SONE Newsletter 295 – March 2024

Posted by Wade Allison on 27 March 2024 in Newsletters

Tagged with: Austria, Brussels, Oppenheimer, Regulation.

This month

Nuclear Energy Declaration Adopted at Summit in Brussels 21 March 2024

“We, the leaders of countries operating nuclear power plants, or expanding or embarking on or exploring the option of nuclear power, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), gathered in Brussels for the inaugural Nuclear Energy Summit to reaffirm our strong commitment to nuclear energy as a key component of our global strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from both power and industrial sectors, ensure energy security, enhance energy resilience, and promote long-term sustainable development and clean energy transition. We are determined to do our utmost to fulfil this commitment through our active and direct engagement, in particular by enhancing cooperation with countries that opt to develop civil nuclear capacities in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a nationally determined manner, including for transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by mid-21st century in keeping with the science, as outlined in the First Global Stocktake of the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference.”

[The complete declaration has been posted in an article on the WNN website:]

“A nuclear plant’s closure was hailed as a green win. Then emissions went up”

While the nuclear revival proceeds apace, anti-nuclear opinion struggles to express itself. They have discovered that, when a nuclear plant is closed with the intention of replacing it with wind and solar, it is gas use that increases. As a result, carbon emissions increase – which was never their intention. They are surprised!

The media and environmental positions are discussed by Zion Lights:

The Science Museum is looking forwards

Phillip Greatorex writes on the Web:

Later this month I shall be joining with the Trustees of the Science Museum Group in London to mark the opening of an impressive new ‘Energy Revolution’ Gallery. It aims to prompt visitors to think about, ‘how the world can generate and use energy more sustainably; to urgently decarbonise and limit climate change’. This will not be my first visit to the museum though, that was back in December 1982 on a school-trip to view a Nuclear Power themed exhibition funded by the UKAEA. BNFL and the CEGB supplied a number of exhibits, the centrepiece of which was a full-scale cutaway section of an Advanced Gas Cooled Reactor. Little did I realise that 10 years on from then I would be working on the real thing at Hunterston Power Station. Nor could I have guessed that in 2024 I would be revisiting the museum to reflect on both experiences and ponder our energy future. The timing of the exhibition is important because the current nuclear workforce age demographic requires we attract craftworkers, engineers and scientists to the sector. There is also a pressing need to inspire a new generation of skilled workers, much the same way I was inspired to pursue a career in nuclear.

Oppenheimer conclusion

It was no surprise that “Oppenheimer” picked up so many Oscars. I concede that Shakespeare was a master at confusing history and entertainment – literature in his case. But Henry V and Julius Caesar had no immediate social or safety consequences, as the Oppenheimer story does today. This film which contains few facts but is heavy on “shock and awe” will reinforce nuclear phobia for many people. It will take that much longer for a level-headed view of nuclear energy to emerge in society at large.

Max Planck said that science advances one funeral at a time. Or more precisely:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Six early nuclear reactor films digitized thanks to Last Energy

These caught my eye. I thought that senior members of SONE, in particular, might enjoy them. I have watched only a couple so far, but I noticed a commendable degree of common sense, adequate safety, attention to detail and lack of bureaucratic delay. Some may disagree with me, but I was encouraged to see people getting on with task of building nuclear. If only that were acceptable today! This was picked up from a posting:

By Dr. Nick Touran, Ph.D., P.E., 2024-03-16

I couldn’t be happier to be announcing the addition of six(!) more digitized historical nuclear films to the world’s collection, thanks to the generosity of Last Energy. This is our biggest batch of digitizations yet! As before, these were all sourced from 16mm films in the US National Archives.

Austria and Nuclear Power

Austria as a country is notoriously anti-nuclear. It banned the use of nuclear energy in 1978. Take a look It is said that the rejection of nuclear power in Austria is a consensus from the left to the far right. Austria has been the most vocal in Europe in its objection to nuclear power.

But look what has happened! Now it is reported that the country is inhabited by Austrians who now want nuclear power!

Question asked on 16/02/24: “Should Austria produce nuclear electricity in the future?”
Answer: 66% yes! See also comments

A conclusion in Le Monde: Les autrichiens qui ont la chance d’avoir + de 60% d’hydraulique dans leur mix électrique (grâce à leurs montagnes) souhaitent du nucléaire, malgré des politiciens très anti nucléaires et un passé très anti nucléaire !

Regulations: at least there is cooperation between UK ONR, US NRC and CNSC

Reduced bureaucracy in the licensing of new SMR and AMR technologies should follow cooperation between regulators in UK, US and Canada. Of course it is possible that they will continue to follow perceptions of risk dating from the 1950s that ignore science. However, that is unlikely. The idea that a small reactor with radioactive fuel at ambient pressure and passive protection against extreme temperature excursions does not need to be surrounded by an extensive emergency planning zone seems to be widely accepted. The trouble is that caution bolstered by international agreements creates jobs, committees and budgets which are welcome to their beneficiaries. This caused the financial and social strangulation of our nuclear heritage for the past 70 years, and we need to snap out of it. As Jack Devanney [] has written when comparing the construction of nuclear with coal and gas power plants:

“With the possible exception of the reactor itself, which is a tiny portion of the plant, everything’s pretty much the same. Even the pressure vessels are just thicker versions of non-nuclear components. If there are any special skills, they are in navigating the maze of regulations, keeping your paperwork clean, schmoozing omnipotent NRC inspectors, and trying to guess/influence what the next change in the rules will be. These are not skills that lead to better, cheaper plants. It’s time we stop fooling ourselves. The difference between coal plant contractor performance and nuclear plant contractor performance is the regulatory system. If you don’t change the regulatory system, nuclear contractor performance will get worse, not better.”

And British Industry is busy, at home and abroad!

Among others: Sheffield Forgemasters, Rolls Royce and Moltex.

WNN writes: Sheffield Forgemasters has completed weld-assembly of a full-sized small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear vessel demonstrator assembly using Local Electron-Beam Welding (LEBW). It said the technique took less than 24 hours to complete four, thick, nuclear-grade welds, typically requiring a year of work to complete. With a diameter of three metres and a wall thickness of 200mm, construction of the vessel showcases the reliability and capabilities of LEBW, setting a dramatic new standard for weld-joining thick-walled components, previously untrialled in a demonstrator model,” the company said. Sheffield Forgemasters deployed specially developed parameters, meticulously fine-tuned during the welding development stage, including innovative sloping-in and sloping-out techniques to start and finish the weld, ensuring a clean and complete weld-join. “We are delighted to have reached a significant milestone in assembling a nuclear vessel demonstrator, using electron beam welding for the first time at this scale, with 100% success and no defects,” said Jesus Talamantes-Silva, research, design and technology director at Sheffield Forgemasters. Michael Blackmore, senior development engineer and project lead, added: “The implication of this technology within the nuclear industry is monumental, potentially taking high-cost welding processes out of the equation. “Not only does this reduce the need for weld-inspections, because the weld-join replicates the parent material, but it could also dramatically speed up the roll-out of SMR reactors across the UK and beyond, that’s how disruptive the LEBW breakthrough is.” Sheffield Forgemasters - the only company in the UK with the capability to manufacture the large forgings required for SMRs - said the demonstration of LEBW technology’s potential opens new horizons for “more efficient, low-cost and less time-heavy nuclear assemblies” and also has far-reaching implications for other projects which require thick-walled welded assemblies.

You can read the full text and see the photograph on the WNN website

The demonstration was part of a program to develop the SMR designed by Rolls-Royce.

In the meantime Rolls Royce shares have been flying high on the stock exchange, largely because air traffic is up and the nuclear work for the AUKUS submarine programme will come their way too. Whether Rolls Royce will receive a significant slice of the SMR programme remains to be seen.

This month also saw the online presentation by Moltex, both of their Canadian work on the Waste Burner and of their Flex design in the UK. I expect that many SONE Members took advantage of the occasion to understand the special features of both designs. The media are full of reports emphasising the need to spend vast sums on the Grid, costs that are to be inflicted on consumers as a systemic charge. The truth is that this work, and the provision of battery storage too, is driven solely by the failings of wind and solar. Electric power should be generated where it is needed and when it is needed. Nuclear (and fossil fuels) can do this without the extra infrastructure. They may not like it, but such extra costs should be charged to the renewables account alone.

Pressure for regulatory changes in the United States

WNN reports that pressures are having some effect. The US House of Representatives voted on 28 February to pass HR 6544, the Atomic Energy Advancement Act, which establishes various requirements to accelerate the deployment of nuclear energy technologies, such as advanced reactors. Specifically, the bill sets forth requirements that direct the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to efficiently license and regulate nuclear energy activities. It also reduces certain licensing fees charged by the NRC for advanced nuclear reactors and authorises the Department of Energy to make awards that pay for certain licensing fees. Republican Diana DeGette, who co-led the bipartisan bill, said it “makes critical updates to improve safety and ensure our nuclear regulations are up-to-date, pushing us closer to a carbon-free energy future”. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Wade Allison, Hon. Sec
22 March 2024