Thursday, September 24, 2020

DOE greenlights Critical Decision 1 for Versatile Test Reactor project

Even as the Versatile Test Reactor makes its way through the federal approval process, the VTR team has already begun collaborating with industry and academia to prepare experiments in anticipation of construction.

The U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday announced it has approved Critical Decision 1 for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) project, a one-of-a-kind scientific user facility that would support research and development of innovative nuclear energy and other technologies.

Idaho National Laboratory has been designated the lead national laboratory for the project, heading a team that also includes Argonne National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Savannah River National Laboratory, as well as several universities and industry partners. Detailed cost estimates are not yet available, but documentation submitted for Critical Decision 0, based on similar projects, put the estimate between $3 billion and $6 billion. When the analysis of alternatives and conceptual design are completed, more accurate cost estimates are expected with a narrow cost range.

DOE is s considering locating VTR at either Idaho National Laboratory or Oak Ridge National Laboratory and is following processes outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to make its determination. Since clearing Critical Decision 0 in February 2019, DOE has been preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) as required by NEPA, to analyze alternatives and study impacts.

Critical Decision 1, known as “Approve Alternative Selection and Cost Range,” is the second step in the formal process DOE uses to review and manage research infrastructure projects. As part of Critical Decision 1, federal committees reviewed the conceptual design, schedule, and cost range, and analyzed potential alternatives. The VTR project now moves to the engineering design phase as soon as Congress appropriates funding. DOE has requested $295 million for FY 2021 for the project.

Frequently asked VTR questions

Versatile Test Reactor’s purpose will be to produce high levels of fast-neutron radiation to mimic, in weeks or months, the effects sustained over years or decades in a power reactor core. Existing test reactors, like the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) at INL and the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, are thermal neutron reactors. Modifications can be made to simulate fast neutron conditions and limited boosting of fast neutron fluxes in thermal reactors, but irradiation conditions (in terms of neutron flux and energy spectrum) are not sufficiently prototypical to create data required in a formal fuels and materials development and qualification program for fast reactor designs.

DOE’s Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee studied the issue and released a report in February 2017, recommending preconceptual design planning to support a new test reactor, including cost and schedule estimates. Companies developing advanced reactor including TerraPower, Westinghouse and Oklo, submitted letters in support of the NEAC report. The only capability for testing fast spectrum irradiation currently available to U.S. companies is the Bor-60 reactor in the Russian Federation. U.S. researchers and developers encounter multiple barriers when seeking access to Russian Federation reactors, including export control concerns for materials and fuels testing, intellectual property rights, and international transportation issues.

TerraPower: The Versatile Test Reactor Is Essential to Reestablishing U.S. Nuclear Leadership

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the approval of CD-1 represents a significant step toward re-establishing the United States as a global leader in nuclear energy research, safety and security, and developing new technologies that will help supply the world with low-carbon energy. “The Versatile Test Reactor addresses a long-standing gap in research infrastructure in the United States,” he said. “We have not had a fast neutron spectrum test facility for decades. Many of the new reactor designs under development by in the United States require this sort of long-term testing capability. Not only will VTR support the research and development of much-needed clean energy technologies, but it is key to revitalizing our nuclear industry, which has long been the model for safe operations and security for the world.”

“The approval of Critical Decision 1 establishes a solid foundation upon which the design phase can begin,” said Dr. Rita Baranwal, Assistant Secretary for DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. “We have repeatedly heard from industry and other stakeholders that the United States needs a fast neutron scientific user facility to maintain our global leadership in nuclear energy. This decision puts us firmly on the path toward achieving that goal.”

DOE will make a final decision on the design, technology selection and location for VTR following the completion of the EIS and Record of Decision. According to the current schedule, final design will be completed, and construction would commence in 2022. The target date for a Versatile Test Reactor to be fully operational is 2026, subject to an adequate level of funding appropriations by Congress. The range for the startup date is estimated to be 2026 to 2030.

INL.gov: Versatile Test Reactor key to answering big science questions for university researchers

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Registration still open for REDI's annual conference (virtual this year)

Registration is still open for the “What’s Up in Eastern Idaho!” conference being sponsored Oct. 8 by Regional Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI).

Originally planned for May, plans for a live conference were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and over the summer REDI started making arrangements for the annual conference to be held online. Speakers are to include Idaho Gov. Brad Little, U.S. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, and representatives from economic development organizations and state agencies.

"We have an exciting line up of speakers presenting on hot topics surrounding our region, said REDI CEO Teresa McKnight. “Slots are filling up fast, so we encourage those interested in attending to register as soon as possible."

Registration forms can be found at this link. A conference schedule can be found at this link.

REDI was created in 2015 to connect businesses to resources for growth, build relationships, help nurture and grow world-class sectors, and be a champion in promoting eastern and southeastern Idaho, an area encompassing 14 Idaho counties. It provides comprehensible and pertinent information to enable timely decision making for business expansion, attraction, and regional growth. REDI works with stakeholders to expand regional assets and connect public and private partners together to facilitate research and collaboration efforts, strengthen the workforce pipeline through industry needs assessment, education and training, and to enhance research and entrepreneurial activities in the region.

Monday, September 21, 2020

I.F Mayor Casper heads ECA's 'New Nuclear' initiative

The board of directors of the Energy Communities Alliance (ECA), an organization better known for its work in advancing the cleanup of U.S. Department of Energy sites, has launched a new initiative aimed at supporting the development of new nuclear technologies.

Rebecca Casper

The self-funded, one-year initiative will focus on small modular reactors, micro and advanced reactors, a skilled nuclear workforce, and new nuclear missions around DOE facilities.

“With growing bipartisan support for nuclear energy in Congress, new federal demonstration projects led by DOE and the Department of Defense, and notable investment from the private sector, local governments want to be meaningfully engaged—and prepared—to match the strengths and needs of our communities with new nuclear opportunities,” the ECA said in its Sept. 15 announcement.

To focus its work, the ECA formed the New Nuclear subcommittee, led by Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper. It has identified three core questions:

  • What do communities need to know to attract and support new nuclear development/missions?
  • What and how should communities communicate to industry, national laboratories, and state and federal governments about local resources and development opportunities?
  • What hurdles and challenges will communities face and who can the ECA work with to overcome them?

The ECA, a non-profit, membership organization of local governments adjacent to or impacted by DOE activities, said that its communities host and support the nuclear research and development that is under way across the DOE complex. This includes, the organization said, the advanced nuclear reactors at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee; the production of high-assay low-enriched uranium in Piketon, Ohio; and the development of the Versatile Test Reactor and the NuScale small modular reactor at Idaho National Laboratory.

The ECA also points to private-sector initiatives such as Bill Gates’ TerraPower, Deep Isolation’s nuclear waste disposal solution, and NDB’s battery that is powered by nuclear waste.

“ECA communities are knowledgeable about and, in many ways, driven by the nuclear missions they already host,” the Sept. 15 announcement said. “These local governments are eager to fill vital roles, from establishing new U.S.-based manufacturing and supply chains to promoting creation of training programs at local community colleges around existing nuclear sites.”

The New Nuclear subcommittee intends to begin by hosting a series of educational webinars to facilitate interaction and develop a shared understanding of the outlook for developing technologies, messaging and advocacy strategies, national security implications, and supply chain impacts and needs.

The ECA will also develop written resources to support education and outreach in communities on specific issues, including understanding priorities and timelines, federal and state regulatory requirements, community and workforce needs related to siting, potential cost-sharing, and public/private partnership opportunities. New issues are expected to be identified through ongoing discussions throughout the project year.

Participation: Those looking to collaborate or provide educational resources, or those wanting more information about the ECA New Nuclear subcommittee, are asked to contact Kara Colton, ECA director of nuclear policy, at kara.colton@energyca.org or MacKenzie Kerr, ECA program manager, at mackenziek@energyca.org.

Gasoline demand, prices likely to slip in Idaho

As the summer draws to a close, fuel demand is starting to slip in Idaho and across the country, and gas prices along with it. According to AAA, the average price in the Gem State dropped two cents on the week, while the U.S. average was down three cents.

And there’s more good news on the horizon – soon, refiners and retailers will be making the switch to winter-blend fuel, which requires fewer additives and is cheaper to produce than summer blend.
Barring an unexpected supply issue related to wildfires or Tropical Storm Sally in the Gulf Coast, pump prices are expected to continue their slow descent this week.

"'Never say never' seems like an appropriate reaction for just about everything in 2020, but if we follow the normal trend, the most expensive gas prices of the year are already well behind us,” says Matthew Conde, AAA Idaho public affairs director. “It may take a little time for the last of the summer-blend fuel to work its way through the system, but when it does, we could see gas prices drop all the way to Thanksgiving.”

Today, the Idaho state average for regular fuel is $2.45, which is two cents higher than a month ago, but 31 cents cheaper than a year ago. Meanwhile, the current U.S. price is $2.19, which is a penny higher than a month ago, but 38 cents less than a year ago. Idaho ranks 9th in the country for most expensive gas prices, which is typical for our state.

The Energy Information Administration reports that national gasoline demand currently sits at 8.3 million barrels per day. Even though stock levels dropped by nearly three million barrels this week to 231 million bbl, that’s still a surplus of three million barrels over last year. In the Rockies region, stock levels actually increased on the week by 400,000 barrels to reach 7.4 million barrels on hand.

With an 86 percent utilization rate, Rocky Mountain refineries are currently some of the most active in the country, trailing only the Midwest region. As long as regional refineries stay busy and finished gasoline supplies continue to grow, Idaho prices are likely to stabilize or even decrease.

Tropical Storm Sally and the devastating wildfires in the West could delay fuel deliveries in some areas, but at this time, disruptions are expected to be temporary and site-specific.

“The United States is currently producing 10.3 million barrels of crude oil per day, compared with 12.4 million a year ago,” Conde said. “With fewer opportunities for people to travel for business or pleasure, commute, or even take kids to school, there’s less demand for some finished products like gasoline and jet fuel.”

After being distilled at a refinery, the average 42-gallon barrel of crude oil produces 20 gallons of gasoline, 11 gallons of diesel, and 4 gallons of jet fuel, among other things.

Here’s a sampling of gas prices around the Gem State as of Sept. 14:

  • Boise – $2.48

  • Coeur d’Alene – $2.33
Franklin – $2.44

  • Idaho Falls – $2.34
Lewiston – $2.43
Pocatello – $2.46
Twin Falls – $2.45

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Electric vehicle owners invited to participate in survey

Idaho National Laboratory will be one of the national laboratories analyzing data collected from electric vehicles and charging stations.

Although it might not be widely known, Idaho National Laboratory has conducted electric vehicle research for the U.S. Department of Energy since the early 1980s and plays a leading role in the national laboratory complex today, especially when it comes to data analysis. Over the last decade, INL has partnered with numerous automakers and private companies to understand how consumers are using electric vehicles and charging stations.

Energetics, a technology consulting firm, has asked INL and other labs to analyze data from its latest project. The Electric Vehicle Widescale Analysis for Tomorrow’s Transportation Solutions (EV WATTS) project will collect real-world use data from electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles around the country. Starting in January 2021, the company will share this data with INL, Argonne National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory so they can analyze it for ongoing electric vehicle research.

Right now, the company is calling for volunteers who want to participate in the EV WATTS program. Owners of an EV or a plug-in hybrid can volunteer their vehicle(s) for the project. Energetics will install Geotab telematic hardware that logs the vehicle’s driving and charging behavior. The program will cover the cost of the hardware, installation and subscription service for up to 18 months.

There is no financial incentive to take part in the study, but the subscription service allows participants to access their driving and charging data through the MyGeotab dashboard. This provides instantaneous reporting on fuel economy, mileage, maintenance issues, faults and vehicle activity. The dashboard also allows users to compare their own data with other vehicles in the program. All information collected by EV WATTS will be kept anonymous.

Nationwide, Energetics is asking for 1,600 EV/Plug-in hybrid owners to take part. Considering that there are more than 1 million such vehicle owners in the United States, one might think it no problem. But the profile of the everyday EV user is changing, said John Smart, lead researcher for INL Mobility Systems and Analytics. First, there are growing concerns across society about data gathering and privacy, he said. Secondly, the first adopters – folks much more likely to have a keen interest in every aspect of their vehicles – are giving way to people who just want to get in and drive.

With the rapid increase in vehicle electrification, there is a need for up-to-date, publicly available national data to understand end user charging and driving patterns, as well as vehicle and infrastructure factors that may affect planning. Under its $4 million contract with DOE, Energetics will work with Clean Cities coalitions, fleets, state and local governments, vehicle manufacturers, utilities, and charging station providers. The data will come from:
    •    All-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles
    •    All vehicle applications (cars, buses, etc.)
    •    Multiple geographic areas and climates
    •    AC Level 2 and DC fast charging infrastructure
    •    Various electric vehicle supply equipment sites (corridors, workplace, multiunit dwellings, curbside, fleets, transit, ports, airports, etc.)

In the last study of this kind, conducted by INL between 2011 and 2013, there were far fewer EVs on the highways. The cars in the study – Nissan LEAFs and Chevrolet Volts – had limited range and performance.

Since then, almost all automakers have brought an electric vehicle to market. “Tesla is clearly dominant, but there’s more variety than ever before,” Smart said. “Americans love to have options, and they love bigger vehicles.”

In addition to the wider variety, many more charging stations exist than there were eight years ago. “Now it’s feasible to drive an electric vehicle from coast to coast,” he said.

Smart said having an outside organization collecting the data frees INL and other national laboratories to do more nuanced and in-depth analysis. “The industry can take the data and form the models that allow them to simulate EVs in the future, when there are more of them,” he said. “We need to know how many charging stations are going to be needed. And the electrical utilities need to know what sort of effect many more vehicles are going to have on the grid.”
How to register

If you own or lease an all-electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, and would be interested in having a Geotab telematics device installed for providing data to the EV WATTS program, please answer the questions in the survey associated with the area of your residence.
Eastern Idaho: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/EVWATTSEastern-Idaho
Blaine County: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/EVWATTSBlaine-County
Boise Area: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/EVWATTSBoise-Area