The February meeting of the American Nuclear Society Chicago Local Section featured Senior VP of Exelon, Amir Shahkarami. He has nearly 30 years of experience in the nuclear industry and provided some valuable insight to ANS members about the national and global nuclear industry. Shahkarami is also the CEO of Exelon Nuclear Partners, which focuses on providing operational expertise to the worldwide nuclear industry, both in countries with existing nuclear power programs and newcomers to the industry planning and constructing plants right now.
There are 70 nuclear power reactors under construction in the world today (only 4 in the U.S.) and 100+ are expected in the next wave. With the largest and longest-running nuclear industry, it is important for the U.S. to share expertise in construction, operation, and safety. Shahkarami explains that plants with the same proven technology can function differently because of human performance. Safety culture is imperative to successfully running a nuclear power plant.
Sharing operating experience allows the U.S. to be involved in international nuclear power programs even without directly selling technology, which is limited to countries that have negotiated 123 Agreements
with the U.S. While boosting our own economy we can also ensure that other plants are built and operated in a safe manner. Proposed changes to nuclear export control procedures
are hopefully going to streamline the process of working with other countries. An accident at a plant anywhere in the world affects the entire industry.
In his own opinion, Shahkarami says that closing nuclear plants in the U.S. for economic reasons is a national security issue in terms of dependable energy supply. This started a discussion between ANS members at the meeting. Low natural gas prices are causing many utilities, including Exelon, to close or consider closing nuclear plants. The problem is that utilities are paid the same rate for electricity, regardless of the source and without consideration for how dependable that source is. Read more on this topic in my recent post
Amir Shahkarami was a great speaker for the ANS Chicago Section and inspired important dialogue between members. It’s not often that you get to talk to an industry CEO that is doing important work around the world.
By Lenka Kollar
A colleague of mine sent me this excerpt from an interview with John McCain on TIME.com
and I felt compelled to share it with my readers. McCain talks about many political issues in his interview but this struck me as so honest, and frankly, sad.
McCain did used to be very engaged on the issue of climate change and I remember him talking about building 45 nuclear reactors by 2030 during his 2008 presidential campaign. My fellow nuclear engineering students at Purdue were so excited about this prospect.
Q. You used to be very engaged on the issue of climate change?
I’m still interested in it. And I think there are a lot of things that we can do like this transition that we’re making to natural gas thanks to our resources and I still believe in nuclear power as one of the big parts of the answers, and that’s almost impossible to get. And I think we need to address greenhouse gas emissions. But I try to get involved in issues were I see a legislative result… But there’s going to be no movement in the Congress of the United States certainly this year and probably next year. So I just leave the issue alone because I don’t see a way through it, and there are certain fundamentals, for example nuke power, that people on the left will never agree with me on. So why should I waste my time when I know the people on the left are going to reject nuclear power? I don’t believe that you can really succeed in reducing greenhouse gases unless you have a lot of nuclear power plants. They’re against them. Well, okay, I move on to other issues.
According the quote above, McCain basically gave up on his nuclear dreams because the people on the left are going to reject it, even though they are the ones primarily concerned about climate change. This kind of thinking has to stop for us to make any progress climate change. Politicians shouldn't be making these technical decisions but instead taking the advice of the research scientists and engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy to make effective policies. I don't agree with McCain moving on the other (easier) issues because we need practical people like him on the right side of aisle.
What do you think will make Congress move forward on effective climate change legislation?
By Lenka Kollar
If you're looking for a reason to watch the newest season of Survivor, which premiers tonight at 8/7c on CBS, meet my
colleague and friend, Dr. J'Tia Taylor! J’Tia received her PhD in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was the first black female to successfully defend and receive a Ph.D. from the department. She now works at Argonne National Laboratory in the area of nuclear nonproliferation policy - learn more about J’Tia’s work at Argonne here.
J'Tia took a sabbatical from Argonne last summer to compete as a contestant on this season of Survivor
, which is set in the Philippines province of Cagayan. The eighteen contestants are split into three tribes according to their skills: Brawn, Brains, and Beauty. Although J’Tia could easily qualify for the Beauty group, she is obviously on the Brains Tribe.
I worked closely with J'Tia while I was at Argonne and I can vouch that she is strategic and competitive, so I am definitely rooting for her to be the "Sole Survivor" and win that million dollar prize! I took over some of her work when she was gone last summer so she at least owes me dinner if she wins!
Read this article in full and learn more about J'Tia's involvement in the American Nuclear Society and work with STEM outreach to women on my post at the ANS Nuclear Cafe
. And don't forget to tune into CBS tonight at 8/7c
By Lenka Kollar
Happy Engineer's Week! Here at Nuclear Undone, we encourage women to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and other careers that are traditionally male-dominted. The stigma against women as engineers is slowly changing and this recent commercial from General Electric is evidence. GE's motivation behind this commercial was to "celebrate the childlike wonder in all of us." But actually, they are also portraying that women can be engineers and change the world for the better and also be moms and inspire their kids. This commercial is really encouraging and I hope that it shows young women that they can have a positive impact on the world by designing technologies that help humankind.
Another initiative changing the way women are portrayed is the Lean In Collection on Getty Images
. Lean In
is the nonprofit organization founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to empower all women to achieve their ambitions. The goal of the new image collection is to change the way women are portrayed in the work place from the traditional stock photos that feature women in heels climbing a ladder or a baby in briefcase. These photos show all types of women doing all kinds of jobs, including being mothers. Being a proponent of women in technology, the image below is one of my favorites. Let's add some women in nuclear to the collection!
What are some examples that you've seen of women being portrayed differently than the traditional stereotypes?
By Lenka KollarThis article
posted on The Engineer
provides some interesting updates for the new safe confinement at Chernobyl. The video below provides a detailed graphic and explanation of the construction of the confinement, which is occurring 600m away from the actual damaged reactor. The lower radiation levels in this area allow workers to work up to 40 ours a week. The head engineer describes the project as the most "technically rewarding of his life."
When the shelter is finished in 2015, it will briefly become one of the largest moving structures on land as engineers carefully slide it along tracks to its final resting place over the damaged reactor. Read more here.
Share your thoughts in the comments below!
By Lenka Kollar
Happy Galentine's Day! The day before Valentine's day is the day to celebrate your female friends, or "gal" pals. It was first coined on the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation
by the feminist lead lady Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). If you haven't seen the show, you should know that it is hilarious and also refreshing in that the lead character is not only female, but also funny, smart, motivated, and compassionate.
By Lenka Kollar
is one of the biggest nuclear energy providers in the United States with 10 nuclear power plants, 6 of them in Illinois. Low natural gas prices and subsidies for renewables have driven down the price of electricity. Because of this, Exelon may need to shut down nuclear power plants in order to remain profitable.
Although the uranium fuel is not expensive, nuclear plants are more expensive to run than other types of plants because of the high costs associated with strict federal regulations. Nuclear plants need more security and highly-trained employees and also pay high fees to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
. Natural gas and coal plants do not require the same measures and licenses and therefore are cheaper to operate, even if nuclear fuel is very cheap.
It seems like a complete waste to shut down a nuclear power plant because natural gas prices are low, right now. Natural gas prices have been extremely volatile in the past and there is absolutely no guarantee that they will remain low in the future. The federal government is also inhibiting nuclear energy by providing subsidies for renewables. Nuclear energy also emits no greenhouse gas emissions and should have access to this funding if it is provided to other "green" forms of energy.
Many people argue that the United States is a free market and that the government should not choose favorites by providing subsidies to some forms of energy and not others. This is a very controversial subject, especially in the debate of climate change and trying to reduce carbon emissions.
People in the nuclear community say that existing nuclear power plants are assets to this country because of the high initial investment, reliable baseload power, and number of jobs that they provide. Exelon argues that it should be payed a higher price for baseload electricity over intermittent electricity from wind and solar generators.
Should the government intervene by subsidizing nuclear power plants to stay open or let the "free market" take over?
By Lenka Kollar
This video from BBC takes you inside a nuclear reactor to understand just how it works. Learn how heat is generated from the splitting of atoms and then turned into electricity for your home.
Share your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
By Lenka Kollar
The January 2014 meeting of the Chicago Local Section of the American Nuclear Society featured keynote speaker, David Blee, Executive Director of the United States Nuclear Infrastructure Council
. The council is an industry-driven nonprofit organization that advocates for new nuclear energy build in the United States and deployment of the U.S. nuclear supply chain globally. Currently, the council is advocating for U.S. industry involvement in the decontamination and decommissioning of Fukushima
Daichi in Japan, along with the swift negotiation of 123 Agreements and reformation of U.S. nuclear export control procedures.David Blee notes that it is "the best of times, and the worst of times" for the U.S. nuclear energy industry. One one hand, natural gas is extremely cheap, diminishing the financial case for nuclear power, and the U.S. is not getting international contracts to build reactors. On the other hand, we still have the largest and safest fleet of nuclear reactors in the world and other countries want U.S. technology. Right now is truly a tipping point for the nuclear industry, as compared to the popular documentary, Waiting for 'Superman'. The industry can either start to phase out, or we can have that nuclear renaissance we were hoping for.
Olkiluoto 3 under construction in Finland.
Blee says that we need small modular reactors to revive the U.S. supply chain, we need VC Summer
to be online on-time to encourage investors, and we need to engage in the global market. There are currently 70 nuclear power plants being built outside of the U.S., many of them in new markets, and they all want the American supply chain and safety culture.
At the end of the meeting, White House Chronicle
host Llewellyn King
inspired the Chicago ANS Section members by saying that the nuclear field has lost the excitement we once had. People used to be thrilled about what the new nuclear technology could do for mankind. The industry needs to have that excitement again to excite the public and policymakers.
I slightly disagree with Mr. King in that I think the younger generation in nuclear is very excited. We see the potential of nuclear energy and other nuclear technologies, such as medicine, to solve our energy needs and enhance our lives. Now we just have to tell everyone else how excited we are!What nuclear technology gets you the most excited?
I'm most intrigued by small battery-type reactors that could power remote areas. I also think radiation therapy for cancer treatment is pretty awesome.
By Lenka Kollar
Earlier this week, we posted about the new construction
at the VC Summer Nuclear Generating Station. The Vogtle Electric Generating Plant
in Georgia also started new nuclear construction last year with an addition of two Westinghouse AP1000
Votgle units 3 and 4 plan to start generating electricity in 2017 and 2018. This massive construction project is making history with the materials needed and the amount of people that will be employed. When finished, the four units at Vogtle will make the largest nuclear generating station in the United States. Watch the video below to learn more!
All of the new nuclear construction is happening in the Southeast, why do you think that is?