Focus on COP26
- What’s Up for Nuclear Energy at COP26?
- EU Nations Divided in Support of Nuclear Energy
- Lobbying Underway to Water Down the IPCC Report
- UK Net Zero Strategy Includes Large-Scale Nuclear
- A Role for SMRs in the UK; Rolls-Royce to the Rescue??
- UKAEA Shortlists Five Sites for STEP Fusion Plant
- France Offers €30 billion in Initiatives on Nuclear Energy
- Japan / Nuclear Reactor Restarts Key To Meeting Climate Targets
Other Nuclear News – SMRs
- GEH, BWXT team up to support BWRX-300
- Terrestrial Energy And Cameco Sign MOU for SMRs
- X-energy and Kinectrics Sign MOU to Support Helius Clean Energy Innovation Center
Note to Readers: Due to some rapidly changing events, this blog post has been updated as of 10/24/21.
Focus on COP 26:
What’s Up for Nuclear Energy at COP26?
The UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow for two weeks starting October 30th. The COP26 summit will bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Andy D. Paterson, a Washington, D.C., based policy & politics expert at Environmental Business International (EBI), wrote in an email to subscribers recently that this is not a “normal COP.” He said that coming five years since the Paris “it will ask for emboldened commitment.” It is a tall order for parties attending the meeting many of whom have radically different ideas about climate change. How will nuclear energy fit in it?
Paterson points his readers to the World Resources Institute website which lays out four key topics and ten solutions that climate negotiators must address during the meeting. Also, The World Nuclear Association has a suite of special web pages on nuclear energy and COP26 which are excellent references to dive deeper into the issue.
Investing in Climate Change
A key area,, among others, will be financing climate action. Money will come in two forms (1) financing from “donor” nations and international banks and (2) private investment driven in part by the growing trend towards sustainable development and “ESG” (environmental, social, governance) investors. Ahead of the money will be policy commitments to specific decarbonization technologies including nuclear energy.
One of the major concerns that will be discussed at COP26 is whether on a global basis there is enough political will and money to address climate change, by any means, at the same rate at which the world is warming up. Advocates for using nuclear energy as a means to achieving decarbonization of the electrical utility industry, argue that the world is falling behind and may fall behind further if quicker action isn’t one of the outcomes of COP26.
One of the key problems is that many countries have huge investments in fossil fuel power plants, and cannot quickly transition to nuclear energy nor replace fossil fueled baseload power with renewables.
They either do not have the capital to pay for new nuclear power plants or lack the political will to make a decade long commitment to build full size new ones or both. As no one has yet built a small modular reactor (SMR) on time and within budget, the risk of committing to this technology slows down the decision process to proceed with these more affordable designs.
Getting to Net Zero
In a new IAEA ‘Report on Nuclear Energy for a Net Zero World’ issued ahead of the COP26 climate summit, the IAEA highlights nuclear power’s critical role in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development by the following actions.
- displacing coal and other fossil fuels,
- enabling the further deployment of renewable energy and
- becoming an economical source for large amounts of clean hydrogen.
John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate for the US, said in his statement for the IAEA report, “The task ahead of us — limiting global average temperature rise to 1.5°C and achieving net zero emissions by 2050 — is a formidable challenge and an immense economic opportunity.”
“The global clean energy transition will require deploying, at massive scale, the full range of clean energy technologies, including nuclear energy, over the next decade and beyond.”
Russia and China Go Their Own Way
Despite being significantly committed to the use of nuclear energy, neither Russia nor China are planning to have their heads of state attend COP26. Both countries have pushed back in various ways on engagement with the conference. Their energy policies reflect a strong focus on self-interest and continued use of their fossil fuel resources.
In Russia’s case it continues to use control of natural gas supplies for export as a means of geopolitical influence in Europe which is facing predictions of a severe winter and limited gas supplies.
China continues to develop its domestic coal resources, and will do so for the next four decades, despite a major commitment of adding full size nuclear reactors to its nuclear fleet. However, China says it has stopped building new coal fired power plants for export as part of its Belt & Road initiative,
According to the World Nuclear Association, China has become largely self-sufficient in reactor design and construction, as well as other aspects of the fuel cycle, but it is making full use of western technology while adapting and improving it. China built and commissioned four Westinghouse AP1000 PWRs and then leveraged that experience to deploy a 1400 MWe domestic version. Also, relative to the rest of the world, a major strength is the nuclear supply chain.
Except for a single (Hualong One) 1000 MWe PWR being built in Pakistan, China has not booked any other nuclear export deals. Its prospects for exports to the UK are in question and a revised effort to negotiate a deal with Argentina is yet to be completed. Discussions with Turkey for a project on the western coast of the Black Sea have been ongoing for the past five years without a timeline for closing a deal in sight.
Russia’s nuclear reactors export policy has been driven by favorable financial terms offering nations buying their 1200 MWe VVERs between 50% (Turkey, Finland) and 80% (Egypt, Bangladesh) of the costs. India has commissioned two 1000 MWe VVER at Kundakulam, is building two more, and has units 5 & 6 in the planning stage for the same site.
Where is the US?
The US presence at COP26 will be led by the State Department with support by the Department of Energy. Unlike some other nations (UK, France, Japan), the US has not (yet) issued any statements about newly energized commitments to nuclear energy. A statement on “global partnerships” issued by DOE last April doesn’t mention nuclear energy. Efforts by the Biden administration to get a climate change legislative package passed by Congress have been in disarray due to opposition by several key Democratic party senators including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) who reportedly made over $5M in income from investments in coal mining last year.
The closest thing to DOE’s international presence regarding nuclear energy is that DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm and IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi met in Vienna in September during the agency’s 65th General Conference, to launch preparations for the next IAEA International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century, slated for October 26–28, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
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Focus on COP 26:
EU Nations Divided in Support of Nuclear Energy
There are different stories among western nations especially in Europe. According to the French 24 wire service, France, Czech Republic and others are pushing for nuclear energy in the EU’s green investment rules. Germany and Austria are pushing back.
The European Commission is expected to make a decision on whether the climate taxonomy will label nuclear energy and natural gas as green investments. It is deeply divided on the subject and missed a major opportunity to commit to nuclear energy ahead of COP26 by postponing its decision to December or later. In terms of achieving progress to address climate change, the so-called “green movement” in western Europe appears to be its own worst enemy.
The first-of-its-kind “green investment” regulation would drive private capital out away from polluting economic activities, like new coal-fired and gas powered plants, and into those the EU deems environmentally friendly including solar, wind, and nuclear. The European Union’s inability to come to a consensus on this effort is a blot on its credibility.
“To win the climate battle, we need nuclear power,” said a recent statement from the pro-nuclear EU countries, which was also signed by representatives of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, and Slovenia. These countries are pushing for nuclear energy to be included as a means of achieving climate goals. (Full text)
“All scientific assessments requested by the European Commission on the environmental impacts of nuclear energy come to the same conclusion: there is no science-based evidence that nuclear power is less climate-friendly than any of the energy sources included in the taxonomy. It is, for us all, a crucial and reliable asset for a low-carbon future.”
These countries, led by France, said rising energy prices, especially for Russian gas, show the importance of cutting dependence on third countries as soon as possible.
Among other things, the statement says, “If Europe is to win the climate war, it needs the nuclear energy. It is a vital and reliable resource for all to secure a low-carbon future.”
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Focus on COP 26:
Lobbying Underway to Water Down the IPCC Report
Not everyone is so ambitious on behalf of nuclear energy. According to a report by the BBC, a document leak reveals several nations are lobbying to change a key IPCC climate report by watering down its recommendations.
A huge leak of documents seen by BBC News shows how some countries are trying to change a crucial scientific report on ways to tackle climate change. The leak reveals Saudi Arabia, Australia, and India are among countries asking the UN to play down the need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels. It also shows some wealthy nations are questioning paying more to poorer states to move to greener technologies. The push by third world countries for more commitments from donor nations needs to be accompanied by governance measures that reduce the risk of foreign direct investment in climate related projects like wind, solar, and nuclear. Donor financing will never be enough to meet their needs.
The leak reveals which countries are pushing back on UN recommendations for action and comes just days before they will be asked at the COOP26 summit to make significant commitments to slow down climate change and keep global warming to 1.5 degrees. These countries argue that the world does not need to reduce the use of fossil fuels as quickly as the current draft of the IPCC report recommends. It follows that their financial commitments to climate change decarbonization will be scaled to these policies.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, requests the UN scientists delete their conclusion that “the focus of decarbonization efforts in the energy systems sector needs to be on rapidly shifting to zero-carbon sources and actively phasing out fossil fuels.”
A document in the leak, which is actually a “comment” submitted to the IPCC report, reveals that an adviser to the Saudi oil ministry demands, “phrases like ‘the need for urgent and accelerated mitigation actions at all scales…’ should be eliminated from the report.”
A senior Australian government official rejects the conclusion that closing coal-fired power plants is necessary, even though ending the use of coal is one of the stated objectives the COP26 conference. Australia asks IPCC scientists to delete a reference to analysis of the role played by fossil fuel lobbyists in watering down action on climate in Australia and the US. In other words, the lobbying effort has been called out and now those state actors so identified want to change the narrative. Australia’s leading politicians remain staunchly in support of the country’s coal exports and its use for domestic electric power and hard over against nuclear energy including SMRs. Sadly for these countries, the pace of climate change doesn’t care about the narrative in the IPCC report.
A senior scientist from India’s Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research, which has strong links to the Indian government, warns coal is likely to remain the mainstay of energy production for decades because of what they describe as the “tremendous challenges” of providing affordable electricity. India is already the world’s second biggest consumer of coal globally and its state-owned, contractor operated, coal mining operations wield significant influence with the government. That said India has recently committed to building a fleet of ten 700 MWe PHWRs using an all domestic supply chain relying on India’s heavy industry firms.
What Me Worry? IPCC Deflects the Lobbying Label.
In a statement to the BBC, the IPCC denied that these lobbying efforts would have any effect on its recommendations.
“Our processes are designed to guard against lobbying from all quarters”, the IPCC told the BBC. “The review process is (and always has been) absolutely fundamental to the IPCC’s work and is a major source of the strength and credibility of our reports.”
In one positive note, the BBC report indicates that the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia criticized a table in the IPCC report which finds nuclear power only has a positive role in delivering one of 17 UN Sustainable Development goals. They argue it can play a positive role in delivering most of the UN’s development agenda.
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Focus on COP 26:
UK Net Zero Strategy Includes Large-Scale Nuclear
(NucNet) The UK will secure a final investment decision, worth $20-25 billion, on the Sizewell C nuclear plant ( 1600 MWe reactors) by 2024 and launch a new £120 million ‘Future Nuclear Enabling Fund’ with options for new nuclear technologies including small modular reactors (SMRs).
In a net zero strategy the government said the new fund will provide targeted support for the development and deployment of new reactor technologies. Details of the fund will be announced in 2022, along with a roadmap for deployment.
The government has already committed £385 million to an advanced nuclear fund with £215 million of that for SMRs. It has allocated the remaining £170 million for an R&D program on advanced reactors which could reach the commercial stage in the 2030s. Critics of the plan say that while the funding commitments are on the scale of hundreds of millions, the actual need for financing Sizewell C and other sites (Moorside, Wylfa, Oldbury, and Bradwell) would be $50-80 billion over a 10-15 year period or about $5-7 billion a year for the ten year scenario
The strategy confirms that the UK will create a new financing model for nuclear projects. This is a reference to the regulated asset base (RAB) model, which encourages investment in major infrastructure projects by delivering reliable returns, at a reduced rate, before a plant is operational. Legislation on RAB funding is due to progress through parliament in the coming weeks. The UK government has been dithering about it for several years and is now finally moving ahead to implement via legislation rather than executive action.
The nuclear industry welcomed the net zero strategy, saying it was pleased to see the government commit new money to the development of nuclear projects and to set out its intention to bring Sizewell C to a final investment decision.
Tom Greatrex chief executive of the London-based Nuclear Industry Association, said: “We need to invest quickly to clean up the grid by 2035 and ensure our energy security, so we look forward to seeing details of this new fund, money for SMR deployment and legislation for regulated asset base financing coming forward soon.”
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Focus on COP 26:
A Role for SMRs in the UK? Rolls-Royce to the Rescue?
The Financial Times, London, reported on 10/20/21 that SMRs will have a “key role” in the UK effort to hit climate targets. One of the major selling points of SMRs is that they promises significant cost savings compared to traditional large-scale reactors. Rolls-Royce, a British engineering firm that leads an SMR consortium, estimates that the first five of a fleet of up to 16 of its 470 MWe SMR reactors that it hopes to build will cost £2.2 billion each and subsequent units will cost £1.8 billion. These estimates assume that a factory can be built to fabricate the reactors on a mass production basis rather than “stick building” them one at a time. The firm doesn’t expect to stop at 16 as it is already marketing the mid-range reactor for export to Poland and other countries.
Rolls-Royce has been not revealed much about its effort to raise SMR funds from private investors, but said consortium director Tom Samson says he is in talks with “many investors and developers interested in deploying technology.”
The firm said that what amounts to seed money given the scope of its ambitions of £215 million will be granted by the UK government to the firm to get the fleet effort off the ground.
A spokesperson for the firm told the newspaper that it is seeking private matching funding so that SMR reactor designs can be submitted to to the Office of Nuclear Regulation generic design assessment (GDA) process by the end of the year. It takes about four to five years to complete the process which means the target date for breaking ground for a first of a kind unit is probably not sooner than 2027. If the GDA is delayed, or if enough investors aren’t committed soon enough, it could be the early 2030s before the first of a kind plant is commissioned.
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Focus on COP26:
UKAEA Shortlists Five Sites for STEP Fusion Plant
The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) announced that five sites had been shortlisted for the UK’s Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) fusion energy plant. A final decision on the plant’s location will be made by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy around the end of 2022. STEP is a government-backed program to build a prototype fusion energy plant in the UK. The STEP plant aims to generate net electricity as well as demonstrating how the plant will be maintained and how it will produce its own fuel.
Originally, 15 sites were selected following an open call for sites between December 2020 and March 2021. Five have been shortlisted following an initial phase of assessment. These are:
- Ardeer (North Ayrshire)
- Goole (East Riding of Yorkshire)
- Moorside (Cumbria)
- Ratcliffe-on-Soar (Nottinghamshire)
- Severn Edge (South Gloucestershire & Gloucestershire)
STEP will pave the way to the commercialization of fusion and the potential development of a fleet of future plants to be exported around the world. The aim for the first phase of work on STEP is to produce a ‘concept design’ by 2024.
The next phase of work will include detailed engineering design, while all relevant permissions and consents to build the prototype are sought. The final phase is construction, with operations targeted to begin around 2040. The aim is to have a fully evolved design and final approval to build by 2032, enabling construction to begin by then. As a practical matter, if fusion can be made to work on a commercial scale by 2040, its major impact on decarbonization will be in the second half of this century.
In addition to its initial £222 million commitment to STEP, the government has already invested £184 million for new fusion facilities, infrastructure and apprenticeships at Culham Science Centre near Oxford and at Rotherham, South Yorkshire. Earlier this year the government published a green paper on the future of fusion energy regulation and a separate Fusion Strategy.
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Focus on COP 26:
France Offers €30 billion for New Nuclear Initiatives
French President Emmanuel Macron announced a shift to small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) as he unveiled his €30 billion, five-year strategy, to boost France’s high-tech sectors. Analysts hail the technology as “promising,” especially in the face of Chinese competition. About €1 billion is allocated in the plan for development of SMRs. This is five times the amount committed by the UK.
Macron announced that the “number one priority” for his industrial strategy is for France to develop “innovative small-scale nuclear reactors” by 2030. The focus is on PWR technology designs. France has been late to the table in terms of developing SMRs and, despite rebooting a previously stalled effort in 2017, has not caught up to the U.S., the U.K. or Canada in this regard. It could take until the 2030s before France has an SMR design ready for domestic commercial use and export.
Switching to small modular reactors is a strategic pivot to allow France to deal with competition from countries like China, which has increasingly big ambitions when it comes to nuclear power. It’s export offer centers on a 1000 MWe PWR plant. China’s SMR effort has been devoted to supplying electricity to military bases on islands in the South China Sea. So far it hasn’t positioned its 100 MWe PWR for export, but it does have export ambitions for a 230 MWe HTGR which is being developed in Shandong Province. China plans to build as many as 20 of them for domestic use.
Separately, French President Emmanuel Macron wants to announce before Christmas plans for the construction of six new nuclear (1600 MWe) EPR reactors in France according to Le Figaro. Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said France could decide to build the six new EPR reactors even before Flamanville is fully operational. Flamanville has suffered a decade of delays and huge cost overruns, and ministers decline to say when it will go online. An EPR under construction in Finland still isn’t commissioned despite more than a decade of effort. The cost and schedule overruns at that project probably contributed to the UAE not selecting the EPR for its nuclear energy program instead building four South Korean 1400 MWe PWRs.
Focus on COP 26:
Japan / Nuclear Reactor Restarts Key To Meet Climate Targets
(NucNet) A government taskforce will speed up efforts to restart nuclear plants that have been offline since Fukushima in 2011. Japan has adopted a new energy policy that promotes nuclear and renewables as sources of clean energy to achieve the country’s pledge of reaching carbon neutrality in 2050.
The new basic energy plan keeps the target for nuclear power unchanged at 20-22% and says reactor restarts for the current fleet are key to meeting emissions targets. The plan, compiled by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), says Japan should set ambitious targets for hydrogen and ammonia energy, carbon recycling and nuclear energy.
The changes in the plan are meant to achieve the carbon emissions reduction target announced in April by former prime minister Yoshihide Suga. His successor, Fumio Kishida, who has backed nuclear plant restarts and SMRs, took office this month. There is no mention of SMRs in the new energy policy.
The plan does not mention the possibility of new reactors, despite calls for new-build from some industry officials and a number of lawmakers. It will complete the Oma nuclear plant which was already started when the tidal wave and earthquake destroyed the reactors at the Fukushima site. The reactor, which is expected to be completed sometime after 2025, will exclusively burn MOX fuel.
Japan is pursuing research and development of small modular reactors but it does not have a viable path to building SMRs at this time. A joint R&D effort with Poland to develop an HTGR SMR got underway in 2020. The idea is to position to design to replace coal fired boilers while taking advantage of other existing infrastructure like switch yards, turbines, etc.
Japan has pledged to reduce its CO2 emissions by 46% from 2013 levels, up from an earlier target reduction of 26%, to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Japan says it would try to push the reduction as high as 50% to be in line with the European Union’s commitment.
In June, the Mihama-3 nuclear power unit in Fukui prefecture, western Japan, was restarted, becoming the 10th plant out of a possible 33 to return to service in Japan since Fukushima-Daiichi. The other units that have returned to service are Sendai-1 and -2, Genkai-3 and -4, Ikata-3, Ohi-3 and -4 and Takahama-3 and -4. Interestingly, several of these plants are configured to burn MOX fuel.
Other Nuclear News – SMRs
GEH, BWXT team up to support BWRX-300 deployment
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and BWXT Canada have entered into an agreement to cooperate on engineering and procurement to support the design, manufacturing and commercialization of the BWRX-300 small modular reactor (SMR). The BWRX-300 is one of three SMR designs under consideration for deployment at Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG’s) Darlington site.
“Through the agreement, if the BWRX-300 is selected for deployment at Ontario Power Generation’s Darlington Nuclear Generation Station, BWXT Canada could provide detailed engineering and design for manufacturability for BWRX-300 equipment and components and ultimately could supply certain key reactor components for the deployment of the BWRX-300 in Canada,” GEH said.
The BWRX-300 is a 300 MWe water-cooled, natural circulation SMR with passive safety systems that leverages the design and licensing basis of GEH’s 1500 MWE ESBWR boiling water reactor, which has been certified by the NRC. It is currently undergoing a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission pre-licensing Vendor Design Review (VDR).
Ontario Power Generation(OPG) last year announced it was resuming planning activities for additional nuclear power generation via an SMR at its Darlington New Nuclear site. It is the only site in Canada licensed for new nuclear with a completed environmental assessment. the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission announced its decision on 10/13 to renew the existing Site Preparation License for the project.
GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 is one of three SMR designs under consideration for deployment at Darlington. The others are Terrestrial Energy’s Integrated Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) and X-energy’s Xe-100 high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR).
Terrestrial Energy And Cameco Sign MOU for SMRs
(NucNet) SMR developer Terrestrial Energy and uranium company Cameco have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to examine potential partnership opportunities to deploy Terrestrial Energy’s integrated molten salt reactor (IMSR) Generation IV nuclear power plants in North America, and worldwide, and to evaluate possible opportunities for the supply of uranium, fuel and other services.
The two Canadian companies said in a joint statement that they are investigating the potential of Cameco’s Port Hope uranium conversion facility in southern Ontario for IMSR fuel salt supply.
Cameco is a provider of uranium, refining, conversion, fuel fabrication and component manufacturing services for the global nuclear energy industry. The company is one of the world’s largest producers of uranium fuel for nuclear power generation, including supplying fuel and fuel assemblies for CANDU reactors in Canada and abroad.
The IMSR uses nuclear fuel at standard enrichment, e.g., >5% U235. It is the only Generation IV SMR power plant designed to do this today. This design avoids the considerable cost and time of re-licensing uranium enrichment plants and removes hurdles to commercialization. Given the nuclear industry’s concerns about getting adequate supplies of HALEU fuel, at 5-19% U235, this may be a considerable competitive advantage in the short-term.
In August, Terrestrial Energy signed an agreement with Westinghouse and the UK National Nuclear Laboratory to advance the industrial scaleup and commercial supply of enriched uranium fuel.
X-energy and Kinectrics Sign MOU to Support Helius Clean Energy Innovation Center
Envisioned as a collaborative research hub bringing together clean energy technology developers, academia, industry and other key stakeholders, the Helius R&D hub will support thermal hydraulic testing; materials testing and qualification; component functional or performance testing; and other related activities.
The world-class facility will also house equipment enabling research and development and will come with extensive capabilities to demonstrate proof of concept for SMR viability in non-electrical market applications. This kind of commitments is intended to speed up time to market for the firm. It also is a signal that the firm is not making plans to use US an Canadian national laboratory testing facilities which have limited capacity.
“Helius will provide critical infrastructure for our plans to net-zero,” said Katherine Moshonas Cole, President of X-energy Canada. Most recently, Katherine served as X-energy’s Canada Country Manager before joining Kinectrics.
“As well as testing our Xe-100’s systems and components in helium and high-temperature environments, the facility will also enable us to demonstrate the use of our reactor’s high temperature steam for hydrogen production and direct industrial uses. These capabilities are integral to Canada’s transition to a clean energy future.”
Kinectrics is the supplier for execution of X-energy’s test program. X-energy and Kinectrics recently signed a collaboration agreement to advance the design and deployment of the Xe-100 SMR in Canada, the United States and worldwide. Kinectrics has been instrumental to X-energy’s progress in the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC) Pre-Licensing Vendor Design Review (VDR).
The MOU builds on this partnership, advancing efforts to establish the infrastructure required to develop, test and commercialize clean energy technologies, such as the Xe-100.
The Xe-100 is the catalyst to the world’s net-zero future. The Generation IV advanced reactor design builds on decades of HTGR operation, research, and development. It is designed to operate as a standard 320 MWe four-pack power plant or be scaled in units of 80 MWe, as needed. At 200 MWt of 565°C steam, the firm says the Xe-100 is also ideal for heavy industry, mining, petrochemical and other power applications.
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