- Boris Johnson’s 10 Point Plan is Missing a Few Points
- Idaho Site Selected for DOE Virtual Test Reactor
- Bipartisan Legislation Offered To Revitalize Nuclear Energy Industry
- Danish Nuclear Lands $24 million for First Asian Reactor
- Czech PM Signals Delay in $7 Billion Nuclear Reactor Project
UK to Invest $700M in SMRs as Part of 10 Point Plan
UK PM Boris Johnson is seeking to create a “green industrial revolution.” While it represents a start, it will also be seen as an effort that falls far short of the financial commitment needed for success to keep the lights on in the next decade.
His ten point plan, which contains promises of up to £12 billion of government investment, has four small parts for nuclear energy. The vast bulk of the promised spending for the total package is expected to come from as yet uncommitted industry agreements. Of that amount, just £300 million in industry marched funding will be allocated for small modular reactors (SMRs.) [UKGov’t source documents]
The ten points include: offshore wind; hydrogen; nuclear; electric vehicles; public transport; ‘Jet Zero’ and greener maritime; homes and public buildings; carbon capture; nature; innovation and finance.
While these are all reasonable areas for future “green” investments to decarbonize the economy, the UK is facing a long-term and significant crisis in terms of electricity generation capacity.
Of 17.5 GWe of nuclear power planned to replace the country’s aging nuclear fleet, almost all of which is expected to be in D&D status by 2028, only one-third of the new capacity is actually launched as live projects. The other two-thirds represent either failed or conflicted efforts to come off the drawing boards.
Another issue is that further extraction of North Sea oil and gas has been hampered by record low prices caused by the economic effects of the COVID19 pandemic. Some estimates are that as much as one-third of the remaining fossil fuel reserves may never come out of the ground unless or until oil prices return to levels prior to the onset of the COIVID19 virus crisis.
Status of the UK Nuclear New Build
At $5 billion a GWe, the UK has yet to figure out how to fund roughly 11 GWe or, at $5K/Kw, a minimum of $55 billion in new nuclear electric generation capacity. If the costs come in at closer to $6.5K/Kw, the unfunded financial outlook for nuclear reactor construction costs rise to almost $72 billion. Every year of delay adds more uncertainty for supply chains, and having available skilled workers to build the projects, along with the eventual effects on the price of electricity charged to consumers.
The British PM clearly has other budget priorities on his mind with a recent announcement of a proposed $22 billion increase in defense spending. The increase in defense spending, if applied to the nuclear new build, would cover the cost of either the Wylfa or Oldbury projects. That said, here is a blow-by-blow status report of the sad shape of the UK nuclear new build.
> Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C, representing 6.4 GWe of electrical power, are expected to be completed in the late 2020s and early 2030s, respectively, depending on the scope of schedule delays and resulting cost overruns that are predicted for these projects. They represent 36% of the UK’s planned new build.
> The Wylfa and Oldbury projects, 2.7 Gwe each, were unceremoniously ditched by Japan’s Hitachi earlier this year due to the inability of Johnson’s government to commit to an equity position in the projects, and failure to execute a program of “pay as you go” financing under the much discussed RAB finance mechanism. Also, Johnson’s government low balled the rate guarantee or “strike price” offered to Hitachi for Wylfa compared to what it offered EDF at Hinkley Point C by nearly £20/KwH. An added complication, cited by Hitachi, is the looming BREXIT deadline for the UK’s departure from the European Union.
A consortium of Westinghouse, Bechtel, and other firms is reported to be in talks with the government to take over the Wylfa project. Unless Johnson’s government has a major change of policy, and opens its checkbook to significant equity financing and competitive rate guarantees, the plans for new reactors at Wylfa and Oldbury will remain in limbo.
Adherence to a fantasy policy that the risk of financing nuclear energy projects can be carried by the private sector could create a future for the UK characterize by rolling brown outs not unlike what has happened to Eskom in South Africa with the resulting impacts on the country’s economy and employment.
> The Moorside project, at 3.3 Gwe, was to be a crown jewel for Westinghouse after building and commissioning four 1150 MWe AP1000s in China. However, the financially catastrophic cancelation of the V C Summer project in South Carolina, combined with the withdrawal of Toshiba, which owned Westinghouse at the time, from the nuclear industry shattered hopes for progress on this project.
Westinghouse was forced into a painful bankruptcy that caused it to withdraw from Moorside even though it had invested in the long and costly UK generic design assessment to allow its AP1000 reactors to be built in the UK. Westinghouse was purchased by a Canadian private equity fund, but there has been no public indication the firm, with its new owner, wants to take a second bite at the Moorside apple.
> The Bradwell site, which could be either 2.0 or 3.0 GWe, was offered by the UK to Chinese state-owned enterprises to be built using a Chinese indigenous design in return for China’s equity investments in Hinkley Point C (33%) and Sizewell C (20%).
Relations between China and the UK have been testy of late due to PM Johnson’s ejection seat politics regarding a Chinese telecommunications firm that wanted to bid on the UK 5G wireless network. UK and other western firms convinced Johnson to boot the firm off the tender over allegations of “security issues.”
For its part, the Chinese firms desperately want the chance to build their domestic design of a 1000 MW PWR, known as the Hualong One [IAEA Profile], in a western nation and the UK is still their best shot at doing do.
The reactor has reached stage 4 of the UK Generic Design Assessment and is on its way, from a regulatory perspective, to be ready to be built at the Bradwell site.
China is unlikely to quit the UK nuclear build over the telecommunications contract snub, but it has put up a noisy front through diplomatic channels about it annoyance over the issue.
Overall, the UK has a long way to go in terms of investment in nuclear energy before it can credibly claim to be driving a “green revolution” in that country.
UK Treasury Advocates for Investments in Nuclear Energy
In a late breaking development November 25th, World Nuclear News reported that the UK Treasury said it is important to unlock government financing for large-scale nuclear projects in addition to Hinkley Point C (HPC) if the country is to meet its net-zero by 2050 target.
This assessment rejects the advice of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) two years ago that the government should not agree support for more than one nuclear power station beyond HPC, before 2025. Until this change, PM Johnson had been adhering to the NIC line which matched the fiscal conservatism of his ruling party in Parliament.
In the policy paper, the ministry said, “Nuclear is a proven, value-for-money source of reliable low carbon power which can complement renewables. The government is pursuing large-scale nuclear projects, subject to clear value for money for both consumers and taxpayers and all relevant approvals, with further details to follow in the Energy White Paper.”
“Last year, the government consulted on a nuclear Regulated Asset Base (RAB). Alongside considering the RAB model, the government will also continue to consider the potential role of government [equity] finance during construction.”
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association, UK’s Nuclear Industry Association commented on the Treasury’s assessment of new nuclear.
“It is right that the UK government have rejected [NIC Chairman] John Armitt’s group in clear and stark terms – nuclear alongside other low-carbon technologies will be required to decarbonize, and it was never a sound position to suggest otherwise. The focus now must be on delivering the infrastructure required to meet net zero – and avoiding wasting further time, effort and attention in seeking to pit low carbon technologies against each other.”
The Treasury paper said that it expected the government “to move forward with a “response for financing new nuclear in due course.”
Funding for Small Modular and Advanced Reactors
According to the UK 10 point plan, the scope of investment in nuclear energy includes specific line items for small modular reactors (SMRs):
- About £385 million in an Advanced Nuclear Fund, which includes £215 million for small modular reactor early development work through the UK SMR consortium.
- About £170 million for an R&D program on advanced modular reactors (technologies to be determined) with an objective of having a first of a kind demonstration unit by the early 2030s. The cost of the demonstration reactor would likely be at least 10 times this initial level of funding.
- The plan has an additional £40 million to develop the regulatory frameworks and support spinning up the UK supply chains for new reactor designs.
Starting next year the UK SMR Consortium is pinning its hopes on the Rolls-Royce 440MW PWR. Tom Samson, interim CEO for the UK SMR consortium, said in a press statement that he welcomed the government’s funding.
The consortium will raise, initially, about £300 million in new capital to deliver a fully-engineered solution with regulatory approval. The consortium of Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttall, Jacobs, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory, Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.
Rolls-Royce and TWI are developing a 440MW factory-built SMR. The consortium’s ambition is to deliver a fleet of 16 reactors across multiple sites in the UK. At $5K/Kw, the 7 GWe of electrical power associated with the planned build out would cost a minimum of $35 billion, or ten times the initial equivalent of Series A investment, over a decade or longer time frame.
Other UK Small Modular Reactors
The following SMR developers have expressed interest in UK development. Some of them are also pursuing opportunities in the UK, Canada, and the US. Briefly, this is what is known about their proposals.
- Westinghouse is developing a 225MWe PWR based on technologies in its AP1000 design. In 2014 the firm abandoned a similar effort citing the lack of market opportunities. An alliance with Ameren, US nuclear utility in Missouri, ended when the utility over reached lobbying the state legislature to change state law to allow ratepayers to cover the costs of construction on a “pay as you go” basis. In 2015 it restarted efforts with an eye on offering its SMR to Poland to replace coal fired power plants.
- NuScale Power is developing a 50MWe PWR designed to be deployed in clusters of up to 12 per site. It has also announced planned power upgrades to the design, but has not yet submitted these plans to the NRC for safety design review. In the US NuScale and its customer UAMPS have been busy firming up commitments by ratepayers and holding the line on the expected costs of electricity to be generated by the first 12-unit plant to be built in Idaho. A target price of $55/MWh has been aired by UAMPS.
- Urenco is leading development of an ultra-small design called U-Battery. Based on pebble bed technology, each reactor will produce just 4MWe plus 10MWt. Target markets include back-up power, desalination plants and smart cities.
- China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is also adapting Westinghouse AP1000 technology for its ACP100 SMR, with an output of 100MWe plus 310MW thermal power which can be used in district heating schemes. CNNC started a demonstration site in 2019 for district hearing using the two AP1000 units at the Haiyang site in Fujian province.
- Moltex Energy, a privately-held UK company, is developing a 150MWe stable salt reactor, designed for modular deployment in clusters of up to 10 units per site. Moltex is involved in a “bake off” in New Brunswick province in Canada to test the economic and technical viability of its design.
- GF Nuclear is an independent power generation company which aims to develop the South Korean 100MWe Smart reactor in the UK. GF Nuclear says it will localize some elements of the supply chain in the UK though this plan may come in for stiff resistance from South Korean heavy industries. South Korea has a credible shot at selling the 100 MW SMART SMR to Saudi Arabia once oil prices recover if and when the COVID19 virus crisis abates.
As things stand now the SMR end of the UK nuclear new build has a clear opportunity to mature into funded projects, but there are a lot of “ifs,” and the biggest one remains the question of whether and how the UK government will lend it a hand.
Idaho Site Selected for DOE’s Virtual Test Reactor
The Department of Energy says that the Idaho National Laboratory is its preferred choice for a new advanced virtual test reactor (VTR). The project, which is expected to cost between $3-6 billion, has been sought by several DOE labs including Oak Ridge and Argonne. The confirmation of the designation came only after the Associated Press called the agency for clarity about it.
The U.S. Department of Energy said the site at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) will be listed as its preferred alternative in a draft environmental impact statement planned for release in December. The final environmental impact statement (FEIS) is due in 2021, followed by a record of decision to select the site. The actual physical site at the Idaho lab for the VTR has not been officially selected, and won’t be until after the FEIS is done. A reasonable guess is for a site located near the current Advanced Test Reactor.
If built, the VTR will become the long sought “anchor facility” for INL that will serve as a nexus for nuclear R&D funding at the INL for decades to come.
According to DOE the Versatile Test Reactor, or VTR, would give the US a dedicated “fast-neutron-spectrum” testing capability. Russia is building a similar R&D capability and a global race is on between the US and Russia to signup other nations to test their advanced designs. DOE has an aggressive schedule, subject to congressional funding, to complete the VTR by 2025.
“The Versatile Test Reactor continues to be a high-priority project for DOE to ensure nuclear energy plays a role in our country’s energy portfolio,” Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said.
DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy established the VTR program in 2018 in response to (NEICA), which called for a reactor-based fast neutron source to be in place in the mid-2020s.
The VTR will be operated by the National Reactor Testing Center. Its mission is to accelerate the demonstration and deployment of advanced nuclear energy, to empower innovators, and deliver successful outcomes.
NRIC is is a national Department of Energy program led by Idaho National Laboratory, allowing collaborators to harness the world-class capabilities of the U.S. National Laboratory System. NRIC is committed to demonstrating advanced reactors by the end of 2025.
Senators Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Revitalize Nuclear Energy Industry
(NucNet) Four senators have introduced bipartisan legislation to revitalize the US’s nuclear infrastructure in a move they say will enable leadership in the industry, preserve the nuclear fuel supply chain, reduce carbon emissions and strengthen the country’s economic, energy and national security.
The bipartisan legislation, the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020, was introduced by the Republican John Barrasso (R-WY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Cory Booker (D-NJ).
Barrasso said the legislation will strengthen US energy and national security.
“In the face of Russian and Chinese aggression, it’s critical we remain the world’s leading developer of nuclear energy technology.”
The bill supports the continued operation of the US’s existing reactors and sets the stage to deploy advanced nuclear technologies. It will also ensure that the fuel for nuclear plants comes from the US or its “trusted allies.”
Sen. Barrasso said Russia has flooded the global uranium market with cheap nuclear fuel. This costs jobs in the state he represents, Wyoming, and undercuts domestic producers. Wyoming has significant uranium deposits, but the mines there have been suffering from the low price of yellowcake.
According to a summary of the proposed legislation from Barrasso’s office, the bill would require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to review the permitting process for nuclear reactors, create new incentives for developing certain types of reactor projects and keep reactors that might otherwise shut down open as part of a “carbon emissions avoidance program.”
It would bar the import of nuclear fuel from Russia or China. Separately, it would let Japanese or South Korean firms, or those from NATO countries, to obtain a license for a nuclear facility in the United States if the NRC approves one.
It would create a national strategic uranium reserve and require the NRC and U.S. Department of Energy to work on the development of high-assay low-enriched (HALEU) uranium, which is expected to be used in small advanced reactors.
The legislation would make the permitting process for advanced nuclear designs more predictable and efficient and incentivize the deployment of next generation reactor technologies.
On existing nuclear plants, the legislation authorizes a credit program to preserve nuclear reactors that could prematurely shut down.
The civilian nuclear energy industry has long argued that nuclear energy’s contribution to energy security and grid stability should be rewarded. The Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute has said nuclear energy’s attributes, including resiliency and reliability, are not being fairly valued in the market.
Six commercial nuclear plants have shut down in the US since 2013 and 12 more are scheduled to retire within seven years.
The American Nuclear Society (ANS) said in a press statement that it supports the bill.
“Taken together, we believe this legislation would provide an expanded set of policy tools for ushering in a new generation of advanced reactors needed for deep decarbonization in the U.S. and around the world.”
ANS noted the provisions empowering the NRC to incentivize the commercial use of new reactor designs and the development of advanced nuclear fuels, lead international forums to develop regulations on advanced reactor designs, reduce “unnecessary regulatory barriers” and “establish a more predictable and efficient permitting process.”
NEI Calls for Reprocessing of Spent Nuclear Fuel
Reuters reported that the the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) is now advocating that reprocessing of nuclear waste could the problem of spent fuel which is now sitting at the nations reactors.
The statement comes more than a year after the Department of Energy (DOE) shut down the construction of a spent fuel reprocessing plant in South Carolina that was to produce mixed oxide fule (MOX) (U238/U235/PU239) for use in commercial reactors. DOE took the action after a string of delays and cost overruns that raised doubts whether the plant would ever be completed.
“Reprocessing is a very interesting part of the solution set,” Maria Korsnick, the head of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said during an interview with Reuters. She said the technology “would be really closing the fuel cycle in a very useful way” because it squeezes more energy from the waste that cannot be used when it is disposed permanently.
Efforts are underway to develop two interim spent fuel storage sites, one in Texas and the other in New Mexico. The governors of both states are wary of these plans because they fear the sites will become, de facto, permanent storage sites.
On reprocessing, France has demonstrated it can be done safely, Korsnick said. “These are all conversations that we would have to step through as we design our final solution,” she said. “I’m confident that we have the technological expertise to do this well.”
Danish Nuclear Startup Lands $24 Million for First Asian Reactor
The firm Seaborg Technology AS, a Danish company, is planning to manufacture small modular reactors. It reportedly has raised about 20 million euros ($24 million) to bring a floating nuclear-power station to southeast Asia.
Last year, Russia floated a two small reactors on a barge to power remote Arctic sites. Seaborg raised the money to update the concept for parts of southeast Asia that are currently relying on fossil fuels for power and where renewables aren’t yet an option.
Seaborg envisions building its molten-salt reactors in South Korean shipyards after developing the technology in Denmark in a bid to keep costs down. Completed barges will then be towed to where they’re needed. The plan is to connect the first unit to a grid by 2025.
“We will provide a significantly cheaper alternative to coal in regions with no access to renewable energy,” said Troels Schonfeldt, chief executive officer of Seaborg. Applications include taking advantage of process heat from the reactor in addition to its role to provide electricity.
Each barge can be outfitted with 200MWe units and as many as three at a time. The money, raised from mostly private investors including fashion billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, will be used to hire about 50 people and build a state of the art laboratory, Schonfeldt said.
Czech PM Signals Delay in $7 Billion Nuclear Reactor Project
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis has all but pulled the plug, again, on the country’s efforts to build new nuclear reactors at the Dukovany site. He said the country isn’t yet ready to start a tender for a new nuclear reactor.
Last July state-controlled CEZ and the government signed a contract providing price guarantees and financial help in the form of equity investment. A tender was due by the end of this year.
Babis sited problems with getting approval from the EU, due to opposition from Austria, and political problems associated with an upcoming election.
The plan had been that CEZ should pick vendor and EPC by the end of 2022 and the construction should by complete in about six to eight years. The tender was to have included a provision that CEZ would have the the right to pull out of the project give it back to the government if the vendor ran into trouble building the reactor.
CEZ estimated the planned 1,200 MW unit would cost about 6 billion euros ($7.1 billion) in today’s prices, more than a half of its market capitalization. In short, it is a ‘bet the company’ project which made its director nervous.
The Bloomberg wire service reported that postponing the government’s decision until after the parliamentary elections next fall could push back the rest of the timetable, according to Martin Cakl, an analyst at brokerage Patria Finance AS in Prague.
“It’s hard to say whether a possible delay would be positive or negative for CEZ shares,” Cakl said. “Overall, investors find the project troubling.”
This would be the second time CEZ pulled the rug out from under a tender for new nuclear power. In 2014 the utility first downsized an ambitious $25 billion plan for new reactors at Dulovany and Temelin, and then cancelled a downsized tender that kicked France’s Areva out of the running leaving Rosatom and Westinghouse to learn they were just wasting their time.
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