tritium, and each will have a target of about 1,400 grams per cycle.  This will be quite a challenge for TVA and DOE.

The 2018 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan is available here: https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2018/10/f57/FY2019%20SSMP.pdf

5.4  Where will the uranium fuel for the TVA reactors come from?

The tritium-producing TVA reactors are committed to using unobligated LEU fuel.  That means that the uranium is not encumbered by international obligations that restrict its use for peaceful purposes only. Unobligated uranium has a very special pedigree. The uranium originated from U.S. mines, was processed in U.S. facilities, and was enriched in an unobligated U.S. enrichment facility.  

Today, that front-end of the U.S. nuclear fuel cycle has withered against international competition, as shown in the following chart from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Source:  EIA, https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/nuclear/where-our-uranium-comes-from.php

Since the U.S. has not had an unobligated uranium enrichment facility since 2013, when the Paducah enrichment plant was closed by the Obama administration, there currently is no source of new unobligated LEU for the tritium-producing TVA reactors.

The impending shortage of unobligated enriched uranium eventually could affect tritium production, Navy nuclear reactor operation and other users. This matter has been addressed by the GAO in their 2018 report GAO-18-126, “NNSA Should Clarify Long-Term Uranium Enrichment Mission Needs and Improve Technology Cost Estimates,” which is available here:

https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/690143.pdf

The solution could be a mixture of measures, some of which are discussed briefly below.  

Downblend unobligated HEU to buy time

Currently, the LEU for the TVA reactors is supplied from the U.S. inventory of unobligated LEU, which is supplemented by downblending unobligated HEU.  In September 2018, NNSA awarded Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) a $505 million contract to downblend 20.2 metric tons of HEU to produce LEU, which can serve as a short-term source of fuel for the tritium-producing TVA reactors.  This contract runs from 2019 to 2025.  Beyond 2025, additional HEU downblending may be needed to sustain tritium production until a longer-term solution is in place.

Build a new unobligated uranium enrichment facility and re-build the associated domestic uranium mining, milling and conversion infrastructure

NNSA is in the process of selecting the preferred technology for a new unobligated enrichment plant.  There are two competing enrichment technologies:  the Centrus AC-100 large advanced gas centrifuge and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory small advanced gas centrifuge, both of which are designed to enrich gaseous uranium hexafluoride (UF6).

NNSA failed to meet its goal of making the selection by the end of 2019.  Regardless of the choice, it will take more than a decade to deploy such a facility.  Perhaps a mid-2030’s date would be a possible target for initial operation of a new DOE uranium enrichment facility.

In the meantime, the atrophied / shutdown US uranium mining, milling and conversion industries need to be rebuilt to once again establish a reliable, domestic source of feed material for DOE’s uranium enrichment operations.  This will be a daunting task given the current sad state of the US uranium production industry.

In May 2020, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its 2019 Domestic Uranium Production Report.  Mining uranium ore or in-situ leaching from underground uranium ore bodies, followed by the production of uranium (U3O8) concentrate (”yellowcake”), are the first steps at the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle.  The following EIA summary graphic shows the decline of US uranium production, which has been especially dramatic since 2013.

US uranium (U3O8) concentrate production and shipments, 
1996–2019. Source: EIA

A key point reported by the EIA was that total US production of uranium concentrate from all domestic sources in 2019 was only 170,000 pounds (77,111 kg) of U3O8, 89% less than in 2018, from six facilities.  In the graphic, you can see that US annual production in 1996 was about 35 times greater, approximately 6,000,000 pounds (2,721,554 kg).  This EIA report is available at the following link: https://www.eia.gov/uranium/production/annual/

Conversion of U3O8 to UF6 is the next step in the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle.  Honeywell’s Metropolis Works was built in 1958 to produce UF6 for US government programs, including the nuclear weapons complex.  Therefore, the Metropolis Works should be an unobligated conversion plant and, as such, is an important facility in the nuclear fuel cycle for the US tritium production reactors operated by TVA.  In 2020, the Metropolis Works is the only US facility that can receives uranium ore concentrate and convert it to UF6.

In 1968, Metropolis Works began selling UF6 on the commercial nuclear market. However, since 2017, operations at the Metropolis Works have been curtailed due to weak market conditions for its conversion services and Honeywell has maintained the facility in a “ready-idle” status. In March 2020, the NRC granted the Metropolis Works a 40-year license renewal, permitting operations until March 24, 2060.  When demand resumes, the Metropolis Works should be ready to resume operation.

Recognizing the US national interest in having a viable industrial base for the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle, President Trump established a Nuclear Fuel Working Group in July 2019.  On 13 April, 2020, the DOE released the “Strategy to Restore American Nuclear Energy Leadership,” which, among other things, includes recommendations to strengthen the US uranium mining and conversion industries and restore the viability of the entire front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle.  You’ll find this DOE announcement and a link to the full report to the President here: https://www.energy.gov/articles/secretary-brouillette-announces-nuclear-fuel-working-groups-strategy-restore-american

Reprocess enriched DOE and naval fuel spent fuel

A large inventory of aluminum clad irradiated fuel exists at SRS, with a smaller quantity at INL.  The only operating chemical separations (reprocessing) facility in the U.S. is the H-Canyon facility at SRS, which can only process aluminum clad fuel.  However, the cost to operate H-Canyon to process the aluminum-clad fuel would be high.

There is a large inventory of irradiated, zirconium-clad naval fuel at INL.  This fuel started life with a uranium enrichment level of 93% or higher.  In 2017, INL completed a study examining the feasibility of processing zirconium-clad spent fuel through a new process called ZIRCEX. This process could enable reprocessing the spent naval fuel stored at INL as well as other types of zirconium-clad fuel.

In 2018, the U.S. Senate approved $15 million in funding for a pilot program at the INL to “recycle” irradiated (used) naval nuclear fuel and produce high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel with an enrichment between 5% to 20% for use in “advanced reactors.”  It seems that a logical extension would be to also produce LEU fuel to a specification that could be used in the TVA reactors.

In 2018, Idaho Senator Mike Crapo made the following report to the Senate:  “HEU repurposing, from materials like spent naval fuel, can be done using hybrid processes that use advanced dry head-end technologies followed by material recovery, which creates the fuel for our new advanced reactors. Repurposing this spent fuel has the potential of reducing waste that would otherwise be disposed of at taxpayer expense, and approximately 1 metric ton of HEU can create 4 useable tons (of HALEU) for our new reactors.”

Perhaps there is a future for closing the back-end of the naval fuel cycle and recovering some of the investment that went into producing the very highly enriched uranium used in naval reactors.  Because of the high burnup in long-life naval reactors, the resulting HALEU or LEU will have different uranium isotopic proportions than LEU produced in the front-end of the fuel cycle.  This may introduce issues that would have to be reviewed and approved by the NRC before such LEU fuel could be used in the TVA reactors.

Other options

More information on options for obtaining enriched uranium without acquiring a new uranium enrichment facility is provided in Appendix II of GAO-18-126.

5.5  Where will the enriched lithium-6 target material come from?

A reliable source of lithium-6 target material is needed to produce the TPBARs for TVA’s tritium-producing reactors.  

The U.S. has not had an operational lithium-6 production facility since 1963 when the last COLEX (column exchange) enrichment line was shutdown.  COLEX was one of three lithium enrichment technologies employed at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, TN between 1950 and 1963.  The others technologies were ELEX (electrical exchange) and OREX (organic exchange).  All of these processes used large quantities of mercury.  At the time lithium-6 enrichment operations ceased at Y-12, a stockpile of enriched lithium-6 and lithium-7 had been established along with a stockpile of unprocessed natural lithium feed material.

There has been a continuing decline in the national inventory of enriched lithium-6.  To extend the existing supply, NNSA has instituted a program to recover and recycle lithium components from nuclear weapons that are being retired from the stockpile.

In May 2017, Y-12 lithium activities were adversely affected by the poor physical condition (and partial roof collapse) of the WW II-vintage Building 9204-2 (Beta 2).  

Shortly thereafter, NNSA announced the approval of plans for a new Lithium Production Facility at Y-12 to replace Building 9204-2.  The NNSA’s Fiscal Year 2020 – Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan set an operational date of 2030 for the new facility.

5.6  Where is the tritium recovered?

Tritium is extracted from the irradiated TPBARs, purified and loaded into reservoirs at the Savannah River Site (SRS).  These functions are performed by “Savannah River Tritium Enterprise” (SRTE), which is the collective term for the tritium facilities, people, expertise, and activities at the SRS.

The first load of irradiated TPBARs were consolidated at Watts Bar and delivered to SRS in August 2005 for storage pending completion of the new Tritium Extraction Facility (TEF).  The TEF became fully operational and started extracting tritium from TPBARs in January 2007.  The tritium extracted at TEF is transferred to the H Area New Manufacturing (HANM) Facility for purification. In February 2007, the first newly-produced tritium was delivered to the SRS Tritium Loading Facility for loading into reservoirs for nuclear weapons.

From 2007 until 2017, the TEF conducted only a single extraction each year because of the limited quantities of TPBARs being irradiated in the TVA reactors. During this period, the TEF sat idle for nine months each year between extraction cycles.

In 2017, for the first time, the TEF performed three extractions in a single year using the original vacuum furnace. Each extraction typically involved 300 TPBARs.

In November 2019, SRTE’s capacity for processing TPBARs and recovering tritium was increased by the addition of a second vacuum furnace.

6.  Conclusions

In their “Fiscal Year 2020 – Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan,”  the NNSA’s top-level goal is to “recapitalize existing infrastructure to implement a plan to produce no less than 80 ppy (plutonium pits per year) by 2030.”  This goal will drive tritium production demand, which in turn will drive demands for unobligated LEU to fuel TVA’s tritium-producing reactors and enriched lithium-6 for TPBARs.

The U.S. nuclear fuel cycle for the production of tritium currently is incomplete.  It is able to produce tritium by using temporary measures that are not sustainable:

  • Downblending HEU to produce LEU
  • Recycling tritium as the primary means for meeting current demand
  • Recycling lithium components

The next 15 years will be quite a challenge for the NNSA, DOE and TVA as they work to reestablish a complete, modern nuclear fuel cycle for tritium production.  There are several milestones on the critical path that would adversely impact tritium production if they are not met on schedule:

  • Higher tritium production goals for the TVA reactors: deliver  2,800 grams of tritium per two 18-month reactor cycles of production in TVA reactors by 2027
  • New Lithium Facility at Y-12 operational by 2030
  • New uranium enrichment facility operational, perhaps by the mid-2030s

There is a general lack of redundancy in the existing and planned future nuclear fuel cycle for tritium production.  This makes tritium production vulnerable to a major outage at a single non-redundant facility. 

You can download a pdf copy of this post here: https://secureservercdn.net/198.71.233.183/gkz.aeb.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/US-tritium-production-for-the-nuclear-weapons-stockpile-–-not-like-the-old-days.pdf

7.  Sources for additional information:

For general information:

For more information on Cold War-era Hanford tritium production:

For more information on Cold War-era SRP / SRS:

For more information on Cold War-era lithium enrichment at Oak Ridge Y-12:

For more information on the front-end of the US nuclear fuel cycle (uranium mining, milling, conversion & enrichment):

A Look at the Declining US Coal Production and Coal-fired Power Generating Industries

Peter Lobner

US coal production was strong from the 1990s until 2014, with coal production each year being near or above 1 billion short tons (a “short ton” is 2,000 pounds). The highest annual level of production was achieved in 2008: 1.17 billion short tons. Since then, the coal industry has seen a steady decline in production, and trends indicate that the decline will continue.

In their 10 July 2019 report, “Almost all US coal production is consumed by electric power,” the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that coal is still one of the main sources of energy in the US, accounting for 16% of the nation’s primary energy production in 2018. Nearly all of the coal consumed in the US is produced domestically, and most is consumed by the electric power sector to generate electricity, while some is exported.  The following EIA “coal flow” diagram shows where the coal comes from and (approximately) how it was consumed in 2018.  Total production was about 755 million short tons.  The electric power sector consumed about 84% of production, with only modest amounts being consumed by the industrial sector or exported.

You’ll find this EIA report here: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=39792

Electricity generation from coal has been on the decline in the US for almost two decades. On 26 June 2019, EIA reported that US electricity generation from renewables surpasses coal in April 2019. In the following EIA chart, you can see the long-term increase in generation from renewables, which contrasts sharply with the long-term decline of generation from coal due to the decommissioning of many coal-fired power plan and the commissioning of no plants since about 2014.

You can read this EIA announcement here:  https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=39992

Between 2010 and the first quarter of 2019, US power companies announced the retirement of more than 546 coal-fired power units, totaling about 102 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity. Plant owners intend to retire another 17 GW of coal-fired capacity by 2025.  You’ll find the EIA’s 26 July 2019 report on decommissioning US coal-fired power plants here:  https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=40212

In April 2017, EIA reported that on the age of the US coal-fired generating plant fleet. The following chart shows the distribution of coal-fired plants based on their initial operating year.  EIA reported a fleet average age of 39 years in 2017.

You’ll find this EIA report here: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=30812

The following table lists EIA data on the numbers of different types of generating plants in the US between 2007 and 2017.  In 2007, the US had 606 coal-fired generating plants.  By the end of 2017, that number had dropped to 359.

You’ll find the EIA data here: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/annual/html/epa_04_01.html

In another decade, coal-fired generation will be only a small part of the US electric power generation portfolio and the average fleet age will be about 50 years old.  

Critical Infrastructure: Oil and Gas Pipelines

Peter Lobner

Background on the oil and gas industry

In a 2013 report by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) entitled, “Economic Impacts of the Oil and Natural Gas Industry on the US Economy in 2011,” it was reported that:

“Counting direct, indirect, and induced impacts, the industry’s total impact on labor income (including proprietors’ income) was $598 billion, or 6.3 percent of national labor income in 2011. The industry’s total impact on US GDP (gross domestic product) was $1.2 trillion, accounting for 8.0 percent of the national total in 2011.”

Table 1 of this report, which is reproduced below, defines the scope of the U.S. oil and natural gas industry included in this analysis.

Composition of oil & gas industry

In the table footnote you can see that the API – PwC economic assessment was limited to the oil and gas industry itself, and their results did not include the economic value of the many downstream businesses whose operations are dependent on one or more of the various products delivered by the oil and gas industry (i.e., plastic and synthetic material manufacturers, airlines, trucking, power plants, etc.). If we counted the economic values of these oil and/or gas dependent businesses, then the overall contribution of the oil and gas industry to the U.S. economy would be significantly higher than stated in the API – PwC report. You can get this report at the following link:

http://www.api.org/~/media/Files/Policy/Jobs/Economic_Impacts_ONG_2011.pdf

U.S. oil and gas pipeline infrastructure

Pipeline systems are a key element of the oil and gas industry infrastructure, enabling timely and efficient transportation of the following products:

  • Crude oil
  • Petroleum products from crude oil and other liquids processed at refineries, including transportation fuels, fuel oils for heating and electricity generation, asphalt and road oil, and various feedstocks for making chemicals, plastics, and synthetic materials
  • Hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGL), including natural gas liquids (paraffins or alkanes) and olefins (alkenes) produced by natural gas processing plants, fractionators, crude oil refineries, and condensate splitters, but excluding liquefied natural gas (LNG) and aromatics
  • Natural gas

The U.S. has over 200,000 miles of liquids pipelines that, in 2014, transported 16.2 billion barrels of crude oil, petroleum products and HGL. More than 17,000 miles of liquid pipelines were added to the network in the five-year period from 2010 thru 2014. The U.S. has over 300,000 miles of interstate and intrastate natural gas transmission pipelines. That’s adds up to more than a half million miles of major oil and gas pipelines in the U.S.

Most pipelines are installed underground, with pumping / compressor stations at grade level. The Trans-Alaska pipeline system is a notable exception, with its above-grade pipeline in permafrost regions.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) maintains the U.S. Energy Mapping System, which is a geographic information system (GIS) that can display a great deal of energy infrastructure information. The user can select the map area to be viewed, the map style, and the data to be displayed on the map. Once you’ve created the map of your choice, you can zoom and scroll to explore map details. You can access the U.S. Energy Mapping System at the following link:

https://www.eia.gov/state/maps.cfm

The following maps prepared using the U.S. Energy Mapping System show the distribution of oil and gas pipeline systems in the U.S. (except Alaska & Hawaii) and Canada. The source of pipeline mileage data is the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA). The source of liquid capacity data is the Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL).

Crude oil pipelines:

  • 73,300 miles of interstate and intrastate pipelines in 2015 (PHMSA)
  • Delivered 9.3 billion barrels (bbl) of crude oil nationwide in 2014 (AOPL)

Crude oil pipelines

Petroleum product pipelines:

  • 62,588 miles of interstate and intrastate pipelines in 2015 (PHMSA)
  • The petroleum product pipelines and the HGL pipelines together delivered 6.9 billion barrels (bbl) of products nationwide in 2014 (AOPL).

Petroleum product pipeline 

HGL (natural gas liquids) pipelines: 

  • 67,577 miles of interstate and intrastate pipelines in 2015 (PHMSA)

 HLG pipeline

Natural gas pipelines:

  • 2,509,000 total miles of natural gas pipelines in 2015 (PHMSA)
    • 301,242 miles of interstate and intrastate transmission pipelines
    • 1.28 million miles of gas distribution main lines (smaller than the transmission pipelines)
    • 913,085 miles of gas distribution service lines
    • 17,727 miles of gathering mains that collect gas from wells and move it through a series of compression stages to the main transmission pipelines
  • Natural gas transmission pipeline capacity was approximately 443 billion cubic feet per day in 2011 (QER 1.1)

Natural gas pipelines

All of the above maps combined, including international border crossings:

Combined map

The high density of pipeline systems in many parts of the nation is evident in the last map. On the EIA’s U.S. Energy Mapping System website, you can recreate and explore any of the above maps.

Pipeline safety

The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), acting through the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), administers the DOT national regulatory program to assure the safe transportation of natural gas, petroleum, and other hazardous materials by pipeline.

PHMSA has collected pipeline incident reports since 1970. PHMSA defines “significant incidents” as any of the following conditions that originate within the pipeline system (but not initiated by a nearby external event that affects the pipeline system).

  • Fatality or injury requiring in-patient hospitalization
  • $50,000 or more in total costs, measured in 1984 dollars
  • Highly volatile liquid releases of 5 barrels (210 gallons) or more, or other liquid releases of 50 barrels (2,100 gallons) or more
  • Liquid releases resulting in an unintentional fire or explosion

PHMSA data are available at the following link:

http://www.phmsa.dot.gov/pipeline/library/data-stats

A summary of all reported pipeline incidents over the past 20 years is presented in the following PHMSA table.

PHMSA significant events table

The 20-year averages (1996 – 2015) are:

  • Incidents: 560
  • Fatalities: 18
  • Injuries: 69
  • Total cost: $343,109,598

The latest data for 2016 (possibly not final) are:

  • Incidents: 620
  • Fatalities: 17
  • Injuries: 82
  • Total cost: $275,341,057

Clearly, the oil and gas pipeline business is quite hazardous, and the economic cost of pipeline incidents is very high, even in an average year. Since the mid-1990s, the number of incidents per year has almost doubled (367 average for 1996 – 2000 vs. 641 average for 2011 – 2015) as has the total cost per year ($128.4 million average for 1996 – 2000 vs. $331.6 million average for 2011 – 2015).

In June 2015, Jonathan Thompson posted the article, “Mapping 7 Million Gallons of Crude Oil Spills,” on the High Country News website, at the following link:

http://www.hcn.org/articles/spilling-oil-santa-barbara/print_view

In this article, High Country News mapped the last five years of PHMSA data, which included more than 1,000 crude oil pipeline leaks and ruptures. Key points made in the High Country News article are

  • Over the five-year period, 168,000 barrels (more than 7 million gallons) of crude oil were spilled as a result of reported incidents. That’s an average of about 1.4 million gallons (33,600 barrels) per year leaking or spilled from 73,300 miles of crude oil pipelines that delivered 3 billion barrels of oil annually in 2014. That annualized amount of leakage also is equivalent to the amount of oil carried in about 47 DOT-111 rail cars.
  • Commonly reported causes included poor material condition (corrosion, bad seals), weather (heavy rains, lightning), and human error (valves being left open, people puncturing pipelines while digging).
  • Many of the spills were small, releasing less than 10 barrels (420 gallons) of oil, but a few were much larger. For example, a 2013 lightning strike on a North Dakota pipeline caused a 20,000-barrel (840,000 gallon) leak.

Cleanup after these spills and leaks is included in the PHMSA total cost data.

Aging infrastructure

Is August 2014, Jordan Wirfs-Brock posted the article, “Half Century Old Pipelines Carry Oil and Gas Load,” on the Inside Energy (IE) website at the following link:

http://insideenergy.org/2014/08/01/half-century-old-pipelines-carry-oil-and-gas-load/

Using PHMSA data, the author mapped the age of the U.S. pipeline infrastructure and determined that, “About forty-five percent of U.S. crude oil pipeline is more than fifty years old.” The following chart shows the age distribution of U.S. crude oil pipelines.

Crude pipeline age

In April 2015 Administration issued the First Installment of the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER 1.1). This report included the following chart showing the age distribution of U.S. natural gas transmission and gathering pipelines. It looks like more than 50% of these natural gas pipelines are more than 50 years old.

Gas pipeline age

Source: QER 1.1 Summary

The high percentage of older pipeline systems places the overall integrity, reliability and safety of the critical national pipeline infrastructure at risk.

Pipeline modernization

In a previous post, I described the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) initiated by the Obama Administration in January 2014. The first QER report, QER 1.1, released in April 2015, provides a good overview of issues related to oil and gas pipeline system risks and opportunities to modernize this critical infrastructure.

One positive step was taken on 16 April 2015 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) when it announced a new policy, Cost Recovery Mechanisms for Modernization of Natural Gas Facilities. This policy sets conditions for interstate natural gas pipeline operators to recover certain safety, environmental, or reliability capital expenditures made to modernize pipeline system infrastructure.

Given the scale of the national oil and gas pipeline infrastructure, and the age of significant portions of that infrastructure, it will take decades of investment to implement system-wide modernization. The political climate, economic climate, and maybe the stars need to be in alignment for this enormous, long-term modernization effort to deliver the needed results.

U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Early Release of a Summary of its Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) Provides a Disturbing View of Our Nation’s Energy Future

Peter Lobner

Each year, the EIA issues an Annual Energy Outlook that provides energy industry recent year data and projections for future years. The 2016 AEO includes actual data of 2014 and 2015, and projections to 2040. These data include:

  • Total energy supply and disposition demand
  • Energy consumption by sector and source
  • Energy prices by sector and source
  • Key indicators and consumption by sector (Residential, Commercial, Industrial, Transportation)
  • Electricity supply, disposition, prices and emissions
  • Electricity generating capacity
  • Electricity trade

On 17 May, EIA released a PowerPoint summary of AEO2016 along with the data tables used in this Outlook.   The full version of AEO2016 is scheduled for release on 7 July 2016.

You can download EIA’s Early Release PowerPoint summary and any of the data tables at the following link:

http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/er/index.cfm

EIA explains that this Summary features two cases: the Reference case and a case excluding implementation of the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

  • Reference case: A business-as-usual trend estimate, given known technology and technological and demographic trends. The Reference case assumes Clean Power Plan (CPP) compliance through mass-based standards (emissions reduction in metric tones of carbon dioxide) modeled using allowances with cooperation across states at the regional level, with all allowance revenues rebated to ratepayers.
  • No CPP case: A business-as-usual trend estimate, but assumes that CPP is not implemented.

You can find a good industry assessment of the AEO2016 Summary on the Global Energy World website at the following link:

http://www.globalenergyworld.com/news/24141/Obama_Administration_s_Electricity_Policies_Follow_the_Failed_European_Model.htm

A related EIA document that is worth reviewing is, Assumptions to the Annual Energy Outlook 2015, which you will find at the following link:

http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/assumptions/

This report presents the major assumptions of the National Energy Modeling System (NEMS) used to generate the projections in AE02015. A 2016 edition of Assumptions is not yet available. The functional organization of NEMS is shown below.

EIA NEMS

The renewable fuels module in NEMS addresses solar (thermal and photovoltaic), wind (on-shore and off-shore), geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, and conventional hydroelectric.

The predominant renewable sources are solar and wind, both of which are intermittent sources of electric power generation. Except for the following statements, the EIA assumptions are silent on the matter of energy storage systems that will be needed to manage electric power quality and grid stability as the projected use of intermittent renewable generators grows.

  • All technologies except for storage, intermittents and distributed generation can be used to meet spinning reserves
  • The representative solar thermal technology assumed for cost estimation is a 100-megawatt central-receiver tower without integrated energy storage
  • Pumped storage hydroelectric, considered a nonrenewable storage medium for fossil and nuclear power, is not included in the supply

In my 4 March 2016 post, “Dispatchable Power from Energy Storage Systems Help Maintain Grid Stability,” I addressed the growing importance of such storage systems as intermittent power generators are added to the grid. In the context of the AEO, the EIA fails to address the need for these costly energy storage systems and they fail to allocate the cost of energy storage systems to the intermittent generators that are the source of the growing demand for the energy storage systems. As a result, the projected price of energy from intermittent renewable generators is unrealistically low in the AEO.

Oddly, NEMS does not include a “Nuclear Fuel Module.” Nuclear power is represented in the Electric Market Module, but receives no credit as a non-carbon producing source of electric power. As I reported in my posts on the Clean Power Plan, the CPP gives utilities no incentives to continue operating nuclear power plants or to build new nuclear power plants (see my 27 November 2015 post, “Is EPA Fudging the Numbers for its Carbon Regulation,” and my 2 July 2015 post, “EPA Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule Does Not Adequately Recognize the Role of Nuclear Power in Greenhouse Gas Reduction.”). With the current and expected future low price of natural gas, nuclear power operators are at a financial disadvantage relative to operators of large central station fossil power plants. This is the driving factor in the industry trend of early retirement of existing nuclear power plants.

The following 6 May 2016 announcement by Exelon highlights the current predicament of a high-performing nuclear power operator:

“Exelon deferred decisions on the future of its Clinton and Quad Cities plants last fall to give policymakers more time to consider energy market and legislative reforms. Since then, energy prices have continued to decline. Despite being two of Exelon’s highest-performing plants, Clinton and Quad Cities have been experiencing significant losses. In the past six years, Clinton and Quad Cities have lost more than $800 million, combined.“

“Exelon announced today that it will need to move forward with the early retirements of its Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear facilities if adequate legislation is not passed during the spring Illinois legislative session, scheduled to end on May 31 and if, for Quad Cities, adequate legislation is not passed and the plant does not clear the upcoming PJM capacity auction later this month.”

“Without these results, Exelon would plan to retire Clinton Power Station in Clinton, Ill., on June 1, 2017, and Quad Cities Generating Station in Cordova, Ill., on June 1, 2018.”

You can read Exelon’s entire announcement at the following link:

http://www.exeloncorp.com/newsroom/exelon-statement-on-early-retirement-of-clinton-and-quad-cities-nuclear-facilities

Together the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants have a combined Design Electrical Rating of 2,983 MWe from a non-carbon producing source. For the period 2013 – 2015, the U.S. nuclear power industry as a whole had a net capacity factor of 90.41. That means that the nuclear power industry delivered 90.41% of the DER of the aggregate of all U.S. nuclear power plants. The three Exelon plants being considered for early retirement exceeded this industry average performance with the following net capacity factors: Quad Cities 1 @ 101.27; Quad Cities 2 @ 92.68, and Clinton @ 91.26.

For the same 2013 – 2015 period, EIA reported the following net capacity factors for wind (32.96), solar photovoltaic (27.25), and solar thermal (21.25).  Using the EIA capacity factor for wind generators, the largest Siemens D7 wind turbine, which is rated at 7.0 MWe, delivers an average output of about 2.3 MWe. We would need more than 1,200 of these large wind turbines just to make up for the electric power delivered by the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants. Imagine the stability of that regional grid.

CPP continues subsidies to renewable power generators. In time, the intermittent generators will reduce power quality and destabilize the electric power grid unless industrial-scale energy storage systems are deployed to enable the grid operators to match electricity supply and demand with reliable, dispatchable power.

As a nation, I believe we’re trending toward more costly electricity with lower power quality and reliability.

I hope you share my concerns about this trend.

Dispatchable Power from Energy Storage Systems Help Maintain Grid Stability

Peter Lobner

On 3 March 2015, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation announced the delivery of the world’s largest energy storage system, which has a rated output of 50 MW and a storage capacity of 300 MWh. The battery-based system is installed in Japan at Kyushu Electric Power Company’s Buzen Power Plant as part of a pilot project to demonstrate the use of high-capacity energy storage systems to balance supply and demand on a grid that has significant, weather-dependent (intermittent), renewable power sources (i.e., solar and/or wind turbine generators). This system offers energy-storage and dispatch capabilities similar to those of a pumped hydro facility. You can read the Mitsubishi press release at the following link:

http://www.mitsubishielectric.com/news/2016/pdf/0303-b.pdf

The energy storage system and associated electrical substation installation at Buzen Power Plant are shown below. The energy storage system is comprised of 63 4-module units, where each module contains sodium-sulfur (NaS) batteries with a rated output of 200 kW. The modules are double stacked to reduce the facility’s footprint and cost.

Buzen Power Plant - JapanSource: Mitsubishi

The following simplified diagram shows how the Mitsubishi grid supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system matches supply with variable demand on a grid with three dispatchable energy sources (thermal, pumped hydro and battery storage) and one non-dispatchable (intermittent) energy source (solar photovoltaic, PV). As demand varies through the day, thermal power plants can maneuver (within limits) to meet increasing load demand, supplemented by pumped hydro and battery storage to meet peak demands and to respond to the short-term variability of power from PV generators. A short-term power excess is used to recharge the batteries. Pumped hydro typically is recharged over night, when the system load demand is lower.

Mitsubishi SCADA

Above diagram: Mitsubishi BLEnDer® RE Battery SCADA System (Source: Mitsubishi)

Battery storage is only one of several technologies available for grid-connected energy storage systems. You can read about the many other alternatives in the December 2013 Department of Energy (DOE) report, “Grid Energy Storage”, which you can download at the following link:

http://www.sandia.gov/ess/docs/other/Grid_Energy_Storage_Dec_2013.pdf

This 2013 report includes the following figure, which shows the rated power of U.S. grid storage projects, including announced projects.

US 2013 grid  storage projectsSource: DOE

As you can see, battery storage systems, such as the Mitsubishi system at Buzen Power Plant, comprise only a small fraction of grid-connected energy storage systems, which currently are dominated in the U.S. by pumped hydro systems. DOE reported that, as of August 2013, there were 202 energy storage systems deployed in the U.S. with a total installed power rating of 24.6 GW. Energy storage capacity (i.e., GWh) was not stated. In contrast, total U.S. installed generating capacity in 2013 was over 1,000 GW, so fully-charged storage systems can support about 2.4% of the nation’s load demand for a short period of time.

Among DOE’s 2013 strategic goals for grid energy storage systems are the following cost goals:

  • Near-term energy storage systems:
    • System capital cost: < $1,750/kW; < $250/kWh
    • Levelized cost: < 20¢ / kWh / cycle
    • System efficiency: > 75%
    • Cycle life: > 4,000 cycles
  • Long-term energy storage systems:
    • System capital cost: < $1,250/kW; < $150/kWh
    • Levelized cost: < 10¢ / kWh / cycle
    • System efficiency: > 80%
    • Cycle life: > 5,000 cycles

Using the DOE near-term cost goals, we can estimate the cost of the energy storage system at the Buzen Power Plant to be in the range from $75 – 87.5 million. DOE estimated that the storage devices contributed 30 – 40% of the cost of an energy storage system.  That becomes a recurring operating cost when the storage devices reach their cycle life limit and need to be replaced.

The Energy Information Agency (EIA) defines capacity factor as the ratio of a generator’s actual generation over a specified period of time to its maximum possible generation over that same period of time. EIA reported the following installed generating capacities and capacity factors for U.S. wind and solar generators in 2015:

US renewable power 2015

Currently there are 86 GW of intermittent power sources connected to the U.S. grid and that total is growing year-on-year. As shown below, EIA expects 28% growth in solar generation and 16% growth in wind generation in the U.S. in 2016.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 1.22.06 PMSource: EIA

The reason we need dispatchable grid storage systems is because of the proliferation of grid-connected intermittent generators and the need for grid operators to manage grid stability regionally and across the nation.

California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) Program has required that utilities procure 33% of their electricity from “eligible renewable energy resources” by 2020. On 7 October 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill (SB 350) that increased this goal to 50% by 2030. There is no concise definition of “eligible renewable energy resources,” but you can get a good understanding of this term in the 2011 California Energy Commission guidebook, “Renewables Portfolio Standard Eligibility – 4th Edition,” which you can download at the following link:

http://www.energy.ca.gov/2010publications/CEC-300-2010-007/CEC-300-2010-007-CMF.PDF

The “eligible renewable energy resources” include solar, wind, and other resources, several of which would not be intermittent generators.

In 2014, the installed capacity of California’s 1,051 in-state power plants (greater than 0.1 megawatts – MW) was 86.9 GW. These plants produced 198,908 GWh of electricity in 2014. An additional 97,735 GWh (about 33%) was imported from out-of-state generators, yielding a 2014 statewide total electricity consumption of almost 300,000 GWh of electricity. By 2030, 50% of total generation is mandated to be from “eligible renewable energy resources,” and a good fraction of those resources will be operating intermittently at average capacity factors in the range from 22 – 33%.

The rates we pay as electric power customers in California already are among the highest in the nation, largely because of the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) Program. With the higher targets for 2030, we soon will be paying even more for the deployment, operation and maintenance of massive new grid-connected storage infrastructure that will be needed to keep the state and regional grids stable.

Is EPA Fudging the Numbers for its Carbon Regulation?

Peter Lobner

In my 2 July 2015 post, I commented on significant deficiencies in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Power Plan proposed rule. On 3 August 2015, the EPA announced the final rule. You can read the final rule for existing power plants, the EPA’s regulatory impact analysis, and associated fact sheets at the following link:

http://www2.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/clean-power-plan-existing-power-plants

The Institute for Energy Research (IER) is a not-for-profit organization that conducts research and analysis on the functions, operations, and government regulation of global energy markets. The IER home page is at the following link:

http://instituteforenergyresearch.org

On 24 November 2015, the IER published an insightful article entitled, Is EPA Fudging the Numbers for its Carbon Regulation?, which I believe is worth your attention. The IER’s main points are:

  1. U.S. Energy Information Agency’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) is the data source usually used by federal government agencies in their analysis of energy issues.
  2. EPA stands out as an exception. It frequently chooses not to use EIA data, and instead develops it’s own duplicative, different data.
  3. In the case of the Clean Power Plan, the EPA’s own data significantly underestimates the number of coal plants that need to be retired to comply with the Plan. The result is a much lower estimate of the economic impact of the Plan than if EIA data had been used.

It appears to me that the EPA created and used data skewed to produce a more favorable, but likely unrealistic, estimate of the economic impact that will borne by the U.S. power industry and power customers as the Clean Power Plan is implemented. Form your own opinion after reading the full IER article at the following link:

http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/analysis/is-epa-fudging-the-numbers-for-its-carbon-regulation/

Update 19 Feb 2016

On 8 February 2016, the American Nuclear Society (ANS) released their, “Nuclear in the States Toolkit Version 1.0 – Policy Options for States Considering the Role of Nuclear Power in Their Energy Mix.” The toolkit catalogs policies related to new and existing nuclear reactors for state policymakers to consider as they draft their Clean Power Plan compliance strategies.   The Toolkit identifies a range of policy options that individually or in aggregate can make nuclear generation a more attractive generation alternative for states and utilities.

You can download this document at the following link:

http://nuclearconnect.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/ANS-NIS-Toolkit-download.pdf

On 9 February 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issues a stay on implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) pending the resolution of legal challenges to the program in court.

The ANS noted that, “….the stay provides them (the states) an opportunity to take a new look at the carbon offsets that existing nuclear plants provide, which they weren’t encouraged to do under the CPP rules.”

Building a Modern Wind Turbine Generator

Peter Lobner

MidAmerican Energy Company, Iowa’s largest energy company, began installing wind turbines in 2004. In May 2013, MidAmerican Energy announced their latest plan to invest up to $1.9 billion to expand its wind generation fleet and add up to 1,050 MWe of wind generation in Iowa by year-end 2015. Once this expansion is complete, approximately 3,335 MWe, or approximately 39%, of MidAmerican Energy’s total owned generation capacity will come from wind-powered generation from 1,715 wind turbines.

MidAmerica Energy wind turbines Source: MidAmerica Energy

You can visit the wind energy page on the MidAmerica Energy website at the following link:

http://www.midamericanenergy.com/wind_overview.aspx

Fact sheets on this site provide details on the two types of wind turbines currently being installed:

  • 1.5 MWe General Electric wind turbine (most common in the MidAmerica fleet)
  • 2.3 MWe Siemens wind turbine (largest in the MidAmerica fleet)

The impressive dimensions of the larger Siemens machine are shown in the following diagram:

MidAmerica Energy 2.3 MWe wind turbine Source: MidAmerica Energy

MidAmerican Energy Company has posted a 5+ minute time-lapse video on YouTube showing their three-week construction process for the Siemens wind turbine. This is worth watching to get a better understanding of the modest site preparation work required, the very large scale of the pedestal and rotor components, and the short time frame required to complete a wind turbine generator and have it ready to be put into revenue-generating service.  You can view the video at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/84BeVq2Jm88?feature=player_detailpage

Now complete this process several hundred times and you have a respectable sized wind farm.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) defines “capacity factor” as follows:

“Capacity factors describe how intensively a fleet of generators is run. A capacity factor near 100% means a fleet is operating nearly all of the time. It is the ratio of a fleet’s actual generation to its maximum potential generation”.

EIA reports average monthly and annual capacity factors for utility generators. For utility generators not primarily using fossil fuels, the results are at the following link:

http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_6_07_b

Here are average capacity factors reported by EIA:

EIA capacity factors 1

As a renewable power source, wind has a significantly higher capacity factor than solar. However, over the long term, a wind farm delivers only about one-third of it’s “nameplate rating.” This statistic, of course, does not capture the real-time variability in electrical output as wind conditions constantly change.

As a point of comparison, you can find the EIA capacity factor results for utility generators primarily using fossil fuels at the following link:

http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_6_07_a

Here are average capacity factors reported by EIA for selected fossil generators (I only included those that are likely to be base loaded):

EIA capacity factors 2

EPA Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule Does Not Adequately Recognize the Role of Nuclear Power in Greenhouse Gas Reduction

Peter Lobner

On June 2, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed what they called, “a common sense plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants.”  You can access the Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule and many related documents at the following EPA link:

http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/clean-power-plan-proposed-rule

This Plan proposes to limit carbon emissions from existing fossil fuel fired electric generating units, including steam generating, integrated gasification combined cycle, or stationary combustion turbines (in either simple-cycle or combined-cycle configuration) operating or under construction by January 8, 2014. Main points of the Clean Power Plan include:

  • Wind and solar power are the preferred EPA options.
  • Natural gas is an interim solution.
  • New nuclear capacity is not a compliance option.
  • The EPA allows compliance credit for:
    • New nuclear plants currently under construction, and
    • Preservation of existing nuclear plants that might otherwise be retired

I’ve already formed my opinion on the Clean Power Plan. To help you form your opinion, I recommend that you refer to the following recent analyses by four respected government and industry organizations that have reviewed the Clean Power Plan.

Institute for Energy Research (IER)

On 15 June 2015, the IER issued the results of their analysis entitled, EPA’s Clean Power Plan Ignores New Nuclear as a Compliance Option. IER concluded that the compliance formulae in the Clean Power Plan are biased toward new wind and solar power development. Deployment of these technologies, which currently are not capable of delivering reliable capacity, will decrease the reliability of the electric grid. IER also concluded that the Clean Power Plan will result in much higher electricity prices for all American consumers, while having only a marginal impact on global temperature based on EPA’s computer models.

You can read the IER analysis at the following link:

http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/analysis/epas-clean-power-plan-ignores-new-nuclear-as-a-compliance-option/

National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA)

On 21 May 2015, the NACAA issued a report entitled, Implementing EPA’s Clean Power Plan: A Menu of Options, containing 25 chapters, each of which explores a particular approach to greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction in the electric power sector.  NACAA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit association of air pollution control agencies in 41 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and 116 metropolitan areas.  Each chapter of their Menu of Options includes a brief descriptions of: (1) the option and it’s pros and cons; (2) the regulatory backdrop, policy underpinnings, implementation experience, and GHG reduction potential associated with the option; and (3) benefits of the option to society and the utility system, including costs and cost-effectiveness. In the last chapter, a variety of emerging technologies and other policy options for reducing GHG emissions are addressed.

An interesting table and two figures included in Chapter 6 of the Menu of Options are reproduced below.

NACAA Table 6-1 Source: NACAA

In 2012, electric power generation technologies with zero or low GHG emissions accounted for 31.4% of the USA’s total generating capacity. The data in Table 6-1 shows that 82.2% of the zero or low GHG emission generating capacity came from nuclear and hydroelectric power plants. The remaining low-emission generation capacity came from biomass, wind, geothermal, and solar power plants.

NACAA Figure 6-3Source: NACAA

In Figure 6-3, “life cycle GHG emissions” include those associated with operation as well as construction, fabrication, and fuel processing.  While nuclear power is not included among the “technologies powered by renewable resources”, it’s clear in Figure 6-3 that nuclear power meets the GHG reduction performance of the other technologies using renewable resources.

NACAA Figure 6-7  Source: NACAA

In Figure 6-7, note the relative cost-of-energy differential between nuclear power and fossil power. This difference makes it difficult for nuclear power plants to compete head-to-head with coal and natural gas merchant power plants and encourages the early retirement of some nuclear power plants on economic grounds.  While most renewable power sources have even higher costs-of-energy, various financial schemes subsidize their power generation.

You can download individual chapters or the entire NACAA Menu of Options at the following link:

http://www.4cleanair.org/NACAA_Menu_of_Options

U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)

On 22 May 2015, the EIA released their analysis of the Clean Power Plan. The EIA analysis supports the IER finding that the Clean Power Plan will result in much higher electricity prices for all American consumers, even in a scenario that allows GHG reduction credit for new nuclear generation.

You can read the EIA press release at the following link:

http://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/powerplants/cleanplan/

You also can download a PDFs copy of the May 2015 EIA report, Analysis of the Impacts of the Clean Power Plan, at the following link:

http://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/powerplants/cleanplan/pdf/powerplant.pdf

Nuclear Energy Institute’s (NEI)

To address the “clean power” attributes of nuclear power, I refer you to an NEI Knowledge Center webpage: Environment: Emissions Prevented, which you will find at the following link:

http://www.nei.org/Knowledge-Center/Nuclear-Statistics/Environment-Emissions-Prevented

Here you’ll find a link to data on the amount of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide emissions avoided in the U.S. during the years 1995 to 2014 by virtue of having about 20% of U.S. electric power generated by nuclear power plants instead of fossil power plants. NEI reports the total avoided emissions for this period as follows:

  • Sulfur dioxide: 57.75 million short tons (52.4 million metric tons)
  • Nitrogen oxides: 22.92 million short tons (20.8 million metric tons)
  • Carbon dioxide: 13,063.6 million short tons (11,851 million metric tons)

On this website, NEI states:

“Nuclear energy facilities avoided 595 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2014 across the U.S. This is nearly as much carbon dioxide as is released from nearly 135 million cars, which is more than all U.S. passenger cars. The U.S. produces more than five billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Without the emission avoidances from nuclear generation, required reductions in the U.S. would increase by more than 50 percent to achieve targets under the Kyoto Protocol.”

2013 paper, “Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power”.

Supporting the above NEI position on the GHG reduction merits of nuclear power, there is a related 2013 article by NASA scientists from Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University entitled, “Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power”.  You can read a short article on this paper on the Scientific American website at the following link:

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/the-curious-wavefunction/nuclear-power-may-have-saved-1-8-million-lives-otherwise-lost-to-fossil-fuels-may-save-up-to-7-million-more/

You also can read the complete paper at the following link:

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es3051197

In their study, authors Pushker A. Kharecha and James E. Hansen used historical production data from 1971 to 2009 and calculated that global nuclear power has prevented an average of 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and 64 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent (GtCO2-eq) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would have resulted from fossil fuel burning. From their analysis, the authors drew the following conclusion:

“In conclusion, it is clear that nuclear power has provided a large contribution to the reduction of global mortality and GHG emissions due to fossil fuel use. If the role of nuclear power significantly declines in the next few decades, the International Energy Agency asserts that achieving a target atmospheric GHG level of 450 ppm CO2-eq would require “heroic achievements in the deployment of emerging low- carbon technologies, which have yet to be proven. Countries that rely heavily on nuclear power would find it particularly challenging and significantly more costly to meet their targeted levels of emissions.”

So, what do you think about the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan? Is this the “common sense plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants” promised by EPA; a politically motivated piece of crap designed to kill the nuclear and coal power industries; or something in between?