London, United Kingdom
London, United Kingdom

Time filter

Source Type

News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: www.theenergycollective.com

The renewable energy industry and its proponents regularly draw attention to the industry’s job creation potential. For example, the American Wind Energy Association reported that the US wind industry supported 88,000 jobs at the start of 2016, a 20% increase in one year. The Solar Foundation announced there were over 260,000 solar workers in 2016, which was a 25% increase over the prior year. By contrast, the coal extraction employed only 74,000 workers in 2016, and coal power plants employed another 86,000 workers. The creation of so-called “green jobs,” such as those in wind and solar, is often cited as a justification for promoting renewable energy through tax credits, renewable portfolio standards and net energy metering. I recently had the privilege to moderate a panel discussion on green jobs at the Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative’s (BERC) Energy Summit. The panelists were the Energy Institute’s Reed Walker; Carol Zabin, Director of the UC Berkeley Labor Center’s Green Economy Program; and Anna Bautista, Vice President of Construction & Workforce Development at Grid Alternatives. Many economists remain skeptical of green job claims as a motivation for policy. Severin Borenstein has emphasized that job creation claims usually cherry pick data. To understand the effects of a policy on employment one needs to consider the effects throughout the economy. If a policy is promoting a more expensive form of energy, it could very well be destroying jobs on net. Our panel discussion didn’t address these issues. Instead, the discussion explored equity issues surrounding green jobs. Who benefits? Who doesn’t? Are green jobs “good” jobs? I left the discussion doubtful that policymakers should view the growth in the number of green jobs as a solution to job losses in other, less green, parts of the energy sector. Green Jobs Not Much Help to Displaced Coal Miners At the same time as solar and wind employment is skyrocketing, coal industry jobs are plummeting. Energy Information Administration data shows a 25% drop in coal mining employment from 2008 to 2015. In 2015, 94 coal-fired power plants with a capacity of nearly 14,000 Megawatts closed. Read more about the decline of coal here. Reed Walker has done research showing just how painful job losses can be to workers. His research looked at how the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments affected workers in newly regulated firms and industries. The basic idea is to compare workers’ earnings trajectories in newly regulated sectors compared to similar workers in other sectors, before and after the regulations went into place. While many workers were unaffected by the regulatory change, the present-discounted earnings losses for displaced workers after the policy change exceeded their pre-regulation annual earnings. When workers lose their jobs and have to find employment in another industry, their incomes drop significantly, on average. A recent US Department of Energy report explains why moving from coal mining to renewable energy would be an especially painful transition for workers: First, the coal job losses and renewable job gains are happening in different places. This means relocation costs pose a significant barrier to workers switching from coal to renewables. Second, renewable energy jobs pay less. The median wage for solar installers is 20% below that of coal miners. Third, the skills needed in an extractive industry like coal mining are very different from those needed in a construction industry like solar or wind. Putting forward green job creation as the solution to coal industry workers’ woes is unlikely to be well received by miners. Green Jobs Not Necessarily a Path to the Middle Class While coal miners might not be landing green jobs, other workers are. Are green jobs sustainable opportunities for these workers? Analysis suggests the reality is mixed. The majority of green jobs in solar are construction jobs, that is, installing systems. A 2016 report from UC Berkeley’s Labor Center by Betony Jones, Peter Philips and Carol Zabin analyzes differences between construction jobs in the utility-scale segment of the renewable energy industry and jobs in the rooftop solar industry. The study finds that in California most workers in the utility-scale segment earn wages and benefits, and receive training that can sustain a middle class lifestyle. The report attributes this to the fact that utility-scale projects in California employ workers who belong to labor unions or receive equivalent wages and benefits to union members. Jobs in rooftop solar, on the other hand, pay lower wages and offer more limited benefits. The Solar Foundation jobs report shows that most solar installers (69%) work on these lower paid residential and commercial distributed solar projects, not on the higher wage utility-scale projects. The report stops short of arguing that renewable energy policy should favor utility-scale renewable energy over roof-top solar. However, in a separate blog, Jones and Zabin cite one of Severin Borenstein’s blogs and point out that environmental and economic objectives provide a rationale for policymakers to favor utility-scale projects over rooftop solar. Green jobs may not be the solution to coal country’s woes or an inevitable path to the middle class. Yet these jobs are providing meaningful opportunities for thousands of people. In 2016, solar ranked second in employment among energy sectors behind oil/petroleum, but ahead of natural gas. Wind ranked seventh, ahead of nuclear. Groups like Grid Alternatives are trying to increase the accessibility of renewable jobs to the highest need communities. Grid Alternatives is a non-profit organization that trains people coming from low income and minority communities to work in the rooftop solar industry. Rooftop solar jobs may not be as attractive as utility-scale jobs, but Grid Alternatives’ success in recruiting candidates show that these jobs are still desirable to some workers. The growth in the green jobs sector has been extraordinary, and many people have benefited, but green jobs do not cure all energy sector job woes. I worry that proponents of green jobs have set expectations too high. Policymakers and advocates should honestly address the challenges presented by trends in the energy industry. Displaced workers need a sufficient social safety net and workforce training to prepare them for the jobs they are most suited for and most interested in. These may not be green jobs, and that is ok. Meanwhile, where green jobs are being created, workforce training that connects a wide range of workers to these jobs makes sense. This will help put more green in the hands of people who need it most.


News Article | April 5, 2017
Site: www.labdesignnews.com

Description: Developing a dry room for an advanced lithium-ion battery production lab is a precise task requiring ultra-low dew point levels. The task becomes monumental when that lab project also required renovating an existing space, isolating it from the rest of an occupied building and placing needed mechanical equipment two floors above. Working together, the teams from Scientific Climate Systems, Munters and Innovative Air Systems provided the expertise needed to design and develop a world-class lab and ensure consistent and accurate conditions were met. The setting for this complex assignment—the University of Michigan Energy Institute's Battery Lab in Ann Arbor, Mich. The facility offers university researchers, materials scientists and engineers, as well as suppliers and manufacturers, state-of-the-art equipment to develop less expensive and longer lasting energy-storage devices for grid storage, transportation and consumer products. Houston-based Scientific Climate Systems, which specializes in designing and installing precise low humidity environmental conditions for dry rooms, with more than 200 installations worldwide, was selected to design and build the dry room. The work encompassed a complete integration, mechanical systems, controls for monitoring and adapting to ambient conditions and all the equipment needed to achieve design requirements. Developing the 700 sf lab presented several unique challenges. For one, the project required converting an existing, second story space in a three-story building into a dry room. Second, the mechanical equipment had to be located on the roof and connected to the second floor of the building without disturbing occupants on the third floor. In addition, all of the equipment had to be specified to fit on the available roof space and designed to operate with minimal sound and visual impact. The design of the lab took more than a year with several meetings to review design concepts and details to the installation schedule and coordination with a local contractor to arrange space on the roof and use of an industrial crane to lift the mechanical equipment in place. Where there were other functional areas within the building, multiple small access hatches were required in the dry room to adjust utilities associated with these rooms and other labs. These had to be gasket sealed along with the room enclosure to maintain conditions. With proper sealing in place, the dry room requires only 200 CFM of positive pressure to avoid moisture infiltration that would affect conditions inside. To achieve this level of control required a large amount of mechanical equipment, including an advanced dehumidification system, all strategically placed on the building’s rooftop.


News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: www.prnewswire.com

The event, titled "Preparing for the Future of Energy – Thriving in Complex and Uncertain Times," heard that historic questions of global hydrocarbon supply were no longer an issue due to the explosive growth of the U.S. shale sector. This has impacted on the rest of the world and globalized American business through a revamped export policy. It could also play a positive role in future U.S. detente. In his keynote address to a record event audience of more than 200 oil and gas industry professionals, Kenneth Hersh, CEO of the George W. Bush Presidential Center and co-founder and advisory partner of NGP Energy Capital Management, said: "This wonderful industry is at the epicenter of change. It is a change that has been dramatic and it is not going back to the way it was. It has increased opportunity, economic activity and has democratized what was a world of scarcity into a world of abundance." Mr. Hersh said the new look oil and gas industry operating in an era of supply abundance had to face the same pressures as any other commodity. "We grew up with axioms around scarcity but now we have entered a different realm. The North American unconventional game has changed the industry and has had knock on effects around the world," he said. "It is no longer about finding hydrocarbons. It's about whom we are competing against, what does our customer want, what does our distribution channel look like, what is our price point. Who are the winners? The consumers. The losers will be the high-cost producers and people playing the old game." Referencing political instability in the Middle East and Russia's growing influence, Mr. Hersh added supply abundance at home, which released the U.S. from reliance on imports, may impact on future foreign policy decisions. The Energy Symposium featured two panel sessions: 'Forces Shaping the Future of Energy – Global and U.S. Big Picture' and 'Challenges and Opportunities in the U.S.' Energy Institute board of advisors members Mike Stice and Bruce Stover moderated both panel sessions. The sessions focused on the impact of technology and innovation in areas such as global supply and demand, issues related to induced seismicity, the treatment and disposal of water and the impact of carbon emissions on global warming. Attendees heard that while the U.S. onshore shale industry has seen a rapid return to growth, technological developments and innovative risk-reducing business models in the offshore sector, had lowered operating costs and would enable it to follow suit in the next two years. Natural gas was forecast as one of the largest areas for growth, while the export of U.S. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), particularly to Asia, could create benefits from a geopolitical perspective. In welcoming delegates to the Energy Symposium, Daniel W. Pullin, dean, Price College of Business, called on U.S. energy leaders to "thrive not just survive" in the low price environment. "Energy in all its forms drives humanity forward," he said. Dr. Dipankar Ghosh, executive director of the Price College of Business Energy Institute, said: "The international energy industry faces many challenges today, but it was clear from the high quality debate at the Energy Symposium that very real opportunities for growth exist. "It was encouraging to hear the positivity and enthusiasm expressed by delegates and the many examples of how the energy industry is embracing the changes required today to meet the demands of tomorrow." To view the video shared at the Energy Symposium, please visit http://www.realenergyleaders.com/blog/a-portrait-of-a-real-energy-leader. Guest speakers at the Energy Symposium were: About the Price College of Business Energy Institute: The Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma has become Oklahoma's leading graduate business program. For more than 50 years, education and research in energy management have been central to the college's purpose. In 2011, the Price College of Business added to its leading position in energy by forming the Energy Institute: a platform for thought leadership and intellectual exchange. Tightly coupled with its education in energy programs, the Energy Institute's research informs policy and business strategy, while its outreach programs foster meaningful dialogue amongst energy professionals worldwide. To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/us-energy-industry-is-changing-the-world-300440534.html


News Article | February 28, 2017
Site: www.businesswire.com

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Siebel Energy Institute, a global consortium for innovative and collaborative energy research dedicated to advancing the science of smart energy, today announced the winners of its third round of seed grant awards. Fourteen research teams, led by engineering and computer science experts from the nine Siebel Energy Institute consortium member universities, were each awarded $50,000 to develop proposals that accelerate energy science research. Many of the proposals are cross-collaborative between universities worldwide. Research supported by the Siebel Energy Institute in this third round of funding underscores the Institute’s expanded focus on the synergies between data analytics in energy systems and the emerging Internet-of-Things (IoT) infrastructure in smart and connected communities. The awarded projects investigate topics such as predicting and preventing electrical outages and cyber-attacks, managing increasingly complex load factors such as electric vehicle charging and renewable energy sources, optimizing the power value chain, and developing technology enablers that improve infrastructure for next-generation communities, or “Smart Cities.” “Design of new resilient services built on top this emerging new technology has the potential for building a next generation infrastructure in both rural and urban environments,” noted S. Shankar Sastry, Siebel Energy Institute Director and Dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. The Siebel Energy Institute has an Advisory Board of industry partners that drives active collaboration and translation of new research between academia and the private sector, “creating an outcome oriented public-private partnership that aims to generate new technologies designed to have an impact and real-world applications,” said Siebel Energy Institute Chairman Thomas M. Siebel. The 14 third round seed grant recipients are: Siebel Energy Institute seed grants enable researchers at consortium member universities to develop larger research proposals and grant submissions to government entities and foundations within a leveraged funding model. To maximize the impact of any findings and potential long-term benefits to society, all research supported by the Siebel Energy Institute will be freely available in the public domain. The Siebel Energy Institute is a global consortium for collaborative energy research, dedicated to accelerating and sharing advancements in machine learning applied to power systems and Internet-of-Things (IoT) infrastructures. By funding cooperative and innovative research grants in data analytics, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, the Siebel Energy Institute hopes to accelerate advancements in the safety, security, reliability, efficiency, and environmental integrity of energy and cyber-physical systems. The nine Siebel Energy Institute consortium member universities are: Carnegie Mellon University; École Polytechnique; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Politecnico di Torino; Princeton University; Tsinghua University; University of California, Berkeley; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and The University of Tokyo. Since the Institute launched in 2015, more than $2 million in research grants have been awarded to engineering and computer science experts from the consortium member universities. In 2016, the Institute leveraged funding model helped consortium researchers secure $49 million in large grant support for their work. For more detailed information about research projects funded by the Siebel Energy Institute, visit http://www.siebelenergyinstitute.org/.


REDWOOD CITY, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Government leaders, energy researchers, and cybersecurity experts from the U.S., Europe, and Asia are coming together for a three-day conference that aims to make critical infrastructure more secure. The conference, Energy Grid Cybersecurity: Threats & Solutions, is co-sponsored by the Siebel Energy Institute and the Siebel Scholars Foundation, and will be held in Washington, D.C., from Friday, March 3 through Sunday, March 5, 2017. The conference program will focus on the frequency, nature, sources, and potential impact of cyberattacks on U.S. critical infrastructure, with a concentration on the power grid. The Honorable Dr. Robert M. Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, will engage in a fireside chat with Thomas M. Siebel, Chairman of the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation at the conference opening event on March 3 at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Ted Koppel, acclaimed journalist and author of Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath, will moderate the conference proceedings on March 4 at the National Academy of Sciences building. On March 5, attendees will transform discussion into action as they work together to develop recommendations for making the grid more secure. Together with conference attendees, eminent federal security experts and security industry specialists will discuss and debate the extent of the grid cybersecurity problem and how to best secure the power grid. Speakers include: Attendees will include recipients of the Siebel Scholars awards, which are granted annually to the leading graduate students at some of the world’s top universities. This formidable group of executives, entrepreneurs, researchers, and philanthropists directly influences the technologies, policies, and economic and social decisions that shape the future. The Siebel Scholars will be joined by researchers from the Siebel Energy Institute, a global consortium for innovative and collaborative energy research dedicated to advancing the science of smart energy. “Because the electric grid is key to, and interconnected deeply with every major infrastructure, a successful attack on the power grid could trigger cascading events in our national security, finance, and public health infrastructures. Advances in smart grid technologies have provided new services but have also created new vulnerabilities. In this conference, we will have a global dialogue between researchers, security experts from industry and the government, and stake holders, about solutions for enhancing the resilience of our new energy infrastructures,” said S. Shankar Sastry, Siebel Energy Institute Director and Dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Since 2000, the Siebel Scholars Foundation has granted over 1,100 scholarships of $35,000 each, to recognize the most promising students from the leading graduate schools of business, computer science, bioengineering, and energy science, and to build a lifelong community of leaders. Siebel Scholars are chosen on the basis of outstanding academic achievement and demonstrated leadership. Ninety-two Siebel Scholarships were granted in 2016. The Siebel Scholars program was established through grants to Carnegie Mellon University; École Polytechnique; Harvard University; Johns Hopkins University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Northwestern University; Politecnico di Torino; Princeton University; Stanford University; Tsinghua University; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, San Diego; University of Chicago; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Pennsylvania; and The University of Tokyo. The Siebel Energy Institute is a global consortium for innovative and collaborative energy and cyber-physical systems research dedicated to advancing the science of smart energy. By funding cooperative and innovative research grants in data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, the Siebel Energy Institute aims to accelerate advancements in the safety, security, reliability, efficiency, and environmental integrity of modern energy and cyber-physical systems. Siebel Energy Institute member universities include Carnegie Mellon University; École Polytechnique; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Politecnico di Torino; Princeton University; Tsinghua University; University of California, Berkeley; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and The University of Tokyo.


News Article | January 27, 2017
Site: www.theguardian.com

Britain’s first nuclear power station in two decades will be delayed by a government decision to quit Europe’s atomic power treaty, experts have warned. Ministers revealed on Thursday that Brexit would involve the UK leaving Euratom, which promotes research into nuclear power and uniform safety standards. The news poses problems for the Hinkley Point C station in Somerset, while raising questions over safety inspection regimes and the UK’s future participation in nuclear fusion research. “Leaving Euratom is a lose-lose for everyone. For nuclear proponents, the industry becomes less competitive – and for nuclear critics, safety regulation diminishes,” said Dr Paul Dorfman of the Energy Institute at University College London. Referring to Hinkley and other nuclear projects in the pipeline, he said: “The UK nuclear industry is critically dependent on European goods and services in the nuclear supply chain and their specialist nuclear skills. Leaving Euratom will inevitably increas nuclear costs and will mean further delays. EDF, which is building the Hinkley project and hopes to construct other plants, has told MPs that “ideally” the UK would stay in the treaty, as it provided a framework for complying with international standards for handling nuclear material. Without mentioning Hinkley, the French state-owned company also warned that restrictions on the movement of people because of Brexit could delay delivery of new energy infrastructure. Antony Froggatt, a research fellow at the Chatham House thinktank, said: “Outside of Euratom and the single market, the movement of nuclear fuel, equipment and trained staff will be more complicated.” He noted that because the UK was a supporter of nuclear power, Brexit would affect the balance of nuclear policies in the EU, where Germany, Italy and even strongly pro-nuclear France had taken steps in recent years to reduce their reliance on atomic power. Vince Zabielski, a nuclear energy specialist at the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, said: “If the UK leaves Euratom before new standalone nuclear cooperation treaties are negotiated with France and the US, current new build projects will be placed on hold while those standalone treaties are negotiated.” Other lawyers questioned why the government had decided to quit Euratom and in the manner it had done so, in the explanatory notes accompany the article 50 bill. “There doesn’t seem to have been any real explanation as to why, because we are going towards the unknown at great speed. Legally we don’t have to [leave Euratom because the UK is leaving the EU],” said Jonathan Leech, a senior lawyer and nuclear expert at Prospect Law. “At the moment, the UK standing on the world nuclear stage is predicated on a series of cooperation agreements, and those we have the benefit of from being a member of Euratom, and the few bilateral agreements are based on Euratom, too. Take that away and you have no basis for international nuclear cooperation.” He said quitting Euratom would create unnecessary uncertainty for new nuclear power and research into fusion power, a cleaner alternative to nuclear fission in which the UK has been a world leader for decades. Although the short-term future of the Joint European Torus, a nuclear fusion research centre in Oxfordshire, is guaranteed until 2018, last year’s referendum result and the withdrawal from Euratom puts its longer-term future in doubt. Bernard Bigot, the director of the ITER project, a huge international undertaking to develop nuclear fusion in the south of France, said he believed the UK could still participate in ITER even when it leaves the treaty. “There are several ways for the UK to pursue its participation to ITER within the Brexit policy, if there is political will of the UK and the EU. This could occur either within or outside of the Euratom arrangement,” he said. Leaving Euratom is likely to also add to the workload of the UK’s nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, which is busy assessing designs for Britain’s first Chinese-designed nuclear power plant. “The main burden of the UK leaving Euratom will be the need for it to cover its nuclear non-proliferation safeguards commitment and for this it will have to either set up a separate, independent agency or bring these treaty responsibilities into the Office for Nuclear Regulation,” said John Large, a nuclear consultant. EDF said it had made its view clear on Euratom, and rejected the suggestion that the UK’s withdrawal from the treaty would delay Hinkley Point C. A government spokeswoman said the UK wanted to see a continuity of cooperation and standards. “We remain absolutely committed to the highest standards of nuclear safety, safeguards and support for the industry. Our aim is clear – we want to maintain our mutually successful civil nuclear cooperation with the EU,” she said.


News Article | February 21, 2017
Site: www.prnewswire.com

NORMAN, Okla., Feb. 21, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- The Price College of Business Energy Institute at the University of Oklahoma will host its fifth annual Energy Symposium, March 30, 2017, at the Devon Energy Center in Oklahoma City. The event will feature two panel sessions: "Forces Shaping...


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

To enter Europe’s largest nuclear site, a visitor must be wearing construction coveralls, steel-toed boots, a hard hat, and a pager-size device that rings if radiation levels get too high. Contamination enters the body through open wounds, so any cuts must be bandaged with medical tape. On the way out, after you remove your protective gear, a security guard sweeps your body with a handheld detection device to make sure nothing latched on. It’s as unsettling as it sounds. This is Sellafield, on the coast of the Irish Sea, more than 300 miles north (and a bit west) of London. At the dawn of the Cold War, the U.K. chose this site as the place to begin enriching uranium for its first nuclear weapon. But in the country’s haste to build a bomb, little thought was given to disposing of the waste. Much of it was placed in concrete ponds larger than Olympic swimming pools. In 1957 a reactor fire contaminated the local countryside and a devastating meltdown was narrowly avoided. More from Bloomberg.com: Americans Just Broke the Psychologists’ Stress Record Generations later, scientists, engineers, and government officials are still grappling with the leftover waste. The concrete ponds, surrounded by dilapidated and moldy scaffolding, are filled with murky green water that keeps the waste cool. Hundreds of tons of radioactive material are in the structures, risking leaks into the soil or a fire. The area has been classified an “intolerable risk” for falling short of modern safety standards, a problem that must be addressed over the next two decades. “There is a time imperative,” says Rebecca Weston, Sellafield’s technical director. That urgency is leading Weston and her colleagues to seek help from robots, an important step for the delicate business of nuclear waste. Advances in software and hardware engineering are allowing machines to reach contaminated areas that humans could never survive. The U.K. government is spending about £2 billion ($2.5 billion) a year at Sellafield, helping make the otherwise sleepy countryside region of West Cumbria an unexpected proving ground for nuclear decommissioning technology. “I’ve traveled in Korea and Japan, to Fukushima, and West Cumbria is looked at as a technology hub,” says Mark Telford, managing director for Forth Engineering, a robotics company working with Sellafield. More from Bloomberg.com: Aetna CEO: Obamacare in 'Death Spiral' Forth is developing a £500,000 six-legged machine about the size of a coffee table. The robot is packed with cameras and sensors to see its environment. A giant pincher on the front grabs contaminated material and breaks it up. Magnets on the machine’s feet will enable it to crawl up walls. Artificial intelligence software allows a team of the robots to work without humans at the controls, communicating with one another to complete a task. If one breaks down, others take over. “The robot will make its own decisions on how it walks, what it sees, and its interpretation of its environment,” Telford says. Forth has a working prototype, but says the finished product is 18 months away, will need to stay plugged in to a power source, and requires a human operator’s OK for delicate tasks like moving a fuel rod. It’s also unclear how it’ll respond to long-term radiation exposure. Even for robots, Forth says, there’s no coming back from some of the most dangerous areas. More from Bloomberg.com: Calls for Russia Probe Mount for White House Reeling From Flynn Fallout Inside Sellafield’s decaying waste ponds, robots from other manufacturers scoop up sludge and other debris and drop it into steel containers later placed in silos. “That little machine has removed thousands of items,” says drone operator Keith Ashbridge. The robots are giving officials a look inside contaminated areas that have long been abandoned. Createc, another startup working with Sellafield, has developed a quadcopter drone nimble enough to fly in the office kitchen, or through holes made by the 1957 reactor fire. It’s loaded with cameras, air-pressure sensors, gyrometers, accelerometers, and other measuring tools that stream back 3D maps locating the radioactive material. Officials in Japan have hired Createc to build maps for the Fukushima cleanup. Those who’ve worked on decommissioning Sellafield say technology isn’t a magic bullet. The 70-year-old site—home to 10,000 employees and its own rail service and police and fire departments—looks its age and will eventually cost at least £90 billion to properly clean up, says Paul Dorfman, honorary senior researcher at the Energy Institute at University College London. And even as robots work to scrub Sellafield’s most dangerous areas, more waste continues to arrive from elsewhere in the U.K., Europe, and Japan. All told, Sellafield houses one of the largest stockpiles of plutonium in the world and receives about £800 million a year to reprocess and manage spent nuclear fuel. Dorfman says Sellafield’s problems reflect how the expense and danger of dealing with nuclear waste are often hugely underestimated. The government’s estimated cost to clean up Sellafield has almost doubled over the past decade. With renewable power becoming cheaper, Dorfman says the carbon-free benefit of nuclear power isn’t worth the risk. “You have to understand the depth of the problem,” he says. Nuclear waste remains radioactive for thousands of years, and the government still doesn’t have a long-term place to store it, even if robots can clean it up effectively. The U.S., France, Germany, and Japan face similar storage challenges. Even if every nuclear power plant in the world were shut down tomorrow, it would take a century or more to deal with the waste, and that task will increasingly fall to machines. With powerful computers being squeezed onto smaller chassis, robots in the next decade will acquire better decision-making skills, giving them the ability to improvise within unpredictable environments, says Paul Mort, who leads Sellafield’s robotics and autonomous systems development. “It’s not that far away,” he says. In an era when people are concerned about job-snatching robots, Mort says, this is one task humans will gladly cede to machines. The bottom line: Europe’s biggest nuclear waste dump is a proving ground for increasingly self-sufficient drones, which are working to clean it up. Trump's F-35 Calls Came With a Surprise: Rival CEO Was Listening Read One Job the Robots Can Have: Cleaning Nuclear Waste on bloomberg.com


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

To enter Europe’s largest nuclear site, a visitor must be wearing construction coveralls, steel-toed boots, a hard hat, and a pager-size device that rings if radiation levels get too high. Contamination enters the body through open wounds, so any cuts must be bandaged with medical tape. On the way out, after you remove your protective gear, a security guard sweeps your body with a handheld detection device to make sure nothing latched on. It’s as unsettling as it sounds. This is Sellafield, on the coast of the Irish Sea, more than 300 miles north (and a bit west) of London. At the dawn of the Cold War, the U.K. chose this site as the place to begin enriching uranium for its first nuclear weapon. But in the country’s haste to build a bomb, little thought was given to disposing of the waste. Much of it was placed in concrete ponds larger than Olympic swimming pools. In 1957 a reactor fire contaminated the local countryside and a devastating meltdown was narrowly avoided. Generations later, scientists, engineers, and government officials are still grappling with the leftover waste. The concrete ponds, surrounded by dilapidated and moldy scaffolding, are filled with murky green water that keeps the waste cool. Hundreds of tons of radioactive material are in the structures, risking leaks into the soil or a fire. The area has been classified an “intolerable risk” for falling short of modern safety standards, a problem that must be addressed over the next two decades. “There is a time imperative,” says Rebecca Weston, Sellafield’s technical director. That urgency is leading Weston and her colleagues to seek help from robots, an important step for the delicate business of nuclear waste. Advances in software and hardware engineering are allowing machines to reach contaminated areas that humans could never survive. The U.K. government is spending about £2 billion ($2.5 billion) a year at Sellafield, helping make the otherwise sleepy countryside region of West Cumbria an unexpected proving ground for nuclear decommissioning technology. “I’ve traveled in Korea and Japan, to Fukushima, and West Cumbria is looked at as a technology hub,” says Mark Telford, managing director for Forth Engineering, a robotics company working with Sellafield. Forth is developing a £500,000 six-legged machine about the size of a coffee table. The robot is packed with cameras and sensors to see its environment. A giant pincher on the front grabs contaminated material and breaks it up. Magnets on the machine’s feet will enable it to crawl up walls. Artificial intelligence software allows a team of the robots to work without humans at the controls, communicating with one another to complete a task. If one breaks down, others take over. “The robot will make its own decisions on how it walks, what it sees, and its interpretation of its environment,” Telford says. Forth has a working prototype, but says the finished product is 18 months away, will need to stay plugged in to a power source, and requires a human operator’s OK for delicate tasks like moving a fuel rod. It’s also unclear how it’ll respond to long-term radiation exposure. Even for robots, Forth says, there’s no coming back from some of the most dangerous areas. Inside Sellafield’s decaying waste ponds, robots from other manufacturers scoop up sludge and other debris and drop it into steel containers later placed in silos. “That little machine has removed thousands of items,” says drone operator Keith Ashbridge. The robots are giving officials a look inside contaminated areas that have long been abandoned. Createc, another startup working with Sellafield, has developed a quadcopter drone nimble enough to fly in the office kitchen, or through holes made by the 1957 reactor fire. It’s loaded with cameras, air-pressure sensors, gyrometers, accelerometers, and other measuring tools that stream back 3D maps locating the radioactive material. Officials in Japan have hired Createc to build maps for the Fukushima cleanup. Those who’ve worked on decommissioning Sellafield say technology isn’t a magic bullet. The 70-year-old site—home to 10,000 employees and its own rail service and police and fire departments—looks its age and will eventually cost at least £90 billion to properly clean up, says Paul Dorfman, honorary senior researcher at the Energy Institute at University College London. And even as robots work to scrub Sellafield’s most dangerous areas, more waste continues to arrive from elsewhere in the U.K., Europe, and Japan. All told, Sellafield houses one of the largest stockpiles of plutonium in the world and receives about £800 million a year to reprocess and manage spent nuclear fuel. Dorfman says Sellafield’s problems reflect how the expense and danger of dealing with nuclear waste are often hugely underestimated. The government’s estimated cost to clean up Sellafield has almost doubled over the past decade. With renewable power becoming cheaper, Dorfman says the carbon-free benefit of nuclear power isn’t worth the risk. “You have to understand the depth of the problem,” he says. Nuclear waste remains radioactive for thousands of years, and the government still doesn’t have a long-term place to store it, even if robots can clean it up effectively. The U.S., France, Germany, and Japan face similar storage challenges. Even if every nuclear power plant in the world were shut down tomorrow, it would take a century or more to deal with the waste, and that task will increasingly fall to machines. With powerful computers being squeezed onto smaller chassis, robots in the next decade will acquire better decision-making skills, giving them the ability to improvise within unpredictable environments, says Paul Mort, who leads Sellafield’s robotics and autonomous systems development. “It’s not that far away,” he says. In an era when people are concerned about job-snatching robots, Mort says, this is one task humans will gladly cede to machines. The bottom line: Europe’s biggest nuclear waste dump is a proving ground for increasingly self-sufficient drones, which are working to clean it up.


News Article | February 9, 2017
Site: www.theguardian.com

Authorities have said there is no risk of contamination from an explosion that occurred at EDF’s Flamanville nuclear plant in northern France. EDF said the blast at 9.40am on Thursday was caused by a fire in the turbine hall, which is outside the nuclear zones of the power station, located 15 miles west of the port of Cherbourg. Five people were treated for smoke inhalation. The nuclear operator said an on-site team brought the fire under control, and the incident was declared over by 11am. One of the plant’s two water-pressurised reactors was shut down after the explosion and remains offline. The cause of the fire is unknown, though authorities have ruled out sabotage. Experts said the explosion appeared to be a relatively minor event and did not pose a safety risk. “Though any accident at a nuclear site must be taken seriously, I wouldn’t call this a nuclear accident as there was no release of radioactive material and the reactor was not affected,” said Jim Smith, professor of environmental science at the University of Portsmouth. “There doesn’t appear to be any risk to the general public.” Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based nuclear consultant, said fires in a nuclear plant were always “bad news” because of side effects such as smoke. “However, in this case, the fire had apparently been contained and rather quickly brought under control. I don’t think this was a major event at all.” Other nuclear experts noted that because of the design of the plant’s reactors, water passing through the turbine would not have gone through the reactor’s core, so it was unlikely there was a radioactive release. “There were no consequences for safety at the plant or for environmental safety,” EDF said in a statement. A new third-generation reactor known as EPR is being built at Flamanville and will be the world’s largest when it goes into operation in late 2018. Construction of the new plant began in 2007 and was initially scheduled for completion in 2012 but has been delayed several times and is over budget. The design of the new reactor is the same as the one planned at Hinkley Point C, which will be the UK’s first new nuclear power station in two decades. Construction is under way at the Somerset site, where EDF has already moved 2.5m cubic metres of earth and begun work on a 500-metre long jetty to bring in the vast majority of materials needed. There are currently 1,200 people working on the project. EDF also hopes to build a second new plant at Sizewell on the Suffolk coast. Nuclear power provides four-fifths of France’s electricity generation but many of the country’s ageing power stations are expected to close in the 2030s. The reliance on the power stations led to warnings of a risk of power cuts this winter after safety checks forced several of 85% state-owned EDF’s plants offline for tests. Paul Dorfman, of the Energy Institute at University College London, said the Flamanville blast may be minor but it nonetheless added to the pressure EDF was already under with the inspections. “It’s the cherry on the top of the horrendous time that French nuclear is having,” he said. François Hollande’s government passed an energy transition law, which came into effect last year, that encourages a switch to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and caps the amount of electricity produced by nuclear power. The EDF board recently voted to close the country’s oldest atomic plant in order to stay under that cap and open a new one at Flamanville.

Loading Energy Institute collaborators
Loading Energy Institute collaborators