GEH Inks Contract to Build BWRX300 at OPG’s Darlington Site

  • GEH Inks Contract to Build BWRX300 at Darlington
  • Framatome and Ultra Safe Nuclear in Joint Venture to Manufacture Fuel
  • Radiant Industries Partners with Centrus Energy for HALEU Fuel
  • Oklo Submits Plans For Licensing Of Nuclear Fuel Recycling
  • First Light Fusion to Build Demonstration Fusion Plant at UKAEA
  • Renaissance Fusion Raises $16.4 million in Seed Funds
  • DARPA, NASA Collaborate on Nuclear Thermal Rocket

GEH Inks Contract to Build BWRX300 at Darlington

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) this week signed a multi-party agreement to build the first of kind unit of its 300MW small modular reactor (SMR) at the Darlington Site owned and operated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG).

small reactorsThe multi-party agreement covers a range of project activities including design, engineering licensing support, construction, testing, training and commissioning. This is the first commercial contract for a grid-scale SMR in North America. In addition to OPG partners on the contract include SNC-Lavalin and Aecon.

SNC-Lavalin will provide OPG with a diverse range of expertise for the engineering and build of the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station’s SMR. This is expected to include deploying project management, licensing, engineering, design, procurement, construction support and commissioning, as well as digital delivery capabilities in both the nuclear island and balance of plant scopes for the project.

Aecon is the provider of all construction services, including project management, construction planning and execution. Site preparation and related work is currently underway and SMR construction is expected to reach completion in the fourth quarter of 2028.

“This first commercial contract for a small modular reactor in North America marks a significant milestone in deploying SMRs in Canada and across the globe,” said Sean Sexstone, Executive Vice President, Advanced Nuclear, GEH.

According to GEH, the BWRX-300 is designed to reduce construction and operating costs competitively relative to other SMRs and full size reactors. The BWRX-300 uses commercial nuclear fuel (U235<5%) and does not require HALEU.

The SMR is a downsized ESBWR which was designed to generate 1500 MW. The full size unit was licensed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2014 but so far no US utilities have committed to building one. Combined Licenses were issues for FERMI III and North Anna III and remain current. Combined Licenses for Enertgy’s River Bend and Grand Gulf plants were issued but subsequently withdrawn by the utility for business reasons.

GEH said in its press statement there is growing global interest in the BWRX-300. In August 2022, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began planning and preliminary licensing for potential deployment of a BWRX-300 at the Clinch River Site near Oak Ridge, TN.

TVA has entered into a collaboration with OPG to coordinate efforts to complete and build the SMR technology and to share information to help control costs and obtain other deployment efficiencies. Also, , the NRC and CNSC are collaborating on licensing the two projects

OPG expects to build the first unit and has advised CNSC it plans to build three additional SMRs. According to the website of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), the BWRX300 is currently in Phase 2 of Vendor Design Review (VDR), which is a pre-licensing activity.

CNSC licensing proceeds in three phases – site preparation, construction, and operation. The Darlington site is the only site in Canada currently licensed for a new nuclear build with an accepted environmental assessment and Site Preparation License. Pending subsequent regulatory approvals, the Darlington SMR is expected to begin providing 300MW of baseload power to the grid before the end of the decade.

Regulatory Status of Other SMRs at CNSC

In April 2021, Global First Power (GFP)submitted management system documentation in support of its application for a license to prepare a site for a small modular reactor on Atomic Energy of Canada Limited property at the Chalk River Laboratories site. On May 6, 2021, the CNSC determined that this documentation and GFP’s plan for additional submissions were sufficient to begin the technical review as part of the licensing application process.

No other SMRs have completed the VDR process. Other light water reactor designs in process as part of CNSC’s VDR program are submissions by NuScale and Holtec. Eight advanced reactor designs are also participating in the VDRF process and are in various degrees of completion of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the VDR process.

A vendor who has completed a Phase 2 Pre-Licensing VDR, has committed to increased regulatory efficiencies at the time of licensing. The results of Phase 2 will be taken into account mainly for the Construction License Application and is likely to result in increased efficiencies of technical reviews.

In December GE Hitachi submitted an application to the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation for its BWRX-300 boiling water reactor to begin the generic design assessment that when successful leads to licensing a reactor. The US-Japanese company’s submission was supported by Jacobs UK. GE Hitachi has also signed an initial agreement with Sheffield Forgemasters to discuss how the manufacturer could help meet the demands of deploying the BWRX-300 in the UK. The firm is an obvious choice to fabricate the reactor pressure vessels and other large, long lead time components for the SMR.

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Framatome and Ultra Safe Nuclear in Joint Venture to Manufacture Fuel

triso fuel pelletsFramatome and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) announced they intend to form a joint venture to manufacture commercial quantities of Tri-structural Isotropic (TRISO) particles and Ultra Safe Nuclear’s proprietary Fully Ceramic Micro-encapsulated (FCM) fuel.

The project will bring commercially viable, fourth-generation nuclear fuel to market for USNC’s Micro-Modular reactor (MMR) and other advanced reactor designs.

Ultra Safe Nuclear’s collaboration with Framatome follows the opening of USNC’s Pilot Fuel Manufacturing (PFM) facility in Tennessee in August 2022. In addition, the facility’s engineers employ additive manufacturing – also known as ‘3D printing’ – to fabricate FCM fuel.

The joint venture expects to begin manufacturing TRISO particles and FCM fuel in late 2025. TRISO fuel production capacity will be used in the manufacture of Ultra Safe Nuclear’s FCM fuel and available to the broader commercial market. The partners have developed concrete plans to support rapid expansion to meet demand growth in the U.S. and global markets.

Separately, TerraPower and X-Energy have committed to build their own HALEU fuel fabrication plants to support deployment of first of a kind advanced reactors under the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). Unlike the conventional light water fuel that will be used by NuScale, GEH, and Holtec, the Terrapower design will use unique uranium metal fuel and X-Energy’s design will use TRISO fuel.

About the Ultra Safe MMR

The MMR Energy System is being licensed in Canada and the U.S. and will be the first commercially available “nuclear battery.” MMR deployments are moving forward, including the projects at Chalk River which is on target for first power in 2026, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, targeted for first power the following year where it is expected to generate electricity and also serve as an R&D platform for nuclear science and engineering R&D.

Prospects for HALEU Fuel

The Department of Energy (DOE), with a $700M bankroll to help the US advanced reactor industry by being the first buyer of high assay low enriched uranium fuel (HALEU), spent some of its cash. DOE announced it inked a $150M deal with American Centrifuge Operating, LLC of Bethesda, Maryland, a subsidiary of Centrus Energy Corp to ramp up production to be able to produce a ton of the fuel (900Kg) every year starting in 2024.

The contract is intended to demonstrate the nation’s ability to produce HALEU fuel. DOE’s action will undoubtedly be accompanied by a short sigh of relief from the CEOs of the nation’s developers of advanced reactors who have been saying for most of this year that looking to where they will get their first fuel loads of HALEU has been their number one ‘keep awake’ issue.

But there is still a long way to go. The Centrus centrifuges will only produce enriched uranium in a gas form, which is uranium hexafluoride (UF6). The nation’s sole uranium conversion plant in Illinois has to be restarted to process the UF6 back into solid forms. Demand for HALEU will grow swiftly as there will be three fuel fabrication plants being built by advanced reactor developers to meet their specific needs and to sell HALEU fuels in other forms to other customers in the US and for export.

DOE projects that more than 40 metric tons of HALEU will be needed before the end of the decade, with additional amounts required each year, to deploy a new fleet of advanced reactors.

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Radiant Industries Partners with Centrus Energy for HALEU Fuel

Radiant Industries, Inc, announced a partnership today with Centrus Energy to establish the domestic supply chain for the High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) needed for the broad commercial deployment of Radiant’s Kaleidos microreactor.

Centrus is currently building a demonstration scale HALEU enrichment facility in Ohio that will begin first-of-its-kind HALEU production for the Department of Energy by the end of 2023. Expanding to commercial-scale HALEU production will require substantial public and private investment as well as commercial support and offtake commitments from Radiant and other advanced reactor developers. Under its agreement with Radiant, Centrus is working to identify a path to provide a future supply of High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) to Radiant for as many as 20 Kaleidos microreactors.

Designed with a helium primary loop coolant instead of water, the Kaleidos microreactor is a safe, efficient, and climate-friendly alternative to diesel generators that will bring clean energy to remote and key locations around the globe.

Kaleidos will provide 1 MW of carbon-free electricity from a HALEU fuel core designed to last five years without refueling. Radiant plans to test a demonstration reactor within four years at Idaho National Laboratory’s Demonstration and Operation of Microreactor Experiments facility with support from the National Reactor Innovation Center. This activitywill be a critical milestone in delivering the nuclear power people want worldwide.

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Oklo Submits Plans For Licensing Of Nuclear Fuel Recycling

argonne electro refining logo(NucNet) Oklo has submitted a licensing project plan to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a recycling facility that would produce commercial material from used light water reactor fuel.

Oklo has won $17M (€15.6M) in Department of Energy awards for technology development in support of commercializing production of advanced reactor fuel from used nuclear fuel.

The licensing project plan outlines the company’s plans for “pre-application engagement activities” that support the future licensing of a first-of-a-kind fuel recycling facility.

The company said in a press statement, “Oklo will use an electrorefining-based technology to recycle used nuclear fuel. A critical way this process differs from the legacy reprocessing methods is that electrorefining keeps the major and minor actinide elements combined. For this reason, many refer to the electrorefining process as inherently ‘proliferation-resistant.”

“The ability to economically recycle fuel is an important attribute for developing domestic fuel supplies, and offering recycling services also presents a sizeable opportunity,” said Oklo co-founder and CEO Jacob DeWitte.

Oklo is developing fission plants based on its 1.5MW Aurora microreactor design. It said in a press statement that it has more than 750MW of customer interest in signed memoranda of understanding and letters of intent, and that it is evaluating 15 different sites.

In January 2022 the NRC denied Oklo’s combined license application for a project to build and operate a plant at Idaho National Laboratory on the grounds that the company had failed to provide information on several key topics for the Aurora design. Oklo submitted its application in March 2022. In September 2022 Oklo restarted its licensing process for the project.

The proposed Aurora design, which consists of a small reactor with integrated solar panels, will use heat pipes to transport heat from the reactor core to a power conversion system.

According to Oklo, the Aurora will generate both usable heat and electricity, run for at least 20 years on one load of fuel and operate without the need for water. The plant can also recycle fuel and ultimately convert nuclear waste to clean energy.

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First Light Fusion to Build Fusion Plant at UKAEA

first lightThe UK Atomic Energy Authority (‘UKAEA’) and First Light Fusion (‘First Light’) have signed an agreement for the design and construction of a new purpose-built facility to house First Light’s Machine 4 at UKAEA’s Culham Campus in Oxfordshire.

The agreement will see both parties developing the building at Culham Campus. Architects and technical designers have been appointed, construction expected to begin in 2024.

The partnership with UKAEA and the announcement of the proposed construction of the building for Machine 4 follows the recent confirmation of net energy gain by the National Ignition Facility (NIF), at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Like NIF, First Light is pursuing an inertial confinement approach to fusion.

First Light’s method leverages the same physics proven by NIF but combines it with a unique approach which involves firing a projectile at a fuel pellet to force it to fuse and produce energy. This approach has been validated by UKAEA.

Although the machine itself will not generate power, it will be used to develop technology needed for future inertial confinement fusion energy powerplants.

First Light has appointed technical building design specialists, Ramboll, and architects, Scott Brownrigg. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2024 with operations likely to commence in 2027.

First Light believes locating Machine 4 at Culham Campus will bring significant advantages that will expedite its development, including UKAEA’s existing expertise and supply chain infrastructure.

About First Light Fusion

First Light Fusion was founded by Professor Yiannis Ventikos, Head of the Mechanical Engineering Department at University College, London, and Dr Nicholas Hawker, formerly an Engineering lecturer at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. The company was spun out from the University of Oxford in July 2011, with seed capital from IP Group plc, Parkwalk Advisors Ltd and private investors. Invesco and OSI provided follow-on capital.

About UKAEA

UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is the national research organization responsible for the development of fusion energy.

UKAEA’s program include the MAST-Upgrade (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) fusion experiment and the JET (Joint European Torus) fusion research facility, operated for scientists from around Europe in Culham, Oxford. STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) is UKAEA’s ambitious program to accelerate the delivery of fusion energy, with plans to deliver a prototype powerplant producing net electricity in the 2040s in Nottinghamshire.

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Renaissance Fusion Raises $16.4 million in Seed Funds

Based in Grenoble, France, Renaissance Fusion, a start-up, recently raised $16.4 million (€15 million) in funding in a seed round led by Lowercarbon Capital. Several European investors also participated in the round, such as HCVC, Positron Ventures and Norssken. Unruly Capital led the company’s pre-seed round.

Unlike most nuclear fusion experiments that are based on tokamaks, Renaissance Fusion is working on a stellarator reactor. The company is well aware that there is a long and windy road ahead as it expects to be able to ship a small nuclear fusion reactor with a 1 GW capacity in the 2030s. It wouldn’t operate power plants directly. Instead, the company would sell its reactors to plant constructors and operators.

The company is already thinking about commercial applications that could be released before the 2030s. For instance, the company says Renaissance Fusion’s coil patterning technology could be used for MRI and energy storage: “whenever you need a strong magnetic field, a large volume and high precision,” he said.

With today’s funding round, Renaissance Fusion plans to triple the size of its team to 60 people by the end of 2023. In many ways, this is still the early days of Renaissance Fusion. So let’s see how it pans out in the coming years.

According to the startup’s founder Francesco Volpe, Renaissance Fusion is quite innovative with its use of liquid metal. Right now, the company can create liquid Lithium-based walls that are 1-centimeter thick. It will require a lot of iterations before it can be used in nuclear fusion as Renaissance Fusion estimates that it would require a thickness of 30 to 40 centimeters.

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DARPA, NASA Collaborate on Nuclear Thermal Rocket

nasa logoDARPA, via its Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program, is collaborating with NASA to build a nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) engine that could expand possibilities for the space agency’s future long-duration spaceflight missions.

The goal is to test an NTR-enabled spacecraft in Earth orbit during the 2027 fiscal year. An NTR presents advantages over existing propulsion technologies, such as sending cargo to a new lunar base, humans to Mars, and robotic missions even farther.

NTR propulsion offers a high thrust-to-weight ratio around 10,000x greater than electric propulsion and with two-to-five times greater efficiency than in-space chemical propulsion.

Nuclear thermal rockets have been built before, so DRACO has a head start. About 50 years ago, the technology was tested on the ground. DRACO is now leveraging lessons learned from past NTR reactor technology, but instead of using highly-enriched uranium, DRACO is using high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel to have fewer logistical hurdles on its ambitious timeline. As an added safety precaution, DARPA plans to engineer the system so that the DRACO engine’s fission reaction will turn on only once it reaches space.

NASA Typical-NTP-System

Fission, the same process used for nuclear power, is the splitting of atoms. It creates high levels of heat that can turn rocket propellant such as hydrogen from a liquid to a gas phase. In the NTR, that gaseous propellant is accelerated out a converging/diverging nozzle in the exact same way as a conventional chemical rocket engine.

The high performance of an NTR is enabled by the reactor passing its heat along to its rocket propellant. DRACO’s proposed solid core NTR temperatures could reach almost 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, requiring use of advanced materials.

Using a nuclear thermal rocket allows for faster transit time, reducing risk for astronauts. Reducing transit time is a key component for human missions to Mars, as longer trips require more supplies and more robust systems. Maturing faster, more efficient transportation technology will help NASA meet its Moon to Mars Objectives.

Other benefits to space travel include increased science payload capacity and higher power for instrumentation and communication. In a nuclear thermal rocket engine, a fission reactor is used to generate extremely high temperatures. The engine transfers the heat produced by the reactor to a liquid propellant, which is expanded and exhausted through a nozzle to propel the spacecraft. Nuclear thermal rockets can be three or more times more efficient than conventional chemical propulsion.

“NASA will work with our long-term partner, DARPA, to develop and demonstrate advanced nuclear thermal propulsion technology as soon as 2027. With the help of this new technology, astronauts could journey to and from deep space faster than ever – a major capability to prepare for crewed missions to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

“NASA is uniquely positioned to provide guidance on the challenging rocket engine and cryogenic fluid management specifications with liquid hydrogen to meet specific mission needs,” said Dr. Tabitha Dodson, DARPA program manager for DRACO.

“Since the NTR uses propellant more efficiently, it offers more aggressive trajectories and creative burn profiles to move heavy cargo more quickly in the cislunar domain as compared to today’s in-space propulsion methods.”

“We will conduct several experiments with the reactor at various power levels while in space, sending results back to operators on Earth, before executing the full-power rocket engine test remotely,” said Dodson. “These tests will inform the approach for future operation of NTR engines in space.”

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NuScale’s SMR Costs Hit Hard by Inflation

NuScale Small Modular Reactor Costs Hit Hard by Inflation

cfpp logoThe cost of building the nation’s first small modular reactor (SMR) is rapidly escalating due to the impact of as yet uncontrolled inflation in key commodity areas. According to a set of talking points prepared on January 3, 2023, by the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) there are new details about these costs.

The new cost numbers come in tandem with the completion of NuScale’s Standard Plant Design (SPD) which cover things like facility construction as well as procurement and manufacturing of long-lead time major engineered equipment. Some of these systems and components will come from offshore suppliers.

The bottom line is that CFPP said the cost of the project “has been influenced by external factors such as inflationary pressures and increases in the price of steel, electrical equipment and other construction commodities not seen for more than 40 years.”

According to the new cost estimate, the producer price index for commodities such as carbon steel piping and fabricated steel plates has increased by over 50% since 2020. It noted that inflationary pressures are increasing the costs for all power generation and infrastructure projects.

Will They Stay or Will They Go?

UAMPS through its members has an option to withdraw from the project and be reimbursed for most out-of-pocket expenses if the price of energy per megawatt-hour exceeds a certain threshold. The new cost estimates result in an updated estimated target price of $89MWH. The report says this new price “reflects the changing financial landscape for the development of energy projects nationwide.” It might have also said worldwide as inflationary cost increases are likely in the UK, France, and other  industrialized nations.

The original target price in 2020 was $58MWH. The increase is 53% of the original target price. While the report is done, it has not yet been formally adopted by CFPP as part of its governance processes.

Looming in the not too distant future is a decision to be made by the various utilities that make up UAMPS.  It is to stay or leave the project due to rising costs and the risk of possible further price increases. The deadline for their decision is February 17, 2023.

The overall project is composed of six of NuScale’s 77MW power modules to generate 462MW of electricity. The utility members of UAMPS “subscribe” for the amounts of the electricity they want to buy that will be produced by the six SMRs. If too many of them pull out, the project will not be built or at least not under current financial conditions. UAMPS will have the option to terminate the project and be reimbursed if the total of all member utility subscriptions do not reach 370MW (of 462 MW available) by the end of 2023.

LaVarr Webb, a UAMPS spokesperson, wrote in an email on January 24th to this blog that the information downloaded from a CFPP public facing web page “is legitimate and correct.”

He added, “as noted in the document, member participants have until February 17th to determine their status in the project. We fully expect the project to proceed. Our members need carbon-free, dispatchable energy, which this project will provide.”

A spokesperson for NuScale declined to comment on the CFPP budget and cost report referring all inquiries to UAMPS.

Why and How Did Costs Increase?

The costs were primarily influenced by external impacts, not by the project’s development. Price increases have occurred due to inflationary pressures on the energy supply chain that have not been seen for more than 40 years. If you think the price of groceries is out of control, take a look at construction costs. According to the new budget / cost estimates in the past two years have skyrocketed:

  • Producer Price Index for Fabricated Steel Plate increased 54%
  • Producer Price Index for Carbon Steel Piping increased 106%
  • Producer Price Index for Electrical Equipment increased 25%
  • Producer Price Index for Fabricated Structural Steel increased 70%
  • Producer Price Index for Copper Wire and Cable increased 32%
  • Producer Price Index for All Commodities increased 45%
  • In addition, the referenced interest rate used for the project’s cost modeling has increased approximately 200 basis points since July 2020.

What are the Total Costs of the Project?

  • Total cost of acquisition and construction, including financing: $9.3 billion
  • Total value of DOE Cost Share Award and other financial resources: $4.2 billion
  • Net cost of acquisition and construction for UAMPS: $5.1 billion

Note that from a competitive perspective, over in the UK Rolls-Royce has been describing its 470 MW PWR as having a price of $2.2 billion per reactor for the first half dozen of a projected fleet of 16 units with factory production and supply chain efficiencies reducing the price per unit to $1.8 billion. Rolls-Royce has not yet released updated data on its cost estimate for the 16 reactors despite the fact that inflation in the UK is running at 9.2% annually according to the Office of National Statistics.

CFPP Compared to Other Resources?

Because of high commodity prices, and much higher interest rates, CFPP says the energy landscape today is much different than it was just two years ago.

“UAMPS has analyzed all forms of non-carbon, dispatchable (always available) energy generation to replace retiring coal generation and to back up additional renewable generation. The analysis concluded that the CFPP remains competitive with other generation resources and has the advantage of a smaller footprint and a much longer life cycle (40 to 60 years).”

“Efforts are underway to strengthen the CFPP business case and reduce risks for participating members through updates in the Development Cost Reimbursement Agreement (DCRA), including protection and cost reimbursement in the event that subscription levels do not meet agreed thresholds within a year.”

Where Does the CFPP Team Stand on the New Numbers?

According to the January 3rd briefing, CFPP says “the NuScale SMR remains cost-competitive and needed as a carbon-free, dispatchable resource, part of a diversified resource portfolio. The higher costs reflect the changing financial landscape for the development of energy projects nationwide. The CFPP has matured to face, understand and address these challenges that other technologies and generation options must also still face.”

According to CFPP’s timeline, the first unit at the plant is due to begin commercial operation in December 2029. It said the project remains on schedule.

~ Background ~
How the Project is Organized and Managed

How is the Project Structured?

CFPP is the limited liability corporation (LLC) chartered by UAMPS, which is NuScale’s customer to manage all aspects of project development including

  • interfaces with NuScale Power,
  • Fluor on Engineering, Procurement and Construction and Combined Operating License (COL) application approval,
  • resolution of remaining technical issues with support from owner’s engineers,
  • development and implementation of an operating strategy,
  • compliance with Department of Energy funding requirements, and
  • conformance with cost model thresholds to assure project viability among the numerous power offtake subscribers.

The CFPP, which is to be built at the US Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory at a site about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID. It will use six of NuScale’s 77 MW power modules to generate 462 MW of electricity. The plant will be air-cooled due to limited and precious water resources in the region. The Snake River Aquifer will not be tapped to cool the reactor.

CFPP LLC is owned by Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), a political subdivision of the state of Utah which provides energy services to 48 members from Utah, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming,  which are mostly municipalities, and which choose which UAMPS projects they participate in, based on their unique needs for electricity.

The CFPP LLC awarded Fluor a contract in January 2021 to provide estimating, development, design and engineering services for its Carbon Free Power Project. The project scope includes the development of cost estimates and initial project planning work for the licensing, manufacturing and construction of the SMR plant.

DOE Funding: Current Status and Future Prospects

In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) approved a multi-year cost share award to a new special purpose entity named Carbon Free Power Project, LLC, an entity wholly owned by Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS),  that could provide up to $1.4 billion to help demonstrate and deploy a NuScale power plant located at Idaho National Laboratory.

The agreement serves as a funding vehicle and is subject to future appropriations by Congress. If the current Congress, which on the House side, is embroiled in a game of chicken with the Biden Administration over the Debt Ceiling, fails to fund the project, it will throw a new monkey wrench into the budget works.

Regulatory Status Report

NuScale’s power module is the only SMR design to date to receive approval from the NRC, which issued a Final Safety Evaluation Report for the 50 MW design in September 2020. Earlier this month the NRC issued a final certification of the 50MW design. The decision takes effect on 02/21/23.

Also, in 2020 the company announced an increase in capacity of the design to 77MW from the previously envisaged 60 MW.  It will support the six-module VOYGR-6 plant configuration that it plans to supply to UAMPS.

Fluor is working on behalf of CFPP LLC in preparation of the combined operating license application (COLA) with the submittal of the 77 MW design to the NRC expected in early 2024.

What is the Standard Plant Design (SPD)?

nusclale logoThe SPD provides customers with a generic VOYGR[tm] power plant design that will serve as a starting point for deploying site-specific designs. The SPD encompasses 12,000 deliverables to support client-licensing and deployment activities including:

  • Full material takeoffs
  • Equipment lists
  • Data sheets
  • Architectural and construction drawings and specifications
  • Detailed system design specifications and calculations
  • Electrical single-lines and load lists
  • Mechanical piping and instrumentation diagrams

450px-Diagram_of_a_NuScale_reactor

Along with these deliverables, a comprehensive 3D model of the power plant was produced, providing an asset for potential customers to evaluate NuScale’s technology. All of these data points are inputs to the new cost estimates.

In a press statement John Hopkins, NuScale President and Chief Executive Officer said, “Having the SPD, developed at our expense, along with a manufacture-ready NuScale Power Module, and the NRC’s recent approval of our Emergency Planning Zone boundary methodology, clearly differentiates NuScale from the competition.”

Hopkins and his team at NuScale are likely to be doing all that they can to sharpen their pencils to deal with the inflationary pressures affecting the cost of building the first of a kind SMR. The company’s future, including its evolving export opportunities in Romania and elsewhere, also depend on these numbers.

NuScale is Not Alone in Dealing with the Inflation Monster

It matters that other SMR developers of light water and advanced designs  are probably facing similar inflationary pressures both in the US and in global markets. DOE’s two reactors that are part of the advanced reactor demonstration project are very also feeling the heat of inflationary fires.

If nuclear energy is to prevail as a means of decarbonizing electricity generation, industrial applications,, desalination, and making hydrogen, inflation is the number one project risk that has to be brought under control.

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NRC Certifies NuScale 50 MW SMR

  • NRC Certifies NuScale 50 MWe SMR
  • Michael Goff, Ph.D., Named Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy
  • DOE Increases Consent-Based Siting Funding Opportunity to $26 Million
  • NIA Report Offers Vision of a ‘Whole Government Effort’ for Nuclear Reactor Deployment

NRC Certifies NuScale 50 MW SMR

Nuscale-Logo(Horizontal_BlueTM)wTag

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) this past week certified the design of the first small modular reactor in the US. The 50 MW design is an advanced light water reactor developed by NuScale Power which is based in Oregon. The decision takes effect on 02/21/23.

The importance of the certification means the reactor can be built for customers in the US. NuScale’s first customer is UAMPS, which is a consortium of utilities in rocky mountain states. The site of the first six units is located on the grounds of the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID. The first module is expected to be operational by 2029 with full plant operation the following year.

NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell told the Associated Press that another reason the certification is important is that it’s the final determination that the design is acceptable for use, so it can’t be legally challenged during the licensing process when someone applies to build and operate a nuclear power plant.

Diane Hughes, NuScale’s vice president of marketing and communications, said in a press statement that the design certification is a historic step forward toward a clean energy future and makes the company’s VOYGR power plant a near-term deployable solution for customers.

She added the NRC’s approval of the NuScale design’s safety aspect has led to customers like mining company KGHM Polska Miedz S.A.in Poland and state nuclear power corporation S.N. Nuclearelectrica S.A. in Romania to take steps over the last two years toward deploying rthe firm’s SMR power plants to meet their clean energy needs.

NuScale is also working on a 77 MW design. The NRC is currently engaged in pre-application activities for NuScale’s SMR standard design approval application for a unit that can generate 77MW per module (gross), resulting in about 924 MW for the flagship 12-module power plant, with options for smaller power plant solutions in four-module (about 308 MWe) and six-module (about 462 MWe) sizes.

In a statement to the Associated Press Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Kathryn Huff said that small modular reactors are no longer an abstract concept.

“They are real and they are ready for deployment thanks to the hard work of NuScale, the university community, our national labs, industry partners, and the NRC. This is innovation at its finest and we are just getting started here in the U.S.”

In a press statement the Department of Energy said it provided more than $600 million since 2014 to support the design, licensing and siting of NuScale’s VOYGR small modular reactor power plant and other domestic SMR concepts.

NuScale’s design and licensing effort were funded in part by a cost-shared program with DOE. In 2013 DOE awarded NuScale $217 million in matching funds over a five year period. The company used the funds to perform the engineering and testing needed to support the NRC Design Certification Process.

Subsequently, in 2020 DOE awarded $1.36 billion, which will be allocated over the course of a decade, to UAMPS to build the UAMPS Carbon Free Power Project at the INL Site. The award will pay for the plant’s one-time costs, as funds are appropriated by Congress, reflecting “what second and subsequent NuScale plants would cost,” according to a press release from UAMPS. The funding serves to manage risk to the UAMPS, which is a wholesale power provider and a political subdivision of the state of Utah.

The final cost of electricity from the plant is targeted to make the plant competitive with other dispatchable energy sources, including combined cycle gas plants, according to the release. The project will generate power to replace aging coal plants.

Competition Coming from Other Reactor Developers

In the near term NuScale has a clear field to book new customers. However, two other US firms, which have light water SMR designs in prelicensing design dialogs with the NRC, are targeting US and international markets.

GE Hitachi’s (GEH) BWRX300 SMR and Holtec’s SMR-160 are pursuing licensing in the UK via the Office of Nuclear Regulation generic design review. In the US GEH has inked MOUs with Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to build its SMR for them. Significantly, the two utilities have inked an MOU to collaborate on a joint effort to deploy the BWRX300 at their respective sites – Darlington for OPG and Clinch River for TVA.

All three SMR developers are promoting their designs as being candidates to replace coal fired power plants taking advantage of existing switchyards and other non-nuclear infrastructure. Additionally, these firms are touting their potential to keep the grid stable for solar and wind projects and to even co-locate renewable power plants at reactor sites.

Behind the cadre of light water designs, the Department of Energy is engaged in a multi billion dollar cost sharing Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) to field two first of a kind advanced reactors.

The first is TerraPower, which has selected a current coal fired power plant in the remote southwestern corner of Wyoming for its first of a kind sodium cooled 345MW reactor which also features an energy storage system to synchronize power production with renewables.

The other plant is X-Energy’s XE-100 which is an 80MW helium cooled HTGR that is expected to be deployed in “packs” of four units each. The first of a kind installation is destined for a site near Richland, WA. X-Energy has also filed for licensing in the UK.

These two advanced reactors are slated for operation towards the end of this decade and much depends on them getting specialized high assay low enriched uranium fuel (HALEU) for their first loads. Both firms are investing in fuel fabrication plants to insure reliable deliveries. Unlike the conventional light water fuel that will be used by NuScale, GEH, and Holtec, the Terrapower design will use unique uranium metal fuel and X-Energy’s design will use TRISO fuel.

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Michael Goff, Ph.D., Named Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced Dr. Michael Goff as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy (NE). Dr. Goff previously served as senior advisor to the office and held several management and research positions across DOE, the national laboratories, and the White House.

He was selected through a competitive, nationwide search and will help manage NE’s $1.8 billion research and development portfolio,

“Dr. Goff is a seasoned professional who has distinguished himself as a leader in nuclear science and energy both domestically and abroad,” said Dr. Kathryn Huff, DOE Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. “It’s been a joy to work with Mike as a senior advisor. I have come to trust his knowledge and judgement immensely and I feel fortunate that we’ll be able to lead this office together.”

Dr. Goff has more than 30 years of professional experience working in the national laboratories and across the federal government. He served three separate terms as senior advisor to NE and previously worked as assistant director for nuclear energy and senior policy advisor in the Office of Science and Technology Policy for the President of the United States.

Dr. Goff held several research and management positions over his career at Idaho and Argonne national laboratories and has authored more than 70 publications related to the nuclear fuel cycle, including separations technology, high-level waste development, and safeguards.

“I am honored to be chosen for this position,” said Dr. Goff. “Because of strong support for nuclear energy and the vibrant leadership of Dr. Huff, now is an exciting time to be joining the outstanding NE team as we expand this clean energy source.”

Dr. Goff has a bachelor’s degree, Master of Science, and Ph.D in nuclear engineering from Georgia Tech.

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DOE Increases Consent-Based Siting Funding Opportunity to $26 Million

  • Additional award winners possible for communities interested in learning about federal interim storage.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has increased the funding level for its Community Engagement on Consent-Based Siting Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) from $16 million to $26 million. The additional funding was included in the FY23 Appropriations Bill and raises the number of awards that can be competitively selected to communities interested in learning more about consent-based siting for spent nuclear fuel. The previously extended FOA application period closes January 31, 2023.

The additional funding allows up to 16 awardees to support tasks in the following areas:

  • Organization, leadership, and maintenance of meaningful, inclusive community engagement processes related to the management of spent nuclear fuel.
  • Identifying public values, interests, and goals to promote and enable effective collaboration and community-driven feedback on the consent-based siting process for a potential consolidated interim storage facility.
  • Developing, implementing, and reporting outcomes and strategies that support mutual learning among stakeholders, communities, and experts on spent nuclear fuel-related topics.

While DOE is not soliciting volunteer sites to host consolidated interim storage facilities as part of this funding opportunity, the Department hopes to encourage engagement, open dialogue, and build capacity among interested stakeholders and communities about the consent-based siting process.

Two interim storage sites for spent nuclear fuel are under development, one in Hobbs, NM, and another just across the NM/TX border in Andrews, TX.

Prospective partners may apply for funding HERE. Learn more about DOE’s Consent-Based Siting program.

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NIA Report Offers Vision of a ‘Whole Government Effort’ for Nuclear Reactor Deployment

NIA Report Cover_Transformation paper_V5

The Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) released a new report, “Transforming the U.S. Department of Energy: Paving the Way to Commercialize Advanced Nuclear Energy.”

According to NIA this new publication provides recommendations on how DOE can be significantly more effective in helping to commercialize advanced nuclear energy technologies.

NIA’s goal is to better position DOE to help deploy advanced nuclear energy in the effort to fight climate change and increase energy security. The report’s recommendations include developing an advanced nuclear energy ‘earthshot,’ adopting a more businesslike approach, and improving DOE’s program integration efforts.

NIA Executive Director Judi Greenwald said in a press statement the relevance of this work is specifically related to ongoing efforts to help DOE deploy advanced nuclear energy:

“The commercialization of advanced nuclear energy is essential for meeting our climate and energy security goals. DOE must now broaden its current focus on research and development to incorporate full-scale commercial deployment of technologies such as advanced nuclear reactors.”

“This transition will require a concerted effort and coordination across DOE, including the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, Office of Nuclear Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, Loan Programs Office, and DOE’s National Labs. NIA’s report provides an outline of a potential path forward to achieve this goal, with multiple recommendations to better position DOE to work with private industry to reach full-scale commercialization of advanced nuclear energy.”

The report emphasized, “the entrepreneurial culture of the emerging advanced nuclear energy industry is an American strength. But as has been the case for all successful US energy technologies, it needs a well-suited federal partner. The government should provide public support because the entrepreneur’s final product will meet needs for the whole country, or even the whole world.”

In a webinar held on 01/20/23 to discuss the release of the report, Kathryn Huff, DOE Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, said: “The Office of Nuclear Energy recognizes that this is a historic moment in the transition to a clean energy future. We’re grateful for the insights in this report and will seriously consider these recommendations as we aim to meet the moment for the nation and the world.”

Report Summary

Historically, the Department of Energy (DOE) has primarily been a research and development agency. More recently, emphasis is shifting toward technology deployment to meet climate and energy security challenges. In particular, NIA wrote in its report that DOE now has an additional task: to incubate and position innovative advanced nuclear technologies for commercialization.

“Catalyzing advanced nuclear energy deployment will require a dramatic transition at optimum speed. DOE will need to coordinate across many segments of the industry as they co-evolve (as with new fuels for new reactors, for example) to allow deployment at an immense scale, and to at least double the domestic nuclear energy capacity that is online today.”
“This will be a whole-of-government and whole-of-society effort dependent on successful
public-private partnerships. The recommendations in this report provide a path for DOE to play a key role in creating the conditions necessary for success in commercializing advanced nuclear energy. “

Key recommendations for the DOE include:

  • Establish an Advanced Nuclear Energy Earthshot to support integrated fuel cycle, advanced reactor and supply chain innovation, and to establish the United States as a global leader in advanced nuclear energy.
  • Play a leading role in inter-agency coordination to devise and implement a comprehensive national strategy for exporting advanced nuclear energy.
  • Hire more staff, including individuals with business expertise and align with the operations of entrepreneurial businesses, and streamline, standardize, and optimize its contracting, communication, and staffing, to promptly deploy the products that are the most viable.
  • Ensure companies have the resources to bridge the gap for demonstration projects “between initial deployment and full commercialization.
  • Fund the licensing fees for start-ups seeking Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses.
    Establish a fast neutron testing capability to support future reactor technology.
  • Launch an integrated effort to support common supply-chain needs for advanced reactors and determine what incentives the private sector would need to certify and produce the components.
  • The NIA report also calls for the appointment of a Senior Director for Civil Nuclear Energy at the White House “to coordinate among all the government entities needed for the successful deployment of a new generation of nuclear reactors.

To read the report, visit the NIA website here: Transforming the U.S. Department of Energy: Paving the Way to Commercialize Advanced Nuclear Energy (link provided here).

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Japan and US Sync Up for Exports of Nuclear Reactors

  • Japan & US Join Forces to Gain Global Market Share for New Nuclear Power Plants
  • Japan & US in Joint Nuclear Fuel Testing at the Idaho National Laboratory
  • Holtec’s SMR-160 Nuclear Steam Supply System Could Repurpose Coal Plants
  • General Fusion Gets OK to Break Ground for Prototype Plant at UKAEA site

Japan and US Join Forces to Gain Global Market Share for New Nuclear Power Plants

During a state visit by Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida to meet with US President Joe Biden, the two world leaders agreed to cooperate in the development of advanced nuclear reactors and small modular reactors. The agreement follows a major policy decision by Kishida in 2022 to allow existing nuclear reactors to operate beyond the current limit of 60 years as well as support the development of new ones.

In parallel with his domestic policy initiative, Kishida wants to work with US nuclear reactor developers to kick start export sales to gain global market share as nuclear energy evolves as a major factor in decarbonizing electricity generation and process heat applications to reduce CO2 emissions.

nuclear-reactors-in-Japan_thumb.png

US DOE Meets Japan’s METI

Along with Kishida’s visit to the White House, on January 9th, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) Nishimura Yasutoshi announced plans to significantly strengthen bilateral cooperation on developing next-generation nuclear reactors.

japan us meeting

The joint statement said the two countries intend to work on leveraging the use of existing reactors and building nuclear component and fuel supply-chains, including uranium fuel for their respective allies. (Full text Joint Statement)

A key area where the the U.S. and Japan have engaged cooperation on new nuclear power matters is the the State Department’s Foundational Infrastructure for the Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) program, which was announced in August 2022 as part of the 2020 Review Conference for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Under the FIRST program, the U.S. and Japan, along with nine other countries ( Estonia, Ghana, Kazakhstan, Latvia, the Philippines, Romania, South Korea, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom) agreed to work collaboratively to “facilitate the safe and secure utilization of civilian nuclear reactors, especially SMRs.”

The FIRST program announcement stated that “nuclear energy not only provides clean energy supply, but also supports local job growth, energy security, air pollution and carbon reduction goals, and global clean technology innovation.”

The funds handed out so far by the program have been mostly intended to support programmatic efforts designed to build the capacity of various nations to undertake development of civilian nuclear energy programs. Such efforts could eventually open the doors to joint US/Japan export efforts to compete globally for market share with Russia and China. An early instance has been support for the 3 Seas Initiative with 12 nations in eastern Europe.

Some of this newly announced activity appears to be a repackaging of existing arrangements already underway. The U.S. and Japan had previously announced in November 2018 a Memorandum of Cooperation for research and development in four key areas;

(1) nuclear research and development, including innovative reactors,
(2) decommissioning and back-end fuel cycle management,
(3) industrial cooperation for safety improvement, and
(4) expansion of the global use of nuclear energy.”

Background on Japan’s New Nuclear Energy Policy

The Japanese government announced plans in 2022 to speed up nuclear reactor restarts and to have up to nine reactors restarted by winter 2023 to cope with the looming energy crunch. The combined effort will be a major test of public sentiment towards nuclear energy which has been in the red zone of “no way” since the Fukushima crisis of 2011.

Kishida aims to restart seven more reactors by summer 2023 and to prolong the operational life of other reactors to beyond 60 years from the initial 40 years limit set by his predecessors. He also wants to restart Japan’s efforts to export its nuclear reactor technologies which has atrophied since 2011.

In 2019 nuclear power accounted for 6% percent of Japan’s electricity supply according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). The agency says that in 2022 the new goal for Japan is 20-22%. By the summer of 2023, Kishida has expectations that all 17 nuclear power plants that have passed the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety screening will be back online.

The main drivers are concerns about power shortages and the threat of Russia cutting off natural gas supplies as a result of Japan’s alignment with western powers regarding the war in Ukraine. Energy blackouts, regardless of the cause, are detrimental to the ruling power retaining that status. Keeping the lights on and factories humming is a key success factor for remaining in office.

Joint US/ Japan Cooperation on Advanced Reactors

In February 2022 TerraPower, which is developing the 345 MWe Natrium [tm] sodium cooled fast reactor, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and two Mitsubishi business units to collaborate on sodium fast reactor technology.

The agreement will enable both sides to advance fast-reactor technologies for commercial use and export sales. JAEA, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and Mitsubishi FBR Systems will share data and resources related to the development of advanced sodium fast reactor (SFR) technology with TerraPower.

Japan has extensive experience with R&D efforts to develop sodium-cooled fast reactors dating back to the mid-1980s. TerraPower is interested in technical cooperation with several Japanese entities and intends to work with JAEA and Japanese fast reactor industrial firms for advanced testing of certain components of its Natrium reactor,

Testing of materials and functions for components of the reactor are crucial as input to getting a license from the NRC and in issuing specifications to supply chain firms who will make the components needed to build the reactor. The NRC licensing review is considered to be a global “gold standard” for reactor safety and is a door opener for convincing commercial prospects that the design of an advanced reactor is safe to build and operate.

Investment in SMRs

In 2021 NuScale picked up $60 million in equity investments from several Japanese firms. Fluor Corporation (NYSE: FLR) announced in May 2021 that IHI Corporation (IHI) of Japan is investing $20 million into NuScale Power LLC, a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) technology company in which Fluor is the majority investor. IHI’s immediate investment of $20 million may be followed by another $20 million at a later date.

In addition to IHI’s ownership interest, IHI will also become a global manufacturing partner and have the opportunity to provide design services and heavy manufacturing of the steel plate reinforced concrete wall structures for NuScale SMR projects in which Fluor has the lead role.

IHI will develop containment structures to enclose reactor cores, as well as other components. IHI has been producing nuclear reactor components for about six decades including reactor pressure vessels.

NuScale Power announced in April 2021 that it has completed an investment and strategic partnership agreement with JGC Holdings Corporation (JGC HD), a holding company of one of the world’s leading EPC contractor group companies headquartered in Japan.

As part of a commercial relationship with Fluor Corporation, NuScale’s majority investor and EPC partner in the United States, JGC HD will provide a $40 million cash investment in NuScale Power and partner with Fluor on the deployment of NuScale Power Plants.

It positions a key supply chain partner close to potential future customers in Asia seeking smaller, cheaper nuclear energy solutions compared to 1000MWE units being exported by Russia and China. Southeast Asia’s mega cities are key prospects for SMRs as a way to get off reliance on coal filed power plants.

In March 2022 Holtec, which is developing a 160 MWe SMR, signed an agreement with the US division of Mitsubishi Electric Corporation to design and engineer the digital instrumentation and control systems (I&C) for Holtec’s SMR-160 small modular reactor technology.

In February 2019 Holtec announced new agreements with Exelon to join the support team with Mitsubishi and SNC-Lavalin and Ukraine’s Energoatom, with which it had signed an agreement in 2018 with a view to building the SMR-160 in Ukraine.  Like the ambitious plans by Westinghouse to build four AP1000s in Japan, these efforts remain in hold due to ongoing hostilities caused by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

While it is difficult to predict the outcome of hostilities there, based on current events and sustained support by NATO countries, it is plausible to assume that any future reconstruction program in Ukraine will include building new power stations to replace the sites destroyed by Russian attacks.

Japan’s Tenuous Hold on its Nuclear Energy Future

Japan needs all the help it can get with energy security. Its supply of natural gas from Russia has been cut off due to the war in Ukraine. Expansion of renewable energy is coming up against significant physical barriers. The large land areas needed for new solar energy facilities conflict with the population density of the Japanese islands. Offshore wind literally has a limited shelf life because the ocean gets deep really quickly as one moves offshore.

Japan’s drive to revive its use of nuclear energy faces several challenges. The first is an aggressive regulatory agency which has hobbled reactor restarts with expensive and time consuming requirements that appear to overcompensate for the lax standards used prior to the Fukushima crisis in 2011.

Second, public sentiment is split between some communities which value the payrolls and subsidies of nearby reactors and other that have lasting distrust based on mismanagement by TEPCO, one of Japan’s major utilities.

In 2017, Tepco received initial regulatory approval to restart Units 6 and 7 at Kashiwazaki Kariwa. The station has seven reactors with a total capacity of 7,965 MW, equal to about 20% of Japan’s total installed nuclear capacity.

In 2019 Japan’s TEPCO suspended efforts to restart five of the seven reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Station because locally elected provincial officials have made entire careers out of bashing TEPCO for its multiple missteps in managing one of the world’s largest nuclear power stations. The utility continues efforts to restart units #6 & #7 which are the two newest reactors at the site.

TEPCO has undermined community confidence in its operations with a long history of a lack of transparency at the site. Problems with communications to surrounding communities have included misinformation or no information about fires, the handling of low-level radioactive waste, and earthquake damage to non-nuclear structures.

In short, there is no trust, nor love lost, between TEPCO and local stakeholders who do not care as much about nuclear energy as a tool to diminish the effects of climate change as they do about slamming the door on TEPCO’s restart of the reactors there once and for all. This is a horse that has left the barn and TEPCO does not seem to have any way to get it back at this site.

The situation at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa remains a lightning rod for ant-nuclear activism in Japan although the courts have swatted down some spurious challenges to restarts and allowed reactors meeting the Nuclear Regulatory Authority’s stringent requirements to go back online.

New Director of Nuclear Regulatory Agency Lays Out His Vision for the Agency

All this backstory is important because it shows how far PM Kishida has stretched his goals to revive nuclear energy in Japan as a means to achieving energy security. A key personnel change may increase his chances of success

The encouraging note is that the new director of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA) seems interested in balancing strict oversight with common sense.

Last September the new chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority vowed to maintain “independence and transparency” as the government agency performs its watchdog role over Japan’s nuclear industry. Shinsuke Yamanaka, 66, an expert on nuclear material science, took over at the NRA on 09/26/22. Yamanaka pledged that the NRA will continue to remain neutral.

“The NRA should sincerely carry out its duties while keeping in mind that the safety of nuclear energy is never a guarantee,” he said.

On the NRA’s prolonged examinations of reactors to assess if they meet the new reactor safety regulations, Yamanaka said his agency will be open to measures to help speed the process.

“Our basic stance is to conduct strict inspections, but we are willing to take measures to expedite the regulation procedures and improve communications between us and nuclear plant operators.”

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Japan & US in Joint Nuclear Fuel Testing at the Idaho National Laboratory

The Department of Energy announced last week that researchers at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) developed a device that can test advanced reactor fuel experiments in its Transient Reactor Test (TREAT) Facility located about 50 miles due west of Idaho Falls, ID.

TREAT Test Reactor

The new experiment device is part of a joint project between the United States and Japan that will be used to perform the world’s first transient tests on fast reactor fuels in more than two decades.

INL recently completed initial testing on the newly developed capsule. The specialized device houses fuel experiments in TREAT where it can mimic the conditions of fast reactors during postulated accident conditions.  The device also hosts state-of-the-art instrumentation required to monitor the fuel’s real-time response to these conditions.

Also, the lab repurposed fresh legacy fuel pins from its former EBR-II reactor for experimental commissioning tests. Researchers are now shifting their focus to transient experiments on high-burnup materials archived from historic irradiation testing in EBR-II.  These tests include mixed oxide fuel used by Japanese and French fast reactor designs, and metallic alloy fuel preferred by the U.S.

The experiments will advance global fast reactor fuel safety research and are part of a four-year cost-shared facility sharing initiative being executed between the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) under the Civil Nuclear Energy Research and Development Working Group.

The irradiated transient experiments will be the first of their kind in the world in more than 20 years.   INL’s capsule also brings new testing capabilities to TREAT that will help advance fuel performance research for sodium-cooled fast reactors.

“Execution of these unique experiments is an important step toward developing global confidence in the enhanced performance and safety of advanced nuclear reactor technologies,” said Dr. Daniel Wachs, the national technical director for the U.S. Advanced Fuels Campaign.

INL is currently working to load the first of four irradiated fuel experiments into TREAT. The first transient test is expected to start in February. The lab expects to complete the first three DOE/JAEA fuel experiments by early spring and wrap up U.S. testing before the end of next year.

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Holtec’s SMR-160 Nuclear Steam Supply System Could Repurpose Coal Plants

US-based Holtec International has announced a technical breakthrough that it says would preserving most of the physical assets of coal plants by replacing their boilers with Holtec’s SMR-160 nuclear steam supply system.

In a recent meeting with Indian Ambassador to the US Amarjit S. Sandhu, Holtec CEO Dr Kris Singh said replacing coal with nuclear power produced by Holtec’s SMR-160 was a “game changer for India and the global environment” by enabling coal-fired plants to switch from fossil fuel to uranium while preserving existing coal plants’ assets.

Holtec has ambitions of building its SMR in India with the effort to be supported by construction of a factory to assemble them prior to shipment to a power station site. Localization of the supply chain for components is a key success factor for the project.

A study published in September by the US Department of Energy found that hundreds of coal power plant sites across the USA could be converted to nuclear plant sites, providing huge decarbonization gains as well as bringing tangible economic, employment and environmental benefits to the communities where those plants are located.

Holtec’s SMR-160 advanced small modular reactor (SMR) is a pressurized light-water reactor, generating 160MWe (525MWt) using low-enriched uranium fuel, with flexibility to produce process heat for industrial applications and hydrogen production.

The latest breakthrough involves the use of multi-stage compressors capable of uprating the SMR-160’s relatively low head steam supply (700 psi at 595 degrees F) to the elevated pressure and heat needed to run the turbogenerator of a fossil power plant.

Holtec is probably thinking of relatively small coal-fired power plants. The big ones would require a mid-size or larger PWR type nuclear reactor to support a coal-fired power plant like the one pictured below.

Press Pictures: Copyright

500 MW Siemens multi stage steam turbine with generator set (rear, red) (Wikipedia)

The needed boosts in temperature and pressure can be modified to support continued operation of any plant’s turbogenerator, and in most cases would not require any external energy input  A provisional patent application has been filed paving the way to repurpose any coal-fired plant by replacing its coal-fired boiler with clean steam from the SMR-160 plant.

The ability for SMR-160 to deliver steam at any desired pressure would also enable the use of high-pressure steam as feed stock for industrial applications or to provide low pressure steam for district heating to cities and municipalities.

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General Fusion Gets OK to Break Ground for Prototype Plant at UKAEA

(WNN) Construction of General Fusion’s Fusion Demonstration Plant (FDP) at the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA’s) Culham Campus near Oxford, England, is expected to start later this year based on a go ahead from the agency and a local government planning authority.

The demonstration plant will be used to prove the viability of the MTF technology and is a 70%-scaled version of the commercial pilot plant. It will create fusion conditions in a “power-plant relevant” environment, achieving temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius. However, the plant will not be used to produce power.

When construction of the 11,300 square foot building is complete, General Fusion will lease it from UKAEA. The company’s fusion machine is expected to be commissioned in 2026 and fully operational by early 2027.

General Fusion said that siting the facility at the UKAEA’s Culham Campus enables it to “access world-leading science and engineering capabilities, such as knowledge and experience in designing, constructing and operating the record-breaking Joint European Torus.” In addition, the company will benefit from the UK’s existing fusion energy supply chains.

“The UK has been a longstanding leader in fusion energy development,” said General Fusion CEO Greg Twinney.

“The UKAEA welcomes this milestone as it aligns with our strategy to create clusters that accelerate innovation in fusion and related technologies, and support public-private partnerships to thrive,” said UKAEA CEO Ian Chapman.

The UKAEA carries out fusion energy research on behalf of the UK government, overseeing the country’s fusion program, including the MAST Upgrade (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) experiment as well as hosting the JET – Joint European Tourus – at Culham, which is operated for scientists from around Europe.

UKAEA is developing its own fusion power plant design with plans to build a prototype known as STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) at West Burton in Nottinghamshire, which is due to begin operating by 2040.

General Fusion’s Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) approach involves injecting hydrogen plasma into a liquid metal sphere, where it is compressed and heated so that fusion occurs. The heat from the fusion of the hydrogen atoms is transferred into the liquid metal. The company aims to construct a fusion energy power plant by the early 2030s.

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Posted in Nuclear | Comments Off on Japan and US Sync Up for Exports of Nuclear Reactors

Six SMR Firms File for UK Generic Design Assessment

  • Six SMR Firms File for UK Generic Design Assessment
  • NuScale Submits Design Approval Application to NRC For Updated Voygr Reactor
  • Japan’s Push to Restart Nuclear Reactors Delayed
  • Rokkasho Spent Fuel Reprocessing Plant Delayed Again
  • UK £75 Million Nuclear Fuel Fund Will Reduce Reliance On Russia
  • Bulgaria’s Kozloduy Nuclear Station Signs Nuclear Fuel Agreement With Framatome
  • Sweden Turns to France as it Looks to Buy Two New Nuclear Reactors

cardinalNote to readers about the Twitter Feed and Mastodon. The Twitter feed for this blog is in hiatus due to the turmoil at that platform. A limited feed of daily nuclear news headlines is being posted to Mastodon at https://techhub.social/@neutronbytes 

For a directory of free nuclear news sources, see the ‘Reading List for the Curious’ which is a page accessible from the main menu of this blog.

Six SMR Firms File for UK Generic Design Assessment

The hottest near term market for small modular reactors appears to be in the UK. In December six developers of SMRs, which have power ratings of 50-300 MWe, submitted applications to the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to enter the generic design assessment (GDA) process that leads to licensing a reactor to be built there.

The UK Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) issued a report on the virtual avalanche of paper, in digital form, that descended on the ONR. The GDA is a complicated and expensive regulatory process that assesses new nuclear reactor designs for safety, security and environmental impacts.

smr-vs-npp-v5

Here’s a Lineup of the Action

GE Hitachi submitted an application for its BWRX-300 boiling water reactor in December. The BWRX-300 is a 300MWe water-cooled, natural circulation SMR, with passive safety systems adapted from the US-licensed ESBWR. GE Hitachi says it has been designed to achieve construction and operating costs which are substantially lower than traditional nuclear plants, and could be deployed as early as 2028. Like all developer claims of this nature, they will be tested by Rickover’s paradigm which is designing paper reactors is easy, building them is hard.

“We believe the BWRX-300 is the ideal technology to help the UK meet its decarbonization and energy security goals,” said Sean Sexstone, executive vice president for advanced nuclear at GE Hitachi. “Regulatory agencies in Canada and the US are collaborating on their licensing review of the BWRX-300. Through the GDA process we look forward to engaging UK regulators and enabling collaboration with their global counterparts.”

The US-Japanese company’s submission was supported by Jacobs UK. GE Hitachi has also signed an initial agreement with Sheffield Forgemasters to discuss how the manufacturer could help meet the demands of deploying the BWRX-300 in the UK. The firm is an obvious choice to fabricate the reactor pressure vessels and other large, long lead time components for the SMR.

Holtec submitted its SMR-160 design which is a 160MWe pressurized water reactor developed in collaboration with Mitsubishi Electric of Japan and Hyundai Engineering and Construction of Korea. The US firm proposed to deploy 32 SMR-160s (5.1 GWe total) at various customer sites in the UK, Poland, and Ukraine, among other places, in serial production by 2050.

Holtec Britain announced a joint memorandum of understanding with Balfour Beatty and Korea’s Hyundai on construction planning for the UK, with potential sites identified at Trawsfynydd in Wales, and Heysham and Oldbury in England.

Applications from Other Companies include:

US firm X-Energy, which is working with Cavendish Nuclear to deploy its high-temperature gas reactor in the UK. The reactor is aimed at industrial decarbonization as well as electricity generation. X-Energy said its first units will be deployed in the US from 2027, with the UK to follow. The X-Energy SMR is being developed under the US Department of Energy Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program for deployment of a first-of-a-kind unit at a site in Richland, WA.

UK-Italian start-up Newcleo is focused on lead-cooled fast reactors. The company is aiming to develop a 30MWe micro-reactor by 2030, followed by a 200MWe reactor fueled by waste from existing nuclear plants.

UK Atomics, a subsidiary of Danish-based start-up Copenhagen Atomics, is developing a containerized thorium molten salt reactor. The firm said it has already constructed a prototype reactor, and is aiming for first deployment in 2028.

GMET, a Cumbrian engineering group which last year acquired established nuclear supplier TSP Engineering, said it is developing a small reactor called NuCell for production at TSP’s Workington facility.

Rolls-Royce SMR is the only SMR developer to formally begin GDA. The firm submitted its 470MWe design in November 2021, with the regulators starting the first stage of assessment in April 2022. The firm has received significant funding from the UK government in support of its plan to deploy a fleet of 16 of the mid-range reactors at UK sites and to also produce the design for export.

Significantly, none of the applicants for the UK GDA certification have formally submitted license applications to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). However, GE-Hitachi, Holtec, and X-Energy are in preliminary design review dialogs with the agency having submitted topical reports on various aspects of their reactor designs.

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NuScale Submits Design Approval Application to NRC For Updated Voygr Reactor

(NucNet) SMR developer NuScale has completed submission of a standard design approval application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for its updated SMR design. NuScale said the design is based on a six-module Voygr-6 configuration powered by an uprated 77 MW module.

The updated design features the same fundamental safety case and totally passive safety features approved by the NRC in 2020, with a power uprate and select design changes to “support customers’ capacity needs and further improve economics,” NuScale said.

In November 2020, NuScale concluded that its technology could generate 25% more power per module for a total of 77 MWe per module. Because of the higher power output, NuScale decided to seek approval of a six module, Voygr-6 design, instead of the 12-module configuration that was in the previously approved design.

The NRC approved NuScale’s SMR design in 2020. The design remains the only SMR design application to be submitted to and approved by the NRC.

The NRC’s approval of the NuScale design’s safety aspect has led customers like mining company KGHM Polska Miedz in Poland and state nuclear power corporation Nuclearelectrica in Romania to take steps over the last two years toward deploying Voygr SMR power plants to meet their clean energy needs.

In the US, public power consortium Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) is planning to deploy a six-module Voygr plant in Idaho for baseload supply to utilities in the area.

& & &

Japan’s Push to Restart Nuclear Reactors Delayed

Worker shortages and supply chain woes due to an 11 year hiatus for investments and support of nuclear reactors have tossed twin spanners into the gears of Japan’s plan to ramp up its fleet of nuclear reactors.

Japan’s new policy to restart its nuclear power industry is facing serious setbacks. Eleven years of vigorous anti-nuclear politics have resulted in a severe shortage of engineers, a lack of students seeking nuclear engineering degrees, and the near collapse of domestic nuclear manufacturing capacity.

According to Japanese English language wire service reports, the Japan Electrical Manufacturers’ Association (JEMA) claims the number of “skilled engineers responsible for manufacturing nuclear equipment” has declined by 45 percent since the government banned nuclear power projects and shut existing reactors in response to the Fukushima meltdown in 2011.

In addition, the JEMA said there are 14 percent fewer students in nuclear engineering programs at Japan’s universities and graduate schools, the Financial Times reports.

In 2022 Japan restarted several nuclear plants to stave off energy uncertainty due to interrupted gas flows from Russia, which the country has relied on since decommissioning its nuclear facilities.

Several Japanese companies have restarted investments in nuclear research & development since the moratorium has lifted.. Mitsubishi has partnered with several power utilities to develop a new form of light-water reactor that’s more stable, safer and easier to control, and is also working on smaller nuclear reactors as well as gas-cooled reactors that produce hydrogen. However, the design is unlikely to be ready for customers in the near term.

Japanese officials previously planned to phase out nuclear power entirely by 2030, but now hopes nearly a quarter of the country’s power will come from nuclear sources by the end of the 2020s. This ambitious and unrealistic goal will require construction of an additional 17 new full size reactors by 2030. More likely, the build out will take an additional decade to complete.

Japan is now facing the consequences of its decade long panic attack about nuclear energy. Sooner or later Germany, despite the anti-nuclear enthusiasm of its Green Party, may face the same grim outlook for energy security.

& & &

Rokkasho Spent Fuel Reprocessing Plant Delayed Again

(WNN) Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) has announced that it now expects the reprocessing plant under construction at Rokkasho in Japan’s Aomori Prefecture to begin commercial operation in 2024 instead of 2022.

JNFL said it decided to revise the completion date of plant due to enhance safety by complying with new regulatory requirements. It said the new schedule is “based on a comprehensive judgement, considering the three elements – construction works, conformity review for Design and Construction Plans and inspections”.

JNFL noted that the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s (NRA’s) approval of the first part of the Design and Construction Plans on 12/21/22 “was a big step toward the completion”. The company applied for the approval of the second part of Design and Construction Plans on 12/26/22.

So what happened? The official story is that delays in the approval of the first part of the Design and Construction Plans had been caused by “insufficient communication with the NRA as well as insufficient information sharing and collaboration “among sections involved.”

The company said its expects the conformity review for Design and Construction Plans to take about one year, and the inspection period after the approval to be four-to-seven  months.

Construction of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant began in 1993 and was originally expected to be completed by 1997. However, its construction and commissioning have faced several delays. The facility is based on the same technology as Orano’s La Hague plant in France. Once operational, the maximum reprocessing capacity of the Rokkasho plant will be 800 tonnes per year, according to JNFL.

Following the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, new safety standards for nuclear fuel cycle facilities came into force in December 2013. The requirements vary from facility to facility, but generally include reinforcement measures against natural threats such as earthquakes and tsunamis, and in some cases tornadoes, volcanoes and forest fires.

Reprocessing plants need to demonstrate these as well as countermeasures specifically against terrorist attacks, hydrogen explosions, fires resulting from solvent leaks and vaporization of liquid waste.

On 07/29/20 JNFL received permission from the NRA for the modification of safety measures at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant. Additional equipment and systems are being installed for the recovery of radioactivity in the event of a severe accident. Additional safety-related countermeasures are also being put in place, such as internal flood protection, strengthening of the seismic resistance of pipework and improving measures against internal fires.

However, it appears that all of the work the firm has done to date is not sufficient in the eyes of the NRA resulting in a major effort to insure the work done is a match with regulatory requirements.

& & &

UK £75 Million Nuclear Fuel Fund Will Reduce Reliance On Russia

(NucNet) The UK government said on 01/02/23 its £75m ($89M) fund aimed at helping boost domestic production of nuclear fuel for power plants and cutting reliance on Russian uranium supplies is open for applications.

The Nuclear Fuel Fund will award grants to businesses involved in uranium conversion, a key stage in the process of creating nuclear fuel from the metal. It will remain open for applications until mid-February.

It will support projects such as fuel supply options for light-water reactors, including future small modular reactors. It will also look to support projects producing new fuel types that will be needed to supply advanced modular reactors, likely to be in operation from the 2030s, such as high-assay low-enriched uranium, or HALEU.

The government said the fund would “encourage investment in new and robust fuel production capabilities in the UK, to reduce reliance on civil nuclear and related goods from Russia” and back its ambition to secure up to 24GW of nuclear power by 2050.

“Record high global gas prices, caused by Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, have highlighted the need for more home-grown renewable energy, but also UK generated nuclear power – building more plants, and developing domestic fuel capability,” minister for energy and climate Graham Stuart said.

Springfields Site ‘Of Strategic Importance’

Up to £13M of the fund has already been awarded to Westinghouse’s Springfields nuclear fuel manufacturing site in northwest England.

The government said Springfields – which has provided nuclear fuel fabrication services since the mid-1940s – has strategic importance to producing fuel for the current UK advanced gas-cooled reactor fleet.

The funding will mean the UK has the option of being less reliant on imports from abroad and will help Westinghouse develop the capability convert both reprocessed uranium and freshly mined uranium to make new fuel.

Energy supply has become a key focus since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drove costs sharply higher. Planned additions to nuclear electricity generation capacity will reduce Britain’s reliance on natural gas, which fuelled around 45% of generation in 2021.

G7 leaders agreed in June to take collective action to reduce reliance on civil nuclear and related goods from Russia, including diversifying their supplies of uranium and nuclear fuel production capability. Russia owns about 20% of global uranium conversion capacity and 40% of enrichment capacity.

Tom Greatrex, the chief executive of the London-based Nuclear Industry Association, said: “Having the sovereign capability to manufacture next-generation nuclear fuels for advanced reactors of the future is vital for energy security and net zero.”

The news comes just over a month after ministers confirmed the first state backing of a nuclear project in over 30 years, with a £700M stake in plans for two EPR nuclear plants at Sizewell C in Suffolk, eastern England.

The government said its “nuclear acceleration” requires pushing ahead to deliver new reactors, including advanced modular reactors, which will need new fuel streams.

& & &

Bulgaria’s Kozloduy Nuclear Station Signs Nuclear Fuel Agreement With Framatome

(NucNet) Bulgaria’s Kozloduy nuclear power station has signed an agreement for the delivery of nuclear fuel for the second of its two commercial VVER-1000 reactor units with the Germany-based wing of France’s Framatome.

Kozloduy said in a statement that the agreement with Framatome is related to a contract to be signed for 12 fuel loads at the Kozloduy-6 pressurized water reactor (PWR) unit between 2025 and 2034.

Bulgaria has two Russia-designed VVER-1000 PWR units in commercial operation at Kozloduy on the Danube River in the north of the country. The two plants, inherited from the socialist era, provide about one third of the country’s electricity.

The Framatome agreement comes following the signing on 12/22/22 of a 10-year fuel supply deal between the Bulgarian plant and US-based Westinghouse for twin unit Kozloduy-5.

Bulgarian energy minister Rosen Hristov said the new fuel agreement with Framatome “completes” the process of diversification of fuel supplies for Kozloduy.

He said some of the details to be agreed upon on at a later stage with Framatome will include pricing for the new fuel and the logistic arrangements around its delivery.

Bulgaria currently receives nuclear fuel from Russia’s state-owned Tvel under a 2019 contract which is set to expire in 2025. Hristov told journalists at a press conference earlier this month that receiving supplies from Tvel in 2024 would not be possible because the Russian side had asked for changes to the contract which had been “unacceptable”.

Hristov had earlier said that the diversification of fuel supplies for the Kozloduy units had been coordinated with the European Union’s Euratom Supply Agency, which oversees Europe’s supply of nuclear materials.

According to earlier statements by Hristov, Framatome’s proposed fuel will not need a new permit from the Bulgarian nuclear regulatory agency because it will be of the Russian design currently in use, but produced in Europe by Framatome under a licence.

& & &

Sweden Turns to France as it Looks to Buy Two New Nuclear Reactors

(Euronews)  Sweden and France could be set to join forces to build new nuclear power stations to boost domestic power production and guarantee security of the nation’s energy supply.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson outlined the possible partnership in Paris on his first trip to an EU capital since Sweden took over the six-month rotating EU Council Presidency on 01/01/23.

“The Swedish-French partnership has good potential in nuclear energy,” Kristersson said in the courtyard of the Elysée Palace, standing next to French President Emmanuel Macron.

“The new Swedish government is determined to build new nuclear power plants and we are very impressed by the French experience in this area.”

Sweden “needs to buy two nuclear reactors”, Ulf Kristersson told Swedish journalists during his visit to Paris.

“And I am entirely open to France being one of the countries that will make sure that Sweden has more nuclear power.”

Sweden currently has six reactors in operation at three different plants, commissioned between 1975 and 1985. Several other reactors have been shut down since 1999.

The Swedish Prime Minister also expressed his desire to strengthen cooperation with France in the defense and space sectors.

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Q&A with General Fusion – Getting Down to Brass Tacks

                  Q&A with General Fusion – Getting Down to Brass Tacks

brass tacks
Editor’s Note: The phase “Get down to brass tacks” is an idiomatic expression, like a ‘dime a dozen,’ meaning – to start discussing or considering important details. 
For example, “We’ll get down to brass tacks and complete the research method tomorrow.” or,  “Don’t be intimidated by the lengthy resort. Just get down to brass tacks.”

Fusion energy is the process that powers the sun radiating its life giving energy across 93 million miles of space. On 12/01/22 in a blog post titled –  How Fast Will Fusion’s Promise Come True? – a list of ”get down to brass tacks type’ questions were published asking, without regard to any fusion energy developer, about the commercialization of fusion energy. The questions focus on the promises fusion startups in the U.S., Canada, and the UK are making to their investors and especially about efforts to master the technologies needed to achieve their project timelines for commercial plants.

In this blog post readers are provided with detailed answers to these questions from General Fusion, a leading developer of fusion technology, based in Vancouver, BC, Canada, about its drive to deploy commercial fusion powered electricity generation plants within the next decade. 

Background on Commercialization of Fusion Energy

Big Money Is Flowing into Commercialization of Fusion Energy

According to the 2022 report of the Fusion Industry Association (FIA), there are three dozen fusion energy startups which are attracting billions of dollars in investor commitments. It’s not just private investors who are pouring money into fusion. The Department of Energy for 2023 will be funded by Congress with a record levels of appropriations for fusion R&D and support for commercialization efforts.

Last October DOE announced a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) which is expected to award $5-25 million each to three-to-five project teams.  The principal applicant must be a for profit firm but partnerships with national laboratories and universities are acceptable. There are two “swim lanes” or tiers to the funding. The two tracks are;

  • Develop a pre-conceptual design / roadmaps for a pilot fusion plant
  • Come up with improvements to the performance of current fusion efforts none of which so far have produced a long duration self-sustaining fusion process.

Fusion developers are in a highly competitive race to develop unique, first-of-a-kind fusion power plants. The cost of their efforts have required, and will continue to require, hundreds or even billions of dollars from their investors as well as government financial support. No fusion developer wants either of these stakeholders to be put off by unanswered questions about the challenges they face.

Plus, there is growing confidence among commercial fusion developers who claim that their power plants are likely to be built in the 2030s. Yet, the director of the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) thinks this timeline isn’t realistic.

The scientists at LLNL are quick to clarify their recent accomplishment in the realm of fusion ignition has great scientific merit, but they also add a note of caution that the engineering work ahead to design and build commercial plants faces many uncertainties.

In response,  the current cadre of developers of commercial fusion plants say it is time to retire the old assessment that fusion is still 50 years in the future. Plus, MIT Technology Review, in its assessment of the LLNL accomplishment, noted, “While [laser driven] inertial confinement is the first fusion scheme to produce net energy gain, it’s not the most likely path forward for any possible commercial fusion efforts.”

Key Technical Challenges Facing Fusion Developers

Key technical challenges facing fusion developers fall in three broad categories that have to be resolved in order to build fusion energy plants for commercial use.  

  • Produce and maintain a long lasting, self-heating burning plasma by any of a variety of means
  • Develop materials that can withstand neutron bombardment over the plant’s lifetime, e.g., 40-60 years or longer; or work around that problem with alternative means of generating the plasma
  • Transfer the plasma heat out of the fusion space to generate electricity or for industrial process heat

Key Enabling Technologies Needed to Achieve Success

A lot of progress has been made in several key areas. According to DOE’s ARPA-E Program, more work needs to be done to address many technical challenges.

  • Advances in 3D printing that make for quicker and cheaper components
  • Development of super conducting magnets to control the plasma, but not all tokamaks use magnets and some fusion methods don’t use them at all
  • Applications in supercomputing to calculate best methods and engineering designs for creating and sustaining the plasma
  • Fabricating advanced materials need for the construction of fusion machines
  • Designing new control room instruments and operator interfaces needed for fusion machines

A Q&A with General Fusion

General Fusion is one of the leading developers globally working to achieve a commercial implementation of fusion energy. The Canadian company’s technology focus to develop a fusion power device is based on magnetized target fusion (MTF).

The firm was founded in 2002 by Dr. Michel Laberge.  General Fusion’s CEO is Greg Twinney, who was appointed last July. Previously, he was General Fusion’s Chief Financial Officer, In 2021 he led the company to achieve a successful oversubscribed $65 million Series E financing round. According to Crunchbase,the firm has raised $322 million from 32 publicly disclosed investors in 15 rounds of financing. 

General Fusion of Canada, in partnership with the UK’s Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), is on track to build a fusion demonstration project (FDP) at a site in Culham, England, 60 miles (100 km) west of London, as a precursor to a commercially viable pilot plant. Readers are referred to an online walk through of the stages of the firm’s magnetized target fusion process. General Fusion – Visual Capitalist Infographic

how fusion works

Questions Asked and General Fusion’s Answers

These questions were prepared by the NeutronBytes blog and emailed to General Fusion for a response. The published answers from the firm were not edited for content. A few minor changes were made in the format of the text to enhance ease of reading the material. Reference links were added to the text to clarify some technical aspects of the content. 

How close is GF to demonstrating core temperatures and pressure conditions for the fusion energy produced to exceed the heating energy injected into the reactions. Will you be able to do it once the Fusion Demonstration Project (FDP) is built in the UK?

After 20 years of research, technology advancements and large-scale test beds, General Fusion has proven its core technologies, which include its plasma injector and compression system. Now, we’re integrating that technology at power-plant-relevant scale in our fusion demonstration.

It will reach fusion conditions, including reaching our target temperature (10keV+) or 100 million degrees Celsius, while demonstrating the advantages of Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) and refining both the optimal size and economics of a commercial fusion power plant. With these results, we will use established scaling laws to complete the design of our commercial pilot plant that will achieve net energy and put power on the grid.

You’ve committed to an ambitious set of milestones with plans to break ground in the UK next year (2023) and to have an operating facility by 2027. Are these plans realistic given the first-of-a-kind technology that you committed to for your design?

We’ve already proven our core technologies with large test beds and prototypes in our labs. The performance of these large-scale prototypes, combined with advanced modelling and simulation, give us confidence in the expected performance of our fusion demonstration and our timeline, which includes commissioning the integrated fusion machine by the end of 2026 and achieving expected performance in 2027.

Then, because our approach to fusion inherently addresses the major barriers to commercializing fusion through our mechanical compression system and liquid metal wall, we’re well-positioned to put a first commercial fusion plant on the grid in the early 2030s.

Unlike other planned fusion demonstrations, General Fusion uses an approach to fusion that translates to a commercial plant without requiring additional scientific or materials breakthroughs. When we reach net gain, it won’t be in a stand-alone lab experiment, it will be in a commercial power plant with a fusion machine scaled up from our FDP which is a scale-up from 70% to full scale.

In addition, our fusion machine will integrate with a traditional balance of plant; the fusion reaction heats our proprietary liquid metal which then runs to a heat exchanger to produce steam and drive a turbine generator. This is consistent with the balance of plant in a coal-fired power plant.

Why did you choose a combination of magnetized target fusion and inertial confinement fusion? What technological and economic benefits accrue from this design approach compared to Tokamak and Stellarator designs?

When Dr. Michel Laberge founded General Fusion in 2002, his sole purpose was to create affordable electricity from fusion power. To do this, he sought a practical approach – Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) using mechanical compression. It’s the fusion equivalent of a diesel engine: practical, durable and cost effective.

This approach was originally conceptualized by the U.S. Navy in the 1970’s in response to the practical challenges associated with tokamaks, which had been under development since the 1950s. Dr. Laberge set out to apply modern enabling technologies such as supercomputing, 3-D printing and digital controls to this elegant approach to fusion.

The game-changer is our proprietary liquid metal wall in the fusion vessel that is mechanically compressed by high-precision steam-driven pistons, compressing a plasma to fusion conditions using a pulsed approach. This approach means we do not have to sustain a plasma indefinitely, but only long enough to be compressed, which eliminates the need for active magnetic stabilization, auxiliary heating or conventional divertors, all of which drive complexity, inefficiency, and cost in other approaches.

General Fusion Machine1

Plasma Injector: General Fusion’s plasma injector exceeds requirements with 10-millisecond self-sustaining energy confinement time without requiring active magnetic stabilization, auxiliary heating, or a conventional divertor.  Image: General Fusion file

The liquid metal wall protects our fusion vessel from neutron degradation, making our machine durable; breeds sufficient tritium for sustained plant operations; and provides a simple way to extract heat from the fusion reaction, by passing the liquid metal through a heat exchanger. These are challenges that other approaches to fusion have yet to solve.

Finally, our design does not require large superconducting magnets like magnetic confinement, or high-powered lasers or expensive targets, like inertial confinement, making our approach competitive with coal-fired power generation on an LCOE basis.

Editor’s Note: LCOE refers to “levelized cost of electricity” which is a measure of lifetime cost of an energy producing facility relative to the amount of energy it produces. See this Department of Energy slide show for briefing on how LCOE is calculated and used by investors to compare options.

Have you confirmed or do you have a target date for confirming the required performance parameters of the injector system?

On December 19, 2022, General Fusion announced core technology advancements: plasmas with self-sustaining energy confinement times of 10-milliseconds, and the validation of five-millisecond compression time for the FDP. Together, these indicate that our plasmas will last long enough to be compressed to fusion conditions, and that we’re on track to meet the FDP’s goal of achieving 100 million degrees Celsius.

Now, we are putting all these proven technologies together with our fusion demonstration program in the U.K. Basically, to successfully create commercial fusion with MTF, we need three things: (1) good plasmas, (2) good compression, and a (3) stable fusion process. We’ve demonstrated each of these in our test beds. Through the years, we have honed our technology and proven the core components with test beds.

  • When it comes to plasma – we’re leaders. We operate the world’s largest and most powerful operational fusion plasma injector. Over the years, we have created more than 200,000 plasmas. When it comes to our MTF approach, a “good plasma” means a plasma that holds its energy long enough (i.e. energy confinement time) to be compressed without any active magnetic stabilization, auxiliary heating or conventional divertors. Our most recent plasma injector has achieved the plasma conditions and energy confinement time required for compression in our fusion demonstration.
  • “Good compression” means the smooth, rapid and symmetric compression of a cylindrical liquid wall to a spherical shape in order to surround and compress a plasma to fusion conditions. Our latest compression technology test bed has achieved the smooth, rapid and symmetric compression required for our design.
  • Finally, through a series of tests, we have shown that neutron yield and temperatures increase when plasma is compressed, and we have also confirmed plasma performance when interacting with liquid metal.

What happens if one of the drivers doesn’t perform on time or not at all?

Our compression system approach is being designed to be robust and reliable in a power plant environment, with multiple layers of protection to ensure its operations.

  • First, digital control interlocks and real-time digital driver optimization means that operations will continue if a single driver were to fail within a cluster.
  • Second, the design will ensure that multiple mechanical driver failures within a cluster is highly unlikely.
  • Finally, the system includes several lines of defense against digital control failure. In short, if one driver fails, the machine will continue to operate, and the driver will be replaced at the next regularly scheduled maintenance.

For the FDP what are the key economic measures you will evaluate? The planned commercial plant is reported to be composed of two fusion machines to produce 230 MWe. That’s the approximate electrical generation capacity of a medium size PWR type small modular reactor (SMR). At 4,500/Kw such an SMR would cost $1.035 billion. Can GF produce two machines (in volume) combined to be competitive with that cost figure?

When General Fusion was founded by Dr. Michel Laberge, he set out to create a power plant that would be cost-competitive with other forms of energy, including coal and SMRs. Our innovative technology, such as the liquid metal wall, allows us to avoid damage to the fusion machine. It enables us to breed our own fuel. As a result, our two-machine commercial plant design will have total capital costs that are competitive with the SMR numbers cited above.

While capital costs are one dimension, levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) is what utilities use to evaluate their economics. Our estimated LCOE for nth-of-a-kind plants is competitive with coal and less expensive than fission SMRS due to the lower regulatory burden, operational costs, and fuel costs.

We improve the economics of fusion through our practical approach. General Fusion addresses the four long-standing barriers to fusion in more cost-effective ways than other fusion approaches.

  • First, we avoid the “first wall” neutron degradation challenge and ensure the durability of the machine with our proprietary liquid metal wall. The collapsing liquid metal wall, used to compress and heat magnetized plasma, uniquely shields the fusion machine from damage caused by high-energy neutrons released by the fusion reaction. With a machine that lasts longer, the economics improve.
  • We address fuel production challenges. Science Magazine recently reported that tritium costs upwards of $30,000/gram, questioning how fusion companies could rely on this as a fuel source. General Fusion is advantaged for using tritium as fuel because our approach produces its own fuel over the life the machine. In General Fusion’s MTF machine, tritium is produced with a breeding ratio high enough to sustain the operation of the plant over its lifetime. The liquid metal wall that surrounds and compresses our plasma to produce a fusion reaction contains lithium, which is converted into tritium by fusion neutrons. This reduces fuel costs to almost zero.
  • Getting heat out of a fusion machine has been a design challenge for many companies. We solve this with General Fusion’s liquid metal wall which provides a simple way to extract heat from the fusion reaction. In a commercial fusion power plant, the hot (500 degrees Celsius) liquid metal, which has absorbed heat from the fusion reaction, will be circulated from the fusion machine through a heat exchanger to produce steam that will drive a turbine and generate electricity. This is a fully industrialized process used in most modern power plants today that can be readily applied to our MTF approach to fusion. Using commercial off-the-shelf  steam systems provides another economic competitive advantage for General Fusion.
  • Finally, our MTF approach is cost-effective because it does not require powerful lasers, expensive targets or large superconducting magnets necessary to create or sustain the fusion process in other technologies.

What regulatory challenges do you expect to face in the UK, in the US? What is the current state of quality and safety standards for fusion machines, as compared to more stringent prescriptive regulatory requirements? Help or hinderance?

Regulatory bodies around the world recognize the potential for fusion energy and are developing regulations appropriate to the technology. For example, the UK’s Regulatory Horizons Council established a bold, forward-looking vision supporting the appointment of the Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency to regulate fusion energy, rather than the traditional nuclear power regulator, the Office of Nuclear Regulation. The regulatory framework governing the permitting of fusion power plants is intended to be based on technology-appropriate requirements for fusion rather than a fission-based framework.

In the US, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will regulate fusion power plants. The Fusion Industry Association is working with the NRC to establish a regulatory framework for fusion based on existing regulations for nuclear medicine in hospitals and research particle accelerators.

In Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is in the process of recommending new guidelines for the regulation of fusion energy that reflect the inherent safety attributes of the technology.

What are you doing to develop a global supply chain and how will your suppliers qualify to use fusion specific standards like fission’s NQA-1 for production of components for your machine?

We are developing relationships with suppliers and experts globally as we progress our commercialization strategy. From the beginning, General Fusion has been committed to using widely available materials, components and machining processes and standards, with our focus on commercialization.

In addition, through our relationship with UKAEA for our fusion demonstration, we are able to access the fusion supply chain which has supported the Joint European Torus (JET) on UKAEA’s Culham campus for the last 40 years. For example, we recently shared photos of the trial ring forged by Sheffield Forgemasters for our fusion demonstration. UK’s Sheffield Forgemasters brings to this project over 200 years of expertise creating complex steel components.

General Fusion’s UK team has set-up the pre-qualification questionnaire for use with the supply chain for its Fusion Demonstration Plant in Culham using existing standards for the nuclear industry which are largely technology-neutral. They focus on the entire manufacturing and planning process. With the UK using IRR17, and the US and Canada indicating respectively 10CFR Part 30 and Class II regulations, we are starting with an ideal trio: all technology-neutral and addressing the fundamentals of radiation protection.

In the US, fission nuclear facility applications have NQA-1 programs addressing quality assurance requirements for the whole life cycle (from design to decommissioning including waste and spent fuel management), which are specific to these types of technologies. This standard acts as a guide to meet the regulatory requirements for these technologies as prescribed by 10CFR Part 50 (production and utilization facilities), Part 71 (packaging and transportation of radioactive materials) and Part-71 (storage of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste) and are not meant for fusion technologies due to drastic differences in radiological profile and risks.

We expect that the regulatory requirements for fusion energy will be created to appropriately address fusion energy technology. Due to the low radiological risks associated with this technology, the framework would be more in line with what is required of medical research or particle accelerators. Therefore, we anticipate that current nuclear suppliers will be able to meet the requirements easily, and other suppliers will be able to gain certification easily.

What are you doing to develop a workforce to build and later operate a GF fusion plant?

Our headcount has increased by about 30 percent in the last year, and we continue to grow. We are actively recruiting from both industry and universities to build out talent and recruiting from other fields as well.

In Canada, we are moving into expanded headquarters and lab space in Vancouver, BC, near the airport. Much of our intellectual property and talent originated in British Columbia and continues to do so. We also have a team in the US near Oak Ridge, TN, where we can draw on the existing research experts and the supercomputing capabilities located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Finally, our demonstration at Culham ensures we have access to a deep pool of talent and supply chain. Since JET will cease operations and start decommissioning in 2023, we are collaborating with the UKAEA to leverage the fusion talent base and supply chain there. As we think ahead to operating our fusion demonstration in the UK, we are building a team in the UK to ultimately commission and operate the demonstration facility.

While General Fusion does not plan to own or operate commercial General Fusion plants, we have developed a Market Development Advisory Committee (MDAC) with several potential utility and industrial early adopters. Our engagement with our MDAC will help us develop and support workforce needs to operate commercial plants, among other things.

Do you have any expressions of interest from utilities for a fusion plant? What are utilities telling you about their interests – e.g., risks, financing, licensing, operations?

General Fusion has set up a Market Development Advisory Committee – the MDAC, to cultivate interest in fusion plants by potential users. The committee is made up of utilities serving millions of customers, innovative renewable energy providers, and companies leading the decarbonization of heavy industry.

MDAC

With their insight, we are building a portfolio of prospective, early adopters for fusion who will ensure that the performance and specifications of our commercial power plant will align with customer needs. Earlier this year, we signed an agreement with Bruce Power in Ontario to work together on a strategy to deploy Canada’s first fusion power plant. In general, our MDAC members are interested in developing economical, carbon-free baseload power generation with a manageable regulatory framework, and they recognize the advantages of fusion power in this context.

We announced that Bruce Power, General Fusion, and the Nuclear Innovation Institute (NII) entered a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to collaborate on accelerating the delivery of clean fusion power in Canada. Together, these organizations will evaluate potential deployment of a fusion power plant in Ontario, including in the tri-county Clean Energy Frontier region of Bruce, Grey and Huron.

Editor’s Note: Subsequent to the submission of these questions to General Fusion, on November 10, 2022, the firm announced that the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) and General Fusion signed an MOU to pursue a series of joint projects to accelerate the deployment of commercial fusion power in Canada. The MOU will act as a framework for both companies to partner to advance fusion energy research and commercialization.

CNL and General Fusion will collaborate on projects in key areas, including feasibility studies, regulatory framework, power plant siting and deployment, infrastructure design, and testing and operations support. Overall, the aim is to develop fusion energy research capabilities within CNL, to support the goal of constructing a potential General Fusion commercial power plant in Canada before 2030.

What is the service life in years of a GF fusion machine?

Our current models estimate a life of 40 years; we expect there will be the potential to extend a plant’s life beyond 40 years with refurbishment of certain components.

At the end of life for a GF fusion machine how will it be decommissioned?

We expect the decommissioning of a General Fusion machine to be significantly less costly or complicated compared to nuclear fission plants because the radiation profile of our fusion fuel is similar to that of medical isotopes and our fusion machine will not generate any long-lived radioactive waste.

We also expect our decommissioning to be more straightforward compared to large historical fusion projects or some of our competitors’ designs. That is because our required tritium inventory is relatively low, and our proprietary liquid metal wall protects the fusion vessel from activation. As we finalize our commercial power plant design with input from our fusion demonstration, we will be able to refine our decommissioning plans and economics.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Neutron Bytes will be Off for the Xmas Holiday

Seasons Greetings

wreathNeutron Bytes is taking a break for the  Xmas holiday.

In 2023 the blog will enter its 16th year of publication.

Resolve in the new year to be safe, be healthy, and be kind to one another.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Russia Submits Bid for Saudi Arabia’s Twin Nuclear Reactors

  • Russia Submits Bid for Saudi Arabia’s Twin Nuclear Reactors
  • ThorCon Partners with Bureau Veritas to Advance its 500 MW MSR
  • Philippines / Utility Applying For US Grant For SMR Feasibility Study
  • Barakah / Unit 3 Reaches Full Power With Commercial Operation Set For ‘Early 2023’

Russia Submits Bid for Saudi Arabia’s Twin Nuclear Reactors

(NucNet & NeutronBytes) Russia has entered the bidding process for the contract to build Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear power station, deputy prime minister Alexander Novak said.

The bid will likely be for two light water design commercial nuclear reactors similar to the units being built at Akkuyu in Turkey. Rosatom has also broken ground at a site west of Cairo to build four new reactors of the same design. Both countries are benefiting from very favorable financial terms. Russia will likely submit a bid to Saudi Arabia for two of its 1200 VVER light water reactors. Unlike Turkey or Egypt, if Saudi Arabia accepts the Russian bid, the oil rich country will likely pay the full sticker price. Additionally, Russia will likely insist that Saudi Arabia lock in a commitment to buy fuel for the VVERs for their service life of at least 60 years.

vver-diagram

Minister Novak was quoted in Russian state media as saying state nuclear corporation Rosatom would take part in the tender. Note: Novak was Russia’s Chief of the Ministry of Energy 2012-2020.

“Paperwork has been submitted for the tender to build a nuclear power plant in Saudi Arabia,” he said, quoted by Interfax agency.

In September Saudi Arabia began the process to issue a license to build the station, which could cost about $14 billion (€13bn). The tender was released without fanfare last June. Additional bids are likely to come from China, France, and South Korea.

In April, Saudi Arabia established a national nuclear energy company to develop and operate nuclear facilities. Riyadh said the Saudi Nuclear Energy Holding Company will participate in nuclear projects locally and internationally.

Riyadh wants to build two large-scale nuclear power plants. Saudi Arabia has considered three separate sites and is likely to build both reactors at the same location. In November of 2011, KA-CARE hired WorleyParsons to conduct site surveys to determine the best possible sites for development of the nuclear power generating stations.

In September of 2013 three sites were identified as the primary options, given their proximity to  water sources to supply reactor coolant, their position on the KSA’s electrical grid, and their location near electricity-intensive consumers, such as desalination plants. The identified locations are Jubail on the Gulf Coast and Rabuk and Jizan on the Red Sea.

Riyadh, the capitol is 264 miles west of Jubail the Persian Gulf and the two sites on the Red Sea are 450 miles to the east. Due to the lack of nearby sea water for desalination, it is unlikely that any site near the capitol would be chosen for the reactors.

The desalination plants will be built adjacent to the coastal sites housing the reactors to access seawater. Potable water from the plants will be shipped by pipeline to locations throughout Saudi Arabia. The nuclear reactors will free up natural gas for export which is currently being burned to power the nation.

No Agreement With Beijing Or Seoul

Saudi Arabia has not yet signed a deal as it continues its search for a supplier of the station. Press reports said no agreement was signed during China president Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Riyadh, although “energy security” was on the agenda.

This followed a visit by Prince Mohammed, often known by his initials MBS, to South Korea in November, increasing hopes that Seoul would win the lucrative contract to supply reactors.

Now that MBS has gone to South Korea, and not inked a deal, and since he has just finished hosting China, and not inked a deal, it follows that he is doing what any good commercial negotiator working on a multi-billion-dollar deal would do, it is to not accept the first offer from bidders.

It is significant that the timing of the Russian submission of its bid comes right after MBS met with China and South Korea, two bidders, but did not sign a deal with either of them.

While France’s EDF is intensely interested in submitting a bid for the two reactors, its track record of significant schedule delays and cost overruns in Finland and France may dim its prospects for winning the business.

There is little or no chance than Westinghouse will submit a bid due to the fact the US does not have a 123 Agreement with Riyadh. The agreement is necessary to guarantee the peaceful use of nuclear energy technology. A 123 agreement can involve what is known as a “gold standard” commitment in which a country forgoes uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing, which are two pathways to making nuclear weapons.

A 123 Agreement with the United Arab Emirates forecloses uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing. As a result South Korea has built four 1400 MW commercial nuclear reactors in the UAE which include some US technology.  Two of the four units are in revenue service. The third unit reached full power this past week and will be commissioned in 2023. The fourth unit is under construction.

Saudi Arabia has refused to consider signing a 123 agreement with the US arguing that it is its right to enrich uranium, a precursor to making weapons grade materials for nuclear bombs. It is unlikely that it can be persuaded to change that policy.

Saudi Arabia says it needs to be able to develop a deterrent, if needed, if Iran develops a nuclear weapon. In recent months Iran has boosted the level of uranium enrichment to 60% U235. While less than the 80% or more levels of U235 needed to make a bomb, it would not take much to produce nuclear material at that level. Saudi Arabia could easily obtain uranium enrichment technology from Pakistan.  China has been assisting Saudi Arabia in exploiting its domestic uranium resources by supporting development of a hard rock uranium mill that would produce yellowcake.

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ThorCon Partners with Bureau Veritas to Advance its 500 MW MSR

bv logoBureau Veritas (BV), a world leader in testing, inspection and certification, and nuclear power technology developer ThorCon have entered an agreement for the Technology Qualification and the subsequent development of a 500MW molten salt nuclear power floating barge for operations in Indonesia.

BV has been selected to support ThorCon through the technology qualification process, both for the nuclear reactor itself and for its encapsulation (enclosed safe compartmentalization allowing the replacement of depleted fuel) and integration with the hull systems.

Experts from Bureau Veritas’ Nuclear Certification Department and from the Marine & Offshore Division will collaborate throughout the process. A key area of work will be to identify the applicable standards, codes and Class Rules, potential gaps with those currently available and the development if needed of new guidance notes and rules.

thorncon nuclear barges

The scope of the agreement also includes the potential development and deployment phases once the technology qualification process is completed. At this stage, it is anticipated that the technology qualification process will take a minimum of three years and if successful, the deployment phase would require an additional two years.

bankaThorCon has entered into discussion with the Indonesian island province of Bangka-Belitung, the State Electricity Company PLN, and the Nuclear Energy Regulatory Agency BAPETEN regarding potential sites for the demonstration and the final installation of a 500MW power plant.

About ThrCon’s MSR

The concept developed by ThorCon is a molten salt fission reactor (MSR). Unlike current nuclear reactors, the ThorCon reactor operates at low pressure and uses liquid fuel. The liquid fuel enables much higher operating temperatures, leading to greater efficiency while also enabling completely passive safety (requiring no action from the operator nor intervention on the power source to stop the reaction). (Slide presentation – PDF file)

thorcon msr

The 500 MW power plant will be built in a world-class shipyard experienced in high-quality, cost-competitive steel-working. ThorCon will rely on the yard for detailed design, production scheduling, and much of the equipment purchasing functions. The shipyard will be ThorCon’s engineering, procurement, construction (EPC) contractor.

Spain’s Empresarios Agrupados (EAI) has signed an architect engineering contract for ThorCon’s 500 MWe TMSR advanced nuclear power plant for Indonesia. The TMSR-500 will demonstrate a way to solve Indonesia’s energy needs with a non-intermittent source of power that is carbon-free, low cost and safe. ThorCon Power TMSR –IAEA Aris Data (PDF file 34 pages)

The TMSR-500 will be built at the Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering at its yard in Okpo, South Korea. The use of a modern shipyard will achieve huge savings in time and cost while also improving quality of construction. ThorCon estimates total construction time will be 24-months.

The expensive, massive, precision supercritical steam turbine-generator must be pre-ordered to achieve the one-year shipyard build time. ThorCon will be towed to the Indonesia near-shore site prepared with breakwaters and seawater cooling piping and a connection to the PLN electric power grid.

The 500 MW fission power plant will be integrated within a floating barge hull and then towed to a shallow water site before being ballasted to rest on the seabed. The technology will then deliver energy to the power grid to meet land-based energy needs. ThorCon plants will be designed to be mass produced, which will support the transition to carbon free and reliable energy.

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Philippines / Utility Applying For US Grant For SMR Feasibility Study

(NucNet) The Philippines’ largest electricity distributor has said it is in talks with the United States about possibly using small modular reactors (SMRs).

PhillipinesmapThe head of the privately owned Manila Electric Company, or Meralco, said the utility is applying for a grant from the US government to conduct a feasibility study for SMRs.

According to local press reports, Meralco said SMRs’ size and reliability make the technology “suitable for an archipelagic topography such as the Philippines,” an archipelago nation of more than 7,000 islands, many with unreliable power supply.

“We are applying [for] a grant from USTDA (United States Trade and Development Agency) to do a feasibility study for SMRs (small modular reactors). We’re looking into nuclear,” Ray C. Espinosa, Meralco president and chief executive officer, told reporters at a recent press briefing.

Meralco’s move comes as the country’s president Ferdinand Marcos Jr pushes for alternative sources of energy, including the use of nuclear power.

Separately, the Bloomberg wire service reported the Philippine government is planning to commission a third party next year to evaluate whether the Bataan nuclear power plant, which was mothballed in 1986, is safe to operate and could decide whether to commission the plant by the end of Marcos Jr’s six-year term

At peak capacity, the plant would have covered about 5% of the country’s power needs last year, but commissioning could cost $1bn, according to a 2019 study by Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Company.

Construction of the single Westinghouse pressurized water reactor unit, the only nuclear energy facility in Southeast Asia, began in the late 1970s under Ferdinand Marcos’s regime.

Work was stopped due to issues regarding corruption and safety, compounded by concerns following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

The US and the Philippines said recently they would open talks on a deal for the Asian nation to build nuclear power plants with American technology.

Diplomatic talks on a civil nuclear-energy agreement, known as a 123 agreement, are reported to have been organized to support US exports to the the Philippines so it can deploy advanced reactor technology to help the country meet its power needs.

Cooperation with South Korea?

The Philippines has renewed its calls for cooperation with South Korea regarding its push to resume the long-stalled project to build a nuclear power plant, Seoul’s industry ministry said.

Mark O. Cojuangco, chief of the Southeast Asian nation’s special commission on nuclear energy, made the request during a meeting with senior South Korean industry official Cheon Young-ghil in Seoul, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy

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Barakah / Unit 3 Reaches Full Power With Commercial Operation Set For ‘Early 2023’

(NucNet) The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) said Unit 3 at the Barakah nuclear power station has been brought to 100% of its reactor power capacity for the first time as part of its testing activities.

The milestone brings the third unit of the four-unit Barakah station, the first commercial nuclear power station in the Arab World, one step closer to beginning commercial operation, which is scheduled for early 2023.

Barakah, in the western Al Dhafra region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, is one of the largest nuclear energy new-build projects in the world, with four APR1400 units supplied by South Korea. Construction of the first unit began in 2012.

Units 1 and 2 at Barakah are already commercially operational. Unit 1 began commercial operation in April 2021 and Unit 2 in March 2022. Unit 4 is in the final stages of construction.

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Lightbridge Inks Strategic Partnerships with INL

  • Lightbridge Inks Strategic Partnership with INL
  • GAIN Announces 1st Round FY23 Nuclear Energy Vouchers
  • HALEU Fuel Delays Set Back TerraPower’s Natrium Reactor by Two Years
  • Canada’s Portland Holdings to Invest $350M in Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation
  • UK / £77 Million Funding for Advanced Reactors & Nuclear Fuel

Lightbridge Inks Strategic Partnership with INL

Lightbridge Corporation (Nasdaq: LTBR), an advanced nuclear fuel technology company, has entered into two long sought agreements with Idaho National Laboratory (INL), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), to support the development of Lightbridge Fuel.

The framework agreements use an innovative structure and consist of an “umbrella” Strategic Partnership Project Agreement (SPP) and an “umbrella” Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), each with Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC (BEA), DOE’s operating contractor for INL, with an initial duration of seven years.

The initial phase of work under the two agreements will culminate in irradiation testing in the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) of fuel samples using enriched uranium supplied by DOE.

lightbridge fuel assembly

The initial phase of work aims to generate irradiation performance data for Lightbridge’s delta-phase uranium-zirconium alloy relating to various thermophysical properties. The data will support fuel performance modeling and regulatory licensing efforts for the commercial deployment of Lightbridge Fuel.

It is anticipated that subsequent phases of work under the two umbrella agreements will include post-irradiation examination of the irradiated fuel samples, loop radiation testing in the ATR, and post-irradiation examination of one or more uranium-zirconium fuel rodlets, as well as transient experiments in the Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT) at INL.

Seth Grae, President and CEO of Lightbridge, said: “Today’s announcement marks a major milestone for Lightbridge and our fuel development program. We look forward to working closely with INL. Securing a long-term strategic relationship with INL, in collaboration with DOE, gives Lightbridge access to state-of-the-art ATR and TREAT reactor test facilities right here in the United States.”

More Access to Nuclear Testing Facilities is Needed

vtr-logo.pngLike many US firms developing advanced reactors and the fuels needed to operate them, Lightbridge has had long standing concerns about timely access to the Advanced Test Reactor for fuels testing and a planned successor facility – the Versatile Test Reactor.

The DOE’s efforts to kickstart work to build the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) have not progressed due to Congress zeroing out funding for it two years in a row. The Department of Energy seems unable to make the funding case for the plant with Congress although the Biden Administration is providing additional funding in 2023 for existing nuclear test facilities.

DOE submitted a modest funding proposal of $45 million to fund work on VTR for fiscal year 2023. Also, as part of a renewed effort to justify the project, INL collaborated with the American Nuclear Society to devoted an entire issue of a peer reviewed journal on nuclear energy to the nuclear scientific and engineering mission of the proposed facility.

In terms of the request for $45 million, if DOE gets it, this is no time for half measures. The advice of this blog to INL, the Department of Energy, and its partners on the VTR, is to set up a presence in Washington, DC, and use some of that $45M to pay for a world class plan to convince Congress that U.S. energy security depends on building the VTR.

If they don’t do it, the US will pay a steep price in terms of degraded global nuclear energy security which will impose a price far greater than the cost of building the reactor. Congress needs to get in the picture with advocacy in the House and Senate by energy related committees and for the national security interests of the nation.

$150 Million for Enhanced Nuclear R&D at INL

The Biden-Harris Administration, through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), announced $150 million in funding provided by President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act for infrastructure improvements at DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) to enhance nuclear energy research and development. The funding will support nearly a dozen R & D projects at INL’s Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) and Materials Fuels Complex (MFC).

Infrastructure upgrades at both facilities are expected to be completed within the next 4 to 5 years and will include improvements to water and electrical distribution systems, process control systems, and roof replacements to improve research facility reliability and operability. However, without a new test loop at the ATR, US developers will continue to take their requirements overseas to preserve their time to market objectives.

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GAIN Announces 1st Round FY23 Nuclear Energy Vouchers

gain logoThe Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) announced today that four companies will be provided a GAIN Nuclear Energy (NE) Voucher to accelerate the innovation and application of advanced nuclear technologies. NE vouchers provide advanced nuclear technology innovators with access to the extensive nuclear research capabilities and expertise available across the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory complex. This is the first award for FY 2023.

gain voucher

GAIN NE voucher recipients do not receive direct financial awards. Vouchers provide funding to DOE laboratories to help businesses overcome critical technological and commercialization challenges. All awardees are responsible for a minimum 20 percent cost share, which could be an in-kind contribution.

The GAIN NE Voucher Program accepts applications on innovation that supports production and utilization of nuclear energy (e.g., for generation of electricity, supply of process heat, etc.) in the following general topic areas:

  • Analysis and evaluation of, and for, advanced reactor concepts and associated designs, including development of R&D based licensing technical requirements or regulatory strategies
  • Structural material and component development, testing and qualification
  • Advanced nuclear fuel development, fabrication and testing (includes fuel materials and cladding)
  • Development, testing, and qualification of instrumentation, controls, and sensor technologies that are hardened for harsh environments and secured against cyber intrusion
  • Modeling and simulation, high-performance computing, codes and methods
  • Technical assistance from subject matter experts and/or data/information to support technology development and/or confirm key technical or licensing issues

Further information on the GAIN nuclear energy voucher program as well as current and all past awards may be found here.

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE) established GAIN to provide the nuclear community with the technical, regulatory, and financial support necessary to move innovative nuclear energy technologies toward commercialization while ensuring the continued safe, reliable, and economic operation of the existing nuclear fleet. Through GAIN, DOE is making its state-of-the-art and continuously improving RD&D infrastructure available to stakeholders to achieve faster and cost-effective development of innovative nuclear energy technologies toward commercial readiness.

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HALEU Fuel Delays Set Back TerraPower’s Natrium Reactor by Two Years

terrapower logo(WNN) TerraPower has said it expects operation of the Natrium demonstration reactor to be delayed by at least two years because there will not be sufficient commercial capacity to manufacture high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel in time to meet the proposed 2028 in-service date.

The company’s CEO and President Chris Levesque said in a press statement that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February caused “the only commercial source of HALEU fuel to no longer be a viable part of the supply chain.”

“TerraPower is anticipating a minimum of a two-year delay to being able to bring the Natrium reactor into operation.”

The company has since then been working with the US Department of Energy (DOE), Congressional allies, and project stakeholders to explore potential alternative sources, and said in a press statement,  “while we are working now with Congress to urge the inclusion of $2.1 billion to support HALEU in the end of year government funding package, it has become clear that domestic and allied HALEU manufacturing options will not reach commercial capacity in time to meet the proposed 2028 in-service date for the Natrium demonstration plant.”

Kemmerer, WY, was selected in 2021 as the preferred site for the Natrium demonstration project, featuring a 345 MWe sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. TerraPower said it remains fully committed to the project and is “moving full steam ahead” on construction of the plant, licensing applications and engineering and design work.

Initial site work scheduled to begin in Spring 2023 on the large sodium facility will continue as planned, and TerraPower expects “minimal disruption” to the current projected start-of-construction date.

Private funding of more than $830 million raised by the company this year and $1.6 billion appropriated by the US Congress for the project will be used to complete the Natrium demonstration plant.

HALEU fuel is enriched to between 5% and 20% uranium-235, and will be needed to fuel most of the next-generation advanced reactor designs. The DOE has projected a national need for more than 40 tonnes of HALEU before the end of the decade to support the current administration’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035.

Recent HALEU Fuel Developments

DOE recently awarded CENTRUS subsidiary American Centrifuge Operating LLC a $150 million cost-shared, two-phase, contract to complete and bring online a demonstration cascade of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges at Piketon in Ohio, which is currently the only US facility which is licensed to produce HALEU, and to run it for a year at an annual production rate of 900 kg of HALEU.

On 10/21/22 Global Nuclear Fuel–Americas (GNF-A), a GE-led joint venture, and TerraPower announced an agreement to build the Natrium Fuel Facility at the site of GNF-A’s existing plant site near Wilmington, NC. The facility represents an investment of more than $200 million. The project will break ground in 2023.

The enriched uranium from CENTRUS will be in gaseous UF6 form and must be converted to a solid form and then fabricated to meet the uranium metal fuel specifications needed by the Natrium reactor.

Separately, TerraPower and PacifiCorp recently announced a plan to jointly study the feasibility of adding up to five additional commercial Natrium reactors by 2035. The five new plants, if committed to being built, will add to short-and-long term demand for HALEU fuel.

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Canada’s Portland Holdings to Invest $350M in Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation

Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, a US-based developer of a fourth-generation gas-cooled microreactor, and Portland Holdings Investco Limited (Portland), a privately held investment firm based in Burlington, Ontario, Canada, announced that they have entered into an MOU to advance Ultra Safe Nuclear’s Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR) energy systems.

Under the terms of the agreement, Portland, its affiliates, and related entities will invest up to US$350 million in Ultra Safe Nuclear, aiming to bring MMR technology solutions to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the Caribbean regions.

The timing of commitment of investment funds was not released. Also, Ultra Safe did not identify the projects that would use the funding.

Finland Agreement

World Nuclear News reported that Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology to explore the deployment of a Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR) in Lappeenranta. This project appears to be entirely independent of the announced funding from Portland Holdings.

Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) plans to deploy an MMR as a research and test reactor at or near its campus in the city of Lappeenranta in southern Finland. The reactor will be operated as a training, research and demonstration facility. It will be connected to the district heating network of Lappeenrannan Energia, the local municipal utility, to provide carbon-free district heating to the university, city and surrounding area.

The MMR research and test reactor will test new technologies to decarbonize energy production, microgrid integration, and help train the future workforce through hands-on experience with a next-generation high-temperature gas-cooled microreactor.

About the USNC MMR

USNC’s MMR is a 15 MW thermal, 5 MW electrical high-temperature gas-cooled reactor, drawing on operational experience from reactors developed by China, Germany, Japan and the USA. It consists of two plants: the nuclear plant that generates heat, and the adjacent power plant that converts heat into electricity or provides process heat for industrial applications.

The USNC system is designed to be simple, with minimal operation and maintenance requirements, and no on-site fuel storage, handling or processing. The MMR uses TRISO fuel in prismatic graphite blocks and has a sealed transportable core.

The MMR is at an advanced licensing stage at the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited’s Chalk River Laboratories campus in Ontario. The project is a collaboration between USNC and Ontario Power Generation through the jointly owned Global First Power Limited Partnership.

The project at LUT joins the growing list of global training, test, and research MMR projects at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the USA and at McMaster University in Canada.

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UK / £77 Million Funding for Advanced Reactors & Nuclear Fuel

(NucNet) The UK government has announced new funding to support clean energy production in the UK, including the development of next generation reactors, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent impact on global energy prices. The war in Ukraine, and sanctions imposed on Russia over its unprovoked invasion, has bottled up sources of nuclear fuel that used to be available.

The funding includes £77 million (€89m) to bolster nuclear fuel production and support the development of the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors, along with £25 million for technologies that can produce hydrogen from sustainable biomass and waste, while removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

High Temperature Gas Reactors

The government said it was committing to new and innovative nuclear energy with funding worth up to £60 million to kick start the next phase of research into high temperature gas reactors (HTGRs), a type of advanced modular reactor which could be up and running by the early 2030s. The funding aims to get a demonstration project of the engineering design up and running by the end of the decade.

htgr2_ns_thumb.jpg

HTGRs are typically smaller than conventional nuclear power stations, more flexible, and could be built at a lower a cost than full size PWRs. HTGRs will bolster the UK’s energy sovereignty and security by reducing reliance on expensive fossil fuels, as well as generate by-products such as low-carbon hydrogen.

By generating very high temperatures, HTGRs provide a source of clean, high temperature heat that could help decarbonize industrial processes in the UK.

tem range htgr apps

The funding for HTGR innovation is supported with a further £4m for a project to “facilitate knowledge capture and sharing” to reduce the time, risk, and cost of advanced modular reactor delivery.

Aim Is To Make UK Less Reliant On Imports

  • The government also announced up to £13 million for nuclear fuel fabricators

Westinghouse in Preston, which has strategic importance to producing fuel for the current UK advanced gas-cooled reactor fleet.

The funding will mean the UK has the option of being less reliant on imports from abroad and helps the company develop the capability convert both reprocessed uranium and freshly mined uranium to make new fuel at the Westinghouse Springfields site.

As well as bolstering UK energy security, ministers hope it will also deliver export opportunities for the sector and position the UK as a key international supplier of nuclear fuel and fuel cycle services.

The news comes two weeks after ministers announced the first state backing of a nuclear project in over 30 years, with a £700 millions stake in Sizewell C in Suffolk.

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Posted in Nuclear | Comments Off on Lightbridge Inks Strategic Partnerships with INL

Announcement about the Neutron Bytes Twitter Feed

mad hatterDue to the escalating chaos taking place on Twitter the blog’s Twitter account  of @djysrv is going on hiatus.  I will no longer post my Tweets there which, in addition to their purpose of informing readers, also serve to support advertising revenue for a mad hatter.

The news about the digital train wreck at Twitter is obvious to anyone. The site’s descent into overt sponsorship of hate speech and fringe groups, political and social  disinformation, and the actions of banning of mainstream journalists at NYT, WPost, CNN, and others, for just doing their jobs, is unacceptable.

Image:  The Mad Hatter, illustration by John Tenniel (1840-1914)

Message to Twitter’s Advertisers

As Elon Musk takes even more bizarre actions on an almost daily basis, which appear to fly in the face of the interests of his investors in the $44 billion acquisition, the authoritarian nature of his politics are becoming increasingly clear. This type of content is not something any responsible advertiser in a free country should be associated with by committing to pay for sponsored Tweets on the platform.

The technology site the Verge put it succinctly in a column titled, “Welcome to Hell Elon. You Break It, You Buy It.”

There is no safety for brands in terms of customer perceptions of companies that advertise their products and services alongside Tweets from wing nuts, haters, and people with off-the-charts, conspiracy- driven agendas.

What’s Next for this Blog?

mailboxIn order to continue the purpose of this blog to bring readers factual information about the global commercial nuclear energy industry, I am taking the following actions to keep readers informed about the latest developments.

NeutronBytes is Now on Mastodon

https://techhub.social/@neutronbytes
The usual news items that were posted on Twitter are now being posted there. There will be fewer new posts on Mastodon because it is not a substitute for Twitter. Also, as this blog is hosted by WordPress, each new post to the blog will be supported by the automated message about it on Twitter. Otherwise, all other posts will be on Mastodon. <a rel=”me” href=”https://techhub.social/@neutronbytes”>Mastodon</a&gt;

Free Mailing List

Readers can sign up for a free mailing list of nuclear news headlines at https://neutronbytes.com  The site also supports an RSS feed. The mailing list and RSS feed are managed by WordPress.

The dialog box to sign up for the mailing list is in the upper right hand corner of the main page. The RSS link is mid page in the right hand column.

More News on the Blog

reporter2The frequency of posts to this blog will increase with one or two new weekly summaries of nuclear news headlines and breaking news. Generally, the blog is updated at the start of each calendar week.

Links to Free News Sources About Nuclear Energy

For information on a wide variety of free news sources of nuclear energy news, see the NeutronBytes Nuclear Energy Reading List

I wish these actions were not necessary. The tailspin into darkness at Twitter has made it otherwise.

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Posted in Nuclear | 3 Comments