UPDATED – A Reader on Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Energy Plans

reporter2The Neutron Bytes Reader on Saudi Arabia’s plans for building commercial nuclear reactors has been updated today based on breaking news by AXIOS.

U.S. firms are pushing the Trump White House for a 123 Agreement with KSA and for support for exports of nuclear technologies generally.

A bipartisan effort in the House and Senate may block it over anger directed at the refusal of the White House to address the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last October. KSA Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is believed by US and Turkish intelligence reports to have personally ordered the killing of Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in October.

The ‘Reader’ is composed of seven easy to read pieces, no technical background required, that explain why the current mass media narrative about KSA and nuclear energy misses a few crucial facts.  Coverage on this blog about KSA’s nuclear energy plans began in 2014.

Since then a lot has happened, but one thing that has emerged is that KSA’s ambitious plans for commercial nuclear reactors or a weapons related enrichment program may not come to pass, regardless of politics,  as long as the price of oil stays low.

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Why are so many firms investing in new uranium fuel projects?

With so many nuclear reactor plants closing, the question is, where’s the market?

nuclear fuel cycle

Is the nuclear fuel cycle an attractive market for investors?

Consider the following news items. This week alone there have been three major developments in this area. As will be discussed below, these firms are placing financial bets on uranium fuels, but their perspectives are more on global markets than the U.S.

The Associated Press reports that the Trump administration is reportedly considering an import quota that would require U.S. uranium mining firms to provide a quarter of the domestic market.

The Commerce Department began exploring the idea last year, citing national security concerns. However, critics of the proposal point out that much of the country’s uranium is supplied by close U.S. allies: Canada and Australia. The Nuclear Energy Institute warns that a 25 percent quota on domestic uranium would send prices soaring and force nuclear even more plants offline.

World Nuclear News reports Urenco USA has announced a new program covering the production of high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU), and is considering the construction of a dedicated HALEU unit at its US uranium enrichment facility. HALEU will be required to fuel many advanced reactor designs currently under development, including the U-Battery micro small modular reactor concept which was initiated in 2008 by Urenco. It is being developed by the UK’s Universities of Manchester Dalton Institute and the Technology University of Delft in the Netherlands. The single-unit gas-cooled reactor design has an output of 4MWe (10MWt) and uses TRISO (tristructural isotropic) fuel.

According to a press statement, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) has allocated $111.2 million to three industry entities with the overarching goal of developing Accident Tolerant Fuels (ATF).

General Electric (GE), Westinghouse (WEC) and Framatome received the funding allotment in late 2018 with FY18 and FY19 funding. The performance period goes through Jan. 31, 2021, with DOE and NE planning additional funding of $55.6 million in FY20 and $30 million in FY21.

World Nuclear News reports Australian technology company Silex Systems Limited and Canadian company Cameco Corporation have signed a term sheet on their proposed joint purchase of GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s (GEH) share of GLE, the exclusive licensee for SILEX laser uranium enrichment technology. Laser enrichment technologies – which can be atomic or molecular – potentially offer lower energy inputs, lower capital costs and lower tails assays, and hence significant economic advantages over current commercial centrifuge enrichment technology. Despite low prices for enriched uranium, Silex says it will pursue a “reduced but focused” commercialisation effort will continue at the Wilmington test loop facility, together with a parallel effort continuing at Silex’s facility at Lucas Heights in Sydney.

Uranium Projects are Going Up, but U.S. Reactors are Shutting Down

closed plants

U.S. nuclear reactors that have closed or which will close in next few years

Think tanks who follow the the industry point out that the U.S. is slowly but surely degrading its nuclear reactor fleet. An inability to compete with the low price of natural gas is a one of the key reasons. Several plans have closed due to mechanical issues, and the rest are being pushed to close or are closed because of state government policies. Here’s the list

It is painful to even mention the incompetence that led to the cancellation of the V C Summer project in South Carolina. The result is a loss for the U.S. supply chain firms, the people who worked for them, and the people who are working for the closed or closing plants who may not be able to find jobs in the industry at the remaining plants.

The problem is that most of the U.S. fleet is older, more prone to having costly maintenance issues, and all of them face daunting public perceptions that aren’t supportive of new investments in nuclear energy.

The so-called Green New Deal, co-chaired by anti-nuclear arch druid Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), is hardly a bright light toward the industry’s future. The problem for the backers of the initiative is that the text of the “deal” seems to be fluid. It started with a pledge to close all nuclear plants within a decade and later morphed into a statement of inclusion that referred to in the same context as other CO2 emission free energy sources. Bear in mind the “deal” is more of a manifesto than a policy and only future congressional action will determine how its principles are translated into funding for energy projects.

The Future of Market Growth for Nuclear Fuel is Global

With all of the grim news about nuclear energy, why are the investments in HALEU and other forms of uranium fuel for nuclear reactors taking place. There can be only one conclusion about these investments in uranium fuels. It comes in several parts.

  • First, producers of nuclear fuel for nuclear reactors can assume the U.S. market, as a share of their revenue, is going down.
  • Second, nations like France, UK, India, China, and South Korea, as well as Spain, see nuclear energy as a key to energy security which means their markets for uranium fuels are stable or going up.
  • Third, China is expected to be the big winner in Trump’s ill-advised plan for quotas on U.s. uranium imports. It will make uranium cheaper for the rest of the global nuclear industry.
  • Fourth, these nations plan for it at the highest levels of their governments along with other key elements of maintaining national sovereignty.

U.S. Policy Makers Still Have Their Heads in the Sand

What does the U.S. do? It has placed people who deny the science of climate change in key elected and appointed positions in the government. Congress has authorized the Department of Energy to hand out peanuts, compared to what’s needed financially, to jump start the next generation of small modular reactors and advanced fast reactors.

When Bill Gates came to DC offering to match his billions to an equal stake from the government, the most polite way to describe the response is “don’t let the screen door hit you on the way back home.” Gates, who was investing his own money in TerraPower’s collaboration with Chinese state owned enterprises, got the door slammed in his face by Trump’s ill-advised trade war with China.

Future of Nuclear Energy is Tied to Sovereign Stability

Among European nations, France now understands that to replace its nuclear fleet in the 2030s it must keep its supply chain alive in 2020s. In eastern Europe efforts are underway to start new nuclear reactor projects in Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria. What these nations need are two things – first and foremost, they need financing mechanisms that can handle the risk of multi-billion projects. Second, they need a European grid that will allow for regional compacts to wheel electricity across national borders.

It should be mentioned that among these countries in eastern Europe, none of them have been able, from a government perspective, to come up with rate guarantees, and a viable long-term promise of political stability, that would bring nuclear vendors to the table.

For smaller nations, a two-reactor, $10 billion project, is just too big a problem to knock down to size. It may be that an entirely new approach, based on less expensive small modular reactors (SMRs) will be the answer to their energy needs.

It follows that the success of nuclear energy depends as much on political, institutional, and financial change as it does on technological excellence. Maybe the people investing in these uranium projects know something about that. Investors at this level of financial commitments don’t make decisions to proceed on whims. Will SMRs be in the mix?

Comments are welcome and will be kept open for two weeks from today or Feb 24th.

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The Climate Crisis & Nuclear Energy – Video of a U.S. Senate Hearing

THE CLIMATE CRISIS Status Report and Looking Forward:
Could Next-Generation Nuclear Be an Important Part of the Solution?

An educational event for members of Congress, congressional staff, and interested members of the public.

In the video the panel addresses the rapidly shrinking carbon budget, the growing demand for energy, and new approaches–such as using molten salt reactors and recycling nuclear waste–that make generating nuclear power safer and cheaper than the 20th century’s nuclear reactor designs.

HONORARY HOSTS
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

PANEL EXPERTS
Dr. Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, M.I.T.
Dr. Karl Hausker, Senior Climate Fellow, World Resources Institute
David Schumacher, Director of The New Fire
Caroline Cochran, COO and Co-founder, Oklo
Chris Levesque, President & CEO, TerraPower

Introduction by Adam Zipkin, Counsel, Office of Senator Cory Booker
Facilitated by Dr. Ashley Finan, Executive Director, Nuclear Innovation Alliance

Watch The New Fire: vimeo.com/ondemand/thenewfire

For more information on advanced nuclear: newfiremovie.com/newtechnology

Capitol Hill Briefing on Climate and Next-Generation Nuclear from The New Fire on Vimeo.

See also Report – Overview on Advanced Nuclear Energy by the Clean Air Task Force.

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Investing in New Nuclear Reactors Turns Out to Be Really Important in France, UK, China, Japan, and South Korea

  • turnaroundThese nations were on a kind of glide path to failure to maintain or renew their respective fleets of nuclear reactors. 
  • The reality of keeping the lights on, and factories humming, and exports flowing, have opened the eyes of even some of the most “green” of politicians.

Update Feb 6, 2019: Spanish Government moves the goal posts – extends Life of nation’s nuclear fleet to 2036.
Update Feb 10, 2019: Belgium Govenment says a complete phaseout of nuclear power by 2025 is not realistic, Belgium’s interior minister Pieter De Crem said on Feb 10th.

After watching Germany’s self-destructive decision to close half of its nuclear energy fleet, shift to Russian natural gas, and re-open the dirtiest types of coal mines (lignite), other nations are starting to have second thoughts about giving up their nuclear reactors as well.

Here are a few highlights and some detailed reports for each of these countries that are now having second thoughts about giving up on nuclear energy. They are taking action to preserve their fleets and even expand them.

France

France is walking back the decision by a previous prime minister to slash the fleet in half. Instead, it will close older reactors as they reach the end of their service lives. Despite the promises of Green Party politicians for more a more aggressive schedule, only the Fessenheim nuclear station, built in 1978, is actually scheduled to close by 2020.

The government also said it would preserve an option to build new 1650 MW EPRs after 2021, which is well before the first round of 14 closures of smaller, older reactors, takes place in 2035.

Also, the new plan is less aggressive than what would be in a schedule the country might adopt if it set a deadline for closing plants, without regard to condition, at the 40 year mark. Here’s a scorecard.

  • 32 reactors with power ratings on average of 900 MW reach the 40 year mark in a narrow range of 2023-2028.
  • 20 reactors with power rating on average of 1300 MW reach the 40 year mark in a 10 year range of 2029-2040
  • 2 reactors with power ratings of 1450 MW reach the 40 year mark in 2040.

The problem for France, which is not yet not addressed, is how it it will replace its fleet with a combination of new nuclear reactors, gas, and renewables, and how it will upgrade its grid to accommodate the new mix of power sources. France produces more nuclear energy than any other country, getting about 71% of its electricity from its fleet of reactors at 19 nuclear stations.

England

The UK government, deeply distracted by its Brexit breakup with the European Union, has suddenly realized that its grand plan to build 19 GWe of new nuclear power is on the rocks.  The Moorside (Toshiba) and Wylfa (Hitachi) projects have turned turtle over differences between the vendors and the government as to costs and financing methods.

However, after a December decision to shut down Wylfa, Hitachi is now saying it is willing to come back to the negotiation table with the UK government. For its part, the UK Energy ministry is working on a new regulated rate method of providing income to the vendor. Decisions are not likely to come quickly, but the UK government says it will offer a financial plan for both projects by this summer.

China

After a two year pause, China has authorized two projects to break ground. They will each build twin 1000 MW Hualong One reactors. Both projects are coastal sites and the result will four new Gen III design PWRs. Plans to build 4 Hualong One nuclear reactors at these coastal sites, Huizhou, Zhanghou, were already on short list for new construction starts as long ago as March 2018.

The Chinese state owned enterprises that get government money for these projects appear to have dodged a budget bullet. As the Chinese economy cools, funding for multi-billion dollar projects is coming under review, but these project got green lights. China’s distressing air pollution is caused in part by fossil fuel power plants. These new reactors will help address the problem.

South Korea

Despite a concerted effort by a “reform-minded” government, South Korea’s plans to phase out nuclear power are getting a second look and progress is being made to expand the fleet which now has 24 units. South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission this week gave Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power permission to begin operation of unit 4 at the Shin Kori nuclear power plant. With few domestic coal or natural gas resources, the inescapable fact is that South Korea’s economy and industrial production capabilities, and exports, depend on reliable electric power from its fleet of nuclear reactors.

Spain

(Update 02/06/19) The Spanish Government will have nuclear energy for the next 17 years. This is what the minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, has told the three top executives of the three big electricity companies, Ignacio Galán (Iberdrola), José Bogas (Endesa) and Francisco Reynés (Naturgy) at a historic summit to discuss the nuclear blackout of Spain this week.

According to El Periodico de la Energía, the Government has informed the companies that they are to prepare a schedule to close of each of the operational nuclear power plants in Spain (Ascó, Vandellós, Almaraz, Trillo and Cofrentes) in such a way that the proposal will keep the plants operational until at least 2025. In other words, all nuclear power plants will remain active at least until 2025 and possibly for as long as 2036..

The nuclear shutdown will extended so that some of the power stations may have service lives of up to 50 years. The final closure of each plant will be negotiated with the owner utilities.

The owners of each plant will propose the final closure of the plant. Therefore, each plant will have a production deadline and will have to be between 2025 and 2036.

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Here additional details on these developments in each of these nations as reported by various online news media.

Shutdown Plans Do Not Signal ‘Nuclear Exit Strategy,’
Says French Minister

(NucNet): Nuclear energy plays an important role in France’s energy strategy and plans to permanently shut down four to six reactor units by 2028 do not indicate that the government has a nuclear exit strategy, ecology minister François de Rugy said reversing an effort by greens in the government to slash to size of the fleet in half.

His comments came as Greenpeace “attacked” a French nuclear reactor by flying a drone over it and dropping a smoke bomb on the roof of one of the buildings at the site.

Despite the high profile publicity stunt, this past week France’s government unveiled its energy strategy for the next 10 years, which includes closing just four to six reactor by 2028. All of them are older, and smaller, units.

Last November president Emmanuel Macron said France will shut down 14 commercial nuclear reactors by 2035 out of 58, all operated by state-controlled utility EDF. This change is a reduction by more than half from the original plan.

Mr de Rugy said, “We consider that in the production of electricity in France, and probably in Europe and in the world. Nuclear power can play a role since it presents a completely carbon-free production.”

Mr de Rugy said the government is waiting for EDF’s proposals, due in 2021, before deciding on the construction of new EPR reactors in France. The minister said the decision would be based on cost, funding assessments and technical feasibility. The government wants to wait for the start of the Flamanville-3 EPR, the only one under construction in France.

EDF may offer changes that are improvements to the 1650 MW EPR. It may also offer a smaller and more affordable, 1100 MW, version which was developed in collaboration with Mitsubishi. Either way by 2021 the EPRs in Finland, France, and China will all have several years of operational experience for EDF to draw on for the next generation of the design.

Last week the French nuclear industry signed a contract with the government and unions, covering the period 2019-2022, which proposes an action plan for the nuclear industry.

Under the contract, Framatome will develop a new version of the EPR and will work with EDF and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, or CEA, to develop a small modular reactor (SMR) based on French technology. France has lagged behind other nations in developing plans for small modular reactors. Now it has an opportunity to catch up.

See prior coverage on this blog  Will France Fry Its Nuclear Future for Short-Term Political Gain?

Japan Must Build New Nuclear Plants,
Says Industry Group President

(NucNet): Japan must build new nuclear power plants and develop its human resources if it is to maintain and improve existing supply chains and export nuclear technology, Japan Atomic Industrial Forum president Akio Takahashi said at a press conference.

He said there was a general trend towards the personal involvement of government leaders in selling major infrastructure projects overseas and there are also limits on what private sector companies can do on their own.

Hitachi said earlier this month it had suspended the Wylfa project because of rising construction costs and a failure to reach an agreement on financing with the UK government.

In November, Toshiba said it was winding up NuGen, the company overseeing plans to build three Westinghouse AP1000 units at Moorside in northwest England. The firm cut off negotiations with South Korea to take over the project due in part to financial differences about the deal.

If the UK government comes up with a reliable method to pay fort the project, South Korea might re-enter discussions to take over the effort, but it would have to take its 1400 MW PWR type design through the UKGeneric Design Assessment (GDA) process to get permission to build them there.

Japan has been slowly restarting its nuclear fleet. Also, it has realized that recent setbacks in the UK, Turkey, Vietnam, and elsewhere have challenged its long term plans to be a global leader in terms of nuclear energy exports. It follows that for the sake of credibility, it cannot sell reactors abroad if it does not build and operate them at home.

Wylfa Project Might Resume With Viable Financing Scheme From UK

(NucNet): Hitachi might consider “unfreezing” its plans to build a new nuclear power station at Wylfa Newydd in north Wales if the UK government can demonstrate a viable financing scheme, company president Toshiaki Higashihara said at a press conference in Tokyo last week.

According to industry group the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Mr Higashihara said a “zero-based review of processes and costs” would also be required for resumption of the project to build two advanced boiling water reactors on the site on the isle of Anglesey.

Mr Higashihara expressed concern for Hitachi’s ability to maintain its technological capabilities in design and construction, given the current domestic environment for the nuclear energy industry in Japan, where the focus is on restarting existing reactors and decommissioning not only the units at Fukushima, but also other older reactors for which it is too costly to upgrade them to the latest safety standards.

Japan has two reactors under construction. Shimane 3, a 1373 MW ABWR, began safety checks with the Nuclear Regulatory Agency in August 2018. Ahma 1, a simiolar ABWR, is scheduled to restart construction in 2020 and complete that work in the second half of 2025.

Japan also has 13 Gwe of nuclear power in terms of proposed new reactors on the books, but work on all of them was deferred or suspended following the Fukushimia crisis. All of the units are ABWR designs in the range of 1300 MW.  The government hasn’t said much about the status of these plans.

Mr Higashihara said there was “a sense of crisis” and that Hitachi would address the issue of ensuring future nuclear human resources with other reactor manufacturers.  Clearly, he wants a turn around at Wylva to avoid the consequences of the loss of yet another export deal which will have ramifications for other nuclear vendors in Japan and their supply chains.

UK Needs To ‘Make Up Its Mind’ On Nuclear,
Consider RAB Financing Model, Says Oxford Economist

(NucNet): The UK government needs to make up its mind whether it is serious about nuclear and prepared to do it properly, which means it has to make key strategic decisions, stick to them over the long term and allow a supply chain to be developed and sustained over decades, an economist specializing in energy infrastructure wrote in a new report.

In an article published on his website, Prof. Dieter Helm of the University of Oxford said one option for nuclear policy is for the government to use the regulated asset base (RAB) model for EDF’s planned two-unit Sizewell C project.

Helm wrote that RAB financing would transform nuclear economics because it is a well-tried model used for other large infrastructure projects in the UK and should produce a lower cost of capital and a very different risk sharing profile.

RAB financing is essentially a type of contract drawn up with the backing of government, which calculates the costs and profits of a project before it is started, and allocates an investor’s profits from day one.  In other words, it is a confidence building method for the firm building the project and its investors.

A government regulator sets a fixed number, the RAB, which attempts to account for all the future costs involved in the completion of a project. The regulator then also sets a fixed rate of return for the investors based on those costs.

Prof. Helm said nuclear offers large-scale low-carbon electricity, but renewables still need to meet this challenge and to cope with winters.

“The key question is whether renewables can, without nuclear, meet the carbon budgets and targets at reasonable cost, and whether the intermittency problem is going to get solved,” he said.

“Without more nuclear renewables would have to fill the capacity left by not only coal and gas, but also nuclear stations as they retire from the system. This is the choice government needs to make. It has to decide, one way or the other.”

China’s Approves Four New Reactors After a Two-year pause

MIT Technology Review reports that Beijing has approved the construction of four new nuclear reactors using a domestically developed design, according to Chinese news reports.

China’s Jiemian News said that two dual-reactor projects have received provisional permission to begin pouring concrete. CNNC and CGN have not responded to the media reports.

The reactors are slated for two new sites along China’s coast: CNNC’s Zhangzhou power project in Fujian and CGN’s Huizhou Taipingling project in Guangdong. Both projects had been planned and approved by Chinese authorities to use Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor design.  In 2018 China reported in March of that year that the reactors listed in the table below would have construction starts. The actual go-head came two months into 2019.

China Nuclear Coastal Sites

Data via World Nuclear Association

Prior coverage on this blogChina to start building 6-8 new nuclear reactors in 2018

South Korea Gives Go-Ahead to Start Newest Nuclear Reactor

(WNN) South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission today gave Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power permission to begin operation of unit 4 at the Shin Kori nuclear power plant.

Construction of the first pair of APR1400 reactors – Shin Kori 3 and 4 – was authorized in 2006, although the actual construction license was not issued until April 2008. First concrete for Shin Kori 3 was poured in October 2008, with that for unit 4 following in August 2009.

Unit 3 was originally scheduled to enter commercial operation at the end of 2013, with unit 4 due to start in September 2014. However, their operation was delayed by the need to test safety-related control cabling and its subsequent replacement.

Unit 3 eventually reached first criticality in December 2015, was connected to the grid in January 2016 and entered commercial operation in December that year.

At a meeting last week, the NSSC approved the start up of Shin Kori 4 after considering the results of an inspection carried out by the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety Agency.

Belgium Nuclear Phaseout Not Realistic, Says Interior Minister

(NucNet) A complete phaseout of nuclear power by 2025 is not realistic, Belgium’s interior minister Pieter De Crem said on Feb 10th.

Mr De Crem, a member of the pro-phaseout Christian Democratic and Flemish party, said “all the indicators tell me that consumption will increase to such an extent that we will need an exception period or an extension [of nuclear]”.

He said a debate is needed on nuclear energy and on the new generation of nuclear power plants and “everything must be open for discussion”.

Belgium has a fleet of seven Belgian commercial nuclear reactors – three at Tihange near Liege and four at Doel near Antwerp – providing almost 50% of the country’s electricity.

Plans to shut them down by 2025 were established in a law of 2003. They were confirmed in 2015 and by the current government of prime minister Charles Michel last spring.

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DOE Takes Divergent Paths to Fabrication of High Assay Fuels

  • DOE final EIS clears the way for INL to fabricate HALEU
  • US Senator slams sole source HALEU contract to Centrus over its alleged ties to Russia
  • Deconversion by DOE EM of surplus depleted UF6 ahead of schedule

Final EIS Clears the Way for Idaho Lab
to Produce High Assay Low Enriched Fuel
for Use in Advanced Reactors

In a press statement the US Department of Energy (DOE) said it has completed an environmental assessment clearing the way for the fabrication of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel for advanced nuclear reactors at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

A final environmental assessment issued on 01/17/19 determines that there will be no significant impact on the environment from using DOE-owned HALEU stored at INL to fabricate fuel at the laboratory’s Materials and Fuels Complex (MFC), and possibly also at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC). The HALEU fuel will be used to support US companies in the development and deployment of new reactor technologies.

(See prior coverage on this blog of DOE’s release of the draft EIS last November.)

The DOE’s HALEU is from used fuel from the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II), which operated at the site from 1964 to 1994. Since 2000, DOE has employed an electrometallurgical treatment process at the MFC to refine and downblend the used high-enriched uranium fuel from the now-decommissioned reactor. About 10 tonnes of HALEU has been produced as a result of this process and is currently stored at INL.

HALEU-Fuel-v1av3-1024x442

Levels of Uranium Enrichment. Image courtesy of Centrus Corp.

Many advanced reactor designs currently under development will require HALEU fuel, enriched to between 5% and 20% in fissile uranium-235 (U235).

The low-enriched uranium fuel used in today’s nuclear power plants typically contains less than 5% U235. There are at present no commercial facilities in the US that are immediately capable of producing HALEU.

However, DOE earlier this month also announced plans to award a $ 115 million sole source contract to a subsidiary of Centrus Energy Corp to demonstrate the production of HALEU using US-origin enrichment technology at the American Centrifuge Plant site in Piketon, Ohio.

In its press statement about the Idaho work, DOE said the federal government will fabricate HALEU nuclear fuel at INL from the lab’s HALEU feedstock. This will support near-term research, development and demonstration needs of private-sector developers and government agencies, including advanced reactor developers.

This is a finite amount of HALEU with limited applications for specific advanced reactor designs but it is also one of several efforts undertaken by DOE to help ensure the availability of HALEU in support of the U.S. nuclear power industry.

The proposed action identified in the environmental assessment calls for establishing the capability at INL to fabricate HALEU ceramic and metallic fuels from the HALEU produced through the electrometallurgical treatment process currently operating at INL, and by using other small quantities of HALEU stored at INL.

Most of the HALEU to be used for fuel fabrication results from the processing and treatment of used fuel from the decommissioned EBR-II reactor. Construction and operation of any reactors that propose to use the HALEU fuel will require additional NEPA reviews.

Wyoming Senator Slams DOE Over Centrus’ Ties to Russia

The Houston Chronicle reports that a decision by US Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry to award a $115 million sole source contract to Cenetrus to develop an advanced nuclear enrichment facility in Ohio is not going over well with Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

In a letter to Perry last week Barrasso wrote that the company had a mixed history in fulfilling federal contracts for nuclear fuel and questioned whether the money it received would end up supporting the Russian state-owned firm TENEX, from which Centrus buys enriched uranium.

Centrus Energy, a former government-owned contractor, had previously ceased enrichment operations in 2013 before declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The firm has a history of surviving on government handouts and is well-practiced in the art of hiring former high level government officials to promote its interests in Washington. Centrus, now based on Maryland, is the reincarnation of the former United States Enrichment Corp., which was privatized in 1998, and which operated enrichment plants in Ohio and Kentucky until 2013.

Barrasso introduced a new wrinkle into the conventional wisdom about the firm’s business pracitces. He raised the issue of whether the DOE contract would actually benefit a Russian firm, TENEX, and not American workers.

“This contract appears to use American taxpayer funding to bailout Centrus, an unsuccessful business that relies on commercial relationships with Russian state-owned corporations to stay in business,” Barrasso wrote. “Congress did not authorize or fund this project.”

Foreign sources

According to the Houston Chronicle report, in 2017, Centrus counted revenues of less than $200 million, down from more than $1.9 billion in 2012, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Since then the company’s business has primarily been to import enriched uranium from abroad, including Russia, which is a common practice in the U.S. energy sector.

The United States Enrichment Corp operated the Megatons to Megawatts program for a number of years importing blended down highly enriched uranium (80%+ U235) taken from Russian nuclear weapons, which was combined with ordinary uranium, and fabricated it into commercial nuclear fuel (3-5% U235) which was then sold to U.S. nuclear utilities. For several years the program supplied as much as 25-35% of all nuclear fuel used by U.S. nuclear utilities.

Even today nuclear plants here get more than 90% of their fuel supply from a combination of global sources including Russia, Canada, and Australia. Canada was and is the largest supplier.

DOE justified the sole source contract to Centrus as being necessary despite the fact that it is also investing in a similar capability at the Idaho National Laboratory.

What’s interesting is that in both places DOE is leveraging existing stocks of high assay fuels, e.g., greater than 5% U235, that it already has, and for which it had not previously figured out how to deal with these materials. In other words, DOE may have found a solution to a problem that otherwise might have become yet another nuclear waste headache.

The $115 million project is actually described by DOE as a small-scale demonstration project with just 16 centrifuges. It will be taking place at the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketown, Ohio, which was once operated by Centrus. Separately, the government is spending about $18 billion to clean up the site which has been there since it was built as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II.

Everett Redmond, a senior technical adviser at the trade group Nuclear Energy Institute, told the Houston Chronicle that the trade group is aware of the Russian connection.

“I’ve heard from the Russian companies they can provide it,” he said.

“We would like to see a domestic source, for fuel security and national security. With the political tensions worldwide, as you’re trying to get a new market going, it would make sense to have a source in the U.S.”

Barrasso also disputed DOE’s claim that Centrus has an NRC license to do the work. He said in his letter that Centrus failed to pay the annual fee for that NRC license last year, “as required by law” to maintain its status.

Both DOE and Centrus declined to comment to the Houston Chronicle about Barrasso’s letter.

Wyoming is one of the key uranium producing states in the U.S. hence the interest of Senator Barrasso in this matter.

US DUF6 conversion ahead of schedule

(WNN) The $18 billion nuclear waste cleanup work taking place at gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment plants at Portsmouth, Ohio and Paducah, Kentucky includes deconversion of depleted uranium from gaseous the powder form. In doing so the process also recovers hydrofluoric acid, which can be used in other industrial processes. Refined acid can even be used to make solar energy cells.

Progress reported so far includes the return to service of all seven uranium conversion production lines which enabled the US Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management (EM) to convert over 5000 tonnes of gaseous depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF6) – more than half its yearly target – to a more stable powder form within the first three months of fiscal 2019.

DOE’s 800,000 tonne inventory of depleted UF6 is a legacy of over 60 years of operations at gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment plants at Portsmouth, Ohio and Paducah, Kentucky. The enrichment plants supplied enriched uranium for the early nuclear weapons programs and later for the commercial nuclear energy industry. The Portsmouth plant ceased operations in 2001 and Paducah in 2013.

The project has converted more than 70,000 tonnes of the DOE’s inventory since the conversion facilities were commissioned in 2010.

“This past year, the DUF6 project implemented facility improvements and operational efficiencies that build a foundation for sustained safe production,” Robert Edwards, manager of EM’s Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office, said.

Portsmouth’s DUF6 inventory is expected to be processed in about 18 years and Paducah’s inventory, which is larger, within 30 years.

What is “depleted uranium?”

Natural uranium extracted from the ground consists on average of uranium-238 (U238) at 99.3% concentration and uranium-235 (U235) at 0.7% concentration. The uranium-235 component must be enriched to between 3-5% for use in nuclear power reactor fuel in the United States.

depleted-uf6-cylinder-storage-yard

During enrichment, large quantities of natural uranium (with 0.7% U235) are processed to increase the concentration of U235. The end product is enriched uranium with U235 at 3-5% concentration. The uranium with a higher concentration of U235 (enriched uranium) is used for fabricating fuel for nuclear reactors.

During the enrichment process, large quantities of depleted uranium (uranium with 0.2-0.3% U235) or “tails,” are produced. These tails exit the enrichment process as waste in the gaseous or chemical form of uranium hexafluoride (DUF6). These tails are transferred into 14-ton cylinders which are maintained during temporary storage in large yards near the enrichment facilities.

See also the NRC information page on uranium deconversion for the chemical engineer elements of the process.

~ Other Nuclear News ~

Rolls-Royce Seeks U.K. Funds for Nuclear Power Project

(Bloomberg) Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc and its partners are asking the U.K. government for more than 200 million pounds ($264 million) in funding to develop a business that will build small nuclear reactors, according to a report in the Financial Times.

The company is seeking a sum “in the low hundreds of millions,” the FT said on Sunday, citing a person familiar with the request.

The U.K. is reconsidering its plans to build new plants after Hitachi Ltd. and Toshiba Corp. withdrew from major projects, ending plans for a revival of nuclear power and leaving a significant energy gap in UK plans.

Rolls-Royce confirmed to the Financial Times that its consortium was “in discussions with U.K. government officials that we hope could result in a significant joint investment in our power plant design.” Company representatives didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Hungary Working to Modify Funding for Russian-built Nuclear Plant

(Reuters) Hungary is working to modify financing for a nuclear plant being built by Russia. It wants to delay paying back the loans to build the plant until it is generating electricity, Under the deal, Moscow will build two 1000 MW nuclear reactors to supply electricity. It offered a 10 billion euro ($11.3 billion) state loan to help finance the 12.5 billion euro project.

Hungary awarded Russia’s state-owned Rosatom a sole source contract to build the twin 1000 MW VVERs. Reuters reported that construction has faced long delays, partly because of a European Union review of the project, including the way it was funded.

“Once we know the deadlines for the technical contract, we will modify this (financing) contract,” said Janos Suli, the minister in charge of the project, told the wire service, adding that this would meet procedures set by the EU executive.

“We will begin repaying installments once the blocks begin production,” he said. “There is no damage, no extra payment involved, only a rescheduling of the financial payments.”

After parliament voted to build new nuclear capacity in 2009, Prime Minister Viktor Orban bypassed an international tender and signed an exclusive deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Hungary, a former Iron Curtain country, has in recent years been turned back into Russia’s orbit as a result of initiative by PM Orban.

The move drew international criticism, especially from the United States, which is concerned about Central and Eastern Europe’s heavy reliance on Russian energy sources.

Plans by Czech Republic PM for New Nuclear Reactors Spooks CEZ Investors

(Bloomberg) Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s ambition to build new nuclear reactors in the Czech Republic is reported to be having an unfavorable effect on CEZ AS’s shares well in advance of any deal to build new nuclear reactors.

For almost a decade the state owned utility CEZ has been reluctant to proceed because elected officials haven’t made up their minds about how to finance new nuclear power stations.

Bloomberg reports that PM Babis’s administration missed its own end-2018 deadline for a decision on how new reactors should be funded. What’s making investors turn their back on CEZ are the repeated statements by Babis and some of his ministers that the state-controlled utility should pay for the news plants, despite warnings from the management board and shareholders that such a move would trigger lawsuits from investors who hold the remaining 30 percent.

“The stock price could be much higher if politicians didn’t constantly annoy investors with this idea,” said Miroslav Frayer, an analyst at Komercni Banka AS in a statement to Bloomberg.

The wire service noted that Czech governments have long considered replacing the nation’s old Soviet reactors with new units as being crucial for the country’s energy security.

The nuclear push should also help to phase out coal-burning plants and curb carbon emissions. The problem is that power prices remain too low to make such investments commercially viable without a lot of state support, which politicians have refused to provide. The Czech government has repeatedly refused to provide a rate guarantee, loan guarantee, or other financial confidence building mechanisms to promote a deal with a reactor vendor.

The numbers associated with the government’s intransigence over rates issues forced CEZ to cancel a tender for new reactors in 2014, after years of price negotiations and legal disputes with potential suppliers. Political conflict and corruption scandals also contributed to the chaotic procurement process.

The surge in costs from contracts to completion for new nuclear plants in Finland and France is is also spooking CEZ’s investors.

Babis argues that CEZ can afford to build at least one unit at its older Dukovany station, with the government acting as a loan guarantor. The management says that only a fully state-owned entity can fund the investment, estimating the cost of one 1000 MW reactor at at least 150 billion koruna ($6.7 billion), or more than half of CEZ’s market capitalization.

Czech parliament is hosting a conference about the future of atomic energy on 2/21/19 with the main speakers being Babis, his ministers of industry and finance, as well as the chiefs of CEZ and the nuclear-safety regulator. Part of the event will be presentations by the six potential suppliers of new reactors, including CGN, Areva, Atmea, Westinghouse, Kepco/KHNP, and Rosatom.

# # #

Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Hitachi Freezes Plans to Build Four ABWRs in the UK

  • big ben big freezeDue to a lack of investor interest, rising costs, and the UK government’s reluctance to take more than a one-third equity stake in the projects, Hitachi has suspended all work on the Wylfa and Oldbury projects. The two sites at 2700 MW each (2 1350 MW ABWRs at each) would have provided 7% of the UK’s carbon emission free electricity once completed.
  • Key industry and government stakeholders expressed worries about the future of the UK new nuclear build.
  • The UK energy minister, Greg Clark, told Parliament the government is now considering offering the Regulated Asset Base (RAB) method to finance new nuclear energy projects.
  • EDF and CGN are in negotiations with the government to use RAB for Sizewell and Bradwell projects.

Hitachi Halts Wylfa Newydd Nuclear Plans
After Talks On Financing Fail

(NucNet): Japan’s Hitachi announced last week that it will suspend work on plans to build two 1350 MW  UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ANWR) at the Wylfa Newydd nuclear site in north Wales. The firm said it made the decision because of because of rising construction costs and a failure to reach an agreement on financing with the UK government. Hitachi will also stop planning work on a second project in Oldbury, England.

The expected cost of the reactors at Wylfa was estimated to be $19.3 billion or $7148/kw almost $700/kw above the global average “overnight cost” at $6500/Kw for new nuclear reactors in western industrialized countries. Other estimates had put the cost at between $24-27 billion, but the government had said previously that it didn’t agree with these numbers.

The New York Times reported, “The decision was made from the viewpoint of Hitachi’s economic rationality as a private enterprise,” Hitachi said in a statement from its HQ in Japan.

The firm has incurred costs of $2.75 billion which include site preparation and the completion of the UK’s demanding and expensive Generic Design Assessment (GDA) for new reactors to be built in that country.

According to the NYT, in a statement to Parliament, Greg Clark, the secretary of state for business and energy, said the government had proposed to provide one-third of the equity financing for the project and to take on all of the construction debt.

However, when Hitachi did not accept that offer, which also included loan guarantees and other incentives, Clark drew the line on putting anything more on the table. He said the political support for going further just wasn’t there. He’s now looking for a new financing method for the UK new build and may have one. More on this below.

Efforts by Hitachi to attract Japanese and UK based investors did not bring enough money to table to close the gap between the cost of the reactors and the UK government’s offer for a one-third stake in the project. The firm said that its involvement in future new nuclear energy projects would more likely be as a supplier rather than as the developer and EPC.

UK newspapers raised the question of whether the country’s plans for 19 Gwe of new nuclear power was on the rocks. In recent months the UK has also struggled to come to terms with the Moorside project.

Hitachi’s decision comes only months after Japan’s Toshiba Corp announced it was withdrawing from its nuclear new-build project in the UK and shutting down its NuGeneration effort, which had planned to build a nuclear power plant of up to 3450 MW at the Moorside site in West Cumbria, using three AP1000 nuclear reactors from Westinghouse which at that time was owned by Toshiba.

When Toshiba pulled the plug on its involvement in new nuclear projects in early 2017, the future of that project looked grim. More recent efforts by South Korea’s Kepco to take over the project have not produced a deal due to differences over costs estimates.

Taken together the Wylfa, Oldbury, and Moorside project were expected to provide 13-15% of the UK’s electricity when complete.

Parliament Unhappy with Hitachi’s Decision

A UK parliamentary group has said Hitachi’s decision to suspend work on the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station in north Wales is “hugely disappointing” with the facility a crucial part of the government’s new nuclear build program and vital for future energy needs.

The all-party parliamentary group on nuclear energy, an informal cross-party group, said in a statement that the two UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactors planned for Wylfa Newydd would have provided 60 years of reliable, secure, low-carbon power for homes, businesses and public services.

It said nuclear power already plays an important role in the UK’s energy mix, providing 21% of the UK’s electricity. Nuclear is “an integral part of a future decarbonized power supply alongside other low-carbon technologies”, the group said.

Sue Hayman MP, co-chair of the group, said: “We need a funding mechanism that works to deliver new nuclear and low-carbon electricity. Time is of the essence.”

Government Must Deliver New Nuclear
at Wylfa, Says UK Nuclear Trade Group

(NucNet) The urgent need for further new nuclear capacity in the UK should not be underestimated and the government must work with industry to deliver that vital capacity said CEO Tom Greatrex in a statement.

Mr Greatrex said new nuclear is an integral part of a future decarbonised power supply. For prolonged periods both this summer and then again in December and the early days of January this year, wind produced less than 7.5% of the UK’s electricity demand.

“Relying exclusively on intermittent and variable sources of low-carbon power alone will increase, not reduce, overall emissions,” he said.

UK Reveals the Financial Terms Offered to Hitachi

(WNN) Greg Clark, the UK’s secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), told the news media, including World Nuclear News, in a “candid” interview that the government has offered “unprecedented financial terms” to Hitachi, but that the firm had decided to not to accept them.

Japan’s Hitachi said it will halt work on its UK subsidiary’s plan to build two new nuclear power plants “from the viewpoint of its economic rationality as a private enterprise.”

It added, however, that “further time is needed to develop a financial structure” for the Horizon project. This statement may indicate that Hitachi is leaving the door open to be a supplier to a new developer of the site, but without the risk of financing it.

Established in 2009 and acquired by Hitachi in November 2012, Horizon Nuclear Power planned to provide at least 5.4 GWe of new capacity across two sites – Wylfa Newydd, which is on the Isle of Anglesey, and Oldbury-on-Severn, in south Gloucestershire – by deploying four 1350 MW Hitachi-GE UK advanced boiling reactors (UK ABWRs).

Three offers Made but None Taken

Clark’s frustrations with Hitachi are evidenced by his decision to tell Parliament about the commercially sensitive details of the negotiations BEIS and Hitachi had held since last June. According to a summary of Clark’s remarks prepared by World Nuclear News, the government put three significant financial incentives on the table.

First, the government was willing to consider taking a one-third equity stake in the project, alongside investment from Hitachi and government of Japan agencies and other strategic partners.

Secondly, the government was willing to consider providing all the required debt financing to complete construction.

Third, it agreed to consider providing a Contract for Difference to the project with a strike price expected to be no more GBP75 per megawatt hour.

“I hope the House would agree that this is a significant and generous package of potential support that goes beyond what any government has been willing to consider in the past.”

He stressed that Hitachi has made clear that while it is suspending project development at this stage, it wishes to continue discussions with the government on bringing forward new nuclear projects at both Wylfa and Oldbury.

However, Horizon is laying off almost all of the workers at both sites since it could be months or years until a new project is assembled with the needed financing and management structure.

Clark closed his remarks by saying, “If new nuclear is to be successful in a more competitive energy market, it is clear that we need to consider a new approach to financing future projects, including those at Sizewell and Bradwell.”

“We are reviewing the viability of a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model and assessing whether it can offer value for money for consumers and taxpayers.”

Clark said that the energy agency’s plan is to publish an assessment of the RAB method by the summer at the latest.”

In response to Clark’s comments, Agneta Rising, director general of World Nuclear Association said: “We urge the UK government to bring forward fresh proposals for a stable financing framework to enable the construction of new UK nuclear projects that will supply electricity competitively.”

UK Gets Ready To Introduce RAB Financing

(NucNet): UK government ministers may be willing to pioneer a new way of financing nuclear power as Hitachi walks away from a planned new nuclear station at Wylfa Newydd in north Wales.

The Sunday Times reported that the suspension of the Japanese conglomerate’s project will bring to the fore the government’s plan to accelerate offering regulated asset base (RAB) financing, which is popular in the water and infrastructure sectors, for nuclear plants including the Wylfa Newyydd site.

“If new nuclear is to be successful in a more competitive energy market – which I very much believe it can be – we need to consider a new approach to financing future projects,” Energy Secretary Greg Clark told parliament, saying this included Sizewell and Bradwell.

RAB financing is essentially a type of contract drawn up with the backing of government, which calculates the costs and profits of a project before it is started, and allocates an investor’s profits from day one.

Note to readers: For a detailed and expert explanation of the RAB method see this OECD paper available online in PDF or text version. It compares the RAB model with other forms of capitalization of major infrastructure projects.

In summary – A government regulator sets a fixed number, the RAB, which attempts to account for all the future costs involved in the completion of a project. The regulator then also sets a fixed rate of return for the investors based on those costs.

Hitachi Decision Strengthens Franco-Chinese
Role in the UK Nuclear Industry

(Reuters) The wire service reports that the inability of Hitachi to assemble the necessary investor groups to pay for construction of four ABWRs in the UK is expected to  strengthen the hand of France’s EDF and China General Nuclear Power Corporation(CGN) on how to finance new reactors.

The firms want to use a financing model under which investors in their nuclear projects receive payment from the moment they start construction, reducing their risk. This approach could be a tough sell in the UK given the risks of cost overruns.

Reuters reported that EDF is negotiating with the government on funding the Sizewell C project using the regulated asset base (RAB) model in which investors earn a government-set fixed return from the start, instead of waiting years until construction is completed before receiving a return.

China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) has a 20% stake in Sizewell C, while EDF has a 33.5%stake in CGN’s project to build a reactor at Bradwell, Essex. China plans to build two of its new Hualong One 1000 MW PWR type reactors at Brfadwell.

As a background note Reuters noted in its report that the regulated asset base model may now be one of the few remaining options to fund new nuclear plants in Europe. It is commonly used to fund construction of electricity transmission lines.

In Britain it has been used to fund the Thames Tideway Tunnel, a “super sewer” for London. However, using the RAB model for nuclear projects would require new political commitments from the government.

~ Other Nuclear News ~

NuScale and JAEC Agree to Explore
SMR Deployment in Jordan

NuScale Power announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), to evaluate NuScale’s small moduler reactor (SMR) nuclear power plant for use in Jordan.

JAEC is the government entity leading the development and implementation of nuclear strategy and managing the nuclear program in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Through this MOU, NuScale and JAEC will collaborate on conducting a joint feasibility evaluation of NuScale’s SMR, which will inform JAEC’s decision on moving forward with the project as part of Jordan’s planned deployment of nuclear power plants.

“As Jordan considers its energy future, I’m confident that the unmatched resiliency and safety features of NuScale’s SMR technology make us the ideal partner on the Kingdom’s nuclear power goals,” said John Hopkins, NuScale Power Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

“NuScale is at the forefront of U.S. SMR Technology,” said H.E. Dr. Khaled Toukan, JAEC Chairman. “We look forward to this collaboration to assess the viability and potential for deployment of NuScale SMR Technology in Jordan.”

NuScale said in its statement that its scalable multi-module plant design permits a high degree of flexibility for deployment in a wide range of conventional and unique electrical and thermal applications. This includes economic energy production, making it a particularly attractive energy source for desalination processes at various scales.

NuScale has seen considerable interest in its SMR technology in regions of the world, like the Middle East, where fossil fuels are the source of heat and electricity for desalination.

NuScale’s technology is the world’s first and only SMR in the U.S. to undergo design certification review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and is scheduled to complete its review of NuScale’s design in September 2020.

Prior Efforts by Jordan to Secure Nuclear Energy Projects

In June 2018 Jordan scrapped a deal with Russia to build two 1000 MW VVERE over disagreements on its financing. Also, Jordan was unable to attract outside investors to the project.

The Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) said that it ended the $10 billion planfor two 1000 MW VVERs with Rosatom because the Russian side wanted to secure the financing through commercial loans, which the JAEC said were too costly. The JAEC also complained that the higher cost of locally financing the project would result in much higher rates for electricity from the plants.

The demand by Rosatom for retail commercial loans in the Jordanian deal is a sharp change from its past practice of offering generous financing for its export deals.  It may reflect the fact that while oil prices briefly rose earlier this year, they are now retreating from the mid $70s to the mid $60s which is where they have been since January 2015 thus apparently hindering Russia’s ability to finance mega nuclear export projects.

State news agency Petra quoted JAEC chairman Khaled Toukan as saying that Jordan was still working on plans to build at least one commercial reactor of about 1,000 MW, expected to come online around 2029.

Other SMR Discussions

Jordan has also been in talks for the past year with at least three different vendors of LWR and advanced small modular reactors. The talks include UK Rolls Royce for to be  LWR type SMR.  Jordan is also talking with US based X-Energy which has a new generation of South Africa’s PBMR “pebble bed” high temperature gas cooled reactor (HTGR), and  with the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) which has has an HTGR design.

In November 2017, Rolls-Royce signed a memorandum of understanding with JAEC to carry out a technical feasibility study for the construction of a Rolls-Royce SMR in Jordan. A similar agreement was also signed in November 2017 with X-Energy for electricity, water desalination and other thermal applications.

Toukan noted that the Commission is currently negotiating with China to build the same reactor that China is currently constructing in Shandong province. He added that no contract will be signed with CNNC before the actual startup of the Chinese reactor and operating it in revenue service on the grid for at least two years. Note that CNNC recently stepped back from a plan to develop a “nuclear city” powered by 20 of the HTGRs citing cost and efficiency issues of the current design.

The Jordan Times reported separately that work on selecting a site for an SMR was proceeding in the Qusayer region near Azraq about 60km east of Amman. The paper reports that studies were conducted on the site by Belgium’s Tractebel, Korea Electric Power Corporation and Worley Parsons, with findings showing the suitability of the location for the facilities.

Prior coverage on this blog

Bulgaria Sets Plans for Investor Selection For Belene

(NucNet): The Bulgarian government is in the process of preparing the initial procedure to select an investor for the Belene nuclear power station project, energy minister Temenuzhka Petkova told Bulgarian National Television.

Ms Petkova said she is “hopeful” the procedure would start in February 2019.  A key policy will be that it wants to develop the project without state guarantees or long-term electricity purchase contracts. These pre-conditions will make for formidable challenges for any bidders.

Two 1,000-MW VVER pressurized water reactor units were to be built at Belene before the project was cancelled in 2012 over a series of financial and management disagreement between the Bulgarian government and Rosatom.

France’s Framatome, China’s CNNC, and Russia’s Rosatom have already formally expressed an interest in investing or providing equipment and services for the project.

Bulgarian Regulator Would Need A Year
to Complete Belene Technical Licensing

(NucNet): The Bulgarian nuclear regulator would need a year to complete the licensing process for the technical aspect of the Belene nuclear power station project, Lachezar Kostov, head of the Bulgarian Nuclear Regulatory Agency, told a press conference.

Mr Kostov said the technical case for Belene, which was submitted in 2008 by Russia’s Atomstroyexport, never passed the licensing procedure because the Bulgarian government cancelled construction in March 2012.

He said licensing will need to restart from the point at which it was suspended in 2012 and would need to fulfill the latest national and European Union regulatory requirements.

The regulator would take into account all licensing work which had already been carried out and does not expect the procedure to take longer than a year. The regulator has so far taken only two legally binding decisions on Belene – approval of the site and a permission to begin the project’s technical design stage.

In short, it has a long way to go and may take more than a year to complete despite the government’s claims. It is unclear how the Bulgarian regulator would conduct a safety evaluation review of a design by a vendor other than Rosatom for its 1000 MW VVER or how long it would take.

In 2012 Westinghouse signed a contract to prepare a proposal for a third reactor at Bulgaria’s Kozloduy site. Efforts by the firm to take over construction of the plant came to an end when Russia said has no intention of sharing information with Westinghouse regarding a feasibility study. That project is designed to scope out the potential for a seventh unit at Bulgaria’s Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant.

It’s unclear whether as part of its efforts to re-establish its nuclear reactor business that it Westinghouse would seek to bid on the Belene project. In 2010 Westinghouse reportedly told the US Embassy in Sofia that the 1st unit was “a lemon” according to a US State Department Cable as reported by the UK Guardian newspaper.

The embassy cable, dated February 17, 2009, also complained about endemic corruption in Bulgaria associated with the project.

Framatome receives $49 million grant
to accelerate enhanced accident tolerant fuel development

Framatome has received a $49 million, 28-month grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to accelerate the development and commercialization of enhanced accident tolerant fuel (EATF). These fuel designs enhance performance during normal operations at nuclear power plants and provide operators with more time to respond in the event of loss of active cooling.

“EATF designs represent the next evolution in technologies that will support today’s and tomorrow’s nuclear reactors and unlock value in Framatome’s products and the existing nuclear fleet,” said Bob Freeman, vice president, Contracts and Services, North America, Framatome Fuel Commercial and Customer Center.

The funds from this DOE grant build on a $10 million, two-year grant that Framatome received from the Department in 2016, and will contribute to the advancement of laboratory testing and data collection, as well as irradiation test programs.

Additionally, the grant will support further development of advanced manufacturing processes and the acceleration of long-term EATF solutions.

Framatome’s EATF program is built on the collective knowledge, skills and expertise of leaders across the global nuclear sector, including U.S. national laboratories, utilities, university programs, industry organizations, and European research and worldwide partners.

In addition to this near-term work, Framatome continues research on a silicon carbide-based cladding.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Advanced Nuclear Fuel Projects Set the Stage for New Reactors

  • TVEL to supply fuel for China’s fast-neutron reactor
  • Centrus selected for HALEU enrichment project
  • ORNL Automates Key Process in Production of PU-238 for RTGs
  • Y-12’s uranium core tested as fuel for potential space exploration
fast car

Does not run on 85 octane

Like high octane gasoline needed to fuel the demanding engines cars cruising the autobahn, new nuclear fuel types are being developed to power the next generation of advanced reactors. Interestingly, the U.S. is finally making investment in these fuels.

TVEL to Supply Fuel for
China’s Fast-neutron Reactor

(WNN) TVEL and CNLY have signed a contract for the supply of nuclear fuel for the CFR-600 sodium-cooled pool-type fast-neutron nuclear reactor under construction in in China’s Fujian province. TVEL is the nuclear fuel manufacturer subsidiary of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, while CNLY is part of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).

The contract, which was announced this week in Beijing, covers the initial loading of nuclear fuel, as well as supplies for refueling during the first seven years of the reactor’s operation. TVEL is building a new manufacturing line for the CFR-600 fuel assemblies is planned at the Elektrostal Machine-Building Plant, a TVEL facility located in the Moscow region.

The CFR-600, a 600 MWe design – was developed by the China Institute of Atomic Energy.  Construction started on the the Xiapu reactor in December 2017. It will be a demonstration of that sodium-cooled pool-type fast reactor design.  The reactor (IAEA profile PDF file) is considered to be a GEN-IV design. The CFR-600 is part of the Chinese plan to reach a closed nuclear fuel cycle. Fast neutron reactors are considered the main technology in the future for nuclear power in China.

Sodium-Cooled_Fast_Reactor_Schemata.svg

The reactor will use mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, and will feature two coolant loops producing steam at 480°C. Later, The reactor will have active and passive shutdown systems and passive decay heat removal.

The fact that China has turned to Russia for MOX fuel may take the pressure off to complete negotiations with EDF/Areva for a $15 billion spent fuel reprocessing plant that would produce MOX fuel.  China has not invested in a domestic capability to produce MOX fuel.

A commercial-scale unit, designated as the the CFR1000, will have a capacity of 1000-1200 MWe. Subject to a 2020 decision to proceed, construction could start in December 2028, with operation from about 2034.

Separately, China is reported to be moving ahead with plans to develop Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs), with the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics recently receiving $3.3 billion from the government to build an MSR complex in the Gobi Desert.  Researchers hope to develop a range of applications for the technology.

The Rosatom contract also covers construction of nuclear reactors of Russian design, with VVER-1200 reactors at two sites in China – Tianwan and Xudabao. The package of intergovernmental documents and framework contracts for these projects was signed in June 2018, during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Beijing and his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Centrus Selected for HALEU Enrichment Project

(WNN) The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced plans to award a $115M contract to a subsidiary of Centrus Energy Corp to demonstrate the production of high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU). The project will see the deployment of a cascade of 16 AC-100M centrifuges at Piketon, Ohio.

The HALEU Demonstration Program has two primary objectives:

  • deployment of a 16-machine cascade producing 19.75%U-235 enriched product by October 2020; and
  • demonstration of the capability to produce HALEU with existing US-origin enrichment technology,

Low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel used in today’s nuclear power plants typically contains less than 5% of fissile uranium-235 (U-235). However, some advanced reactor designs currently under development will require fuel enriched to between 5% and 20% U-235, also known as HALEU fuel.

Due to national security concerns, DOE said that it decided that only a U.S. based firm, using U.S. technology and materials, could produce the fuel. The facility, the former American Centrifuge Project, has an NRC license to do this kind of work. The award is expected to run from January 2019 to December 2020, with an option for a further year.

DOE said the sole source contract will revive work at the plant. DOE had at one time funded an effort there to develop U.S. uranium centrifuge technology, but the plant never moved beyond the demonstration stage due to issues related to qualifying for loan guarantees.

There are currently no US-based facilities that can produce HALEU on a commercial scale. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) last year called for work to begin to develop a national fuel cycle infrastructure to support the operation of the advanced reactors.

NEI President and CEO Maria Korsnick said in a press statement that the HALEU pilot program demonstrated the DOE’s “continued confidence” in the success of the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors and new fuel options for the existing fleet.

“DOE’s investment is a significant starting point in the HALEU fuel infrastructure. We appreciate [Energy] Secretary Perry’s attention to this urgent matter and look forward to working with DOE and Congress to ensure the US can compete globally to design and deploy advanced reactor technology.”

Greenbelt, Maryland-based X-energy said in its press statement that the DOE announcement integrated with its own plan to design, license, and construct a fabrication facility for HALEU-based fuel.

Centrus is collaborating with X-energy in the design of the TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility, which will produce fuel based on uranium oxycarbide tristructural isotropic (TRISO) forms.

X-energy’s president, Harlan Bowers, said in the press statement that the successful deployment of advanced reactors, both for commercial and government applications, by the mid- to late-2020s is vital to reviving the US nuclear industry.

“This revitalization cannot occur without a complete fuel supply chain, including HALEU production and fuel fabrication,” he said.

See prior coverage of HALEU on this blogNavy Nuclear Fuel Recycling Program Approved By Senate June 24, 2018

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Automates Key Process in Production of Plutonium-238 for RTGs

By automating the production of neptunium oxide-aluminum pellets, Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists have eliminated a key bottleneck when producing plutonium-238 used by NASA to fuel deep space exploration.  (video)

The heat from radioactive decay passes through equipment that transforms it into electricity to power science instruments on deep space probes. Pu-238 provides a constant heat source through radioactive decay, a process that has powered spacecraft such as Cassini and the Mars Rover.

“Automating part of the Pu-238 production process is helping push annual production from 50 grams to 400 grams, moving closer to NASA’s goal of 1.5 kilograms per year by 2025,” said ORNL’s Bob Wham.

“The automation replaces a function our team did by hand and is expected to increase the output of pressed pellets from 80 to 275 per week.”

Once the pellets are pressed and enclosed in aluminum tubing, they are irradiated at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor and chemically processed into Pu-238 at the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center.

In 2012, NASA reached an agreement with the Department of Energy to restart production of Pu-238, and ORNL was selected to lead the project.

Y-12’s Uranium Core Tested as Fuel
for Space Exploration

The Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge manufactured the uranium reactor core for an experiment that tests whether a nuclear energy source could provide power for space exploration.

“The full-power run showed that it may be feasible for NASA to use small fission reactors for deep space exploration and manned missions to the moon and Mars,” the National Nuclear Security Administration said.

The NNSA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, worked with NASA on the project. It’s nicknamed KRUSTY, an acronym for Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling Technology.

“In a joint venture with NASA last year, NNSA completed final design, fabrication, and full-power testing of a nuclear criticality experiment that can be used for a manned lunar or Mars space mission,” NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty said in a post published on Twitter last week.

Note to readers – see Oak Ridge Today for additional details.

Other Nuclear News

Hitachi To Cancel Plans For Wylfa Nuclear Station in UK

(NucNet): Japan’s Hitachi is set to cancel its plans for a two-unit nuclear power station in Wales according to press reports in the UK and Japan. An impasse in months-long talks between the company, London and Toyko on financing is expected to result in the project being abandoned at a Hitachi board meeting next week, according to the Nikkei newspaper.

Hitachi and its subsidiary Horizon Nuclear Power have been proposing to build two UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactors at the Wylfa Newydd site on the island of Anglesey in North Wales. In June, the UK government confirmed it was considering direct investment in the project.

Another Japanese company, Toshiba, scrapped plans to build three Westinghouse AP1000 reactors in Cumbria, northwest England, just months ago after failing to find a buyer for the project.  At one time KEPCO, a South Korean firm, was a preferred bidder, but negotiations with Toshiba broke down over financial differences.

Hitachi and the UK and Japanese governments have been negotiating over a guaranteed price of power from Wylfa and a potentially £5bn-plus UK public stake in the scheme.
Talks have proved “tricky to find a solution that works for all parties”, industry sources said, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Hitachi said it had made no final decision. “No formal decision has been made in this regard currently, while Hitachi has been assessing the Horizon project including its potential suspension and related financial impacts in terms of economic rationality as a private company.”

The Times of London reported UK government Ministers will be forced to pioneer a new way of financing nuclear power after Hitachi walks away from the project.

The suspension of the Horizon project on Anglesey, expected to be confirmed at a board meeting, will force the government to lure investors with a new financing method.

Ministers are expected to accelerate plans to introduce regulated asset base (RAB) financing, which is popular in the water and infrastructure sectors, for nuclear plants including the Horizon site.

Haiyang-2 Becomes 4th Westinghouse AP1000 Reactor
to Begin Commercial Operation In China

(NucNet): Unit 2 of the Haiyang nuclear power station in Shandong province has begun commercial operation. It is the 4th AP1000 in China to enter revenue service.

State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC) said that the unit, construction of which began in June 2010, completed 168 hours of full-power continuous operation at 16:00 local time on 01/09/19.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, China now has 46 nuclear power units in commercial operation providing about 3.9% of its electricity.

SPIC said the two Haiyang units will provide enough power to meet one-third of household demand in Shandong province, SPIC noted.

China to Start Work on Four new AP1000 Units

(NucNet): Construction at four nuclear sites in China, all of which have been pre-approved for Westinghouse AP1000 reactor units, is expected to begin this year, Shanghai-based energy research group Nicobar said.

Two units are planned for each of the sites at Sanmen, Haiyang, Xudabao and Lufeng. The units would be Sanmen-3 and -4, Haiyang-3 and -4, Xudabao-1 and -2, and Lufeng-1 and -2.

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