UK Gov’t Invests £100m In EDF’s £20bn Sizewell C Project

  • UK Gov’t  Invests £100m In EDF’s £20bn Sizewell C Project
  • A Modest Proposal to Fund Sizewell C – A Very Big Deal
  • Rolls-Royce Seeks Sites for SMRs in England and Wales
  • UKAEA Seeks Sites for Fusion Power Plant
  • EU Commissioner Says Few Changes Expected in “Nuclear Green” Proposal

UK / Government Invests £100m in EDF’s £20bn Sizewell C Plant

(NucNet) UK government ministers have added further financial support to EDF Energy’s £20 billion Sizewell C nuclear power station project in Suffolk, southeast England. The financing comes in the form of a £100 million investment to help develop the project while the company looks for private investors.

The government’s cash injection is designed to “maximize investor confidence” in the project while French state-owned power company and nuclear operator EDF works towards setting out a funding plan which satisfies investors and ministers.

RAB Method Could Be a Key Success Factor

One of the elements of the plan, if the UK parliament acts, is to implement the RAB Financing Method which is a ‘pay as you go” method by ratepayers tied to construction progress. It eliminates a huge chunk of interests costs that wind up adding significantly to costs without enhancing plant performance.

rab-model-wna

In return for the the £100 million investment, the government will have rights to an equity stake in the development company behind the project and over the land on which EDF plans to build it. If EDF is able to secure enough investor backing to make a final investment decision on Sizewell, it would reimburse the government with an equity stake in the project or in cash. An equity stake is more likely as an outcome.

The announcement comes as the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill, which will enable a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) funding model framework for new nuclear projects, passes through Parliament. It is estimated that RAB could lower the cost of each new large-scale nuclear power projects by more than £30 billion, compared to the existing Contracts for Difference model.

The RAB model is also expected to reduce Britain’s reliance on overseas developers for finance by substantially widening the pool of private investors to include British pension funds, insurers and other institutional investors from like-minded countries.

Private Sector Investors Sought for Sizewell C

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said in a statement, “The funding commitment will be used to continue the development of the project which will aim to attract further financing from private investors and, subject to value for money and relevant approvals, the UK government.”

BEIS Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is quoted in the government’s press statement, “In light of high global gas prices, we need to ensure Britain’s future energy supply is bolstered by reliable, affordable, low carbon power that is generated in this country. New nuclear is not only an important part of our plans to ensure greater energy independence, but to create high-quality jobs and drive economic growth.”

The department said the two EDF 1600 MWe EPR nuclear plants planned for Sizewell C would produce 3.2 GW of electricity powering the equivalent of around six million homes, and providing increased longer-term grid and overall energy resilience.

The BEIS statement said, “Nuclear power has a key role to play as we work to strengthen Britain’s energy security and reduce our exposure to volatile global gas prices.”

By way of background, the UK government resumed talks with EDF over the nuclear project in late 2020, focusing on whether the company could prove it had learned lessons from its Hinkley Point C nuclear project in Somerset, and that a the next plant would offer the public value for money. Key items are keeping the project on schedule and avoiding the horrendous delays and cost overruns that afflicted the EPR projects in Finland and France.

The government has made up to £1.7 billion of new direct government funding available at the Spending Review for developing a large-scale nuclear project to the point of Final Investment Decision this Parliament project – on top of a £120 million enabling fund to support further nuclear projects and inform potential investment decisions during the next Parliament.

A key challenge for EDF will be to replace China’s 20% stake in the project worth about £5 billion. The government is looking to push out CGN because of concerns over security.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said recently that he is against “undue influence by potentially adversarial countries” in national infrastructure such as Sizewell C, but does not want to exclude all Chinese investment from the country. This is a somewhat contradictory statement since previously, Johnson booted a Chinese telecommunications company from being able to bid on a tender to supply 5G wireless service in the UK.

EDF is building Hinkley Point C in Somerset, the only new nuclear plant in the UK. Three projects – Wylfa, Moorside and Oldbury – have either been cancelled or shelved, largely because of financing problems, while Bradwell remains in the early technical stages.

BEIS emphasized that overall no final decision to proceed with Sizewell C has been made.

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A Modest Proposal to Fund Sizewell C – A Very Big Deal

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It is no secret that UK PM Boris Johnson has been convinced by his advisers to boot China off of the Sizewell C nuclear power project and then repurpose the 20% equity stake that China was slated cover to be taken up by western investors.

This is a perilous move since it will undoubtedly annoy China which has it firmly in mind on being able to build one of its Hualong One 1000 MWe PWRs at the UK Bradwell size in return for the Sizewell investment.

Actually, there is a way for EDF to get funded for SizewelL C, for which it still does not have a formal deal with the UK, and to soften the blow to China. The proposed move is a major swap of equity for EDF and China. Here is how it would work.

Back in 2008 EDF signed a deal with Chinese state owned nuclear energy firms for a 30% equity stake in the construction of two 1650 MWe EPRs in Taishan, China. The two reactors have since been built and commissioned into revenue service. Suppose for the sake of discussion that EDF swaps its 30% stake in Taishan for China’s 20% stake in Sizewell C?

Advantages of the Swap

  • The advantages of the deal are that China saves face, though not completely, in exiting Sizewell C. It takes some of the bite out of a deal they can’t refuse.
  • The advantage for EDF is that it now has a 20% stake in Sizewell with capital it can’t raise for now in France.
  • The advantages for the UK government and EDF is that now they have to raise only 80% of the capital needed to build the two reactors. Also, it takes the sharp edge off of ending China’s equity stake.

It looks simple on its face, but probably has the potential to get complicated which means that if the UK and EDF think this is a good idea, time is being wasted just thinking about it. Obviously, valuations will have to be compared and due diligence worked out, but as a concept it makes a lot more sense than just running China off with a political pitchfork and having a big unresolved investment headache that will take a lot more effort to resolve.

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Rolls-Royce Seeks Sites for SMRs in England and Wales

laND SURVEY(Irish Times & wire services) Rolls-Royce has launched a search in England and Wales for a site to be the location of the main factory that will build a planned fleet of at least 16 small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) to be deployed in the UK and perhaps even more thereafter to be built for export to Poland, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere.

An industry consortium led by Rolls-Royce has written to several of England’s regional development bodies and the Welsh government asking them to pitch the firm for the manufacturing site. It is promising investment of up to £200 million (€239 million) and the creation of up to 200 direct jobs.

The Rolls Royce consortium secured £210 million from the government last year towards the development of a fleet of mini-reactors after raising a similar amount of private sector funding. More recently, the firm received an investment of $85 million from Qatar.

Components from suppliers would be built in factories around the country and then assembled on site thus reducing the risks and huge costs of construction of big nuclear power plants. The main factory will build the heavy reactor pressure vessels (RPVs) that are part of the 477 MWe reactors.

The company said it is looking for proposals that identified “sites based on our selection criteria in your region together with supporting evidence or financial and non- financial support where appropriate.”

According to news media reports, Rolls-Royce is not seeking cash or economic incentives from local councils. It emphasized that it is interested in skills training facilities already exist, how much land is available, and local incentives for the deployment of on-site renewable power generation among other things. The company intends to build other, smaller facilities to build modules for the reactors. In other words, plans to have financial and operational control of key parts of its supply chain.

Rolls-Royce has not yet committed to any sites but Wylfa and Trawsfynydd in north Wales are believed to be under consideration.

Rolls-Royce has a challenging set of milestones to meet to complete the first-of-a-kind (FOAK) unit by 2030 and all 16 of them by the end of that decade. It is expected to submit its reactor design to the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation for the four year long generic design assessment later this year.

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UKAEA Seeks Sites for Fusion Power Plant

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has asked residents in five areas to provide feedback on potential plans to construct a prototype nuclear fusion power plant by 2040.

The Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) program has the objective of developing a commercial fusion power plants that are capable of producing clean energy. A prototype unit is the first milestone that needs to be achieved to reach that goal. If successful, commercial units might follow over the remainder of that decade.

gpawg-fusion-energy-scienceThe government committed £220m for the conceptual design of the power station in 2020 as part of efforts to move the UK towards a zero-carbon energy network.

The STEP site will ultimately be selected by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The shortlisted locations for STEP are: Ardeer, North Ayrshire; Moorside, Cumbria; Goole, East Yorkshire; West Burton, Nottinghamshire and Severn Edge in Gloucestershire.

The final decision on the successful site is expected by the end of 2022. Support from the local community to accept the project is one of the key criteria.

Tristram Denton, head of commercial and program development for STEP, said: “STEP is not just of strategic importance to UKAEA, but to the national and global efforts to harness fusion technology in the fight against climate change.

“While it’s still early days, we anticipate that the host region will become a global hub for a wide range of technological and scientific expertise, leading to massive economic opportunities.

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EU Commissioner Says Few Changes Expected in “Nuclear Green” Proposal

(Reuters) The European Commission will not make any fundamental revisions to proposals that classify nuclear power and gas as sustainable, Financial Markets Commissioner Mairead McGuinness said despite objections from some European Union states.

The Commission included gas and nuclear investments in a draft of its “sustainable finance taxonomy” rules circulated last month.

“We may be able to tweak the proposal in one place or another to address some objections,” McGuinness told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “But we actually have limited room for change.”

McGuinness said nuclear power and gas were necessary as transitional technologies – “and as such they will be clearly labelled” – on the way to a “cleaner, better future.”

The Czech Republic has objected to the limitations built into the proposal policy that would prevent new nuclear power plants from being built after 2045. It said nuclear power should have a big role in curbing global warming because it does not emit greenhouse gases.

Other critics have issued biting criticisms of the EU’s belief that an all renewables power paradigm is possible at some point. They point to the fact that Germany’s efforts have failed and have resulted in increased use of coal.

Germany and other EU members said gas investments were needed to help them quit using more-polluting coal.

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Competition Heats Up for Poland’s Nuclear New Build

  • Competition Heats Up for Poland’s Nuclear New Build
  • Westinghouse Signs Localization Agreements with Polish Firms
  • Czechs Want to Scrap Deadlines in EU Plan for Green Nuclear

Competition Heats Up for Poland’s Nuclear New Build

rivalry

A team composed of Westinghouse and Bechtel are preparing a technical proposal to build six full size (AP1000) nuclear reactors at two sites ( 3 at one, 3 at another) in Poland.

It is believed that three of the sites will be on the Baltic Sea coast for access to cooling water and delivery of large reactor components by sea-going barge. The other site(s) were not immediately disclosed indicating an ongoing review of alternatives may still be underway.

Poland plans to build modern, large PWR-type reactors. The Polish Energy Policy assumes that in 2033 the first block of the Polish nuclear power plant with a capacity of approx. 1,000-to-600 MWe per unit will be put into operation. The entire nuclear program provides for the construction of six units with a capacity of up to 9 GWe will be completed by 2040 according to Polish government plans. The Polish government has made several attempts to move ahead with these basic objectives, but has failed to develop a credible financial plan to pay for them each time.

Certainties and Uncertainties in Financing the Plan

According to a claim made by the Westinghouse / Bechtel team, reported by a Polish English language wire service, is that the US government will make an offer of financial assistance for the project next August. There has been no independent confirmation from a US government agency either in the form of loan guarantees, export credits, or direct financial assistance. Separately, Polish sources told the wire service the government will take a 51% equity stake in the project assuming the selected team comes up with the rest of the money.

The government expects the team that builds the reactors will finance them and operate them. The Polish government expects that the partner in the nuclear program will take up 49% shares in a special company, will provide adequate financing, and will participate not only in the construction but also in the operation of nuclear power plants. The Polish government is reported to have said it will make a decision on which offer to accept in Fall 2022.

There has been no word so far from the Polish government on rate guarantees or a strike price for power to insure financial success for the plants once they are generating electricity. This is a massive uncertainty for any of the bidders and will surely be included in negotiations for contracts to build the plants.

Westinghouse said its proposal will include possible construction schedule for all six blocks and identify the most important technical and financial risks of the entire project. A risk management plan will be presented. An analysis of the impact of nuclear power plants on the entire Polish economy will be prepared along with a summary of the benefits Poland will gain from a large, zero-emission energy source.

Joel Eacker, vice president of the new projects division at Westinghouse, is cited as the source by the wire service based on a Westinghouse news release.

Other Offers are on the Table

In October 2021, French EDF made an initial, non-binding offer. The offer includes the construction and operation of four or six EPR 1600 MWe reactors in 2-3 locations. France has been lobbying heavily for the business. EDF, the French state-owned nuclear enterprise, has also promised a new, more cost effective design of its EPR reactor. The current design has not done well in terms of the construction metrics of staying on schedule and within budget at sites in Finland and France.

An offer based on APR1400 reactors is expected later this winter to be presented to the government by South Korean’s KHNP. The firm met with journalists in Warsaw to challenge Westinghouse in the bid for nuclear power in Poland.

The Koreans said they made a promise of a price lower by 30%. Assuming Westinghouse offered its AP1000s, hypothetically, at $5,000/Kw or roughly $5.5 billion for each unit, the South Koreans would be offering an astonishing $3.85 billion per unit. If the price is $6,500/Kw, then KHNP would be citing a hypothetical offer of $4.6 billion per unit. Either way, the pricing would be significantly lower than the $20 billion South Korea pitched for building four 1400 MWe units for the UAE.

With experienced managers and a supply chain in place in South Korea, a lower price is feasible, but the claim of a 30% difference is remarkable. In its favor two of the UAE four units have been commissioned and two more are expected to be completed in the next 2-3 years.

Also, Jaehoon Chung, president of KHNP, told the wire service that as Poland has a 123 Agreement with the U.S., there is no barrier to using U.S. licensed nuclear technologies in his firm’s bid for the Polish business.

Rolls Royce is also marketing its 470 MWe mid-range reactor to the Polish Government. The UK firm has engaged a high powered American consulting firm to promote its reactor to European nations.

IP3 chief executive Mike Hewitt, a retired US Navy rear admiral, told The Daily Mail in October 2021 that eastern European nations – including Poland, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Hungary, Estonia and Bulgaria – are developing ‘aggressive plans’ for nuclear. IP3 is advising large Polish energy supplier ZE PAK on the development of a plan for nuclear plants to power its factories.

He said Rolls-Royce’s project was “among the frontrunners,” adding: “Rolls-Royce is uniquely positioned as a British brand-named company which is used to a factory approach in stamping out aircraft engines. If the UK commits to allow the build of the first three or four reactors, you can move into production, then it is in prime position to be the reactor of choice for other countries.”

Significantly, there are no similar reports about offers from Rosatom, Chinese State Owned Enterprises or Japanese firms. China pitched building two 1,000 MWe Hualong One reactors in 2017, but has not been visibly marketing it to Poland since then.

Polish Industry Seeks SMRs

Separately, in September 2021, state-owned copper producer KGHM signed an agreement with US nuclear technology developer NuScale for four 77-megawatt (MW) reactors, of which the first could come online in 2029. The company, which is Poland’s second-largest consumer of electricity, said it wanted to shield itself against increasingly volatile energy prices.

Michal Solowow, a chemicals tycoon and Poland’s richest man, and Zygmunt Solorz, the owner of the ZE PAK energy plant complex in Patnow, announced a joint venture for up to six 300MW nuclear reactors around the end of the decade.

GE Hitachi, whose GEH BWRX-300 is in contention to provide the SMR at Patnow, said it could launch its first Polish SMR “at latest in 2030,” according to the company’s CEO Jay Wileman. BWXT Canada said recently it has an agreement, if the contract goes through, to build long lead time components for 10 of the 300 MWe SMRs.

Caveats to the Future of Nuclear Energy in Poland

Not everyone is convinced these ambitious plans by the Polish government will come to fruition much less in the short time frames being promised by various vendors.

“It is still possible to build a nuclear power plant by 2033,” says Jakub Wiech, editor-in-chief of Energetyka24.pl, an energy news service as reported by the Balkan Insight. “But, in practice, one can see a number of circumstances that significantly reduce the feasibility of a nuclear power plant in such a short time.”

In October 2020 the Trump administration offered Poland $18 billion to build six nuclear reactors with the express objective of keeping China and Russia out of the market. The Biden administration has not taken any steps to move ahead with that promise nor is it expected to do so. The move would be politically unsustainable given Biden’s push for massive infrastructure investments in the U.S.

Poland has a brittle, increasingly unpopular, and authoritarian government that is both unpredictable and ruthless in its efforts to stay in power. The current government is locked in a series of self-destructive disputes with the European Union over various governance and judicial issues.

In response the EU has told Poland if it continues down this road it may lose access to certain lines of funding from Brussels and that could include energy projects of all kinds, not just nuclear. The EU’s recent tilt towards financing nuclear power projects might be blocked for Poland by these disputes.

None of these conditions are predictors for the kind of long term stability needed to build and commission a major nuclear reactor project or a fleet of them over a 10-15 year period.

Reference: WNA Pofile of Poland’s Pursuit of Nuclear Energy

Prior Coverage on this blog

Westinghouse Signs Localization Agreements with Polish Firms

According to English language wire services in Poland, based on a company press release, Westinghouse Electric Company has signed a cooperation memorandum with ten companies in Poland.

The agreements concern cooperation in the potential construction of six AP 1000 reactors as part of the Polish Nuclear Power Program and future projects using AP 1000 technology in the region of Central and Eastern Europe.

Westinghouse said it is ready to support Poland in achieving its energy policy goals. Miroslaw Kowalik, president of Westinghouse Polsk said, “We will act on the basis of our experience in implementing investments in nuclear technologies around the world.”

“These tasks will be additionally supported by a team of almost 200 employees employed at the Westinghouse Global Shared Services Center in Krakow, which is involved in the global activities of our company. We want to provide Poland with the best technology for the implementation of tasks related to counteracting climate change, as well as to meet the energy needs of the Polish economy.”

Czechs Want to Scrap Deadlines in EU Plan for Green Nuclear

(Reuters) The Czech Republic is pushing for the European Union to scrap proposed deadlines for investment in nuclear energy. It says the deadlines unnecessarily constrain long term use of the technology.

In a draft proposal released last month, the EU Commission allows gas and nuclear investments to facilitate an eventual transition to fully renewable output, but suggests a deadline of 2045 beyond which investments in existing and new nuclear projects would not be allowed. The proposal is a pile of unworkable ideas at best because of its embedded magical thinking about 100% renewables.

Reuters reports that, “The Czech Republic requests to leave out the statutes which suggest a transitory nature of nuclear energy, namely the 2045 deadline for new plants operating permits, and 2040 for the existing plants,” the Czech government’s response read, according to the Hospodarske Noviny daily newspaper.

Reuters quoted Industry Minister Jozef Sikela who said that Prague welcomed the Commission’s proposal to count nuclear and gas among sustainable sources, but asked for changes. “We have asked for adjustments to the proposal to make it realistic and non-discriminatory,” he said.

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Hyundai Inks $30M Equity Investment in USNC

  • South Korea / Hyundai Engineering Inks $30M Deal to Build USNC Reactors
  • Japan /Mutsubishi Plans Load Following Reactor to Work with Renewables
  • Japan / Clean Energy Strategy to Push Nuclear Technologies
  • Brazil / Signs Agreement To Study Sites For New Nuclear
  • Romania / Nuclearelectrica Targets 2030 for First New Cernavoda Unit
  • UKAEA / SNC-Lavalin Awarded New contracts for STEP Fusion Project
  • Slovenia / Deep Isolation Study Released on Disposal of Spent Fuel

Hyundai Engineering Inks U.S. Deal to Build  Nuclear Reactors

USNC logoHyundai Engineering Co. in a statement carried by South Korean English language news wires, said that it has secured a deal to construct micro modular nuclear reactors (MMR) for a U.S. developer of a next-generation nuclear reactor design.

Hyundai Engineering said it has agreed to make an equity investment of US$30 million in Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation for an undisclosed stake. Additional financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The wire service report includes a photo of the CEOs of the two firms signing the agreement.

The partnership  is sweeping in terms of the scope of the partnership. It grants the Korean firm global exclusive rights to be the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC)  for USNC’s micro modular nuclear reactor (MMR) projects.

Hyundai Engineering will be responsible for engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) for the project, and USNC for nuclear fuel supply, reactor design, and manufacturing and supply, and KAERI for nuclear fuel layout design and safety analysis.

Hyundai Engineering and USNC started collaboration for technology development of a high temperature gas-cooled reactor in March 2012. In cooperation with Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), they have been conducting conceptual and basic designs of the reactor. The agreement between the two firms was first announced in August 2020.

Chalk River OPG Partnership

The MMR energy system for Chalk River, announced in June 2020, is being promoted by Hyundai Engineering, USNC and KAERI. The joint venture was formed between USNC and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to build, own and operate the proposed MMR project at the Chalk River Laboratories site.

The joint venture – the Global First Power Limited Partnership – is owned equally by OPG and USNC-Power, the Canadian subsidiary of USNC. The project envisions the power reactor going into operation in 2026.

Green Hydrogen Effort

Separately, Hyundai Engineering is developing green hydrogen production technology using the USNC MMR in Korea. Based on the Canada’s MMR demonstration plant, the company aims to introduce a high-temperature gas reactor into Korea and build a 100MWe-class large-capacity electrolysis hydrogen production plant that uses MMR.

The 4th-generation MMR developed by USNC uses patented technology for micro-encapsulated ceramic triple-coated nuclear fuel applied to the reactor design to eliminate the possibility of radioactive material leakage even at 1,800 degrees Celsius. In September 2020 the firm opened a fuel fabrication plant in Salt Lake City, UT.

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About the MMR Reactor

According to World Nuclear News, the MMR is a 15 MWt thermal, 5 MWe electrical high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR). 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.  (Technical briefing PDF file)

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

Other South Korean SMR Deals

Separately, Holtec International has an agreement with Hyundai Engineering & Construction of South Korea for the turnkey supply of Holtec’s SMR-160 small modular reactor (SMR) plant worldwide. Holtec is considering deploying the first SMR-160 at Oyster Creek in New Jersey, where it is currently in the process of decommissioning a former boiling water reactor.

South Korea’s Doosan Heavy Industries has made two equity investments worth a total of $104 million in NuScale’s SMR effort. From a strategic perspective, it puts a key supplier of large, long lead time components close to potential Asian customers for NuScale.

Doosan is also providing design services to X-Energy for its advanced nuclear reactor, the XE-100, which is funded by the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program. X-Energy plans to build a first of a kind unit near the Columbia Generating Station in Richland, WA.

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Mutsubishi Plans Load Following Reactor to Work with Renewables

(Nikkei Asia Wire Service) Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will develop a new PWR type nuclear reactor in the mid-2030s that will be able to fine-tune its power output enabling it to respond to fluctuations in power generation from renewable energy sources.

nuclear and renewables

Image: US Department of Energy

The new reactor will be large enough to replace existing reactors. The reactor Mitsubishi is developing will be mid-size with output ranging from 600 MWe to 1,000 MWe

The firm said the technology “will make nuclear as nimble as thermal power as a supply source, and is expected to facilitate greater use of renewable energy in the power system.”

Fossil-fueled power is being used to plug gaps in the power supply from renewable sources. The response time is usually around 10 minutes. At present, nuclear power requires about an hour to adjust, which limits its use to providing a constant base load supply.

The new reactor will have a much faster response time. It will employ a new drive system for its control rods, enabling the reactor to cut output by half in just 17 minutes. Smaller adjustments can be made in less time.

The firm said the reactor construction cost will be about the same as the existing 1.2 GW nuclear plant, which which the firm estimates is around $5.3 billion or about $4,400/Kw comparable to some SMRs now approaching commercialization.. The new reactor’s containment vessel will feature double walls and other protective systems, reducing the risk of breach to one tenth of that in existing models.

To meet customer needs, Mitsubishi is also developing an SMR at 300 MWe that it hopes to make available in the 2040s.The company has had preliminary discussions with utility operators in Japan about replacement possibilities for existing power plants.

Both the mid-size, full size, and SMR are expected to be offered for export. Plans for adoption of these reactors in Japan to replace aging units will likely support the export program as well.

The firm said the problem the reactor is designed to address is that while renewable energy is environmentally friendly, it has the drawback of being unstable due to its reliance on natural elements such as sunlight, wind and water that are inherently variable. If power supply does not match demand, power outages can be triggered. Grid stability can be achieved through reliable baseload power from a PWR type nuclear reactor.

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Japan’s PM Airs Clean Energy Strategy to Push Nuclear Technologies

(Asahi Shimbun) A a meeting held on January 18th in the office of Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida, he instructed his cabinet to draw up a new clean energy strategy for the country that will lay out the government’s vision to achieve a carbon-neutral society.

Kishida intends to promote the development of nuclear technology, not just renewable energy through the strategy, which he hopes to make a key element of his flagship policy platform, which he is calling “new capitalism.” Kishida added that he intends to at least double investment in this area.

Kishida presented plans for an increase in capital gains taxes, which he later withdrew, and also said he would work to raise wages for workers which have not kept pace with corporate profits.

Ministry officials said the government intends to promote research on next-generation nuclear technology, including small modular reactors (SMR), which is technology that has been readily developed in the United States with contributions from Japanese makers, as well as nuclear fusion. Japan has lagged in this area having no viable path at this time for domestic use or export of an commercial SMR by 2030.

Competition from Europe and US is a Motivating Factor

The development of the new strategy comes as plans for new nuclear power plants, especially SMRs, are being developed in Europe and the US as governments  look for ways to decarbonize their economies.

The French government announced in November last year that it would resume building nuclear power plants, and the European Commission, which is the administrative body of the European Union, announced this month it will set a policy to designate both nuclear power and natural gas as energy sources that can help decarbonization efforts. In the US NuScale has passed a key milestone with a safety design review at the NRC.

Kazuhiro Ikebe, chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, appeared optimistic about the trend at a news conference on 01/14/22. He said Europeans are making a very practical move in returning to nuclear power. “(The development in Europe) will impact non-EU countries, too. That includes Japan,” he said.

Not everyone in the new cabinet is onboard with the plans to re-invest in nuclear energy.

“We are still not at a stage where we can discuss building new nuclear power plants,” Environment Minister Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi told a news conference on Jan. 18. He called for a carbon tax on CO2 emissions and a “green fund” for renewables.

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Brazil Signs Agreement To Study Sites For New Nuclear

brazil nuclear(NucNet)  Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) and the Centre for Electric Energy Research (Cepel) have signed a cooperation agreement to study sites for new nuclear power plants. This is the latest in a series of efforts to identify sites for new nuclear power stations. The country’s national energy plan until 2050 estimates an expansion of 8 to 10 GWe of nuclear power.

MME said the increased use of nuclear in the Brazilian energy matrix is crucial and the cooperation with Cepel should lead to “the more efficient choice of new nuclear sites in the country,” taking into account energy demand projections, socio-environmental needs and the attraction of new investment to enable construction of the plants.

The news report did not specify whether Brazil would continue to invest in light water reactor designs. In a June 2020 paper published in Nuclear Engineering Intl,. Leonam dos Santos Guimaraes, President Eletronuclear, discussed plans for Brazil to produce HALEU nuclear fuel presumably for advanced reactors that would in the future use it in that country and likely for export.

Brazil has two operational nuclear plants, Angra-1 and Angra-2, which provide 2.7% of its electricity production. It is also planning to complete Unit 3 of the Angra nuclear power station in Rio de Janeiro state.

Construction of Angra-3, a 1,245-MW Siemens/KWU pressurized water reactor unit, began in 1984 but was halted in 1986 because of a lack of financing. In 2010, a construction permit was reissued, but the project was suspended again in 2015 because of financing concerns and because of a massive bribery scandal that claimed top executives from nuclear energy and construction organizations.

Restart of work on Angra 3 is stalled for now although in June 2021 BNDES hired Angra Eurobras NES – a consortium including the Belgian engineering firm Tractebel – to complete the project. (WNA Profile for Brazil’s nuclear energy industry) According to state power company Eletronuclear, almost 47% of civil work at the site had been completed in 2014. So far, estimates are that $1.6 billion has been spent on the project.

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Romania / Nuclearelectrica Targets 2030 for New Cernavoda Unit

(cernavodaNucNet) Romania’s state-owned nuclear company Nuclearelectrica says it has plans to complete two new reactor units at the Cernavoda nuclear power station in the southeast of the country connected to the grid by 2031.

CEO Cosmin Ghita added that SMRs will be another ‘key element’ in decarbonization strategy. Romania is aiming to generate 55% of its energy from low-carbon sources by 2030 with nuclear energy being an essential part of this objective.

Completion of Cernavoda Units 3 and 4

Mr. Ghita told The Diplomat Bucharest that an investment decision on the new units is expected in 2024 with Unit 3 expected to be connected to the grid in 2030 and Unit 4 in 2031. Both reactors are partially complete CANDU type reactors. In November 2021, Romania’s nuclear project company Energonuclear signed a contract with Candu Energy for work needed to restart the completion of Units 3 and 4.

China Leaves Field

In May 2020, Nuclearelectrica ended talks with China General Nuclear about the Cernavoda project.  Significantly, the action by Romania to give China the boot took place only after than US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2020 promised Romania $8 billion for new nuclear capacity. Despite ending talks with China for new reactors, Romania never received any of the promised funds from the Trump administration.

In 2015 China General Nuclear estimated the cost to complete the two CANDU units at $7.7 billion. An earlier estimate by a US management consulting firm pegged the cost at half that amount. These differences may have been one of the reasons for the protracted talks over finances between Romania and CGN.  If the two plants were to be finished at the same time, each being 700 MWe, at $4,400 KW, the cost comes in somewhere in the middle but closer to $5-6 billion.

Scope of the New Effort

According to World Nuclear News actual construction and completion of the units will be preceded by regulatory and engineering updates. Candu Energy will update the licensing basis documents and safety design codes for Cernavoda 3 and 4 to bring them in line with the latest Canadian codes and standards as well as European Union safety directives. It will also define the engineering work needed in ‘phases 2 and 3’ sufficient for their real work content and complexity to be estimated.

Candu Energy will also produce a document that outlines the ‘architecture options’ for completing the reactor units’ steam supply system, as well as the design changes needed to meet today’s standards.

Lastly, Candu Energy will re-evaluate the existing buildings at the site to confirm they are fit for a proposed 60-year operational life, assuming a retubing overhaul and refurbishment that is routine for Candu units after about 30 years of service.

SMRs are Next

Mr. Ghita said small modular reactors (SMRs) will be another key element in Romania meeting its decarbonization targets. Nuclearelectrica recently announced an agreement with US SMR developer NuScale Power to build a first-of-a-kind SMR in Romania.

According to Mr Ghita, construction of a NuScale SMR could start by 2028 and would provide “a stable and clean energy alternative,”once completed,  to areas where coal will no longer be an option.

He said Romania is looking at a six-module NuScale SMR with an installed capacity of 462 MW. The 77 MWe SMR design is the latest iteration of NuScale’s reactor. However, so far only a 50 MWe version has cleared the US NRC for design and safety reviews. By 2028 Romania would likely be able to reference the NRCs review of the 77 MWe version.

The MOU with NuScale, announced with great fanfare by US Secretary of Energy Granholm at COP26, did not come with any immediate financial commitments from the US government.

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UKAEA Awards SNC-Lavalin New contracts for STEP Fusion Project

types-of-fusion-tech_thumbCanada-based SNC-Lavalin said on January 18th it had been awarded three new contracts by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) to continue work on the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) program to design and build a commercial-scale fusion energy plant.

SNC-Lavalin has been appointed Commercial Pathways Partner, to help pave the commercial route to realizing fusion energy through a combination of engineering and techno-economic studies.

A second contract for the STEP Integrated Plant Solution will see SNC-Lavalin develop the mechanical handling and maintenance strategy for this first-of-a-kind plant. The firm has also been appointed onto a new STEP Tritium Framework, drawing on SNC-Lavalin’s specialist tritium knowledge, acquired largely through the development of Candu  technology, and supported by its international academic partners.

“Fusion energy has the potential to produce a stable, reliable and low-carbon power source that could be critical in a decarbonized energy future. Our involvement will bring together the best of UK and international expertise to solve the challenges associated with fusion energy,” said SNC-Lavalin President and CEO Ian L Edwards.

STEP is attempting to be the world’s first commercial fusion power station, aiming to produce a concept design by 2024, leading to a prototype plant in the UK, targeting completion by 2040. In early 2021, SNC-Lavalin was awarded the STEP Cost Modelling and Siting and Development contracts. The Group already supports UKAEA across its major programs through its position as an Engineering Design Services (EDS) framework supplier, as well as delivering the design of its H3AT Tritium recycling loop.

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Deep Isolation Study Released on Disposal of Spent Fuel in Slovenia

A preliminary study released by Deep Isolation finds that deep borehole disposal offers a safe, cost-effective solution for disposing of spent fuel from the Slovenia TRIGA II research reactor, set for decommissioning in 2043. A deep borehole repository could be cost-effective waste disposal option for Slovenia’s research reactor and nuclear power plant

Of the options studied, the most cost-effective approach would be to build one deep borehole repository for fuel from both the TRIGA II reactor and Slovenia’s Krško nuclear power plant.

The TRIGA II study follows a 12/14/21 Deep Isolation study, published by Norwegian Nuclear Decommissioning, of Krško fuel disposal options and fuel inventories from four other European countries. It concluded that deep borehole disposal is a viable, cost-effective solution for all of the five participating countries’ high-level and intermediate-level long-lived nuclear waste.

If Slovenia decided to implement a deep borehole disposal repository for Krško fuel, then the simplest and most inexpensive way to dispose of the TRIGA II waste would be within that same repository, with the TRIGA II waste requiring just one additional disposal canister.

Deep borehole disposal is becoming increasingly attractive to many countries, including NND study participants — Slovenia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Croatia — because they have small waste inventories, making a mined repository a more cumbersome, less affordable option.

Deep borehole disposal benefits include: safety-at-depth (shown in evidence-based modeling that exceeds expected regulatory requirements when modeled for 1 million years at peak dose); greater flexibility in repository locations; implementation in shorter timeframes; and reduced financial risk due to the maturity of drilling industry costs.

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Is Saudi Arabia Closer to Releasing a Tender for New Nuclear?

  • Is Saudi Arabia Ready to Release a Tender for New Nuclear
  • Rosatom to Complete MBIR Research Reactor by 2027
  • Russia to Build BN1200 by 2035
  • UAE Focusing on Nuclear Power-based Hydrogen Production
  • Oklo Says the ‘Door Is Open’ to Resubmit its License Application to the NRC

Is Saudi Arabia Ready to Release a Tender for New Nuclear

saudi_arabia_pol_2003

Something is cooking in Saudi Arabia with its nuclear tender. On 01/19/22 there are three press statements by potential vendors aimed at positioning themselves to win the very substantial business of building new nuclear reactors for Saudi Arabia.

All three vendors noted there has been no progress with the tender for some time, but that they stand ready to bid if and when one comes.

These kinds of press statements don’t hit the wires unless, to use a metaphor, the fish look like they are biting. In other words, you don’t get these kinds of positioning statements from interested vendors unless the tender is close to being ready to drop. That doesn’t mean one will, only that these three vendors think one is coming.

saudi-table-3

So what’s driving the public relations fishing exercise? Well for one, the ambitions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, aka KSA, for nuclear energy have always ridden on the horse call the price of oil.

Because a pay as you go approach has always been more attractive than borrowing from the sovereign wealth fund, a higher price of oil puts the nuclear program closer to the launch pad.

The price of oil is rising and may hit $100/bbl at the current rate which could provide the revenue needed to pay for the 22 GWe $100 billion plan (16 1400 MWe Units).

The first item out of the chute is expected to be a tender for two 1400-1600 MWe PWRs each unit being costing $5-7 billlion. KSA will have higher than average costs due to the need to import just about everything, including the workforce, to complete them by 2030.

Who are the the Press Release Kings?

The three bidders issuing breathless press releases touting their value to the customer include Rolls-Royce, a consortium from South Korea, and Rosatom, the export focused state owned enterprise from Russia.

Briefly, Rolls-Royce in the UK is a long shot pitching a 470 MWe mid-range PWR which is still in the design and regulatory approval stage. The breathless media pitch to read is “Rolls-Royce heads to Middle East as Saudi Arabia plots £74bn nuclear investment.”

South Korea has a strong position having successfully built four 1400 MWe PWRs for the UAE, a key KSA ally. In this case the English language wire service item, which is a more sober announcement, readily notes that communication about the tender from KSA has amounted to crickets over the past year. The news item to read it, “S. Korea gets ready for Saudi Arabia’s nuclear power project.”

The third news item isn’t from a vendor, but it is from a highly credible source namely S&P Global/Platts. It starts its report by noting that Roastom already has a strong track record in the Middle East with four 1200 MWe PWRs under construction in Turkey and plans to break ground for four similar units in Egypt later this year.

Also, Roastom has built two 1000 MWe units for India, has two more under construction, and will ink a deal for yet two more at the same site (Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu) later this year. Rosatom also broke ground in China last year for two new 1,000 MWe units adding to a site where they have previously built two similar units. The report to read is “Rosatom in talks with several Middle East countries about starting nuclear power plants.”

A good song to listen to while mulling all this over is Carole King’s hit from her famous Tapestry album, “I hear the earth move.”

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Rosatom to Complete MBIR Research Reactor by 2027

(S&P Global/Platts) Russian State Atomic Energy Corp. (Rosatom) told S&P Global/Platts 01/18/22 its fast neutron MBIR nuclear research reactor will complete construction one year early in 2027 and be available for research programs in 2028 following cooperation by construction partners.

“The research program at MBIR reactor aims to speed up development of new materials and fuels from 10 years to five years, supporting development of nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels,” Alexander Zagornov, project director, international projects division told S&P Global Platts.

S&P Global/Platts added that the MBIR, which will be the world’s largest fast neutron research reactor, is being constructed by Rosatom in Dimitrovgrad as part of a program to develop infrastructure for new technologies for nuclear energy. The multipurpose research reactor will have 150 MWt of thermal capacity and produce 50 MWe of power for use in the Ulyanovsk region.

Rosatom released this briefing on the BN-1200 at an IAEA meeting in 2016. According to this briefing the MBIR was supposed to be operational by the end of that decade so the plant is actually now coming in a decade late.

mbir IAEA briefing slide

Rosatom has developed a consortium known as the International Research Center based on the MBIR reactor. It will be a test center for materials and fuels for advanced reactors. Discussions are underway with other countries to join including the Czech Republic, India, Kazakhstan and the UAE, according to the company.

In the U.S. plans to build the Versatile Test Reactor, a competitor to the MBIR, remains stalled due to a lack of enthusiasm in Congress about its worth. It set zero funding for the project for 2022. Advocates for the project are steadfastly committed to getting the effort moving again despite a lack of progress. According to unofficial sources, a briefing on the Senate side in December by DOE to restart consideration for funding apparently did not light a fire under congressional decision makers. Details are sparse about what’s coming next, but one source told this blog, “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

It seems that neither DOE nor Congress has yet figured out that with the MBIR the Russians are coming to lunch, ours.

Prior coverage on this blog –

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Russia to Build BN1200 by 2035

Russia has set a planned milestone to complete work on the BN-1200, its most advanced nuclear reactor design, by the mid-2030s. The start of work on the project has previously been postponed due to uncertainties related to the overall design and the costs of building a first of a kind unit (FOAK). According to a 01/14/22 press statement from the Beloyarsk NPP monitored in London, the procurement of an EPC for the plant is expected to take place within the next few months.

The press statement also said uncertainties remain about procurement of long lead time components from Russian industrial suppliers to the nuclear industry. In other words scaling up the BN-800 to a 1200 MW power rating requires suppliers to rethink their capabilities to get the job done.

bn-1200 conceptual image

BN-1200 Conceptual Perspective. Image: Rosatom

With wink and a nod Rosatom nevertheless said in its press statement that, “Technologically, the industry is ready for the construction of the unit. In September 2021, the scientific and technical councils of Rosatom recommended it for construction. Now it remains to be seen whether machine-building plants will be able to integrate the production of equipment for the BN-1200 into the flow of existing orders, develop a roadmap for the construction of the unit and determine the scheme for managing the construction project.”

Two types of fuel are being considered for the sodium cooled BN-1200. The first is MOX fuel and the second is a nitride fuel.

Two fast neutron power units are already in operation at the Beloyarsk NPP. The BN-600 reactor, which began operation in 1980, and the BN-800 reactor, which began operation in 2015. See WNA’s profile for a complete review of Russia’s extensive fast reactor program and technical details of each fast reactor.

Prior Coverage on this Blog

UAE Focusing on Nuclear Power-based Hydrogen

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is accelerating its hydrogen economy development by utilizing the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant, which was built by South Korean companies.

“We are considering utilizing nuclear power for the purpose of hydrogen production,” the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp. recently said in a recent press statement. It claims that “One million tons of hydrogen a year can be produced from the four Barakah Nuclear Power Plant units with a combined capacity of 5.6 GW.”

The Barakah Nuclear Power Plant was built by South Korean companies, including Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power. The first and second units are already in operation and the rest will be put into operation in the near future.

Despite the use of South Korean expertise to build the UAE reactors, the South Korean government is still objecting to nuclear power-based hydrogen production in South Korea.

This may change after the upcoming presidential election in March. Several of the candidates for the office have said they favor using nuclear power which would be a reversal of the current administration’s anti-nuclear policies.

Unit 2 of UAE’s Nuclear Plant to Start Operations in 2022

(Reuters) The second unit of the United Arab Emirates’ Barakah nuclear power plant is set to begin commercial operations in coming months, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation’s (ENEC) CEO said last week.

The third unit of the plant’s planned four reactors will start operations in late 2022, Mohammed al-Hammadi told a sustainable finance conference in Abu Dhabi.

Barakah’s Unit 1 was connected to the national power grid in August 2020, and Unit 2 in September 2021. When completed Barakah, which is being built by Korea Electric Power Corp will have four reactors with 5,600 megawatts (MW) of total capacity equivalent to around 25% of the UAE’s peak demand.

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Oklo Says the ‘Door Is Open’ to Resubmit License Application to the NRC

(NucNet) Oklo, which admits to being shocked down to its socks when the NRC kicked back its license application, says it will try again. Oklo told the Morning Consult wire service, the agency’s decision came as a surprise. That said the California based company also said it is “ready to keep moving forward” with its advanced nuclear project.

The NRC announced earlier this month that it had turned down Oklo’s application. It said the denial was based on Oklo’s failure to provide information on several key topics for the Aurora reactor design. The firm defended its efforts saying, “We submitted an application that addressed existing regulations, was complete and accepted for review, and we responded to all requests for information in a timely manner.”

Oklo added, “And now, we are ready to keep moving forward by supplementing the application and resubmitting.”

The firm also said that that support for the project from stakeholders remains undiminished by the setback on its license application.

“Oklo has multiple projects under way with the NRC, the Aurora was just the first. Simultaneously, our partners at the [Idaho] lab remain dedicated, as they have been, related to fuel and site.”

It’s not that the NRC slammed the door shut on Oklo’s ambitions. The agency said it has made its decision “without prejudice.”

“We are already discussing next steps with them and new ways to communicate,” Oklo said in a press statement. However, the experience may have left Oklo with a few bruises. One of its topical reports went through three rounds of requests for additional information (RAIs) from the NRC.

In its rejection of the license application the NRC stated in its 01/11/22 Federal register notice, its reasons for the decision.

“A custom combined license application submitted under 10 CFR part 52, subpart C, “Combined Licenses,” must contain site-specific information needed for licensing as well as the same level of design detail that would be required for a design certification application so that the NRC can make final safety findings on the design.”

“Since March 2020, when Oklo submitted its custom combined license application, Oklo has repeatedly failed to provide substantive information in response to NRC staff RAIs on the maximum credible accident (MCA) analysis for the Aurora; the safety classification of structures, systems, and components (SSCs); and other issues needed for the NRC staff to establish a schedule for its technical review and to complete that review.”

The NRC is in the process of developing a new set of regulations for licensing advanced reactors, but the proposed rule package isn’t due until February 2023. By that time Oklo may have made significant progress toward convincing the NRC to issue a license under 10 CFR Part 52.

10cfr-part53-roadmap

Image: U.S. NRC

What’s in the Oklo Reactor Design

The proposed Oklo reactor design consists of a small reactor with integrated solar panels. The reactor uses sodium filled heat pipes to transport heat from the reactor core to a power conversion system. It will generate approximately 1.5 MWe of power. According to Oklo, the reactor will run for at least 20 years on one load of fuel.

Oklo has said it budgeted “in the order of” $10M for construction and $3M a year for operations. The company said the construction cost includes the small building required, including the power conversion system.

Oklo, which is solely venture-funded and backed primarily by US-based investors, announced in 2019 that it had successfully demonstrated prototypes of a metallic fuel at INL for the Aurora reactor. It said it had fabricated prototypes with multiple fuel elements reaching production specification.

Prior coverage on this blog

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$21 Million to Support a Stronger, Diverse Nuclear Field

  • MacArthur Foundation Awards $21 Million to 28 Groups for Diversity in Nuclear Energy Field
  • American Nuclear Society Provides Repository Of Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion

Editor Note: Monday 01/17/22 is Martin Luther King Day in the U.S. These announcements fit the theme of observing the values associated with remembering his work.

MacArthur Foundation Awards $21 Million to 28 Groups for Diversity in Nuclear Energy Field

macfoundThe MacArthur Foundation has made grants for a total of $21 million to 28 organizations on 01/11/22 for its nuclear capstone project will cultivate diversity in the field, challenge nuclear deterrence theory, lead at the nexus of climate and nuclear issues, and support key organizations.

MacArthur’s nuclear capstone focuses on four areas of work:

  • encouraging a diverse pipeline of talent in the nuclear field,
  • challenging nuclear deterrence theory,
  • providing leadership around the intersection of nuclear and climate issues, and
  • supporting key organizations in the nuclear field.

“These grants represent our hopes that the nuclear field will continue to grow and evolve in ways that make it stronger and more effective,” said Valerie Chang, MacArthur’s Managing Director of Programs.

“We firmly believe that the areas of work touched by our capstone are fundamental to success in reducing nuclear threats in the decades ahead.”

“These grants represent our hopes that the nuclear field will continue to grow and evolve in ways that make it stronger and more effective.

Following is the list of grants by program areas. 

Cultivate Diversity and New Voices

An initial four organizations will receive a total of $2.7 million to cultivate diversity and empower new voices and underrepresented communities in the nuclear talent pipeline.

12-Healthy-Talent-PipelineMacArthur’s goal for these grants is to help generate increased attention, recognition, and influence of diverse voices including voices of women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color experts in the nuclear field.

The Foundation also hopes to encourage new and strengthened policies and practices in the field that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Today’s set of grant recipients are:

Innovate to Challenge Deterrence Theory

deterenceMacArthur will provide a total of $4.2 million to three organizations to support research to challenge nuclear deterrence theory.

The Foundation’s goal is the development of a body of research that seeds new thinking on challenging, and ultimately replacing, nuclear deterrence theory as the predominant lens through which we view nuclear weapons strategy. The grant recipients are:

Lead at the Nexus of Nuclear and Climate Risks

Four organizations will receive grants totaling $2.2 million to provide leadership at the nexus of nuclear and climate risks, with a focus on mitigating the security implications of nuclear power’s expansion as a climate solution.

atoms for peaceMacArthur’s goals for this area of work are to model productive dialogue on the future of nuclear energy in the climate battle, elevate policy questions about nuclear energy in U.S. domestic and foreign climate policy, and reimagine the global nuclear governance system for a world with more nuclear energy. The grant recipients are:

Preserve Support for Critical Work

nuclear nonproWith $9.6 million in grants, MacArthur will preserve support for a limited number of organizations critical to the nuclear dialogue.

The Foundation’s goal is to ensure the field maintains trusted and effective organizations at this challenging moment and into the future. The grant recipients are:

Additional Grants

In addition to these grants, MacArthur has awarded $2.6 million in final grants to organizations previously involved with the Nuclear Challenges strategy. MacArthur will announce additional capstone grants in the months ahead, but the Foundation is not currently accepting proposals for funding under the Nuclear Challenges capstone project.

MacArthur announced in February 2021 that the Foundation would shift away from the Nuclear Challenges program strategy and implement a capstone project. At the conclusion of the capstone grants in 2023, MacArthur will exit the nuclear field.

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American Nuclear Society Provides Web Repository Of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Educational Resources

ans logo(Editor Note: This press release was issued in 2020. It is included here because of the continuing value of the resources on diversity in the nuclear industry available at the cited web page.)

The American Nuclear Society (ANS) has introduced a new curated list of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) educational resources to its website. These collected resources can help educate ANS members and the nuclear science and technology community on the many facets of DEI.

“ANS continues to strive to better represent and reflect the nuclear community as a whole,” said ANS Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy. “We recognize that we have more work to do in fostering an inclusive Society.”

“We want all ANS members to know that the Society continues to hold discussions on diversity and inclusivity,” said Piercy. “Continuing that dialogue is essential going forward.”

“Providing this list is a step towards making ANS and the wider scientific and engineering fields more inclusive and welcoming,” said ANS President Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar.

“We encourage all ANS members, especially those not well-acquainted with the subject matters and issues, to visit the page and read the materials,” said Dunzik-Gougar.

Available at ans.org/diversityresources, the list will be continually updated with new resources. The categories currently covered include: Anti-Racism, Being an Ally, Workshops and Trainings, Recruitment Resources, Evaluation Resources, For Academia, For Families, For Our Communities, and General Information. To suggest additional resources, please email drizzo@ans.org.

The Diversity and Inclusion in ANS (DIA) Committee inspired this effort and provides direction on the selected resources. The group was launched in 2018 to promote and support the participation of underrepresented and marginalized groups within the Society. Such groups include, but are not limited to, women, persons of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, persons with disabilities, and other underrepresented groups.

“As a Society, we strive for our members to be continually learning in both technical and social aspects of nuclear engineering,” said Lane Carasik, DIA Committee Chair. “The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion educational resource list supports this goal for ANS members to learn about DEI issues encountered by African Americans and other underrepresented and marginalized groups.”

The goals of the DIA Committee are to help the Society promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in nuclear science, technology, and engineering; and to attract and retain diverse and underrepresented groups into nuclear-related fields.

Learn more about the Society’s diversity and inclusion initiatives at ans.org/diversity. See also the ANS Statement on Diversity.

africa nuclear

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Saudi Arabia Updates Plans to Mine Its Uranium Deposits

  • Saudi Arabia Updates Plans to Mine Its Uranium Deposits

800px-Saudi_Arabia_mapFollowing on a NYT August 2020 report that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) plans to use technical expertise from Chinese state-owned enterprises to process uranium ore from hard rock mines to make yellowcake, this week (01/13/22) Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al-Saud told a mining conference in Saudi Arabia that the kingdom plans to use its uranium resources to develop a nuclear power program.

According to a Reuters wire service report, Prince Abdulaziz said that Saudi Arabia would be mining and developing its uranium resources. The actual extent of the commercially viable ore remains uncertain but the intent to pursue the mining venture appears to be quite certain.

“We do have a huge amount of uranium resource, which we would like to exploit and we will be doing it in the most transparent way,” Prince Abdulaziz told the Future Minerals Summit in Riyadh.

For the time being the program’s public profile is that in terms of the nuclear fuel cycle, it only goes to the extent of turning natural uranium (U308) into yellowcake. So far there has not been an announcement from KSA officials that the country plans to build conversion and enrichment facilities to produce nuclear fuel at commercial levels (U235 at 3-5%) or beyond that point.

The cost of the nuclear fuel facilities need to get to that point is not trivial. They would include hard rock mining operations which would require multiple mines, a mill and a related facility to convert the extracted uranium, perhaps at a rate of 4 pounds per ton of ore, into yellowcake.

Commercially recoverable rates of uranium from ore run from dismal, at less than 1 pound per ton to exceptional, at 11-15 pounds per ton of ore which are found in Saskatchewan, Canada. Knowing how much uranium is available and how much can be retrieved per ton of ore are crucial commercial metrics for making a decision to open a mine and build processing facilities to make yellowcake.

It has not been a secret for a long time that Saudi Arabia has deposits of uranium that could be commercially viable to form the basis for mining operations. However, the deposits are not listed in directories of uranium deposits with verified estimates of recoverable quantities.

S&P Global/Platts reported on 1/12/22 that while there are no official figures published on Saudi uranium reserves, in 2020, a report by UK-based newspaper the Guardian, based on leaked internal documents, put the kingdom’s “inferred deposits” at an estimated 90,000 mt, which would be equivalent to around 1.4% of current global reserves if verified by subsequent efforts. The prospecting that reports the inferred deposits was carried out by geologists from Chinese state owned enterprises. Their report identified three major sites where potentially uranium could be mined.

The Guardian newspaper reported that Prof Kip Jeffrey, head of Camborne school of mines at the University of Exeter, commented, “If some of these became actually viable deposits – and there’s no way of knowing whether that’s possible or not – the actual amounts are probably going to be well in excess of what a power plant, or a few power plants would need.”

Mark Hibbs, senior fellow in the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, told the newspaper, “If you are considering nuclear weapons development, the more indigenous your nuclear program is, the better. In some cases, foreign suppliers of uranium will require peaceful-use commitments from end users, so if your uranium is indigenous, you don’t have to be concerned about that constraint.”

Note that in the world of uranium prospecting the U.S. Geological Survey defines “inferred deposits” as the least accurate method of estimating commercially recoverable quantities of uranium from ore. This is the method Saudi Arabia is using to report its recoverable levels of uranium based on prospecting surveys. It means that Saudi Arabia doesn’t really know at this stage how much uranium can be taken from their domestic deposits or what the yield will be from the ore.

“Inferred reserves” are those for which quantitative estimates are based largely on broad knowledge of the geologic character of the deposits, and for which there are few, if any, samples or measurements.

By comparison, “indicated reserves” are much more accurate. They are defined as those for which the grade is computed from drill-hole samples, exposures in mine workings and natural outcrops, gamma-ray logs, and production data, and for which the tonnage is computed by projection for a reasonable distance on geologic evidence from points of exposure (drill holes, mine workings, and natural outcrops).

To get to the next step in the nuclear fuel cycle in terms of producing usable nuclear fuel, once you have the ore out of the ground and into a mill, the yellowcake it produces would have to then be sent to a conversion facility to make a gaseous form of uranium hexafluoride (UF6).  From there the gaseous form would go to an enrichment facility to extract the fissile U235 isotope to make nuclear fuel (5% U235)  Note that bomb material has an enrichment level greater than 80% U235.

The enrichment facility spins the gas in centrifuges at a very high rate of speed to separate the lighter U235 isotope (the fissile material) from the heavier U238 raw uranium. The reason it is called “enrichment” is that U235 in raw uranium is only 0.7% of the mass. It takes a lot of spinning centrifuges to get to 5% U235 which is the high end for commercial nuclear fuel.

nuclear fuel cycle

Saudi Arabia has none of these facilities and the cost of building them would be several hundred million dollars and take two-to-three years. Yet, Prince Abdulaziz said in his remarks that KSA would consider exporting the yellowcake to other countries which could include its long time partner Pakistan or China.

Saudi Arabia currently has no nuclear power generation plants but has said it will add around 17 GW of nuclear capacity by 2040 and has ambitions to bring two reactors with a combined capacity of 2.8 to 3.2 GWe online within the next decade. Plans to release a tender to bidders for the first two units have repeatedly been pushed back repeatedly although a request for information from potential vendors was distributed several years ago.

Last August there was an indication that the process was underway once again. A Saudi note published in a construction trade press journal requested management consulting support services for the nuclear program indicating the country’s energy ministry may be restarting the bid and proposal process.

After a long period of relative quiet, KSA announced in August 2021 that The King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE) plans to hire the services of a global management service company to advise on Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear project in the next two months. The report was monitored on a CNBC Arabia TV channel.

According to the report, the global bidders for the project include Deloitte, Ernst & Young, HSBC and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

KSA does not have a 123 Agreement with the US and has repeatedly affirmed its “right” to develop uranium enrichment and spend fuel reprocessing facilities albeit without have the capacity or budget to build them.  In rejecting U.S. nuclear technologies by refusing to sign on to a 123 agreement, KSA has turned to China as a potential partner for new nuclear reactors.

Plans for Making Hydrogen

S&P Global / Platts also reported that KSA has expressed interest in becoming a leader in blue and green hydrogen as it looks at alternative energy sources. Saudi Arabia will adopt a partnership approach towards developing hydrogen, Prince Abdulaziz told the summit.

“We are working with our friends from the EU but we hope that we can aggregate for example, our EU partners to work with us on delivering hydrogen, either it is ammonia [that is] shipped or even piping it,” he said.

Saudi Aramco signed agreements last year to develop hydrogen manufactured from electrolysis powered by solar and wind. In 2020, the company shipped a cargo of blue ammonia to Japan, one of its biggest buyers of crude. Ammonia is the currently easiest way to store and transport hydrogen.

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EU Nations Need EUR500 Billion for New Nuclear Reactors

  • EU Need “Colossal” Amounts of Funding for New Nuclear Reactors to Meet Climate Goals by 2050
  • France Expects Next Fleet of Reactors to Be Complete by 2035
  • Czech Republic to Launch Tender for 1200 MWe PWR for Dukovany
  • Construction Begins of Two New Hualong Units at Changjiang and Sanaocun
  • Beloyarsk-4 / Fast Reactor To Fully Use MOX Fuel In 2022
  • Japan Seeks Nuclear Fusion Reactor Prototype by 2050

EU Nations Need “Colossal” Amounts of Funding for New Nuclear Reactors to Meet Climate Goals by 2050

lots of dollars(WNN) Investment in nuclear power totaling around EUR500 billion (USD565 billion) by 2050 will be needed if the European Union’s goal of carbon neutrality is to be hit, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton has said in an interview with France’s Le Journal du Dimanche.

Breton, speaking after the EU proposed to include nuclear and natural gas in the taxonomy, said nuclear energy had a fundamental role to play if the  EU was to achieve net-zero.

“To achieve carbon neutrality, it is really necessary to move up a gear in the production of carbon-free electricity in Europe, knowing that the demand for electricity itself will double in 30 years,” Breton said.

He said that the taxonomy, which is designed to allow access to capital on favorable terms if they have a “green label,” would be crucial for nuclear to attract the finance needed, adding that “the objective of zero emissions implies the mobilization of colossal investments.” He said that existing nuclear power plants require EUR50 billion investment by 2030, with EUR500 billion required by 2050 for new generation.

“The green transition will lead to an industrial revolution of unprecedented scale,” Breton said.

He said that around half of the EU’s member states had decided to include nuclear power in their energy mix while “some prefer to bet on gas”.

“I am not passing judgment on the sovereign choices made by states,” he added. “The main thing is that the effort of the European continent, by far the most committed in the world for the protection of the planet, can be successful within the allotted time.”

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France Expects Next Fleet of Reactors to Be Complete by 2035

france map of reactors(Wire services) The French Government boosted its commitment to dealing with climate change this week with an announcement that it expects the next fleet of nuclear reactors to power the nation to be complete by 2035.  (Map right courtesy of WNA)

According to wire service reports, Berangere Abba, Secretary of State to the Minister for the Ecological Transition, said during a parliamentary debate on 01/06/22 that the government is looking for plans for new nuclear reactors to be submitted in 2023. The announcement comes as a result of a commitment French president Emmanuel Macron made at the COP26 climate conference to invest billions of dollars in new nuclear plants.

She said the new reactors would be EPR2 models, which is an improved versions of EDF’s 1600 MWe European Pressurized Reactor (EPR). The current design has been been a financial disaster for Finland and for France with FOAK units in both countries experiencing staggering cost overruns and schedule delays. Previously, the government had said it would not launch any new third-generation EPR reactor projects until Flamanville 3 is completed.

According to Ms. Abba, in her statement, she said EDF, which inherited the original design from Areva, has submitted safety documentation to the Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN) for the new model and that the regulator had validated its design concept.

According to media reports, EDF submitted a proposal to build six new generation EPR2s for around €50 billion ($56.8bn) or $11.4 billion each. At 1,600 MWe, the cost is $7,100/Kw. Given that the construction period will not begin until the end of this decade, at best this is a projected cost estimate and not a firm fixed price.

The current French fleet has 56 reactors. According to a profile of the French nuclear fleet, the oldest reactor was built in the early 1970s the newest in the late 1980s. All of the reactors will be 50 years old or more by 2030.

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Czech Republic to Launch Tender for 1200 MWe PWR for Dukovany

(WNN) bid cover sheetCzech utility CEZ expects to announce the tender process for a new reactor at Dukovany in February CEO Daniel Benes said in a radio interview.  He said the company is ready to accelerate and expand its nuclear plans to potentially build four new reactors in light of the EU Taxonomy.

Beneš said that a timetable for the tender could be confirmed “sometime in early February” and the actual process would begin quickly. He added that a startup by 2036 is “realistic.”

Benes said in response to a question from the news media that he is confident about the prospect of continuing to expand nuclear energy after the new Dukovany unit. “The site at Temelín has always been intended for four large units,” he noted. “There is room for [new build], so it is on offer.”

Setting up an entirely new nuclear power plant would be “a big problem in terms of permitting”, said Benes. “So if we are going to build more units somewhere after the Dukovany unit, it will be two units at Temelín. That means Temelín 3 and 4, and then we can talk about Dukovany Unit 6.”

“Whether it is in the new units at Temelín or Dukovany unit 6. We will speed up everything that we can,” said Beneš. Recent representative public polling in the Czech Republic showed support for the use of nuclear power at 65%, while 93% of people want the country to remain self-sufficient in electricity generation.

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Construction Begins of Two New Hualong Units at Changjiang and Sanaocun

(NucNet) State-owned China General Nuclear (CGN) and China Huaneng Group (CHG) said in separate statements last week that construction has started for two new Hualong One reactors at Changjiang And Sanaocun. The units are Changjiang-4 and Sanaocun-2.

CHG said the two Changjiang Hualong One units are expected to be online at the end of 2026 and cost about €5.6bn ($6.3bn). The Hualong One is a 1000 MWe PWR. At this cost the price price for each, $3.25 billion, comes in at the low price of $3,250/Kw. Due to differences in Chinese construction cost accounting methods, the price is not directly comparable to western nuclear reactor projects at the same scale and for similar technology.

HPR1000,_cooling_systems_schemata

Conceptual diagram of a Hualong One

Image: Ji Xing, Daiyong Song, Yuxiang Wu – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095809916301515 (from PDF version of paper) Journal: Engineering. 2 (1). doi:10.1016/J.ENG.2016.01.017

Active and passive cooling systems of HPR1000 (aka Hualong One) nuclear reactor. Red line − active systems; green line − passive systems; IRWST − in-containment refueling water storage tank.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Sanaocun nuclear station, south of Taizhou in the eastern province of Zhejiang, has one Hualong One unit under construction since 31 December 2020.

The Changjiang nuclear power station in the island province of Hainan, southern China, has had two units in commercial operation since 2015 and 2016, both of the 601-MW domestic CNP-600 PWR design. Construction of a third unit, a Hualong One at Changjiang-3, began on 31 March 2021.

Reports said the station will eventually have six of the domestically developed PWR units for a combined output of 6 GWe, but only two have so far been authorized for construction.

China now has 10 Hualong One units under construction at five sites – two at each of the Zhangzhou, Taipingling, Fangchenggang, Changjiang and Sanaocun sites.

Fuqing-5 in the southeastern province of Fujian is China’s only commercially operational Hualong One. Fuqing-6, also a Hualong One, was recently connected to the national grid and is close to going commercial.

The IAEA says China has 53 commercial nuclear plants in operation, but the addition of Sanaocun-2 and Chiangjiang-4 will take that to 55. It says there are 13 units under construction – a figure that now increases to 15.

The International Energy Agency said in September that nuclear power could expand rapidly if China meets its Paris Agreement goals on carbon neutrality. Potentially, it could become the largest commercial reactor fleet in the world after 2030.

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Beloyarsk-4 / Fast Reactor To Fully Use MOX Fuel In 2022

(NucNet) Russia expects to load the reactor core of the BN-800 fast neutron reactor at Beloyarsk-4 entirely with commercial mixed oxide uranium-plutonium (MOX) fuel in 2022, according to station director Ivan Sidorov.

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Conceptual image of the BN-800 – Image: Rosatom

In February 2021, a third of the reactor core was loaded. Operator Rosenergoatom said at the time that from then on only MOX fuel would be added to the BN-800 core. Currently, 60% of the core is MOX fule. Mr. Sidorov said that,
“Taking into account the scheduled pace [of loading] we will be able to fully switch to MOX fuel in 2022.”

MOX fuel contains more than one oxide of fissile material, usually plutonium oxide blended with natural uranium, reprocessed uranium or depleted uranium oxide. MOX fuel can also use weapons-grade plutonium from military sources.

The industrial production of MOX fuel in Russia is part of a federal program to develop a new generation of nuclear technologies. The MOX fuel project was led by Tvel. Production began in late 2018.

State nuclear corporation Rosatom has said the fuel pellets in the MOX assemblies were made of a mixture of depleted uranium oxides accumulated from enterprises connected to Tvel and plutonium oxides separated during the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

Recycling fissile material in this way is known as closing the nuclear fuel cycle. The overall toxicity, fissile content and volume of the waste produced is reduced while the fissionable residuals are recycled for energy production.

The Beloyarsk nuclear power station is near Yekaterinburg in central Russia. Apart from the BN-800 at Beloyarsk-4, there is another commercially operational fast reactor unit at the site – the Beloyarsk-3 BN-600, a smaller version of the BN-800.

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Japan Seeks Nuclear Fusion Reactor Prototype by 2050

(Nikkei) Japan said it will deploy and R&D strategy within the next six months and that a key milestone in it will be the goal of operating a commercial prototype fusion reactor by around 2050. The strategy, which has not yet been produced, will likely specify, at least initially, exploration of multiple technological scenarios for development.

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Illustration by Ana Kova for U.S. Fusion Outreach

Japan plans to increase the competitiveness of its domestic industry by promoting research and development of equipment needed for fusion power generation. The technology acquired by participating in ITER will be applied to a domestically produced prototype reactor. The hope is that in the future it will become a baseload source for stable power supply.

In Japan, small and midsized companies are working on making components for nuclear fusion reactors. The government will consider support for them to boost technological innovation.

Investment in nuclear fusion ventures is growing in the U.S., and in the U.K., a “government fusion strategy” is in place and there is a goal to build a prototype reactor by 2040.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida mentioned his support for nuclear fusion in connection with a clean energy strategy in a recent press conference.

Japan is working with the U.S. and other countries on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), which is now being built in France. The project aims to see if the technology is technically feasible, though it will not generate electricity. Assembly began in 2020 with completion slated for 2025.

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IAEA Guide to Stakeholder Engagement for Nuclear Energy

(Press Release) To succeed, nuclear power and other nuclear projects need to engage with all relevant stakeholders, including the public. The IAEA has now released its first guide-level publication to support national efforts to engage with stakeholders throughout the life cycle of all nuclear facilities—from uranium mining and new and operating reactors to non-electric applications, radioactive waste management and decommissioning.

Stakeholder Engagement in Nuclear Programmes (Nuclear Energy Series No. NG-G-5.1) provides theoretical and practical guidance on developing and implementing stakeholder engagement programs and activities. It is the latest in a series of IAEA initiatives to support countries in this area, including through the Agency’s Milestones Approach for countries introducing nuclear power, technical meetings, webinars and other publications.

Stakeholders come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some, such as regulators, are required by law to be involved in projects. Others include any individuals or groups who feel affected by an activity. In order to enhance confidence in the project and build trust, organizations are encouraged to develop and implement a stakeholder engagement program, which can enable those individuals and groups to be involved and understand the basis for decisions.

“This publication builds on years working directly with governments and organizations, identifying good practices and crafting methodologies and approaches for effective stakeholder engagement,” said Lisa Berthelot, Technical Officer of the publication.

“There is no engagement recipe, in the end, because each context is different, but this guide lays out the foundations for what is a crucial element in any nuclear program.”

Explaining nuclear energy, strengthening relationships and building trust with stakeholders is key to the successful implementation, operation and expansion of all nuclear facilities, including nuclear power plants. The new guide will assist communication experts, senior managers and other experts to establish and maintain a long-term stakeholder engagement strategy and activities for a nuclear program.

These experts work for key organizations involved in the nuclear project or facility, including government, owner/operator and regulator. Other employees who are involved in communication or engagement activities will also find the content of this guide useful and relevant to their work.

“The publication is an excellent, basic principle level document which will be used as a part of our internal familiarization and on-job-training programs for new communication officers and for senior and midlevel managers,” said Jaana Isotalo, Senior Vice President (HR & Communication) at TVO, a Finnish nuclear power company.

“It gives an overview of the key elements of open, successful and transparent stakeholder engagement, as key components for the sustainable use of nuclear power.”

The publication identifies five key principles for effective engagement:

  • building trust, demonstrating accountability,
  • exhibiting openness and transparency,
  • practicing early and frequent consultation and
  • communicating the benefits and risks of the nuclear technology.

After providing an overview of the topic, the new guide covers the development of stakeholder engagement strategies and plans, including practical information such as stakeholder mapping. It then discusses the roles and responsibilities of key nuclear organizations and how the types of approaches and activities selected differ. Finally, engagement approaches for the different life cycle stages are examined, showing how each stage requires its own strategic approach.

Last month, the IAEA organized two events on stakeholder engagement and public acceptance. The “19th INPRO Dialogue Forum on Enhancing Public Acceptance of Nuclear Energy through Institutional Innovations” and the webinar on “Engaging with Policy and Decision Makers: Knowledgeable and Interested Leaders” underscored how effective stakeholder engagement is needed to support nuclear energy in fulfilling its potential to help countries to mitigate climate change and achieve energy security and sustainable development.

Stakeholder engagement is of particular interest to newcomer countries seeking to introduce a new nuclear power program and is one of the 19 nuclear infrastructure issues that make up the IAEA’s Milestones Approach, together with others such as nuclear safety and security, funding and financing and radioactive waste management. There are currently around 30 such newcomers, with Bangladesh and Turkey already constructing their first nuclear power plants.

‘’The IAEA has provided newcomer countries with insightful capacity building support in stakeholder engagement for years,” said Arda D. Duran of the Turkish Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources.

“This new publication is an addition to its valuable bibliography as the first ‘guide level’ document on the topic. With this publication, the IAEA will keep helping newcomer countries to improve our understanding and ability to effectively engage with stakeholders.’’

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NRC Denies OKLO’s Application for a License

  • NRC Denies Oklo’s Application for a License
    • What’s in the NRC Review?
    • Why the NRC Did Not Proceed with its Technical Review of Oklo’s Application
    • Oklo Says it Will Re-submit Its Application
    • Cost of the Application
    • Impact of the NRC Action on Oklo’s Prospects for Commercial Success
  • NIA Issues Report on Licensing Fee Reforms for the NRC

Update 01/17/2022 – In an interview with the DC based trade news wire Morning Consult, Oklo CEO Jacob DeWitte said the firm will re-submit its application to the NRC for a license for its mini advanced nuclear reactor. He added the the firm still expects to get the license, build the first of a kind unit at the Idaho National Laboratory, and begin operations by 2025.

NRC Denies OKLO’s Application for a License

oklo logoThe Nuclear Regulatory Commission has denied, without prejudice, Oklo Power, LLC.’s application [ML20075A000] to build and operate the company’s 1.5 MWe Aurora compact fast reactor in Idaho  first announced in December 2019.

The denial is based on Oklo’s failure to provide information on several key topics for the Aurora design. The agency said the company is free to submit a complete application in the future. (press statement )

NRC Director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation Andrea Veil said, “Since Oklo submitted its application almost 22 months ago, our engagement with the company has included multiple information requests, audits and public meetings. We thoroughly considered Oklo’s proposals for satisfying our safety requirements.”

“Oklo’s application continues to contain significant information gaps in its description of Aurora’s potential accidents as well as its classification of safety systems and components,” Veil said. “These gaps prevent further review activities. We are prepared to re-engage with Oklo if they submit a revised application that provides the information we need for a thorough and timely review.”

Oklo submitted the application on March 11, 2020, seeking an NRC license for an advanced reactor to be built at the Idaho National Laboratory site. The proposed Aurora design would use heat pipes to transport heat from the reactor core to a power conversion system. The NRC staff accepted the application on June 5, 2020.

What’s in the NRC Review?

The NRC’s letter to Oklo of June 5, 2020 [ML20149K616] identified numerous topics to be addressed in “a full, detailed technical review.”  (Timeline of Topics of NRC / Oklo actions) Several of the key topics included;

  • Maximum Credible Accident (MCA)  – An analysis and evaluation of the design with the objective of assessing the risk to public health and safety and for prevention of accidents and the mitigation of the consequences of accidents.
  • Classification of Structures, Systems, and Components (SSC) – a description and analyses of the structures, systems,and components of the facility with emphasis on performance requirements . . .
  • Quality Assurance Program (QA) – Identification of components under the scope of the quality assurance program and its application to the design and fabrication  of them . . .

The NRC said that it had taken “a novel approach” of working to align with Oklo on identified information gaps related to key design and safety aspects early in the process before developing a review schedule. Those alignment efforts included Oklo’s submission of reports on several topics in July 2021. The company supplemented those reports in October of that year, and the staff has concluded the reports fail to close the information gaps.

A timeline of the interactions between Oklo and the NRC that in September 2020 the agency requested additional information (RAI) on multiple items related to all three categories and the company responded the following month. The agency and the company has three rounds of RAIs on topics related to the category of Maximum Credible Accident which were completed a year later in October 2021.

oklo-tech_thumb.png

Why the NRC Did Not Proceed with its Technical Review of Oklo’s Application

However, in early January 2022 the NRC informed the company in a letter dated 01/06/22 [ML21307A108] that Oklo’s submissions in response to the RAIs that, even with three rounds of RAIs, the NRC said it “finds that Oklo had not provided sufficient technical information to resolve previously identified deficiencies in the topical reports.”

The NRC letter provides numerous examples of these “deficiencies.” Here are three examples.

“For example, the topical reports would leave the resolution of several important safety issues associated with a design’s MCA to the discretion of an applicant that references the topical reports in a licensing action. Moreover, the topical reports include generalized concepts rather than rigorous, repeatable methodologies and lack specific guidelines and sufficient technical information. As a result, the NRC staff is unable to determine whether and how the topical reports or applicants that reference them would meet applicable safety requirements.”

“For example, the topical reports are vague about how to determine and implement proper treatment of uncertainties, appropriate design margins, and adequate defense-in-depth.”

“The topical reports do not commit to consensus codes or standards and do not provide alternate guidance for users to meet the regulatory requirement to consider codes and standards in the design. The MCA topical report states that it is acceptable not to use established methods to select a comprehensive set of accident initiators, but it does not provide a detailed methodology of its own as a substitute, leaving an open question how a user of the methodology will prepare a robust safety analysis that meets the regulatory requirements for the technical contents of applications.”

Next Steps for NRC

nrc-seal_thumb.pngAs a result, the NRC said in its press statement, “As the application lacks information on key topics, the NRC’s action makes no safety findings regarding the Aurora design.”

“Following the publication of an upcoming Federal Register notice, Oklo will have 30 days to request a hearing regarding the agency’s decision. Other interested persons or entities who might be affected by the decision can also ask to participate in a hearing.”

new-reactor-licensing-process

Oklo Says it Will Re-submit Its Application

Oklo told CNBC that the firm was not aware that the agency was planning to decide not to accept its application for a license. A spokesperson for Oklo said in an emailed statement that the firm is planning to resubmit its application.

“We are eager to continue moving forward on not just this project with the NRC, but also other projects we are already engaged on with the NRC, including other budgeted application submittals.  Our combined license application was the first ever accepted for an advanced plant, so there are many new things for all to learn from and work through to support a successful review, and it provides a foundation from which we can supply additional information and continue work with the NRC.  The application was accepted as an important step for the nation’s interest, and we are continuing our work on advanced fission unabated as key to a clean energy future.”

CNBC reported that Caroline Cochran, one of the two principals at the firm, said she was hopeful the issues with the firm’s application for a license can be addressed. Cochran said she has been encouraged by some conversations she and the Oklo team have had with members of the NRC since the decision was made public.

“After chatting with some folks with the NRC yesterday after it went public, they made pretty clear that there’s a pathway for us to provide more information again, and just continue the process,” Cochran said.

The NRC said in its press statement that it has made the decision “without prejudice” and that Oklo “is free to submit a complete application in the future.”

Cost of the Application

The cost of the license application process so far for Oklo has been substantial. In its June 5, 2020, letter to Oklo, the NRC estimated that the agency would need 1,800 hours for its review of safety and design issues and another 700 hours for an environmental review. A productive work year in the federal government is about 1,800 hours, not counting holidays. sick days, weather days, etc., out of 2,080 available hours (52 weeks x 40 hours/week). The NRC’s estimate, taken as a whole for 2,500 hours, is 1.4 full time equivalent (FTE) staff for the Step 1 review.

According to the NRC, reimbursement rate for these reviews is $288/hour. Taken together, the two review processes requiring 2,500 hours have a potential cost of $720,000. This is for Step 1 of the review process. The full technical review, for which the agency determined there was insufficient information to proceed, follows successful completion of Step 1. The agency did not provide an estimate of the cost of Step 2.

These costs are solely in terms of paying for the NRC’s time. They don’t include Oklo’s staff time to develop the license application itself or to respond to multiple rounds of RAIs.

Impact of the NRC Action on Oklo’s Prospects for Commercial Success

The NRC’s rejection of the license application could have a chilling effect on Oklo’s prospects for commercial success. Investors who may have been considering the firm, based on a near term future milestone of getting a license from the NRC, may now have second thoughts. CNBC reported, citing Pitchbook, that since it started the firm has raised more than $25M from investors.

The challenge for the firm is that it still has to address the NRC’s key concern regarding the MCA topical report. While the NRC said it is acceptable not to use established methods to select a comprehensive set of accident initiators, “it [Oklo] did not provide a detailed methodology of its own as a substitute, leaving an open question how a user of the methodology will prepare a robust safety analysis that meets the regulatory requirements for the technical contents of applications.”

CNBC also reported that the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the US trade group for the industry, said that the NRC needs to update its licensing procedures, according to Doug True, NEI’s Chief Nuclear Officer.

“The next generation of nuclear technologies are being designed with inherent safety features and will require the NRC to modernize their approach in licensing the carbon-free nuclear reactors of the future,”

Alex Gilbert, a project manager for nuclear power think tank the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, also told CNBC the decision was a disappointment and a sign of out dated regulatory processes.

Also, as the firm has stated it will resubmit its application, it is on the hook to pay the agency, potentially, another $720,000 for review time not counting its own internal costs. It is a good guess that the firm would prefer to use these funds for development of the business rather than feeding the bureaucracy. The completion of the entire entire licensing process, and get a decision from the NRC to issue a license, is now further in the future.

The following article discusses some ways the costs of getting advanced reactors through the NRC process without burning the firm’s bank account to the ground.

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NIA Issues Report on Licensing Fee Reforms for the NRC

NIA logoThe Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) released a new report, “Promoting Efficient NRC Advanced Reactor Licensing Reviews to Enable Rapid Decarbonization.”

In this report, the NIA explores how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Industry can make advanced reactor licensing both more effective and more efficient. Unnecessarily long licensing reviews raise significant barriers to investment, reduce customer interest in advanced reactors, and threaten successful long-term deployment of advanced nuclear reactors.

NIA Executive Director Judi Greenwald provided the following statement on the relevance of this new NIA work to ongoing regulatory innovation:

“Historically, NRC often takes five years or more to conduct a license review and make a safety determination for a large light water reactor (LWR) application. This length of time reflects both the engineering complexity of such large LWRs as well as the length of the LWR project lifecycle. Simpler, smaller, and even safer advanced reactors would benefit from more efficient and effective licensing reviews. Shorter reviews enable business models that reduce costs and meet the public’s need for clean energy. We recommend actions that both NRC and industry can take to reduce licensing durations while continuing to ensure safety.

“Emerging factors, especially the growing concern about climate change, signal that advanced reactors are needed as soon as possible. Recognizing the recent bipartisan support in Congress for advanced nuclear innovation, the NRC and advanced nuclear industry should drive rapid advanced nuclear deployment by re-imagining advanced nuclear reactor licensing. The keys to success will depend on a sense of urgency, maintaining safety standards, and improving both industry applications and NRC regulatory processes.”

To read the report, visit the NIA website here: Promoting Efficient NRC Advanced Reactor Licensing Reviews to Enable Rapid Decarbonization

The report was released in a virtual webinar moderated by former NRC Commissioner and current Third Way Fellow Stephen Burns and featuring NIA Project Manager Alex Gilbert and Hogan Lovells Global Energy Practice Chair Amy Roma. The recording can be accessed here: Video

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

A New Year’s Resolution for U.S. Nuclear Utilities

Welcome to 2022! This is my ‘new years resolution’ which I offer for adoption by publicly traded nuclear energy utilities in the U.S.

These firms have communicated to shareholders and stakeholders about sustainability issues, including climate change, but what does that means when it comes to reporting on their operations and measuring accountability for compliance with their ESG reports (environmental, social, governance).

esg-1_thumb

In 2022 the opportunity exists for these firms to reaffirm their sustainability claims to their stockholders and stakeholders by forming a national effort to develop a new SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board) standard, or modifying an existing standard, that addresses Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting requirements associated with the development, construction, and operation of nuclear reactors for electric power generation, process heat for industry, hydrogen production, and desalinization of sea water.

sasb-logo_thumb.pngBy way of background SASB Standards connect businesses and investors on the financial impacts of sustainability. SASB has published a standard for electric utilities and power generators, but its coverage does not address the technology development efforts now underway for 4th generation advanced reactors and new types of light water reactors such as small modular reactors and mini reactors nor their uses beyond electricity production.

Compliance with SASB standards forms the basis for materially significant reports to investors on how well a firm is doing relative to the principles of environmental, sustainable, and governance (ESG) elements of its operations and that of its supply chains.

  • The environmental data elements of an ESG report cover items like climate change, pollution/waste management, as well as prospective actions like green buildings and clean technologies.
  • The social data elements of an ESG report cover relations with internal and external stakeholders, not just stockholders.
  • The governance data elements of an ESG report in broad terms it covers all aspects of corporate behavior internally and externally.

Companies prepare ESG reports in compliance with SASB standards and its “materiality map.” SASB’s Materiality Map identifies sustainability issues that are likely to affect the financial condition or operating performance of companies within an industry. In part its an exercise in risk management.

SASB identifies 26 sustainability-related business issues which encompass a range of Disclosure Topics and their associated Accounting Metrics that vary by industry.  So far 77 industries are covered, but the nuclear energy utility industry, its suppliers, and especially firms involved in new reactor development, are not covered by one.

The reason a nuclear utility or a reactor technology developer, or both in a partnership, would want to prepare and publish a materially significant ESG report is to attract “green  investors” to fuel growth and/or to bring their technologies to market

clean energyThere has been a paradigm shift, especially among investors who want their funds to be a force for good. They care about what their funds and investments are doing and given a choice will select an ESG compliant firm every time. A firm that meets these requirements can attract more capital or lower the cost of capital.

The opportunity for publicly traded utilities is to organize a task force on a peer-to-peer basis identify either changes to the current SASB standard for Electric Utilities & Power Generators or to work with SASB to develop a revised or a new standard that establishes a basis for ESG reporting for the nuclear energy industry.

The two main benefits of such a task force being successful are to enable ESG driven investors to justify putting their funds into nuclear energy utilities, and to tell the story of the industry to the public as well as business and government decision makers.

Collaboration with the American Nuclear Society and the American Society for Mechanical Engineers would bring added value and credibility to the effort. This effort could also involve trade organizations for nuclear utilities that live and work inside the DC beltway.

As for the answer to the question of who else thinks this is a good idea, the World Nuclear Association and the GEN IV forum have published reports and white papers advocating ESG reporting for the nuclear industry. (more on this below) Just last week the European Union published a draft taxonomy labeling nuclear energy is being “green.” If you pursue this idea, you will be in good company.

World Nuclear Association on Nuclear Energy & Sustainable Finance

The World Nuclear Association (WNA) on (12/20/21) published an examination of the issue on its website. WNA’s publication of this document becomes a globally significant touchstone for all other advocates for nuclear energy to assess how they might approach the issue.  Here is a summary and a link to the full document – Nuclear Energy and Sustainable Finance

WNA Summary

  • Increasingly, jurisdictions are taking policy and regulatory steps to enhance the role of the financial system in the transition towards low-carbon and sustainable economies.
  • These regulatory actions focus on three broad themes: disclosure, risk management and the mobilization of capital. There is a move towards mandatory disclosure internationally.
  • Over 20 countries have either implemented or are currently developing taxonomies. Some of the taxonomies issued to date specifically include nuclear energy while others currently exclude it. Many taxonomies under development intend to align with the EU taxonomy for sustainable activities.
  • The ongoing evolution of environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria presents both opportunities and risks to the nuclear industry.
  • Multiple international initiatives are working to help mobilize capital for the sustainability transition by seeking to harmonize ESG standards and reduce market fragmentation. Some of these are likely to result in major changes to non-financial reporting and risk assessment by financial institutions

GEN IV Forum Report

gen iv forumIn September 2021 the the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) published a report on the topic of nuclear energy as an asset class. The report said that nuclear energy has the potential to show up positively against a wide range of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) data collection and accounting metrics. This outcome should allow nuclear energy to be considered as an investable asset class, thereby allowing nuclear companies and projects to access climate finance.

The report – Nuclear Energy: An ESG Investible Asset Class – was produced by a finance industry taskforce set up in 2020 by GIF’s Economic Modelling Work Group. “The report has been produced by the finance community for the finance community. It is intended to provide guidance to the finance community and wider stakeholders on how nuclear assets could report against ESG.”

See this summary of the GEN IV report and its significance in this World Nuclear News report from September 7, 2021

References: SASB Standards

SASB’s Materiality Map identifies sustainability issues that are likely to affect the financial condition or operating performance of companies within an industry. In the left-hand column, SASB identifies 26 sustainability-related business issues, or General Issue Categories, which encompass a range of Disclosure Topics and their associated Accounting Metrics that vary by industry.  SASB Materiality Map

Electric Utilities & Power Generators SASB Standard

The Electric Utilities & Power Generators industry is made up of companies that generate electricity; build, own, and operate transmission and distribution (T&D) lines; and sell electricity. Utilities generate electricity from a number of different sources, commonly including coal, natural gas, nuclear energy, hydropower, solar, wind, and other renewable and fossil fuel energy sources.

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