The Atomic Show Podcast includes interviews, roundtable discussions and atomic geeks all centered around the idea that nuclear energy is an amazing boon for human society.
Atomic Show #291 – Kalev Kallemets, Fermi Energia
Fermi Energia is an Estonian company whose mission is to provide its home country with an independent, clean, safe and affordable electricity production system by 2035. That system will be anchored by base supply from small modular nuclear reactors.
It is a lofty mission for a small company in a country whose land mass and population is roughly the size of the state of Maine and whose current electricity supply system is dependent on oil oil shale burning power plants with a small, rapidly varying portion of energy from wind turbines.
On the web page where Fermi Energia explains why it believes Estonia needs nuclear, there is a graph of its wind power generation as measured each hour during 2018 and an explanation for the mismatch between this pattern and electricity consumption.
Kalev Kallemets, born and raised in the Estonian countryside during its days as a Soviet satellite, has a keen understanding of his country's history and its people. He has significant experience as a political leader and broad education in engineering and business.
He joined me for lively, informative and entertaining Atomic Show.
Kallemets has gathered a compact group of like-minded people; there are about a dozen members of the team. They working with numerous partners to create an fertile environment for new nuclear plant development, including a regulatory system and strong public interest and acceptance of nuclear energy.
They are leading with the benefits, but also helping people to understand the responsibilities that come with becoming a country whose power comes from atomic fission.
Fermi Energia is led by people who have a keen understanding of the value of nuclear energy and a realization that there are a wide range of technological capabilities under development. The four currently leading the evaluation process are GE-Hitachi's BWRX-300, NuScale's NuScale Power Module, Terrestrial Energy's IMSR, and a high temperature gas reactor being developed by Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC).
The company knows that no matter which technological choice is made, the key to success will be the planning and development effort that must be invested to create effective projects with the kind of social license needed to support superior cost and schedule performance.
One measure of Fermi Energia's early success is its recent social media-enabled fund raising round to provide the seed capital needed for the important planning stage. Kalev describes how the early goal for its Funderbeam campaign was doubled to €1 million after they obtained an early indication of interest in their development effort.
When that campaign was officially opened, it was completely subscribed in less than an hour. That indication of real, committed interest led the company to double its goal again before closing the finance round with what it considers to be an adequately strong balance sheet.
The successful financial raise has not changed the company's frugal spending habits; the founders have a keen sense of corporate responsibility and personal ownership. They know they still have a long way to go before they are producing revenue from the products of the nuclear power systems they are planning to build.
During Atomic Show 291, Kalev talks about the Estonian energy supply situation,
Atomic Show #290 – Myrto Tripathi, Voices of Nuclear
Nuclear energy professionals are credible sources of information about a powerful technology that can help address climate change and contribute to humanity's development.
Voices of Nuclear is an international non-profit group that seeks to empower nuclear supporters, both professionals in the industry and allies outside of the industry, with tools, organization and effective messages.
Myrto Tripathi, the founder and chair of Voices of Nuclear, visited the Atomic Show to tell us more about her group and its efforts to tell the nuclear energy story.
She describes the current situation in Europe, where there are a handful of new reactors under construction, there are numerous reactors being closed and there is a solid front of opposition from several prominent EU member states – particularly Austria and Germany.
She explains how the European reaction to the Fukushima event – now almost ten years ago – helped to convince her to leave a successful career in the nuclear industry to play a bigger part in the civil society discussion about its role, especially in light of the growing threat of climate change.
She talks about the role of young people, primarily under the age of 35, in bringing their vibrant, optimistic energy to the Voices and she discusses the challenges that her group faces in obtaining necessary and useful financial support from the established industry.
She also mentioned the importance of retired people in sharing their stories about pride in their life's work in developing and operating clean nuclear generation facilities.
We spoke at length about the successful, well-funded and carefully planned efforts by nuclear energy opponents to spread misinformation and fake news about nuclear and how those efforts have helped to silence nuclear energy supporters.
We spoke about the disappointing state of public misunderstanding as illustrated by a recent poll taken in France in which 86% of the respondents between 18-34 years old said they believed that nuclear energy contributed to the problem of climate change.
With their diligent efforts over a number of decades, nuclear opponents effectively created a "taboo" around nuclear. They made it politically and economically costly for ambitious leaders in both government and in commercial enterprises outside of nuclear to publicly take a supportive position.
One reason I invited Myrto to be a guest on the Atomic Show was that I sense there are many in the US who believe that the nuclear grass is greener on the other side of the Atlantic. At the moment, the situation in Europe is tenuous and could use a strong public engagement effort.
Voices of Nuclear is working hard to be a positive part of that effort. They have a base of talented volunteers, but they could use all the additional support anyone wants to offer. It would be especially useful, if your time is more constrained than your resources, to support their efforts financially.
Myrto did not ask me to say that and might even be a little mad at me for making the statement, but changing people's minds isn't easy or cheap.
Please join in the conversation.
Atomic Show #289 – All Reactors Large and Small
Pro-nuclear advocates generally agree that there is a large and growing need for new nuclear power plants to meet energy demands with less impact on the planet and its atmosphere.
There is frequent, sometimes passionate discussion about the most appropriate reactor sizes, technologies and specific uses.
Atomic Show #289 is a lively discussion among some of the world's most focused experts on the topic of nuclear plant costs and the relationship of costs to sizes and deployment concepts.
* Kirsty Gogan - co-founder of Energy for Humanity, Managing Director of Lucid Catalyst and Co-Founder of TERRAPRAXIS* Eric Ingersoll - co-founder of Lucid Catalyst and co-founder of Terrapraxis* Nick Touran - creator of WhatisNuclear.com and advanced reactor design engineer* Chris Keefer - President of Canadians for Nuclear, founder of Doctors for Nuclear Energy, host of the Decouple podcast and the We CANDU It Podcast* Jessica Lovering, co-founder and co-Executive Director of Good Energy Collective
We reached several conclusions.
* Nuclear can be expensive but it doesn't have to be expensive* Series building programs can successfully reduce construction and manufacturing costs* Series building programs that keep crews together on the same site for unit runs of 4, 8 or even more units have an established history of success.* Factory manufacturing is an intriguing prospect that might best be applied to nuclear plants by using shipyards for production and delivery.* Seismic isolation techniques can enable systems to be more location agnostic and limit the amount of redesign required for new locations.* There is room for innovation and new ideas in nuclear.* Smaller nuclear systems can make the technology more accessible and more widely acceptable. * Long held beliefs about nuclear in terms of risks, public acceptance, and needs for isolation and security deserve to be challenged.* Some believe that the more experience you have with nuclear, the better you will appreciate its benefits and capabilities.
Your comments and reactions are welcome and add value to this publication.
Atomic Show #288 – Per Peterson, CNO, Kairos Power
Per Peterson in R-Lab with ETUDE, the scaled water test version of the Engineering Test Unit now in construction in AlbuquerqueImage provided by Kairos Power
Kairos Power Is developing a truly new nuclear fission power technology. Their KP-FHR (Kairos Power - Fluoride Salt Cooled, High Temperature Reactor) combines the solid fuel form usually associated with gas-cooled reactors with the fluoride molten salt often associated with fluid-fuel reactors.
For Atomic Show #288, my guest was Dr. Per Peterson, Kairos Power's chief nuclear officer (CNO). Per explained the technical logic leading his company to make its ground-breaking choices.
Before describing process of making technical choices, Per provided a brief summary of the KP-FHR technological development history. The FHR originated in a conversation with MIT's Dr. Charles Forsberg and later became the subject of an integrated research program between MIT, University of Wisconsin, and Dr. Peterson's academic home at University of California's Berkeley campus.
As Per was careful to point out, the program was primarily funded with Department of Energy (DOE) academic research grants and involved a number of both graduate and undergraduate research students from each of the participating institutions.
This type of project grant program is aimed at giving students practical design experience and providing purpose for experiments, equipment design and testing. Sometimes, as in the case of the FHR, members of the research team recognize that they have a product that can be commercialized because it has characteristics that are superior to similar products in the market.
Three members of the FHR integrated research project team, Per Peterson, Ed Blandford, and Mike Laufer founded Kairos Power in 2016 as a venture-funded Silicon Valley company to refine their ideas and commercialize the technology they had helped to develop within the academic setting.
In 2018, I talked with Ed Blandford and Per about Kairos Power, this show is part of my promise to provide updates on an intermittent basis.
Brief description of the KP-FHR
The nuclear fission heart of the KP-FHR is a pebble-bed reactor with 4 cm diameter fuel elements that each contain thousands of TRISO fuel particles in a graphite matrix. Fission heat generated in the reactor is moved by a pumped flow of fluoride salts through a heat exchanger that transfers the fission heat into nitrate salts similar to those used in concentrated solar thermal power systems.
The nitrate salt is pumped through a second heat exchanger (steam generator) that functions as a water boiler to produce steam with temperature of 585 ℃ and pressure of 19 MPa. As Per explained, that combination of temperature and pressure is equal to the most modern coal fired steam plants.
In fluoride salt the fuel elements have a slight positive buoyancy. To provide long operating periods without a large amount of excess reactivity at the beginning of core life, the KP-FHR includes an online fueling system that removes pebbles at the top...
Atomic Show #287 – Darren Gale, VP Commercial Operations, X-Energy talks about Xe-100
X-Energy is the lead recipient for one of two industry groups selected to receive $80 M in Department of Energy (DOE) funding as part of a public-private partnership program to demonstrate advanced nuclear power plants on an aggressive time table.
Its primary partner in the endeavor is Energy Northwest, which currently owns and operates the Columbia Generating Station in eastern Washington. Energy Northwest will be the owner and operator of the demonstration power station, which will consist of a four-unit installation of X-Energy's Xe-100 high temperature gas cooled reactor.
Each unit is designed to produce 80 MWe, resulting in a power station output of 320 MWe.
Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program
The award is part of the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, which also includes two additional development pathways with longer horizons. The $80 M in FY 2021 funds is a down payment that will provide funds for completing detailed design work and beginning the licensing process.
Future appropriations will be required to complete the projects; the funding opportunity announcement for the program included an award ceiling of $4 B to be shared among three different development pathways.
For Atomic Show #287, I spoke with Darren Gale, X-Energy's Vice President for Commercial Operations. Darren is the company executive with direct responsibility for executing the company's contract with the Department of Energy and delivering on the promise to design, license and construct an advanced nuclear reactor power plant.
The ADRP has an aggressive target date for beginning to deliver electricity to the grid is the end of 2027. During our conversation, Darren explained how his company is positioned to deliver on its promise.
Xe-100 Design history
We spoke about how X-Energy has been working on its high temperature pebble bed reactor design for more than a decade. X-Energy was founded in 2009 by Kam Ghaffarian, a successful entrepreneur who founded Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies (SGT) in 1984. Dr. Ghaffarian remains the owner of X-Energy, but is being joined by additional investors.
The design is mature and the company has been engaging with the NRC for several years. It expects to be able to submit a license application within the next year or two; part of the uncertainty includes determining the most appropriate and streamlined licensing pathway.
The Xe-100 is a helium-cooled, high temperature pebble bed reactor that has a number of similarities to the Chinese HTR-PM. They share a common heritage tracing back through the South African HTGR program and to the German AVR demonstration reactor.
As Darren explains, the Xe-100 includes a number of refinements in its fuel design and in its fuel handling system that enable more efficient fuel use.
Another design difference is that each Xe-100 reactor/steam generator modules are connected to its own Rankine cycle steam turbine. In the HTR-PM design, two reactor/steam generator modules feed a single larger tu...
Atomic Show #286 – Chris Wright, CEO Liberty Oilfield Services
Chris Wright is the CEO of Liberty Oilfield Services, which recently became the second largest US company performing the work of drilling and completing oil and gas wells in shale formations.
He is a leader in the field of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal well drilling, having been involved in the revolutionary technology development since the days when George Mitchell was stubbornly experimenting in the Barnett Shale.
Among those who focus on the energy industry and attempt to understand its current situation in order to gain some insights into the future, the growing natural gas supply in the US gets a lot of attention. Cheap natural gas gets credit for a steady drop in annual US CO2 emissions as it has pushed a growing amount of coal out of the market.
That same product – cheap natural gas – has also been blamed for reducing revenues enough at a number of existing nuclear plants to push their owners into closing the plants for economic reasons. Despite successful efforts to reduce operating costs at those plants, shrinking top-line revenue from selling electricity into low-priced wholesale markets means they do not make enough money to meet corporate goals.
After hearing Chris Wright on Robert Bryce's excellent Power Hungry podcast, I realized it would be worthwhile to invite him onto the Atomic Show to provide a deeper explanation of the revolution in natural gas production.
Chris gets into some deep technical details about how technology has dramatically improved in his field. He explains how competition and a relentless focus on providing a better product has driven that improvement.
He is justifiably proud of the benefits that his industry has provided to the world, but he also provides some important support and advice to people who are working to improve nuclear fission energy.
It might surprise many, including some of Chris's colleagues, to learn that Chris describes himself as a huge supporter of nuclear fission energy. He provides some compliments and some tough love for those of us who are working to improve the technology's chances of competing and serving customer needs.
I think you will thoroughly enjoy listening to Chris's thoughts about energy and its importance for human development and prosperity.
As always, I'm interested in hearing what you think. I'm pretty sure this show will provoke some deep thinking in what might be completely new directions, so I'd like you to share some of those thoughts.
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Ruins the show. Put him on MUTE.