Away for a while

Blog will be dark for a week or two while I take some personal time. Posts should resume in April

A coherent vision of the future is a key success factor for new technologies

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Canada Sets Course for a Domestic SMR Industry

  • The Canadian Government is mapping out an industrial strategy to become a global leader in the design, development, manufacturing, and use of small modular reactors (SMRs).
  • The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is reviewing 10 SMR designs including the NuScale SMR from the U.S.
  • In unrelated news Holtec has signed off on a plan to build an SMR manufacturing facility in Ukraine
  • Holtec’s application for an interim storage facility for spend nuclear fuel at at site in NM has been accepted by the NRC
  • Russia Confirms Plans To Revive BN-1200 Fast Breeder Reactor Project

smr supply-chainThe Canadian government has announced a road mapping process under the Energy Innovation Program to explore the potential for on- and off-grid applications for small modular reactor (SMR) technology in Canada. The effort is being led by Natural Resources Canada which is the country’s energy ministry.

Driven by several provincial and territorial governments and energy utilities, the exercise will be delivered by the Canadian Nuclear Association and engage stakeholders “to better understand their views on priorities and challenges related to the possible development and deployment of SMRs in Canada.”

Participation in the roadmap will eventually expand to include manufacturers, research performers, waste management organizations and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.  However, so far no firms have come forward with concrete plans, backed by investors, to build an SMR manufacturing plant in Canada.  This objective, along with a supply chain for components, are key success factors for potential customers. They have to know reactor vendors are capable of building their designs.

Agency PR staff said the roadmap will be an important step in positioning Canada to advance next-generation technologies and become a global leader in the emerging SMR market.

According to the agency the stakeholder-driven roadmap will establish a long-term vision for the industry. It will assess the characteristics of different SMR technologies and how they align with user-requirements and Canadian priorities.

World Nuclear News (WNN) has previously reported that the national nuclear science and technology organization Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) last year set a goal of siting a new SMR on its Chalk River site by 2026.

It received 19 expressions of interest in siting a prototype or demonstration SMR at a CNL site. Canadian company Terrestrial Energy in June last year began a feasibility study for the siting of the first commercial Integrated Molten Salt Reactor at Chalk River.

The project is part of Canada’s plan for a “low carbon” energy future. It is expected the roadmap will be completed in the fall of 2018.

CNSC Takes on New SMR Reviews

(WNN) The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is to conduct pre-licensing vendor design reviews (VDRs) of small modular reactor designs from NuScale Power and Westinghouse Electric Company. The reviews of the NuScale SMR and Westinghouse’s eVinci micro reactor will incorporate the first two phases of the VDR process.

The CNSC offers the pre-licensing VDR as an optional service to provide an assessment of a nuclear power plant design based on a vendor’s reactor technology. It is not a required part of the licensing process for a new nuclear power plant, but aims to verify the acceptability of a design with respect to Canadian nuclear regulatory requirements and expectations. It is part of CNSC’s regulatory strategy for safety reviews of designs of small modular reactors.

The three phases of the VDR process involve a pre-licensing assessment of compliance with regulatory requirements; an assessment of any potential fundamental barriers to licensing; and a follow-up phase allowing the vendor to respond to findings from the second phase.

The regulator said it expects to begin the VDR for the NuScale design in mid-2018, but has not yet determined when it expects to start the review for the eVinci design.

The CNSC is now involved with ten pre-licensing VDRs, all for small reactors with capacities of up to 300 MWe

Holtec Signs Off on Plan for SMR-160
Manufacturing Plant in Ukraine

holtec-logo_thumb.pngAs previously reported on this blog on February 18th, an MOU has been signed by Holtec International and Energoatom envisages the adoption by Ukraine of Holtec’s small modular reactor (SMR) technology with the country becoming a manufacturing hub for SMR-160 reactor components.

Under the agreement with Holtec, Ukraine will become a manufacturing hub for SMR-160 components and systems mirroring the capabilities of Holtec’s Camden plant. Holtec is also in talks with leading Ukrainian suppliers of specialty machinery such as turbo-generators to integrate their products in SMR-160.

(Holtec’s business plan calls for having four geographically distributed manufacturing plants around the globe, similar to its Advanced Manufacturing plant in Camden, NJ, operational by mid-2020s).

Speaking at the bi-annual meeting of the Holtec Advisory Council, Energoatom’s President declared his company’s intention to replace, as a pilot project, 2 VVER-440 power units of the Rivne Nuclear Power Plant with SMR-160 modular reactors.

President Nedashkovsky cited SMR-160’s “walk away” safe design and his company’s trust and confidence in Holtec based on a long-term successful business relationship behind Energoatom’s decision to select Holtec’s reactor system.

He said that Holtec’s SMR-160 design would be used to replace old coal burning plans and to servce as resilient distributed generation source, SMR-160s will likely also be deployed in co-generation roles providing steam as well as power at the country’s industrial sites.

Mr. Nedashkovsky is a member of the Holtec Advisory Council, which meets twice a year to assess and critique the developments in the SMR-160 reactor program. Holtec’s President & CEO, Dr. Kris Singh, serves on President Poroshenko’s National Investment Council which speaks to the strong relationship between Ukraine and Holtec.

According to World Nuclear News Holtec’s 160 MWe factory-built SMR uses low-enriched uranium fuel. The factory-built reactor’s core and the nuclear steam supply system components are located underground, No active components, such as pumps, are needed to run the reactor, which does not need any on-site or off-site power to shut down and to dissipate decay heat. The SMR-160 is planned for operation by 2026.

The NRC is carrying out pre-application activities on the Holtec reactor design. As previously reported on this blog Holtec International and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy have announced a collaboration to accelerate the commercialization of SMR-160.

Holtec has also applied for a pre-licensing vendor design review for SMR-160 by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and last year signed a teaming agreement with Canada’s SNC-Lavalin to collaborate in the development of reactor. Under that agreement, SNC-Lavalin – the parent company of Candu Energy – will provide Holtec with a range of nuclear engineering services, including supporting the licensing of the SMR-160 reactor.

NRC Sets Review of Holtec Plan
for Interim Storage of Spent Fuel at NM Site

(NucNet): The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has begun its review of an application by Holtec to build and operate a consolidated interim storage facility for spent fuel from commercial nuclear power reactors in New Mexico.

The NRC said the application is sufficiently complete for the staff to begin its detailed safety, security and environmental reviews.

Holtec submitted its application in March 2017 and supplemented it in October and December in response to NRC staff questions. The decision is significant because Holtec’s competition for a similar site in Andrews, TX, did not make it past the starting line.

Holtec wants to store up to 8,680 tonnes of uranium in commercial spent fuel for 40 years. The fuel is currently being stored at dozens of independent sites across the country.

The facility, known as Hi-Store CIS, uses Holtec’s Hi-Storm Umax technology, which stores loaded canisters in a subterranean configuration.

Holtec has an agreement for the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA) to host the facility. ELEA is a consortium of the cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs and the counties of Eddy and Lea.  The Associated Press reported that there is strong support in the community and in New Mexico for the project.

An effort by Waste Control Specialists (WCS)  to build a similar project at a site in Andrews, TX, was reported in April 2017 as being on hold due to the unexpectedly high costs, said to be $7.5M, of preparing the NRC application and the agency’s review process.

Waste Control Specialists “is faced with a magnitude of financial burdens that currently make pursuit of licensing unsupportable,” Rod Baltzer, the company’s president and CEO, said in a letter to the NRC.

The NRC accepted the WCS application as being technically complete in January 2017.

Russia Confirms Plans To Revive
BN-1200 Fast Breeder Reactor Project

(NucNet) Russia plans to begin construction of its first industrial-sized sodium-cooled fast neutron reactor in the 2020s after saying three years ago that the project had been postponed, the head of state nuclear corporation Rosatom Alexei Likhachev told president Vladimir Putin.

According to a transcript of a meeting posted on the Kremlin’s website, Mr Likhachev told Mr Putin that fast breeder reactors (FBRs) have significant advantages over existing reactor types and Rosatom is proposing that Russia goes ahead with its plans for the Generation IV BN-1200.

fbr cutaway

Concept drawing of a fast breeder reactor – Image: GE Hitachi

In 2015, Rosatom said construction of the planned BN-1200 at the Beloyarsk nuclear power station in central Russia had been postponed until at least 2020, with state nuclear operator Rosenergoatom citing the need to improve fuel for the reactor and questioning the project’s economic feasibility.

Rosenergoatom had planned to build two BN-1200 units at Beloyarsk with commercial operation scheduled by 2025. However, construction depends on the results of operating the pilot Beloyarsk-4 BN-800 plant, which began commercial operation in October 2016.

There is another commercially operational sodium-cooled FBR at Beloyarsk, the BN-600. Both the BN-600 and the BN-800 are smaller versions of the BN-1200.

Russia operates the BN-600 at Beloyarsk at the Research Institute of Atomic Reactors (RIAR) site in Dimitrovgrad, southwest Russia.

FBRs allow a significant increase in the amount of energy obtained from natural, depleted and recycled uranium. The technology also enables plutonium and other actinides to be used and recycled. Russia has been developing MOX and metallic uranium fuels for its fast reactors.

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What is Saudi Arabia’s End Game for a 123 Agreement?

Uranium enrichmentThere has been a lot in the media lately about Saudi Arabia wanting a modified 123 Agreement to allow uranium enrichment. Do they need it for commercial purposes or is this about Middle East politics?

In a long conversation this week with a senior Wall Street industry analyst who covers utility and energy stocks, I raised the issue of whether Saudi Arabia had an economic need for enrichment for its new nuclear energy program?

First of all, why would you build your own fuel cycle production facilities when you can buy nuclear fuel for commercial reactors at bargain prices on the global market? The price of yellowcake is at a record low and there are no near-or-mid-term prospects for it to to up. Ux reports the price is $21.75 lb for U3O8  If you want to know how bad the uranium mining business is, take a look at Cameco’s earnings.

“We have seen reduction in global demand expectations, driven by early reactor retirements, delays in reactor construction programs, slower-than-expected restart process in Japan, and by changes to government administrations,” CEO Tom Gitzel said.

In words of one syllable, demand for nuclear fuel remains flat due to Japan not yet restarting many of its reactors and U.S. fleet having closed reactors in California, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Vermont with more to come. In the next three-to-five years we will lose Diablo Canyon, Pilgrim, Palisades, and Oyster Creek. We could also lose Davis-Besse and Perry. That trend going to reduce demand for uranium and nuclear fuel and keep pressure on the price of yellowcake.

Assuming the price of nuclear fuel stays lower than a level that would promote more production, it would not be economically logical for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) to invest in an enrichment facility (price is $1 billion for each 1 million SWU/year capacity)

The U.S enrichment plant proposed by Areva for Idaho was expected to cost over $2 billion and was slated to produce 2 million SWU (units of production) per year. Areva never broke ground because of the low price of nuclear fuel and this was despite having a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy for a substantial portion of the costs.

So assuming KSA builds just two 1400 MW PWR type reactors, which is the current RFP, it makes no business sense to build enrichment capacity. Even if they build four reactors the same logic holds. It’s a lot cheaper for KSA to just buy the fuel by shipping its uranium off to be processed by Urenco, Areva, etc, and have it turned into fuel assemblies or buy from existing production and not both mining domestically at all.

As a practical matter, it would take at least 10-12 1000 MW units with 60 year operating lives to make sense for KSA to even seriously consider making its own nuclear fuel which also includes all the facilities to make PWR type fuel elements. The cost of the entire fuel cycle infrastructure is a lot more than just a bunch of centrifuges.

  • Mining operations for the uranium
  • Conversion facility of yellowcake to UF6
  • Enrichment plant to spin up U235 from 0.7% to 3-5%
  • Conversion of enriched uranium (3-5% U235) in UF6 form to powder
  • Fuel pellet fabrication and fuel assembly manufacturing

My point with this list is that it is not just enrichment that’s involved if you are going to get in the business of having your own nuclear fuel cycle. These are enormously expensive investments which are only justified by having a big enough nuclear fleet, or market, to provide a positive ROI.

It follow that a claim by KSA about wanting its own enrichment is not related to commercial needs and most likely involves wanting to project the appearance or even a credible threat of eventually starting a nuclear weapons program to counter Iran.

So what is KSA’s end game in pushing for enrichment as part of a 1-2-3 agreement with the U.S? It’s to send a the message to Iran from KSA that looks like is this – back off the ballistic missile program or we’ll get enrichment and maybe a bomb. Note that Iran backed rebels in Yemen recently lobbed a several Iranian supplied ballistic missiles into KSA barely missing the airport in Riyadh. That’s almost 700 miles.

The whole thing about the 123 agreement looks to me like a effort by the Saudi to tell Iran – see what we think we can get our friends in the U.S. to do for us, If we succeed you’re behind the eight ball.

As far as Westinghouse getting any of the reactor business, which is the media narrative in DC, that’s unlikely since South Korea’s success, and experienced Arab speaking workforce, in the UAE building four reactors there positions it as a front runner. Plus, South Korea has had a $1 billion nuclear contract for an SMR with KSA since 2015. (more on this below).

Is the U.S. planning on going along with KSA to put pressure on Iran? It seems like everyone involved is playing with fire. More diplomacy and less posturing with nuclear technology might be a good idea.

Five Easy Pieces Why Saudi Arabia Will Not
Build 16 1000 MW Nuclear Reactors by 2032

There is a lot of media reports about Saudi Arabia wanting to build nuclear reactors and whether Westinghouse will get any of the business. Here are five easy pieces that explain why the current mass media narrative misses a few crucial facts.

1. No one can build that many reactors in that short a period of time. This blog post explains why KSA cannot build 16 1000 MW nuclear reactors by 2032. No vendor nor state owned nuclear export firm can do it. Also, price of oil too low. KSA can’t afford $80B.

2. So far plans are to build just two units. This blog post explains that KSA has downsized its nuclear ambitions to just two 1400 MW reactors which coincidentally matches the power rating for the UAE reactors being built by South Korea.  KSA has since modified the RFI to open up the competition. However, my view is this is for industrial intelligence purposes and not because a lot of other folks, including Westinghouse, have a shot.

3. The price of oil controls the size of the nuclear program.  This blog post explains that KSA first announced its nuclear program in 2011, but did nothing with it until September 2014 at which time it revealed the 16 reactor plan. At that time the price of oil was about $100 bbl. In January 2015 two things happened. First, the price of oil dropped to below $60 bbl and, second, KSA stopped its 16 reactors project cold.

4. South Korea is a likely front runner for any business. This blog post explains why Westinghouse is unlikely to win business supplying nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia even if the Trump administration relaxes the terms of a 123 Agreement. The reasons are that South Korea has the pole position due to several factors including; success with building four 1400 MW reactors for the UAE, an experienced workforce with a management team that speaks Arabic, and the fact that the 1400 MW design has already been built and operated in South Korea.

Also, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has signed an $1 billion agreement with South Korea to build a 300 MWt PWR reactor. The SMART reactor has a design that uses integral steam generators and advanced safety features. The reactor will have a 60 year design life and a three-year refueling cycle It will be used to generate electricity and to power reverse osmosis desalinization plants at coastal sites. The reactor will generate 100 MW of electrical power for these applications. Bottom line South Korea is already doing nuclear business with KSA.

5. The Russian deal presented by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was a non-starter. He attempted to ink a deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia for nuclear reactors linked to the lifting of U.S. sanctions under the Majnitsky Act. The mainstream media continues to describe Flynn’s involvement in the Saudi nuclear deal as driven by greed. It isn’t clear that this was his sole motivation. What does appear to be true is that most of his wires for this project were crossed and shorted out before his plane ever took off from the U.S. to the Mideast in April 2015.

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Czech CEZ to Try Again for a New Nuclear Tender

  • czech powerA plan to replace aging nuclear reactors at Dukovany and add to the units at Temelin is being revived as the current units at both sites get older and as the government works towards both energy self-sufficiency and a mid-century set of targets for reducing CO2 emissions.
  • Nuclear energy is expected to become the main source of electricity production with its share rising from 35% to between 46% and 58% in 2040 (WNA)
  • The government remains conflicted over issues related to the source of investment, the financial model to be used, including government guarantees, and how it will choose the lead reactor vendor and EPC.
  • Anti-nuclear initiatives within the European Union by its neighbor Austria may drive the government to cancel a bid process and choose a government-to-government deal with Rosatom. Also, there is pressure within the European Union  to stop the operation of existing nuclear reactors when they are 40 years old.

In the past few months the government in the Czech Republic has signaled that it wants to try again to issue a tender for new nuclear reactors at Dukovany and later down the road at Temelin. The reason is the four 440 MW Russian VVERs at Dukovany entered revenue service in the mid-1980s. By comparison the two units 1000 MW VVER at Temelin were completed in 2000 and 2003 respectively.

It’s no secret that CEZ, the state-owned nuclear electric utility, made hash out of its tender released in 2009 and cancelled five years later in 2014. Along the way the government threw out a bid by Areva claiming the French firm had not filed the correct paperwork which was disputed by the French government.

In the new round, in addition to Rosatom, potential bidders could include Korea Hydro, China General Nuclear, Westinghouse, Areva/EDF, and a collaboration of Areva and Mitsubishi. In assessing the prospects for getting the business, the Russians have a pole position due to being willing to offer significant financing and guarantees of reliable fuel services. Their pitch may be aided by the pro-Russian tilt of Czech President Milos Zeman.

If CEZ, which will now have a nuclear only business unit, chooses to issue a commercial tender, the prospects for South Korea improve because it can point to its success with the construction of four 1400 MW units in the UAE.  Plus, it has an experienced workforce it can call upon to bring lessons learned from that effort to the CEZ project.

A lead weight on South Korea’s prospects is that the current government is pursuing a domestic policy of stopping new construction, thwarted for the time being, and shutting older reactors. It’s hard to promote export of your country’s technology if the leadership on the home front is pulling the rug out from under your best efforts.

Less likely to do well in the competition are Westinghouse and Areva.  Westinghouse is still working emerge from bankruptcy. The noise from South Carolina where the V.C. Summer project collapsed due to mismanagement by Westinghouse as both the EPC and lead vendor, along with its suppliers, will be heard in Prague.  Areva has similar problems with significant cost overruns and schedule delays at its EPR projects in Finland and in France, but both of these projects are likely to eventually be completed with the reactors entering revenue service.

China is the the wild card with export deals in progress to build its new 1000 MW Hualong One PWR in the U.K. and Argentina and a CANDU project in Romania.  In the U.K. the Hualong One has entered the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process which will take four-to-five years.

China is building demonstration Hualong One reactors at Fuqing and Fangchenggang so there will be reference plants where potential customers can come kick the tires. The fact that the design is under construction at two sites in China should help with the GDA process.

Chinese state owned nuclear firms have a commitment from the U.K. government to build the Hualong One at the Bradwell nuclear site in return for a one-third equity stake in the Hinkley Point reactor project now under construction (Twin Areva/EDF 1650 MW EPRs).

There is no officially announced timeline for release of a tender timeline by CEZ nor even a government decision about whether to have one.  Best guess is the one or both decisions will take place this year subject to the outcome of interference by the European Union.

EU Mulls CEZ Decision to Offer Tender on New Nuclear Reactors

In order to release a tender the Czech government must win approval from the European Union in Brussels. The politics of the case are similar to the one in which Hungary won approval in 2016 for two Russian VVERs to be built at the $12 billion Paks II site. Austria and Germany filed protests which were overruled.

At the heart of the EU controversy are questions about the status of guaranteed rates for nuclear power plants that will serve to attract non-state investors. There isn’t a utility anywhere that will take the risk of investing billions of dollars for a revenue stream that won’t start for five-to-seven years in a merchant, e.g., unregulated, market.

Some would argue that the EU’s pressure tactics on regulated market rates for nuclear plants is designed to prevent them from being built in the first place. Some political leaders in EU nations are so far over on the “green” side of the political spectrum that if successful would force their countries to buy more natural gas, most likely from Russia, to keep their grids stable for all those solar and wind power sites.

Austria is likely to take another run at forcing the EU to take action against the Czech project which could force CEZ and the government to cancel a plan for a tender and go for a straight government-to-government deal with Russia.

Either outcome would play into Russia’s strategy of using exports of nuclear technology as a vehicle for extending that nation’s sphere of influence in European energy markets.

Negotiations on the issue with the EU are ongoing but Czech officials have been quoted by Radio Prague as saying the dialog is “difficult” at this time.

Czech Nuclear Safety Chief Warns of EU Pressure to Close Reactors

Radio Prague reports that the head of the State Office for Nuclear Safety, Dana Drábová, gave a blunt warning at a high profile energy conference held in Prague earlier this month.

“There is immense pressure developing that the operating life of nuclear reactors will be limited to 40 years.”

Czech Nuclear Power via WNA

Table & Data from World Nuclear Association

That means that our political representatives – whoever they might be – sometime around 2023 will face a battle over a further 10 year extension for Dukovany. The current State Energy Framework counts on the lifetime of the Dukovany reactors ending sometime between 2030 and 2040.”

While Drábová did not say explicitly where the pressure is coming from at the conference she did offer her views when interviewed on Czech Radio:

“There are member states which are showing a desire to go down this road. These are of course the 14 countries which are not using nuclear power and some of which regard it as something ugly. In this case we might see, let’s say, a willingness to get rid of these nuclear plants in Europe as fast as possible.”

Drábová said there are already examples in Europe where nuclear reactors have been forced to close because of what were basically political reasons. She gave the example of two reactors at Slovakia’s Jaslovské Bohunice plant which were forced to close as a condition for the country joining the European Union.

Drábová also pointed out another problem: without new nuclear reactors and some of the older ones operating, Czech plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions in line with European Union climate change plans will also be thwarted.

Czechs are counting on nuclear power plants in the long term providing around half of the country’s electricity, up from around a third now, as many of the country’s older coal-fired plants are also phased out.

Austria Files Lawsuit Against EU for Approval of PAKS II Project

(WNN) Austria has filed a lawsuit against the European Commission for its approval of Hungarian state subsidies for the construction of two new reactors at the Paks II nuclear power plant.

Austrian Sustainability Minister Elisabeth Köstinger announced on January 22nd that Austria intended to file a lawsuit against the EC. The case will now be considered by the European Court of Justice within the next few months.

Hungary received approval to start construction of new nuclear power units at Paks in 2017 following the Commission’s approval last March of commitments the country had made to” limit distortions in competition.”

The Commission found that Hungary’s financial support for the Paks II project involves state aid, which is prohibited by the EU, but it also said it could approve this support under EU state aid rules on the basis of these commitments to transparency in the bid process.

Media reports indicate that the project is essentially a government-to-government effort with Rosatom supplying the reactors, serving as the EPC, and providing the bulk of the financing for construction.

The Paks plant has four Russian VVER 440 MW PWRs built between 1982 and 1987. Russia will supply two new units at Paks – VVER-1200 reactors – as well as a Russian state loan of up to €10.0 billion ($11.2 billion) to finance 80% of the project.

Poland to Decide in 2018 on Whether to Build a Nuclear Power Station

(Reuters) The wire service reports that the Poland’s Energy Minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski said the government will decide later this year whether to build its first nuclear power plant to lower carbon emissions as part of a plan to reduce dependence on coal in the long term.

Poland, which uses coal to generate most of its electricity, plans to lower the share of coal in its energy production by mid-century.

Poland’s state-run PGE, Poland’s biggest power producer, is expected to be responsible for the nuclear project.  Approval was expected to be taken last year, but the financing of the nuclear power plant remains a problem.

The energy ministry is also looking at possibilities to deploy high temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGR) in the future in addition to conventional light water reactors.

Poland’s PGE open to other partners in nuclear power plan

(Reuters)  Poland’s biggest power producer PGE is ready to cooperate with more partners in a plan to build the country’s first nuclear power plant, the company told the wire service.

Poland produces most of its electricity from coal.  Global pressures to shift away from the polluting fuel are forcing it to review plans for power generation.

State-run PGE has been leading the long-delayed nuclear power project. However it has limited financial resources for the plans. There have been multiple delays in setting a start date for work on the nuclear project due to problems lining up investors.

The Energy Ministry said it would welcome other partners to help fund the project that could cost 50 billion to 60 billion zlotys ($15 billion to $18 billion).

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Holtec Inks Collaboration Deal for SMR Fuel Development

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF), Holtec International and SMR Inventec, LLC (SMR, LLC),  announced a collaboration to advance the development of the SMR-160, a single loop, 160 MWe pressurized light water reactor based on existing light water technologies. (Technical briefing – PDF file)

Holtec SMR

Conceptual model of Holtec 160MW SMR. Image: Holtec media web page

The cooperation will initially focus on nuclear fuel development supported by GNF and control rod drive mechanisms designed by GEH, and may later extend to other areas. Holtec plans to design, license, commercialize, deploy and service the SMR globally.

“We are excited to leverage the experience and capabilities of world class nuclear companies like GEH and GNF as we bring our game changing SMR-160 technology to global markets,” said Holtec President and CEO Dr. Kris Singh.

On January 31, 2018, SMR, LCC submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Energy with support from GEH and GNF, among others, in response to funding opportunity announcement DE-FOA-0001817. The “Integral and Separate Effects Test Program for the Investigation and Validation of Passive Safety System Performance of SMRs”

In August 2017 SMR LLC was granted access to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory by the DOE in support of the SMR-160, development of which began in 2011.

The project as proposed would yield a uniquely configurable set of testing platforms to demonstrate passive safety system performance, accelerate the SMR-160 and other small modular reactor designs to market and help license these designs with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and international regulators.

GEH and GNF will support phenomena assessments, scaling analyses, safety analysis system code assessment and benchmarking and identification of recommended experimental tests.

“We believe that our experience with boiling water reactor fuel lends itself quite well to the design features of the SMR-160,” said Amir Vexler, CEO of GNF.

“We’ve been manufacturing boiling water reactor fuel at our Wilmington, North Carolina facility for nearly 50 years and we look forward to the possibility of making SMR-160 fuel here too.”

World Nuclear News reported that last July last, Holtec signed a teaming agreement with Canada’s SNC-Lavalin to collaborate in the development of the SMR-160. Under the agreement, SNC-Lavalin – the parent company of Candu Energy – will provide Holtec with a range of nuclear engineering services, including supporting the licensing of the SMR-160 reactor.

Holtec has previously secured engineering, design and qualification support for its work on the SMR-160 from the Shaw Group and URS Corporation, and has a strategic alliance with utility PSEG Power, operator of three nuclear units at Salem and Hope Creek in New Jersey.

In August 2015, Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc signed a long-term partnership agreement with Holtec to develop the instrumentation and control systems for the SMR-160.

Holtec president and chief executive officer Kris Singh said these collaborations will ensure the supply chain is in place to deliver and fabricate critical SMR-160 technologies and components, including at the company’s new advanced manufacturing division in the state of New Jersey.

Holtec Said to Plan SMR Manufacturing Plant in Ukraine

holtec logoAccording to English language wire service reports Holtec International is considering expanding its facilities in Ukraine for the production of small modular reactors for nuclear power plants.

The reports quote Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States Valeriy Chaly who said February 14 that the possibility of joint production of small modular reactors in Ukraine is being considered.

According to Chaly, President of Holtec International Kris Singh, when he opened a similar company in New Jersey, said during a personal conversation that he was considering building such a plant in Ukraine.

“President Singh has, in fact, selected only three sites in the world where he wants to implement his project – India, where he comes from, the United States, where his company currently operates, and Ukraine,” the Ukrainian diplomat said.

Holtec has declined to comment in the past on media reports it wants to build an SMR plant in the Ukraine.

The firm is deeply involved in helping Ukraine manage spent nuclear fuel.

According to World Nuclear News on February 15th the U.S. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) issued a “political risk insurance contract” for the Central Spent Fuel Storage Facility (CSFSF) at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. OPIC, the US government’s development finance institution, is providing insurance to support the project trust’s $250 million fixed-rate bond securities issuance in US capital markets.

The proceeds will fund a 20-year loan to Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator Energoatom. The facility, which Energoatom and the USA’s Holtec International started building last November, will store used fuel from three of Ukraine’s four nuclear power plants. Holtec specializes in technology for wet and dry storage of spent nuclear fuel.

Rolls-Royce Said to Claim Its First SMR Can Be Ready by 2030

(Bloomberg) Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc says it will take 12 years to build its prototype small nuclear reactor in the U.K. According to the wire service, Alan Woods, director of strategy and business development at the engineering firm, said the company will take its time and not make promises it can’t keep.

Woods added that Rolls-Royce needs as long as five years for the licensing and design assessment process, while construction will take another seven for its first 440 MW unit.  At this size it really isn’t an SMR which is usually defined as being less than 300 MW. The 440 MW design is based on doubling a 220 MW design.

Woods predicted that the firm could start the generic design assessment (GDA) process for the new reactors by the end of 2018 depending on government action. The firm gave a long interview to World Nuclear News in June 2017 about its market prospects.

IAEA Announces Expansion Of International Cooperation On SMR Technology

(NucNet) The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is launching an effort to expand international cooperation and coordination in the design, development and deployment of small, medium sized or modular reactors (SMRs), which are among “the most promising emerging technologies in nuclear power,” the agency said on February 16.

The IAEA said global interest in SMRs is growing.  The first three advanced SMRs are expected to begin commercial operation in Argentina, China and Russia between 2018 and 2020.

The IAEA technical working group, comprising some 20 IAEA member states and international organizations, is scheduled to meet for the first time on 23-26 April 2018 at the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna.

South Korea Pursues Saudi Arabia Nuclear Power Deal

(Yonhap News Agency) South Korea’s energy ministry said  it will make concerted efforts with the local nuclear industry and related associations to submit a winning proposal for Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear power project, which is expected to select a contractor by the end of this year.  South Korea has been working on an SMR design for export in an MOU with Saudi Arabia for the past several years.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy held a meeting with the two state utility firms — the Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) and the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP) — as well as nuclear institutes and trade organizations to set up an effective strategy to secure the crucial deal.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter, has received offers from five nations, including South Korea, to build two nuclear reactors. The kingdom is expected to shortlist two to three preferred bidders by April and plans to select a winner by the end of this year.

France’s Macron Does Not Rule Out Building New Nuclear Reactors

(Reuters) French President Emmanuel Macron said he would not rule out France building new nuclear reactors to replacing state-controlled utility EDF’s ageing reactors.

According to the wire service Macron told reporters. “There is no taboo about this subject.”

Macron said he remains committed to reducing France’s carbon emissions and his promise to close coal-fired plants but did not say how he would reduce the share of nuclear energy in French power generation.

According to the World Nuclear Association, France has a plan for a submerged SMR, called Flexblue. This is a conceptual design from DCNS (a state-owned defense group), Areva, EdF and CEA.

It is designed to be submerged, 60-100 meters deep on the sea bed up to 15 km offshore, and returned to a dry dock for servicing. The reactor, steam generators and turbine-generator would be housed in a submerged 12,000 tonne cylindrical hull about 100 meters long and 12-15 meters diameter.

Each hull and power plant would be transportable using a purpose-built vessel. Reactor capacity is 50-250 MWe, derived from DCNS’s latest naval designs.

The design was most recently (August 2017) profiled in the Economist which published a report on floating nuclear power plants. The newspaper explored the idea that having the plants at sea would be safer than building them inland.

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Posted in Nuclear | 2 Comments

DOE wants ideas to educate the public about nuclear energy

climate_change_carbon_taxA senior official in the Office of Nuclear Energy has issued an invitation asking for ideas on how to educate the public about nuclear energy. 

A problem is going to be how to promote nuclear energy at a government agency. and in an administration, which denies that climate change is caused by human activities that release greenhouse gases.

Educating the public about nuclear energy is a positive action so your support, gratis, is solicited.  You will find below the request which appears to have been sent selectively to people who are actually in the business of educating the public about nuclear energy including at least one citizen activist.

Apparently, the concepts that the government has been using aren’t working as well as expected so it looks like the door is open for new ones. Given the terrifying pace at which rock solid nuclear plants are being closed prematurely for market reasons, any innovation that can make a difference in that regard would be welcome.

I did not get the email invitation nor did another blogger many of you know well who has been blogging about nuclear energy longer than anyone can remember.  Someone who did get it forwarded it to others and since there is no apparent restriction on circulating it, I offer it here (below) with a few comments.

I have no idea if DOE also contacted the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), American Nuclear Society (ANS), Third Way, or any of the other advocacy groups especially the ones promoting small modular reactors.  If DOE is interested in casting a wide net, it needs to step up its game in terms of email blasts to stakeholders.

That said here’s the email and a point of contact to send your ideas.


From: “Jaworowski, Suzanne”
Subject: Input on the Most Interesting Facts about Nuclear
Date: February 8, 2018 at 4:13 PM EST

Hello, As you may know, the Office of Nuclear Energy is executing a strategic communications effort to educate people about today’s nuclear technology.  I’d like to ask you to weigh in on what you think are the MOST interesting and important facts to know about Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Technology.

  • What facts do you think are most important?
  • What facts do you tell people and they are surprised?

Could you please send me up to five favorite facts that you personally use in speaking about nuclear energy that you find to be convincing with the public? We’d like to collect these facts and then amplify them in our communications channels.

Please send me your top five most motivating facts about Nuclear by 2/14 end of day.   Thank you!

Suzanne Jaworowski, Chief of Staff, Senior Advisor, Office of Nuclear Energy


What about Climate Change?

The  paradox DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy is going to face is that educating the public about nuclear energy requires acknowledging the challenge of dealing with climate change. The current administration, including DOE Secretary Rick Perry, have an official policy position that it’s not a phenomenon caused by human activities that release greenhouse gases.

Over at EPA Scott Pruitt, a tool of the fossil industry if there ever was one, has been hard at work wrecking the agency and its programs with hundreds of scientists and engineers quitting rather than work under the direction of his willful blindness on the issue.

Despite the Trump administration’s views on coal, and effort to secure votes in coal states, including WV, PA, OH, IN, and IL, there are changes afoot that could be significant in the 2018 elections.

Even some green groups, which have long on reflex opposed anything related to nuclear energy have started to change their tune.  As evidence, this recent article in Grist proves that point.  If DOE wants to look to Congress for leadership in this area, it can start with a recent OP ED in the New York Times by two U.S. Senators, one republican and one democrat.

Who DOE Could Talk to if the Agency is Serious

The agency ought to be talking to Michael Shellenberger at Environmental Progress or the folks at Generation Atomic if they want “grass roots” input. Also, I’m sure the people at NEI and ANS would be happy to give DOE the benefit of their thinking.

Recent efforts to talk to a Millennial Caucus on nuclear energy is a start, but mass communications strategies that reach tens of millions of people, which is how Nuclear Matters works, need a major commitment by the government to get its message on television and in social media channels.

More to the point DOE needs to be talking to state legislatures about keeping nuclear plants open starting with Ohio where Davis-Besse and Perry are on the brink of premature closure.

We’re in a major crisis in the U.S. where we are closing the power plants that don’t emit CO2 and building ones that do.  We will wind up with a another paradox of powering electric cars with energy generated at fossil plants with the accompanying CO2 emissions. For instance, C02 emissions from the electricity sector increased 24 percent after the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (2200 MW) in California closed.

A key idea DOE could pursue in communicating with the public is how a carbon tax would help keep nuclear plants open.  The idea is that since the benefits of not frying the planet accrue to everyone, then all tax payers need to help pay for the benefits they receive from this intervention.

Otherwise, with no price put on the release of greenhouse gases and other pollution into the air, you get a red hot case of the tragedy of the commons. Garrett Hardin’s classic article in Science still stands as relevant 50 years later

Can a Zebra Change its Stripes?

SJ headshotI  did a bit of Internet searching to see whether Ms. Jaworoski (right) has expertise in the nuclear energy industry. Prior to working of DOE/NE she was an election campaign activist and before that a PR manager for a coal mining firm.

Ms. Jaworowski, co-chaired GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina’s 2016 Indiana campaign.

Previously, she served as director of communications at Sunrise Coal, a company active in the Illinois basin that bills itself as the second-largest coal producer in Indiana.

It’s ironic, that a former PR chief for a coal company is now looking for ideas to promote nuclear energy. If it works, more power to her.

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Posted in Nuclear | 5 Comments

Paper Reports Proliferate on Future Benefits and Uses of SMRs

  • SMR modulesDOE, NEI, and several allied nuclear trade groups were busy in January issuing reports on ways to promote small modular reactors (SMRs). Their ideas about regulatory reform for advanced reactors are just plain common sense and deserve near-term action by the NRC.
  • A case for SMRs as benefiting grid resiliency faces the reality that this is as much a market issue as it is one that relates to technical concerns.
  • A proposal for power purchase agreements from national labs for SMRs is likely to encounter tough opposition from utilities that already provide electrical power to these sites from plants that burn natural gas.

If the Department of Energy (DOE) and these trade groups could then engage with Congress to seek new authority for loan guarantees and targeted production tax credits for light water and advanced reactor designs of small modular reactors (SMRs) with the same level of effort they currently devote to grinding out paper studies, the problem of jump starting the SMR industry in this country might be solved in short order.

Power Purchase Agreements – The big idea that DOE has in its current round of SMR studies is to authorize its national laboratories to enter into power purchase agreements with SMRs to provide investors with certainty that there would be customers for the electricity they would generate once they come online.

The Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) recommend this concept in their report in SMRs last Fall.  Both the NIA and DOE see this strategy as part of an effort to counteract the reality that SMRs, like the full size units, are at a competitive disadvantage in deregulated electricity markets. (More on this below.)

However, the investor owned utilities that currently provide electric power to the national labs might not be happy to see this initiative. The reason is that they have capital assets already in place that are generating this electricity with many more years of revenue service planned for them.

Given the number of states (senate) and congressional districts (house) involved in hosting 17 national laboratories, DOE is likely to run into a buzz saw of opposition against its plan to swap out the revenue streams from existing generating facilities for SMRs.

Overall, power purchase agreements for federal facilities sounds like a subsidy that is ripe for attack by natural gas suppliers and the utilities that operate gas fired plants. As long as natural gas prices stay low, say under $6-8/mbtu, it is going to be a significant fuel source for electricity generation and industrial process heat applications.

In fact, natural gas could dominate these sectors for the next several decades if not longer. This fact is not lost on Entergy and other utilities which have the majority of their generating facilities burning natural gas.

Grid Resiliency –  DOE has published a report on “grid resiliency” which addresses the benefits of SMRs in keeping the grid up and delivering power to customers.

Yet, in Ohio the argument for “grid resiliency hasn’t moved the needle in terms of the governor nor in the state legislature over efforts to save the state’s two nuclear power plants which provide about 2 Gwe of CO2 emission free electrical power. In New York, its plans to save some but not all of its nuclear plants is being challenged in court.

In New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has prevailed in his efforts, aided by the deep pockets of green groups, to cause Entergy to abandon its efforts to extend the NRC licenses of the twin Indian Point reactors by another 20 years. How resilient the grid will be once the plants shut down remains to be seen. That grid supports the electrified railroads that move millions of commuters daily.

Overall, it isn’t clear how much traction DOE is going to get out of the “grid resiliency” report. (More on this below.)

SMR Power Purchase Agreements for National Laboratories

DOE believes that the way to provide “customers” for SMRs is to get Congress to authorize its 17 national labs to enter into power purchase agreements with utilities that would build them.  The Nuclear Energy Institute took a closer look at this recommendation in the DOE report which is over 100 pages long. Here are a few highlights from NEI’s summary.

According to DOE Long-term power purchase agreements between a federal agency customer and power-producing utility would help to significantly reduce the risk of constructing and operating the first small modular reactors in the U.S., the report says.

“By creating an authority that permits federal agencies to purchase power for up to 30 years, SMR developers will be able to use traditional financing to repay a project financed project or a long-term bond over an up to 30-year term, making the financing more affordable.”

Currently, only the Department of Defense has the authority to enter into power purchase agreements of 30 years in duration, in certain circumstances. Two national labs are working on SMRs but from different perspectives.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is currently going through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission early site permit process for developing two or more SMRs at the Clinch River Site.

However, TVA has made it clear it has no plans to actually build an SMR at the site. Once issued by the NRC, the Early Site Permit has a shelf life of 20 years. All TVA is doing is keeping its options open without the risk of starting a major capital project before its time.

Another example of collaboration between a small modular reactor developer and a national laboratory is NuScale Power, of which the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) is planning to build up to 12 50 MW units at the Idaho National Laboratory.

The report, conducted by Kutak Rock and Scully Capital for DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, builds on a January 2017 report which studies the options available to federal agencies looking to buy power from SMRs.

Resiliency Benefits of U.S. Advanced SMRs

DOE’s report also states that there are a number of benefits to SMRs, ranging from increased safety features that passively cool reactor cores without the need for operator action to better financing options thanks to quicker construction times, less components and smaller sizes.  Without getting any further into how well the report will be received, here’s a short list of some of the benefits of SMRs as seen by DOE.

Fuel Security – SMRs can easily store up to two years’ worth of fuel on-site, allowing them to maintain power during and after extreme weather events or other threats to the grid.

Flexibility – Certain designs, like DOE-supported NuScale Power, LLC, can vary their energy output over days, hours and even minutes. This allows SMRs to respond quickly to a grid outage and adjust to changing load demands.

SMRs can also start up from a completely de-energized state without receiving energy from the grid. This can help the grid meet system requirements in terms of voltage, frequency and other attributes when recovering from an outage.

Security – In-ground construction of SMRs make them less vulnerable to extreme weather events and other physical attacks on the grid. They also use minimal electrical parts that reduce vulnerability to electromagnetic pulses.

Independent Operation – SMRs can operate connected to the grid or independently, allowing them to power a campus facility or a military base or a national laboratory in the event of grid failure.

The report makes the following additional recommendations:

  • Extend the 2005 Energy Policy Act production tax credits to cover SMRs
  • Authorize the DOE loan program to continue to support advanced reactors
  • Include nuclear energy in the definition of “clean power,” and if EPA’s Clean Power Plan continues, add a rule that allows SMRs to be given credit as zero-carbon energy sources to encourage their adoption
  • Foster collaboration between DOE and the Department of Defense to identify facilities that can benefit from hosting or siting SMRs nearby to offer additional energy resilience.

Nuclear Trade Groups Seek NRC Licensing Reforms

Three trade groups in the U.S. nuclear industry have provided the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) a set of recommendations on how the agency can streamline licensing of advanced reactors to ensure American leadership in nuclear energy.

nuclear logos

Developed by NEI in coordination with the Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) and the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council (USNIC), the white paper, “Ensuring the Future of U.S. Nuclear Energy: Creating a Streamlined and Predictable Licensing Pathway to Deployment,” outlines the necessary steps to support innovation, commercialization and deployment of new nuclear technology.

However, the groups say that without a modern, streamlined and safety-focused licensing process that accounts for the unique safety characteristics of these designs, “this technology leadership is at risk” and other countries will begin to outpace the U.S. in the international market for advanced nuclear technology.

The fact is that this has already happened. Russia and China have made major investments in multiple advanced reactors designs.  China is on the verge of having an HTGR for export.

To ensure U.S. companies can still develop and build advanced reactors, the paper—which was developed by NEI with the assistance of NIA and USNIC—offered the following near-term objectives for urgent consideration by the NRC commission and senior management:

  • Reverse the trend of increasing regulatory costs and excessively long reviews: The paper urges the NRC to begin taking steps against “regulatory creep” by focusing its licensing reviews on areas that are safety-significant.
  • Align the regulatory framework for advanced reactors with their inherent enhanced safety: The report says the NRC urgently needs to continue its work with the industry to tailor its regulatory guidance and regulations to address the characteristics of reactor designs other than the large light water reactors.
  • Among the potential inherent safety features of advanced reactors that should be reflected in design reviews are less complex designs leading to larger safety margins, slower accident progression, less likely and smaller off-site releases, and smaller emergency planning zones.
  • The trade groups say that modernizing design requirements via a more technology-inclusive, performance-based and safety-focused regulatory process would reduce unnecessary regulatory burden, reduce licensing and operating costs, and improve the economic viability of these technologies and the confidence of stakeholders.
  • Define licensing options clearly, including options for staged applications and approval: For some non-light water reactor designs, there needs to be a clearly defined process for licensing one portion of the design at a time. The industry is working with the NRC to apply the agency’s existing regulations that allow for staged, incremental review and approvals.
  • Related reforms are to develop better guidance for applicants to reduce designers’ uncertainty about the NRC review process, clarify pre-application interactions with the agency, and help remove unnecessary barriers to innovation.
  • Provide additional flexibility for changes during construction: Utilities and reactor builders need the ability to make changes during reactor construction without prior NRC approval for even minor changes. Without new or revised guidance and regulation for these processes, the result is increased construction costs, delays and unnecessary regulatory burden.

In summary the paper says, these needed changes will enable the use of new and innovative advanced reactor technologies and are essential to preserve the future of nuclear technology in the United States and the nation’s role as a leader in technology innovation.

SMRs ‘Crucial’ to Decarbonizing the UK Economy

(WNN) Small modular reactors (SMRs) could be “a crucial technology” in efforts to decarbonize the UK’s energy system, according to a report published by the Policy Exchange. The report makes recommendations as to how government policy can lay the groundwork for their development and deployment.

The reports says, “It is clear that in meeting our low-carbon energy needs that nuclear power should play a crucial role.” The Policy Exchange says in its new report;

“Decarbonizing our existing electricity system with 100% renewable energy would be possible, but unnecessarily expensive and perhaps unsustainable. The intermittent nature of solar and wind would mean that large amounts of under-utilized backup capacity would be required at great expense to the consumer/taxpayer.”

The Policy Exchange says the reality is that in Western economies, “traditional nuclear power plants are not thriving.” Utilities are having problems financing new build projects while vendors are struggling to reduce costs and complete projects on schedule.

More significantly, the collapse of the V.C. Summer nuclear project in South Carolina, due to mismanagement, has given other utility CEO’s in the U.S. a yellow caution flag in terms of making the “prudent investor” case to their boards and stockholders for new construction.

Meanwhile, the UK government restarted, after a long delay, the first phase of an SMR competition to identify the best value SMR design for the UK. A decision on how to proceed with the second phase is due in the coming months.

The Policy Exchange report says, “The government should choose at least one Generation III+ design SMR to take forward through detailed design to demonstration. The metrics on which to judge the best SMR should be simplicity of design, potential for cost reductions and the speed of deployment.”

Rolls-Royce Awards Contract For UK SMR Module Demonstrator

(NucNet): Rolls-Royce has awarded a contract to the government-backed Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre to develop a module demonstrator for the UK Small Modular Reactor (SMR).

The demonstrator, to be developed at the Nuclear AMRC’s Birkenhead facility near Liverpool, will help develop an understanding of modules and confirm details of design and cost for the planned SMR. Rolls-Royce did not say how much the contract was worth.

Matt Blake, a chief engineer at Rolls-Royce, told NucNet: “Modular design is central to our UK SMR power station, not only for the reactor components but for the construction of the entire plant.

Rolls-Royce is developing and evaluating a range of modularization techniques which could be used to build a new fleet of SMRs. It is leading a consortium of British companies to design an SMR to deliver “low-cost, low-carbon energy”.

Rolls-Royce said the UK SMR could produce reliable energy for as low as £60 (€68, $85) per megawatt hour – competitive against wind and solar. Through its innovative approach to modular construction it can avoid the complexities, delays and overspends often associated with large nuclear reactor projects.

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Posted in Nuclear | 3 Comments