NPC-2018 Brings together nuclear chemists for a week of idea exchange and insights for the future

On September 7 — 15, utility professionals, chemists, engineers, scientists, researchers, and services companies from around the world gathered at the Hyatt Regency hotel in San Francisco, CA, USA for the EPRI-sponsored (Electric Power Research Institute) 21st International Conference on Water Chemistry in Nuclear Reactor Systems.

The show hosted approximately 250 attendees and focused on the latest developments in science and technology of water chemistry control in nuclear reactor systems. Truly international, attendees represented the industry from China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, UAE, UK and USA.

Nuclear power plant chemistry plays a critical role in materials integrity, fuel integrity and performance radiation field management, cooling water sustainability, and the overall economic viability of plant operations.

The conference enabled a forum for research and operations to be discussed. Presenters submit papers, and then discuss information on their topic in session. The sessions enable practical operating experience and industry research to be shared enabling all to optimize plant performance.

In addition to the conference sessions, an exhibitor floor ran from Sunday through Thursday, enabling all attendees to speak freely with service providers about their systems—ranging from large power generation stations to nuclear submarine reactors.

Ion exchange resins are used extensively in either bead or powdered form for purification and polishing of coolant water found in various types of nuclear reactors. Resins play a critical role in corrosion product removal and radioactive decontamination. Attendees were eager to speak to the Purolite team about their critical system requirements for make-up water polishing, steam generator blow down recovery, deep bed condensate polishing, chemical volume control, reactor water cleanup, spent fuel cleanup and radioactive waste cleanup.

The conference began on Sunday evening with a reception at the hotel. As a platinum-level sponsor, Purolite's Terry Heller took to the microphone and greeted reception guests, and gave a friendly introduction to Purolite's products and services for the market. 

On the exhibition floor, Purolite was in booth six, with Alexei Donskoi (Sales Representative, St. Petersburg), Andrea Bartus (USA Headquarters), Darrel Shaffer (Northeast USA Technical Sales), Nick Backman (Midwest USA Technical Sales), Sean Kennedy (Technical Specialist, USA), Ted Begg (East Coast Sales Director), and Terry Heller (Southeast USA Technical Sales) meeting and assisting customers and attendees.

The official conference was opened by Conference Chair, Keith Fruzzetti, who welcomed everyone and discussed the history of the conference and its relevance in the context of the world today. He talked about the importance of representing the global community and bringing together the spectrum of organizations that form the global nuclear community. He stressed the importance of keeping an open mind, learning, questioning, and thinking about different perspectives.

Neil Wilmshurst, Vice President, Nuclear and Chief Nuclear Officer of EPRI gave an insightful overview of the state of nuclear today. His talk included the work that chemists, materials people, vendors and utilities have done to achieve the best safety performance ever in the industry. He also noted that discussions about safety should NOT lead discussions on nuclear as this comes off as defensive to people not in the industry. Instead, he suggested to think about how we talk about the industry as we are the ones that drive the perception. His thought is that nuclear energy IS safe-- and this should be taken as a given. Therefore, it is better to discuss the benefits of nuclear power generation—reliable and resilient.

Mr. Wilmshurst half joked that one thing the industry has PERFECTED is spending money to increase performance and safety, and the industry needs to think about where money is best spent. The nuclear promise is to provide energy that is safe, reliable and cost-effective-- and suggested that is the last part that the industry falls short. He challenged, "How do we make nuclear cost effective without impacting reliability or safety?"

The end of the keynote focused on the changing industry. Mr. Wilmshurst noted that the energy system is changing and there is an increased use of electricity as the end product of energy delivery. There is a notable transition from gas and oil into electricity. He showed slides that supported the idea that up to the year 2050, energy use will be somewhat flat because of improved efficiencies. However, there will be a change in the use of energy.

He proposed that the use of oil and coal fossil fuels will decline. Gas will hold steady. Nuclear, however, will increase globally based on what international organizations are seeing as of a transition to electricity as part of a drive to electrify the whole energy market in the context of climate change. There is a real important role for nuclear in the future.

He continued by asking, "How do we get to the GENIV plants of the future?" and stated that we must consider that we can't have a future without support in the industry today—including the existing fleet, people, suppliers, college courses—all of which keep the market going and ensure the industry is ready to support the future. 

Turning to the topic of renewables, he stated firmly that, "Renewables are not the enemy." Mr. Wilmshurst proposed that along with nuclear, renewables are important contributors to the energy grid of the future and  the technologies can complement each other in the market. "This is a big conversation across the globe. Nuclear will form the base security for the grid, with renewables built in on top."

In closing, he noted that innovation is the best way to support the use of nuclear power in the future. Quoting Bill Gates as saying, "The great thing about nuclear is its lack of innovation," he explained that the point is that if the nuclear industry innovates… just think about its potential.

He noted, "Think about what fossil plants have done with digital automated controls. Our nuclear plants don't. They have alternated systems. Nuclear plants don't. We pride ourselves on conservatism and reliable and diverse means invented in the 1960s. But today it is all about technology and automation."

He then mused, "why can't the nuclear industry have sensors and technology to help us reduce our costs?" and asked everyone to ponder the possibilities from the worlds of machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data..., "imagine what we can do if we somehow unlock the innovation for the industry," urging everyone to think about what can we do to keep the plants as safe and reliable as today... while innovating to reduce costs. 

He stated that "modernization" is the buzzword in the industry for ops, chemistry, supply chain, engineering, world management. He suggested that something as "simple" as automated chemistry monitoring isn't new, but can work for nuclear and that the resulting, "real time data will transform chemistry decisions."

The final statement noted that there are 56 reactors being built with 130 types of advanced reactors being developed, with much research being privately funded. This industry is alive.

The conference was constantly busy, with each day providing over 15 sessions presented by leaders within the industry. From PWR chemistry, corrosion protection, primary chemistry and unexpected crud release to chemical transients, mitigation guidance with noble metal chemistry, the effect of surface coating on crud deposition, and materials qualification testing for pH control of primary coolant—topics were varied, pertinent and compelling.

An evening reception on Wednesday offered additional comments from the Conference Chair as well as Joel McElrath, Principal Technical Leader at EPRI, who presented awards for the best show poster and most unique technology.

Joel McElrath and his wife Denise, Richard Coleman of RSI, Toney Cross of TVA, and Lyndsey Brown of TVA and her husband Archie joined Purolite at our reception table.

After a long week, the conference officially closed on Friday September 14th. Next year's event will be held in 2020 at the Juan-les-Pins Congress Center in Antibes, France.

Contact your local Purolite Technical Sales Associate for more information on Purolite resins used in nuclear power generation