Cyber Attack Compromises U.S. Nuclear Facilities

As the U.S. reels from a blistering cyber security attack this week that has infected over a dozen federal agencies, the nation’s nuclear power facilities may have been breached as well. Reports from the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration indicate that hackers have indeed accessed their internal networks as part of a larger espionage operation, which cyber security experts say bears all the hallmarks of Russian intelligence services.

The attack was only recently discovered by the Department of Homeland Security, but may have been in progress for an undetermined number of weeks before detection, the department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) confirmed in a statement released to CNN. “We have been working closely with our agency partners regarding recently discovered activity on government networks” the statement read, “CISA is providing technical assistance to affected entities as they work to identify and mitigate any potential compromises.”

While the potential damage, in terms of compromised data, has yet to be fully assessed, the point of entry appears to be a well-known IT contractor, SolarWinds, which is utilized by several civilian federal agencies to manage potential data breaches. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the nuclear facilities at the Sandia and Los Alamos laboratories reported unidentified intrusions into their cyber networks. The extent of the damage, including what has been potentially discovered or stolen, by the suspected Russian hacking group APT29, remains unclear or at least undisclosed at this time.

Heeding the November 30th proclamation from the Department of Defense (DoD), calling on U.S. military suppliers to comply with the new cyber security regulations of NIST 800-171, Otek is earnestly preparing its products for a new age in the industry where protection from cyber attacks will be a priority. Our SSAM smart meter was designed especially for this endeavor, as it is invulnerable to cyber attacks by way of being designed without any critical digital assets such as microprocessors.

Otek remains a faithful supplier to the nuclear and military industries, and as 2021 ushers in a new climate for cyber vulnerability, we look forward to the challenge of designing new innovations that help protect American industries.

For more information please call 520-748-7900 or contact sales at sales@otekcorp.com

Vogtle Nuclear Plant Receives First Fuel Delivery

The two nuclear reactors under construction at the Vogtle Generating Plant have received their initial delivery of uranium fuel this week, reports controlling owner Georgia Power. The reactors, Vogtle 3 & 4 respectively, have been under construction since March of 2009, and have been built under the design of Westinghouse’s AP1000 pressurized water reactor.

“Achieving this historic milestone brings us closer to fuel load expected in April 2021, and, once online, these new nuclear units will provide clean, carbon-free energy for the next 60 to 80 years”, said Georgia Power’s CEO and chairman Paul Bowers, “Since the start, the Vogtle expansion project has been an investment in our energy future. Today, as we receive our first nuclear fuel shipment, we remain committed to realizing the benefits this project will provide not only to our customers, but also our state and our country.”

With Vogtle 3 slated to be operational by 2021 and 4 expected to come online by November 2024, the entire Vogtle facility is expected to become the largest nuclear power plant in the United States, as well as the most expensive at $25 billion, eclipsing the North Anna station’s $20 billion. Westinghouse has also been tapped to develop a modernized Instrumentation and Control Room (I&C) for both new reactors.

Serving as a long-time supplier to Westinghouse and as well as the Vogtle site itself, Otek maintains a presence in the ongoing construction of this project. Reactors 1 & 2 at the plant currently use several of Otek’s Radiation Panel Meters (RPMs) that serve as replacements for a preceding Westinghouse unit, which interfaces with a General Atomics radiation detector. Otek’s UPM-L model has also provided to the plant, and is in discussion to be used in reactors 3 & 4, via Westinghouse, as part of a larger contract.

As a dedicated supplier to Vogtle, Westinghouse, and the nuclear industry at large, Otek remains committed to providing innovative Plug & Play technology to a digital future where reliability, accuracy, and efficiency are as standard as the quality of our products.

For information please call (520) 748-7900 or contact our sales department at sales@otekcorp.com

Exelon Entertains Idea of Splitting Its Utilities and Nuclear Businesses

U.S. energy giant Exelon Corporation is mulling a decision to split the company’s multistate utilities from its nuclear generation arm. The consideration comes on the heels of a financially rough year for the company which announced in August that it would be closing two of its twenty-one nuclear facilities, the respective Byron and Dresden plants in Illinois.

Declining energy prices and constrained markets have challenged the corporation’s ability to generate substantive and consistent profits at many of its nuclear plants, says Exelon CEO Chris Crane during a third-quarter conference, “No decision has been made, but we continue to do the work to determine the best outcome for our stakeholders, and we’ll provide you an update on our progress on the next earnings call,” Crane said. “What we want to make sure is that we have two healthy companies, a utility business — if we and the board determine this is the right thing to do — two healthy businesses that can stand on their own.”

Exelon had attempted to elicit help from the state in the form of government subsidies, as they successfully did for plants in New York and New Jersey earlier this year, but a recent connection to a bribery investigation involving Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Exelon utility ComEd, retarded support for such a bailout among state lawmakers. Exelon then threatened to close Bryon and Dresden outright, stripping the state of 70% of its carbon-free energy, a move which Governor J.B. Pritzker has called a “threat”.

“Some people have called it a threat. It’s not a threat” Crane continued, “Despite being among the most efficient, reliable units in the U.S. nuclear fleet, they face revenue shortfalls, declining energy prices, lack of capacity revenue and market rules that allow fossil plants to underbid clean energy resources.”

OTEK, a long-time supplier to the nuclear industry and several Exelon plants as well, continues to monitor the situation and stands ready to help the industry reach its promise with reliable, efficient, and enduring digital technology.

For information please call (520) 748-7900 or email sales@otekcorp.com.

How Manufacturers Can Meet the Requirements of the DoD’s CMMC

As the manufacturing industry increasingly becomes more reliant on digital systems, they also become more vulnerable to cyber security attacks. Now it’s true that most U.S. manufacturers already have provisions or protocols for cyber security in place, but are they up to the ever-evolving tactics of cyber hackers? And if they plan to elicit government contracts, are they up to the Department of Defense’s (DOD) newly established standards?

In January of 2020 the DOD released the first of several versions of new security provisions, entitled the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC)—essentially a vehicle for helping manufacturers to meet the requirements of NIST 800-171. Since NIST 800-171 was established in early 2018, manufacturing companies have mostly been allowed to self-monitor and regulate their own policies and provisions as they pertain to cyber security, provided, of course, they successfully meet the requirements of NIST 800-171. Under the newly implemented CMMC, manufacturers are now required to answer to third-party auditors to determine their level of competency in cyber security protection as mandated by NIST 800-171. Additionally, the auditor must give approval that the requirements are successfully being met prior to the award of the DOD contract, as opposed to the traditional after-the-fact inspection. And this, could be a problem, says solution consultant David Watts of information technology firm Avatara, ““If you don’t do this stuff, you’re nowhere near ready for CMMC. A lot of manufacturers are going to be caught flat-footed.”

Mr. Watts, in a recent interview with Modern Machine Shop, outlines five ways a company can improve its cyber security protection in consideration of CMMC:

  1. Training – Routinely providing knowledge and know-how to employees in charge of sensitive areas of company information, with updated protocols for phishing scams, emails asking for banking or password info, embedded ransomware, etc. Third-party auditors can then be shown when and how training sessions were conducted.
  2. Strengthened Passwords – CMMC requires level 3 standard passwords for DoD contracts. This includes characters, symbols, non-identical passwords, and limited log-in attempts
  3. MultiLevel Authentication – Beyond just a password, such as personal information/identification questions required to access servers.
  4. Continuous Monitoring – A program that checks all incoming and outgoing exchanges of information, looking specifically for indication of hacks such as malicious code, strange traffic patterns, etc.
  5. Real Life Protection – Storing sensitive information off-site, or cloud-based data storage is becoming more and more important. And while most companies won’t be employing armed guards to protect their servers, the easiest way in the world to steal information or plant malicious code is to insert a good ol’ USB drive.

As a dedicated supplier to a host of industries, including the Nuclear and Military sectors, OTEK takes cyber security as seriously as we do the technology that powers our instruments. That’s why we created the industry’s first Solid-State Analog Meter, or SSAM—a digital instrument capable of harnessing the power that technology provides, while being comprised of analog hardware that renders it impervious to cyber security attacks.

For more information on the SSAM or OTEK’s cyber security measures, please call 520-748-7900 or emails sales@otekcorp.com

DOE Awards $1.4 Billion to SMR Project

The future of small modular reactors just received a major boost from the Department of Energy. Struggling in recent weeks after the collective decision by the Utah Associated Municipal Power System (UAMPS) to scrap its acceptance to be the pilot program for leading small modular reactor (SMR) designer and startup, NuScale Power, the company was under duress concerning its future here in the U.S. (Canada has completed its licensing process with NuScale for a SMR project to bring the cutting-edge technology across the border). But that future is a bit brighter now after the Trump administration’s directive for the DOE to award a $1.4 billion grant to alleviate the financial burden of testing the new technology.

The award is to be distributed over ten years and will go directly to UAMPS, in conjunction with the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) site that is already building the world’s first SMR site at Idaho National Laboratories. “We appreciate this tremendous vote of confidence in CFPP by the Department of Energy, says Douglas Hunter, CEO of UAMPS, “It is entirely appropriate for DOE to help de-risk this first-of-a kind, next-generation nuclear project that will provide affordable, carbon-free electricity all over the country and the world. This project is much bigger than UAMPS itself.”

The Washington Examiner offered a similar take on the announcement, saying in an article released this past week that the 10 year distribution “Could be manageable given that bipartisan majorities have supported NuScale over the years for its potential to prove the viability of small reactors, an emissions-free technology of a type that has never been deployed and expected to be safer and cheaper than traditional large nuclear projects that have struggled economically.”

As the nuclear industry continues to evolve, OTEK will continue evolving its award-winning and technologically innovative instrumentation as we’ve done for the last forty-five years.

For more information please call (520-748-7900) or email sales@otekcorp.com

Cyber Security an Issue for the Maritime Industry

Cyber security is becoming an increasing problem for the maritime industry. As the information age has increasingly become digital, it should be no surprise that cyber security has become an important issue across nearly every sector of business, including industries like maritime and related shipping.

As recently as this year, the Switzerland shipping giant MSC was besieged by a malware attack that forced the company to close all operations in and around its Geneva port for five days, resulting in a massive loss of not only production and personnel, but the theft of stolen data as well. 2018 also saw ports in San Diego and Barcelona come under attack, as well as Chinese mega shipping agency COSCO, whose attack resulted in the loss of over half the company’s U.S. operations.

While the nature of cyber attacks are as complex as they are evasive, cyber security is not—and the problem common to nearly every attack seen in the last decade within the maritime industry is the reliance on outdated models of protection and an inflexibility toward the latest in cyber security design. “All new builds are based on software that runs systems within the ship pertaining to safety and security, and also for monitoring of operations,” maritime cybersecurity researcher at HudsonAnalytix Chronis Kapalidis says, “It’s important that cybersecurity across IT and OT becomes part of a new cyber culture. It shouldn’t be something that ship owners are requesting and pushing the vendors for – it should be something vendors have in place to demonstrate their competitive advantage.”

And that last sentence is the essence of why OTEK developed its Solid State Analog Meter, or SSAM. Powered by the signal it measures, the SSAM-N was designed without any critical digital assets such as microprocessors to avoid vulnerabilities to cybersecurity attacks. By using CMOS logic to power the instrument and a receivable analog input signal, the SSAM-N successfully functions as a digital meter while avoiding expenses related to cybersecurity protection incurred by the mandates of NEI 08-09.

Interested in learning more about how OTEK can offer your company or application cyber security paired with industry leading technology? Give us a call at 520-748-700 or email sales@otekcorp.com

Nuclear Fusion Possible by 2025?

Once the stuff of science fiction and speculative energy geeks with far-fetched dreams, a new series of studies published in the Journal of Plasma Physics last month, and in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, postulates that controlled nuclear fusion might indeed be possible by 2025. The grounds for such a claim are rooted in an experimental project being undertaken by scientists at MIT and in collaboration with a regional technology company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems.

Referred to as the SPARC (Soonest/Smallest Private-Funded Affordable Robust Compact) reactor, the project calls for a unique take on the traditional attempts at designing fusion reactors. Unlike the popular Russian tokamak reactor, whose donut-shaped design creates powerful magnetic fields that harness the plasma’s volatility at temperatures high enough to fuse atoms together (at least 180 million degrees Fahrenheit), the SPARC reactor aims to achieve what has previously been unreachable here on plant Earth: the feat of burning plasma.

Burning plasma is a self-sustaining state in which the heat generated from all fusion reactors keeps the process of fusion going by itself, eliminating the need to continuously supply outside energy. The output of a reactor that achieves burning plasma is estimated to max out at 21 teslas; a number far higher than the globally supported International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) which is not expected to be operational until at least 2035 and is purported to only reach a maximum of 12 teslas. By comparison Earth’s magnetic field can reach limits of 60 millionths of a single tesla).

“Virtually all of us got into this research because we’re trying to solve a really serious global problem,” Martin Greenwald, a plasma physicist at MIT helping to develop the new reactor, commented during an interview for the study group, “We want to have an impact on society. We need a solution for global warming — otherwise, civilization is in trouble. This looks like it might help fix that.”

And indeed with the world facing greater and more expedient climate challenges, it seems imperative that we, as a species, continue to push innovative technologies such as nuclear fusion and the instrumentation that allows them to move from dreams into the desperate concrete of reality.

OTEK, as a dedicated supplier to the nuclear industry, stands ready to meet that challenge with instrumentation that measures up the nuclear promise.

For more information please call 520-748-7900 or email sales@otekcorp.com

Raytheon Awarded $60.4 Million in DOD Contract

U.S. Department of Defense contractor, Raytheon Technologies Corp., has been awarded a $60.4 million-dollar federal contract for the development of a surface to air weapon system, in conjunction with the German manufacturer Diehl Defense GmbH. Work is expected to begin this year in Tucson, Arizona and will be completed by the end of 2021. The agreement signed by both the U.S. and Germany provides for joint design, production, upgrades and distribution, including select software additions that would allow the weapons system to effectively target alternative aircraft such as helicopters.

The scope of the project calls for engineering support to the MK-31 RAM guided missile weapons system, which involves negotiating bugs through software-based logistics and design components. The MK-31 system is designed to intercept incoming projectile weapons such as enemy cruise missiles, using infrared-driven homing surface to air missiles that can be launched from American naval ships, including aircraft carriers and other amphibious assault ships.

The project calls for 1,600 missiles and 115 of the platform launchers that project them, which will be another major contribution to Raytheon’s already robust year that includes a $738 billion dollar contract under the National Defense Authorization Act, following the company’s merger with United Technologies earlier this May.

OTEK has been a long-time supplier to the U.S. military, and especially to Raytheon in particular, proudly continuing a partnership of faithful service for over 15 years. Our APM model is a leading instrument among the Naval and Aerospace programs, providing accurate and reliable readings that also feature NVG friendly green LEDs for nighttime applications.

For more information please call 520-748-7900 or email sales@otekcorp.com

New U.S. Hybrid Fuel Could Galvanize Nuclear Industry

As the number of global nuclear reactors has declined to a 30-year low, advocates for nuclear energy say the industry is in dire need of innovation to keep its preeminence in the world’s energy future secure. Design advancements such as small modular reactors have been suggested, and in fact are being implemented in the United States, but a more innovative breakthrough may come from an unexpected source—the nuclear fuel itself.

Scientists and researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory, the United States’ Department of Energy-financed think tank, recently completed work on a brand new type of nuclear fuel that could potentially alter the industrial landscape. Part thorium, part uranium, and largely secret, this new hybrid fuel (code named ANEEL, or Advanced Nuclear Energy for Enriched Life) has an extremely high burn-up rate, which is desirable as it means the fuel remains in the reactor longer and yields a higher amount of energy than traditional uranium-based fuel. ANEEL projects to release up to 80% less byproduct waste than traditional fuels, and is also said to be difficult to weaponize. The presence of thorium in ANEEL also means it can be sourced more abundantly from nature, as thorium is nearly twice as plentiful on earth as uranium.

With climate change directing global thinking towards clean energy, the demand for nuclear has shrunk considerably—despite nuclear being the cleanest form of energy available to man. As of July 2020, 408 reactors were operating in 31 countries—a loss of about 9 units from the previous year’s number. This renders the average global age of nuclear reactors to approximately 31 years old.

OTEK’s technology is specifically geared to help older plants such as these continue their productivity, and in some cases enhance it, as they continue to age. While DAS and flat-screen technology has risen in demand recently, these types of Instrument & Control room modernization do not make economical sense for plants thirty years and older. With OTEK’s plug and play instrumentation, older plants can simply upgrade unit by unit or all at once in a planned outage, avoiding the lengthy and expensive shutdowns required for DAS and flat-screen implementation.

While we may not be producing the fuel that could save the nuclear industry, you can be sure we’ll be there monitoring it, with innovative instrumentation that measures up.

For more information please call 520-748-7900 or email sales@otekcorp.com

U.S. Nuclear Industry Receives a Boost from Small Modular Reactors

The U.S. nuclear industry’s future just got a little brighter. Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) just green-lit Phase 6 of the Design Certification Application (DCA) for the first ever Small Modular Reactor (SMR) in the United States. Following on the heels of Xcel Energy’s similar project in Canada, the move signals a shift in America’s view of nuclear energy as a viable and innovative means of energy production going forward. The move also highlights a growing trend in the U.S. nuclear fleet—that of privatization.

The approval was granted to NuScale Power, a privately held design company headquartered in Oregon, which signifies the completion of the DCA. This opens the market for customers to begin purchasing design plans for the company’s SMRs, with the first official reactor set to be completed by 2029 in eastern Idaho. “This is a significant milestone not only for NuScale, but also for the entire U.S. nuclear sector and the other advanced nuclear technologies that will follow,” said NuScale CEO John Hopkins, “This clearly establishes the leadership of NuScale and the U.S. in the race to bring SMRs to market. This is what DOE’s SMR Program was created to do, and our success is credited to strong bipartisan support from Congress.”

The importance of this announcement is twofold. On one hand it ushers in the era of SMRs, which represents mobility of production and speed of construction previously unheard of in the industry—because of their small size, most SMRs can be built off-site and moved or shipped to their intended location, which means they can be available relatively quickly at places where they’re needed the most. In addition, the simplicity of their design yields easier to replicate models and the ability to accelerate the licensing application process which often hamstrings their more traditional, aging predecessors.

On the other hand, the fact that this was developed by a private company means that the age of cumbersome research, NRC approvals, safety evaluations that hallmark the federal government’s plodding approach to regulating nuclear facilities, may well be over. In fact, the government itself seems to be in favor of turning research and development of nuclear technology over to the private sector, with small investment policies passed recently such as the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act. This creates a competitive, innovative market for emerging nuclear technologies such as SMRs to flourish in the 21st century.

As an industry leader in technological innovation and a dedicated Plug & Play supplier to the nuclear industry, OTEK looks forward to the new future SMRs have opened within the American nuclear fleet.

For more information please call (520) 748-7900 or email sales@otekcorp.com