by Dan Hughes
As I have mentioned from time to time, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in general, and Lance Agee in particular, played major roles in the success of the R & D for water reactor operation and safety undertaken by some of the various companies that arose as the great exodus from Camp NRTS got underway in the mid 1970s.
I’ll give some of my recollections in the following notes.
Energy Incorporated (EI)
Energy Incorporated was formed by Chuck Rice, and maybe others; I actually don’t know about the Others. Chuck passed away in 2013. That Obituary says, in part:
Chuck served as president and CEO of both the Idaho Nuclear Corporation and Aerojet Nuclear Corporation, with responsibility for management of the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. In 1972, he founded the first successful technology spinoff company from the INEL — Energy Incorporated. He went on to do management consulting in fields ranging from utility/regulatory disputes, nuclear power plant operation management and space defense initiative efforts.
As mentioned in the obituary, Chuck Rice founded Energy Incorporated in 1972. And EI was indeed very successful. As with all consulting firms, that success is due solely to the employees and its assets walk out the door every day. Many EI employees have remained active in the industry for decades after leaving the company and built very successful careers. Eventually, EI expanded to include actual hardware widget products. Not of the hi-volume commodity type, but specilized products.
Just now as I was looking for the meanings of some olde acronyms, I ran into this Web site: Scientech’s Fleet Asset Management and Optimization Solutions (FAMOS). I recall that PEPSE, PMAX, and R*TIME were developed by EI employees. I also think EI developed computer hardware systems to go along with some of these?
One of the main outcomes of the EI history, related to the subjects of this blog, was establishment of a company that was based on the RETRAN code. Computer Simulation & Analysis, inc. (CSAi) was formed 29 years ago, also in Idaho Falls, by Ken Moore, Jim McFadden, Craig Peterson, and Mark Paulsen. CSAi is now the CSA-Analysis Division of Zachry Nuclear Engineering, Inc. If we measure the beginnings of RETRAN from 1974, the code has been the basis of successful careers for over 40 years now. And the basis of successful safety-grade applications to analyses of every nuclear power reactor built in the USA.
Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)
EPRI was initially funded by the electric power industry in the United States. The industry, not known to be at the forefront of basic research, was EPRI’s customers. Lance and EPRI, but mainly Lance, had the job of gathering information from utility members that summarized and prioritized the needs of its customers. These were actual real world problems and we were not allowed to play in the sandbox much at all. Instead, we spent a lot of time saving the EPRI Project Manager’s butt. And having fun.
The orignal funding mechanism at EPRI was setup as a common pool of money collected by EPRI from participating utilities. This was back in the days shortly after Chauncey Starr had declared, fully aware of the unlimited growth potential of bureaucracies, that EPRI Headquarters would consist of a single small building. The project managers within EPRI would then prioritize how the pool was divvied up among the competing interests. Later, I think, utilities decided which specific divisions within EPRI they wanted their money to support. Still later, EPRI decided that utilities could decide which projects within the divisions they wanted to support. This is much like the system of license and subscription that is used for software such as the commercial versions of the safety codes working groups. By this time EPRI had built six large additional headquarter buildings and was raking right off the top a significant chunk of the income, even tho specific projects had been designated for support.
Where RETRAN came from
When I got to EI in mid-1975, a few people who were also early escapees from Camp NRTS were already there. Ken Moore had left the RELAP development group and was in charge of thermal-hydraulics at EI. Maybe Roger Griebe also fit into management somehow? EI might have already had projects with EPRI, I do not recall. Nonetheless, Lance had expressed a deep interest in our concepts at NRTS; he had, after all, accepted a job with us. In order to capture all the time and money that had gone into the research, one of the first projects that he funded at EI was detailed documentation of the UVUT work that we accomplished at Camp NRTS. The USNRC had certainly not expressed an interest in capturing the results of the research that it had funded to the tune of supporting about 10+ persons over about a four-year period. Maybe somebody here has a estimate for the amount that the USNRC spent before they sabotaged our efforts.
The result of that initial EPRI project was a set of three volumes of a report that presented detailed description of the work (et al. EPRI Report NP-143, 1976). The reports proved to be one of EPRI’s most requested reports at that time and went through three printings by EPRI.
I’m not certain of the genesis of the REactor TRANsient (RETRAN) code, but in general the code evolved from a code named RELAP/E which was developed at EI as a version of RELAP4. A couple of guys at EI, Jim Harrison and Fred Lang, wrote a rough specification for what eventually became RETRAN. There are copies of this report floating around, but they are extremely elusive. The code would be built on RELAP/E. The code was initially a version of the RELAP4 code, but grew to become significantly more than the base code.
I’m now thinking that RELAP/E means REALP4/Energy Incorporated. Back in those days, the products at the National Laboratories were available to the public at very reasonable costs. The public had, after all, covered all the original costs for the products. We got the software that had been developed for the various models and methods at Camp NRTS by this method.
I’m also thinking that the name RELAP/E was changed to RETRAN (REactor TRANsient) to better reflect the application areas of interest to EPRI customers. The National Laboratories were focused on Design Basis Accident (DBA) events like the Large Break Loss of Coolant Accident (LB-LOCA). The utilities, on the other hand, were more interested in what were originally named Operational Transient events, aka FSAR Chapter 15 events. These were events, not accidents, that might occur, some say are expected to occur, during normal operation on nuclear power plants. These are now known as Anticipated Operational Occurrences (AOOs), still aka FSAR Chapter 15 events.
It is interesting how research is a continuum. RELAP4 is based on RELAP3 and its predecessors. RETRAN is based on a version of RELAP4. RELAP5 is based on RELAP4 and the SLOOP code results. It’s hard to beat going with what has been proven to be successful.
RETRAN Applications at Nuclear Electric Operating Plants
Operating utilities focused on AOOs primarily for two reasons. The original driving force was the fact that Public Utility Commissions (PUCs) have always allowed utilities to pass the costs of fuel to its rate-payers. The plant-system vendors did the DBA analyses as part of the licensing work, so these costs could be assigned to the utility rate-payers. The vendors, of course, would also have the experience and expertise to do the AOO analyses. These would be paid for by the utilities, but the costs could not be passed to the rate-payers. Because DBAs, by their intrinsic nature involve Design, it makes sense that the plant designers should do these analyses.
The second driving force was that, at some point, the USNRC required operating utilities to have total in-house capability for AOO analyses; a requirement that makes very good sense. And all aspects of these, from top to bottom, were required to meet Quality Assurance (QA) standards. More specifically, the software was required to be built and maintained and applied under Software Quality Assurance (SQA) standards. As a side benefit, I guess the costs could be passed to rate-payers as part of normal staffing and Maintenance and Operation (M&O) expenses.
It was this niche that provided Lance the opportunity to build a R & D business in models, methods, and software for transient, compressible, two-phase flows in complex engineered systems. A business significantly different from the National Laboratory business. Lance’s products could focus solely on the real-world problems that the AOOs presented. Free-range playing in the sandbox was kept to a minimum. Additionally, the products had to have the properties and characteristics of everyday engineering tools. The products could not require a PhD degree and years of highly focused specialization in the nitty-gritty aspects of transient, compressible, two-phase flows, the PDE formulation of the model equations, the discrete approximation to the PDEs, associated numerical solution methods, building software, or years of focused application experience. Turn-key, out-of-the-box operation was required.
The fuel costs for so-called renewable energy sources like wind and solar are basically zero. Some states are therefore now allowing utilities to pass along the costs for the infrastructure for transmission of the power. If the renewable energy boom fails to survive, rate-payers will be responsible for all the sunk costs. By the same token, fossile-fueled power plants are being destroyed even as we speak, and rate-payers have paid for those systems, too.
EPRI and Lance continued to fund projects that built on the NRTS research, and additional UVUT research supported by EPRI at EI, and other organizations. The successful aspects were incorporated into the RETRAN code in a controlled, steady, sharply-focused manner, as the EPRI customers requirements dictated. As the issues for which the funding utilities needed Verified and Validated analysis capabilities evolved, so the focus on development evolved. The utilities and EPRI were never going to fund developments that did not address these specific issues. Especially under the QA / SQA requirements that were mandatory. Lance had to deal with the funding utilities in the RETRAN Owners Group so as to come to a decision on what next to consider.
The utilities being highly regulated are not known to spend public money at the forefront of basic research; if the costs can’t be recovered, money will not be spent. One role of EPRI was to provide a method for the utilities to support Research and Development. Because of the cost recovery matter, writing technical reports for general external circulation and papers for technical journals, which is a costly activity, general participation in Professional Society activities, and general models, methods, and software development are not usually encountered in the industry. Playing in the hi-tech sandbox is strongly discouraged; disallowed, even, you might say.
The quasi-private, quasi-public, basically state owned and supported utility industry encountered in some countries are exceptions to this state of affairs. The system in France is an outstanding example of this approach, and models, methods, and software R & D for reactor safety has been continuously and generously supported for decades. The significant superiority of continuous support is demonstrated by the outstanding evolution of the French software, Code for Analysis of THermalhydraulics during an Accident of Reactor and safety Evaluation (CATHARE), and experimental efforts. I think it is generally correct to say that the situation in the USA is far different from continuous and generous supported for decades.
Other Idaho Falls Companies and RETRAN
Development of RETRAN was funded by EPRI primarily at EI. However, the other aspects of getting to a state of off-the-shelf engineering tool required additional substantial investment. Shakedown and debugging of initial beta versions, independent verification of the potential capabilities, validation by comparisons with experimental data and especially comparisons with data from operating power plants, and Design Reviews to meet USNRC Technical Evaluation Report and Safety Evaluation Report SQA requirements, were funded by EPRI and participating code users. Comparisons with operating plant data provided EPRI and RETRAN users with exceptional opportunties for Validation in the actual application arena.
Some of these activities, funded by EPRI, were carried out by some of the companies that had formed in Idaho Falls in the mid 1970s. Comparisons with operating plant data were carried out by the utilities participating in the RETRAN project at EPRI. This approach was consistent with the USNRC requirement for in-house capability at the operating plants. For various reasons, the utilities generally did not want details of the specific plants and analyses, and the associated RETRAN model description, available in the public domain. this is another reason for a lack of publicly available publications based on RETRAN. Uncounted thousands of non-proprietary versions can be found at the USNRC public reading room. Special considerations were made to accommodate presentations and publications of the International RETRAN Conference proceedings.
RETRAN Released for Production Applications
The first release of RETRAN for production applications was in ca. late 1978. Lance and EPRI had devised a list of requirements for release of the code versions for production work. These were completed prior to release, and among these were documentation requirements. To fulfill these requirements a system of four Code Manuals was produced. Basically a Theory Manual, Users Manual, V&V Manual, and Programmers Manual. This model has been adapted, and expanded, by various organizations since it was introduced.
As an aside, when Lance first asked EI to send a copy of its Qualified and Audited SQA process down to EPRI, someone, maybe Jim McFadden, decided to send him a three-ring binder containing a few pages of blank paper. That was, in fact, an accurate representation of the state of the EI Qualified and Audited SQA process at the time.
Lance was not amused.
Maybe that action was the outcome of the usual Beer Friday after-work, working late at the office, work. Maybe even an Instantaneous ad hoc Committee of Beer Friday Workers.
During holiday seasons, I’ve heard rumors that some EI employees would bring a bottle(s) of appropriate liquid refreshment having higher than beer VAC into the office and keep it in a desk drawer. Never did that. ( Does that V mena Volumetic or Volatile ??)
Maybe I’ll post some details of the evolution of RETRAN over the years and how that evolution was closely associated with our Camp NRTS results. I have lost touch with RETRAN since about 1992. I’m not certain about who owns what and to what extent the code has been adapted outside the USA, or even the status at USA utilities. Maybe some of those who have been directly involved with the code and its evolution since then will join the discussion.