UK Picks HTGR Technology for Pilot SMR Program

  • UK Picks HTGR for Pilot SMR Program
  • Japan’s HTTR Restarts And Could Be Used To Demonstrate Green Hydrogen Production
  • Russia Plans More Floating Nuclear Power Plants
  • NRC Recommends License Approval For ISP Spent Fuel Storage Facility In Texas
  • New Video “The Green Atom: Our Most Misunderstood Power Source”

UK Picks HTGR Design for Pilot SMR Program

The U.K. government has picked its preferred type of small nuclear reactor (SMR) for a 170 million-pound ($236 million) demonstration program. The government will likely have to expand the funding level from millions to billions to achieve its objectives which is to build a fleet of dozen of these types of reactors.

Another challenge is that the government is going to have to move a lot faster than planning to build a demonstration prototype by the mid-2030s. The UK generates about 20% of its electricity from nuclear, but almost half of current capacity is to be retired well before the end of this decade and one reactor was already prematurely shut down for good.

Also, while the UK has lots experience with full size gas reactors, none are SMRs which typically have ratings of less than 300 MWe.  Any HTGR SMR design that comes across the energy minister’s desk in the next few years will likely be imported from the U.S. or Canada. Several firms from both countries have opened offices in the UK to enter the market for this purpose.

Despite these issues, UK government ministers said that they consider high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGR) as the “most promising model” for the pilot program. The plans will now be consulted on with industry and the public with a demonstration unit slated to be built and operated in the early 2030s. HTGR reactors can produce electricity, hydrogen, and process heat.

pebble bedA typical design of an HTGR (right) is that it uses TRISO type fuel with helium as the primary method for getting heat out of the pressure vessel and into the steam generator.

In some designs, molten salt is used as an intermediate loop between the helium and the steam generator. The molten salt can also be stored for off-grid process heat applications.

A Baseload Role for HTGRs

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Minister of State (Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change) at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said, “While renewables like wind and solar will become an integral part of where our electricity will come from by 2050, they will always require a stable low-carbon baseload from nuclear.”

“Advanced modular reactors are the next level of modern nuclear technology and have the potential to play a crucial role in tackling carbon emissions and in powering industry.”

She added that small modular reactors and advanced designs in their size range are expected to be cheaper and quicker to build than larger (1000 MWE) conventional light water reactors such as the Hinkley Point C which is composed of two 1650 MWe pressurized water reactors (PWR).

The UK government has dithered up to now over how to proceed with SMRs first delaying a competition for funding and then handing out crumbs in terms of funding. In the meantime, Rolls-Royce has proposed building a fleet of 16 470 MWe PWRs based on current supply chains and LWR design principles. If completed by the mid-to-late 2030s, the entire fleet would equal the electrical generating capacity of the now moribund Wylfa and Oldbury projects.

The government said this new step builds on the commitment made in a recent energy white paper and prime minister Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan for £170m of investment in an R&D program for advanced SMRs, as part of a £385m package to accelerate the development of more flexible nuclear technologies.

Ministers are now inviting views from industry and the public on the government’s preference to explore the potential of HTGRs for its demonstration project. The call for evidence seeks to strengthen the government’s evidence base around the potential of advanced modular reactors and HTGRs in particular.

A research paper from the Nuclear Innovation & Research Office (NIRO) presents an assessment of the most promising reactor technologies to identify the preferred choice of technology that could support UK objectives of meeting net zero climate change targets by 2050.

The analysis indicates that high temperature gas reactors (HTGRs) are the preferred technology, with respect to the key objective of demonstrating the ability to generate high-temperature heat which could be used for:

Advanced Modular Reactors (AMRs): Technical Assessment

This analysis indicates that High Temperature Gas Reactors (HTGRs) are the preferred
technology of choice Report Executive Summary

  • HTGRs have a high Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 7, and with further
    development and demonstration could potentially make a significant contribution to
    achieving Net Zero by 2050.
  • With output temperatures of 700°C – 950°C, HTGRs provide for greater versatility in the
    applications that they could potentially support to supply heat and hydrogen to the
    economy, and thus provide the greatest opportunity for achieving Net Zero by 2050.
  • HTGRs can be considered as evolutions of Advanced Gas Reactor (AGRs), a
    technology which the UK has significant experience in and many of the safety
    characteristics of the HTGR design concepts, including passive safety are broadly
    proven, however these will need to be substantiated for a particular SMR design.
  • HTGRs operate with an open fuel cycle, as with existing nuclear plants in the UK,
    therefore present no significant issues for security and safeguards, or additional costs
    associated with closed fuel cycle infrastructure. (TRISO and HALEU fuels typically run between 5% and 15% U-235 in terms of enrichment levels.)
  • The UK’s historical experience with Magnox reactors and AGRs could provide an
    advantage for the development and fleet roll-out for HTGRs in terms of transferable
    skills and supply chain capability, the potential for the development of UK intellectual
    property, and the potential for international partnership which could further reduce cost
    and risk to an advanced reactor R&D Demonstration Program.

UK Green Taxonomy Will Include Nuclear

The green taxonomy will be a common framework setting rules for investments that can be defined as environmentally sustainable. This would help deal with a rising problem of “greenwashing” which is the practice of making unsubstantiated or exaggerated claims that an investment is environmentally friendly.

The energy ministry said it is preparing to submit a summary of evidence on nuclear energy to a working group, which will report to the government on how to address nuclear energy in the UK’s green taxonomy. The report noted, “It will make it easier for investors and consumers to understand how a firm is impacting the environment to encourage greater investments in funds that will help the UK achieve net zero.”

The London-based Nuclear Industry Association said the announcement was “an exciting and important” step towards the delivery of an advanced reactor demonstrator, a key part of a nuclear future in the clean energy mix.

“We hope the government will move swiftly forward to agree a funding settlement and delivery timeline for a demonstrator this year,” a statement said.

NIA chief executive Tom Greatrex also called for urgent action on a new financing model that ensures the UK can deliver nuclear, large and small, to secure its net zero future.

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Japan / HTTR Restarts And Could Be Used To Demonstrate Green Hydrogen Production

(NucNet)  The High-Temperature Engineering Test Reactor (HTTR) in Ibaraki prefecture north of Tokyo has been restarted with plans to use to demonstrate the production of green hydrogen already under discussion, owner and operator the Japan Atomic Energy Agency said.

The restart comes after the Nuclear Regulatory Authority said in a draft report in 2020 that the HTTR was compatible with new regulatory standards introduced after the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi accident. The HTTR was shut down following the accident along with other Japanese reactors.

The NRA examined the HTTR’s resilience against various hypothetical accidents, including tsunami and seismic risks. JAEA said it had been given permission to restart the plant “without significant reinforcement”.

The 30 MWe HTTR is a graphite-moderated gas-cooled research reactor. JAEA said the heat produced by the HTTR has applications for a range of purposes, including power generation, fuel performance and the desalination of seawater. “Furthermore, the demonstration plan of hydrogen production by the HTTR is under discussion,” it said.

Japan has signed an MOU with Poland for a joint R&D/Demonstration program of the reactor. So far work on it is still in the paperwork stage. It is a first of a kind effort by a Japanese organization to seek to deploy an advanced reactor design that could form the basis, long term, of an export opportunity.

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Russia Plans More Floating Nuclear Power Plants

(WNN) Rosatom and a subsidiary of Kaz Minerals have signed for power supply to the new Baimskaya copper mining project in the Chukotka region of eastern Siberia. Rosatom proposes to use three SMR type floating nuclear power plants each employing a pair of the new 55 MWe RITM-200M reactors, a version of which is in service powering icebreakers.

A fourth unit would be held in reserve for use during repair or refueling. The first three reactors are already under construction by Atomenergomash.

The mine is expected in operation about 2027, contingent on the regional government agreeing to share infrastructure development costs, in particular to finance and construct the power lines which is not a trivial effort.

siberian power lineThe first two nuclear vessels are expected to be delivered to their working location at the project’s port, Cape Nagloynyn, Chaunskaya Bay and connected to 110 kV power lines leading via Bilibino to the Baimskaya mine over 400 km away by the end of 2026. The third unit is due to be connected at the end of 2027, increasing power supply to about 330 MWe.

The overall project is expected to cost $8 billion. In the first few years it is expected to produce 320,000 t/yr copper as well as gold and other minerals providing one-third of revenue that will help pay for the SMR project.

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NRC Recommends License Approval For ISP Spent Fuel Storage Facility In Texas

isp logoThe Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued its final environmental impact statement on an application by Interim Storage Partners, LLC, to construct and operate a consolidated interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in Andrews County, Texas.

The site is located on the Texas / New Mexico border about 100 miles due east of Carlsbad, NM. The new Texas facility would be built next to the Waste Control Specialists low-level radioactive waste disposal site.

After considering the environmental impacts of the proposed action, the NRC staff recommended granting the proposed license. If granted, the license issued by the Commission, it would authorize ISP to build a facility to store the first of eight modules of 5,000 tons each of spent commercial nuclear fuel. ISP plans to expand the facility to a total capacity of 40,000 tons of spent fuel over its life cycle.

The spent fuel will be stored in dry casks and could be retrieved at a future date for reprocessing into new fuel. It is not a permanent facility in terms of final disposition of the spent fuel.

The NRC published a draft environmental impact statement on the project in May 2020. Agency staff held four public meetings by webinar to present the draft findings and receive public comments. To complete the final document, the staff received and evaluated approximately 2,500 unique comments submitted by nearly 10,600 members of the public.

ISP is a joint venture of Waste Control Specialists and Orano CIS, a subsidiary of Orano USA.

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New Video “The Green Atom: Our Most Misunderstood Power Source”

Kite & KeyMedia, a boutique public relations agency located in Dallas, TX, has produced a pro-nuclear video  “The Green Atom: Our Most Misunderstood Power Source”

The seven minute video is available for free on YouTube. According to a spokesperson for the agency, the firm’s principals have been producing a series of short, factual videos like this one to address misinformation in social media and the mainstream media. Their basic approach is “just the facts please.”

No Punches Pulled Narration

The video starts out with this right to the point bit of narration – “You know what power source is more dangerous than nuclear? Literally, all of them. When you add up industrial accidents and the effects of pollution, nuclear is safer than coal or petroleum or natural gas.”

The video doesn’t pull any punches elsewhere either. It rolls out a trenchant comparison between France and Germany. It reports that French electricity costs are about half of costs in Germany, while Germany, which relies on solar and wind for its carbon-free generation, produces 10 times the emissions of France.

The narrator does a slam dunk on Germany’s energy folly with a quote by French President Emmanuel Macron who said, “They worsened their CO2 footprint. It wasn’t good for the planet. So I won’t do that.”

Macron has been outspoken on the subject despite an objective, in diplomatic terms, to retain good relations with Germany which is his next door neighbor in Europe.

Turning its attention to the US, the video highlights the hypocrisy of the State of California. It cites the work of Environmental Progress which found that if California had dedicated the amount of money it has spent on wind and solar since 2001 on nuclear instead, it could be generating 100 percent of the state’s electricity without carbon emissions.

The website lists the sources used to produce the video, a list of readings on nuclear energy, and a complete text / transcript of the video as a downloadable PDF.

Background on Kite & Key Media

The firm says it takes its name from Benjamin Franklin’s experiment with a key attached by a string to a kite in a thunderstorm near Philadelphia in June 1752.  Of course, as we all know, what Franklin learned from the experience is that thunder is only noise, lightning does the work.

kite and keyThe Kite & Key staff previously worked for several conservative think tanks in NYC and the DC area, and they launched the PR agency in Texas about 18 months ago.

The firm said its purpose is to take important data and research and translate them into smart, well-produced, witty, baloney-free visual fare that will pass any sniff test for accuracy.

Funding for the video project came from several private sources which the firm did not disclose. The project manager for the video is Troy Senik, who is a co-founder with CEO Victoria Mendoza, at Kite & Key Media. He has been a White House speechwriter, a think tank executive, a newspaper columnist, and a podcaster. Ms. Mendoza is an attorney and also was previously an executive at several nonprofits in New York.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

UK Gov’t Said Ready to Cut China Out of its Nuclear Plans

  • UK Gov’t Reported to Plan Break with China Over Nuclear Energy Investments
  • China ‘Unveils Design’ For Next-Generation Commercial Molten Salt Reactor
  • Nuclear Phase-out Plan a Key Issue in S. Korea Election
  • NuScale Gets Two Investments from South Korean Firms

UK Gov’t Said to Plan to Give China the Boot
from its Nuclear New Build

The Financial Times reported on 07/25/21 that due to increasing diplomatic tensions between the UK and China that PM Boris Johnson’s government is looking for ways to extract Chinese state owned enterprise (SOE) China General Corp from the Sizewell C project. Additionally, the government also has reportedly made plans to stop China from being the lead developer of the proposed Bradwell B plant in Essex.

uk 2 nuclearThe Sizewell C project is slated to cost £20 billion and be comprised of two EDF/Areva 1650 MWe European Pressurized Water Reactors (EPR). The Bradwell site is slated to be built as one or more, of CGN’s 1000 MWe PWR which is the Hualong One (HPR1000) reactor technology. The Chinese reactor design is now at Stage 4 of the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation Generic Design Assessment.

The Sizewell investment is a follow-on to an investment by China in the Hinkley Point C project where two Chinese SOE’s have taken a one-third equity stake in the project. In return the government promised China the right to build the Bradwell project with one and potentially as many as three of its 1000 MWe Hualong One reactors.

China’s involvement in nuclear power in the UK dates back to an agreement endorsed by then prime minister David Cameron and Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2015.

Diplomatic Issues Driving Energy Dis-investment Policies

None of these issues have anything to do with the prospects or merits of the nuclear projects themselves. According to the Financial Times, the change in policy is the result of a “chill” in relations between London and Beijing in recent years over issues including;

  • China’s clampdown on dissent in Hong Kong,
  • its repression of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and
  • its handling of the initial Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said last year the UK could no longer conduct “business as usual” with Beijing which led to an earlier controversial action by the UK government to block Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei from bidding on Britain’s 5G network.

Reuters reported that a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, Zhao Lijian, said in response to the Financial Times report that “The British should earnestly provide an open, fair and non discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies.”

China and Britain are important trade and investment partners for each other, he added.

“It is in the interests of both sides to conduct practical cooperation in the spirit of mutual benefit and a win-win result.” Zhao said.

Britain’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) declined direct comment on the FT report.

According to the government, as reported by the newspaper, the reason for the 5G contract decision was “security concerns” that China would plant digital “back doors” in the telecom equipment allowing Chinese intelligence agencies broad access to voice and data networks across the UK. Pressure from UK telecom firms that wanted the work also played a role in the decision.

The Financial Times noted that the move to reconsider the UK’s nuclear energy partners comes as the US and its allies in Europe and Asia are increasingly looking to prevent China from obtaining sensitive technology and to protect their own supply chains or critical infrastructure from over-reliance on Chinese technology.

During the closing days of the Trump administration, then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made promises of stratospheric levels of US funding to Romania and Poland to deter Chinese efforts to sell its reactors to those countries. The Biden administration has not followed up on these promises.

If Chinese Investors are Out, then are US Investors In?

The removal of CGN from Sizewell could help EDF attract North American infrastructure investors to the project, which nuclear industry leaders said would otherwise be challenging with Chinese involvement. Discussions were already taking place with the lead developer of Sizewell C, the French state-backed utility EDF, about whether it could find new investment partners for the project. So far no US firms have made public expressions of interest about the project. Separately, several US firms have looked into reviving the Wylfa and Oldbury projects.

The US put CGN on an export blacklist in 2019, alleging it had stolen US technology for military purposes, while the Trump administration warned the UK against Chinese involvement in nuclear power.

A similar approach may be needed for the Bradwell project. According to a source quoted by the Financial Times, “CGN’s plans to build the power plant on the coast just 50km from London were now a non-starter.”

“There isn’t a chance in hell that CGN builds Bradwell,” the anonymous government source told the newspaper, adding: “Given the approach we’ve seen to Huawei, [Downing Street] aren’t going to be letting a Chinese company build a new nuclear power station.”

Unraveling Chinese involvement in the UK nuclear new build isn’t going to be easy. An unnamed government spokesman told the Financial Times that PM Boris Johnson and his ministers are are concerned about CGN‘s involvement in critical UK infrastructure and believe Sizewell could be financially and technically viable without the Chinese company.

This level of confidence may be misplaced. EDF, which is building the Hinkley Point EPRs and is expected to build the Sizewell C project, is using technical input, especially lessons learned, from Chinese nuclear engineers who built and commissioned the two EPRs at Taishan, China.

CGN’s Taishan nuclear power plant in southern China was the first in the world to operate using EPR technology and more than 100 CGN engineers have been involved with Hinkley Point C, around 50 on-site in Somerset. The loss of their involvement in both UK projects could be a significant setback for them.

Replacing their expertise won’t be easy as the two other EPRs in the world are still under construction. One in Finland is near completion, but has had repeated run-ins with the Finish nuclear safety agency that have delay startup. The other, in France, has had a series of problems with the quality of welds in several key locations in the plant which has delayed construction.

Has the UK Finally Decided to Use the RAB Financing Method?

(NucNet) Some Conservative Party MPs have called for a review of nuclear contracts on the grounds that China is not a “trusted vendor.” Some believe Britain no longer needs CGN’s money because prime minister Boris Johnson’s government might be willing to contemplate public subsidies or new financing methods for new nuclear such as the RAB method.

Back in 2019 the UK government put its toe in the water with a public consultation on the subject.  It said, “Our assessment has concluded that, by providing regulated returns to investors, a RAB model has the potential to reduce the cost of raising private finance for new nuclear projects, thereby reducing consumer bills and maximizing value for money for consumers and taxpayers.”

Earlier this month the Financial Times reported that ministers were in the process of drawing up legislation that will allow the construction of the two Sizewell C units through a regulated asset base (RAB) financing scheme. The UK government issued a white paper earlier this month indicating its plans to do so.

The RAB model encourages investment in major infrastructure projects by delivering reliable returns, at a reduced rate, before a plant is operational. This reduces the need for large-scale, long-term borrowing at high interest rates, which significantly increases the cost of power.

The RAB model encourages investment in major infrastructure projects by delivering reliable returns, at a reduced rate, before a plant is operational. This reduces the need for large-scale, long-term borrowing at high interest rates, which significantly increases the cost of electric power.

The RAB approach is widely used internationally and has attracted investors for the construction of UK infrastructure projects including the Thames Tideway Tunnel and the Heathrow Terminal 5.

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China ‘Unveils Design’ For Next-Generation Commercial Molten Salt Reactor

(NucNet) Media reports say thorium plant could be deployed in desert regions and ease Beijing’s energy security concerns

Government researchers in China have unveiled their design for a commercial thorium molten salt nuclear reactor that is expected to be the first in the world to break ground for a commercial installation that will not use significant amounts of water for cooling or the steam system. The news was first reported last week by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP).

The reactor could generate up to 100 MWe. The prototype reactor at 10 MWe is expected to be completed next month, with the first tests beginning as early as September. This will pave the way for the building of the first commercial reactor, slated for construction by 2030.

tmsr

Image: Thorium molten salt reactor nuclear energy system (TMSR)
Zhimin Dai – Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP), Shanghai, China

The reactor itself will only be 3 meters tall and 2.5 meters wide, though the power plant will be larger because it incorporates other equipment including steam turbines.

In 2017, the China Academy of Sciences and the government of Gansu, a landlocked province in the northwest of the country, signed a cooperation agreement to work together on the TMSR project and to have a demonstration plant built in the city of Wuwei, Gansu province, by 2020. The government has long-term plans to build several of the reactors in the deserts of central and western China.

Because the thorium molten salt reactor (TMSR) plant will not need water for cooling, it can be deployed in desert regions, allowing operators to use otherwise desolate spaces in order to provide energy for large populations.  Although the technical details of the steam system are not available, a plausible assumption is that air cooling of the steam condensate coming off the turbine is one of the features of the system.  This kind of air cooling is also a feature of several other SMRs including some that are based on light water reactor designs

The small size of the reactors allows its components to be transported to the construction site by truck and/or rail.  So far many  of China’s full size light water reactors have been located at coastal sites to allow for the large long lead time components to be delivered by ocean going barges.

Use of Molten Salt and Thorium Fuel

Next-generation molten salt reactor technology is in development by several companies and countries worldwide, including the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet-backed Natrium.  Seaborg Technologies, a Danish company behind a project to develop and commercialize a molten salt reactor, announced it had secured funding of an “eight-digit” sum in euros from private investors. In the US Thorcon has been working with partners in Indonesia to develop a thorium fueled molten salt reactor that can be manufactured in ship yards and then floated to a customer site.

Thorium has long been seen as a potential alternative source of fuel for nuclear reactors. India,, for example, has limited reserves of the uranium needed for traditional reactors, but it has the world’s largest reserves of thorium. Despite over three decades of development work, India has not opted to produce a commercial version of its R&D effort with thorium fueled reactors.

The International Energy Agency says developing a thorium fuel cycle will require a range of tough economic, technical and regulatory challenges to be overcome. Among them are the need for a qualified supply of fuel for the reactor, a plan for regulatory review for safety, and other key issues.

Thorium Reactors for Export?

A Chinese nuclear energy expert told the SCMP China may also consider building thorium fueled MSR reactors for countries that have signed up to the Belt and Road Initiative. Plans include building up to 30 reactors in partnered nations.

However, this may be overly ambitious due to the unknown cost and lack of certainly about the design. A factor in its favor is its small size which is far less costly than a full scale 1000 MWe plants like China’s Hualong One which it built for Pakistan.

China plans to link the reactors with wind and solar plants to power more densely populated areas. The commercial reactor could generate up to 100MWe.

“Small-scale reactors have significant advantages in terms of efficiency, flexibility and economy,” Professor Yan Rui and colleagues at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics wrote in a paper published recently in the Chinese journal Nuclear Techniques.

“They can play a key role in the future transition to clean energy. It is expected that small-scale reactors will be widely deployed in the next few years.”

A molten salt reactor has the advantage of being multipurpose, small in size and highly flexible. It is as easy to design as a small-scale reactor. In recent years, the potential of small-scale molten salt reactors has caught international attention, the scientists said.

Recent History of the Thorium Effort in China

English language media reports indicate that the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced plans in 2018 to invest $3 billion (USD) over the next two decades in development of molten salt reactors of various designs. A first order objective is reported to be the kickoff of design and development of a first of a kind 100MW thorium molten salt reactor in 2020 in the city of Wuwei in Gansu province. Commercial development is targeted for the early 2030s.

The program is called the Thorium-Breeding Molten Salt Reactor (TMSR). According to the media reports, the R&D program has two major components and both are tied to fuel types (solid and liquid) for various kinds of molten salt designs.

The TMSR-SF stream has only partial utilization of thorium, relying on some breeding was with U-238, and needing fissile (U-235) uranium input as well. It is optimized for high-temperature based hybrid nuclear energy applications. The TMSR-LF stream claims full closed Th-U fuel cycle with breeding of U-233 and much better sustainability with thorium but greater technical difficulty including materials to be used with high temperatures and corrosive salts.

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Nuclear Phase-out Plan a Key Issue in S. Korea Election

(Korea Times) Presidential politics in South Korea entered a new phase this month with multiple candidates debating the policy of the current government to shut down the nation’s nuclear reactors. The government’s policy has become a ripe target of opposition candidates.

According to the report in the Korea Times, Unit 1 of the Wolsong Nuclear Plant, the country’s second-oldest unit, was decommissioned in 2019, three years earlier than originally scheduled. The move sparked investigations into the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and two state-run energy firms over allegations of manipulating feasibility studies that were conducted to justify the early shutdown of the facility in line with the Moon administration’s nuclear phase-out policy.

Choe Jae-hyeong, former head of the Board of Audit and Inspection who turned into a presidential contender of the main opposition People Power Party, was the political figure who led the state audit into the early decommissioning of the Wolsong-1 unit and found that the efficiency of the nuclear reactor had been deceptively undervalued. The government’s answer to his findings was to try to discredit them. He quit his post and announced his plans to run for president.

The government’s phase-out plan involved the termination of the construction of units 3 and 4 of the Shin Hanul Nuclear Power Plant in Ulsan. Plans for other new plants have also been scrapped. The government also announced the the permanent closure of the Kori-1 nuclear reactor in Busan, the first nuclear power unit in Korea that had been operating for about four decades.

The heart of the current heat over the government’s anti-nuclear policy is with the premature closure of an operating reactor years before it was scheduled for closures.

President Moon’s nuclear phase-out plan has been branded as being irrational on the grounds that the economic viability research on Wolsong-1 was tampered with to shut down the plant prematurely.

Joo Han-gyu, professor of Nuclear Engineering at Seoul National University said:

“The study at Wolsong-1 lowered the rate of operation of the unit and presumed the cost of electricity lower than the production cost to reduce the economic feasibility of the nuclear plant,” Joo said.

“Moon’s nuclear phase-out policy defied existing laws and killed off Korea’s top-notch technology in nuclear power generation.”

“Korea has stable supply chains in all stages of making nuclear plants, from design, construction to operation and has won contracts in overseas markets, including the UAE. Korea’s nuclear power technology is recognized internationally, but the phase-out plan dampened its export prospects,” Joo said.

Another opposition presidential hopeful, former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, also expressed his dissent from the Moon administration’s anti-nuclear policy that resulted in the Wolsong-1 nuclear reactor case.

backfireWhen it comes to evaluating the service life of a nuclear reactor in South Korea, cooking the books seems overall to have backfired in a spectacular manner. In addition to firing up several candidates to put Moon out of a job, the government’s ham handed approach to the anti-nuclear policy also displeased the environmental community.

“The Moon administration declared the nuclear phase-out plan, but in fact the number of nuclear power plants in Korea did not decrease under the Moon government. What he only did was cancel the planned construction of new nuclear plants,” Im Sung-hee, an energy expert with Green Korea United, said.

The South Korean presidential election is to be held in March 2022. Under the South Korean constitution, the president is restricted to a single five-year term in office, meaning the incumbent president Moon Jae-in is ineligible to run for a second term.

Nuclear energy is a major power source for S. Korea, producing 29 percent of its electricity as of 2020, just after coal, which accounts for 35.6 percent. There are 24 operating nuclear reactors in the country.

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NuScale Gets Two Investments from South Korean Firms

Samsung C&T Corporation has committed to making an equity investment in NuScale to support deployment of its small modular reactor (SMR) and is developing a business collaboration agreement with NuScale’s engineering, construction and procurement partner Fluor Corporation. The announcement comes only days after after Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction increased its investment to support deployment of NuScale’s SMR to $100M.

Under its agreements with NuScale and Fluor, Samsung C&T will draw upon its nuclear construction experience in the South Korea and the UAE to serve as a strategic partner to Fluor and other potential project participants.

In a press statement the principal parties said;

“The company’s expertise and investment in NuScale will be invaluable as we seek to bring this revolutionary clean energy technology to market,” NuScale Power Chairman and CEO John Hopkins said.

“Samsung C&T is delighted to invest in and explore global carbon-free power opportunities together with NuScale Power and Fluor Corporation, leading companies in the SMR nuclear business,” Se Chul Oh, Samsung C&T’s Engineering & Construction Group president and CEO, said.

“SMR technology is next-generation with eco-friendly energy and this agreement is a crucial step to Samsung C&T to achieve future substantial growth.”

Fluor Group President of Energy Solutions Jim Breuer welcomed Samsung C&T’s capabilities, experience and global footprint in the deployment of NuScale’s SMR technology.

“This investment and partnership with Samsung C&T is aligned with Fluor and NuScale’s long-term strategy to create the preeminent SMR value chain and investor syndicate,” he said.

The virtual signing ceremony took place just two days after South Korea’s Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction (DHIC) agreed to make an additional $60 million investment in NuScale bringing the total investment by the company and its financial backers to more than $100 million.

The NuScale Power Module is a pressurized water reactor with all the components for steam generation and heat exchange incorporated into a single integrated unit. In August 2020 it became the first – and, so far, only – SMR to receive design approval from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

ESG Reporting as a Means to Leverage Interest by Investors in Next Generation LWR and Advanced Nuclear Reactors

An opportunity exists for the global nuclear energy industry to attract investment capital and/or to lower the cost of capital, by focusing on investors who are committed to (environmental, social, governance) ESG investing.

ESG 1

Background The key organization for engagement in this process is the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) which is now part of the Value Reporting Foundation.

sasb logo

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.

A key next step, especially for developers of a new generation of LWR and advanced reactors, is to create a working group to develop a new SASB standard, or modify 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, hydrogen production, and desalinization of sea water.

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.

Sustainable investing generally refers to the full consideration of environmental, social, and corporate governance, or ESG, concerns within an investment strategy, both to enhance investment performance, and contribute to better societal outcomes.

The basic consideration of Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) issues to enhance investment performance has also become widespread even among traditional investment managers, who are beginning to recognize the materiality of ESG risks and opportunities in security selection.

  • 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.

Examples of ESG Reporting Topics

Table: FASB Staff Educational Paper “Intersection of Environmental, Social, and Governance Matters with Financial Accounting Standards,” March 21, 2021

Discussion 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. 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 industry, especially new reactor development, is not one of them. It is bundled in with all other utilities including coal, natural gas, and renewable energy technologies like solar and wind.

The reason a nuclear reactor developer would want to prepare and publish a materially significant ESG report is to attract ESG driven investors to fuel growth and to fund efforts to bring their technologies to market.

There 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.

ESG Momentum is Building

There is a lot of ESG money available globally from institutional investors, families, sovereign wealth funds, etc., looking for firms that can present a credible ESG report.

According to a Bloomberg Law Analysis published on March 25, 2021, the number of current S&P 500 members citing climate change or greenhouse gas under risk factors in their annual 10 K filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission increased by nearly 400% from 2019 to 2020 (60 companies in 2019 to at least 220 companies in 2020).

Why Would a Developer of New Nuclear Energy Technologies Want to do This?

  • Your company will be sending a signal to the capital markets that you plan to be a player at the table of sustainable finance. Analysts will want to discuss your company’s management of ESG Risks with you in quarterly calls
  • Your firm will be telling socially conscientious customers that you are ready to do business with a purpose. Decarbonization is a key to addressing climate change. This is your opportunity to convince investors that nuclear energy is the place for their investments to achieve this outcome.
  • Your firm will be signaling regulators that you are ready to offer your assistance in shaping the rules and regulations that affect your business and your industry. Sooner than you think, regulatory agencies in the U.S. and other countries, will propose rules related to sustainability related financial reporting.

Recommendation The opportunity for the global nuclear energy industry is to organize a task force of its members, especially those interested in building the next generation of LWR and advanced reactors, to 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 engagement of trade groups, professional scientific societies, and standards development organizations that address the needs of the nuclear industry would add credibility to the effort.

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 projects, and to tell the story of the industry to the public as well as business and government decision makers.

Using ESG Reports to Attract Investors

prudent investor

Put first things first. Find out what ESG indicators potential investors want to see in an “ESG” report from a startup developer of a new nuclear energy technology. In other words, understand your stakeholders’ expectations first, then work on aligning your company’s operations and ESG reports to meet them.

Start by identifying your key investor stakeholders and seek to understand their expectations for sustainability disclosure, including the standards and frameworks they prefer stock issuers to focus on. Knowing this first is the key to unlocking access to ESG driven investors.

  • When engaging with institutional investors on ESG matters, your questions may include:
    » What issues and topics do they consider “material” in your industry?

    » How often do they read and evaluate ESG disclosures? Do they use them to make investment decisions?

    » How do they use both the data and narrative discussion in your ESG disclosures?

  • An Engagement Guide on the SASB Standards can be used by the industry to develop their approach to investors and to their own work on developing ESG reports. This guide is a useful starting point for businesses in preparing for discussions about ESG with investors.

Two Key Notes About the Role of Senior Leadership

Don’t run out and buy an ESG software reporting tool or hire a consulting firm to help with the SEG reporting effort at least, or until, there is buy-in from the front office. This is not something that can be developed at a staff level and then percolated to senior management.

ESG reporting as a means to attract investment capital has to be driven from the top or it will fail. This is especially important in terms of compliance with current securities laws and regulations.

ESG Accountability Disclosures are Right Around the Corner

According to Deloitte, on top of investor demand and stakeholder pressures for sustainable driven investing, attention from U.S. regulators is driving expectations that climate-related and other sustainability disclosures will soon become part of the regulatory environment, making it essential that companies start preparing for the day when it is part of the regulatory environment..

nt matrix

Table: Methodology Measures for Northern Trust ESG Vector Score

It is clear that climate-related and other ESG regulations are on the horizon. SEC Commissioner Allison Herren Lee has directed the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance to enhance its focus on climate-related disclosures in public company filings, and also see SEC Chair Gary Gensler’s recent statement that the SEC has the necessary rulemaking authority on climate, human capital, and other environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures.

Ahead of the changing regulatory environment, companies may need to rapidly enhance their existing disclosures if the oversight mechanisms the SEC applies to climate-related and other ESG disclosures are similar to those for financial reporting.

U.S. Regulatory ESG and Climate-Related Developments

As detailed in Deloitte’s March 22, 2021, Heads Up and the May 2021 issue of Deloitte Digest, recent developments in the United States concerning climate regulation, reporting, and compliance policy include:

  • The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CTFC) established a new climate risk unit.
  • The Federal Reserve created two committees to identify, address, and respond to climate-related risks to financial stability.
  • The FASB released a staff educational paper on intersection of ESG matters with financial accounting standards.
  • The SEC announced the formation of the Climate and ESG Task Force, requested input on whether current climate change disclosures adequately informed investors, issued a risk alert on ESG investing, and established a Web site to highlight actions and provide ESG investing information.
  • The House Financial Services Committee advanced the Climate Risk Disclosure Act, which would amend the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to require disclosures related to climate change.
  • SEC Commissioner Allison Herren Lee gave a speech addressing her views on common misconceptions regarding materiality in the context of ESG disclosure.

What About “Green Washing?”

The practice of greenwashing is driving the hype for ESG. The number one message here is don’t do it.

greenwashing

“Greenwashing” typically occurs when a company or organization makes statements regarding their ESG commitments and performance that cannot be legally supported by the facts.

One reason why greenwashing has been able to slip through the cracks in some places when it comes to investment securities is that there are dozens ESG data providers, consultants, and firms hawking “ESG software” If you hire an ESG reporting firm, do your due diligence on their track record and whether any of the reports they prepared for clients ran into trouble.

Firms that are revealed to have engaged in green washing risk being frozen out of future rounds of ESG investment and, if publicly traded, are also at risk of stockholder lawsuits and potential actions by regulatory agencies.

Note that the EU has taken action on eliminating green washing by issuing the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) alongside the Taxonomy Regulation and the Low Carbon Benchmarks Regulation as part of a package of legislative measures arising from the European Commission’s Action Plan on Sustainable Finance effective from March 10, 2021. The regulation aims to reduce greenwashing and the overstating of green credentials.

The SFDR mainly applies to financial institutions (banks, insurers, asset managers and investment firms) operating within the EU. Non EU entities will be affected indirectly through EU subsidiaries, provision of services in the EU and market pressure.

Global Convergence of ESG Disclosure Standards

In addition to U.S. activity, substantial recent progress has been made to establish global climate-related and other ESG disclosure standards. In April 2021, the IFRS Foundation trustees indicated they were moving forward on their proposal to create an International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB), which will take into account the work of other standard setters, such as the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures and a prototype framework for climate-related disclosures proposed by an alliance of five standard-setters.

It is further evidence that the focus on ESG performance and disclosures will almost certainly increase not only in the U.S., but also in global markets.

References

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.

  • 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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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

China Breaks Ground for 1st Small Modular Reactor

  • China Breaks Ground for its 1st break ground Small Modular Reactor
  • NuScale Downsizes Idaho Plant from 12 to 6 Units
  • Kairos $100 Million Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor Project to be Tested in East Tennessee
  • UK / Government ‘Close To Finalizing Legislation’ For New Nuclear Financing Model
  • NASA Announces Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Reactor Concept Awards

China Breaks Ground for First Small Modular Reactor

(South China Morning Post)  The South China Morning Post reports that using a home-grown design, Linglong One will be the world’s first onshore commercial project of its kind. It is expected to take almost five years to build on the southern island of Hainan the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) said.

The small modular reactor (SMR) will be built at the Changjiang nuclear power plant in the southern province of Hainan, Linglong One will have a power generation capacity of 125 MWe. The site is already home to two operating CNP600 PWRs, while the construction of the first of two Hualong One units began at this site in March this year. Both those units are due to enter commercial operation by the end of 2026.

According to World Nuclear News, The SMR, which is based on light water design principles, has been under development since 2010. The ACP100 integrated PWR’s preliminary design was completed in 2014.

he major components of its primary coolant circuit are installed within the reactor pressure vessel. In 2016, the design became the first SMR to pass a safety review by the International Atomic Energy Agency. (Briefing – PDF file)

Power plants comprising two to six ACP100 reactors are envisaged, with 60-year design operating lifetime and 24-month refueling. Thus, electrical power output would range from 250 MWe for 2 units to 750 MWe for six of them.  By comparison, a newly revised six-pack of NuScale’s 77 MWe SMR would deliver 462 MWe,

The project at Changjiang involves a joint venture of three main companies: CNNC subsidiary China National Nuclear Power as owner and operator; the Nuclear Power Institute of China (NPIC) as the reactor designer; and China Nuclear Power Engineering Group being responsible for plant construction.  Construction time is expected to be 58 months.

For the demonstration plant, the reactor vessel is being supplied by Shanghai Boiler Works Limited, the steam generators by a CNNC subsidiary and other reactor internals by Dongfang Electric Corporation.

CNNC signed a second ACP100 agreement with Hengfeng county, Shangrao city in Jiangxi province, and a third with Ningdu county, Ganzhou city in Jiangxi province in July 2013 for another ACP100 project. Further inland units are planned in Hunan and possibly Jilin provinces.

The preliminary safety analysis report for a single unit Changjiang demonstration plant was approved in April 2020. Final approval for the construction of the plant was given by China’s National Development and Reform Commission in early June this year.

CNNC said Linglong One would have many uses besides electricity production, including heating, steam production and seawater desalination. The Chinese state owned enterprise has long term plans to build a large number of the SMRs to power many smaller grids.

Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based nuclear energy consultant, told the SCMP newspaper, “The average unit size of electricity generating plants in modern grid systems has been shrinking dramatically with the massive development of renewable energy technologies.  Smaller units have the advantage to adapt much better to smaller grids.”

“The SMRs are losing the economy-of-scale effect,” Schneider said.

“The only way to make up for that economic effect is to sell large numbers of SMRs. There is no company in the world that has a commercial product on the shelf.”

& & &

NuScale Downsizes Idaho Plant from 12 to 6 Units

(Idaho Falls Post Register)
A project to build a first-of-its-kind nuclear reactor in eastern Idaho has been significantly downsized cutting in half the number of small modular reactors (SMR) from 12 to 6, but boosting the amount of power produced by the installation of six SMRs from 300 MWe to 462 MWe.

The change in the power output results from a change to the design of the NuScale SMR from 50 MWe to 77 MWe. NuScale submitted the 50 MWe design to the NRC for licensing and the revised power rating will likely be a follow on action.

Downsizing the project in terms of the number of SMRs built for the first of a kind installation reduces the project’s overall costs (12 units to 6) and the amount of power it can produce (600 MWe to 472 MWe). The Post Register reported that the energy cost that project partners will pay rose from $55 per megawatt-hour to $58 per megawatt-hour.

NuScale told the newspaper the slightly higher cost “is still an exceptional price for carbon-free, dispatchable (always available) electric power.”

“The (cost rate) of other advanced reactor projects, green hydrogen, storage, batteries, etc., are all projected to far exceed $58MWh. The CFPP would still be the most competitive non-carbon, dispatchable resource,” NuScale said in a statement to the Post Register.

The reactor is planned to be built on a site at the DOE’s 890-square mile desert site west of Idaho Falls at Idaho National Laboratory. The plant is expected to be in revenue service by 2029.

While the company declined to tell the newspaper the exact cost of the revised design and power rating, in the past NuScale has cited several cost estimates that range between $4,000/Kw and $4,400/Kw. A plant with 462 MWe would cost between $1.85 billion and $2.03 billion.

In October 2020, DOE approved a $1.36 billion multi-year cost-share award to UAMPS to fund the development and construction which covers between 66% and 74% of the estimated cost if the cost ranges previously cited by NuScale are used. Since the cost of power from the facility is going up, it is reasonable to assume that the higher cost range is a more plausible estimate.

UAMPS Continues to be Committed to the Project

UAMPS, the first customer for a NuScale SMR, told the Post Register  it was satisfied with the change in the number of units and the revised power rating.

“After a lot of due diligence and discussions with members, it was decided a 6-module plant producing 462 MW would be just the right size for (Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems) members and outside utilities that want to join,” said LaVarr Webb, UAMPS spokesman.

“A 6-module plant allows us to get to full subscription faster, but we would have reached full subscription regardless,” Webb said of the project’s ability to achieve full financial commitment from partners.

Webb said 28 participants have committed to a total of 103 MW. But, he said, “all are currently evaluating whether to increase or decrease” their commitments. He also said “a number of utilities outside of UAMPS are considering” making a commitment.

“We’re confident the project’s entire 462 MW will be fully subscribed,” Webb said.

& & &

Kairos $100 Million Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor Project to be Tested in East Tennessee

California-based Kairos Power and Tennessee state government officials have announced plans for a low-power demonstration reactor in Oak Ridge.

The privately funded, advanced nuclear engineering company will invest $100 million and create 55 jobs to deploy the reactor at the East Tennessee Technology Park.

Called Hermes, Kairos Power’s low-power demonstration reactor will show the company’s capability to deliver low-cost nuclear heat and is scheduled to be operational in 2026

Kairos Power’s low-power demonstration reactor, called Hermes, will demonstrate the company’s capability to deliver low-cost nuclear heat. The Hermes reactor is a scaled version of Kairos Power’s Fluoride Salt-Cooled High Temperature Reactor (KP-FHR).

It is  an advanced reactor technology that aims to be cost competitive with natural gas in the U.S. electricity market in order to provide carbon-free, affordable and safe energy. The project will be a redevelopment of a site at the Heritage Center, a former U.S. Department of Energy site complex.

Scheduled to be operational in 2026, the Hermes reactor will move forward Kairos Power’s iterative development process from prototype toward commercial scale by demonstrating complete nuclear systems, advancing Kairos Power’s manufacturing capabilities for critical components, testing the supply chain and facilitating licensing certainty for the KP-FHR.

Kairos Power received $303 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and Office of Nuclear Energy’s program for Risk Reduction projects to support the design, licensing and construction of the Hermes low-power demonstration reactor. Hermes is intended to lead to the development of the Kairos Power KP-X, a commercial-scale KP-FHR.

& & &

UK / Government ‘Close To Finalizing Legislation’ For New Nuclear Financing Model

(NucNet) Regulated asset base scheme could be used for construction of two reactors at Sizewell C. The Financial Times reported that UK government ministers are in the process of drawing up legislation that will allow the construction of two EPR units at Sizewell C nuclear power station in Suffolk, southeast England through the use of a regulated asset base (RAB) financing scheme (UK government white paper – PDF file)

A spokesperson said: “As stated in our recent consultation, the government is continuing to explore a regulated asset base funding model with nuclear project developers, and believe that it remains a credible option with the potential to help secure private investment, and cost consumers less in energy bills long term.

The RAB model encourages investment in major infrastructure projects by delivering reliable returns, at a reduced rate, before a plant is operational. This reduces the need for large-scale, long-term borrowing at high interest rates, which significantly increases the cost of power.

The RAB approach is widely used internationally and has attracted investors for the construction of UK infrastructure projects including the Thames Tideway Tunnel and the Heathrow Terminal 5.

Sizewell C is the only nuclear new-build project in the UK for which planning permission is being sought. 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. Two EPR units under construction at Hinkley Point C are the only commercial nuclear plants being built in the UK.

The government climate change committee’s latest progress report to parliament, called for two new nuclear power stations to be in operation by 2035, in addition to Hinkley Point C for a total of 10 GW of capacity. It said the additional nuclear capacity is needed if the UK is to meet the committee’s proposed pathway for achieving the “sixth carbon budget” for 2033-37, a “stepping stone” of emissions cuts on the way to net-zero.

In December 2020 the government said it would begin formal negotiations with French state-owned energy group EDF about the construction of new nuclear at Sizewell C. The government said it was considering a new deal to help EDF finance Sizewell, which might include taking a direct stake in the project.

EDF and China General Nuclear Power Corporation are 80% and 20% shareholders in the project to build two Generation III EPR units at Sizewell C. The cost of the project has been estimated at £18bn.

RAB Model Isn’t a Complete Answer to Financing New Nuclear in the UK

Vince Zabielski, who specializes in nuclear energy at London-based Pillsbury law, said implementation of the RAB model is an important piece of the puzzle for the decarbonization of the UK, as it lowers the cost of financing dramatically. However, the RAB model alone will not crack the problem of affordable nuclear power.

He said the major underlying problem is that the West seems to have forgotten how to build nuclear plants on-time and on-schedule.

“Now is the time to address the key issue of project risk management,” he said.

“As part of its implementation of the RAB model, the government should implement a system of high prudency standards that requires a potential developer to prove that it has a robust plan to manage project risks before it can recover costs from the consumer.”

& & &

NASA Announces Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Reactor Concept Awards

NASA is leading an effort, working with the Department of Energy (DOE), to develop new space propulsion systems based on nuclear technologies. The government team has selected three reactor design concept proposals for a nuclear thermal propulsion system. The reactor is a critical component of a nuclear thermal engine, which would utilize high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel (HALEU).

Nuclear propulsion provides greater propellant efficiency as compared with chemical rockets. It’s a potential technology for crew and cargo missions to Mars and science missions to the outer solar system, enabling faster and more robust missions in many cases.

The contracts, to be awarded through the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL), are each valued at approximately $5 million. They fund the development of various design strategies for the specified performance requirements that could aid in deep space exploration.

“By working together, across government and with industry, the United States is advancing space nuclear propulsion,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

“These design contracts are an important step towards tangible reactor hardware that could one day propel new missions and exciting discoveries.”

At the end of the contracts’ performance periods, INL will conduct design reviews of the reactor concepts and provide recommendations to NASA. NASA will utilize the information to establish the basis for future technology design and development efforts.

Battelle Energy Alliance, the managing and operating contractor for INL, led the request for proposals, evaluation, and procurement sponsored by NASA using fiscal year 2021 appropriations. INL will award 12-month contracts to the following companies to each produce a conceptual reactor design that could support future mission needs:

  • BWX Technologies, Inc. of Lynchburg, Virginia – The company will partner with Lockheed Martin.
  • General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems of San Diego – The company will partner with X-energy LLC and Aerojet Rocketdyne.
  • Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies of Seattle – The company will partner with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, Blue Origin, General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy, General Electric Research, Framatome, and Materion.

“INL is excited to enable the development of nuclear propulsion technology for potential use by NASA in future space exploration,” said Dr. Stephen Johnson, national technical director for space nuclear power and director of the Space Nuclear Power and Isotope Technologies Division at INL.

Fission Power Systems for Moon and Mars

NASA is working on a fission surface power system for use on the Moon and Mars. NASA intends to partner with the DOE and INL to release a request for proposals that asks industry for preliminary designs of a 10-kilowatt class system that NASA could demonstrate on the lunar surface. Maturing fission surface power can also help inform nuclear electric propulsion systems, another candidate propulsion technology for distant destinations.

NASA’s space nuclear technologies portfolio is led and funded by its Space Technology Mission Directorate. The agency’s Technology Demonstration Missions program manages the projects to mature affordable, reliable technologies and demonstrate system capabilities to meet power and propulsion needs for future deep space exploration. The program is based at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

For more information about NASA’s investments in space technology, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/spacetech

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Eskom Seeks Sites for 2500 MWe Nuclear to Be Built in 2030s

  • New Nuclear Power Sites Planned for South Africa
  • Cameco, GE Hitachi and Global Nuclear Fuel to Collaborate on BWRX-300 SMR
  • DOE and GE Hitachi Team Up to Lower Costs of Building New Nuclear Reactors
  • Rolls-Royce, Cavendish Nuclear Sign SMR partnership Agreement
  • Seaborg Claims Plans To Mass-Produce Floating Nuclear Reactors
  • NRC Begins Environmental Justice Review of Agency Programs

New Nuclear Power Sites Planned for South Africa

pwr schematicEskom, the South African state-owned nuclear electric utility, is scheduled to present its choices for sites to be home to a future nuclear power plant to be built in the 2030s.

The utility says it is moving forward on its plans to establish a new 2,500 MWe PWR type nuclear power site in Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape, just west of St. Francis Bay, about 700 km (434 miles) east of Cape Town. If built the project would undoubtedly involved more than one reactor.

South Africa’s National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) is responsible for the regulatory framework that protects people, property and the environment from any damaging effects of ionizing radiation or radioactive material. This is the agency that will conduct the hearing on Eskom’s proposed site and decide whether to approve it. The process is similar to one for the US NRC Early Site Permit in which a site is identified and reviewed for environmental impacts without a selection of a specific nuclear reactor or construction date.

Site Selection for Now, but the Procurement Process is Years in the Future

Eskom told a business news wire service it submitted a Nuclear Installation Site License (NISL) application to NNR for the site, with public hearings on a proposed Thyspunt Nuclear Installation Site License (NISL) scheduled in the surrounding towns of Jeffrey’s Bay and St Francis Bay which is set for August 25th.

Thhyspunt was identified as a possible site for a nuclear plant as far back as 2008, with Eskom is also looking at two others – Duynefontein which is just 20 or so miles north of CapeTown, and Bantamsklip, just 20 miles east of Cape Town, also in the Western Cape – as possible sites.

For this hearing, Eskom is limited to evaluating the suitability of the Thyspunt site for a new nuclear installation but does not select a specific nuclear reactor although it does document a preference for a PWR design. Eskom has not selected a vendor for the reactors, nor even an engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) lead for such a project.

The hearings are the first step in the application process and are aimed at gaining insights from members of the public on issues relating to health, safety and the environment.

The utility., which has a history of perilous finances, has no near term prospects for financing the planned 2,500 MWe project either with internal resources or in combination with external investors. At $5,000/Kw, the plant could cost $12.5 billion in today’s dollars. At this point Eskom’s best estimate is that it could be ready to proceed with the project in the mid-2030s. A decade and a half from now the plant will either cost a good deal more or the global nuclear industry will have by that time figured out how to slash the enormous costs of PWR type reactors.

Eskom said it has opted for pressurized water reactor (PWR) technology to be used, as it has experience with this type of reactor at the Koeberg power station. Koeberg is currently the only nuclear power station in the country. The site is home to dual 970 MWe PWRs commissioned in 1984. Assuming the plants can be safely operated for 80 years, the decommissioning date is 2064.

If Eskom can break ground in 2035 for 2,500 MWe, and have the reactors enter revenue service by 2042, there is plenty of overlap. However, by then its likely South Africa’s needs for electricity will have grown significantly. Long term planning for energy security hasn’t been Eskom’s strong suit. Government dysfunction can’t continue as a way of doing business if the country wants to keep the lights on.

History of Prior Efforts – Dysfunction and Corruption

Long term plans prepared in the past for additional nuclear generating capacity fell apart three years ago after the ruling party forced then President Jacob Zuma to step down in 2018. The reason is that in 2014 Zuma inked a special deal with Rosatom for 9,600 MWe of Russian built nuclear reactors. The deal would have locked South Africa in Russia’s grip for energy security  for the next 80 years.

The so-called “secret” deal, which was inked personally between Zuma and Russian Premier Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Brazil, caused an uproar in South Africa as neither the treasury nor the energy ministries had been involved in it. The situation was made worse when it was revealed that Zuma had hired unqualified relatives to run the project.

Zuma is now in jail having been convicted of contempt of court. CNN reported that the court order sending Zuma to serve a 15-month sentence stemmed from Zuma’s refusal to appear at an anti-corruption commission to answer questions about his alleged involvement in corruption during his time as president. In other words, he hasn’t been tried yet on the charges of greasing palms of family members and political friends, just refusing to testify about it.

CNN reported Zuma still faces multiple charges of fraud, racketeering and corruption relating to an arms deal in the late 1990s. Also, he was alleged to have used public funds to lavishly upgrade his home and for other personal uses. Overall, he is at the center of multiple accusations of large-scale graft which is alleged to have occurred during his tenure as president.

There have been multiple efforts by the energy ministry to craft a new Integrated Resource Plan that includes both large and small nuclear reactors. Since 2018 the efforts by the the South African government to resolve its problems with perennial power shortages have not produced a workable plan and, more importantly, one that the country can afford without outside investors or financial aid. Although the lower cost of small modular reactors has looked promising for South Africa, the energy ministry has not made any commitments in that direction.

No Deal with NuScale at Least for Now

This week (07/08/21) Eskom denied in an email message to NeutronBytes that it has any involvement with a letter of intent issued in October 2020 by the U.S. Development Finance Corp. to provide financial backing to US based NuScale, a developer of a 60 MWe SMR to build a fleet of them in South Africa. Eskom said in the email, “there is no possible link to the potential US government funding for NuScale.” The utility also re-emphasized in the email that the upcoming site selection hearing would not result in a commitment of any kind to any vendor.

In the meantime, South Africa’s energy situation is only going to get worse. It’s plan to at least select one or two nuclear power plant sites is driven by the fact that 24,100 MWe of coal capacity is being decommissioned in the next few years. Of that number, 5,732 MWe are set to be decommissioned by 2023. Another 11,017 MWe of coal fired power will be set for D&D by the end of the decade.

National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA), which is the part of the government that sets energy policy, said that the massive load shedding incidents the country has experienced recently, as well as over the past decade, has not only resulted in a loss of security of electricity supply to the country, but it also costs sectors of the economy billions and leads to job losses as electricity is an economic enabler of growth. Without it South Africa remains far down the list of countries experiencing prosperity according to the World Bank.

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Cameco, GE Hitachi and Global Nuclear Fuel to Collaborate on SMR

Cameco, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and Global Nuclear Fuel-Americas (GNF-A) have entered into a joint Memorandum of Understanding to explore several areas of cooperation to advance the commercialization and deployment of BWRX-300 small modular reactors (SMRs) in Canada and around the world.

Design Advantages

The BWRX-300 is a 300 MWe water-cooled, natural circulation SMR with passive safety systems that is based on the design basis of GEH’s U.S. NRC-certified 1500 MWe ESBWR. As a result,  GEH projects the BWRX-300 will require significantly less capital cost per MW when compared to other SMR designs.

The GEH SMR entered into Phase 2 of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) Vender Design Review (VDR) in January 2020. In the US, GEH has held a series of pre-licensing meetings with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

GEH said in a press statement that by leveraging the existing ESBWR design certification by the US NRC, utilizing the licensed and proven GNF2 fuel design, and incorporating proven components and supply chain expertise, GEH believes the BWRX-300 can become the lowest-risk, most cost-competitive and quickest to market SMR.

The firm has made claims of significant cost savings related to construction in presentations to potential customers in Estonia and Poland. However, since no units have been licensed or built, these numbers will need to be proven in practice.

bwrx-300

The ESBWR was licensed by the NRC in the US for DTE’s FERMI III site and for Dominion’s North Anna III site. Both utilities did not proceed with construction due to competition from low-priced natural gas, and for other business reasons unrelated to reactor design issues.

Fuel Advantages

GEH noted that the proposed collaboration with GNF-A will yield significant technological differentiation compared to other reactor designs.

“BWR and CANDU fuel types are closely related as both use similar cladding materials as well as ceramic, uranium dioxide fuel pellets so this type of collaboration offers the potential to extract significant synergies between the two fuel designs and manufacturing processes, enabling the expansion of Canada’s local fuel supply chain capabilities,” said Lisa McBride, Canada SMR Country Leader for GEH.

Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF) is a world-leading supplier of boiling water reactor fuel and fuel-related engineering services. GNF is a GE-led joint venture with Hitachi, Ltd. and operates primarily through Global Nuclear Fuel-Americas, LLC in Wilmington, N.C., and Global Nuclear Fuel-Japan Co., Ltd. in Kurihama, Japan.

The ESBWR is not a CANDU type reactor, which uses natural uranium and heavy water. The ESBWR design information calls for conventional commercial fuel assemblies with enriched uranium fuel for a boiling water reactor.

Cameco supplies uranium, uranium refining and conversion services to the nuclear industry worldwide and is a leading manufacturer of fuel assemblies and reactor components for CANDU reactors.

Cameco president and CEO Tim Gitzel, said; “Cameco intends to be a go-to fuel supplier for these innovative (BWRX-300) reactors. Accordingly, we’re looking forward to working with GEH and GNF to see what opportunities might exist around their novel small modular reactors design.”

Cameco is one of the largest global providers of the uranium fuel. The firm has controlling ownership of the world’s largest high-grade reserves of uranium ore. Utilities around the world rely on its nuclear fuel products.

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DOE and GE Hitachi Team Up to Lower Costs of Building New Nuclear Reactors

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $5.8M in funding to develop three construction technologies that together if implemented have the potential to  reduce the cost of new nuclear builds by more than 10 percent.

cost reduction

The project team, led by GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, will demonstrate three technologies, that could offer promising developments from other industries that have not been tested within the context of nuclear energy. These include:

  • Vertical shaft construction, a best practice from the tunneling industry that could
    reduce construction schedules by more than a year. Some SMRs propose to encase their reactor pressure vessels in underground vertical shafts.
  • Steel Bricks modular steel-concrete composite structures, much like high-tech LEGO [tm] pieces, which could significantly reduce the labor required on site
  • Advanced monitoring, coupled with digital twin technology, which can create a digital
    replica of the nuclear power plant structure

These technologies can be applied to a variety of advanced reactor designs to significantly improve the economics of bringing advanced reactors to market.

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy leads a proposal team that also includes Black & Veatch, the Electric Power Research Institute, Purdue University, Caunton Engineering, Modular Walling Systems Limited, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

nric logoThis work is funded and managed through DOE’s National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC), which was established in 2019 to enable advanced reactor demonstration and deployment. NRIC is located at the Idaho National Laboratory which has plenty of open space to try out new construction methods.

This project, referred to as the Advanced Construction Technology (ACT) initiative, will be conducted in two phases.

  • The initial phase will focus on technology development and preparation for a small-scale demonstration.
  • Pending the successful completion of the first phase and future appropriated funds, a second phase is planned to carry out a larger demonstration effort within three years of this award.

NRIC’s Advanced Construction Technology (ACT) Initiative aims to reduce cost overruns and schedule slippages that have plagued the construction of nuclear power plant projects.

With this initiative NRIC plans to facilitate development of advanced nuclear plant construction technologies and approaches through partnerships that could provide game changing benefits to the construction of advanced nuclear power plants.

“Construction costs and schedule overruns have plagued new nuclear builds for decades,” said Dr. Kathryn Huff, Acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at DOE.

“By leveraging advanced construction technologies, we can drive down costs and speed the pace of advanced nuclear deployment – much needed steps to tackle global climate change and meet the President’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

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Rolls-Royce, Cavendish Nuclear Sign SMR partnership Agreement

(WNN) Rolls-Royce and Cavendish Nuclear have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Under the agreement, Cavendish Nuclear will perform manufacturing productions services involving the design, licensing, manufacturing and delivery aspects of the Rolls-Royce 470 MWe factory fabricated small modular reactor (SMR) (PDF file)

Trollsroycesmrgraphic_thumb_thumb.png

Conceptual image of the Rolls Royce SMR Installation

The Rolls-Royce SMR Consortium includes Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttall, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory, Rolls-Royce, Jacobs, The Welding Institute and Nuclear AMRC.

The Rolls-Royce led-UK SMR Consortium has said it plans to build 16 SMRs, each with a generation capacity of 470 MWe.  If all 16 units are built by the end of the 2030s they could equal the generating capacity of the Wylfa and Oldbury nuclear projects. These efforts were suspended, perhaps indefinitely, when the UK government failed to come to terms with Japan’s Hitachi over the cost of the twin 1350 MWe ABWRs slated for each site.

The Rolls-Royce SMR, which the consortium said can power a million homes, will take advantage of factory built modularization techniques to drastically reduce the amount of on-site construction and to deliver a low cost nuclear solution that is competitive with renewable alternatives.

In May, Rolls-Royce announced that it will start the UK regulatory process for its SMR later this year. The announcement followed the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s opening of the Generic Design Assessment to advanced nuclear technologies. The consortium plans to complete its first unit in the early 2030s and build up to 10 by 2035.

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Seaborg Claims Plans To Mass-Produce Floating Nuclear Reactors

According to press statements by the Seaborg firm of Denmark, the company plans to establish manufacturing centers in Southeast Asis where it will begin “serial production” of  its floating 200 MWe Compact Molten Salt Reactor (CMSR) molten salt reactor in 2023. The plant will be installed on floating platforms that will be fabricated by shipyards in South Korea. The firm says that it plans future configurations of 400 MWe and 600 MWe units also for either barges or self-powered ships.

Seaborg Nuclear Reactor 1

According to a June 2021 media interview in IEEE Spectrum, Seaborg Technologies co-founder and CEO Troels Schönefeldt said, “the most impactful change to the business model is Seaborg’s proposal to install these reactors on barges, and float them offshore rather than buying up land to develop nuclear power plants.:

He said in a radio interview that there are several advantages here. For starters, you can manufacture them in bulk at a single facility. Seaborg is looking at Korean shipyards, which are already closely and efficiently connected to supply chains with enormous production capacity.”

seaborg 3

“These barges can be moved just about anywhere on the planet, either moored offshore or on large or small rivers, depending on how big a reactor it is. There’s virtually no site preparation required; it’s fully self-contained and very easy to connect to a power grid.”

The reactor design is molten salt using uranium fluoride as the matrix for the fuel. The firm says each reactor will have a 12 year cycle between refuelings.  In addition to producing electricity, Seaborg said on its web sit that the outlet temperature of the reactor is high enough to efficiently produce carbon-neutral hydrogen, synthetic fuels and fertilizers.

Schonefeldt did not identify which country’s nuclear regulatory agency would perform the initial safety review of the design and licensing of the reactor. The firm has published several timelines for production in interviews with various news media. Its website calls for a full scale prototype by 2025 and commercial production in 2027.

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NRC Begins Environmental Justice Review of Agency Programs

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is conducting a systematic review of how the agency’s  programs, policies and activities address environmental justice. As part of the review, agency staff  will seek public comment related to how the NRC addresses environmental justice, given its mission of protecting people and the environment.

“We anticipate that these meetings will invite a wide range of useful perspectives, from  community groups, non-governmental organizations, labor unions, and nuclear power plant operators,” said NRC Chairman Christopher T. Hanson. “What we learn will help enhance the staff’s reviews of license applications and other activities that we regulate.”

The Commission directed the review in a staff requirements memorandum dated April 23, giving the staff nine months to conduct the review.

See also separately from the NRC’s announcement a process and tools for assessing environmental justice issues prepared by PNNL.

An Environmental Justice Review Team has  been established within the NRC Office of the Executive Director for Operations and has begun reviewing recent Executive Orders and assessing practices of other federal, state and tribal governments.

The team will also review the adequacy of the NRC’s 2004 Policy Statement on the Treatment of Environmental Justice Matters in NRC Regulatory and Licensing Actions.

The team will evaluate whether the NRC should incorporate environmental justice beyond implementation through the National Environmental Policy Act, as set out in the policy statement, and consider whether there may be benefits from establishing formal mechanisms to gather external stakeholder input.

The Environmental Justice Review Team will hold two public meetings by webinar July 15 to provide an overview of its review and receive public comment. The webinars will be held at two time slots (eastern time) on 07/15/21.

Details for accessing the webinars are available in the public meetings notices linked above. A notice will be published on July 9 in the Federal Register asking specific questions to inform the team’s review and describing other means to provide public comment.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

NRC License Sought for USNC HTGR at University of Illinois

  • Ultra Safe Nuclear to Build FOAK HTGR at U. Illinois
  • Ultra Safe Makes Progress in Canada
  • NuScale Power Secures Investment from South Korea’s GS Energy
  • DOE Invests $61 Million in Advanced Nuclear Energy R&D Projects

Ultra Safe Nuclear to Build FOAK HTGR at U. Illinois

In the latest in public private partnerships for an advanced nuclear reactor design, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has submitted a Letter of Intent to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to apply for a license to construct an Ultra Safe Nuclear HTGR research and test reactor facility on the UIUC campus. The submission of the Letter of Intent is the first step in NRC’s two-step Part 50 process to license a new reactor. The letter indicates that the University of Illinois intends to submit an application for a test reactor which is different than for a reactor intended to be used for production of electricity.

The University’s Grainger College of Engineering (and its Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering), in collaboration with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC), is spearheading the new reactor deployment effort.

The university says it plans to partially re-power its fossil fuel fired Abbott power station with the Ultra Safe Nuclear Micro Modular Reactor (MMRTM) Energy System, providing a zero-carbon demonstration of district heat and power to campus buildings as part of its green campus initiative. This proposal for a dual role for the reactor as both a test and as a production plant may complicate its licensing path forward.

The project team aims to demonstrate how microreactor systems integrate with existing fossil fuel infrastructure to accelerate the decarbonization of existing power-generation facilities.

In addition to supporting the university’s clean energy goals, the microreactor will serve as a workforce training tool and R&D platform for a new generation of nuclear scientists, engineers, and operators.

The proposed reactor, designed by U.S.-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, is a GEN-IV based High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactor (HTGR).

The USNC HTGR is also expected for first-of-a-kind deployment in Canada at the Chalk River site of the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories which is also a research setting.

Challenges Ahead with Questions Pending

The announcement is best seen as an agreement in principle to develop the HTGR at the university site. Neither organization responded to a series of questions (below) about the practical aspects of actually building a first of a kind advanced reactor in a university R&D setting.  Update: 07/06/21: A spokesperson for USNC said that the firm would answer these questions as information becomes available.

  • Are the references in the announcement to a “two-part” licensing process a reference to the NRC Part 50 licensing process? Does the project have a target date for submitting the license application? How much will it cost to submit it?
  • What firm or consortium of firms will fulfill the role of engineering procurement & construction (EPC) lead?
  • Does the project intend to solicit for external investors or will the project be 100% funded by the university?
  • If there are other investors already committed to the project, can you identify them?
    Are there other technology partners for the project, e.g., non-nuclear island including turbines, process heat users, switchyard, etc.?
  • Does the project have a target date for breaking ground and for completion once construction is underway?
  • Once operational, will the reactor support R&D activities at the university in addition to use of electricity generation and process heat applications?

Some of these questions may be answered in the future if USNC and the university sign on to a process of preapplication engagement with the NRC.

Next Steps – NRC Preapplication Engagement

nrc seal

The assumption is that since the Ultra Safe HTGR is an advanced reactor design, it is likely that the NRC will discuss with the applicants the pros and cons of pre-application engagement. The agency’s view is that it will save the applicant and the agency a lot of time, and the applicant will save a lot of money by not just tossing a completed application, without prior consultation, over the fence for review.

Given the costs of preparing such a document, which can run well over $100 million for a small reactor, it’s a preferred option for the applicant’s investors. Here’s a few talking points courtesy of the NRC on the benefits of preapplication engagement.
Advanced Reactor Stakeholder Public Meeting May 27, 2021 ML21146A347

The press statement notes that the project team has spent the last two years engaging with the university and surrounding community; local, state, and federal governments; and potential industry partners. It adds that the docketing of these efforts with the NRC “will help the team continue to provide transparency of the project status.”

About the MMRTM Energy System

The MMR Energy System integrates one or several standardized micro reactors along with a heat storage unit and a non-nuclear adjacent plant for power conversion and utilization. Its 10 to 100 MWe electrical power and/or process heat can be produced by MMR Energy Systems, depending on configuration.

ultra safe tech specs

Technical Specifications of the Ultra Safe HTGR. Table: IAEA

The MMR Energy System can be used to generate power, complement renewables, provide process heat to industrial applications or for high- efficiency hydrogen production, providing clean, reliable energy for any use, anywhere.

The standard micro reactor unit is a small high-temperature gas-cooled reactor generating between 15-30MWt (thermal) at an outlet temperature of 650C. The temperature of the secondary loop will be lower to produce steam to generate electricity or for process heat applications. The medium for the secondary loop will be molten salt. No water is required for cooling.

The MMR uses USNC’s proprietary meltdown-proof FCMTM TRISO fuel (co-developed with Idaho National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory).

triso fuel pellets

FCMTM TRISO Fuel elements. Image: Ultra Safe file

The MMR reactor is fueled once for its lifetime. A fuel cartridge is rated at 20 years of full power. If operation of the Energy System is desired beyond 20 years, a cartridge replacement can be performed on site.

Ultra Safe Makes Progress in Canada

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

  • According to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission website, the UNSC HTGR completed Phase 1 of the pre-licensing Vendor Design Review (VDR) process in February 2019 (executive summary).
  • In April 2021, GFP submitted management system documentation in support of its application for a license to prepare a site for a small modular reactor on Atomic Energy of Canada Limited property at the Chalk River Laboratories site.
  • On May 6, 2021, the CNSC determined that this documentation and GFP’s plan for additional submissions were sufficient to begin the technical review as part of the licensing application process.

GFP plans to build and operate an MMR unit by 2026.
The project aims to demonstrate MMR technology for wider deployment and provide a local clean energy supply with 15 MWt (thermal) power.

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NuScale Power Secures Investment from South Korea’s GS Energy

Nuscale-Logo(Horizontal_BlueTM)wTag

NuScale Power announced on 06/30/21 that it completed an investment agreement with GS Energy which is a South Korean fossil energy services provider. GS Energy brings nine years of expertise as a fossil energy solution provider in South Korea and internationally with a diversified portfolio that includes:

  • Refining of transportation fossil fuels and other petrochemical products;
  • LNG procurement and supply;
  • Electric power production and district heat from natural gas; and,
  • Oil and gas exploration and production.

GS Energy indicated that the reason it is investing in NuScale is that it seeks to secure a diversified and cleaner energy portfolio and is continuously exploring various forms of renewable energy and new technologies, including nuclear power.

As part of a long-term strategic relationship established under the agreement, GS Energy will provide a cash investment in NuScale Power and support deployment of NuScale plants. The two parties will also look to develop regional NuScale power plant service delivery opportunities.

It isn’t clear what changed the company’s mind from its focus on fossil fuels and convinced it to invest in a nuclear energy project. The firm did not respond to an email inquiry about its change in strategy nor did it disclose the scope of its investment with NuScale or the terms. The company’s financials on its web page are only complete through 2019. NuScale also declined to disclose the scope of the investment or comment on the change in strategy by GS Energy.

GS Energy Gas

Since its formation in 2012 GS Energy has invested heavily in natural gas and oil projects. More recently, the focus on LNG has been driven by the fact that South Korea is scaling back its nuclear reactor fleet under the current administration and is substituting natural gas for nuclear energy to power its mega cities. Also, it is no secret that Russia would like to be a provider of natural gas to South Korea for the same reason. However, a change in leadership in South Korea as a result of the next election might reverse the current administration’s  controversial policy of decommissioning nuclear reactors before their time.

The investment from GS Energy is the latest in a series of cash infusions to NuScale from Asian firms. Earlier this year in April 2021, NuScale secured a $40M cash investment from Japan’s iJGC Holdings, followed by another $20M from Japan’s IHI Corporation in May.

NuScale has signed agreements in principle with potential customers interested in deploying its SMR technology in 11 countries, including US, Canada, Romania, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Jordan.

Countries like Estonia have signed multiple agreements in principle with developers of advanced nuclear reactors, including for the GEH BWRX-300 SMR, but has not moved beyond the talking stage with any of them. NuScale’s outreach to Asian investors indicates an interest in expanding its opportunities to serve the mega cities of Southeast Asia with affordable nuclear energy solutions.

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DOE Invests $61 Million in Advanced Nuclear Energy R&D Projects

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced more than $61 million in funding awards for 99 advanced nuclear energy technology projects in 30 states and a U.S. territory. The funding Supports University Faculty and Student Projects to Improve Resiliency and Development of Carbon-Free Nuclear Power.

The projects, $58 million of which will go to U.S. universities, will focus on nuclear energy research, cross-discipline technology development, and nuclear reactor infrastructure to bolster the resiliency and use of America’s largest domestic source of carbon-free energy.

Additionally, 24 university-led projects will receive $5.9 million for research aimed at improving nuclear reactor infrastructure and providing crucial safety and performance upgrades to a portion of the nation’s 25 university research reactors.

It will also help to meet the Biden-Harris Administration’s ambitious goals of 100% clean electricity by 2035, and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“Nuclear power is critical to America’s clean energy future and we are committed to making it a more accessible, affordable and resilient energy solution for communities across the country,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.

“At DOE we’re not only investing in the country’s current nuclear fleet, but we’re also investing in the scientists and engineers who are developing and deploying the next generation of advanced nuclear technologies that will slash the amount of carbon pollution, create good-paying energy jobs, and realize our carbon-free goals.”

  • A list of all awards can be found here ($58M)
  • And additional awards here ($5.9M)

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Posted in Nuclear | 2 Comments

Poland Seeks SMRs for Process Heat Applications

  • Poland’s PKN Orlen Partners with Synthos to Build SMRs for Process Heat and
    Electricity Generation
  • Poland / Westinghouse And Bechtel To Begin Study For First Nuclear Project
    Under US Grant Funding
  • Brazil Hires Tractebel Consortium for Angra 3

Poland’s PKN Orlen Partners with Synthos to Build SMRs for Process Heat and Electricity Generation

(NucNet contributed to this report)  Poland’s PKN Orlen (PKN.WA) has signed a cooperation agreement with chemicals company Synthos to develop small modular reactor (SMR) projects PKN Orlen CEO Daniel Obajtek, CEO of the oil company, said in late June. Obtajtek is one of the richest people in Poland and has been described as an oligarch.

Obajtek said that the investment in small reactors will not affect Poland’s investment in large nuclear power plants. The project is moving well ahead of the timeframe set by Poland’s central government for deployment of full size nuclear reactors, e.g., 1000 MWe, by the mid-1930s or later. The SMR effort was first announced in December 2019. Both firms made it clear in their press statements that their SMR initiative is separate from the government’s plans for the big iron, e.g., 1000 MWe PWRs.

“We have signed a framework agreement regarding the implementation of zero-emission technology, nuclear technology, small and micro-nuclear reactors,” Obajtek said, adding that companies should agree on details of the deal within three months. Poland, which is heavily dependent on coal for power generation, plans to increase its share of emissions-free nuclear and renewable energy generation.

PKN Orlen, is a Polish petrol retailer and oil refiner. Synthos, a manufacturer of synthetic rubber and one of the biggest producers of chemical raw materials in Poland, is interested in obtaining affordable, on-demand, carbon-free electricity from a dependable, dedicated source like SMRs. Both firms plan to use SMRs for process heat for their production facilities.

A press statement  noted that Synthos sees SMRs primarily for industrial use, plus the possible production of hydrogen. Such reactors will not be the primary, but a supplementary source of energy, he emphasized.

Obajtek said that a special purpose corporate relationship (SPV) will be established called Orlen Synthos Green Energy, which will undertake implementation of the SMR project. He said the firm expects the first SMR to be built as a result of the agreement within the next 7-10 years. The plan may involve a fleet of SMRs over time.

“SMRs are easier to build, zero-emission, have a low exploitation cost and can be an addition to the Polish energy system. Their construction is cheap and fast, which guarantees a rapid rate of return,” he said.

GEH BWRX-300 May Have a Future in Poland

Previously,  Synthos signed a cooperation agreement with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) on the possibility of building the BWRX-300 reactor in Poland. The BWRX-300, a 300-MW water-cooled, natural circulation SMR with passive safety systems, makes use of the design and licensing basis of GEH’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor, or ESBWR. Through significant design simplification, GEH has stated that the BWRX-300 will require up to 60% less capital cost per MW when compared to other water-cooled SMR designs or existing large nuclear reactor designs. (fact sheet).

The president of Synthos, Zbigniew Warmuz, told journalists that, in his opinion, the BWRX-300 reactor  could be built by 2027-2028. “I think that 2030-2031 is realistic for Poland,” he added.

Warmuz noted that Poland still needs regulations that would allow entities such as Orlen and Synthos to build a low-power nuclear power plant.

“Today there are simply no such regulations, a nuclear power plant can only be built by the state, and not by a private entity. This has to change,” he said, adding that it takes several years to change the regulations.

WNN reported that Synthos in October 2020 began a regulatory dialogue with the Polish National Atomic Energy Agency on the possibility of building the BWRX-300 in Poland, with the support of US utility Exelon Generation, GEH and Finland’s Fortum Power and Heat Oy.

Separately, in November 2020, Synthos signed a cooperation agreement with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, which is developing the high-temperature gas-cooled MMR. USNC and Synthos jointly applied to the Polish Ministry of Development for financing from the IPCEI mechanism (Important Projects of Common European Interest) for projects within the scope of the value chain of hydrogen technologies and systems. The goal of the joint project is the development of an economically efficient, zero-emission, high-temperature heat and power source for the production of hydrogen on an industrial scale.

The full size (1500 MWe) ESBWR design, which is the design template for the smaller (300 MWe) BWRX-300, was certified by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in October 2014. So far none have been built. Plans by two U.S. utilities to do so, FERMI III and North Anna III, were cancelled due to cost issues and a lack of demand for new electrical generation capacity.

Plans for Full Size Reactors Lag Due to Lack of Financial Resources

The Polish government has already said it wants to build from 6,000 to 9,000 MWe of installed commercial nuclear capacity using conventional large-scale technology with operation of a first reactor unit in a proposed set of six earmarked for 2033.

About 80% of Poland’s electricity comes from ageing coal plants, many of which will have to close in the coming decade. Poland wants to reduce that to 60% in the 2030s. Poland realizes it needs to lower emissions if it is to meet EU targets and sees nuclear energy as one way to do it.

So far politicians have struggled to find the right financing models for a nuclear new build plan announced in 2014, and in subsequent years, but have repeatedly stalled on this issue.

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Poland / Westinghouse And Bechtel To Begin Study For First Nuclear Project Under US Grant Funding

(NucNet) The US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) will release grant funding for Poland’s Polskie Elektrownie Jadrowe (PEJ, formerly PGE EJ1), the company charged with managing the country first nuclear power project, for a front-end engineering and design study involving US-based Westinghouse Electric Company and Bechtel Corporation.

USTDA said in a statement that the study will be carried out by Westinghouse and Bechtel and will support the Polish government’s decision-making process for the deployment of two nuclear power stations, each consisting of three full-size nuclear reactors. Warsaw wants to build six reactors totaling 6000-9000 MWe at two sites.

The study will provide PEJ with site layout plans for the location of the first nuclear power station, a strategic licensing plan, a project schedule, and a budgetary cost estimate for delivery, construction and start-up of the first power plant. These deliverables are part of a laundry list of items that have to be completed under the bilateral agreement before the US will consider financing any nuclear projects or portions of one in Poland. Reuters reported in October 2020 that Poland is seeking $18 billion in US financing for its nuclear plans.

Poland has also signed an agreement with the US Export-Import (Exim) Bank to finance projects supporting climate change in Poland, including potential new reactors. It is unclear how much direct project financing the US will provide v. bank-to-bank transfers to Poland’s central treasury ministry. In any case the financing is contingent on completion and acceptance of the USTDA work scope.

USTDA said that “in a demonstration of broad US government support for the project,” funding will be contributed by other agencies like the US Departments of State’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and the Department of Energy. Westinghouse and Bechtel will contribute additional resources toward the study’s completion. The amount of funding being provided by each organization is not listed in the press statement.

“The front-end engineering and design study, on which US companies will now be able to begin their work, will help Poland’s government take the final decision on strategic partnership in constructing Poland’s nuclear power plants for a clean energy system”, said Polish secretary of state for strategic energy infrastructure Piotr Naimski.

Westinghouse said that the front-end study will be based on its AP-1000 technology and will be reviewed after one year by the Polish government to help in its selection of the “best partner” for its nuclear power program.

Poland wants to build from 6,000 to 9,000 MW of installed nuclear capacity based on large-scale, pressurized water nuclear reactors of Generation III and III+ designs. Commercial operation of a first nuclear reactor unit in a proposed set of six is planned for 2033 or later.

According to Tomasz Nowacki, director of the nuclear energy department at Warsaw’s climate ministry, Poland’s goal is to have one strategic partner for its ambitious nuclear program “for decades”, not only for construction but for operation and decommissioning.

The Polish government has said no decision has been made on the technology to be used for the new-build project and that the procurement of an AP1000 was not a done deal since other vendors from other countries may be able to provide better terms. South Korea has recently stepped up its marketing efforts to win the nuclear business in Poland and other infrastructure and heavy industry projects in EU countries.

According to Reuters, Poland, which is a large purchaser of Russia’s natural gas, which competes with nuclear power, plans to halt those gas purchases after 2022. Instead, it will take pipeline deliveries from Norway and liquefied natural gas, from the United States and others. The Bloomberg wire service reported that even if Poland builds out its complete plan for nuclear reactors, natural gas will still dominate the energy landscape through 2045.

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Brazil Hires Tractebel Consortium for Angra 3

(WNN) Brazil’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES) has hired a consortium to structure the project for the completion of the 1340 MWe Angra 3 nuclear power plant in Rio de Janeiro. Work on the unit was halted for a second time in 2015, when just over 60% of the project had already been completed. It is now expected to start operations at the end of 2026.

The consortium is tasked with defining the investment needed for the project, the detailed schedule of work and specification of how one or more construction companies will be hired to carry out the work.

“Contracting of the consortium, composed of companies with extensive experience in advising on the implementation of nuclear power plants in the world, will allow the market to be designed with the confidence necessary to attract first-rate building partners and a wide range of financing agents in Brazil and worldwide,” said Leonardo Cabral, director of privatizations at BNDES. An engineering procurement construction contractor (EPC) will be hired to complete the project.

Angra 3 will generate enough energy to serve about six million homes, BNDES said. It will also increase the reliability of the national grid since, unlike solar and wind power, nuclear energy is not weather-dependent.

Cabral said in March that he expects a financing arrangement to finish Angra 3 will be ready by the end of next year. BNDES is one of the biggest providers of financing for infrastructure projects in Brazil, and also played a role in financing nuclear energy in the past.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

In Congress July 4, 1776

in-congress-july-4-1776_thumb.jpg

Painting by John Trumbull, 1818. The artist’s work hangs in the Capitol Rotunda, Washington, DC.  Image source: Architect of the Capitol.

About this Image

This painting depicts the moment on June 28, 1776, when the first draft of the Declaration of Independence was presented to the Second Continental Congress. The document stated the principles for which the Revolutionary War was being fought and which remain fundamental to the nation. Less than a week later, on July 4, 1776, the Declaration was officially adopted, it was later signed on August 2, 1776.

In the central group in the painting, Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration, is shown placing the document before John Hancock, president of the Congress. With him stand the other members of the committee that created the draft: John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston and Benjamin Franklin. This event occurred in the Pennsylvania State House, now Independence Hall, in Philadelphia.

Word to Live By

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The full text of the Declaration is courtesy of the National Archives.

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Neutron Bytes is off this week. Have a happy and safe Fourth of July Celebration

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Posted in Nuclear | Comments Off on In Congress July 4, 1776

MIT Public/Private Partnership Expands Effort to Develop a 10MWe ‘Plug-and-Play’ Nuclear Battery

  • MIT Public/Private Partnership Expands  Effort to Develop a 10 MWe ‘Plug-and-Play’ Nuclear Battery
  • Q&A On Nuclear Batteries – A Conversation with Jacopo Buongiorno,
    Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT
  • Oklo Awarded a DOE Technology Commercialization $2M Cost Share Fund Award to Commercialize Advanced Fuel Recycling and Fabrication Capabilities
  • Curtiss-Wright Selected to Participate in the Development of Digital Twin Technology for Advanced Nuclear Reactors Plant Monitoring and Diagnostics

MIT Public/Private Partnership Expands  Effort to Develop a 10MWe ‘Plug-and-Play’ Nuclear Battery

battery-nuclear-power-plant-isolated-white-background-92052833Jacopo Buongiorno, TEPCO Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE), is acting on a vision of developing a fleet of rugged, small-scale, portable nuclear batteries that could bypass the grid and provide onsite electricity and heat directly to end users.

It combines the idea of off-the-grid distributed power and community micro-grids.  A fleet of nuclear batteries fleet requires no new transmission lines, or upgrades to the grid, or banks of energy storage for backup. They can support a single facility, a community microgrid, or other specialized local use without being connected to a grid.

In MIT’s view in the current era, a nuclear battery can generate about 10 MWe of electricity and/or heat which it says is the energy output equivalent to that of a giant solar field or wind farm, but which requires only a fraction of the land use.

“Nuclear batteries are geographically unconstrained, so we can decarbonize at every latitude and in every climate,” says Buongiorno.

“The idea is to make these batteries ubiquitous, situating them at first in factories, military bases, EV recharging stations, desalination plants, data centers, airports and seaports, and eventually in shopping malls, high rises, and communities as local energy sources,” says Buongiorno, director of the Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems (CANES).

This distributed network would make a “substantial dent in carbon emissions in sectors that are hard to electrify,” he says. He adds that they would be resilient than the aging and vulnerable power grid on which the nation currently depends.

“The ambition is massive, because the class of problems we’re dealing with is massive.” (Essay)

The concept of a nuclear battery isn’t new. As far back as 2004 DARPA was working on micro power sources. These designs used NASA’s radioisotope thermonuclear generators (RTGs) as spring boards for advanced design concepts. More recently, Silicon Valley startup Oklo in June 2020 submitted its license application for a 1.5 MWe micro reactor and has a site license to build one at the Idaho National Laboratory.

MIT_Nuclear_Batteries_1000x667

Conceptual image of a nuclear battery, including (from left to right) the instrumentation and control module, the reactor, shielding and heat transfer module, and the power module.  Image: MIT.

Composition of the Nuclear Battery Consortium

In January 2021, Buongiorno and a group of collaborators drawn from the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories, energy and manufacturing industries, and legal and architectural firms announced the launch of a non-profit consortium, the Advanced Nuclear and Production Expert Group (ANPEG). This acronym deliberately echoes MPEG, the international standard for encoding digital images and video media.

ANPEG is a global consortium dedicated to developing low-carbon energy systems based on a “plug-and-play” nuclear micro reactor – or Nuclear Battery – that will provide flexible, resilient, and cost-effective energy solutions to support advanced production activities, energy equity and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

“MPEG established plug-and-play standards for digital compression and performance that big technology players used as the basis for their competing products,” says Buongiorno.

“We want to apply the same idea in the development of nuclear batteries, by creating a shared set of standards, regulations, and business models that will spur battery designs for a wide range of applications.”

Buongiorno and consortium members, which at MIT also include Koroush Shirvan (NSE), Charles Forsberg (NSE) and John Parsons (MIT Sloan), intend to make an impact on carbon emissions in the very near term. Nuclear batteries, they believe, are ideally suited for this challenge.  See for instance Charles Forsberg’s brief paper on R&D work planned to address markets and economics of fission batteries.

The consortium did not name any external investors. Also, given that the principals of the group have long standing commitments to their academic careers at MIT, it may be that the strategy of the group is to develop intellectual property in sufficient detail to license it to a firm that can complete an engineering designs and take it across the finish line for an NRC license.

Future Success will Depend on the Design and Costs for the Customer

The micro nuclear reactors, as well as containment and energy conversion systems at the heart of the battery concept, are built on mature nuclear technologies, Buongiorno says, and they include  include U.S. Army test efforts to develop small mobile reactors (SMRs) for tactical readiness and new prototype systems from NASA like KiloPower.

“Ten years ago, these batteries would have been a pipe dream, but their building-block technologies have matured to a point where they are credible, and today they present a unique opportunity,” says Buongiorno.

While the consortium has not offered any information on the design of its nuclear battery, it has provided some broad brush informati0n on the general characteristics of what it proposes to develop. Challenges ahead include overall design, testing and qualifying fuels, heat transfer mechanisms, and safety design reviews.

According to the consortium, inside heavily shielded, 20-foot-long containers, nuclear batteries will function nearly autonomously, with simple coolant systems and minimal maintenance needs. They will be robust against extreme conditions while meeting NRC safety standards. This means they can complete the necessary regulatory testing and licensing in a fraction of the time typical of larger-scale nuclear reactors.

image-of-a-proposed-small-modular-reactor-being-developed-in-Korea-slider

Conceptual Image of a Nuclear Battery and Its Generator

“What’s exciting is that while the traditional nuclear reactor development paradigm requires a decade or more and upwards of $10 billion, the first prototypes of these tiny reactors, with a core the size of a human being, could be fabricated in a few years, for less than $100 million which is a two-orders-of-magnitude reduction in the cost of development,” Buongiorno said.

Nuclear batteries could serve large markets like heat and electricity for factories, residential complexes, hydrogen plants and freight ship propulsion. Also, they could also occupy such special niches as desalination and flood protection pumps on islands; containerized agricultural production and aquafarming; portable data centers; portable biopharma manufacturing; and even power for space ships and bases on the Moon and Mars.

Bringing such a radical enterprise to fruition requires realistic cost modeling. In ANPEG’s model, a nuclear battery energy provider would customize its service to the needs of the end user, guaranteeing heat and electricity at a given price over a period of time. This provider would safely swap the nuclear fuel in and out, offsite. Independent of the grid and with low operational expenses, nuclear battery electricity prices could prove to be competitive against prices charged by electric and heat utilities.

New Nuclear Paradigm?

Buongiorno sees development of nuclear batteries as “the logical consequence” of his work over the past five years. In 2016–2018, he led ‘The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World’ study for the MIT Energy Initiative, which took a hard look at the increasingly difficult development and deployment of nuclear energy in western economies.  A fundamental finding is that the successful deployment of nuclear energy as a means of achieving decarbonization depends on control the costs of building new nuclear reactors.

“This got me thinking about how to change the paradigm,” he says. “Nuclear energy must shift from expensive and lengthy construction mega-projects to becoming an affordable just-in-time service. This shift can only be enabled by a radical change in scale and technology.”

A year ago, Buongiorno began reaching out to potential collaborators, fellow researchers and stakeholders from industry and government who recognized the potential of batteries with the maturing of nuclear technology. Acting as self-described “catalyst,” Buongiorno has organized a group of 30 into a formal organization on a fast track.

The Path Forward for ANPEG

By the end of this year, ANPEG will have identified the regulatory requirements and best business models for advancing a market-ready battery. The next phase will assemble nuclear battery makers, operators and utilities that can build, deploy and operate the fleet of batteries. After this comes the creation and testing of a nuclear battery prototype at one of the national energy laboratories.

There are what Buongiorno calls “potential showstoppers”—shifting economic tides or security issues, for instance. But there is an overwhelmingly compelling case to move forward: shifting to carbon-free energy generation—now. “With nuclear batteries we are not talking decades but half a decade, and that’s why this is a game changer,” says Buongiorno.

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Q&A On Nuclear Batteries
A Conversation with Jacopo Buongiorno,
Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT

Conducted by the MIT Press Office

Q: The idea of smaller, modular nuclear reactors has been discussed for several years. What makes this proposal for nuclear batteries different?

A: The units we describe take that concept of factory fabrication and modularity to an extreme. Earlier proposals have looked at reactors in the range of 100 to 300 MWE of electric output, which are a factor of 10 smaller than the traditional big nuclear reactors at the gigawatt scale. These could be assembled from factory-built components, but they still require some assembly at the site and a lot of site preparation work. So, it’s an improvement over the traditional plants, but it’s not a game changer.

This nuclear battery concept is really a different thing because of the physical scale and power output of these machines — about 10 MWe. It’s so small that the whole power plant is actually built in a factory and fits within a standard container.

This provides several benefits from an economic point of view. Deploying these nuclear batteries does not entail managing a large construction site, which has been the primary source of schedule delays and cost overruns for nuclear projects over the past 20 years.

The nuclear battery is deployed quickly, say in a few weeks, and it becomes a sort of energy on demand service. Nuclear energy can be viewed as a product, not a mega-project.

Q: You talk about potentially having such units widely distributed, including even in residential areas to power whole neighborhoods. How confident can people be as to the safety of these plants?

A: The nuclear battery designs that are being developed are exceptionally robust; that’s actually one of the selling points for this technology. The small physical size helps with safety in various ways.

First, the amount of residual heat that has to be removed when the reactor is shut down is small.

Second, the reactor core has a high surface-to-volume ratio, which also makes it easier to keep the nuclear fuel cool under all circumstances without any external intervention. The system essentially takes care of itself.

Third, the reactor also has a very compact and strong steel containment structure surrounding it to protect against a release of radioactivity into the biosphere. To enhance security, we envision that at most sites these nuclear batteries would be located below grade, to provide an additional level of protection from an attacking force.

Q: How do we know that these new kinds of reactors will work, and what would need to happen for such units to become widely available?

A: NASA and Los Alamos National Laboratory demonstrated a microreactor for space applications in three years (2015-2018) from the start of design to fabrication and testing. And it cost them $20 million, leveraging the available Department of Energy nuclear technology infrastructure. This cost and schedule are orders of magnitude smaller than for traditional large nuclear plants that easily cost billions and take between five years and a decade to build.

These nuclear batteries are ideally suited to create resilience in every sectors of the economy, by providing a steady, dependable source of carbon-free electricity and heat that can be sited just where its output is needed, thus reducing the need for expensive and delicate energy transmission and storage infrastructure. If these become as widespread as we envision, they could make a significant contribution to reducing the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

There are half a dozen companies now developing their own designs. For example, the MIT group noted that Westinghouse is working on a nuclear battery (eVinci) that uses heat pipe technology for cooling, and plans to run a demonstration unit in three years. This would be a pilot plant at one of the national laboratories.

eVinci

evinci  tech specs

Technical Specifications of Westinghouse eVinci SMR. Image: IAEA / Westinghouse

Other efforts include that the US Department of Defense (DOD) said on March 22, 2021, that it exercised contract options for two teams, one led by BWXT Advanced Technologies and the other by X-energy, to proceed with development of a final design for a transportable advanced nuclear microreactor prototype.

The two teams were selected from a preliminary design competition, and will each continue development independently under a Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) initiative called Project Pele.

After a final design review in early 2022 and completion of environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act, one of the two companies may be selected to build and demonstrate a prototype.

The reactor can be subjected to more extreme conditions than would ever be encountered in normal operation, and in doing so show by direct testing that failure limits are not exceeded. That provides confidence for the subsequent phase of widespread commercial installation.

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Oklo Awarded a DOE Technology Commercialization $2M Cost Share Fund Award to Commercialize Advanced Fuel Recycling and Fabrication Capabilities

Oklo is partnering with the Department of Energy and Argonne National Laboratory to advance electrorefining technologies to produce fuel for advanced reactors.

This technology will help reduce fuel costs for advanced reactor designs while reducing waste by turning used fuel into advanced reactor fuel.

Oklo Inc. (Oklo) announced a $2 million cost-share award from the Department of Energy (DOE) supported by the Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF). Oklo is matching $1 million in funds and is partnering with the DOE and Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) on this public-private partnership. The TCF project will enable the commercialization of advanced fuel recycling capabilities by utilizing electrorefining technology (PDF file).

pyroprocessing at ANL

Conceptual Image of Pyroprocessing Plant at Argonne National Laboratory. Image:ANL.

The electrorefining process helps reduce fuel costs for advanced reactors. Thermal reactors access a fraction of the energy in fuel, while fast reactors coupled with electrorefining can unlock the remaining untapped energy in fuel while reducing the volume and radiological lifetime of the waste material.

“We are proud to be selected to accelerate the commercialization of advanced fuel recycling and development and bring clean power to market quickly and cost-effectively,” said Caroline Cochran, co-founder and COO of Oklo.

“When your fuel is millions of times more energy-dense than alternatives, that’s a key enabler to deliver the cheapest forms of clean power available to humanity,” added Cochran.

“There are tremendous energy reserves in used fuel that can help provide clean power to the world.”

The DOE’s commitment to industry partnerships helps propel the commercialization of promising technologies.

“The award showcases the DOE’s priority to support the private sector in bringing next-generation fission to market,” said Jacob DeWitte, co-founder and CEO of Oklo. In addition, this public-private partnership will enable commercial opportunities to convert the country’s used fuel into clean energy.

Oklo Site License at Idaho Lab

In June 2020 the NRC accepted the Oklo Micro Reactor License Application for Review and has agreed to review the application for a combined license for a 1.5 MW micro

The Aurora, which is the name for the micro reactor, is an advanced fission power system that consists of a small reactor with integrated solar panels. It uses liquid metal to move fission heat out of the reactor core and into a secondary power generation system and generates approximately 1.5 MW of power.

The proposed Aurora design uses heat pipes to transport heat from the reactor core to a supercritical carbon-dioxide power conversion system to generate electricity.

oklo tech

Technical Parameters of Oklo 1.5 MWe Micro Reactor: Table: IAEA

Oklo has said it has budgeted “in the order of” $10M for construction and $3M a year for operations of the Aurora plant.

On fuel cycle costs Oklo said that because of the type of reactor and fuel cycle, only a single core load is required for the license lifetime of 20 years. The Aurora will generate both usable heat and electricity.

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Curtiss-Wright Selected to Participate in the Development of Digital Twin Technology for Advanced Nuclear Reactors
Plant Monitoring and Diagnostics

Curtiss-Wright Corporation (NYSE: CW) announced that it has been selected to participate in Project SAFARI, a U.S. Department of Energy-funded project to develop Digital Twin technology for advanced nuclear reactors.

Project SAFARI is one of nine initiatives under the Generating Electricity Managed by Intelligent Nuclear Assets (GEMINA) program sponsored by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

ARPA-E GEMINA projects aim to transform operations and maintenance systems in the next generation of nuclear plants through the development of specialized Digital Twin technology.

For Project SAFARI, Curtiss-Wright will collaborate with a multidisciplinary team – comprised of the University of Michigan, Idaho National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, and Kairos Power – to develop Digital Twin technology that would allow new nuclear power plants to be constructed and operated more efficiently for increased reliability, safety, and cost savings.

“As an industry-leading supplier of advanced plant monitoring and diagnostic systems, Curtiss-Wright is uniquely positioned to participate in the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors and other Generation IV projects,” said Lynn M. Bamford, President and CEO of Curtiss-Wright Corporation. “We are proud to share our broad and diversified nuclear plant monitoring experience and insight in support of the DOE’s Project SAFARI.”

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Nuclear Thermal Propulsion is Key Enabling Technology for DARPA Effort

  • DARPA project for nuclear thermal propulsion adds a second track for system integration of two previously awarded contracts
  • NAS ~ For Humans to Reach Mars Advances Are Needed in Space Nuclear Propulsion Technologies Especially in Fuels
  • Fuel Tests / NRG To Begin Irradiation Program For USNC’s Micro Reactor
  • Romania Ratifies Cernavoda Agreement with US
  • Japan / Ministry’s Green Growth Strategy Calls For Fast Reactor And SMR Development
  • DOE Posts FAQ on Future of Nuclear Energy Policies with Acting NE-1 Dr. Kathryn Huff

Nuclear Thermal Propulsion is Key Enabling Technology for DARPA Effort

The U.S. Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to use nuclear power to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars, and to provide electrical power for their use once they arrive. To this end last April the agency awarded funding to three firms in two “tracks.”

Track A, focused on the baseline design of a nuclear thermal propulsion reactor, and Track B, focused on the operational spacecraft upon which to demonstrate it. Subsequent phases will lead to the detailed design, manufacture, ground tests, and an in-space demonstration of the Draco NTP system.

A third firm, Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies (USNC-Tech) is providing critical support to both prime contractors in the first phase of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (Draco) program. Draco will develop a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system for cislunar operations, targeting a full-scale, on-orbit demonstration in 2025. USNC-Tech is the only company participating in both Track A and Track B teams.

Awards for Track A

DARPA has awarded contracts for the first phase of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program. The goal of the DRACO program is to demonstrate a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system above low Earth orbit in 2025. The three prime contractors are General Atomics, Blue Origin, and Lockheed Martin..

NAS NTP Propulsion

Conceptual Image of a Nuclear Thermal Propulsion System:
Image: National Academy of Sciences

Rapid maneuver is a core tenet of modern Department of Defense (DoD) operations on land, at sea, and in the air. However, rapid maneuver in the space domain has traditionally been challenging because current electric and chemical space propulsion systems have drawbacks in thrust-to-weight and propellent efficiency.

Activity in cislunar space is rising as space agencies and companies around the world pursue new lunar ambitions, DARPA said. To ensure the accessibility of cislunar space for US government and commercial activities, the US Department of Defense (DOD) must develop new degrees of orbital mobility.

The White House in December 2020 issued a memorandum establishing a national strategy to ensure the development and use of space nuclear power and propulsion systems, including NTP systems, which can power spacecraft for missions where alternative power sources are inadequate.

The technology being developed under the DRACO program could also be foundational to future operations beyond cislunar space, such as the development of an NTP system for the first human missions to Mars.

Cislunar space (alternatively, cis-lunar space) is the volume within the Moon’s orbit, or a sphere formed by rotating that orbit. Volumes within that such as low earth orbit (LEO) are distinguished by other names. Cis-lunar is Latin for “on this side of the moon” but also “not beyond the moon.”

“The performer teams have demonstrated capabilities to develop and deploy advanced reactor, propulsion, and spacecraft systems,” said Maj Nathan Greiner, USAF, program manager for DRACO.

“The NTP technology we seek to develop and demonstrate under the DRACO program aims to be foundational to future operations in space.”

“This first phase of the DRACO program is a risk reduction effort that will enable us to sprint toward an on-orbit demonstration in later phases,” added Greiner.

Award for Track B

With its two partners, USNC-Tech will create a pathway to the first on-orbit demonstration of an NTP system. Subsequent phases will lead to the detailed design, manufacture, ground tests, and an in-space demonstration of the Draco NTP system.

“This is a remarkable moment for NTP development and for our company,” said Dr Paolo Venneri, Executive Vice President of USNC-Tech. “Our selection to participate in not one but two teams for the Draco program shows the strength of our ability to design and analyze these high-performance systems.”

“The United States must emerge as the leader in cislunar space, and our innovative NTP technologies will empower our commercial, NASA, and national security customers to accomplish just that,” said Dr Michael Eades, Director of Engineering at USNC-Tech and company lead for reactor development in Track B.

“Even with the difference in scale of engine and spacecraft, a successfully demonstrated DRACO NTP can directly influence and speed up demonstration of a NASA NTP, said Vishal Patel, analysis lead at USNC-Tech and company lead for spacecraft development in Track A.

As highlighted in the recent study of space nuclear propulsion systems completed by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, some of Draco’s technological achievements could contribute to NASA’s development of an NTP system for its first human missions to Mars.

Mars missions with nuclear thermal propulsion

Profile of Mars Missions Using Nuclear Thermal Propulsion.
Image: National Academy of Sciences

By requiring the use of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) in Draco, DOD will support the maturation of critical technologies, supply chains, and talent pools directly applicable to the NTP system that NASA is partnering with the Department of Energy (DOE) to produce.

NAS ~ For Humans to Reach Mars Advances Are Needed in Space Nuclear Propulsion Technologies Especially in Fuels

Using nuclear propulsion technologies to support a human mission to Mars in 2039 will require NASA to pursue an aggressive and urgent technology development program, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Public Briefing Slides – PDF file

Space Nuclear Propulsion for Human Mars Exploration” assesses the primary challenges, merits, and risks for developing a nuclear electric propulsion (NEP) system and a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system for a human mission to Mars.

While NEP converts the thermal energy from a nuclear reactor into electrical energy to power electric thrusters, NTP uses the thermal energy from a nuclear reactor to heat a rocket propellant and create thrust. Each system has its own advantages and limitations for use in a crewed mission to Mars.”

Studies comparing NEP and NTP systems are needed to assess the viability of each system for a crewed mission to Mars. Given the need to send multiple cargo missions to Mars prior to the first crewed mission, NASA should use those cargo missions as a means of flight qualification of the selected nuclear propulsion system before it is incorporated into the first crewed mission.

NEP and NTP each have challenges, which are identified in the report. The fundamental challenge for developing an NEP system is scaling up the operating power for each subsystem, something that requires power levels that are orders of magnitude greater than have ever been achieved to date.

Another challenge is developing a compatible chemical propulsion system to provide the primary thrust when departing Earth’s orbit and when entering and departing Mars’ orbit.

The fundamental challenge facing an NTP system is the ability to heat its propellant to the proper temperature, approximately 2,700 K. Other challenges include the long-term storage of liquid hydrogen in space with minimal loss; the need to rapidly bring an NTP system to full operating temperature, preferably in under one minute; and the need to develop full-scale ground test facilities that can safely capture the NTP exhaust.

Fuels are Key Challenges for Design of Nuclear Thermal Propulsion

With regard to fuels, including the use of highly enriched uranium, NAS said in its report,

FINDING. Enrichment of Nuclear Fuels. A comprehensive assessment of HALEU vs HEU for NTP and NEP systems that weighs the key considerations is not available. These considerations include technical feasibility and difficulty, performance, proliferation and security, safety, fuel availability, cost, schedule, and supply chain as applied to the baseline mission.

RECOMMENDATION. Enrichment of Nuclear Fuels. In the near term, NASA and DOE, with inputs from other key stakeholders, including commercial industry and academia, should conduct a comprehensive assessment of the relative merits and challenges of HEU and HALEU fuels for NTP and NEP systems as applied to the baseline mission.

FINDING. NTP Fuel Characterization. A significant amount of characterization of reactor core materials, including fuels, remains to be done before NASA and DOE will have sufficient information for a reactor core design.

RECOMMENDATION. NTP Fuel Architecture. If NASA plans to apply NTP technology to a 2039 launch of the baseline mission, NASA should expeditiously select and validate a fuel architecture for an NTP system that is capable of achieving a propellant reactor exit temperature of approximately 2700 K or higher (which is the temperature that corresponds to the required ISP of 900 sec) without significant fuel deterioration during the mission lifetime. The selection process should consider whether the appropriate fuel feedstock production capabilities will be sufficient.

“Space nuclear propulsion technology shows great potential to facilitate the human exploration of Mars,” said Bobby Braun, director for planetary science at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report.

“However, significant acceleration in the pace of technology maturation is required if NASA and its partners are to complete this mission within the stated timeline.”

Fuel Tests / NRG To Begin Irradiation Program For USNC’s Micro Reactor

(NucNet) Netherlands-based NRG is to carry out a program of irradiation tests on Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation’s (USNC) proprietary fully ceramic microencapsulated (FCM) fuel at the high flux reactor in Petten.

NRG said the aim of the tests is to demonstrate the safety of the fuel for the 20-year lifespan of Seattle-based USNC’s micro modular reactor. NRG said extensive pre- and post-irradiation tests at its hot cell laboratories will be part of the program.

FCM fuel is a next-generation tristructural-Isotropic (Triso) particle fuel design, replacing the 50-year-old graphite matrix of traditional Triso fuel with silicon carbide, a material that is extremely resistant to radiation and thermal damage.

triso fuel pellets

USNC TRISO Fuel. Image: USNC

The SiC matrix in FCM fuel provides a dense, gas-tight barrier, preventing the escape of fission products even if a Triso particle should rupture during operation. The result is a safer nuclear fuel that can withstand higher temperatures and more radiation.

NRG said the higher-thermal conductivity of FCM fuel allows the fuel pellet to have a flatter temperature profile, lowering peak temperatures in nuclear reactors. Unlike conventional nuclear fuels, FCM fuel achieves full-fission product containment across a wide range of temperatures that include operating and failure conditions.

USNC’s micro modular reactor is a 15 MW thermal, five MW electrical high-temperature gas-cooled system with a design that draws on operational experience from reactors developed by China, Germany, Japan and the US. USNC has said it hopes to build and operate a unit by 2026.

The plant consists of two systems: a nuclear plant that generates heat and a power plant that converts heat into electricity or provides process heat for industrial applications. It uses fuel in prismatic graphite blocks and has a sealed transportable core.

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

Last month, Global First Power’s application for a licence to prepare a site for an MMR at Chalk River moved to the technical review phase of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s licensing process.

Romania Ratifies Cernavoda Agreement with US

(WNN) The Romanian Senate, the upper house of the country’s parliament, has ratified an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation to expand and modernize Romania’s nuclear power program that was signed between Romania and the USA in October 2020. Areas for cooperation could include the completion of units 3 and 4 at the Cernavoda nuclear power plant and the refurbishment of unit 1 at the plant.

Cernavoda is the only nuclear power plant in Romania and consists of two 650 MWe pressurized heavy-water reactors. Unit 1 went into commercial operation in 1996 and unit 2 in 2007. Operator Nuclearelectrica plans to extend the operating life of unit 1 to 60 years.

Most of the work on units 3 and 4 – like units 1 and 2, CANDU-6 reactors – was done in the 1980s prior to the fall of the government of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. In July 2020, Romania launched a tender for a new feasibility study to complete units 3 and 4.

According to the Senate’s website, there were 129 votes in favour of the bill, one against and one abstention. It bill will now be forwarded to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis for his approval.

It’s not clear what the current administration thinks of the agreement which was pushed by the Trump administration as part of an effort to block China’s aggressive export effort for its home grown nuclear reactor the Hualong One which is a 1000 MWe PWR.

The Trump administration promised Romania $8 billion in cash and inkind support for its efforts to complete the two PHWRs. However, so far the Biden administration has not made any public statements about the deal. Given the DOE has only an Acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, and a brand new Secretary for the agency as a whole, it could be a while before anything definitive is forthcoming from the U.S. government.

Japan / Ministry’s Green Growth Strategy Calls For Fast Reactor And SMR Development

(NucNet) An updated green growth strategy calls for Japan’s nuclear energy industry to cooperate internationally on fast reactor development and the demonstration of small modular reactor technology, industry group the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (Jaif) said.

According to Jaif, the strategy, published by Japan’s ministry of economy, trade and industry (Meti) did not include any reference to fast reactor development in an earlier version December 2020.

The strategy calls for the establishment by 2030 of technology for the production of hydrogen using high-temperature, gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs) and commitment to nuclear fusion through international cooperation, including the €20bn International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) nuclear fusion project at Cadarache in the south of France.

Jaif said wording was removed from the original strategy that had called for maximizing the use of nuclear energy. However, a new item was added calling for the promotion of nuclear-related R&D and the training of personnel for the industry.

In the past year Japan has inked an R&D agreement with Poland for development of an HTGR design for commercial use. Poland’s National Centre for Nuclear Research (NCBJ) and the Ministry of Education and Science (MEiN) have signed a contract for design work on a high temperature gas cooled reactor (HTGR).

Under the agreement, plans for  construction of the HTGR will be prepared within three years at NCBJ, which will also develop the basic design, based on technical input from Japan, at a cost of $16.2M.

Japan does not have an SMR project under development and may have to seek a partner from another country to develop a useful design for commercial sale.

DOE Posts FAQ on Future of Nuclear Energy Policies with Acting NE-1 Dr. Kathryn Huff

In her first general policy statement since taking office, Acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at DOE, Dr. Kathryn Huff, said she has three priorities.

“First and foremost, the preservation of the existing fleet in the United States is essential to our climate goals. Second, the deployment of new advanced reactor types will underpin our continued leadership in nuclear technology and our needed direction in the context of climate action. Finally, this is only possible if DOE makes progress in the context of an energy- and environmental-just consent-based siting approach process for interim and eventually permanent spent nuclear fuel storage.”

The complete interview is online at the DOE nuclear energy home page.

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