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Looming Closure of Davis-Besse, Perry Puts Focus on Advocacy for Future of Nuclear Energy in Ohio and the Nation

  • First Energy to declare bankruptcy and close David-Besse and Perry nuclear plants.
  • Ohio Millennials Organize Over Future of Advanced Reactors.
  • ‘Titans of Nuclear’ Podcasts Launch to Promote Nuclear Energy Message to Address Climate Change.
  • Third Way’s Todd Allen Interviews CEO of X-Energy on Firm’s Game Changing Reactor Design.

Davis-Besse-2

Davis-Besse nuclear power plant. Image: First Energy file photo

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the fate of FirstEnergy’s Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear power plants could be sealed before the end of April 2018 as the company signs a deal for $2.5 billion in new investments from a consortium of hedge funds.

The investors will support the Akron-based company with restructuring the plant’s legal owner, as FirstEnergy Solutions, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

According to the newspaper, four private investor groups have agreed to bring nearly $2.5 billion to FirstEnergy for 18 months in exchange for helping the company shed its money-losing power plants, or get them returned to regulation and protection from competition.

The Akron, OH, utility this week announced that the four private investment groups would buy $2.5 billion in FirstEnergy shares — $1.62 billion in preferred stock and $850 million in common stock.  After 18 months, the investors must convert their preferred stock into common stock, which they may sell. The private funds include;

  • Affiliates of New York-based multi-billion dollar Elliott Management Corp.,
  • Dallas-based Bluescape Resources Co.,
  • Singapore-based GIC Private Limited (formerly the Government of Singapore Investment Corp.) and
  • New York City-based Zimmer Partners LP.

The announcement resulted in buying on the New York Stock Exchange and FirstEnergy’s share price (NYSE:FE) closed up 10.4 percent or $3.05 a share, at $32.45. The firm said in a letter to investors that it may not make a $100M debt payment in April and instead seek bankruptcy protection. It’s long-term goal is to exit merchant markets and only invest in regulated markets.

FirstEnergy told the newspaper late last week that market design and federal energy policies, not technology, are the reasons its nuclear plans cannot compete effectively against gas turbine plants and wind farms.

The move could raise energy prices for consumers throughout Ohio if the reactors at shut down. Meanwhile the Ohio legislature has not taken any action to address the issue of losing the plants which have a combined output of over 2 Gwe of CO2 emission free electrical power.

According to a news report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last last week Senate Public Utilities Committee chairman Bill Beagle said he had no plans to hold additional hearings and no plans to vote the bill out of committee.

Senate Bill 128 would add a flat fee of $2.50 a month to residential bills. Commercial and industrial customers would see a 5% monthly increase to their bills.

The increases, called Zero Emission Credits or ZEC, would give the company an additional $180 million a year for 12 years to subsidize its nuclear plants. The bill has been stalled in committees since last fall.

Like other nuclear plant closures the replacement power will come from coal and natural gas, both of which pour CO2 into the atmosphere. Short-term profit taking is dooming future generations to more difficult climate conditions and may put the very existence of the human species at risk.

Ohio Millennials: We Need Advanced Reactors

  • Movement for thriving U.S. nuclear industry continues in cities across America
  • More young voices turn up volume in Ohio to save operating reactors
  • Innovative storytelling, partnerships necessary for advanced reactors to succeed

Here we learn about a meeting of the next generation which will inherit the earth with or without concerted effort to mitigate climate change. What if we had energy with no CO2 negatives?

That is the vision of eGeneration Executive Chairman Bill Thesling, an experienced “serial entrepreneur” now working on the development of liquid core molten salt reactors (LCMSRs). (Note: Dr. Bill Thesling holds a Doctorate in Electrical Engineering from Cleveland State University, where he performed research for NASA and the Ohio Aerospace Institute.)

Thesling joined an expert panel last week for a gathering of the Millennial Nuclear Caucus in Columbus, Ohio, hosted by U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and the Michigan-Ohio Section of the American Nuclear Society. (Photo album on Facebook)

Ohio Millennial Nuclear Caucus

DOE-NE Chief of Staff Suzie Jaworowski (left) with a panel of nuclear experts at the Ohio Millennial Nuclear Caucus. [Photo: DOE]

 

More than 70 participants came together at the Riffe Center Studio Theaters to hear from DOE officials, industry experts, grassroots advocates and thought leaders from The Ohio State University.

Advocates in the audience included Ohio state representatives and represented a wide range of the nuclear energy field, from young leaders operating nuclear reactors to those designing advanced nuclear technologies.

The panel discussion was followed by a “Nuclear Reimagined” art reception featuring sketches and renderings from the Third Way of what the future of nuclear energy could look like.

This was the second in a series of caucuses that will be held around the country. The inaugural Millennial Nuclear Caucus in Washington, D.C., cosponsored by DOE and NEI, was held last October. Each of these events connects the next generation of leaders in nuclear innovation with environmental, economic and scientific experts in industry and government.

DOE Office of Nuclear Energy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor Suzie Jaworowski opened last week’s caucus.

“Electricity is definitely an undervalued commodity that really is the platform for our whole culture and our society in the United States and around the world,” she said. “So I think that it’s something that we often take for granted and forget about, but we want to be able to raise the awareness of where that comes from and what makes up a diverse and resilient and clean energy resource.”

Panelists discussed the numerous benefits of nuclear energy—carbon-free electricity, grid resiliency, high-paying jobs, price stability—and the consequences of letting these irreplaceable assets disappear.

“The current fleet is an economic driver. It’s helping ensure our energy security, our national security. The expertise that we have because of the nuclear industry has important implications around the world. And the world is moving towards nuclear,” Senior Advisor to the DOE Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Bradley Williams said.

“Simply put, if we let the industry die and the current plants close, we won’t have people or knowledge or a supply chain or a regulatory body to move forward the next generation of nuclear technologies.”

“When someone comes to you and says, ‘Why should I care about nuclear?,’ have an answer for them. A good place to start is by telling them why you care about nuclear,” Generation Atomic Co-founder and Managing Director Tay Stevenson said.

Ohio State Representative Dick Stein was in the audience, and urged those invested in the success of nuclear to join together to create a national ad campaign. “To me the biggest issue here is messaging and … how you get that message out.”

This was the second meeting of the caucus. Last October its members met with DOE Secretary Rick Perry in Washington, DC. Each of these events connects the next generation of leaders in nuclear innovation with environmental, economic and scientific experts in industry and government. The next Millennial Nuclear Caucus will take place at Texas A&M University in College Station on Feb. 20.

Energy Impact Center Launches Titans of Nuclear Podcasts

titans of nuclearThe Titans of Nuclear is a podcast featuring interviews with experts throughout the field nuclear energy. Its host, Bret Kugelmass, is a Stanford educated mechanical engineer, former robotics entrepreneur, inventor of the internet-connected drone, and climate change thought leader.

Bret’s identified both a severe disconnect and steep learning curve between nuclear and tech adjacent communities as impediments to innovation, financing, and social acceptance. He seeks to bridge this gulf by creating an audio encyclopedia of the greatest minds in Nuclear Energy opening the field to environmental-minded technologists who might otherwise favor alternate approaches.

There have been three episodes so far.

  • Ep. 3 – Todd Allen, University of Wisconsin; Released Jan 24, 2018 — In this episode an interview with Todd Allen, one of the top U.S. experts in nuclear energy
  • Ep. 2 – Per Peterson, Kairos Power; Released Jan 17, 2018 — In this episode an interview with Per Peterson, professor at one of UC Berkeley’s Nuclear reactors groups. He’s the world expert on Fluoride Salt Cooled High Temperature reactors
  • Ep. 1 – Michael Shellenberger,  Environmental Progress; Released Jan 10, 2018 — In thjsa episode an interview Michael Shellenberger who has been on the forefront of nuclear advocacy for over a decade. He’s the founder of Environmental Progress, a research and policy  organization. He is also a candidate for governor of California.

You can hear the podcasts on Apple devices on iTunes or on Android and Windows devices on Stitcher.

The home for Titans of Nuclear is the Energy Impact Center which is a research institute that explores climate risk, environmental data, and energy technology.

It’s mission is to put better information into the public sphere regarding the risk and potential paths forward associated with carbon emissions. It aims to educate on technical concepts using both scientific data coupled with a rigorous analysis. Our program is divided into three categories:

  • Understanding climate risk
  • Assessing geo-engineering options
  • Determining an appropriate energy portfolio

The group’s education work takes the form of interviewing a broad-based group of scholars, experts, and policy makers to engage in thorough exploration. Producing long-form written and audio content from these conversations prepares an informed public to tackle the greatest challenges of the 21st century.

Third Way’s Todd Allen Interviews CEO of X-Energy  Kam Ghaffarian

xenergy ceo

Kam Ghaffarian, CEO of X-Energy

In late December 2017 Todd Allen, collaborating with the Third Way think tank in Washington, DC, sat down with Kam Ghaffarian to talk about his firm’s work on a TRISO fueled HTGR reactor design.

The interview covers a lot of ground. Here are some highlights.

Q: What’s your earliest memory associated with nuclear energy?

A: Fundamentally I know that the generations to come will have a big problem if we didn’t start delivering technologies to provide abundant and clean electricity.

Q: So you jumped in. Who pitched you on starting X-energy?

A: As I looked into the air pollution problem and the need for clean energy alternatives, I realized that there were ideas and solutions all around us. I reached out to a few long-time associates, leading technologists that I worked with at NASA to investigate the problem further. They brought in a nuclear physicist affiliated with MIT to begin devising solutions to those problems – namely how to get power that is affordable, safe, clean, and secure to the communities and regions that need it the most.

Q: And that led you to high temperature gas-cooled reactors?

A: The evolution to advanced nuclear, and more specifically high temperature gas cooled reactors (HTGRs) happened after I had a chance to meet with our current Chief Nuclear Officer, Dr. Eben Mulder and our Vice President of Engineering, Dr. Martin van Staden.

Having established a core team of HTGR experts to inform me on the technical decisions, we set out to add broader capabilities in licensing, fuel development, business development, and systems engineering.

Q: Of the other 50-something advanced nuclear projects being developed in North America, can you pick one or two that stand out to you for having a particularly good product and/or business model?

A: I love the concept of developing advanced reactors with the capability of using reprocessed spent fuel as their primary fuel source. I believe this duel-purpose reactor (create energy + reduce spent fuel stockpiles) will create a new revolution in advanced nuclear at some point in the future.

Q: What has NASA done well to encourage private-sector innovation, and could any of those “best practices” be applied to private-public partnerships in advanced nuclear?

A: I think NASA has been a great example of the right balance between government-funded development of highly-risky technology and industry being the implementer of those technologies after the risk has been retired. This is the standard approach NASA takes for new deep space and earth-observing instruments – because the degree of risk that industry would have to be willing to take would make the development cost-prohibitive.

So NASA either performs the initial development, or performs it collaboratively with industry. Then, after the technology has been proven, you can see commercial industries forming and applying that technology effectively, with NASA relinquishing the role in order to focus on the next risky adventure.

Original Post

Content Discussion

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on January 29, 2018

Dan, a message to Ohio Millennials from California: no, we don’t “need advanced reactors to succeed.” We need to keep existing reactors open, and to discredit the assumption today’s Gen 2 PWRs are somehow deficient. It’s a meme designed to kill existing plants off, one by one, while waiting for a Bright Nuclear Future which never arrives.

Today’s Gen 2 PWRs are a categorical success. They’re safe, and generate electricity at a marginal cost lower than either gas or coal. More importantly, we don’t “need advanced reactors” because we already have them:

I love the concept of developing advanced reactors with the capability of using reprocessed spent fuel as their primary fuel source. I believe this duel-purpose reactor (create energy + reduce spent fuel stockpiles) will create a new revolution in advanced nuclear at some point in the future.

“At some point in the future?” If one had never heard of the Integral Fast Reactor; if one hadn’t learned of its capability to use reprocessed spent fuel as its primary fuel source; if one wasn’t aware its passively-safe, metallic uranium fuel was incapable of melting down – one might almost love the concept of developing a reactor at some point in the future which had already been developed twenty-five years in the past.

And one might almost believe kicking the can twenty-five years farther down the road served some purpose other than selling more fossil fuel.

Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on January 30, 2018

On December 20, 2015, MIT Nuclear Scientist Richard Lester sent a note to correspondents about a new article he published in the Winter 2016 edition of Issues in Science & Technology. Titled, “A Roadmap for U.S. Nuclear Innovation,” it covers an ambitious agenda.

Lester writes, “a greatly expanded role for nuclear energy will be needed if the world is to have any chance of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change. Some of us have also concluded that without significant advances in nuclear reactor and fuel cycle technologies — advances yielding cost reductions, shorter cycle times, a greater focus on passive safety, and other improvements — nuclear is unlikely to play that role.”

Lester then proceeds to layout a broad, three phase plan for innovation of nuclear technologies.

First – extend the operational lifetime of the existing fleet. Innovation focuses on cost control and efficient operation. It covers the current era to the end of the 2030s.

Second – build a new, expanded fleet, primarily of large and small LWR reactors, and bring to commercial deployment advanced nuclear technologies for use in power generation, but also desalinization, process heat, and production of fuels for the transportation sector. It begins in the 2030s and extends to the end of this century.

Third – develop a second generation of advanced nuclear technologies in the post 2050 timeframe to broaden their use globally.

Lester’s paper is an easy read, but it takes some time to absorb all of his ideas which generally are on the mark in terms of laying out the equivalent of a nearly century long vision of how to achieve deep cuts in carbon emissions with the substitution of nuclear energy for fossil fuel power.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on January 30, 2018

Dan, thanks for the tip, I found Lester’s paper here.

I don’t often see as much common sense relating to energy and its effect on climate in one place at the same time. In 2018 there would be much to recommend it as a policy roadmap for the future, if U.S. climate policy hadn’t been derailed just over a year after Lester’s article was published.

He misses a few key points:

Market-driven solutions for nuclear are, and always have been, non-starters. The private companies able and/or willing to invest $20 billion in a technology with a 20-year development timeline and 80-year product longevity can be counted on one hand. If the U.S. is to remain competitive in the global nuclear marketplace, it will require both government investment and strong leadership. A 21st-century Rickover, who doesn’t take no for an answer.

Federal deregulation has neutered a Depression-era prohibition on energy holding companies profiting on the sale of fuel from their own gas subsidiaries to their own electricity subsidiaries. This double billing, enabled by what came to be known as affiliate transactions, permits combined energy monopolies to boost profits by $billions on the sale of marked-up gas. Highly-regulated, inexpensive uranium can’t compete.

Fukushima was less a disaster than the panicked reaction to it. In a time of routine school shootings, a time when 60+ concertgoers are laid to waste by one man with an automatic weapon, a nuclear accident at a plant which killed and injured no one scarcely qualifies as a “disaster”.

The article features a photo of Black Stoves, a sculpture by artist Sterling Ruby, consisting of a series of outdoor woodstoves “that are regularly fed with logs to heat the atmosphere needlessly, representing humans’ environmental carelessness.” Because millions of black stoves burning logs wouldn’t have a significant effect on climate (the molar equivalent of carbon in the logs is continually absorbed by nascent saplings) the sculpture is more a testament to the pervasive misunderstanding of what is causing climate change than any “environmental carelessness”.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on January 31, 2018

I think that the RE and nuclear cost curves have made clear that it’s preferable and effective to have actual deployment drive R&D, rather than the other way around. A government or group of governments that wants to see nuclear power of different forms should simply (remove regulatory obstacles and) incentivise it enough to get companies to start construction.

Just like Germany could have different FiTs for large solar, small solar, wind, biomass and so on, any major economy could have different incentives for SMRs, closed cycle breeders, thorium reactors, MSRs and so on. We should probably go for small reactors, though, to make the most of this approach. This would allow more diversity and more doublings of installed capacity.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on January 31, 2018

Just like Germany could have different FiTs for large solar, small solar, wind, biomass and so on, any major economy could have different incentives for SMRs, closed cycle breeders, thorium reactors, MSRs and so on.

Those RE technologies are relatively mature, and iterative changes in design can quickly expect to see high volume roll out with no risk of delay due to regulatory approval. History strongly suggests nuclear by contrast needs a sizable queue of reactors to keep costs down, and that some new highly promising designs (EBR) never see deployment due to political and regulatory barriers, despite large investment. If the French history is any guide, success in building a majority nuclear grid comes via one design ( Areva PWR, originally Framatome) repeatedly, size A, B, or C.

This is hard problem for the nuclear industry and regulators. Long term success depends on both a volume of repeatable builds, and a vector for innovation. The two are so far are in conflict.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on February 1, 2018

Little Sweden built a dozen of a few different designs and we did it cheaply and quickly, but that was before the regulatory environment became debilitating. But I do agree that there’s not much room for iterative improvements and variety if you go huge, because then the world doesn’t need more than a few thousand.

So I think 5-200 MW is the way to go. Island grids, remote grids, district heating and process heat applications and ships all present opportunities for smaller reactors, while up to 200 MW designs would be good for bulk production in large grids. The nuclear industry probably went the wrong way when they tried to save costs by increasing size instead of by series manufacturing.

Given such small reactors, the global market is large enough for more than 100,000 of them, which is on the order of 2^17. Let’s say we have 8 very different tracks, then we can have 8 * 2^14 reactors of each type and given 15% learning rate, we could reach 0.85^14 = 10% of inital cost in each of those tracks. Sure, definitely pie-in-the-sky at this point, but demonstrating the potential.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on February 1, 2018

Agreed, with the caveat that the reactor size choice was, is, dependent on the style of regulation. With the reality of ‘debilitating’ regulation as you say, a reasonable response to high regulatory imposed overhead per reactor is to go large.

It still remains to be seen which path wins under such regulation. If, for instance, every subterranean, fail-safe 200 MW reactor must nonetheless maintain a 40 km radius evacuation plan, or a staff of 200 each, or wait four years at ~$200M/yr for each new reactor approval, or delay in response to every frivolous law suit, then I suspect large will still be the only avenue.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on February 1, 2018

<golf clap>

Definitely do the math on everything, but especially on things like learning curves.  Good show.