Nuclear News Roundup for October 16, 2016

TVA sets auction date for Bellefonte nuclear power plant

(Times Free Press) TVA said this week it has set an auction date of November 14 to sell its unfinished Bellefonte nuclear power plant. Concentric Energy Advisors Inc., a property consulting firm TVA hired this spring to market the 1,400-acre power plant site on the Tennessee River in Hollywood, Ala., will conduct the sale at the plant site.

TVA directors declared the unfinished nuclear plant to be surplus property earlier this year 43 years after construction began on the twin-reactor complex. The site is not currently subject to any zoning regulations and TVA says the site could support a mix of industrial, commercial, retail and residential use.

TVA said in a statement the “primary goal in selling the site is to provide the best long-term economic return to the surrounding communities.”

The minimum bid price is $36.4 million, which is the appraised value of the riverfront property, but the bids will be evaluated on both the price offered and the economic gains any sale would generate for the region. The utility spent $5 billion on the unfinished reactors which never loaded fuel not generated any electricity.

TVA spokesman Scott Fiedler said the utility and its sales agent are not disclosing the identities of bidders who have qualified to submit purchase proposals next month. It is unknown if any of the buyers are interested in using the reactor building, transmission yard and cooling towers to pursue any nuclear power generation.

One possible bidder is the Nevada-based Phoenix Energy, which said it submitted a $38 million bid for Bellefonte last month. The company has proposed using Bellefonte for a new type of magnetic inductive power generation known as induction energy fuel conversion after investing a few hundred million dollars.

Because TVA does not anticipate needing any extra power that the plant might generate, Phoenix Energy would have to beat the generation prices of other independent power producers to sell its power on the open market.

Chinese nuclear firm confident its reactor can pass strict UK safety tests

(China Daily) China General Nuclear Power Corp has said it is confident that the Chinese-made Hualong One reactor will pass Britain’s strict approval process in five years.

The technology, also known as HPR1000, or Hualong One, will be submitted to the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation for its rigorous generic design assessment by the end of this year, the company said.

If it passes, the design will be used at the proposed power station at Bradwell, on the east coast of England, which would be the first nuclear project in a developed market to use a Chinese reactor.

“We completed all preparatory work regarding the technology’s assessment in July, and we received positive feedback from Britain during a technology conference last year,” said Mao Qing, the project manager at CGN responsible for Hualong One’s assessment.

“We have thoroughly studied the technologies that have gone through the process in the past and are confident Hualong One will meet the UK’s stringent safety, security and design requirements.”

According to He Yu, the chairman of CGN, passing the assessment will also lead to more countries having confidence in the Chinese reactor, which is based on third-generation nuclear technology, and will push forward its global market development.

CGN recently signed a final agreement on the 18 billion pound ($23.4 billion) Hinkley Point C power plant with the French utility EDF and the British government. The project has been hailed as a gateway to promote Chinese nuclear technology.

The proposed Bradwell project consists of two Hualong One reactors, each with an output of 1.15 gigawatts. CGN will hold a 66.5 percent share of the project, with EDF holding the rest.

China R&D group sets goal of deploying 10 MW nuclear battery in five years

(South China Morning Post) A top mainland research institute is developing the world’s smallest ­nuclear power plant, which could fit inside a shipping container and might be installed on an island in the disputed South China Sea within five years.

Researchers are carrying out intensive work on the unit – dubbed the hedianbao, or “portable nuclear battery pack.”

Although the small, lead-cooled reactor could be placed ­inside a shipping container ­measuring about 6.1 metres long and 2.6 metres high, it would be able to generate 10 MW of heat, which, if converted into electricity, would be enough to power some 50,000 households.

The Chinese researchers note their technology is similar to a compact lead-cooled thermal reactor that was used by the navy of the former Soviet Union in its nuclear submarines in the 1970s.

It is also capable of running for years or even decades without refuelling, and scientists say that because it produces neither dust nor smoke, even on a small island a resident would hardly notice its existence.

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Nuclear Energy Safety Technology, a national research institute in Hefei, Anhui province, say they hope to be able to ship the first unit within five years.

Swiss government opposes campaign for quick nuclear exit

(Reuters) The Swiss government opposes an initiative to be voted on in November that would shutter three nuclear plants next year, Energy Minister Doris Leuthard said this week.

While the government aims to exit nuclear energy eventually, she told a news conference in Bern, the proposal to be decided by referendum on Nov. 27 is premature, leaving Switzerland unable to replace power output with energy from renewables.

The initiative, pushed by Greenpeace and the Swiss Green Party that dispute Leuthard’s dire predictions, demands reactors Beznau I und II and Muehleberg be closed in 2017, with two remaining stations to follow in 2024 and 2029.

A hasty shutdown, Leuthard contended, would leave Switzerland’s energy security in tatters, boost dependence on German coal-fired power and expose taxpayers to utilities’ demands for remuneration.

“Compensation lawsuits are inevitable,” Leuthard said. “Taxpayers would be on the hook.”

Swiss power company BKW already plans to shut its Muehleberg plant in 2019, citing high costs to keep the nearly 45-year-old site running.

Accelerating that to 2017, while adding more closures, would leave Switzerland hard pressed to replace more than 1,000 megawatts of power, enough for 1.6 million households, BKW Chief Executive Suzanne Thoma said.

“Electricity is something we take for granted,” Thoma said. “When it is no longer available, everything falls apart.”

Japan Minister confirms Fast Breeder Reactor remains important

(WNN) The head of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has confirmed the importance of fast breeder reactor (FBR) development in Japan at a meeting of public and private sector representatives. Japanese governmental policy on FBRs – including the future of the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor – is to be finalized by the end of the year.

The Conference on Fast Reactor Development took place in Tokyo on October 7th. Chaired by METI Minister Hiroshige Seko, it was attended by Hirokazu Matsuno, minister of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Toshio Kodama, president of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), Satoru Katsuno, chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies, and Shunichi Miyanaga, president of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

METI minister Hiroshige Seko reiterated to the conference the Japanese government’s recognition that nuclear energy is essential for Japan to maintain stable supplies of inexpensive electricity. He stressed that that the country must face the challenges of the nuclear fuel cycle “squarely.”

MEXT representatives told the conference it would cost an estimated JPY540 billion ($5.24 billion) to operate Monju to the end of its licensed operating period. This is a minimum cost based on the assumption it would take eight years to restart the reactor, and that it could then be operated for another eight years, and does not include decommissioning costs.

The 280 MWe Monju FBR started up in 1994 but following sodium leakage problems operated for only 205 days until it restarted in May 2010. It has not operated since refuelling equipment fell into the reactor vessel during a refuelling outage later that year.

The equipment was subsequently retrieved and replaced but the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has not yet permitted the reactor to restart. In November 2015, following concerns over equipment inspections, the NRA determined that operator JAEA was not competent to operate the reactor.

Many experts believe the plant will never be restarted and that if Japan wants an FBR it will have to start over.

NEI Praises US Regulator’s Advanced Reactor Strategy

(NucNet): The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s near-term activities to prepare for the licensing of advanced non-light water nuclear reactor technologies are “generally consistent” with the industry’s focus over the same period, the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute has told the NRC.

In comments to the NRC, the NEI called an NRC strategy document on non-light water reactors “an important opportunity to assure alignment of NRC activities with the goals and priorities of the industry.”

NEI said the nuclear industry in the US is preparing for new reactor technology to supplant existing reactors in the coming decades. Dozens of companies are developing a variety of advanced non-light water reactor designs that differ substantially from the light-water reactors in use internationally. Some of these designs include non-traditional technologies such as high-temperature gas-cooled reactors, molten salt reactors and sodium-, lead- or gas-cooled fast reactors.

The NEI said the companies’ efforts have strong bipartisan support in Congress, and several bills have been passed in the past two years to provide fincial support as well as technical and material support from the US Department of Energy’s complex of national laboratories.

DOE and the industry anticipate that these advanced nonlight water reactors will be ready for deployment by the early 2030s, the NEI said.

“Non-light water reactors, large light water reactors and small modular light water reactors – which are expected to be operational by the mid-2020s – will form an ‘all-of-the-above’ nuclear energy portfolio that will be required to meet future energy needs and clean air goals.” The NRC strategy document is online:

# # #

Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Spacecraft Nuclear Batteries Get A Boost From New Materials

Plutonium power may yet again support deep space missions

No extension cord is long enough to reach another planet, and there’s no spacecraft charging station along the way. That’s why researchers are hard at work on ways to make spacecraft power systems more efficient, resilient and long-lasting.

“NASA needs reliable long-term power systems to advance exploration of the solar system,” said Jean-Pierre Fleurial, supervisor for the thermal energy conversion research and advancement group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

“This is particularly important for the outer planets, where the intensity of sunlight is only a few percent as strong as it is in Earth orbit.”

A cutting-edge development in spacecraft power systems is a class of materials with an unfamiliar name: skutterudites (skut-ta-RU-dites). Researchers are studying the use of these advanced materials in a proposed next-generation power system called an eMMRTG, which stands for Enhanced Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator.

What is an RTG?

Radioactive substances naturally generate heat as they spontaneously transform into other elements. Radioisotope power systems make use of this heat as fuel to produce useful electricity for use in a spacecraft. The radioisotope power systems on NASA spacecraft today harness heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238 oxide. (NASA web page – primer on RTGs)  PU-238 is not a weapons grade material and cannot be used to make bombs.

The United States first launched a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) into space on a satellite in 1961. RTGs have powered NASA’s twin Voyager probes since their launch in 1977; more than 10 billion miles (16 billion kilometers) away, the Voyagers are the most distant spacecraft from Earth and are still going. RTGs have enabled many other missions that have sent back a wealth of science results, including NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover and the New Horizons mission, which flew by Pluto in 2015.

The new eMMRTG would provide 25 percent more power than Curiosity’s generator at the start of a mission, according to current analyses. Additionally, since skutterudites naturally degrade more slowly that the current materials in the MMRTG, a spacecraft outfitted with an eMMRTG would have at least 50 percent more power at the end of a 17-year design life than it does today.

“Having a more efficient thermoelectric system means we’d need to use less plutonium. We could go farther, for longer and do more,” Bux said.

Radioisotope Power Systems & Heaters by Mission

Mission Radioisotope
Power Systems
Nimbus III Two SNAP-19B3 RTGs Earth atmospheric science (weather)
Apollo 11 (Early Apollo Surface Experiment Package) Two RHUs Lunar surface
Apollo 12 through 17 (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package) One SNAP-27 RTG each Lunar surface
Pioneer 10 Four SNAP-19 RTGs, 12 RHUs Outer planet flyby at Jupiter
Pioneer 11 Four SNAP-19 RTGs, 12 RHUs Outer planet flybys at Jupiter & Saturn
Viking 1 lander Two SNAP-19 RTGs Mars surface
Viking 2 lander Two SNAP-19 RTGs Mars surface
Voyager 1 Three MHW-RTGs, 9 RHUs Outer planet flybys at Jupiter, Saturn, plus interstellar space
Voyager 2 Three MHW-RTGs, 9 RHUs Outer planet flybys at Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, plus interstellar space
Galileo Two GPHS-RTGs, 103 RHUs on orbiter, 17 RHUs on atmospheric probe Venus and Earth flybys, Jupiter orbit, probe to Jupiter’s atmosphere
Ulysses One GPHS-RTG Two Jupiter flybys, Solar polar observations
Mars Pathfinder Sojourner Rover Three RHUs Mars surface
Cassini-Huygens Three GPHS-RTGs, 82 RHUs on orbiter, 35 RHUs on Huygens probe Venus, Earth and Jupiter flybys, Saturn orbit, Huygens lander to Titan
Mars Exploration Rover Spirit Eight RHUs Mars surface
Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity Eight RHUs Mars surface
New Horizons One GPHS-RTG Pluto/Kuiper Belt flybys
Mars Science Laboratory Rover Curiosity One MMRTG Mars Surface 

What are skutterudites?

The defining new ingredients in the proposed eMMRTG are materials called skutterudites, which have unique properties that make them especially useful for power systems. These materials conduct electricity like metal, but heat up like glass, and can generate sizable electrical voltages.

Materials with all of these characteristics are hard to come by. A copper pot, for example, is an excellent conductor of electricity, but gets very hot quickly. Glass, on the other hand, insulates against heat well, but it can’t conduct electricity. Neither of these properties are appropriate in a thermoelectric material, which converts heat into electricity.

“We needed to design high temperature compounds with the best mix of electrical and heat transfer properties,” said Sabah Bux, a technologist at JPL who works on thermoelectric materials. “Skutterudites, with their complex structures composed of heavy atoms like antimony, allow us to do that.”

RTGs in space

A team at JPL is working on turning skutterudites into thermocouples. A thermocouple is a device that generates an electrical voltage from the temperature difference in its components. Compared to other materials, thermocouples made of skutterudites need a smaller temperature difference to produce the same amount of useful power, making them more efficient.

Earth-based applications of skutterudite

There are many potential applications for these advanced thermoelectric materials here on Earth.

“In situations where waste heat is emitted, skutterudite materials could be used to improve efficiency and convert that heat into useful electricity,” said Thierry Caillat, project leader for the technology maturation project at JPL.

For example, exhaust heat from a car could be converted into electricity and fed back into the vehicle, which could be used to charge batteries and reduce fuel use. Industrial processes that require high temperatures, such as ceramic and glass processing, could also use skutterudite materials to make use of waste heat. In 2015, JPL licensed patents on these high-temperature thermoelectric materials to a company called Evident Technologies, Troy, New York.

“Over the last 20 years, the field of thermoelectrics has come into being and blossomed, especially at JPL,” said Fleurial. “There’s a lot of great science happening in this area. We’re excited to explore the idea of taking these materials to space, and benefitting U.S. industry along the way.”


What is a thermoelectric material?

Thermoelectric materials are materials that can convert a temperature difference into electricity, or vice versa.

What is a thermocouple?

A conventional thermocouple is made of two different thermoelectric materials joined together at one “shoe,” or end, where its temperature is measured. When you heat up a thermocouple, the difference in the conductivity of the materials results in one metal becoming hotter than the other, and causes the temperature of the joined end to change. This temperature difference creates a voltage (the force with which electrons flow through the material), and converts a portion of the transferred heat into electricity.

How do thermocouples work?

Thermocouples are in every home: They measure the temperature in your oven and control your water heater. Most household thermocouples are inefficient: they produce a voltage so small, it produces almost no electrical current. By contrast skutterudites are a lot more efficient: They require a smaller temperature difference to produce useful electricity.

NASA is studying thermocouples made out of skutterudites that have a flat top and two “legs,” somewhat like the iconic Stonehenge stone monuments. Heat transfers across the thermocouple from a high-temperature heat source to a suitable heat ‘sink’ (such as cold water). An electrical current is produced between the hot end (the flat top) and the cold end (the legs) of the thermocouple.

“It’s as though there are a lot of people in a room where one side is hot and one side is cold,” said JPL’s Sabah Bux. “The people, which represent the electrical charges, will move from the hot side to the cold side. That movement is electricity.”

The thermocouples are joined end-to-end in one long circuit – the electrical current goes up, over and down each thermocouple, producing useful power. Devices outfitted in this way can take advantage of a variety of heat sources, ranging in temperature from 392 to more than 1832 degrees Fahrenheit (200 to more than 1000 degrees Celsius).

In Curiosity’s power system, the Multi Mission RTG (MMRTG), 768 thermocouples encircle a central can-like structure, all facing the same direction towards the heat source, at the center of the generator. The enhanced MMRTG (eMMRTG) would have the same number of thermocouples, but all would be made from skutterudite material instead of the alloys of telluride currently used.

“Only minimal changes to the existing MMRTG design are needed to get these results,” Fleurial said. A group of about two dozen people at JPL is dedicated to working on these advanced materials and testing the resulting thermocouple prototypes.

The new skutterudite-based thermocouples passed their first major NASA review in late 2015. If they pass further reviews in 2017 and 2018, the first eMMRTG using them could fly aboard NASA’s next New Frontiers-class mission.

& & &

JPL’s work to develop higher-efficiency thermoelectric materials is carried out in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Teledyne Energy Systems and Aerojet Rocketdyne, and is funded by NASA’s Radioisotope Power System program, which is managed by NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

The spaceflight hardware is produced by Teledyne Energy Systems and Aerojet Rocketdyne under a contract held by the DOE, which fuels, completes final assembly and owns the end item. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Thanks to NASA/JPL for this material and sources

News Media Contact

Elizabeth Landau
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

# # #

Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Seeking Informed Consent on Siting Nuclear Waste

States and Localities Open to a New Approach on Siting Nuclear Waste

A “consent-based” approach to siting nuclear waste facilities may offer a promising solution to what has been a decades-long stalemate on the issue, according to the results of a survey of state leaders conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The first-of-its-kind survey found state leaders are willing to engage in discussions about potential nuclear waste storage facilities with the federal government, local communities, tribal agencies, and other stakeholders on a collaborative basis.

nuke waste

These findings are part of a new report released by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Nuclear Waste Council. The report, Moving Forward with Consent-Based Siting for Nuclear Waste Facilities, also contains a series of recommendations from the council on how to break the national impasse on nuclear waste and structure a viable consent-based process that brings together relevant stakeholders at all levels of government.

The recommendations are based on the state survey, site visits to private waste storage facilities, and consultations with local leaders across the country.

“We have allowed the issue of how and where to store nuclear waste to stagnate for too long,” said former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, co-chair of the Nuclear Waste Council.

“Our council believes a cooperative approach could be a breakthrough, and we urge Congress and the Department of Energy to consider it.”

“Decisions about nuclear waste storage are never going to be easy, and even in a consent-based approach there are still tricky questions to be answered,” said former Rep. Norm Dicks, co-chair of the Nuclear Waste Council.

“But it is clear to our council that giving all stakeholders a seat at the table is more likely to produce a sustainable solution that satisfies the need for permanent storage and addresses citizens’ concerns.”

The council’s recommendations include:

  • As part of a fundamental overhaul of the U.S. nuclear waste management program, Congress should establish a new, dedicated nuclear waste management organization, separate from the Department of Energy.
  • Future siting efforts should emphasize voluntary participation, flexibility, transparency, inclusion and consultation, trust, accountability, and scientific and technical integrity.
  • Future siting efforts should encourage multiple applications, ensure a fair and thorough assessment of all options, avoid down-selecting to a single option too early in the process, and make selections among competing options on the basis of objective, observable metrics.

References on the Web

# # #

Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

U.S. Navy Sets Plans to Upgrade Idaho Spent Fuel Facility

The Naval Reactors facility needs a new wet storage facility to cool off spent fuel from its nuclear propulsion program.

spent fuel train idahoThe Associated Press reported October 3 that the Navy and U.S. Department of Energy want to build a $1.6 billion facility at a nuclear site in eastern Idaho that would handle fuel waste from the nation’s fleet of nuclear-powered warships through at least 2060. (fact sheet)

According to the wire service, the new facility would be built at the Energy Department’s 890-square-mile Idaho National Laboratory, the nation’s primary lab for commercial nuclear energy research.

The Navy’s plan is sure to set off a significant response from anti-nuclear  groups and two ex-governors who have stridently opposed any new spent nuclear fuel, from any source, being brought to the state.

batt_and_andrus_nprFormer Governors Cecil Andrus, a democrat, and Phil Batt, a republican, (left) have maintained that absent significant progress in stabilizing and removing nearly a million gallons of highly radioactive liquid radioactive waste at the Idaho lab, no new spent nuclear fuel can be brought to the site.
(Image: NPR/Boise Public Radio)

Their opposition scuttled a plan by the R&D side of the house at the Idaho lab to conduct evaluations of small quantities of high-burnup fuel from commercial reactors. The project was transferred by the Department of Energy to the Oak Ridge lab.

The latest plan announced by the U.S. Navy could re-energize their opposition and possibly put at risk an unrelated effort to build a first of a kind small modular reactor for commercial generation of electricity at the Idaho lab in the 2023 or later.

History of Navy Spent Fuel in Idaho

The Navy has been bringing spent nuclear fuel from its ships and submarines to Idaho via rail since the early days of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program. The liquid radioactive waste that is sitting in underground tanks on the Arco desert is residual material from the reprocessing of the naval fuel which took place there until President Carter cancelled the program as a nonproliferation measure.

Some of the facilities at the Naval Reactors site date back to the the Cold War era which is one reason why the government thinks that an upgrade is in order. The State of Idaho, which wants all of the spent fuel gone from the site by 2035, seemed to recognize that business as usual is the more likely scenario. A spokesman for the lab told the the AP;

“We would prefer to see a state-of-the-art facility if they’re going to continue to bring in spent fuel,” said Susan Burke, Idaho National Laboratory oversight coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Quality.

According to the AP report, a document approving the plan could be issued early next month. Officials say site preparation would likely begin in 2017, with the facility becoming operational in the early 2020s.

“The facility would be designed with the flexibility to integrate future identified mission needs,” the environmental impact statement says. It also notes that the new facility would be upgraded to meet new seismic standards.

Idaho Earthquake Risk

On October 28, 1983, the Borah Peak earthquake measured 6.9 on the event magnitude scale making it a violent seismic event. Earthquake numbers are logarithmic which means each tick on the right side of the decimal means a 10 fold increase in seismic intensity.

The U.S. Geological Survey notes that the Borah Peak earthquake is the largest ever recorded in Idaho – both in terms of magnitude and in amount of property damage.

The Challis-Mackay region experienced significant damage, with 11 commercial buildings and 39 homes with major damage; while another 200 houses were damaged, minor to moderately.

Mackay in particular, about 50 miles west of the Idaho lab site, experienced the most severe damage. Most of the city’s large buildings on its Main Street were damaged and some had to be demolished.

Path Forward for Navy Spent Fuel

Another reason that a new building at the Naval Reactors site is needed to handle a new type of spent-fuel shipping container. The container requires a larger pool with a different configuration to place the spent fuel in wet storage until it cools off enough to be moved to dry casks.

The new facility will take spent fuel from ships, move it to wet storage at the Idaho site, and when it is cool enough, place it in dry casks for shipment to an interim storage or permanent geologic disposal site.

navy spent fuel wet to dry storage

Image Source: Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program

The performance characteristics of naval fuel are classified, but Burke told the AP the time needed to cool the fuel and move it to a dry cask is six years. Once is it moved to a dry cask, the Idaho Settlement Agreement requires it to be taken out of Idaho. Typically, for commercial nuclear spent fuel, that takes about five years to be ready for dry casks

All of the naval spent fuel, old and new, is required to be removed from Idaho by 2035. Currently, with the path to Yucca Mountain shut down, the fuel has no place to go.

The latest developments in the nation’s quest to deal with spent nuclear fuel include two efforts by private firms to develop interim storage sites, one in west Texas and the other in southeastern New Mexico.

It seems, conceptually, possible the U.S. Navy would consider a move of its spent fuel from Idaho to either of these sites. However, given the national security issues associated with the spent fuel, the interim storage site would have to be separated from the one hosting commercial spent fuel.

In a separate development, the Department of Energy has been developing what it calls a “consent based” approach to siting spent fuel facilities.

Lawsuits Cloud Relations Between Idaho and DOE

Shipments of naval spent nuclear fuel to the Idaho site have been the subject of intense political action and response including lawsuits.

AP notes in its news report that the lawsuits culminated in a 1995 agreement, then a 2008 addendum, limiting such shipments and requiring spent fuel, and most solid nuclear waste, to be removed from Idaho by 2035. The deal applies to the Navy’s spent nuclear fuel.

The plan for the new facility is based on an operational timeline that takes it out to 2060. That might require the government to reopen negotiations with the state.  Andrus, in particular, has been outspoken in his comments that he does not trust the  government to keep its promises.

Currently, the prospect of renegotiating the Settlement Agreement  is a non-starter for Andrus and Batt, While it has been several decades since either man has been in elected office, they still swing considerable political weight and a sitting Idaho governor is not going to buck them. Indeed, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has lined up with Andrus and Batt saying that no new spent fuel from any source can come to Idaho until there is progress on cleaning up the site.

While DOE and its contractors made progress since 2005 shipping solid radioactive waste material in drums to the WIPP site in New Mexico, that facility has been closed since 2014 due to a fire, and it still has problems. This week two ceiling panels in the underground caverns caved in raising issues about the timing of restart of operations.

DOE is still struggling to successfully operate a $550M treatment facility at the Idaho lab which is designed to convert the liquid radioactive waste into a dry powder form. A new contractor that started work last June says it has a plan to get the plant into gear.

Unlike Los Alamos and Sandia, both located in New Mexico, the Idaho lab does not do R&D work on nuclear weapons nor is it involved in their fabrication or decommissioning. However, it has hosted the Naval Reactors program since 1957. The lab also is home to a U.S. Army facility that manufactures tank armor from depleted uranium tailings recycled from uranium enrichment facilities.

One benefit of construction of the $1.6 billion navy spent fuel plant is that jobs related to that work would directly benefit the region. In 2013 Areva, a French firm, walked away from plans to build a $3 billion uranium enrichment plant on private land on a site located about 18 miles west of Idaho Falls. The company said it could not attract investors despite having been issued a  license for the plant by the NRC and obtained a loan guarantee from DOE for the first $2 billion in costs.

lightning-bolt-idahoBy the early 2020s one thing is sure, DOE will need to have figured out a way to get rid of the liquid radioactive waste that is the subject of the ire of Andrus and Batt. The future of the Navy’s plans, and those of NuScale for its FOAK SMR, depend on it.

Otherwise, the same old disputes will crackle across the Arco desert like the lightning from dry thunderstorms that sets off range fires in the volatile sagebrush on hot summer days.

# # #

Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

NEI Names Maria Korsnick President and CEO

The former Chief Nuclear Officer for a major utility will take over the policy and trade group as the industry and its members are facing major challenges.

  • Keeping reactors open in the face of significant market trends
  • Finding solutions for interim and final disposition of spent nuclear fuel
  • Laying the ground work for a new generation of advanced reactors

mkorsnickMaria Korsnick (right) has been elected president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the policy organization for the U.S. nuclear energy industry, effective Jan. 1, 2017. She will succeed Marvin Fertel, who retires on Dec. 31 after nine years as NEI’s president and CEO. [press statement] See bio below.

Korsnick has served as NEI’s chief operating officer since May 2015 as a loaned executive from Exelon Generation and Constellation Energy Nuclear Group (CENG).

In her role at NEI, she has guided the organization’s day-to-day operations and represented the industry before a multitude of stakeholders—including the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Obama administration, Congress, state lawmakers, international nuclear professionals, think tanks and policymakers.

Act to Preserve the Existing Fleet

NEI said in its press statement that Korsnick’s election “comes at a transformational time for the industry.”

twilight for nuclearOver the past several years, companies have shut down—or announced plans to shut down—10 reactors in five states. 

An estimated 15 to 20 operating reactors are at risk of premature shutdown due to competitive electric markets not recognizing the value they provide to the environment, system reliability, and grid stability.

A huge controversy has erupted in California over the decision by PG&E to shut down its twin reactors at Diablo Canyon in 2024. It may become a test case for other utilities.

Additional challenges include low natural gas prices and federal and state policies supporting renewable technologies. Green groups attack nuclear energy over federal “subsidies” for the plants, but seem to have a blind spot about state mandates to utilities to generate electricity from “green sources” while neglecting to give nuclear plants credit for zero carbon emissions.

On the plus side, over the next four years, four reactors will start operations in Georgia and South Carolina. In Tennessee TVA’s Watts Bar II plant achieved 100% of power last week for the first time.

Nuclear power plants operating in 30 states in 2015 achieved a record-high industry average capacity factor of 92.2 percent—a measure of efficiency—while generating more than 60 percent of America’s carbon-free electricity supply. No renewable energy sources have that kind of track record.

On the delta side, plant economics and regulatory issues are fragmented and handled state-by-state.

The American Nuclear Society (ANS) has released a “Nuclear in the States Toolkit” that outlines policies related to new and existing nuclear reactors for state policymakers to consider as they draft their Clean Power Plan compliance strategies.

The 40-page toolkit was developed by a Special Committee on Nuclear in the States assembled by ANS to gather and categorize the myriad nuclear energy options available to state-level administrators.

Among the subjects covered in the toolkit are electricity capacity markets, governmental support, public hearings, and tax policies.

If the two groups are not doing so already, this is an opportunity for ANS and NEI to collaborate to keep nuclear plants open.

Find a Solution for Managing Spent Nuclear Fuel

Almost all experts who have looked at the issue agree that the problem isn’t technical, it is political. In addition to the option for a deep geologic repositories, two firms are proposing development of interim storage sites for spent nuclear fuel as money making propositions. The facilities could function for over a century using dry casks stored in the arid seismically stable lands of west Texas and southeastern New Mexico.

The Electric Power Research Institute has estimated the operating and labor cost needed to store 5,000 MTU of spent nuclear fuel at an interim consolidated storage facility for 40 years at just under $400 million or about $10m/year.

There is a huge market for shifting spent fuel from being at reactors to interim storage sites. Over 70,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors are stored at 118 locations according to 2013 data published by the EIA.

spent fuel inventory

The U.S. Department of Energy has begun a process of consent based siting to get input from communities that might actually be ok with hosting an interim or permanent site for spent nuclear fuel. Time will tell whether this will work. It’s a major headache for NEI’s member utilities and an issue that is will be front and center in its command of the new CEO’s attention.

Develop New Lamps to Replace the Old

nuclear flagIn January of this year this blog predicted utilities, as customers of innovative developers, will not be content to wait 20 years for DOE national laboratories to kick R&D projects out of their sandboxes.

The business paradigm of time to market for useful innovations will produce a demand factor that will drive utilities to try to get early, hands-on, looks at innovative reactor designs.

Four months later Southern Corp. and X-Energy proved the principle by inking a deal to collaborate on the development of advanced nuclear reactor technologies. Neither Southern nor X-Energy explained in their press statements where their R&D work intersects. The technological link between the two projects is Triso fuel. Some GEN IV designs of very high temperature molten salt reactors specify the use of it. The pebble bed design depends entirely on Triso fuel.

There is a whole ecosystem of nuclear startups that believe they can build a better reactor, and faster than ever before. Designers of advanced nuclear reactors seek to bridge the gap between concept and prototype. While it is too early for investors and potential customers to easily pick winners from an increasingly crowded field of advanced reactor projects, new patterns of investment, including public/private partnerships, are creating opportunities for entrepreneurial developers.

NEI knows that small modular reactors (SMRs), like the ones being developed by NuScale and other firms that rely on conventional light water reactor technologies, are likely to come to the market in the next decade. Hopefully, NEI will also have the foresight to look beyond that development at advanced designs and work with developers of them to speed the process of bringing them to market.

China is placing multiple bets on advanced nuclear reactors and is outpacing the U.S. in this regard.  Unless organizations like NEI address the global competitive issues, working with the White House and Congress, American technological leadership could fall behind if it hasn’t already.

The U.S. has made an impact on the global nuclear industry with its work on light water designs. Now it must reboot and get in the fast lane with work on the next generation of designs.

Maria Korsnick Bio

Prior to joining NEI, Korsnick was Exelon Generation’s senior vice president for Northeast operations and chief nuclear officer for CENG. She oversaw operations at three nuclear energy facilities and chaired the industry’s Fukushima Response Steering Committee that identified safety enhancements for extreme events based on lessons learned from the 2011 accident in Japan and implemented them at all U.S. reactors.

Among other leadership roles during her 30-year nuclear energy career, Korsnick served as acting CEO at CENG, vice president for corporate operations, site vice president at the Ginna nuclear power plant in New York, and she was a federally licensed senior reactor operator at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear station in Maryland.

Korsnick has a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Maryland. She is a member of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations Accreditation Board and former chairman of the Electric Power Research Institute’s Nuclear Power Council.

# # #

Posted in Nuclear | 2 Comments

Nuclear News Roundup for October 1, 2016

TVA’s newest reactor reaches 100 percent power

copy(Times Free Press) The Tennessee Valley was powered this week by a record amount of electricity generated from splitting atoms.

With TVA’s newest nuclear unit at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant reaching 100 percent power this week, the seven reactors in the TVA fleet accounted for more than 40 percent of TVA’s power generation this week for the first time in TVA’s 83-year history.

The Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor reached full power after TVA restarted the new unit on Monday following a four-week outage caused by a fire at one of the main transformer’s in the Watts Bar switch yard last month, TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said Friday.

TVA is continuing power tests of the new reactor at Watts Bar, which is the first new reactor to be added to America’s electric grid in more than two decades.

TVA must operate the new reactor for 20 consecutive days at full power as part of a test program before it is declared a commercial nuclear unit and is brought into TVA’s rate base.

DOE Advisory Board Approves Draft Report on the Future of Nuclear Power

(Lexology) During its quarterly meeting on September 22, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Secretary of Energy Advisory Board approved a Draft Report of the Task Force on Nuclear Power.

According to Platts, the report says advanced reactor program would first focus on down-selecting those technologies with the best chance for exceeding light water reactors on cost, safety, and performance; then on construction and operation of test reactors; before finally moving onto the licensing and construction of commercial prototypes.

The government’s cost share (the program assumes private sector involvement) is estimated in the Draft Report to be over $5 billion per reactor technology type, with the government paying most of the costs for the earlier phases.

Although expensive, Lexology notes in its analysis that the Task Force countered that other technologies, such as wind and solar, have benefited significantly from government support, and such support is similarly justified for advanced reactors as long as there is a reasonable chance of success.

For less mature technologies, basically anything not based on light water reactor designs, the report estimates a development time frame to commercial success of as much as 20 years and $8-13 billion in combined government and private sector costs. See Figure 9 below from Pg. 34 of the report. The estimate includes over $5 billion to design and build a first-of-a-kind demonstration plant.

foak adv nuc

To address the uncertainties of licensing the report supports recent DOE-NRC efforts to establish design criteria for advanced reactors. The Task Force estimated that the best opportunities for time savings and regulatory certainty could come through improving the earlier-end NRC design review process

The Draft Report also suggests that any program to speed the development of advanced reactors allow for greater contracting flexibility in the types of assistance offered, less adherence to the Federal Acquisition Regulations, access to DOE technical expertise, presumably at national labs, and the ability to hire and fire project staff on commercial terms.

CGN Says Work Will Now Begin On UK’s Bradwell B Nuclear Plant

(NucNet) Agreements signed in September mean preparations can begin on the Bradwell B nuclear project in England, allowing China General Nuclear Group (CGN) to put its HPR1000, or Hualong One, reactor technology through the UK’s generic design assessment process.

CGN said that in addition to signing all final agreements for the Hinkley Point C project, it also signed agreements related to plans to build two HPR1000 reactors at Bradwell B, in Essex, and two Areva EPR units at Sizewell C in Sussex.

CGN will have a 66.5% interest in Bradwell B with the remainder held by France’s EDF. It will have a have a 20% stake in Sizewell C.

CGN said the HPR1000 is based on leading Generation III nuclear technology and is “China’s nuclear technology of choice for export.”

Fangchenggang 3 and 4, under construction in southern China, will be the reference plant for the proposed Bradwell B plant in the UK. Fangchenggang 5 & 6 will be based on the Westinghouse Ap1000 design.

UK regulator prepared for Hualong One

(WNN) The UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation has the expertise and resources it needs should it receive a request from government to assess China’s Hualong One reactor design, its chief nuclear inspector, Richard Savage told World Nuclear News.

Under a strategic investment agreement signed last October, China General Nuclear (CGN) agreed to take a 33.5% stake in EDF Energy’s Hinkley Point C project in Somerset, England as well as jointly develop new nuclear power plants at Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex.

The Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C plants will be based on France’s EPR reactor technology, while the new plant at Bradwell will feature the Hualong One design.

As part of that agreement, CGN agreed to form a joint venture company with EDF Energy to seek regulatory approval for a UK version of the Hualong One design. Hualong International Nuclear Power Technology – the joint venture between CGN and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to promote the Hualong One reactor design in export markets – was officially inaugurated in March.

SMRs Could Deliver Low-Carbon Heat To Cities, Says UK Report

(NucNet) Due to their smaller size and easier siting small modular reactors (SMRs) offer flexibility and could deliver low-carbon heat into cities via hot water pipelines up to 30km in length, according to a new report by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).

The report says this flexibility opens up new potential sites and could help to decarbonise energy use in buildings. Consideration should be given to the concept of deploying SMRs as “CHP [combined heat and power] ready”, even if there is no firm local demand for district heating systems at the time of SMR deployment.

This is because the additional costs are small and the potential future revenues large, bringing benefits to both consumers and SMR operators, the report says. 

Small modular reactors (SMRs) could be operating in the UK by 2030 if action is taken to create investor confidence through development of a suitable policy framework, according to a new report by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).

The report  “Preparing for Deployment of a UK Small Modular Reactor by 2030” examines the steps that will need to be taken by government, regulators, reactor vendors and operators in a “credible integrated schedule” that would see construction of a first-of-a-kind reactor starting in 2025 with the reactor itself in operation by 2030.

Enabling roles the government would need to undertake would include promoting early engagement with vendors, enhancing the confidence of private sector investors, and taking steps to limit uncertainty in the investment case.

Report author Mike Middleton said the ETI’s analysis shows that it is possible for the UK to have a first-of-a-kind SMR in operation by 2030 if developers, government and regulators work together in an integrated program.

The ETI is a public-private partnership between global energy and engineering companies and the UK government. The report is online:

South Africa Nuclear Procurement Effort Collapses

(Reuters) South African Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Petterson announced this week that the government will delay tendering for new nuclear power stations, perhaps indefinitely, after requests for consultation and discussion made it impossible to start the process by the end of September as initially planned.

Court action by interveners opposed to the project played a role in the decision to postpone release of the tender. They claim the Integrated Resource Plan, being used to justify the procurement and completed in 2010, is out of date among other things. If the court rules in their favor, the entire plan will have to be redone which could take a year or longer. It would need to update information on power demand, the economy, and energy technologies.

South Africa has committed itself nuclear expansion as a key part of increasing its power generation but the price tag for 9.6 GWe of nuclear reactors has raised concerns over whether the plan is affordable. Eskom, the state owned utility, which would buy the power from the reactors, has been hobbled in its effort to pay for new power plant construction and related grid infrastructure by government restrictions on rate increases.

Shortly after the announcement postponing release of the nuclear energy tender, Minister Joemat-Petterson said she remained “fully committed” to plans for nuclear procurement.

Allegations of favoritism have also clouded prospects for resolution of conflicts over the procurement decision. The Mail & Guardian reported that a company trading as Empire Technology was awarded a large contract for the procurement of the nuclear build program management system. It noted that the company’s sole director is Shantan Reddy, the son of Vivian Reddy, a long time associate of South Africa President Zuma.

The legitimacy of the procurement process has been called into question since President Zuma announced in 2014 that Rosatom would provide financing for and build the reactors. Later, the Department of Energy said there would be a fair and open tender process, but few believe this will be the case with the latest revelation.

Japan Kills Monju Fast Reactor

(Power) In a move long expected to take place, the Japanese government has killed the troubled Monju fast breeder reactor project. However, it also made promise to pursue breeder reactor technology as a component of the nation’s future power mix. The commitment may be difficult to keep.

The Monju plant was an ambitious project that never met expectations. Since startup in 1980 the sodium-cooled fast-breeder had only 250 days of operation over its lifetime.

A sodium coolant fire in 1995 and subsequent cover-up by operator Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) gave the plant a very big black eye. An attempt at a restart in 2010 led to a finding that JAEA had skipped required safety inspections on as many as 10,000 of the plant’s components.

In a tooth-rattling report last year, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority ruled that JAEA was not qualified to safely operate the plant and ordered the federal government to find a replacement or shut the facility down. The government has chosen to walk away from its $10 billion investment. It will likely spend billions more decommissioning the plant.

Power Mag reports that at the same cabinet meeting, the government said it was still committed to pursuing breeder reactors as a possible solution to the nation’s energy needs.

Fast-breeder reactors, which generate plutonium, could help solve this problem. They have been deeply controversial because of the required fuel processing and fears about nuclear proliferation.

It appears that despite closing the Monju reactor, and huge problems restarting its nuclear fleet in the post-Fukushima era, that the country’s government and closely aligned business interests still want to pursue the fabled “plutonium economy.”

According to Japanese media, the government pledged to pursue plans for new demonstration breeder reactors, with a roadmap developed by the end of the year.

Japan reactor makers consider merging fuel units to counter rivals

(Nikkei Asian Review) TOKYO — Japan’s Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries aim to merge their nuclear fuel units to gain an edge on cost in an effort to better compete with Chinese and South Korean rivals.

Amid bleak prospects for getting current domestic reactors up and running, let alone building new ones, the next challenge will be to consolidate their nuclear reactor businesses.

Of the more than 40 reactors in Japan, only a few have restarted since 2011. They include Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai Nuclear Power unit Nos. 1 and 2 in Kagoshima Prefecture and Shikoku Electric Power’s Ikata Nuclear Power Station unit No. 3 in Ehime Prefecture.

The government plans to generate 20-22% of the county’s overall power mix from nuclear power plants by 2030, but many market watchers remain skeptical.

# # #

Posted in Nuclear | 2 Comments

China comes calling for CANDU

SNC-Lavalin has signed an agreement with two Chinese nuclear energy firms to develop, market and build an advanced CANDU type nuclear reactor

The Montreal, Canada, based engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin, which five years ago, bought AECL’s reactor division from the government, has a new joint venture with China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) and Shanghai Electric Co.

The immediate results of the agreement will be the creation of two nuclear reactor design centers, one in China and the other in Canada. The design centers will collaborate to complete the Advanced Fuel CANDU Reactor (AFCR). It is expected that the first two units will be then built in China and then the reactor will offered via export to global markets.

In a press release, SNC-Lavalin said;

snc lavalin logo“’The market potential for AFCR technology in China is considerable. Each AFCR can use recycled-fuel from four light-water reactors (LWRs) to generate six million megawatt-hours (MWh) of additional carbon-free electricity without needing any new natural uranium fuel.

This would be enough new electricity to power four million Chinese homes, and also displace six million tonnes of carbon emissions per year vs. coal, the equivalent of removing one million cars from the road. China has more than 33 LWR nuclear power reactors in operation and another 23 LWRs under construction.”

The agreement occurred during an official four-day visit to Canada by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau promoted the visit as a thaw in relations between the two nations following a decade of chilly diplomacy under the Conservative government of PM Stephen Harper.

According to news coverage in the Toronto Globe & Mail for 9/22/16, John Luxat, a professor of nuclear safety analysis at McMaster University, told the newspaper the new reactor technology has “high potential for use in China because of the large number of light water reactors” who spent fuel could be used by CANDU designs.

However, AltgaCorp investment analyst Chris Murray told the newspaper he sees the design and marketing effort to be a slow, drawn out effort and does not expect there to be any near-term financial impact.

What is CANDU?

CANDU stands for CANada Deuterium Uranium, because it was invented in Canada, uses deuterium oxide (also known as heavy water) as a moderator, and uranium as a fuel.

CANDU reactors are unique in that they use natural, unenriched uranium as a fuel; with some modification, they can also use enriched uranium, mixed fuels, and even thorium. Thus, CANDU reactors are ideally suited for using spent fuel from light water nuclear reactors, or downblended uranium from decommissioned nuclear weapons, as fuel, helping to reduce global arsenals.

candui schematric

CANDU technical description and schematic courtesy of
AECL and the Canadian Nuclear Association

CANDU reactors can be refueled while operating at full power, while other light water designs, including PWRs and BWRs, must be shut down for refueling. Moreover, because natural uranium does not require enrichment, fuel costs for CANDU reactors are very low.

Canada is one of the world’s leading sources of uranium with rich deposits in Saskatchewan and other provinces. It has no uranium enrichment capabilities.

The safety systems of CANDU reactors are independent from the rest of the plant, and each key safety component has three backups. This redundancy increase the overall safety of the system, and it also makes it possible to test the safety system while the reactor is operating under full power.

There are 19 CANDU reactors in Canada and 31 globally including two in China, two in Argentina, and two in Romania. While all three countries are potential markets for the new SNC-Lavalin / CNNC design, only China has committed, in principle to building the new ACFR.

  • ACR heritage to migrate to AFCR?

It is unclear to what extent the new AFCR benefits from a design heritage with the now suspended work on the ACR-1000 which was proposed in 2007 and 2008 for Canadian and UK power markets.

The ACR-1000, a 1200 MW CANDU type reactor design, was proposed to be built in the tar sands region of Alberta for power and process heat customers and at Point Lepreau in New Brunswick for electric power customers. Neither projects ever made it off the drawing boards.

Efforts to license the 1200 MW unit with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission ended in Spring 2008 when AECL also withdrew the design from consideration in the UK generic design assessment.

AECL CEO Hugh MacDiarmid was quoted at the time as saying, “We believe very strongly that our best course of action to ensure the ACR-1000 is successful in the global market place is to focus first and foremost on establishing it here at home.”

But there were no sales at home due to Bruce Power declining to consider the 1200 MW reactor.

In June 2011 SANC-Lavalin bought the reactor division of AECL for the bargain basement price of $15 million which included all of AECL’s intellectual property related to CANDU reactor designs.

  • Features of the ACR

The advanced CANDU reactor (ACR), in its current design status, frozen in 2008, is a Generation III+ nuclear reactor design and is a further development of existing CANDU reactors designed by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL).

The ACR is a light-water-cooled reactor that incorporates features of both pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR) and advanced pressurized water reactors (APWR) technologies. It uses a similar design concept to the steam-generating heavy water reactor (SGHWR).

The difference between heritage CANDUs and the ACR is that it uses low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, (3-5% U235), ordinary (light) water coolant, and a separate heavy water moderator.

The ACR also incorporates characteristics of the CANDU design, including on-power refueling with the CANFLEX fuel; two fast, totally independent, safety shutdown systems; and an emergency core cooling system. The relatively small reactor core reduces core size by half for the same power output over the older CANDU design.

The ACR fuel bundle is a variant of the 43-element CANFLEX design (CANFLEX-ACR). The use of LEU fuel would result in higher burn-up operation than traditional CANDU designs.

None of these features were found to be compelling by potential customers and AECL shelved the entire effort to develop the ACR.

About the New AFCR

According to SNC_Lavalin the Advanced Fuel CANDU reactor (AFCR) (fact sheet) is a 700MW Class Generation III reactor based on the successful CANDU 6 and Enhanced CANDU 6 (EC6) reactors with a number of adaptations to meet the latest Canadian and international standards. This is 300 MW less in power than the ACR and also differs technically from the ACR in that it uses only heavy water as a moderator.


Image of ACFR courtesy of SNC-Lavalin

Its fuel flexibility allows it to use recycled uranium or thorium as fuel. SNC-Lavalin calls such materials “natural uranium equivalent” fuels, It uses a heavy water moderator and heavy-water coolant in a pressure tube design. CANDU reactors can be refuelled on power. The firm claims it will have “one of the highest lifetime capacity factors among the world’s reactors.”

The development of the AFCR was first reported by World Nuclear News in November 2014. That report also provided insights into the place in China’s nuclear fuel cycle that would be the niche for the reactor.

China fuel cycle source WNA

China Fuel Cycle Diagram courtesy of World Nuclear News

WNN noted in its report that the used fuel from four conventional PWR reactors can completely supply one AFCR unit (as well as providing recycled plutonium for MOX). This process significantly reduces the task of managing used fuel and disposing of high-level wastes. The R&D effort also explored the use of thorium as a fuel for the new reactor.

History of CANDU in China

In June 1998, construction started on a CANDU 6 reactor in Qinshan China of the Qinshan Nuclear Power Plant, as Phase III (units 4 and 5) of the planned 11 unit facility. Commercial operation began in December 2002 and July 2003, respectively. These are the first heavy water reactors in China.

In 2015 China signed agreements in principle with Romania and Argentina to supply CANDU reactors.


In a World Nuclear News report in November 2015 report details were revealed that   China and Argentina had in 2014 signed a new high-level agreement towards construction of a third CANDU type pressurized heavy water reactor (PHWR) at the Atucha plant in Argentina.

Under the agreement, CNNC will be providing goods and services and long-term financing. The utility in Argentina will be designer, architect-engineer, builder and operator of the new PHWR (Atucha 3).

Under the agreement, over 70% of the components to be used in the plant will be supplied by Argentine companies. CNNC is now expected to advance the negotiations with Chinese financial institutions to conclude project financing.

Atucha 3 will be a part Canadian-developed Candu reactor running on natural uranium fuel, like the 648 MWe Embalse Candu reactor in Córdoba province.

Because of the localization strategy for major components, and the history of the supply chain in Argentina with the other CANDU reactors, it is unlikely that Atucha 3 could be based on the new AFCR design.

Atucha 3 is expected to cost almost $6 billion and to take eight years to build at the Atucha Nuclear Power Plant Complex in Buenos Aires province, where the 335 MWe Atucha I and 745 MWe Atucha 2 currently operate.


Also in November 2015 World Nuclear News reported Romania’s Nuclearelectrica signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China General Nuclear (CGN) for the development, construction, operation and decommissioning of units 3 and 4 of the Cernavoda nuclear power plant.

The Romanian national nuclear company said a joint venture project company is to be established, with CGN owning at least 51% of the share capital.

That company will oversee construction of the units, which will be 700 MWe Candu 6 reactors. Two Candu units already operate at the Cernavoda site.

Romania and China signed a letter of intent in November 2013 during a visit to Bucharest by Chinese premier Li Keqiang.

Cernavoda is home to two operating Candu 6 pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs) supplied by Candu Energy’s predecessor, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL), and built by a Canadian-Italian consortium of AECL and Ansaldo. Unit 1 started up in 1996, but work was suspended on a further four units in 1991. Unit 2 was subsequently completed and has been in operation since 2007.

Given Romania’s history with CANDU reactors, and its intent to apply its operating experience with them to Units 3 & 4, it is unlikely that country would be a market for the new AFCR model. Romania will supply the fuel for all four reactors.

According to the same World Nuclear News report, the new conventional CANDU units will have an operating life of 30 years with the possibility of extension by an additional 25 years.

Future Markets for the AFCR?

With Argentina and Romania committed to conventional CANDU, off-the-shelf, technology, it is unclear what the commercial prospects will be for the new AFCR CANDU design. The design intent to use spent nuclear fuel in the reactor would make it attractive to many countries.

China will build and operate the first two units to prove to potential customers that the design is safe, affordable, and will have a long and cost-competitive service life.

Assuming the units can be built in China for $3,000 to $4,000 per Kw, a 700 MW unit will cost approximately $2.1 billion to $2.8 billion which is far less than the cost in the U.S. for a 1000 MW Westinghouse AP1000. Similar cost comparisons would be expected for new nuclear reactors in the UK. However, China is proposing its new PWR design, the Hualong One, for the UK market.

Once China has proven the technical and financial viability of the AFCR  CANDU, it will face the uncertain prospects of design safety reviews for first-of-a-kind units by nuclear regulatory agencies in countries where it wants to sell the reactors. By leveraging the well-known CANDU technology, SNC-Lavalin and CNNC are placing a bet that they will find willing buyers of their new nuclear reactor.

# # #

Posted in Nuclear | 2 Comments