Nuclear research coming to Alameda Point historic district

Tenant plans to design next-generation nuclear power plant

The underground infrastructure at Alameda Point may be old and in need of replacement, but many of the Navy’s industrial and civic buildings were built to last centuries.  One of those buildings is Building 9, a former records warehouse on West Tower Avenue right across the street from the Bladium that is rock solid and worth rehabbing.

According to developer Joe Ernst of srmErnst, the horizontal alignment of the steel superstructure has moved a mere 1.2 inches in the 77 years since it was built.  “And for all we know, it could have been off by an inch when it was built,” said Ernst.

Building 9 at 707 West Tower Avenue undergoing $24 million renovation project.

The hangar-like structure is being readied for the first tenant, Kairos Power.  Kairos will set up a laboratory to test components that will make up a new type of nuclear reactor.  No radioactive material will be handled there.  In fact, Ernst says it’s spelled out in the deed.

Unlike most structures, Building 9 does not need to rely on theoretical models to predict earthquake readiness.  The building is outfitted with an overhead crane spanning the width of the building and is mounted on rails running the length of the building.  According to Ernst, an engineering company was able to simulate a maximum credible earthquake jolt by moving the massive crane and then bringing it to a stop.  The building is expected to survive “The Big One.”

The integrity of this steel and stucco structure, which has no interior supporting pillars, is due in large part to the underground piling and bracing system.  The Navy’s building plans show that the pilings extend 70 feet below ground.  The lowest 50 feet are massive redwood beams, which Ernst says are in fine shape.  The top 20 feet is reinforced concrete.  The bases of the supporting pillars for the walls are tied together by underground reinforced concrete beams that crisscross the width of the building.  They keep the walls from potentially spreading apart.

Open trench shows steel reinforced concrete tie beams that connect to piling bases at the walls.

A $24 million renovation project is already underway on Building 9.  All of the window glass, over nine thousand panes, will be replaced.  The east, south and west sides will get single-pane lowE glass that reduces heat gain.  The north side will get regular glass.  The metal window frames are not deep enough to allow for dual-pane windows.

A worker wearing breathing apparatus and harness grinds a metal window frame in Building 9.

Hundreds of linear feet of the concrete floor have been cut open to install new plumbing and electrical.  When those upgrades are finished, the existing concrete slab will be reconnected with new concrete, and then six inches of new concrete will be poured over the entire 86,000 square feet.  Ernst pointed out that while the building itself has not settled, the slab has sunk nine inches.  He attributes the settling to the weight of the Navy’s fully loaded storage shelving that once rose 14 feet to the ceiling.

Two years ago, Ernst’s company secured a lease on the building with an option to buy.  Ernst had high hopes for turning the building into a food and beverage incubator facility for start-up companies.  But as the rehab cost estimates began to mount, including some $5 million for individual water meters for dozens of tenants, the projected rent became a deal-killer for prospective tenants.

Ernst’s company took ownership of the building during the first week of November.  The company paid the City of Alameda $5.5 million, money that has already been earmarked for the first phase of water main replacement at the Point.

Kairos Power will be moving its headquarters from Oakland to this building.  Kairos will occupy half of the floor space that will include a newly built second floor being added by srmErnst to the interior.  The research and development work will be done in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which is promoting a new generation of nuclear power reactors that use tennis-ball-sized “pebbles” made of carbon with uranium inside.

Traditional nuclear power plants employ nuclear fuel rods that are cooled by water and subject to meltdown if power to the cooling system fails.  There are a variety of nuclear pebble cooling systems in the research stage.  Kairos is working on one that uses molten salt.  If proven commercially viable, it will solve the most worrisome problem for nuclear power – potential meltdown.  Even with total loss of power, according to DOE research, pebble reactors with salt cooling fluid will continue to cool the reactor as the reactor process cycles down.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

More info on small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs)

DOE Office of Nuclear Energy

How molten salt reactors (MSRs) work

Not only do MSRs not have a long term waste issue, they can be used to dispose of current stockpiles of nuclear waste by using those stockpiles as fuel. Even stockpiles of plutonium can be disposed of this way. In fact, conventional reactors typically use only 3-to-5% of the available energy in their fuel rods before the fuel rods must be replaced because of cracking. MSRs can use up most of the rest of the available fuel in these rods to make electricity.

MSRs are walk-away safe. They cannot melt down as can conventional reactors because they are molten by design. An operator cannot even force an MSR to overheat. If for some reason an MSR were to overheat, the heat would melt a freeze-plug at the bottom of the reactor vessel and the liquid fuel salts would drain into the emergency cooling tanks where it would cool and solidify. No operator interaction nor even emergency backup power is needed for this to happen.

Even a human engineered breach (such as a terrorist attack) of an MSR cannot cause any significant release of radioactivity.

Excerpt from ZME Science

More photos –

Building 9 at 707 West Tower Avenue undergoing rehab work. Railroad tracks used to run down the middle. Salvaged Douglas fir timbers on the right will be sent to a mill, re-milled and reused onsite. Overhead crane in the upper middle will be re-wired to allow remote floor operation. Window replacement in progress at far end. Building 9 is a contributing structure to the Alameda Point Historic District.
Base of wall column resting on 70-foot-deep wood and concrete piling.

Author: richard94501

My blog is Alameda Point Environmental Report covering environmental issues from wildlife to cleanup at the former Navy base in Alameda now called Alameda Point. Articles on my blog are frequently printed in the Alameda Sun newspaper. I also host a Twitter site and a Flickr photo site. I hope you find my stories and photos of interest. Richard Bangert Alameda, California

2 thoughts on “Nuclear research coming to Alameda Point historic district”

  1. Nuclear technology is dying and deservedly so given the high level radwaste it leaves for future generations to deal with. Then there’s the meltdowns, accidents which leave behind huge dead zones and many $billions in losses. Fukushima alone will cost well over $One Trillion to ‘clean up’.

    Molten Salt fast reactors specifically in the past have been haunted by sodium coolant’s chemical reactivity and plagued by rising costs.

    It’s simply a dishonest fantasy to claim that such hypothetical and uneconomic ways to recover energy or other value from spent LWR fuel mean “There is no such thing as nuclear waste.” … Of course, the nuclear industry wishes this were true.

    Every new type of reactor in history has been costlier, slower, and harder than projected. Low pressure, different safety profile, high temperature, and potentially higher thermal efficiency come with countervailing disadvantages and costs that advocates assume away, contrary to all experience.

    No new kind of reactor is likely to be much, if at all, cheaper than today’s LWRs, which remain grossly uncompetitive and are getting more so despite five decades of maturation. The old, stale over-centralized model of energy is giving way to cleaner, more efficient distributed energy production.

    That’s a good thing.

    Liked by 1 person

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