SMR Work Advances in U.S., Canada, & China

CNL Launches Program to Accelerate SMR New Builds

Canada’s national nuclear laboratory introduces new initiative to provide reactor vendors working on SMRs with access to world-class research facilities

small-reactors_thumb.jpgCHALK RIVER, Ontario — Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) said in a press statement that is has launched the Canadian Nuclear Research Initiative (CNRI), a new program that enables research and development to accelerate the deployment of small modular reactors in Canada.

The announcement was made during the U.S. Nuclear Industry Council’s New Nuclear Capital industry meeting in Washington, D.C.

CNL will issue an annual call for proposals inviting organizations to submit projects that fall within a list of designated focus areas, including market analysis, fuel development, reactor physics modelling, transportation, and more.

Among the many benefits of the program, participants will be able to optimize resources, share technical knowledge, and have access to CNL’s expertise to help advance the commercialization of SMR technologies.

“CNL has made tremendous progress over the past few years as an advocate for SMR technology and is helping to facilitate its development here in Canada. We believe that CNRI will help continue this momentum,” commented Mark Lesinski, CNL President and CEO.

“Our laboratories and scientific capabilities are truly unique in this country. This new program will provide qualified applicants with the opportunity to leverage these resources to drive innovation in the development of this much-needed low carbon energy technology.”

“Through CNRI we are supporting mission critical R&D that will accelerate the deployment of SMRs while strengthening connections with industry, growing our team and attracting commercial opportunities,” noted Dr. Kathryn McCarthy, CNL’s Vice-President for Science and Technology.

“Since CNL launched our SMR program a few years ago, we have received tremendous interest from companies and organizations all over the world who recognize the role that this clean energy technology can play in powering economies cleanly, particularly communities and businesses in remote locations,” commented Dr. Corey McDaniel, CNL’s Chief Commercial Officer.

“Bringing this technology from design through to readiness for deployment is a major undertaking, and requires a substantial investment into research, testing and development. ”

Environmental Assessment Started for First CNL SMR

The Notice of Commencement of an environmental assessment (EA) for a small modular reactor project at the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) was posted by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) web site.

Global First Power (GFP) with support from Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation™ (USNC) and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) propose to construct and operate a 5 MW electrical “Micro Modular Reactor” (MMR) plant at the CRL campus.

Further details on the proposed project are available in the Project Description, and on the company web site

This work is aligned with CNL’s Strategic Initiative in small modular reactors and its vision to establish CNL as a global hub for the development of SMR technology.

GFP’s proposed project is presently in the third stage (negotiations) of CNL’s four stage Invitation to Site a Demonstration SMR.

NuScale / NRC COL Application Process To Begin For 60MW SMR

nuscale SMR

Cut Away of NuScale 60 MW SMR. Image courtesy of NuScale

(NucNet) The company behind a project to build a small modular reactor in the US using NuScale technology has sales contracts for enough power to begin a licence application process with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NuScale said in a statement on Thursday.

The project, being planned by Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), is known as the Carbon-Free Power Project (CFPP). UAMPS is in the first phase of investigating the feasibility of building up to 12 reactors of 50 MW each at the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls, ID.

The feasibility analysis includes engineering and regulatory activities to complete a site selection analysis.

NuScale said that reaching the 150 MW subscription level triggers continued work and evaluation of the project, including increased focus on site characterization and preparation of a combined licence application, or COL, for submittal to the NRC.

The Associated Press reported that the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems board of directors met last week and passed a resolution recognizing the fact that the project, which will consist of 12 60-megawatt small modular reactors producing 720 megawatts total, has 150 megawatts worth of buy-in.

UAMPS spokesman LaVarr Webb told AP that 150 MW is a milestone that indicates the Carbon Free Power Project had support from enough UAMPS members to move forward.

“The process to reach the 150 megawatts has been going on for several months, and each member of UAMPS had to decide if it wants to participate in the project and go through the process of their governing bodies to approve participation and at what megawatt level,” Webb said.

“A vital feature of CFPP is that its 12 small reactors would be flexible in dispatchable power output, allowing it to provide a steady, adjustable supply of carbon-free electricity that complements and enables large amounts of renewable energy, including wind and solar.”

Specifically, the energy cooperative is embarked on a plan called the Carbon Free Power Project that aims to supply carbon-free energy to its nearly 50 members, mostly municipalities, in six Western states. It says 34 members have now signed on, pushing it past 150 megawatts and triggering work on the license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

NuScale / NRC on Schedule to Complete Design Review

NuScale said in a press statement on 7/22/19 that the NRC remains on track to complete its review of NuScale’s design by September 2020, and the company’s first customer, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, is planning a 12-module SMR plant in Idaho slated for operation by the mid-2020s based on this certified design.

China Starts Work on 1st SMR at 125 MW

China has started building its first small modular reactor (SMR) as a demonstration project. The ACP100 small modular reactor (SMR) will be built on the island province of Hainan accordong to a statment sent to wire services by the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).

According to a March 2019 report by World Nuclear News, the ACP100 was identified as a ‘key project’ in China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, and is developed from the larger ACP1000 pressurised water reactor (PWR). The design, which has 57 fuel assemblies and integral steam generators, incorporates passive safety features and will be installed underground.

The ACP100 plant will be located on the northwest side of the existing Changjiang nuclear power plant, according to the 22 March announcement. The site is already home to two operating CNP600 PWRs, with two Hualong One units also planned for construction.  IAEA Briefing on the ACP100

The demonstration SMR at the Changjiang nuclear facility in Hainan will be used to “verify the design, manufacture, construction and operation of the technology and accumulate valuable experience in small nuclear power plants,” CNNC said in a notice to western news media.  Briefing on China’s overall SMR Strategy

The project was originally scheduled to go into construction in 2017. The company did not say when the project was likely to be completed. Given its size, a 3-4 year construction period is a likely scenario.

Reuters reported that China hopes the reactor,“Linglong One,” will eventually be offered with its bigger third-generation “Hualong One” model for export overseas.

The State Power Investment Corporation said last month that it was planning to build a small-scale pilot heating reactor in the northeastern city of Jiamusi, with the objective of completion by 2024.

NBN, a market research firm, reports that the Chinese government will build twenty floating reactors in the South China Sea. The objective is to provide electricity to artificial islands, especially the Paracel and Spratly islands. China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Taiwan claim these territories.

See prior coverage on this blogChina to deploy floating nuclear power plants to support geopolitical goals in S. E. Asia

Liu Zhengguo, head of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. said the nuclear power plants would cost 14 Billion Chinese Yuan ($2.034 Billion USD) each.  (One Yuan equals $0.15 USD)

At 125 MW electrical, the Chinese SMRs come in at just over $1600/Kw which is an astonishing number considering that NuScale in the US is targeting $4,000/KW for its 60 MW SMR.

This number will likely go up since the plants will be built on islands in the South China Sea. There is no local infrastructure and everything – parts, people, supplies – has to be delivered by ship or barge. It is a costly enterprise intended to support geopolitical objectives.

  • The nation has been building a series of artificial islands in the South China sea as a means of projecting military power in the region. The islands need power and potable water which could be supplied via desalinization by the floating reactors.
  • China’s geopolitical ambitions are to control maritime traffic which the U.S. and its allies, Japan and South Korea, see as an effort to restrain their military presence in the region.
  • Once the reactors are in place China will use the military assets they support on the artificial islands to protect them.

CSIC plans to expand the number of SMR units as a cheaper alternative to transmit power from mainland China. The cost of a diesel generator at sea is 2 yuan $0.30) per kilowatt, while the price of a nuclear plant can be 0.9 yuan ($0.135).

In addition to being an energy distributor, the floating nuclear power plant will also accelerate the exploitation of oil, natural gas, and methane hydrates found on the seabed.

China has built a mini-reactor to drive submarines since the 1970s. If the construction goes according to plan, the first nuclear reactor floating in the Asian sea will be fully functional by 2021

Plans for China’s HTGR Sufers a Setback

hibbs tweet

Separarely, Mark Hibbs, an expert on China’s nuclear energy program, said in a Twitter post last week that China’s recent announcements about its SMR work may be “hype.” He points to a decision which indicates China has dropped altogether its plans to build 20 of its 250 MW HTGR SMRs.

According to Hibbs, the reason is the cost of the units “greatly exceeded” the cost of larger 1000 MW Hulaong One on a kilowatt cost basis.

China has promoted the HTGR design for export to Saudi Arabia and other nations.

Hibbs is the author of an authortative book on China’s nuclear energy program which is based on first hand interviews with leading figures in China about their work. In his book “The Future of Nuclear Power in China” published in May 2018, he writes,

“China’s nuclear power wager might not indefinitely pay high dividends. Until now, the state has boosted the nuclear power industry with incentives that, in the future, may come under pressure. The electric power system is subject to reform in the direction of more transparent oversight and pricing that might disadvantage nuclear investments. President Xi Jinping supports state control of strategic economic sectors, but he also advocates market reforms that have helped lead Western nuclear power industries into crises.”

“The nuclear sector must withstand a gradual slowing down of China’s economy, characterized by diminishing returns on capital goods investments and translating into rising debt and overcapacity. Nuclear investments may be affected by demographics, changes in electricity load profile, and technology innovations including emergence of a countrywide grid system able to wheel bulk power anywhere.”

See prior coverage on this blogProgress Report on HTGR Reactors in China and the US

China to Help Kenya Select a Site for its First Nuclear Power Plant

(North Africa Post) The Indian Ocean, Lake Victoria and Lake Turkana have been identified as the most optimal sites for the establishment of Kenya’s first nuclear power plant acording to wire services quoting local news media.

China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is helping the East African nation’s Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (NuPEA) to identify the sites that would host the first nuclear plant in the country.

“Currently, we have zeroed in at the coast along the Indian Ocean, Lake Victoria and Lake Turkana as the most ideal sites. We have excluded the Rift Valley because we need enough water to cool the plant,” Mr Collins Juma, the NuPEA chief executive said.

Kenya aims to build a nuclear plant with a capacity of 1,000 MW, by 2027, to diversify its energy mix.

The country currently produces 35% of its energy from hydropower and the rest from geothermal, wind and diesel.

Plans to develop a 1,050-megawatt coal-fired plant on the coast, using funding from China, have been delayed by court action from environmental activists.

NuPEA forecasts its capacity rising to a total 4,000MW by 2033 making nuclear electricity a key component of the country’s energy mix.

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Czech Republic Releases Plan to Finance New Dukovany Units

czech-power

The Czech government has approved a preliminary plan for the state owned nuclear utility CEZ to build a new nuclear power station at the existing Dukovany site.

According to a report by World Nuclear News, the government, Elektrárna Dukovany II, a company which will be wholly owned by state-controlled power group CEZ, is to be responsible for the expansion of the Dukovany nuclear power station. A tender for the project is expected to be organized at the end of 2020. The subsidiary will assume all the risk of the project.

The government has also committed to provide financing and political guarantees for the project. This is a 180 degree change from the previous policies of the government which promised neither financing nor long-term stability on terms of policy governance.

The government said it will conclude an agreement with CEZ which will guarantee the company can obtain financing for its project at the same borrowing rates as the Czech state. The main mechanism will be loan guarantees.

The Czech Republic has pledged to guarantee the stability of the legislative and regulatory environments and provide possible compensation for any changes in these environments.

Barriers to the Plan

The government said it will not provide guarantees on future power prices by way of a contract for difference as used by the UK government for the Hinkley Point C project in England.

The lack of rate guarantees is likely to scare off investors who have only to look at the closings of merchant plants in the U.S. to understand why this won’t work.

Minister of Industry and Trade Karel Havlicek reportedly said at a press conference in Prague following a cabinet meeting that the government is “moving from the stage of talking about constructing new nuclear capacity to taking specific steps to prepare for new capacity”.

The UK’s CfD model guarantees a minimum price for electricity produced by the plant. However, the Czech approach appear to be to pass the business risk of building new reactors on to the utility’s subsidiary which is made more tenuous by the potential for volatility in rates.

A statement by the Czech ministry of industry and trade said the country will have to negotiate the terms of the chosen financing model with the European Commission to make sure it fits the rules of the internal market.

The EU, pushed into this stance by the anti-nuclear government in Austria, has attempted to intervene in new nuclear builds if it thinks the plants are being “subsidized” by rate guarantees. Yet, in addition to the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland are all considering new nuclear plants.

The Czech government will provide CEZ, which is 70% state-owned, with loan guarantees to help it secure cheaper financing. The guarantes are not subsidies since the CEZ subsidiary will undoubtedly have to pay an insurance premium for the loan guarantees.

Another barrier is that CEZ may have to buy out the 30% stake in the mostly state owned utility to prevent threats of lawsuits from investors who think new nuclear plants are too risky even with a subsidiary taking on the risk. The valuation of that 30% equity stake will likely be contentious as investors seek to profit from an offer to cash out.

Special Working Group to Estimate Costs

Estimating the cost of getting ready to build is being assigned to a special working group. The government approved an increased budget for the ministry to prepare for nuclear plant construction, including a team of advisors to its special envoy for nuclear energy, Jaroslav Míl, for the period 2019-2022.

Míl’s advisory team will have five members, who are describd as “renowned experts” in the field of nuclear energy and construction. They are: Jan Vacík, Vojtech Michalec, Jaromír Novák, Vladivoj Rezník and Jana Siegerová.

Could CEZ USe the Regulated Asset Base Method to Finance the Project?

It isn’t clear whether the Czech government is familar with or has looked into the RAB method (key policy paper) being considered in the UK to fund new nuclear builds. RAB financing is essentially a type of contract drawn up with the backing of government, which calculates the costs and profits of a project before it is started, and allocates an investor’s profits from day one.

For a detailed and expert explanation of the RAB method see also this OECD paper available online in PDF or text version. It compares the RAB model with other forms of capitalization of major infrastructure projects.

In summary the way it works is that government regulator sets a fixed number, the RAB, which attempts to account for all the future costs involved in the completion of a project. The regulator then also sets a fixed rate of return for the investors based on those costs. The UK government is considering using it to finance the Wylfa nuclear plant.

Decision Timeline for Dukovany

A decision on construction of a unit at the Dukovany site is still years away with suppliers expected to be chosen by 2024. First, one new reactor of at least 1200 MW would be built at the existing Dukovany site to replace the four units in operation there that are expected to be permanently shut down between 2035 and 2037. There are four Russia-designed VVER-440 reactor units at the Dukovany site. The government also expects to add new capacity at CEZ’s Temelín site.

The statement said the government sees the construction of new nuclear capacities as a way of ensuring energy independence and security of energy supply.

See prior coverge on this blogCzech CEZ to Try Again for New Nuclear Tender

CEZ to Leave Foreign Markets

(Reuters) Czech utility CEZ plans to sell assets in Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and Poland in order to focus on its home market, the chief executive told the daily Hospodarske Noviny.

The plans would be a further shift by majority state-owned CEZ towards retrenching in the Czech market after a Balkan expansion that ran into trouble in some markets.

“Within the framework of this new strategy, we have an ambition to leave Bulgaria in the coming years,” Chief Executive Daniel Benes told the daily in an interview.

“We are considering an exit from Romania, from Turkey, and we are thinking about leaving Poland, where we have two coal-fired power plants, as part of lower CO2 emissions in the group.”

Other Nuclear News

Poland Says New Nuclear Capacity of 6 Gwe has a $30 Billion Price Tag

(Reuters) – Poland will probably need $30 billion or more by 2040 from foreign investors to build its first nuclear power station, Energy Minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski said in a statement to wire services.

Poland, which generates most of its electricity from coal, plans to build a nuclear power plant with a capacity of 6GWe – and an option to expand it to 9GWe – to reduce carbon emissions and secure power supplies.

The energy ministry has said it expects the first unit of the plant, with a capacity of 1.0-1.5 GW, to be ready by 2033, with the whole 6-9 GWe project completed by 2043.

Assuming the “overnight cost” of the reactors can be kept competitive at $4,000/Kw, a 9,000 MW capacity would cost $36 billion for the power stations.

“Investors are needed for around $30 billion, however this money would be provided over 20 years”, Tchorzewski told reporters, adding the whole investment was estimated at around $60 billion.

It’s not clear what the additional costs are for the power plants. Grid development and total life cycle costs including fuel and spent fuel management may be the key factors.

Several vendors of small modular reactors (SMRs) have looked at Poland as a possible market for their reactors. NuScale has published data which indicates the firm believes it can deliver its 50 MW SMR at $4400/KW.

See prior coverage on this blogPoland Sets Plans for Nuclear Energy

Bulgaria Starts Search for Investors for Belene Nuclear Power Plant

(NucNet): Bulgaria has published a call for interest for potential investors in the two-unit Belene nuclear power station project in the Official Journal of the European Union, starting an investor selection procedure first announced in March.

In March, Bulgarian state energy company NEK said it would be looking for an investor for the construction of Belene with options to take a minority stake in a future project company or purchase electricity to be generated by the facility.

The call for interest was published on May 22. Interested parties now have 90 days to apply and 12 months to complete the procedure.

NEK has said it will participate in the project company by contributing assets including the licensed site, nuclear island equipment, permits and documentation.

According to the call for interest, the new nuclear station must be operational within 10 years of the signing of an investors’ agreement and its cost must not exceed €10bn for both units.

In 2008, Bulgaria ordered two Russian VVER-1000 pressurised water reactor units for Belene, but the project was cancelled in 2012 because of financial and political considerations. In June 2018, the government formally revived the project following a vote in parliament.

A 2016 arbitration settlement awarded Bulgaria most of the nuclear equipment already produced by Russia for Belene under the 2008 agreement. Bulgaria paid Rosatom for the equipment.

France’s Framatome, China’s CNNC, Russia’s Rosatom and US-based General Electric have already formally expressed an interest in investing or providing equipment and services for Belene. Talks have also been held with South Korea’s Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power.

Bulgarian officials have said that if Bulgaria goes ahead with the Belene project Russia’s Atomstroyexport will be the main contractor.

Barakah / UAE Regulator Certifies First Group Of Operators

(NucNet) The United Arab Emirates’ Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (Fanr) officially certified the first group of reactor operators for the Barakah nuclear power station, a statement by the regulator said.

According to the statement, the certification is a “key requirement” in the process of obtaining an operational licence for the plant.

Fanr said the first certified group comprises 15 reactor operators employed by Nawah Energy Company, the operations and maintenance subsidiary of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec).

The group took part in a three-year training program, which included experience from some of the industry’s “leading engineering and nuclear energy experts”, a “discipline-focused curriculum”, and opportunities to train in South Korea, the US, South Africa, and the UAE.

Mark Reddemann, chief executive officer of Nawah, said the successful certification of the first operators’ group is “an important milestone” for the company in the development of its operational readiness programme, in advance of first fuel loading for Barakah-1.

Enec is building four South Korean 1,345-MW APR-1400 reactors at Barakah, about 240 km west of Abu Dhabi city in the UAE.

Enec said Unit 1 construction is complete and the plant has been turned over to operator Nawah for preparation to operate, pending regulatory approval.

The regulator Fanr said it is currently in the final stage of reviewing the operating licence application for the Barakah-1.

According to Enec, overall construction progress at the Barakah plant stands at 95%.

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Rita Baranwal Sworn in as A/S Nuclear

RB swearing in

Rita Baranwal is sworn in as Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. Also pictured are members of Baranwal’s family.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry on July 11, 2019, officially swore in (video) Dr. Rita Baranwal as the Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. Dr. Baranwal, whom the U.S. Senate first confirmed on June 20, becomes the first woman to lead the Office of Nuclear Energy.

In her new role, Dr. Baranwal will lead the office’s efforts to promote research and development on existing and advanced nuclear technologies, maintain the existing fleet of nuclear reactors, and promote the development of a robust pipeline of advanced reactor designs and supply chain capabilities.

“It is an honor to be part of an organization that is leading the U.S. in game-changing, innovative nuclear technologies,” said Dr. Baranwal.

“Advanced reactors are smaller, cleaner, and more efficient, and will equip the U.S. nuclear energy industry to lead the world in deployment, supplying urgently needed clean energy both domestically and globally.”

Dr. Baranwal has directed the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative at Idaho National Laboratory since 2016. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) initiative connects industry with national laboratories to help commercialize nuclear technologies. Under her leadership, GAIN positively impacted 112 projects and companies.

Prior to joining DOE, Dr. Baranwal worked for Westinghouse in the nuclear fuel division, leading a number of research and development programs. She started her career at Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory helping to develop advanced nuclear fuel materials for U.S. naval reactors.

Dr. Baranwal has a bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in materials science and engineering and a master’s degree and PH.D. in the same discipline from the University of Michigan.

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Congress Moves Ahead with Legislation to Promote Development of Advanced Nuclear Reactors

  • nela_thumb.pngBipartisan legislative efforts in the Senate and the House show that Congress is serious about promoting the development of advanced nuclear reactors.
  • In the Senate, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), both members of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committte, reintroduced the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (S.903).  Murkowski chairs the committee and Manchin is the ranking member.
  • In the House Elaine Luria (D-VA) and Denver Riggleman (R-VA) introduced a companion bill (H.R. 3306). Significantly, Luria served 20 years in the U.S. Navy reaching the rank of Commander and operated nuclear reactors on-board ships.

The legislation has four major elements all designed to open up paths forward to develop advanced nuclear reactors. Here’s a brief summary.

  • DOE would be required to complete at least two advanced reactor demonstration projects by the end of 2025 and two to five more additional projects by 2035. The Versatile Test Reactor, for which work is underway now, falls in the latter timeline with an operational target of 2026. As part of this effort DOE must come up with  10-year strategic plan to guide its work in this area.
  • DOE would be required to increase production of high-assay low-enriched fuel (HALEU). It contains U-235 greater than 5% and less than 20%. Many new advanced reactor designs include the use of this type of fuel, such as TRISO pebbles at 9-10% U-235, in their designs.  See prior coverage on this blog Advanced Nuclear Fuels Open the Door to New Applications.
  • Development of a workforce capable of building and operating these advanced designs is the objective of the legislative section devoted to enhancing DOE’s University Nuclear Program.  (See note at end about DOE’s recent $49M funding decision to support this program.)
  • Purchase power agreements with DOD facilities are included in the bills which require one new agreement for an advanced reactor by 2023 and special consideration to be given to other advanced designs thereafter with terms of the deals to run for up to 40 years.

Idaho Lab Director Testimony in Support of NELA

At a hearing on the legislation held this past April , Idaho National Laboratory Director Mark Peters talked about to the importance of the targets NELA would set for completing demonstration projects. (Full Text)

“We applaud those goals, recognizing they are aggressive because they will drive the necessary prioritization and strong sense of urgency that we must have.”

Peters added that more than 50 advanced nuclear companies across North America are examining a number of advanced reactor concepts, often in partnership with INL and other DOE national laboratories. Among the things they are looking at:

  • How to make reactors smaller and modular – small enough even to be mass-produced in factories.
  • How to use coolants other than light water.
  • How to operate at normal atmospheric pressure.
  • How to use physics in addition to engineering to keep reactors safe.
  • Some designs can even use recycled nuclear waste as fuel.

Peters said some utilities, and the U.S. Department of Defense, are thinking smaller. Westinghouse, NuScale, General Atomics, Oklo, X-energy, and others are working on micro reactor designs.

He said these 2-to-20-MW reactors could provide electricity for military bases and remote communities that currently run their electrical grids on expensive and highly polluting imported diesel fuel.  He added that micro reactors also are a good option for off-grid industrial and mining operations, and large energy consumers in developing nations. 
See prior coverage on this blog
DOD seeks SMRs for tactical readiness at military bases

Prior Legislation to Support Advanced Nuclear Energy Efforts

Last December Congress passed an ambitious plan for nuclear energy R&D.

The new laws establish broad and sweeping mandates for civilian nuclear energy R&D and technology development toward commercial deployment.  Legislative provisions include;

  • Provide research infrastructure to promote scientific progress and enable users from academia, the National Laboratories, and the private sector to make scientific discoveries relevant for nuclear, chemical, and materials science engineering; and
  • Enable the private sector to partner with the National Laboratories to demonstrate novel reactor concepts for the purpose of resolving technical uncertainty associated with the aforementioned objectives.

DOE’s Work on the Versatile Test Reactor

vtr-logo_thumb.pngU.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced (02/28/19) the launch of the Department of Energy’s Versatile Test Reactor (VTR), one of the top priority projects specified in the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017.

The focus of the Versatile Test Reactor will be to conduct fast turnaround testing and qualification of advanced fuels and materials to support development of advanced nuclear reactor designs. Fuels and materials testing will include sodium-cooled, lead/LBE, HTGR, and molten salt designs.

vtr core conceptual diagram

VTR Core Design Conceptual Diagram  Image: INL VTR Program

The reactor itself will be a sodium-cooled reactor using HALEU fuel with a start date targeting 2026. GE-Hitachi and Bechtel are adapting the design of the PRISM concept for the VTR mission.  Separately, GE-Hitachi is seeking an NRC license for the PRISM reactor design.

vtr timeline

Verstile Test Reactor (VTR) Program Timeline. Image:  Kemal Pasamehmetoglu, INL Executive Director, presentation at Advanced Reactors Summit VI, San Diego, CA, January 29-31, 2019.

According to the presentation by INL, 12 universities are collaborating with the VTR project in 9 key areas. Industry collaboration with the university teams includes Framatome, Westinghouse, TerraPower, General Atomics, and GE-HItachi.

DOE investments in Advanced Reactors

In recent months DOE has awarded federal funds for development of advanced reactors to Westinghouse and Moltex. Like other DOE funding, these are cost-share grants which require the funded firm to also invest its funds in the project.

Westinghouse – Last March DOE awarded Westinghouse $13 million for the eVinci (TM) Micro Reactor Nuclear Demonstration Unit Readiness Project is for Westinghouse and its team to prepare for the Nuclear Demonstration Unit (NDU) of the eVinci micro reactor through design, analysis, testing and licensing to manufacture, site and test the NDU by 2022.

Westinghouse has not made public information on substantial collboration efforts with other firms or universities for the project. Also, it has not announced a potential customer for the design.

Westinghouse told Power Magazine that it faces several key challenges. First among them is getting enough HALEU fuel. The Department of Energy is supporting multiple efforts to address that issue including a contract to produce it by Centrus Corp by 2020 and deployment of a HALEU-based TRISO-X fuel fabrication pilot line at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Other issues, which are faced by all SMR developers, include the question of how many deals are needed to be inked in their order books to get investors to provide the funds for factory production facilities. Not only has does there have to be incoming orders, but also there must be credible projections of enough future orders to make the factory a profitable enterprise over time.

Because the design is unique, Power Magazine noted that Westinghouse will have to go through the long and expensive safety evaluation process at the NRC. The firm told Power Magazine it faces “first of a kind” challenges in licensing, instrumentation, remote reactor monitoring, and logistics.
See prior coverage on this blogWestinghous Launches New SMR Effort

Moltex – In July DOE awarded Moltex Energy USA LLC $2.55 million to develop technologies that will be capable of shortening Stable Salt Reactor (SSR) construction timelines to under three years. The funding, from the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), will be used to develop composite structural technologies (COST) for the reactor.

Moltex will work in collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Electric Power Research Institute, Purdue University and Vanderbilt University on the SSR, exploiting innovative technologies such as advanced structural composites and coatings to enable rapid construction.

Moltex Energy has secured a substantial investment from IDOM Consulting, Engineering, Architecture SAU, a prestigious and innovative global consulting & engineering company with a large, experienced and successful nuclear engineering practice worldwide. The multi-million dollar (USD) investment allows Moltex to expand its New Brunswick office and accelerate its pre-licensing progress through CNSC’s Vendor Design Review (VDR).

World Nuclear News reports that Moltex last year signed an agreement with the New Brunswick Energy Solutions Corporation and NB Power to build a demonstration SSR-W at the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant site in Canada. The second-generation SSR envisaged by the company, which will use uranium fuel, is aimed at those countries which do not have existing nuclear reactors and therefore have no waste to burn. The company also envisages a thorium breeder version of the reactor.

Also, at that site ARC Nuclear and New Brunswick Power (NB Power)  have agreed to work together to take the necessary steps to develop, license, and build an advanced small modular reactor (SMR) based on ARC Nuclear’s Gen IV sodium-cooled fast reactor technology.
See prior coverage on ths blogArgonne’s IFR to Live Again at Point Lepreau, New Brunswick

University Programs – On June 28, 2019, in its latest round of funding, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $49.3 million in nuclear energy research, facility access, crosscutting technology development, and infrastructure awards for 58 advanced nuclear technology projects in 25 states.

The awards are part of DOE’s nuclear energy programs called the Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP), the Nuclear Science User Facilities (NSUF) program, and crosscutting research projects. DOE noted that since 2009 it has awarded $678 million in funding through its university programs.

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France Rethinks Nuclear Energy

nucnet infoG france

Infographic courtesy of NucNet

President Macron seems to be listening to the argument that closing nuclear power plants would jeopardise energy security and hamper efforts to reduce carbon emissions. In the 1970s France led the world in the development of commercial nuclear power plants as it looked for a way to improve energy security in the wake of the oil crisis.

More than 45 years later, president Emmanuel Macron’s administration is struggling to juggle its need for nuclear and the long-term security it offers with the realpolitik of growing support for the far-right National Rally party (pro-nuclear) and the Green party (anti-nuclear). Read the full story here

Other Nuclear News

Some Democratic Presidential Candidates Support Nuclear Energy

Politico reports that some of the candidates running for the Democratic nomination support nuclear energy.

Former VP Joe Biden, California Senator Kamala Harris, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee all support development of advanced nuclear reactor technologies.

Six more candidates support nuclear energy generally, but you’ll have to read the tea leaves to figure out the differences.

Finally, in what can only be described as the wing nut wing of the Democractic party, three other candidates oppose it. One of them believes in moonbeams and scented candles as a basis for running the government.

U.S. Tells Ireland to Stop Burning Peat and to Consider Nuclear Energy

Over in Ireland, Mark Menezes, US under-secretary for energy, told The Irish Times that the State should follow the lead of the US in embracing liquified natural gas (LNG) and nuclear power.

The newspaper reports that Mr Menezes said Ireland should replace its peat and coal-fired stations with liquified natural gas (LNG) imported from the US, which is a much cleaner fuel than coal or peat.

He added that Ireland should embrace nuclear energy as these “plants are emission-free”.

“The life expectancy can be several generations. When you look at the cost of that facility over its lifetime, it’s literally pennies per kilowatt hour.”

He said that Ireland should embrace nuclear energy as these “plants are emission-free”.

“The life expectancy can be several generations. When you look at the cost of that facility over its lifetime, it’s literally pennies per kilowatt hour,” he said.

Mr Menezes gave his remarks at the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Global Conference on Energy Efficiency in Dublin.

Two Delays, One Win for French EPRs

  • Weld repairs to delay Flamanville EPR start-up

(WNN) Eight welds in the main steam transfer pipes that penetrate the two walls of the containment of the Flamanville EPR must be repaired before the reactor is commissioned, France’s nuclear safety regulator, the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN) has told EDF. The utility will assess the decision’s impact on the cost and schedule of the project.

  • Fuel loading delayed at Finnish EPR

(WNN) Nuclear fuel will not be loaded into the core of the first-of-a-kind EPR at Olkiluoto until at least the end of August, Finnish utility Teollisuuden Voima Oyj said. Under the previous schedule, fuel loading had been due to take place this month. It was not clear at this time as to the new cause of a delay, but it appears that an accumulation of earlier delays has pushed back startup activities.

Hot functional testing of the 1600 MWe pressurised water reactor began in December 2017 and was completed in May last year, 50 days later than planned.

TVO announced on May 23 that it had started work to install liquid absorbers featuring bitumen to resolve the vibration issue. At that time, the company said installation of absorbers was expected be completed in the early summer.

  • Second EPR at China’s Taishan site connected to grid

(WNN) Unit 2 of the Taishan nuclear power plant in China’s Guangdong province has been connected to the electricity grid, becoming the second EPR reactor to reach the commissioning milestone after Taishan 1. Unit 2 is expected to enter commercial operation later this year.

Taishan 1 and 2 are the third and fourth EPR units under construction globally, after the Olkiluoto 3 project in Finland and the Flamanville 3 project in France. Two EPR units are also under construction at the Hinkley Point C project in Somerset, UK.

Taishan 1 achieved first criticality on 6 June last year and was connected to the grid on 29 June. It was declared to be in commercial operation on 13 December.

The loading of fuel into the core of unit 2 began in May this year and it attained a sustained chain reaction for the first time on May 28.

Saudi Arabia Must OK Nonproliferation Standard – Perry

(Reuters) Saudi Arabia must commit to a broad international monitoring program of nuclear power facilities if it develops nuclear power reactors with technology from the United States, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry told lawmakers.

Riyadh plans to issue a multibillion-dollar tender in 2020 to build its first two commercial nuclear power reactors. Originally expected last year, the tender has been delayed several times. It is now expected to be released by the end of 2019. The value of the project could be between $10-15 billion.

The United States, South Korea, Russia, China and France are competing for the business. Westinghouse, which has been hit by a decline in the U.S. nuclear power industry, would likely sell components to Saudi Arabia in any deal involving U.S. technology. Westinghouse is now owned by Brookfield Asset Management Inc. Its largest investor is the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar with a 7% stake.

Perry told Congress that South Korea cannot freely enter into an agreement to build reactors in Saudi Arabia with U.S. technology unless Riyadh has signed a pact with Washington on nonproliferation standards, known as a 123 agreement.

Saudi Arabia has pushed back against nonproliferation standards including limits on enrichment of uranium and reprocessing of plutonium. Concerns about a potential nuclear arms race in the Middle East got more serious last year when Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told CBS News that he does not want to acquire a nuclear bomb but would develop one if Iran did.

DOE Announces $50 Million In Funding For Nuclear Energy Projects

(NucNet) The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced $49.3m in funding for nuclear energy research projects in 25 states as part of the government’s Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) and Nuclear Science User Facilities (NSUF) program.

The funds will cover facility access, cross-cutting technology development, and infrastructure awards for 58 advanced nuclear technology projects. The DOE said $28.5M under NEUP will support 40 university-led nuclear energy research and development projects in 23 states.

Seven other university-led projects will receive more than $1.6m for research reactor and infrastructure improvements providing important safety, performance and student education-related upgrades to a part of the 25 university research reactors.

The DOE said it has selected two university-, one national laboratory- and three industry-led projects to qualify for funding under the NSUF programme to investigate important nuclear fuel and material applications.

Turkey’s Sinop Nuclear Project Suffers Another Setback

(WNN) The Turkish-Japanese project to build a 4560-megawatt nuclear power plant at Sinop on Turkey’s Black Sea coast has been halted following a feasibility study that estimated the cost would be more than double that original thought, Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan told the Nikkei news service on June 26 during the G20 summit in Osaka.

Erdogan said, “Feasibility studies show that the cost of a proposed nuclear power plant in the city of Sinop is more than double the initial estimate, and the Japanese-backed project has been halted,”

The project was slated to build four 1100 MW Atmea PWR type reactors based on a joint design by Areva and Mitsubishi. However, rising costs related to the first of a kind new build and a lack of investors appear to have sidelined the project for now.

Nuclear Rockets Could  Make Deep Space Travel Faster

(Universe Today) NASA is looking at development of nuclear powered rockets that could send astronauts to Mars in 100 days instead of the six months that it would take to send them there using chemical propulsion.

First, the nuclear power propulsion units would have to lifted off from earth using chemical rockets, and once in orbit, could be fired up to complete the journey.

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Infographic on Small Modular Reactors

(U.S. Department of Energy) Despite efficiency improvements and a decline in annual power consumption, the United States continues to experience a higher volume of electric outages than most developed nations.

Having a resilient and secure grid matters—and it’s why we need power systems that are able to adapt, withstand and recover from extreme weather events in addition to cyber and physical attacks.

For more than half a century, the nation’s fleet of nuclear reactors has been reliably running non-stop—regardless of the weather—to keep electricity prices stable and affordable.

And with new technology like small modular reactors (SMRs) on the horizon, nuclear’s resilience is being further enhanced.

Check out these 5 key resilient features of SMRs:

NE Guardians of the Grid-01

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Russia Leads China in New Reactor Builds for Export

According to a recent report in the Economist, the world relies on Russia to build its nuclear power plants. “And Russia is happy to oblige,” says the newspaper. The report sweeps the global market landscape with a quick read. Here’s a deeper dive into the intense competition between China and Russia for market share even as China buys four new reactors from Russia. This market consists almost entirely of light water reactor (LWR) designs, but by the end of the next decade some of it could shift to more advanced designs.

3rdwayglobaladvancednuclear

Third Way – The advanced nuclear landscape includes over a hundred advanced nuclear reactor projects under development in more than 20 countries, including small modular, molten salt, pebble bad and others.  Source link: http://bit.ly/2Rx7wTf

According to a Reuters report last week, a senior Chinese nuclear official said the nation could build 30 ‘Belt and Road’ full size nuclear reactors by 2030. Near term prospects for deals are few for now including UK, Romania, and Argentina. Clearly, China is feeling the competition for nuclear reactor exports from Russia, but it has a long way to go to catch up. Plus, after completion of the four Westinghouse reactors in China, where is the U.S. presence?

Reuters reports that Wang Shoujun, a standing committee member of the China People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), told delegates that China needed to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by “Belt and Road” and should give more financial and policy support to its nuclear sector.

He is reported to have said China needs to improve research and development, localize the production of key nuclear components, and grow both the domestic and foreign nuclear markets to give full play to the country’s “comprehensive advantages” in costs and technology.

Wang, also the former chairman of the state-owned China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC), said “Belt and Road” nuclear projects could earn Chinese firms as much as 1 trillion yuan ($145.52 billion) by 2030, according to more details of his speech published by BJX.com.cn, a Chinese power industry news portal.

Can you build it if they come?

Policy is easy. Logistics are hard. Consider the supply chain and labor force needs of projects spread across the globe to build 30 reactors over the next 10 years.  Each site will need several thousands of skilled craft workers and permanent staffs of about 500 each.  Multiply that by 30 units and the question is raised, where are they going to get all these people?

Then there is the issue of long lead time components including reactor pressure vessels (RPVs), steam generators, turbines, etc. Does China have the manufacturing capacity to build them, maintain quality, and deliver them on time?

By comparison Rosatom and its main component contractor Atommash are ramping up for a major production run. According to this translated article (PDF file) from the Russian, the growing number of nuclear reactor export deals have resulted in a turn around for the firm.

Survey of Russian Nuclear Export Projects

A lot has been made on recent testimony to Congress, and in think tank reports, about Russia’s leading role in exporting nuclear reactors.  While Russia has a lot of deals on paper, in the form of high level MOUs, here is a survey of some of the more interesting projects.

Clearly, Russia is in the lead, at least on paper, for commitments to build new nuclear reactors including its latest 1200 MW VVER. Russian nuclear reactor export projects include;

vver-diagram

Conceptual Diagram of a 1200 MW VVER

Hanhikivi-1 – In Finalnd the poject, a VVER-1200/V-491, is slated to break ground in 2021 and enter revenue service in 2028. According to World Nuclear News, Fennovoima CEO Toni Hemminki was quoted as saying by the YLE newspaper “the design has taken longer than expected.” AS a result Finland’s nuclear safety agency has pushed back the date for issuing a license to start work on the project.

According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), the capital cost of the plant is estimated to be €6-7 billion including financing. In January 2015 Russia’s cabinet announced approval of RUR 150 billion (€2 billion) funding from a sovereign wealth fund, used to pay retirement benefits for Russian workers, for the project, mostly as a loan guaranteed by export credit agencies.

Paks 5 & 6 – In Hungary Rosatom is slated to build two AES-2006E: VVER-1200/V-527 with construction starting in 2020 for Unit 5 and completion planned for 2025. A second similar unit is expected to break ground a year after Unit 5.

According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), a €10 billion financing deal from Russia was agreed to cover 80% of the anticipated project cost, with Hungary to repay the loan over 21 years of operation. In February 2017 the Russian President said that Russia was prepared to finance 100% of the plant if necessary. The startling commitment came after Hungary said it wanted a 100 % turnkey project based on the fact that none of new 1200 MW units had operational experience elsewhere.

Kudankulam 3 & 4 – In India Units 1 & 2, which are 1000 MW VVER, have been generating electricity at the site in Tamil Nadu for several years. Unit 3 & 4 are similar units in terms of power ratings and are expected to enter revenue service there in 2025 and 2026. India’s costs, according to the World Nuclear Association, are approximately USD$600 million (actual amount depends on currency fluctuations).

Russian is financing the rest of the costs. Labor and localization of the non-nuclear components like turbines, also are much less expensive than in western nations. If a WNA cited price of USD$1300/Kw is used, then each unit costs about $1.3 billion ($2.6 billion for both) with India paying about 23 percent of the total project costs. Localization will create thousands of skilled trade and construction jobs as well as payrolls for Indian workers in heavy industry firms.

Negotiations between NPCIL and Rosatom for unit 5 & 6 are ongoing at this time. A visit by Russian Premier Putin to India in October 2018 resulted in the agreement to pursue the project.

Akkuyu-1 to 4 – Turkey Unit 1 poured 1st concrete earlier this year but there are news media reports, denied by Rosatom, of the basemat concrete having to be done over. Supposedly, Unit 2 will break ground later this year. The next two units are slated to break ground in the early 2020s. All of 1200 MW VVER are targeted for revenue service by 2025.

According to WNA, Atomstroyexport is general contractor for construction, though Turkish companies are expected to take 35-40% of the work. Financing is still an issue with Russia having started work on the project with a 51% equity stake and no Turkish investors. Several Turkish consortium have considered partnering with Rosatom on the project, but none have signed on to date.

Negotiations were reported to be ongoing with potential investors in the remaining 49% of the project as recently as April of this year. In February 2019 it was reported that the Cengiz-Kalyon-Kolin consortium had pulled out of the project citing the high rates the plants would charge for electricity, about USD$0.13/kwh. Estimates reported at different times put the cost of the four 1200 MW units at between USD$20 to $25 billion.

Xudabao-3 & 4 – In China the ink is barely dry on the contract which was signed in June during a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow. The contract  terms sheets were signed by representatives of Rosatom’s engineering subsidiary ASE and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). The project has not broken ground plus China will demand a lot of localization especially for labor and for turbines and other large, long lead time components.

According to WNA in June last year, Russia and China signed four agreements, including the construction of two VVER-1200 reactors as units 7 and 8 of the Tianwan plant. In addition, two VVER-1200 units are to be constructed at the new Xudabao site. Signifiantly, the Xudabao project was originally expected to comprise six Chinese-designed CAP1000 reactors, with units 1 and 2 in the first phase. Rosatom said it expects to commission Tianwan units 7 and 8 in 2026-2027 and Xudabao units 3 and 4 in 2027-2028.

Uzbekistan-1 and 2 – WNA reports that in May 2019 Rosatom and UzAtom, Uzbekistan’s nuclear development agency, signed a contract to perform engineering surveys for the Central Asian country’s first nuclear power plant. No site has been selected and a contract to build reactors is still in the future. The country relies heavily on huge deposits of natural gas which it uses for electricity generation.

Egypt El Dabaa-1-4 – In April 2018 Egypt and Rosatom placed a USD$30 billion bet on construction of four 1200 MW VVER with Egypt putting up just USD$5 billion. The nuclear plant will be built with a Russian loan of up to $25 billion at an annual interest rate of three per cent. The payment schedule will be 35 years. Actual costs may turn out to be as much as double this estimate. Many western contractors, especially in defense industries, have learned to their dismay that getting work done in Egypt doesn’t always follow normal expectations.

It is one of the largest nuclear energy deals (4800 MW) inked so far this century and is similar in scale as a project in terms of electricity generation capacity to the four 1400 MW units being built by South Korea in the UAE

Russia will also build factories in Egypt for the domestic manufacture of nuclear plant components, bringing in the required expertise; and Rosatom will service the plant with fuel and staff for 60 years.

According to the Egyptian energy minister, Mohamed Shaker, the plant is due to be completed by 2026-2027. The Dabaa coastal site is located about 200 miles west of Cairo.

China Plans SMRs for District Heating

Reuters reports that China plans to build a pilot small-scale nuclear reactor that could replace steam generation by coal or gas plants to heat towns and cities in its colder northern regions, according to an official with the state-owned developer in charge of the project.

The small heating reactor is planned for the city of Jiamusi in northeastern Heilongjiang province (Map 46.57N; 121.38W), one of two proposed units with a combined capacity of 400 megawatts expeted to be completed by 2024 according to Wang Xujia, a senior engineer with the State Power Investment Corp.

The report did not specify the design of the SMR. The ACP-100 (125 MW electrical) is China’s go to SMR design intended for domestic use and also exports to Africa.

China has been exploring the use of small modular nuclear reactors as alternative heating systems in its smog-prone northern regions. The state provides heating throughout northern China from November to March, using predominantly coal- or gas-fired boilers.

Reuters reports that State-owned China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) has already conducted trial runs for a “district heating reactor” (DHR) design, which it says can supply heat to 200,000 urban households.

The DHR model is likely a modified ACP100 which is a PWR type design. It is estimated to require investment of 1.5 billion yuan ($217 million) and take three years to build, making it cheaper and quicker to construct than conventional reactors.  This would bring the unit in at about USD$1700/Kw.

There are no reports that a 250 MW HTGR which has been under development for similar use in Shandong provice, is being considered for this project.

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Nota Bene: Hat tip to Dave Walters, a frequent commentator on nuclear energy issues, for a link to an Atommash report, translated from the Russian, showing them ramping up production of steam generators and other long lead time components to meet the needs of these Russian export deals.

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