Ep. 287, GAIN-NRIC Miniseries: Christine King
Material Selection for Steam Generators (1:22-11:28)
Christine King reflects on her time at EPRI where she focused on solving inherited material problems related to the use of Alloy 600 in steam generators
Q: How did you get involved in energy and the nuclear industry?
A: Christine King started her career in nuclear working on nuclear sites for Framatome. She traveled throughout North America and specialized in steam generators. After spending so much time cleaning steam generators, Christine eventually wanted to understand why they were being cleaned and got into the nuances of stress corrosion cracking of Alloy 600 materials. This led Christine and her husband to California where they both started new jobs at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Christine was the Alloy 600 project manager for reactor vessel heads in the early 2000’s when there were problems with leaking. The original problem was matching how stainless steel swells at the same temperature. When two materials are welded together, the materials need to expand at the same rate to avoid a disconnect or overstress. Alloy 600 was chosen because it is a high nickel alloy, but after a certain period of time, it may develop faster crack growth rates. This first showed up in the steam generators in the 1980’s, leading to mid-cycle outages to determine which tube was leaking. These materials were chosen during the design phase of these generators in the 1950’s, making this choice into an inherited issue. Alloy 690, a derivative of Alloy 600, is used in new steam generators today but was in development in the late 1960’s because there was already lab evidence that there may be cracking issues with Alloy 600. When choosing materials, there are many trade offs including manufacturing and long term maintenance. Some materials are also more difficult to weld which may result in inclusions and challenges that must be tracked and included in future inspections. Eventually, Christine ran the entire Material Reliability program at EPRI focused on the pressurized water reactors. In the next phase, she wanted to take a more proactive view of materials by looking at the unknowns of particular materials to determine if the knowledge gap would cause a consequence or issue. The operation of the plant must be considered by looking at the plant response to a material failure. Research was prioritized by pairing knowledge gaps with possible consequences in the field. Christine then sidestepped into an operations role as Operations Manager for the nuclear division. This division is where EPRI research meets contracts, human resources, and quality assurance. She worked through issues with utilities, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and other clients.
Finding Purpose in the Nuclear Sector (11:28-22:35)
Christine shares her personal journey to find purpose and how it impacted her career path in the nuclear sector
Q: What is the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)?
A: Christine King spent 13 years in many different roles at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). EPRI is all about collaborative research. The purpose is to bring like-minded people, such as utilities, together to solve bigger problems that they might not have the resources to solve themselves. EPRI looks down the road to focus and understand the possible future issues before the utilities get there. After 13 months at EPRI, Christine King took 6 months off of work after a heart attack due to a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD). She was faced with not knowing whether she would work full time again, but made her consider what she wanted to work for. Christine’s satisfaction comes from helping. One aspect she wanted to focus on was strategic planning for teams by helping teams organize and explain their research so others can join in the journey. It’s about understanding the research from someone else’s point of view. Ultimately, Christine wanted to get closer to the utilities at a time in which natural gas started to come into the scene and the existing nuclear fleet was struggling. At this point, she went to lead the nuclear division at Structural Integrity, a medium-sized consulting company that focuses on failures found during outages. Christine wanted an opportunity to step into a leadership role and lead a division. In leadership, vulnerability is key and helps people be comfortable coming forward. During her time at Structural Integrity, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) delivered the nuclear promise, so she worked hard to listen to the initiative and look at how things done in the past could be done differently to achieve the same result. This led to some non-destructive examination (NDE) technology development related to encoded weld examination via robots. Her team could take information from a flaw found in a weld inspection, put the crack into a finite element model, and progressing it to calculate how long it would take to reach failure on that component. This led to decision-making about whether it needed to be fixed immediately or if the plant could go back online with the crack. Christine’s work also included working with clients to update fatigue management programs before going into the license renewal process for another 20 years of life.
The Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (22:35-34:54)
The role of GAIN in the nuclear sector and the many ways it supports developers, investors, end users, and government programs
Q: How did you get selected to become the Director for the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear?
A: Christine King got approached by a recruiter for a position as Director for the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) while working with an emerging venture capital firm at a consulting company. The market window for new nuclear is here. Christine is very passionate about what will happen in the nuclear sector in the next 5-10 years. She came to GAIN to increase the trust and confidence in the sector with the goal of securing the end users and the partners and investors needed for deployment. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Labs do not have a good reputation for getting things done on time. This cannot be the story for the next 5-10 years. Advanced nuclear plants must differentiate themselves from what people know of nuclear today. People know large light water reactors with huge cooling towers and miles of fencing. Some of these new reactors are quite small and new reactors will do more than produce electricity. The flexibility of advanced nuclear plants allows the design to meet theneeds of the energy system at that time. This is the key to the hard-to-decarbonize sector. Most industrial processes that are energy intensive are reliant on fossil fuels and are the perfect customers for advanced nuclear. GAIN is most well known for the voucher program, but also does internal work around releasing legacy documents and information. Data from the demonstration reactors that were built in the 1950’s is essential for the innovators and developers today. This data had previously been kept from being released to the public, so GAIN reviews the document, understands whether it is safe to release, and gets it into the hands of the developers today so they can use it in their modeling. The biggest thing that GAIN does is listen. This listening shows up in workshops where GAIN meets with the technology working groups, typically around a reactor technology, to find out what their needs are. Those needs and priorities change as they are building their businesses, so GAIN tries to stay in tune with that, communicate them to the DOE so the DOE can allocate funds to address those needs. Last year, the National Reactor Innovation Center was established to work with the National Labs, but solely focused on demonstrations. Vouchers are executed when an innovator requests access to a facility or people at a National Lab to help solve a particular problem. GAIN issues a work order within the National Lab system to execute on that scope of work. Applications for vouchers come in quarterly and GAIN has maintained a steady volume of applications. So far, GAIN has assigned $22 million towards 51 vouchers for 41 companies. Twenty-five of these vouchers have been completed in the four years since the start of the program. The voucher application becomes a conversation starter and GAIN can connect companies, labs, and other partners to help make progress, even if a voucher is not awarded.
The Nuclear Ecosystem (34:54-48:57)
A look at how new technology demonstrations and regulation reform will lead to the new nuclear market
Q: What type of work do people want done at the National Labs?
A: Some projects the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) support often include modeling, experimental measurements, peer review calculation checks. These voucher applications might also be related to help with licensing or looking at new shielding technology for future fuel storage and operations. GAIN serves the whole nuclear ecosystem. On the communication front, GAIN has been focusing on sharing what the National Labs have to offer and what the different Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy programs are about. Christine King is leading GAIN to shift its focus to communicating about nuclear to audiences outside the nuclear sector. The nuclear industry has insulated itself for so long, which has prevented nuclear from being integrated into clean energy. It is about learning how to speak to an end user and the public about used fuel, waste, and accidents. GAIN has developed two-page summaries of each new reactor type to make it easier to share information with end users such as what the footprint of the plant will be and the operating conditions. The nuclear industry needs to communicate without acronym, without apology, and with excitement. Instead of forcing nuclear on people, Christine wants to present the facts and let people consider nuclear and come to their own conclusion. Wind, solar, and nuclear are the best partners. Nuclear sometimes gets overcomplicated, but the regulation was hard-wired to the initial design. For the regulator to even consider something new, the technology must be unraveled. For example, some of the licensing language around fuel provides specific criteria associated with zirconium materials instead of talking about the desired performance attributes of nuclear fuel. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has made progress in this space to make this process technology inclusive and risk based. Changing government language takes many, many hours and involvement from many stakeholders. The NRC has developed a roadmap for attacking this problem and GAIN makes sure the industry is aware of the process and can make their voice heard in the moment. GAIN looks ahead to issues that will be addressed and identifying data that may be needed and putting it together in a format that can be used. In the next 5-10 years, there will be demonstrations of a variety of different nuclear energy systems and the most important thing that nuclear can do is change its reputation. The nuclear industry needs to deliver on time and on budget. In parallel to the demonstrations, deployment - and the whole ecosystem that supports deployment - need to be considered. Regulation reform has to finish to be ready for deployment and GAIN needs to do everything it can to help the NRC. Nuclear must become part of the vernacular of clean energy by addressing public acceptance, showing what the product looks like, and understanding the cost associated with designing and operating it. This will lead to the building of hundreds of reactors 20 to 30 years from now.