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The Fusion Technology Institute maintains
a web-based list of fusion alumni and their current employers;
you can access it at fti.neep.wisc.edu/grads/.
You also can send in updates through that webpage.
Thomas Hunter (MSNE ’76, PhDNE ’78), president
of Sandia Corporation and director of Sandia National Laboratories,
delivered the lecture, “The new face of engineering,” Nov.
29 on the UW-Madison campus. In the talk, Hunter highlighted current
examples that point to the engineering methodology needed for tomorrow
and presented his vision for how university-industry-national laboratory
partnerships can help span the technical breadth and depth required
for the future of engineering, and of future engineers.
ALUMNI PROFILE: John Parkyn
1982, the U.S. Congress enacted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, a law
that set forth a national program for safely and permanently disposing
of spent nuclear fuel. However, more than a decade later, the government's
on-again, off-again approach to the project had left utilities with
no repository—and no choice but to store their spent fuel on site
at nuclear plants around the country.
Frustrated, representatives from more than 40 utilities and entities
met to explore alternatives and, in 1995, eight of those utilities formed
Private Fuel Storage (PFS). With alumnus John Parkyn as chairman and
CEO, the limited liability corporation sought permission from the U.S.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build a facility in Skull Valley, Utah,
to temporarily store the nation’s spent nuclear fuel in a single
location. “We got our license Feb. 21, 2006, after more hearings
and requests for additional information than you can imagine,”
says Parkyn. “It was the first real licensing in about two decades.”
Decades of nuclear power
Born toward the end of World War II, Parkyn
grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin, a town with environmental problems
that included a coal-fired power plant. “I started thinking, as
I saw some of the issues with burning coal in the city (many homes also
did), that there had to be a better way,” he says.
Inspired by the promise of nuclear power, a field then beginning to
come into its own, Parkyn enrolled in the recently established nuclear
engineering department at UW-Madison. “I wanted to do something
to clean up the air,” he says.
To this day, says Parkyn, he appreciates his multidisciplinary education,
which included not only heavy doses of physics, calculus and math, but
also courses in such fields as automobile thermodynamics, materials
and circuits. “Engineers in the nuclear business need to be willing
to master, along with science and math, the ability to speak in public
and let people hear the other side,” he says. “So you spend
a lot of your life as a teacher.”
Parkyn has been certified to operate four units of three different types
of reactors. Midway through his undergraduate degree, the U.S. Army
drafted him and he served two years during the Vietnam War at a base
in New Mexico. There, he became certified as an operator on a fast-burst
reactor, a kind of reactor used mainly for research.
Back in Wisconsin, Parkyn earned his bachelor’s degree in 1972
and became a licensed senior reactor operator and an operations engineer
with Wisconsin Electric Power (now We Energies) at its Point Beach Nuclear
Plant. Two years later, he returned to his hometown as operations engineer
on the La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor, owned by Dairyland Power Cooperative.
There, Parkyn became assistant super-intendent, and later, plant manager
and chief nuclear officer. Although the reactor was safe and in good
condition, Dairyland decided for fiscal reasons to shut it down when
it reached the 20th and final year of its original design.
That was 1987, and Parkyn led the shutdown. Yet, even now, Dairyland
cannot fully decommission the reactor because its spent fuel is still
stored on site—a site that costs the cooperative more than $5.5
million a year for security, maintenance and monitoring. “I’ve
handled a lot of spent fuel,” says Parkyn. “You can safely
store it, but you can also store it more safely—and that was the
intent of the 1982 law. It was never intended for spent fuel to be left
where it is. And 50 years is a long time.”
A place to store waste
Dairyland is among the eight utilities comprising Private Fuel Storage.
Parkyn, still a Dairyland employee, now devotes much of his time to
making PFS a reality. Among his greatest challenges has been defending
the company’s license application against nearly 150 contentions,
or challenges—an ordeal that extended the application and licensing
process to eight and a half years.
PFS has appeared before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver,
the U.S. Supreme Court, and twice before U.S. Court of Appeals for the
D.C. Circuit in Washington, D.C., winning all four rulings. In early
2007, PFS will defend the NRC license and land lease during appeals
in the U.S. Court of Appeals and in Utah.
He has worked with Congress to convince elected officials that PFS is
a solution to the nearly 40,000 MTUs (metric tons of uranium) of spent
fuel that have accumulated at 72 nuclear power plants across 31 states.
“Costs right now are estimated at about $1.5 billion a year to
leave it where it is and about $60 million a year to put everything
in the country in Utah at this site,” says Parkyn.
The site, which the company is leasing from the Skull Valley Band of
Goshute Indians, is key because of its distance from population centers
and surface waters. “We picked the site using a strong technical
basis because of very low population density—only 31 people in
five miles, and with no one living closer than 21⁄2 miles away,”
he says. “There’s no standing surface water within 10 miles—no
lakes or rivers—and no underground water within 200 feet of surface.
So if you hypothesize an accidental event, you can recover totally without
anybody having any sort of injurious radiation exposure.”
Once PFS receives its final go-ahead, potentially sometime in 2007,
the storage facility can be constructed and begin accepting spent fuel
within two and a half to three years. In a best-case scenario, says
Parkyn, crews could add nearly 8,000 MTUs per year, or about 800 casks
of spent fuel.
An environmental solution
A firm believer in nuclear power as a clean, safe and environmentally
friendly source of electricity, Parkyn is very much aware of the social
responsibility that comes with it. And, as a member of the generation
that helped nuclear come into its own, he claims that responsibility.
“Nuclear power is better than other forms of generation because
it doesn’t pollute,” he says. “The strong point of
nuclear power is used against it. Its waste forms are solid. So unlike
other generation, we don’t emit into the air anything significant
and let the air dilute it, and we don’t release anything significant
into the river and let the water dilute it.
“We have a solid waste form—and that solid becomes a source
of concern. It’s radioactive waste. So if you really care about
this being an environmental solution for the future, then you really
ought to care about the back end of the cycle.”