Big News for Big Iron in UK and Czech Republic

  • French Utility EDF has Submitted an Application to Build Two 1600 MW EPRs at the Sizewell C Site in the UK
  • The Government of the Czech Republic Will Lend its State Owned Utility CEZ up to 70% of the Cost of a New Full Size Nuclear Power Station,
    • Buy the Electricity from it at a Fixed Rate, and
    • Release a Tender for Bids by the end of 2020 with a Decision in 2022

Other Nuclear News

  • NRC Approval Of New Framework ‘Paves Way For Next Generation Reactors’
  • Terrestrial Energy IMSR Supplier Forum Hosted by Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries

French Utility EDF Submits an Application to Build Two 1600 MW EPRs at the Sizewell C Site in the UK

The French state-owned utility EDF has submitted an application to UK regulators to build two massive 1600 MW EPRs a the Sizewell C site in the UK at an estimated cost of $22 billion or about $6,800/Kw. When completed it will be the second pair of EPRs in the UK delivering in combination 14% of the electricity needed in the UK. The first two units are under construction at the Hinkley Point C site and are expected to come online in 2025.

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The application, which goes by the bureaucratic title of “Development Consent Order, was delivered to the UK Planning Inspectorate after a two-month delay due to the corona virus crisis.

New Financing Method

EDF is requesting financing using a method that will allow it to be paid as progress is made in building the units. The plan will provide for cheaper financing and lower costs. The method, call the “regulated asset base” or RAB, has been successfully used for other very large infrastructure projects in the UK including the massive flood control measures on the Thames River. The use of this method, EDF said, will insure that the majority of the financing will come from UK investors.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK Nuclear Industry Association, said told World Nuclear News in July 2019 the RAB model “promises to make a substantial contribution” to reducing the cost of building the new nuclear capacity the country needs if it is to meet its climate change targets.

“This approach is already well established with investors in large infrastructure projects, and will reduce the cost to consumers as we replace our ageing fleet. Doing so is fundamental to meeting net zero, and we need to get on with it now,” Greatrex said.

China’s Role in the UK Nuclear New Build

Additional financing will come from China General Nuclear (CGN) which will provide a 20% stake worth an estimated $3.6 billion. CGN has already taken a 33.5% stake in the Hinkley Point C project.

Additionally, CGN has a commitment from the UK government to build two Chinese designed Hualong One 1000 MW PWR type reactors at the Bradwell site. The design is currently working its way through the four-year generic design assessment process in the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR). In February 2020 ONR reported on its website that the Hualong One had completed three of the four phases of the GDR.

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Controlling Construction Costs

According to EDF, construction of the two EPRs at Sizewell will create 25,000 jobs and a permanent workforce of 900 plant operations staff. About 70% of the supply chain procurement are slated for UK firms.

EDF said Sizewell C will be a near replica of Hinkley Point C in Somerset. As a near replica of Hinkley Point C, EDF as said said that Sizewell C will be cheaper to construct and finance.

“It will benefit from the experience of Hinkley Point C’s engineers, contractors and suppliers and lessons from other nuclear projects, including operational EPR plants. It can also repeat the huge boost for industry, jobs and skills already happening due to Hinkley Point C’s construction.”

The public review of the EDF application for Sizewell C will begin after an internal acceptance review and public notice. Public consultations are likely to take place this Fall. EDF has not yet released a construction start date for the project.

Czech Republic Government to Finance 70%
of New Nuclear Plant at Dukovany

According to wire services, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on May 29 that his government will provide a loan to state-owned Czech utility CEZ to cover 70% of the cost of a new 1200 MW nuclear power station at the utility’s Dukovany site. The utility is then expected to provide 30% of the remaining funding.

The cost of the project has a preliminary price tag of $6.7 billion or about $5,600/Kw. A tender for award of the construction and EPC contracts is expected to be released by the end of 2020, or earlier, with announcement of the winning bidders by the end of 2022.

So far six firms have expressed interest in the project – China Nuclear General, EDF, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, Rosatom, the Atmea consortium of Mitsubishi and EDF, and Westinghouse.

CEZ officials told wire services that they are working with the government on a plan to buy electricity from the completed power station at a fixed rate of return and that if the market price for electricity drops below it, the government will make up the difference. If the price goes above it, the utility will not gain from that increase.

The utility may have to buy out the shares held by outside investors as some of them have objected to the financial risks from cost overruns.

OTHER NUCLEAR NEWS

NRC Approval Of New Framework ‘Paves Way
For Next Generation Reactors’

(NucNet)  The U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted unanimous approval of a licensing framework for advanced non-light water reactors. The decision paves the way for regulatory reviews to be aligned with the safety characteristics and simplified designs of Generation IV advanced reactors.

On May 26 the NRC voted 4-0 to approve the implementation of a more streamlined and predictable licensing process for advanced non-light water reactors.

  • For background see “A Regulatory Review Roadmap For Non-Light Water ReactorsML17312B567 
  • For all NRC documents related to the decision, see VR-SECY-19-0117: Technology-Inclusive, Risk-Informed, and Performance-Based Methodology to Inform the Licensing Basis and Content of Applications for Licenses, Certifications, and Approvals for Non-Light-Water Reactors ML20147A149

This approach is consistent with the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA), which was passed last year by Congress and signed into law in January 2020. The legislation calls for the development of a licensing process for advanced reactor developers.

The NRC decision received two important statements of support from the industry.

Doug True, chief nuclear officer at the trade group Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), said: “A modernized regulatory framework is a key enabler of next-generation nuclear technologies that can help us meet our energy needs while protecting the climate.”

True said a well-defined licensing path will benefit the next generation of nuclear plants, which could meet a wide range of applications beyond generating electricity such as producing heat for industry, desalinating water, and making hydrogen.

He added that it will help regulators develop a new rule for licensing advanced reactors, as required by NEIMA.

Marilyn Kray, president of the American Nuclear Society, said earlier this year that the passage of the NEIMA legislation was a “big win” for the nation and its nuclear community.

“By reforming outdated laws, the NRC will now be able to invest more freely in advanced nuclear R&D and licensing activities. This in turn will accelerate deployment of cutting-edge American nuclear systems and better prepare the next generation of nuclear engineers and technologists.”

Background Document

Last February the NRC released its ‘Advanced Reactors Program Status’ paper, aimed toward informing the public of its progress and providing an overview of factors related to the licensing and deployment of advanced reactors.

The paper discusses the progress made in six strategic areas: (1) staff development and knowledge management, (2) analytical tools, (3) regulatory framework, (4) consensus codes and standards, (5) resolution of policy issues, and (6) communications. ML19331A034 

Terrestrial Energy IMSR Supplier Forum Hosted by
Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries

Terrestrial Energy executives discussed plans for developing the Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR®) power plant and opportunities for suppliers on a May 26 webcast hosted by the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries (OCNI).

The Terrestrial Energy IMSR Supplier Forum was led by OCNI President and CEO Ron Oberth. After an introduction by Dr. Oberth, Robin Manley, Vice President, New Nuclear Development at Ontario Power Generation (OPG), discussed OPG’s plans to review and assess SMR designs for the utility’s future use.

Terrestrial Energy CEO Simon Irish provided an overview of the development of the 195 MW IMSR® Generation IV advanced nuclear power plant and its progress to market in Canada and internationally.

Terrestrial Energy said at the forum it is on track to commission with first utility customers the first commercial IMSR power plants in the late 2020s. The IMSR was the first advanced reactor to complete Phase 1 of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission Vendor Design Review in November 2017, and the company expects to complete that process in 2021.

TEI-ISMR-HowItWorks-Diagram

Conceptual image of Terrestrial Energy Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor Design and Applications

“Timely supply of IMSR components and services is now a key objective of IMSR development,” said Mr. Irish, CEO of Terrestrial Energy.

“We are grateful to the OCNI for its supply chain outreach and the opportunity to provide an update on IMSR® progress to more than 200 companies in the nuclear supply chain.”

Terrestrial Energy’s Bill Smith, Senior Vice President, Operations and Engineering, and Iftikhar Haque, Head of Supply Chain, discussed the company’s procurement strategy, IMSR supply chain development, and opportunities for Canadian companies to participate.

The speakers also highlighted how exports of IMSR Generation IV power plants would create large additional opportunities for Canadian nuclear companies. An overview of Terrestrial Energy’s Quality Assurance program was provided by Cathy Clavel, QA Manager, and Mr. Smith.

Video _Terrestrial Energy IMSR Shown at Supplier Forum

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New Lamps for Old: Australia, Puerto Rico Open to Efforts for Small Modular Reactors

  • Australia / Government To Examine SMRs As Part Of Energy Planning
  • Puerto Rico / New Report Finds Small Modular Reactors are Feasible
  • U.S. / New TVA Board Members Support Development Work for SMRs
  • France / Nuclear Society Urges Government To Commit To New-Build
  • South Africa / Nuclear Industry Association Supports Government Proposals for Nuclear Power
  • Brazil / COVID-19 to Delay New Nuclear Plant

Australia / Government To Examine SMRs As Part Of Energy Planning

new lamp(NucNet) The Australian federal government has taken a major step forward in addressing the need for CO2 emission free electrical generation power sources.

In a major new report it says it wants to look at the possibility of deploying small modular reactors (SMRs) as part of its policy to achieve its medium-and long-term greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target which is a strategy that is  part of its obligation under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

The discussion paper said emerging nuclear technologies, including small modular reactors, have potential but require R&D and identified deployment pathways.

“Engineering, cost and environmental challenges, alongside social acceptability of nuclear power in Australia, will be key determinants of any future deployment,” the paper said.

The paper examined more than 140 energy technologies including nuclear, hydrogen, renewables, biofuels and carbon capture and storage.

It said while solar and wind were the cheapest forms of generation, reliability was still an issue and gas would play an important part in “balancing” renewable energy sources. The natural gas industry has lobbied for investments in gas-fueled electrical generation projects and also development of carbon capture technologies.

Over time Labor and coalition governments have maintained a bipartisan moratorium on the construction and operation of nuclear power plants in Australia. That changed in December 2019 as a parliamentary committee said the Australian government should consider a partial lifting of an existing moratorium on nuclear energy to allow the deployment of new and emerging technologies including Generation III+ and Generation IV reactors.

The back story on this development is the request of energy minister Angus Taylor to the parliament’s House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy which began in August 2019 as an inquiry into the nuclear fuel cycle and Australia’s potential future use of nuclear energy.

In its final report the committee said the government should consider the prospect of nuclear technology as part of Australia’s future energy mix.

Companies including Russia’s Rosatom and U.S. based NuScale told the inquiry that small modular reactor technology could be a perfect fit for Australia because they provide the reliable, load-following power needed to address the intermittency of renewables.

“Nuclear energy should be on the table for consideration as part of our future energy mix,” committee chairman Ted O’Brien said.

“Australia should say a definite ‘No’ to old nuclear technologies but a conditional ‘Yes’ to new and emerging technologies such as small modular reactors. And most importantly, the Australian people should be at the center of any approval process.”

“If we’re serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we can’t simply ignore this zero-emissions baseload technology. But we also need to be humble enough to learn lessons from other countries who have gone down this path. It’s as much about getting the technology right as it is about maintaining a social licence based on trust and transparency.”

New Report Finds Small Modular Reactors are Feasible in Puerto Rico

naplogo(WNN)  Advanced nuclear reactors can meet Puerto Rico’s unique energy needs by complementing renewable sources with zero-emission electricity resilient to extreme natural events, including hurricanes, a preliminary feasibility study has concluded.

The study conducted by Puerto Rican-led not-for-profit organization the Nuclear Alternative Project (NAP) was funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE).

NAP has completed the first comprehensive Preliminary Feasibility Study for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) and Microreactors for Puerto Rico. The study was led by Puerto Rican engineers who work in the U.S. nuclear industry, with the support of industry partners, U.S. national laboratories and local contributors.

pr report participants

Scope of the Report

This Preliminary Feasibility Study aims to address critical questions specific to Puerto Rico. Economic and safety assessments will follow eventually. Our Study was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Nuclear Energy. The topics covered in this Preliminary Feasibility Study include:

  • ​Market conditions in Puerto Rico
  • Technology assessment
  • Public perception
  • Grid assessment
  • Legal and regulatory framework
  • Financing, ownership and operation mechanisms
  • Weighing the benefits and challenges for Puerto Rico

Background for the Report

Puerto Rico currently generates 98% of its electricity from imported fossil fuels, and its power plants, built in the late 1960s, experience outage rates 12 times higher than the US average. Within the next decade, Puerto Rico proposes a transition from a centralized system dependent on fossil fuels to a distributed system centred on clean energy. Its legislature in 2018 passed a bill calling for an investigation into the possibility of building nuclear power plants on the island, which suffered widespread outages following Hurricane Maria in 2017.

NAP, founded in 2016 by Puerto Rican engineers in the US nuclear industry to inform and advocate for small modular reactors (SMRs) and microreactors in Puerto Rico, proposed a feasibility study to the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy, to evaluate the economic, safety and social impact of deploying microreactors and SMRs on the island.

The study began last October, having received receipt of a “notice to proceed” from the US DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory. The findings of that feasibility study were released by NAP this week.

Looking Ahead for Nuclear Energy Development in Puerto Rico

The Integrated Resource Plan proposed by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) calls for Puerto Rico to have new solar, storage and natural gas capacity in the order of 3000 MWe by 2025. The Puerto Rico Renewable Portfolio Standard mandates 40% renewable energy generation by 2025, 60% renewables by 2040 and 100% renewables by 2050.

smrs for pr

“Only nuclear reactors can complement the intermittency of renewable power sources with zero-emission baseload power generation,” the feasibility study said. It found small nuclear reactors can integrate with renewable energy and the existing transmission and distribution grid as well as with a decentralized system envisioned for the island.

According to the study, the delivery of electricity from SMRs and microreactors can be cost competitive when compared with natural gas generation from mobile gas units and combined cycle gas turbine units proposed by PREPA as part of the island’s fleet replacement.

“Advanced nuclear reactors provide a combination of reduced electricity costs, zero-emission baseload electricity and minimal dependency on fuel imports that can lead to a strong degree of energy security and reliability much needed for a robust manufacturing and industrial sector in Puerto Rico,” the report says.

prtimeline

“A strong local industry translates into job creation, economic growth, additional exports, and global competition and innovation expansion among many others.”

NAP said it is now preparing for phase two studies which will focus on the viability of constructing small reactors at specific locations on the island and an education campaign for the people of Puerto Rico. The suitability of sites for advanced nuclear reactors in Puerto Rico will be performed in accordance with US Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations.

New TVA Board Members Support Development Work for SMRs

tva-logo_thumb.jpgTwo new incoming members of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) are reported to support building small modular reactors at the Clinch River site according to the Times Free Press.

East Tennessee State President Brian Noland and former Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell are slated for confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Both nominees told the newspaper they support TVA’s work to add SMRs to the utility’s energy generation portfolio. Their statements came during their confirmation hearings chaired by Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind) who chairs the Senate panel that oversees TVA.

Noland said in his confirmation statement, “I feel it is important that TVA continue to work to diversify its portfolio and central to that is working in the nuclear space.”

In the hearing by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Harwell also voiced support for “innovation” in development of new nuclear reactor technologies

The newspaper also reported that while backing the potential of more nuclear power from small modular reactors, Noland and Harwell also voiced support for more renewable power such as solar and wind where it makes economic sense.

At the urging of U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, Del., the TVA board nominees pledged to work to go beyond even TVA’s state goal of generating 70% of its power from carbon-free sources by 2030.

TVA received an early site permit from the NRC in December 2019 for an SMR at the Clinch River site, but has not made a decision to build one or more units. Despite citing a target of 800 MW for the plant, the utility has not indicated a preference for any current or future design or technology.

France / Nuclear Society Urges Government To Commit To New-Build

(NucNet)  Six new EPR 2 plants would ‘stimulate economy and help recovery from pandemic according to a communication from the French nuclear energy society SFEN

A commitment by the government to build a series of new EPR nuclear power reactors in France would stimulate the country’s economy as it recovers from the shock of the coronavirus pandemic with domestic companies likely to take an 80% share of the project, the French nuclear energy society SFEN said in a position paper.

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SFEN said a new-build program would have a strong ripple effect on the rest of the economy. In France, each euro invested in nuclear generates €2.5 in the rest of the economy and particularly in areas where nuclear facilities are built.

Press reports in France in October 2019 said the government had asked state-controlled power utility EDF to prepare for a new start for nuclear energy with plans to construct six Generation III EPR type units over the next 15 years.

Quoting a letter sent by environment minister Elisabeth Borne and finance minister Bruno Le Maire to EDF’s chairman Jean-Bernard Lévy, Le Monde said the company would be required to build three pairs of EPR reactors on three sites.

In a separate report days later Le Monde quoted Mr Lévy as saying “it is clear” that France is preparing to build new nuclear power plants and the best way to deliver them while bringing down costs is to build them in pairs.

Le Monde also reported that EDF had estimated it would cost at least €46bn to build six EPR nuclear power reactors. Each 1,600-MW reactor would cost €7.5bn to €7.8bn, (€4600-4800/Kw) based on building the units in pairs with financing over about 20 years, Le Monde reported. This would include “dismantling provisions” of €400m and provisions for “uncertainties” of €500m for each reactor.

Ms Borne said last year that the decision whether or not to build new EPR plants would not be taken before the end of 2022, pushing it beyond the date of the country’s next general election.

During a hearing of the commission for sustainable development Ms Borne said there would be no decision on new units before the commissioning of the Flamanville-3 EPR plant under construction in northern France, where she said fuel loading is planned for the end of 2022.

South African Nuclear Industry Association Supports Government Proposals for Nuclear Power

(Engineering News)  The Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (Niasa) on May 8th welcomed a commitment by the South African Energy Ministry to develop a road map for a program to build new nuclear power plants (NPPs) with a total capacity of 2500 MW.

niasa.logoThe Society’s news release followed the recent announcement to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources and Energy by Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe that his department would soon start a process to develop 2 500 MW of new nuclear power.

“This gives the requisite policy certainty which enables industry to respond accordingly,” affirmed the association. Niasa is particularly happy to see the commitment by government to entertain innovative funding models.”

The Energy Ministry has indicated that new nuclear power plants would likely be small modular reactors and could be built by the private sector, requiring no State funding. Or they could be built in partnership with the State, on a build, operate, transfer basis, not requiring any upfront or early State funding. In South Africa, renewable energy projects had been funded and built by the private sector.)

South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which outlined the country’s future energy needs., It also referred to the need for South Africa to monitor international developments regarding small modular NPPs.

“Niasa has forged solid relationship[s] with sister organizations around the world to capitalize on information sharing and benchmarking.”

“The extension of the life of Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant beyond 2024 is another exciting opportunity for the industry as it will provide opportunities to embark on real tangible projects, which will in turn lay the foundation for skills development, ensuring readiness for the NNB program,” pointed out Niasa.

COVID-19 to Delay Brazil Nuclear Plant

(Wire services) Lower demand for electricity and a steep currency slide during the coronavirus crisis will push completion of Brazil’s third nuclear reactor into 2027, the head of state-run nuclear power company Eletronuclear told Reuters.

eletronuclearAs economic activity slacks off due to unemployment caused by closed businesses, electricity demand in Brazil has taken a nose dive. Reuters reported that Brazil began to process the accelerating horrors of the spread of the new coronavirus, slashing economic growth outlooks, warning of a healthcare collapse, and failure by the government to take measures to control the virus have contributed to the drop in use of electricity.

Eletronuclear president Leonam Guimaraes said Brazil still plans to find a partner by 2023 to help finish and operate the long-delayed 1,400 megawatt Angra 3 nuclear reactor. China, Russia, France and South Korea are among the possible candidates.

Construction, which began in 2010, is set to restart this year after a long delay caused by financial difficulties and corruption investigations. Financial issues will affect future work. Volatility of the real, which has weakened by 28% against the dollar this year, is a key uncertainty.

According to Reuters, the Economy Ministry lowered its growth forecast from 2.1% to zero – a number many economists believe remains highly ambitious – with a “significant” contraction coming in the second quarter.

A paper published by the Brazilian Center for Applied Macroeconomics and Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) showed that the worst-case combination of simultaneous international and domestic shocks could see Brazil’s gross domestic product shrink by 4.4% this year.

These grim numbers make the prospects for progress for new electrical generation capacity, including nuclear, highly diminished at least for the next year.

Impact of the Corona Virus Crisis in Brazil

corona cases May 24 2020

Corona Virus Cases by Country May 24, 2020. Source: Johns Hopkins COVID-Map.

Guimaraes said the “brutal” 15-20% drop in power consumption caused by the coronavirus pandemic means future demand is very uncertain.

Brazil has surpassed Russia as the country with the second-highest reported coronavirus cases in the world according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.

Brazil as of mid-May has recorded 347,398 cases of the virus and 22,013 deaths from the disease, trailing only the U.S., which has recorded 1.6 million confirmed cases of the virus and 96,983 deaths from the disease.

Russia, which is now has the third most confirmed coronavirus cases, has reported 335,882 infections and 3,388 deaths.

Utility Remains Committed to the Project

Eletronuclear’s owner, Eletricas Brasileiras SA , has agreed to maintain its investment for this year of 1 billion reais to get the project restarted and make it more attractive for a partner. Under the current business model, the private partner would be expected to come in with 20% of the investment.

The utility hopes to restart work soon as that will be a confidence builder to bring foreign direct investment to the project.

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A Short Stack of Hot Nuclear News 5/23/20

  • StarCore Nuclear Gets A Boost from Partnership with Investment Bank
  • X-energy to Irradiate TRISO-X fuel with MIT’s Nuclear Reactor Lab
  • Kairos Power and Materion Partner To Develop And Supply Materials For Advanced Reactor Technology
  • NASA has Plans for Going Nuclear on Spaceflights to the Moon and Mars

StarCore Nuclear Scores an Investment Banker

starcore logoInvestment banker RWT Growth and StarCore Nuclear Canada have announced a partnership to bring low cost, clean nuclear energy to remote locations and industries that rely on less environmentally friendly sources power, such as diesel generators.

StarCore Nuclear Canada has engaged RWT Growth as the exclusive corporate and capital advisor for its global operations and StarCore’s imminent small modular nuclear reactor power project(s) in Canada. StarCore said the deal represents a benchmark investment both in terms of scale and innovation.

RWT Growth is a boutique corporate advisory and investment banking advisory banking firm with offices in Canada and London UK. StarCore and RWT have been working together since June 2019.

David Dabney, CEO of StarCore Nuclear, said: “RWT and Reece have been working with StarCore for several years and have become an integral part of our team. They brought a Canadian centric view to our investment structure that has opened a lot more doors and expanded the range of investment options.”

“StarCore represents a technology that can change the way we provide power and provide economic power solutions while dramatically lowering CO2,” said RWT Growth CEO Reece Tomlinson.

StarCore Nuclear Canada is a Generation IV High Temperature Gas Reactor technology that has been designed, optimized and patented for the purpose of providing small-scale, safe, low cost and low CO2-emission power production in remote locations.

The StarCore says its nuclear technology can significantly reduce reliance on diesel to produce power and by doing so reduce greenhouse gasses and lower the cost of energy production, which is critical for remote communities, mines, island communities and large industry.

Compared with usual nuclear reactor costs the firm says StarCore’s reactors will cost considerably less to build and run with only few staff required to maintain the reactors.

X-energy to Irradiate TRISO-X fuel with MIT’s Nuclear Reactor Lab

Nuclear reactor startup X-energy has reached an agreement with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for the Institute’s Nuclear Reactor Laboratory to use its research reactor to irradiate X-energy’s TRISO-X fuel. The irradiation process will provide data in support of licensing X-energy’s Xe-100 and other TRISO-based reactors.

“This research with MIT will provide confirmation of the performance and quality of our TRISO-X fuel,” said X-energy CEO Clay Sell.

Data from the project would enable licensing for the company’s Xe-100 small modular reactor. The 200 MWt (75 MWe) SMR will use TRISO-X fuel. The irradiation is scheduled to occur later this year.

X-energy’s reactors all use tri-structural isotropic (TRISO) particle fuel. For over three years, X-energy has manufactured a proprietary version, TRISO-X, which seals uranium particles in a protective coating, eliminating the meltdown risk associated with traditional nuclear plants.

“This is an incredible milestone for the X-energy team as we will now have irradiation tested fuel for the first time,” said Pete Pappano, PhD, Vice President of Fuel Production at X-energy.

The company’s Vice President of Fuel Production, Pete Pappano, described the first-time irradiation testing as an “incredible milestone” for the team.

X-energy was one of three companies – the others being BWX Technologies Inc and Westinghouse Government Services – selected earlier this year by the US Department of Defense to begin design work on a mobile nuclear reactor prototype.

Since 2009, X-energy has focused on designing state-of-the-art nuclear systems that have broad applicability – from large commercial plants to small, remote military applications, to nuclear thermal space propulsion concepts.

X-energy Awarded $6 Million DOE Grant

DOE Grant title: Advanced Operation & Maintenance Techniques Implemented in the Xe-100 Plant Digital Twin to Reduce Fixed O&M Cost – $6,000,000

X-energy’s digital twin project aims to reduce the fixed O&M cost of its advanced nuclear reactor design to $2/MWh. The project will use human factors engineering, probability risk assessment, hazard analysis, and security and maintenance evaluations to identify areas for optimization.

Further, X-energy will develop innovative ways to leverage advanced technologies—including automation, robotics, remote and centralized maintenance, and monitoring—to optimize staffing plans while ensuring optimal plant operation.

The team will develop two modeling frameworks to evaluate and validate these solutions. X-energy’s Immersive Environment Toolset is a multi-disciplinary 3D model that, when combined with virtual reality, will test techniques that optimize maintenance and security.

Kairos Power and Materion Partner To Develop And Supply Materials For Advanced Reactor Technology

Kairos Power and Materion Corporation (NYSE: MTRN) have announced the formation of a strategic collaboration to develop a reliable and cost-effective supply of salt coolant for high-temperature molten salt reactors. This coolant is a key component of Kairos Power’s fluoride salt-cooled, high-temperature reactors (KP-FHR). Under the agreement, Materion will supply beryllium fluoride, expert technical consultation, key interfaces, and support services.

The KP-FHR, an advanced reactor technology being commercialized by Kairos Power, is a zero-carbon source of electricity with cost targets that are competitive with natural gas combined cycle plants. Kairos Power recognizes the commercial potential of this technology and will work with Materion to enable its success.

“The collaboration with Materion creates a powerful combination that builds on the unique capabilities of both companies,” said Dr. Michael Laufer, CEO and Co-Founder of Kairos Power.

“For decades, Materion has proven that they are a reliable supplier that can deliver specialized materials across many types of applications, including reactor technology, and this agreement will make a major impact in our ability to accelerate the deployment of our advanced reactor technology and to enable the world’s transition to clean energy.”

Jugal Vijayvargiya, President and CEO of Materion said, “The agreement underscores Materion’s ability as a leading solution provider of advanced materials to consistently leverage new market opportunities for our products and services, while supporting Kairos’ important mission of providing clean and sustainable energy for the future.”

About Kairos Power

Kairos Power is a nuclear energy technology and engineering company whose mission is to enable the world’s transition to clean energy with the ultimate goal of dramatically improving people’s quality of life while protecting the environment. To achieve this goal, Kairos Power is singularly focused on the commercialization of the fluoride salt-cooled, high temperature reactor, which has the potential to transform the U.S. clean energy landscape.

About Materion

Materion Corporation is headquartered in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. The Company, through its wholly owned subsidiaries, supplies advanced materials to global markets. Our unique product portfolio includes high performance alloys, beryllium products, clad metal strip, composite metals, ceramics, inorganic chemicals, microelectronics packaging materials, precision optics, thin film coatings and thin film deposition materials.

Kairos Power Collaborates with Argonne National Laboratory on $2.2 Million DOE Grant

Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) aims to reduce the O&M cost of the Kairos Power fluoride salt-cooled high temperature reactor through advanced sensing and automation. The team will develop advanced distributed sensing and data generation techniques to characterize critical components and systems.

Further, the ANL project will increase sensor diversity and develop multi-functional sensors measuring several process variables simultaneously. Finally, the ANL team will develop machine learning-based signal processing algorithms for automated analysis of sensor data. Accomplishing these objectives will reduce the number of advanced reactor staff, as well as repair and replacement costs. The proposed methods are aimed to achieve $2/MWh O&M costs.

NASA has Plans for Going Nuclear on Spaceflights to the Moon and Mars

  • Why NASA thinks nuclear reactors could supply power for human colonies in space
  • Simplicity is the key to designing reactors for missions to the moon and Mars

(American Chemical Society)  NASA is preparing to build colonies on the moon and, eventually, Mars. With NASA planning its next human mission to the moon in 2024, engineers are looking for options to power settlements on the lunar surface. According to a new article in Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly news magazine of the American Chemical Society, nuclear fission reactors have emerged as top candidates to generate electricity in space.

When it comes to powering an astronauts’ settlement, there are many factors to consider, writes correspondent Tien Nguyen in collaboration with ACS Central Science.

A key success factor is that the power source must be capable of being transported safely from Earth and of withstanding the harsh conditions of other worlds. Also, the nuclear power unit must be able to survive a failed launch intact with no release of radioactive material.

Past space missions have used solar power as a scalable and renewable source of electricity, but the dark craters of the moon or the dusty surface of Mars don’t not offer enough light. The limited lifespans of the battery and fuel cell technologies typically relegate them to backup options.

Nuclear devices that run on decay heat from plutonium-238 have been used to power spacecraft since the 1960s, including Mars rovers and the space probes Voyager and Cassini, but they don’t provide enough power for a settlement. I

In contrast, nuclear fission reactors that are based on HEU U-235, could provide a reliable power source for a small space settlement for years at a time.

NASA’s long term plan is to create a nuclear reactor for space travel and settlement. The reactor uses a core containing molybdenum and highly enriched uranium. The reactor uses nuclear fission to generate heat, which is converted to electricity by simple piston-driven engines.

The prototype, which was tested in 2018, produced up to 5 kilowatts of electricity. NASA hopes to optimize the technology to achieve the desired 10-kilowatt output.

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DOE Kicks Off Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program

Cost sharing with industry is a key element of the $230M program

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced this week the launch of the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) within the Office of Nuclear Energy (NE). ARDP is designed to help domestic private industry demonstrate advanced nuclear reactors in the United States.  (Fact Sheet)

adv reactor marix

For the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, Congress appropriated $230 million to start a new demonstration program for advanced reactors. Through cost-shared partnerships with industry, ARDP will provide $160 million for initial funding that will eventually lead to full funding to build two reactors that can be operational within the next five to seven years.  (Fact Sheet) The actual cost of building the reactors is yet to be determined and will be higher than commercial units due to the first of a kind nature of the technology for each of them as demonstration projects.

reactor sizes

Top-Level Support for the Program

The funding announcement got a high level send off with a statement from the top.

“The next generation of nuclear energy is critical to our Nation’s energy security and environmental stewardship,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette.

“We must pursue technological innovation and advanced nuclear RD&D investments to strengthen American leadership in the next generation of nuclear technologies, ensuring a healthy and growing U.S. nuclear energy sector.”

“Advanced nuclear energy systems hold enormous potential to lower emissions, create new jobs, and build a strong economy,” said Dr. Rita Baranwal, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy.

“The U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratory system was created to solve national challenges,” said INL Lab Director Mark Peters.

“Today’s announcement by U.S. DOE will accelerate innovation in advanced nuclear energy systems by leveraging the tremendous capabilities and expertise at INL and our partner national laboratories.”

Role of the National Reactor Innovation Center

In addition to the two reactors, ARDP will leverage the National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC) (Fact Sheet) to efficiently test and assess ARD technologies by engaging the world-renowned capabilities of the national laboratory system to move these reactors from blueprints to reality.

nric

Funding Opportunity Announcement

The primary implementing tool for ARDP is the ARD Funding Opportunity Announcement, issued 5/14/20, which provides applicants three separate technology development and demonstration pathways. One size does not fit all.

ARDP will provide $160 million in initial funding. Applicants can receive support through three different development and demonstration pathways.

  • Advanced reactor demonstrations, which are expected to result in a fully functional advanced nuclear reactor within seven years of the award.
  • Risk reduction for future demonstrations, which will support up to five additional teams resolving technical, operational, and regulatory challenges to prepare for future demonstration opportunities.
  • Advanced reactor concepts 2020 (ARC 20), which will support innovative and diverse designs with potential to commercialize in the mid-2030s.

ad reactor pipeline

Assistant secretary for the office of nuclear energy Rita Baranwal said during a webinar on 5/14/20 the DOE has been “moving very quickly” to execute the new program.

Applications for funding opened on 5/14/20 for 90 days (closes 8/12/20) and there will be a “virtual industry day” in June for applicants to get further details. Funding awards will be made at end of calendar year.

More Information from NRIC

The National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC) enables advanced reactor demonstration and deployment by preparing infrastructure and providing access to National Laboratory sites, facilities, materials, and expertise.

NRIC has prepared a standard memorandum of understanding (MOU) for use with innovators seeking to work with NRIC. For a copy of the MOU or for more information on how to work with NRIC, please email nric@inl.gov

ARPA-E Awards $27M to Nine Firms

The US Department of Energy announced $27 million in funding for nine projects as part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) Generating Electricity Managed by Intelligent Nuclear Assets (GEMINA) program.( Complete list of projects – PDF file)

GEMINA’s goal is to reduce fixed operations and maintenance (O&M) costs from ~13 $/MWh in the current fleet to ~2 $/MWh in the advanced fleet. These projects will work to develop digital twin technology to reduce O&M costs in the next generation of nuclear power plants.

GEMINA teams will develop digital twins and associated technologies for advanced nuclear reactors to strategically design O&M frameworks for the next generation of nuclear power plants. These teams are designing tools to introduce greater flexibility in reactor systems, increase autonomy in operations, and speed up design iteration, with a goal of reducing costs at advanced reactor power plants.

Rita Baranwal / ‘Nuclear Has To Be Part of Portfolio
If CO2 Emissions Are To Be Reduced

(NucNet) DOE official says ‘now is the time to brag about reactor technology’

Rita Baranwal, Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy

Nuclear power has to be a part of a country’s energy portfolio if carbon dioxide emissions are to be reduced and climate goals met, US assistant secretary for the office of nuclear energy Rita Baranwal told a webinar 5/14/20.

Ms Baranwal told the webinar, arranged and hosted by the Nuclear Energy Agency, that advances in engineering, robotics and computing are opening “a world of different avenues” the nuclear industry can exploit to improve the technology it offers.

“Nuclear is and has always been emissions-free and now is time to brag about that,” Ms Baranwal said.

“Fifty-five percent of the US’s clean energy comes from nuclear, but nuclear plants are only generating 20% of electricity. That’s a really big pay-off. For countries that want to decarbonise we have a product that can help.”

Ms Baranwal warned last March that US leadership in the nuclear energy industry is being ceded to countries such as Russia and China, who are quickly becoming leading suppliers of nuclear technologies. She said that the unique nature of nuclear technology creates a national strategic imperative to maintain US leadership in nuclear energy and “enhance US influence by being competitive in global nuclear energy markets.”

She added that, “Sustaining the current fleet of operating nuclear power plants is a priority for the nation.”

Since 2013, nine reactors have retired prematurely and eight more are scheduled to retire as a result of historically low natural gas prices, and flat or declining demand.

During the NEA webinar she announced an advanced reactor development programme with initial funding of $160m and the aim of building two reactors that can be operational within five to seven years.

The program, known as the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), is designed to help domestic private industry demonstrate advanced nuclear reactors in the US.

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Off Topic: NY Times Reporter Don McNeil on the Corona Virus Interviewed on CNN

reporter2(May 12, 2020) Christiane Amanpour, CNN, speaks with New York Times health and science reporter Donald G. McNeil, Jr. about Anthony Fauci’s Senate appearance and the U.S. response to coronavirus.  Source: CNN Link to online video

McNeil is one of the best journalists in the U.S. covering the virus crisis. This video, about 15 minutes long, is well worth your time as a reality check to all the politics that you may be encountering online in social media.  Truth matters.

Update 05/13/20: In a statement to the Hill, a conservative online news site, the New York Times said that McNeil “went too far” in his interview on CNN in calling for the resignation of the Director of the Centers for Disease Control. The newspaper said he should not have added a personal opinion to the TV interview.

However, the spokesperson added. “We are confident that his reporting on science and medicine for The Times has been scrupulously fair and accurate.”

Did Obama Prepare for a Pandemic?
Yes, But Trump tore up the playbook and fired the coach

Also, it is a lie, promoted by President Trump and echoed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that the Obama Administration did nothing to deal with a pandemic.

Obama gave the incoming administration a 69 page playbook of how to deal with one. Trump ignored it and fired the staff on the National Security Council that knew about the document and how to use it. (CNN Fact Check)

McConnell Retracts False Statement About Obama’s Pandemic Playbook

Update 05/14/20 – Senate Majority Leaders Mitch McConnell said he was wrong on the issue of the Obama pandemic playbook. He told Fox News he was mistaken in claiming that the previous administration had failed to leave guidance for the Trump White House.

“I was wrong,” McConnell said in an evening interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier. “They did leave behind a plan. So, I clearly made a mistake in that regard.”

POLITICO reported in March the existence of a document, written by Obama officials that laid out how the incoming Trump administration should respond if faced with a pandemic.

The 69-page document contained hundreds of recommendations for dealing with many of the problems plaguing the nation’s coronavirus response — from shortages of personal protective equipment to the need for unified public guidance on the crisis.

& & &

Write to your elected officials to put science front and center in decision making about how to deal with the virus.

Ask them to follow the example of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and State Health Director Amy Acton, MD. Reason, and no magical thinking, will keep people alive.

These two will go down in the history books as leaders who are working to save lives. This video below appeared online earlier this month as a “thank you” for their efforts.

Link to video here on YouTube

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South Africa Takes Another Run for Nuclear Energy

  • South Africa to Make Another Run at Nuclear Energy
  • Czech Government Takes New Steps for New Nuclear Power at Dukovany
  • European Union May Reject Challenge to UK Over Hinkley Plant
  • Barakah / Coronavirus Will Not Delay Arab World’s First Nuclear Station

South Africa Plans to Issue a Request for Information
for 2,500MW of Generating Capacity

africa nuclear

South Africa’s Director of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe told the nation’s legislative body last week that his agency is developing a road map for 2,500MW of nuclear-powered generating capacity with the procurement process completed by 2024.

The plan is to allow vendors to self-finance 100% of the cost which means the national government will not provide any funding. This policy opens the door to all types of technologies and reactors sizes from big iron at 1,000MW or more to small modular reactors (SMRs) that range from 50-300MW.

The agency said it will issue a request for information to assess the market with a focus on SMRs. However, Mr. Mantashe said that all options are being explored and if the market indicates one design is more affordable and can e built more efficiently; he wants to go with it. However, he did not say when his agency would expect a vendor to break ground nor did he specify LWR v. advanced reactor designs as preferences.

He told the Reuters wire service, “We may give a company a right to develop a nuclear station (modular or other) on a build, operate, and transfer basis. It means there is no immediate funding from the state.”

The announcement immediately ran into significant challenges. Opposition leader Kevin Mileham questioned whether the 100% vendor financed approach would work and discounted the feasibility of the short time line to issue and evaluate a tender for the reactors.

Additionally, he pointed to the national government’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for 2019 which he said makes no mention of nuclear energy at least the next decade.

The Mining Weekly, a trade publication, checked the IRP found that there is a brief mention of “preparations for nuclear energy,” but no mention of a specific level of generating capacity nor a timeline for a procurement nor starting work on a new power station.

In 2018 South Africa halted an ambitious plan put forward by then President Jacob Zuma that would have inked a deal with Russia’s Rosatom for eight 1,200 MW VVER nuclear reactors at a projected cost of between $30-to-$50 billion dollars. Rosatom’s terms were that it would provide 50% of the financing.

The plan died for three reasons. The first is that is South Africa couldn’t afford it, even with generous financial terms from any vendor, given the condition of its economy. The second is that Zuma’s administration was rife with allegations of corruption and nepotism. The third was the lack of transparency related to how the procurement process for the deal was done. It came about as a result of a “secret” meeting between Zuma and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a side meeting at a development conference in Brazil. No tender had been released for the project prior to that meeting.

Separately, the nation’s economy has been hobbled by a series of electricity brown outs due to a lack of electrical power and an aging grid infrastructure. Eskom, the state owned utility, has been thwarted in its requests to raise rates as the government uses cheap electricity as a way to address the appalling levels of poverty in the country. The government has also declined to subsidize Eskom directly.

A proposed turnaround plan for Eskom has been put on hold due to the Coronia virus pandemic. Eskom’s turnaround plan includes proposed debt transfer to the government, cost containment, operational reforms and the company’s unbundling into three separate entities (generation, transmission and distribution). In April the Fitch rating service downgraded ESKOM’s massive unsecured debt as a result.

Conditions for financing a new nuclear program remain difficult as the country’s economy, like many others, has taken a deep dive into a major recession adding to the country’s budget deficit.

South Africa has one nuclear power station which is the Koeberg plant that was connected to the grid in 1984. It is composed of two 970 MW PWR type units.

Prior Coverage on this blog

Czech Government Takes Steps for New Nuclear Power at Dukovany

In late April the Czech government achieved a long sought after goal. It approved an agreement with the state-owned nuclear electric utility CEZ to build and commission a new nuclear power station the Dokovany nuclear site by 2036.

While the government owns just under three-quarters of the shares of CEZ, private, institutional investors have long objected to a new nuclear power project citing the risks of cost escalation.

The log jam of opposition broke because the government has agreed to several stipulations including an agreement to buy power from the plant at guaranteed rates rather than allowing market auctions to set the price. Also, CEZ could build and operate the plant for a set period of time and then sell it back to the government at an unspecified future date.

Some financial analysts believe that CEZ may have to buy out the shares of those institutional investors who object to the project in order to proceed with it.

Industry Minister Karel Havicek told the Reuters news wire service that the price of power would be determined by “the justified costs and reasonable profit” for CEZ.

He said the plan is for the state to buy the power directly from the utility at an agreed upon price and then sell it to customers via power exchange market either at a profit or taking a loss depending on market conditions.

The government is positioning nuclear energy as a “low-emission source” based on European Union rules. It believes that this designation will help reduce the costs of the plants.

The new plant is expected to be built with a generating capacity of at least 1,200MW and at an estimated cost of $5.6-$6.4 billion ($4,600-$5,300/Kw) which is in line with current global overnight costs for new reactors. However, given that the project won’t break ground for at least another six-eight years, these estimates could change.

Potential bidders on the project include Russia’s Rosatom, China, South Korea’s KHNP, France’s EDF, and Westinghouse in the U.S. as a supplier but not as the EPC.

The Czech Republic, once held behind the Iron Curtain by Russia, has a long-standing aversion to being pulled into Russia’s energy orbit but President Milos Zerman, a member of the nations old guard, born in 1944, thinks Rosatom should be considered for the project.

In the last round of tenders for new reactors, the Czech government disqualified Areva, now EDF, from the bidding leaving only Rostom and Westinghouse in the running. It subsequently got cold feet over committing to a new build and canceled the procurement altogether in 2014.

European Union May Reject Challenge to UK Over Hinkley Plant

The top court of the European Union is expected to reject an attempt by Austria to block the UK government support for nuclear power at the Hinkley Point C project, which is building two 1650 MW EDF PWR type nuclear reactors.

A key adviser to the court, Advocate General Gerard Hogan, said in a non-binding opinion that a ruling by a lower court rejecting Austria’s claims should be upheld.

Austria claimed in 2015 that the decision by the European Commission to allow the UK government to provide aid to the project with guarantees for credit and a fixed price for electricity rates violated EU competition rules, failed to account for renewables, and disregarded environmental concerns.

Hogan said the environmental argument was not germane since the rules about financial aid don’t include them. He said that the EU rules provide that each member state can determine its own energy mix.

Austria has a long record as an anti-nuclear thorn in the side of EU members. Its stance on the UK project was one of the underlying causes of PM David Cameron’s decision to seek a BREXIT vote on leaving the EU.

Barakah / UAE:
Coronavirus Will Not Delay Arab World’s First Nuclear Power Station

(NucNet) Operations at the Barakah nuclear station in the United Arab Emirates are “on schedule” despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Mohammed Al Hammadi the chief executive of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) said in a statement via video link to Washington-based Atlantic Council, a think tank, that “the first criticality at reactor number one will be ‘very soon.” (Full report from the Atlantic Council at its website),

Mohammed Al Hammadi explained that, as a result of rigorous measures taken at the Barakah construction site, the Covid-19 virus had not affected the timetable for completion.

“We are planning to go critical very soon. In a couple of weeks or month or so from now. We are targeting to get the units operational and start putting power to the grid before the end of the year.”

The four-unit nuclear station on the Persian Gulf coast of Abu Dhabi, is the first commercial nuclear energy facility in the Arab world. The cost of the facility, which has four South Korea-suppled APR1400 units has been put at $24 billion

The ENEC head said leadership at the corporation had worked quickly to assess the “multifaceted crisis” presented by the pandemic.

“We assessed the situation that we were in seven weeks ago. We did stop all the non-essential work at Barakah. We demobilized people from the head office to 90-100%. Almost everybody is working from home,” Mr Al Hammadi said.

“They looked at the construction site. Priority number one was to keep people safe and keep covid-19 out of Barakah. That was the ultimate goal. Nothing else.”

He explained the site was swiftly locked down and workers were monitored and tested. As a result, there have been no covid-19 cases at the site.

First fuel loading was completed in March at Barakah-1 after the receipt of an operating license from the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation in February. The license authorizes the plant’s operation for 60 years. Construction of the 1,345-MW Barakah-1 began in 2012 and was completed in 2018.

ENEC said the plant is now ready for teams from Nawah, the operations and maintenance subsidiary of ENEC and Korea Electric Power Corporation, to start operating the plant.

ENEC is in the final stages of construction of the remaining three units at Barakah. The overall construction of the four units is more than 93% complete. Unit 4 is more than 83%, Unit 3 is more than 91% and Unit 2 is more than 95%.

The four units at Barakah will generate up to 25% of the UAE’s electricity demand once all four of them are online.

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No Fueling Around – DOE Says It is Serious About Saving the U.S. Uranium Industry

  • Department of Energy Secretary Brouillette Announces The Nuclear Fuel Working Group Strategy
  • HALEU / ARC And Centrus Set Plans to Produce Fuel for Advanced Reactors
  • Holtec SMR to Use Commercially-Available Framatome Fuel

DOE Goes All In to Save U.S. Uranium Mines from Foreign Imports

doe graphicsU.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette announced the NWFG report of the Nuclear Fuel Working Group’s Strategy

The primary purpose of the planned policy, as described in the report, is to revive the struggling U.S. uranium mining industry and to secure long-term uranium supplies for future use by commercial nuclear utilities, fuel for U.S Navy ships and submaines, and by the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. (Full report; 32 pages – PDF file)

According to 2018 data from the Enegy Information Administration, just 10% of uranium fuel for U.S. commercial reactors came from domestic mines. In recent years some U.S. utilities have purchased up to 75% their nuclear fuel from foreign sources including Canada 24%, Australia 20%, Kazakhstan 18%, and Russia 13%.

U308 sources

Sources of Uranium for U.S. Commercial Nuclear Utilities. Chart: DOE/EIA

Since January 2016 the spot price of uranium has been below $30/lb. The breakeven price for miners is $45/lb. Uranium mines in Utah, Colorado, Texas, and Arizona have shut down rather than operate at a loss.

When uranium ore is extracted from the earth, the amount of the fissile isotope uranium-235 is less than one percent. Typical yields of uranium mining are 4% or less per ton of material or about 80 pounds. Of that amount, just over half a pound, or .72%, is fissile material. Bottom line, it takes a lot of mining to get a good return from the investment in land, equipment, and workers. This is especially true for mines where yields are 1-2% U238 per ton of ore.

Note that some Canadian mines have yields as high as 20% U238 per ton of ore, but even at that level, they cannot operate at a profit when the spot price is in the ditch.

Other sources of uranium include downblending of highly enriched uranium (80%+ U235) from nuclear weapons, recycling of weapons grade plutonium combined with U238 to make Mixed Oxide Fuel equivalent to about 5% U235, and re-enrichment of depleted uranium. in the form of uranium hexafluoride (UF6). See also the World Nuclear Association paper on world supplies of uranium.

The_Nuclear_Fuel_Cycle_(44021369082)_(cropped)

The Nuclear Fuel Cycle.  Image: Nuclear Regulatory Commission “The Nuclear Fuel Cycle.”

Taking Steps to Avoid Market Disruption

The NFWG says it recognizes “the importance of taking focused, deliberate action to prevent the near-term collapse of the domestic uranium mining, milling and conversion industries, and the need to support US strategic fuel cycle capabilities.”

It says that “immediate and bold” action needs to be taken to strengthen the country’s uranium mining and conversion industries, and that investments are must be made in research, development and demonstration “to consolidate technical advances and strengthen American leadership in the next generation of nuclear energy technologies”.

The President’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Request for the Department of Energy includes $150 million to establish a domestic Uranium Reserve. It will begin with the purchase of uranium from U.S. mines and of U.S. conversion services he turn yellowcake into uanium hexaflouride for use in enrichment services operations.

In its report, the NFWG said: “The new uranium reserve will provide assurance of availability of uranium in the event of a market disruption and support strategic US fuel cycle capabilities, and is not designed to replace or disrupt market mechanisms.”

Whether Congress will appropriate these funds remains to be seen. Given the hundreds of billions that Congress has just released to deal with the economic effects of the corona virus, one of two things may happen.

  • First, the amount is relatively small given the huge sums moving through the appropriations process. No one may notice this line item even though $150M is a lot of money.
  • Second, Congress may see this as just one more handout to a pleading by a specific industry and throw the whole lot in the circular file of “not gonna happen” legislation.

What remains unclear is how much of this money will be spent on each step of the nuclear fuel cycle. The U.S. only has one active uranium mill to process uranium ore into yellowcake.  It appears the government’s plan is to just stockpile it but it is unclear in what form, e.g., converted into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) for use in enrichment services?

Will the government then sell the uranium to utilities at market rates? What will it pay the miners for the uranium? How will they benefit?  A government stockpile developed now could in future years be a hedge against price spikes on global markets though the outlook for them at this juncture appears to be slight.

Fixing the Consequences of Past Government Policies

DOE says there needs to be a “whole-of-government approach” to supporting the US nuclear energy industry in exporting civil nuclear technology in competition with foreign state-owned enterprises, while assuring consistency with US non-proliferation objectives and supporting national security, it adds.

There is a lot of “inside baseball” policy wonk stuff in these recommendations. Given the Trump adminstration’s well documented dislike for actually governing, it may become the task of some future presidency to implement these multi-agency recommendations.

The report recommends the government streamlines regulatory reform and land access for uranium mining and supports efforts by the Department of Commerce to extend the Russian Suspension Agreement to protect against future uranium dumping in the US market. In addition, it should enable Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deny imports of nuclear fuel fabricated in Russia or China for national security purposes.

According to World Nuclear News, the Department of Commerce in 1992 agreed to suspend its investigation into Russian uranium imports under the terms of the US-Russia Antidumping Suspension Agreement. The agreement, which was amended in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 2008, provides strict limits and conditions on such imports.

The original 1992 agreement essentially eliminated any direct sales of Russian-origin uranium or enrichment into the USA, but the 2008 amendment allowed for direct sales of Russian-origin enriched uranium product from 2008 to 2020 at about 20% of the US market. The agreement is due to expire in 2020, after which Russian-origin uranium products and services can be sold into the USA without any restrictions.

The DOE report also called for the government to “create a level playing field for all energy sources in power markets” and encourage Federal Energy Regulatory Commission action to improve competition in the wholesale energy markets.

An Ambitious Agenda Will Need Congressional Support and Money

Secretary Brouillette has outlined an ambitious agenda. DOE says potential actions outlined in it could enhance the positive attributes of nuclear power, revive capabilities of the uranium mining, milling, and conversion industries, strengthen U.S. technology supremacy, and drive U.S. exports, while assuring consistency with U.S. non-proliferation objectives and supporting national security.

“The decline of the U.S. industrial base in the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle over the past few decades has threatened our national interest and national security,” said Secretary Brouillette.

“This Strategy to Restore American Nuclear Energy Leadership recognizes this challenge and lays out an array of policy options to restore America’s leadership in nuclear energy and technology including;

  • Fund R&D for Accident Tolerant Fuels and High-Assay Low-Enriched
    Uranium (HALEU), complete HALEU enrichment demonstration program, and
    fund advanced water treatment technology for uranium mining and in-situ
    recovery
  • Support the National Reactor Innovation Center and Versatile Test Reactor projects
  • Fund R&D and demonstration of U.S. advanced nuclear reactor technology
  • Demonstrate the use of small modular reactors (SMRs) and micro-reactors to
    power federal facilities

Defense Needs for Uranium

Brouillette said the Strategy also recognizes that U.S. national security is truly integrated with the health of the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle. The report notes;

“As a matter of national security, it is critical that we take bold steps to preserve and grow the entire U.S. nuclear energy enterprise. The administration is committed to regaining our competitive global position as the world leader in nuclear energy.”

The United States needs a strong civil nuclear industry to enable national defense. The U.S. does not want to be dependent on foreign sources for uranium for its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Defense Needs: The U.S. has well-defined defense needs that also depend on a healthy nuclear fuel cycle in the long-term. There are currently two defense needs for uranium: low-enriched uranium is needed to produce tritium required for nuclear weapons, and highly- enriched uranium is used to fuel Navy nuclear reactors.

Agreements with foreign suppliers prohibit the use of uranium for military purposes. DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration is responsible for both these missions, and has sufficient stockpiles of unobligated uranium fuel to support tritium production until 2041 and Navy propulsion until the 2050’s. Ensuring a viable industry mitigates risk to future supply chains.”

Separately , the DOE report says that the credibility of the U.S. non-proliferation regime depends upon the viability and the health of a robust civilian nuclear energy industry and technology leadership position, including the “world-leading standard” embodied by the U.S. nuclear safety regulatory structures.

Is the Report Credible – A Qualified Yes

Speaking of credibility, the report contains some worthwhile recommendations. More to the point, unlike the knuckleheads, and political loyalists, and hangers on that have populated many U.S. government posts in this administration, Secretary Brouillette has held numerous positions in government. This gives him a running start to actually get something done in the last year of this administration.

He was Chief of Staff to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has broad jurisdictional and oversight authority over five Cabinet-level Federal agencies. He also served as Assistant Secretary of Energy for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs from 2001 to 2003.

The United States Nuclear Fuel Working Group (NFWG) was established to undertake a fuller analysis of national security considerations with respect to the entire nuclear fuel supply chain.

The NFWG took a collaborative interagency approach to develop policy options across the entire nuclear fuel supply chain to revitalize the U.S. nuclear energy industry.

It may be a tough road to travel to see some of these recommendations make their way to policy and funded programs.The report is a credible starting point for that journey.

ARC / Centrus Announces Plans To Cooperate On U.S. Enrichment Capacity for HALEU Fuel

(NucNet) The new agreement is intended to establish a ‘long-term commitment’ to ARC-100 reactor project

Advanced Reactor Concepts, developer of the ARC-100 sodium-cooled fast reactor, has signed a letter of intent with Centrus Energy Corp to cooperate on deployment of US uranium enrichment capacity to produce high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel.

Centrus said that while the letter is non-binding and non-exclusive, it reflects the parties’ long-term commitment to enter into a purchase agreement that would enable Centrus to supply the commercial HALEU fuel that ARC needs to deploy the ARC-100 reactor technology in the late 2020s.

The US-based company said the fuel could power both existing and next-generation nuclear reactors, including the ARC-100. According to Maryland-based ARC, the plant’s inherent safety features and passive decay heat removal capabilities, combined with the improved power density of Haleu fuel, allow for a smaller, simpler, less-capital intensive reactor design.

3.31_HALEU Overview_742x960

Infographic: DOE / Office of Nuclear Energy

Unlike existing light-water reactors, which must be refuelled with low-enriched uranium (LEU) every 18 to 24 months, the fuel core of the ARC-100 will allow the reactor to operate at full power for 20 years without refuelling.

A report from the White House nuclear fuel working group released last week identified establishing a domestic HALEU fuel production capability as a key priority in restoring the US’s competitive advantage in nuclear energy.

To this end, Centrus has been working since 2019 under a three-year, $115M cost-shared contract with the US Department of Energy to deploy 16 of its AC-100M centrifuges to demonstrate production of HALEU fuel with US technology in Ohio.

The demonstration program is scheduled to run until 2022, at which point Centrus expects to have a fully licensed, operable HALEU fuel production capability at a small scale that could be expanded to meet commercial and government requirements for the fuel.

ARC expects to deploy its ARC-100 reactors starting in late 2028, with the first fuel needed by 2027.

Centrus said that despite its many advantages as a nuclear fuel, HALEU fuel is not commercially available today, nor are any HALEU-fuelled reactors in commercial operation.

The lack of available HALEU fuel constrains the deployment of advanced reactors and advanced fuels. The lack of advanced reactors also limits the development of advanced fuels.

This is the “chicken and egg” dilemma that must be resolved for the US to establish itself as the global leader in building and fuelling the next generation of reactors around the world, which is critical to US influence on nonproliferation.

“Many of the foreign reactor developers that compete against US companies may not face the same dilemma because they are backed by large, state-owned uranium enrichment enterprises,” Centrus said.

What Is HALEU Fuel?

Most existing commercial reactors in the US and worldwide operate on LEU fuel that has been enriched to increase the concentration of the U-235 isotope to slightly less than 5%. High assay, low-enriched uranium is further enriched so that the U-235 concentration is between 5% and 20%.

While this is still far below the levels needed to produce weapons or power US Navy vessels, HALEU fuel offers unique advantages for both existing and next generation reactors, including greater power density, improved reactor performance, fewer refuelling outages, improved proliferation resistance, and smaller volumes of waste.

INL/GAINHALEU Fact Sheets

See also prior coverage on this blog: Why are so many U.S. firms investing in new uranium fuel projects?

Holtec SMR to Use Commercially-available Framatome Fuel

(WNN) Holtec International has selected Framatome to supply nuclear fuel for its SMR-160 small modular reactor (SMR). The companies have entered into an agreement to enable completion of all necessary engineering to fuel the SMR-160 with Framatome’s commercially available and proven 17×17 GAIA fuel assembly.

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Framatome fuel assembly: Image: file photo

Framatome initially developed the GAIA fuel assembly to ensure “optimal performance and high safety margins for increasingly demanding conditions”, including increases in burn-up, lower neutron leakage, cycle lengths of up to 24 months, and challenging water chemistry conditions.

Holtec said the GAIA fuel assembly design has been determined to be ideally suited for its SMR reactor.

The selection of Framatome’s widely consumed fuel has substantially reduced the majority of the first-of-a-kind-engineering for the fuel system, Holtec said.

“By adapting the SMR-160 to utilize standard pressurized water reactor fuel in its core design, Holtec has substantially eliminated risks associated with nuclear fuel, ensuring fuel-related operational experience from the current light water reactor fleet operating world-wide is relevant to our reactor,” it said.

“Critically, the inclusion of Framatome in our SMR-160 program ensures that a prospective SMR-160 plant owner will have ready access to a robust international fuel supply chain.”

“We’re excited to offer our proven products and fuel expertise to Holtec in support of their effort to develop and license the SMR-160 with maximum speed,” said Gary Mignogna, president and CEO of Framatome in North America.

Holtec CEO Kris Singh added, “We look forward to leveraging Framatome’s vast reservoir of nuclear fuel know-how accumulated over the past five decades to expeditiously deploy the SMR-160 reactor with truly minimized risk.”

Holtec’s 160 MWe factory-built SMR uses low-enriched uranium fuel. The reactor’s core and all nuclear steam supply system components would be located underground, and the design incorporates a wealth of features including a passive cooling system that would be able to operate indefinitely after shutdown.

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.

In March 2018, Holtec signed a memorandum of understanding with Energoatom on adoption of Holtec’s SMR technology with Ukraine to become a manufacturing hub for SMR-160 reactor components. The MoU includes the licensing and construction of SMR-160 reactors in Ukraine, as well as the partial localization of SMR-160 components.

The Ukrainian manufacturing hub is to mirror the capabilities of Holtec’s Advanced Manufacturing Plant in Camden, New Jersey, and will be one of four manufacturing plants Holtec plans to build at distributed sites around the world by the mid-2020s.

The SMR-160 is currently undergoing the first phase of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s three-phase pre-licensing vendor design review process. State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine is expected to coordinate its assessment of SMR-160 under a collaborative arrangement with its Canadian counterpart.

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