INL Releases Details of Plans for Work on Advanced Reactors

Report describes pathways for development of advanced nuclear concepts

inl logoIn a report announced August 30, INL’s nuclear experts, in collaboration with their counterparts at Argonne and Oak Ridge National Labs, presented pathways to deployment for advanced test and demonstration reactor concepts to support key national nuclear energy needs.

This collective effort reflects the growing sense of urgency and the groundswell of support for developing advanced reactor technologies.

“To meet the objectives of the nation’s energy policy – and meet energy demand without emissions – we must realize the promise of innovative nuclear technologies,” said Dr. Kemal Pasamehmetoglu, director of INL’s Nuclear Science & Technology Directorate. “Deployment of an advanced test reactor and demonstration of new nuclear power plant technologies are necessary to achieve these objectives.”

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative directs the national laboratories to support industry efforts to deploy innovative nuclear technologies. Recently passed federal legislation that promotes innovation in technology and licensing also reflects broad bipartisan support for nuclear energy and the recognition that the nation’s energy, security and environmental goals cannot be met without it.

Technology Development Typically Required for Licensing

ARTstudy_Fig15

The study relied on critical input from scientists and nuclear experts from across the DOE complex, academia and industry. This broad-based effort is focused on defining a path forward to providing reliable, efficient and clean nuclear energy using advanced reactor technologies. The current light-water reactor fleet provides nearly two-thirds of the nation’s zero-carbon energy.

“The results of this study will help focus lab and industry resources on the most promising technologies and options for both near-term and long-term deployment,” said Dr. Hans Gougar, director of INL’s Advanced Reactor Technologies Division.

“The study also illuminates the technical, financial and regulatory backdrop against which realistic development and deployment decisions must be made. I encourage everyone interested in our national energy future to take a look.”

Advanced reactors are defined, for purposes of this study, as those which use coolants other than water. The innovative designs evaluated in this study offer key performance features such as:

  • Higher outlet temperatures to produce electricity more efficiently and to replace fossil-fuel-generated heat for industrial applications like chemical production and water desalinization.
  • Enhanced inherent, or passive, safety systems to remove excess heat effectively even in the event of a full station blackout, such as occurred at Fukushima, and to allow the plant to withstand any conceivable accident scenario.
  • Advanced fuels in various forms (liquid, particle, metallic or ceramic) and new cladding materials to operate at higher temperatures, extract more energy from the fuel, and tolerate a wider range of operating conditions.
  • Advanced power conversion systems using gas turbines or supercritical fluids to reduce water usage and increase efficiency.

The Advanced Demonstration and Test Reactor Options Study and its appendices are posted on INL’s Advanced Reactor Technologies website.

INL Team Evaluates Nuclear Reactor Technologies

  • Partnerships with Other DOE Labs a Key Element

Reflecting the growing sense of urgency and the groundswell of support for developing advanced reactor technologies, INL’s nuclear experts have teamed with their counterparts at Argonne and Oak Ridge National Labs to evaluate technologies and objectives for new test and demonstration reactors that will be critical for developing the replacements for our nation’s aging nuclear fleet.

Reactor development and deployment steps
based on U.S. and international experience

ARTstudy_FigES1

The study was led by Dr. David Petti of INL, Dr. Robert Hill of Argonne, and Dr. Jess Gehin of Oak Ridge and relied on critical input from scientists and nuclear experts from across the Department of Energy complex and industry. It reflects a renewed focus on collaboration between labs and industrial partners as they work to meet the challenges of providing reliable, efficient and clean energy to replace the aging light-water reactors that provide nearly two-thirds of the nation’s zero-carbon energy.

The nation already has several highly capable test reactors, such as INL’s Advanced Test Reactor and the High Flux Isotope Reactor at Oak Ridge. But these reactors operate with a thermal or “slow” neutron spectrum not ideal for testing fuels and materials used in many of the advanced reactors that operate with a fast neutron spectrum.

The renewed interest in fast reactors is based on the potential of such technologies to extract more energy from uranium, thorium and even spent fuel from existing light-water reactors.

“In this study, we first identified the objectives for new materials testing and demonstration reactors, then we systematically evaluated the technologies available that will meet them,” said Hans Gougar, director of INL’s Advanced Reactor Technologies Division.

Test reactors are complex and expensive national assets that are critical to the long-term development of the fuels and materials upon which future nuclear energy systems will rely.

For purposes of the study, advanced reactors were defined as those which use coolants other than water. Water-cooled reactors currently provide the bulk of the nation’s zero-carbon energy and are expected to safely provide electricity for decades. The innovative designs evaluated in this study all rely on different coolant and fuel combinations to achieve notable performance features, such as:

  • Higher outlet temperatures that can produce electricity more efficiently but can also replace the fossil-fuel-generated heat for industrial applications like chemical production and water desalinization.
  • Enhanced inherent, or passive, safety systems that effectively remove excess heat even in the event of a full station blackout as occurred at Fukushima, allowing the plant to withstand any conceivable accident scenario.
  • Advanced fuels in various forms (liquid, particle, metallic or ceramic) and new cladding materials that can operate at higher temperatures, extract more energy from the fuel, and tolerate a wider range of upset conditions.
  • Advanced power conversion systems using gas turbines or supercritical fluids to reduce water usage and increase efficiency.

“The successful licensing and demonstration of any new nuclear plant concept will show not only that the U.S. still has the expertise but can also deploy an emissions-free, reliable energy source on a scale large enough to meet U.S. energy demands for the foreseeable future. It was therefore very important to take a very transparent and systematic approach to evaluating the available technologies and deployment pathways,” Gougar said.

INL NEWS MEDIA CONTACTS
Joseph Campbell, 208-521-7445,  joseph.campbell@inl.gov
Laura Scheele, 219-381-8672,  laura.scheele@inl.gov

INL is one of the DOE’s national laboratories. The laboratory performs work in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment. INL is the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research and development. Day-to-day management and operation of the laboratory is the responsibility of Battelle Energy Alliance

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X-Energy and Southern Nuclear Team Up for Advanced Reactor R&D

In an innovative partnership tiny X-Energy, a start-up, has teamed with one of America’s biggest nuclear utilities, Southern Co., to collaborate on the development and commercialization of the design of a high temperature gas-cooled reactor.

Two firms which have received individually $40 million cost sharing grants from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for work on advanced nuclear reactor technologies have joined forces. The objective of the partnership is to come up with more options to produce designs with high levels of performance. The firms have set a target to achieve commercial success by the 2030 time frame.

X-Energy and Southern Co. have signed a memorandum of understanding that pools their efforts. What’s interesting about the partnership is that the DOE grants support two very different types of advanced reactors.

The X-Energy start-up is working on a pebble bed high temperature gas cooled reactor. Southern Co. is developing a molten chloride (salt) fast reactor. Both firms bring to the table sets of partners that read like a who’s who of nuclear energy.

X-Energy is working with BWXT, Oregon State University, Teledyne-Brown Engineering, SGL Group, and two DOE labs – INL and ORNL.

Southern has partnerships with TerraPower, the Electric Power Research Institute, Vanderbilt University, and ORNL.

Does Triso Fuel Hold the Keys to the Partnership?

Neither Southern nor X-Energy have explained in their press statements where their R&D work intersects. The potential technological link between the two projects is Triso fuel. Some GEN IV designs of very high temperature molten salt reactors specify the use of it. The pebble bed design depends entirely on Triso fuel.

According to a 2013 report by World Nuclear News, research teams at two US national laboratories ORNL, INL) have found that irradiated carbon-coated Triso fuel particles are even more resistant to extreme temperatures than previously thought, offering potential benefits for reactor safety. TRISO fuel developed and tested at the Idaho National Laboratory was enriched to just over 9% U235.

The pebble bed and molten salt designs share another characteristic, and that is both have a negative temperature coefficient that automatically shuts down the reactor if temperatures get too high. The Integral Fast Reactor, a sodium cooled design, also has this safety feature.

Southern’s Leadership Role with X-Energy

As one the biggest nuclear utilities in the country, Southern has broken new ground for the second time. First, it sought and won a $40 million cost sharing grant from DOE for advanced R&D work. Second, it brought to the table an innovative small startup seeking to leverage its similar DOE grant, and equity investments, with a larger partner and potential customer.

pebble bedX-Energy’s pebble bed work involves TRISO fuel in the form of 200,000 ceramic clad enriched uranium pebbles inside the reactor pressure vessel. Helium is heated there to very high temperatures and some pebble bed designs have specified outlet temperatures as high as 500C.or more. Some molten salt reactor designs call for temperatures within the primary loop up to  two-to-three times that level.

In addition to the fuel and reactor design issues, X-Energy will also need work on materials which can stand up to the high heat.

MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering has a resource web site on pebble bed reactors which provides additional insights into the history of the technology and some of its perceived advantages.

Southern’s work plans to use molten chloride salts as a primary coolant at low pressure. It is a less known version of the molten fluoride salt reactor. TerraPower, one of Southern’s partners, has been exploring options for design of a molten chloride salt reactor since last year when it announced the effort during a nuclear energy conference at ORNL.

MCFR_labelWhile few technical details of the design have been released by Southern Nuclear, this online discussion posted in January 2016 by thorium reactor expert Kirk Sorensen explores some of what’s known about the technology in general. See also this report by Nuclear Engineering International which survey’s current molten salt R&D efforts as of February 2016. In August 2016 MIT Technology Review published a description of molten salt R&D efforts taking place in China.

CEOs Express Confidence in High Stakes R&D

In press statements reported by World Nuclear News, the CEOs of both X-Energy and Southern talked about bringing an advanced nuclear reactor to market.

X-energy CEO Kam Ghaffarian said, “We are thrilled to have Southern Nuclear involved in our project. I founded X-energy in 2009 out of a desire to make a significant and lasting contribution to clean energy generation in the US and around the world. This relationship firmly puts us on that path.”

Southern Nuclear chairman, president and CEO Stephen Kuczynski said, “Our relationship with X-energy builds upon the DOE awards we each received and puts the industry on a strong path to providing clean and safe nuclear enrgy for generations to come.” He added, “We understand fully the time and manpower it will take to bring the first advanced reactor to market and feel confident that pursuing this goal together will best leverage our combined research and commercial operation experience to do so.”

Potential New Business Model for Nuclear Start-ups

The collaboration of so many high profile nuclear energy players on advanced reactor designs adds a new layer of interest to the many entrepreneurial efforts going on elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada. While DOE had emphasized the development of public / private partnerships through its GAIN program at INL, it appears another path is opening for developers, and that is to partner with a major nuclear utility.

The question now becomes whether other large US nuclear utilities will look at Southern’s model and invest in an R&D partnership with an entrepreneurial developer. The benefits to the developer are the deeper pockets of the the utility and a potential customer for its efforts if to makes it to the finish line with a successful NRC safety design review.

Southern CEO Steve Kuczynski has spoken frequently about an objective of the US having 40% of its electricity coming from nuclear reactors by 2040. The firm is building two new Westinghouse 1150 MW AP1000 reactors in Georgia and will complete them to enter revenue service before the end of this decade.

Other large nuclear utilities have expressed interest in small modular reactors (SMRs) which are based on conventi0nal light water reactor technologies and which have a strong case for passing an NRC review.

UAMPS, a Utah electric cooperative, is the first customer for a 50 MW SMR design by NuScale which is slated to be built in Idaho. Up to 12 of the units may eventually be built at the site which is about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID, on the grounds of the Idaho National Laboratory.

At one time TVA was working with B&W to design and license that firm’s 180 MW mPower SMR, but opted instead to seek an NRC early site permit for the Clinch River plant without selecting a specific vendor. B&W has since paired with Bechtel to seek a new customer for its mPower design.

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ORNL Sets 2nd MSR Conference for 10/4-5

Save the dates for the next workshop on molten salt reactors

The 2016 workshop will build upon the highly msr sponsorssuccessful “50th Anniversary of the Startup of the MSRE” held last year at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). This year’s event will also be held at ORNL.

ORNL will again host this second MSR workshop with the theme of “Moving MSRs Forward -The Next Steps.”

Reference: World Nuclear Association profile of Molten Salt Reactors

From the the conference web site:

We plan to have sessions on MSR related progress made in the areas of R&D, technology enhancements, and commercial developments since the 2015 workshop.

Additional topics include the status of licensing related initiatives that are being undertaken via the DOE-NRC collaborations on advanced reactors. DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy’s GAIN program is assisting in the sponsorship of this workshop.

Speakers to Highlight New MSR Developments

  • Governmental Agencies and Initiatives
  • Non-governmental Organizations
  • International Activities – China, Czech Republic, Australia
  • DOE-NE University-led Integrated Research Projects on MSRs
  • MSR Designers and Developers
  • Thermal Hydraulic Loop Operations and Materials R&D
  • Safety and Licensing
  • Special Poster Session on University MSR R&D

More Information

David E. Holcomb, Ph.D.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Reactor and Nuclear Systems Division
DOE Salt Reactor National Technical Lead
DOE Instrumentation & Controls Technical Lead
Bethel Valley Road; X-10 Plant
P.O. Box 2008; Bldg. 5700
Oak Ridge, Tennessee   37831-6165
Office: +1 (865) 576-7889
Cell:  +1 (865) 898-2193
email:  HolcombDE@ornl.gov
http://www.ornl.gov/msr

Reference: (2015 conference presenters’ slides)

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Nuclear News Roundup for August 27, 2016

Climate Scientists Urge California To Reconsider Diablo Canyon Closure Plans

(NucNet) Climate scientists have written to the governor of California asking for a proposal to close the two-unit Diablo Canyon nuclear station to be reconsidered because there are “serious questions” about whether the planned closure is good for ratepayers, the environment and the climate.

In their letter, the scientists urged Gov. Edmund Brown to ask the California Public Utility Commission to delay consideration of any proposal to close Diablo Canyon until the legislature and the public, who will have to foot the bill, can openly debate how California can most quickly and cost-effectively stop the damage to the climate from electrical system emissions.

Utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has agreed in a joint proposal with Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defence Council, the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility and other groups to close the station in 2025.

The scientists said: “Retirement of the plant will make a mockery of California’s decarbonization efforts.

Diablo Canyon’s yearly output of 17,600 gigawatt-hours supplies 9% of California’s total in-state electricity generation and 21 percent of its low-carbon generation. If Diablo Canyon closes it will be replaced mainly by natural gas, and California’s carbon dioxide emissions will rise.”

They said the joint proposal does not come close to replacing this lost low-carbon power. It only mandates 4,000 GW/hrs per year of energy efficiency and, optionally, new renewable generation, to replace four times as much lost nuclear output.

“And much of the demand reduction PG&E forecasts to replace Diablo will come about simply from customers switching from PG&E to alternate electricity providers, with no guarantee that their new electricity supply will come from low-carbon sources,” the scientists said.

Under the proposal, Diablo Canyon would be retired by PG&E after its current operating licences expire in November 2024 and August 2025. There are several contributing factors, PG&E said, including California’s plans to increase renewables to 50 percent by 2030. The Diablo Canyon units began commercial operation in 1985 and 1986.

The letter is online: http://bit.ly/2b3FWXp

China Sets Sights on New Global Export: Nuclear Energy

(AP) In Shanghai, workers are constructing a nuclear reactor that is the flagship for Beijing’s ambition to compete with the United States, France and Russia as an exporter of atomic power technology.

The Hualong One, developed by two state-owned companies, is one multibillion-dollar facet of the country’s aspirations to transform China into a creator of profitable technology from mobile phones to genetics.

In the case of nuclear reactors, industry experts say China is underestimating how tough it will be for its novice exporters to compete with the foreign companies that helped create its industry, given the political hurdles, safety concerns and uncertain global demand following Japan’s Fukushima disaster.

China’s nuclear industry is growing fast, with 32 reactors in operation, 22 being built and more planned, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Mycle Schneider, a nuclear energy consultant in Paris, told AP Beijing is “seriously underestimating” how hard global sales will be. Obstacles include strict quality controls, regulations that differ from country to country and competition from the falling cost of wind and solar, he said.

The Hualong One under construction in Fuqing, near the southeastern city of Fuzhou, is a hybrid created by CGN and its main rival, China National Nuclear Corp. after they were ordered in 2011 to merge two competing reactors into a single export product.

Based on French systems of the 1970s and ’80s, it belongs to the industry’s third generation of reactors, with more advanced safety features and working life of 60 years instead of the previous generation’s 40.

CNNC is installing two Hualong One reactors at the Fuqing Nuclear Power Plant, due to go online in 2019 and 2020.

CGN is building its own version in Fangchenggang on the southern coast near Vietnam and says it wants to seek regulatory approval of the Hualong One design for possible use in a power plant in Bradwell on Britain’s east coast. That project is based on success with the Hinkley Point effort which is on hold mired in controversy over costs and the participation of the Chinese firms.

China has signed an agreement in principle with Argentina for construction of one or two Hualong One reactors, but that country’s economy may not be able to support the project. A separate deal with Romania will likely result in construction of two new CANDU 6 type reactors matching two similar units that are already in revenue service.

China’s nuclear industry has yet to report a major accident but reflexive official secrecy makes it hard for outsiders to assess its safety. It remains unclear whether China can develop the technical workforce to meet its domestic ambitions, mount an effective regulatory effort, and support its export ambitions.

Jordan Seeks Financing for its First Nuclear Power Plant

(NucEngIntl) Jordan’s first nuclear power plant, a two 1,000MWe unit plant to be built by Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, could be operational by 2025, if sufficient financing is secured, the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) said.

“Jordan is currently in talks with German, Czech, Chinese and Japanese companies among others to supply turbines and electrical systems for the power plant and things are going well,” said JAEC Chairman Khaled Toukan.

Some 30% of the $10bn project will be financed equally by Jordan and Russia, who are partners in the project. JAEC is engaged in discussions with companies to secure the remaining 70% to pay for turbines and electrical systems, Toukan said.

“If we secure finance by the end of 2017, we will be able to operate the first reactor by 2025,” he told a press conference called to announce the results of a report on the program by the International Advisory Group (IAG).

Jordan has not had success, so far, in attracting investors for its project in the politically volatile Middle East.

Russian Progress with Fast Reactor Technology

(WNN) Russia has reached two more milestones in its effort to close the nuclear fuel cycle. TVEL has completed acceptance tests of components for its experimental fuel assemblies with mixed nitride fuel for the BN fast neutron reactors.

Russia plans to construct 11 new nuclear power reactors by 2030 – including two BN-1200 sodium-cooled fast neutron reactors. The BN-1200 units are to be built at the Beloyarsk and South Urals nuclear power plants.

Russia also plans to build a facility to produce high-density U-Pu nitride fuel to enable a closed nuclear fuel cycle. The ultimate aim is to eliminate production of radioactive waste from nuclear power generation.

The project comprises a fuel production / refabrication module for production of dense uranium plutonium (nitride) fuel for fast reactors. The fuel will use spent fuel assemblies from commercial reactors as a feedstock.

The planned Beloyarsk 5 BN-1200 will use larger fuel elements than the BN-600 and BN-800 and have a simplified refuelling procedure. Russian nuclear engineering company OKBM Afrikantov is developing the BN-1200 as a next step towards future reactor designs, commonly known as Generation IV.

Russia’s Beloyarsk-4 BN-800 Begins Operating At Full Power

(NucNet) Unit 4 of the Beloyarsk nuclear power station near Yekaterinburg in Sverdlovsk Oblast has started operating at 100% power for the first time. The BN-800 fast neutron reactor is scheduled to enter commercial operation later this year.

Plant operator Rosenergoatom said there would be a 15-day comprehensive test during which operators will confirm that the unit is able to consistently run at the rated power load in accordance with the design parameters, without deviation.

Beloyarsk-4 is Russia’s first reactor of the BN-800 design, burning mixed uranium-plutonium fuel. There is one commercially operational reactor at the Beloyarsk station, the Beloyarsk-3 BN-600 fast neutron unit, a smaller version of the BN-800.

Russia is considering further expansion of the Beloyarsk station with the construction of Unit 5, an even larger 1200-MW reactor, but according to recent reports a decision depends on the operational results of Beloyarsk-4.

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Chinese Spent Fuel Project Faces Massive Protests

In a totalitarian state, the presence of thousands of anti-nuclear demonstrators in the streets for several days is not only a surprise, it also represents the deep unease people there have about a nuclear energy facility that hasn’t even broken ground.

A massive $15 billion effort to build a facility to make MOX fuel was last week the subject of protests involving thousands of people in the city of Lianyungang in Jiangsu Province located about 300 miles (480km) north of Shanghai (YouTube Video). The city is one of six potential sites for the spent fuel reprocessing center to be built in a partnership between China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) and Areva. The plant would be built based on the same technology used by Areva at a MOX fuel plant in France.

The demonstrators disregarded warnings from the government and police to stop. Protest groups flooded Chinese social media with anti-nuclear slogans. The protests in the streets and online stem from a growing unease over industrial pollution and other environmental issues linked in a part to corrupt practices.

The plan for the nuclear reprocessing facility site at this stage involves site selection and no decision has been made yet. Lianyungang city officials short-circuited a response from CNNC by telling the demonstrators they would not allow the plant to be built there.

The apparent loss of the site in Lianyungang does not mean the project is on the ropes. There are five other sites in other parts of the country still under consideration.  The other sites include locations in the provinces of Shandong, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, and Gansu. All have existing nuclear facilities and are located at coastal sites.

There are two Russian built VVER commercial nuclear reactors at the Tainwan power station in Lianyungang. Two more units are under construction which will be commissioned in 2018 and there are plans on paper to add yet two more units to them. Their presence does not seem to have been a factor in the protests.

Legacy of the Tainjin Explosion

The protests in Lianyungang occurred on the anniversary of a massive chemical explosion that took place at the Ruihai International Chemical warehouse in the city of Tainjin on August 12, 2015. A reported 173 people were killed and over 800 injured by the blast caused by hundreds of tons of dangerous chemicals illegally stored in the warehouse.  The subsequent investigation revealed a complex web of corruption, negligence, lax regulatory oversight, and poor emergency responses services.

Cleanup of the site has stalled due to the complex and toxic nature of the residual chemicals and their combustion byproducts. An estimated 470,000 cubic meters of material needs to be removed from the site, but there are few places to put it.

This is not the first time protests in China have led to reconsideration of a proposal for a new nuclear facility.  In 2013 protests erupted involving over 1,000 people over plans to build a commercial nuclear fuel plant in Heshan in Guangdong province resulted in the government cancelling that particular site but with plans to relocate it. Coincidentally, the nuclear fuel plant that was the subject of these protests includes planned production of commercial fuel assemblies for the VVER units at Lianyungang.

Scope of the MOX Fuel Facility Operation

The initial plan for the reprocessing plant was first set in motion in 2007 as part of a deal that also resulted in Areva building two 1650 MW EPR reactors in Taishan, China, just west of Hong Kong. Once a site is selected for the reprocessing facility, construction of the 800 tonne per year plant is suppose to start in 2020 and be completed by 2030.

Technical details about the plant are more or less complete. During a visit to France in June 2015, China’s premier Li Keqiang called for financial and contractual details to be completed by the end of this year. The La Hague, France, MOX plant, on which the 800 tonne per year Chinese plant will be based, is much larger and is capable of handling 2,700 tonnes per year.

As a practical matter, the 800 tonne per year plant is not going to, in the short term, make a serious dent in the inventory of spent nuclear fuel in China.  By 2020 China is expected to have 12,300 tonnes of spent fuel in mostly wet storage though there is some ongoing transition to dry casks.

With a service life of about 60 years, the plant could handle at least 40,000-50,000 tonnes of spent fuel. However, China has ambitious plans to build more nuclear power plants which will significantly increase the amount of spent fuel it will have to manage as part of its policy of re-using the fuel.

Within the first ten years of operation, by 2040, a second reprocessing plant with at least the same capacity would have to be built to handle the load.  In the meantime, China may decide to move its spent fuel from wet storage at reactors to an interim site involving dry casks mostly likely located near the first MOX plant.

According to the World Nuclear Association, mainland China has 34 nuclear power reactors in operation, 20 under construction, and more about to start construction. Additional reactors are planned, including some of the world’s most advanced, to give a doubling of nuclear capacity to at least 58 GWe by 2020-21, then up to 150 GWe by 2030, and much more by 2050.

Technical Staff Shortages are a Growing Problem for China’s Ambitious Nuclear Energy Plans

An English language report published in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) last week indicates that China has an acute shortage of experienced nuclear plant technical staff and that the problem will get worse before it gets better.

The SCMP report cites a Chinese language report in China Business News which quotes Prof. Ai Deshang, Dean of Graduate Programs, in the Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology, at Tsinghua University, who says China will need 30,000 to 40,000 trained nuclear technicians by the end of the 2020s, but that currently the nation’s universities are only capable of graduating a few hundred individuals per year.

The China Business News report also quotes  He Yu, President of China General Nuclear (CGN) who said that China plans to build over 100 new reactors by 2030 to meet energy needs and to reduce pollution from coal fired power plants. Staffing of there new reactors will required 50,000 to 80,000 trained staff.

The extraordinary pressures on existing experienced reactor staffs are also cited in the report indicating that in at least one instance self-reporting of safety incidents were covered up.  A March 2015 pump failure at the Yangiiang Nuclear Power Station in Guangdong province was not made public until May 2016. The environmental ministry reportedly cited four plant operators over the incident.

A spokesman for CGN, which owns and operates the plant, said that it only found out about the failed pump during a inspection which took place this year.

The power station is composed of four CPR-1000 reactors three of which have been commissioned and a fourth unit that will come online in 2017. Construction of units 5 & 6, which are slated to be the new Hualong One 1000 MW PWRs, is set to start in 2018.

The lack of skilled staff may also impact China’s plans to export its nuclear reactors. China has a pending deal with Argentina to build its new Hualong One reactor there and another deal, which is under review in the UK, to build up to three of them at the Bradwell site near London.

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Nuclear News Roundup for August 13, 2016

May Urged to Pull the Plug on Hinkley Point Due to US Espionage Case

(Guardian) UK Prime Minister Theresa May is being urged to pull the plug on the controversial Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor project after being made aware of allegations of spying in the US by a consultant working for the Chinese co-investor in the planned nuclear plant. The federal criminal case was filed against a US nuclear engineer in Tennessee last April.

Anti-nuclear groups are playing up the US case which names a Chinese state-owned nuclear firm as allegedly having paid for economic espionage in the US to acquire information on nuclear reactor technology especially advanced nuclear fuels. The Guardian newspaper has run a series of alarmist news articles about security concerns.

Angus MacNeil MP, the chair of the energy and climate change select committee, told the newspaper the spying allegations raised grave concerns about corporate integrity and must form a key part of the government’s current review of Hinkley.

“I am not sure the Chinese have anything to steal from Britain in the way of nuclear secrets. That is after all why they are being brought in, but it does raise questions about how honorable the company is and whether it could cut corners on construction methods and issues like that.”

The Hinkley Point project will consist of two Areva EPRs. Since the French nuclear giant is completing two EPRs in China, it means that country’s state-owned nuclear firms probably know everything they will ever want to learn about the huge 1650 MW reactors.

The security issue thus is not so much about the technology going into the Hinkley Project, but whether the significant financial positions and the procurement of major components for the Hinkley and Bradwell power stations from Chinese firms opens the door to other vulnerabilities. At Bradwell CGN will put up two-thirds of the funding needed to pay for the project. EDF will put up the other third. Both power stations involve commitments by the UK government to source some components for the reactors from Chinese firms.

Paul Dorfman, a senior research fellow at University College London, told the Guardian there had already been endless concern and discussion between strategic defense experts in London about the wisdom of allowing China to invest in UK nuclear projects, and not just Hinkley.

He said China “has and always will play economic hardball.” He called Hinkley “a loss-leader for Bradwell.”

“The deal was, if China invested in Hinkley, then it could build and run its own reactor at Bradwell.”

“Now the idea of China investing in Hinkley, then constructing and operating a reactor on British soil is really beginning to look like a Anglo-Sino bridge too far.”

Dorfman said the British prime minister could legitimately blame poor construction management of French reactor technology if she wanted to save face with the Chinese. Two EPRs under construction in Finland and France are significantly over budget and behind schedule.

  • US Espionage Case and the Hualong One

The work scope involved in the US espionage case was reported by the Bloomberg wire service to include information on fuel reliability for design of a new nuclear reactor which may have been the now completed design of CGN’s 1000 MW Hualong One PWR reactor.

The strategic importance of the reactor to CGN is that it is the core technology of China’s efforts to compete in global markets for new reactor deals going head-to-head with Westinghouse, Areva, and Rosatom. CGN and the China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) have recently set up a joint venture to export the Hualong One with plans to build at 30 of them in Asia and Europe.

Both firms are in negotiations with the UK for permission to build two of the reactors at the Bradwell site in the UK in return for their separate equity investments in the Hinkley Point reactor project. The agreement was signed by British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to the UK last October.

The Hualong One reactor would have to pass a review by the UK Generic Design Assessment and be approved for construction and operation in that country. The UK agreement with China includes support to “facilitate” the approval of the Hualong One through the demanding review.

The new UK government is currently in the middle of a review of the £18.5bn Hinkley project following a final investment decision by the developers, EDF of France, and its Beijing-based partner China General Nuclear Power (CGN). PM May delayed her decision on the reactor pending a six-to-eight week review of the project.

Chinese Nuclear Firm Wins Option to Bid on UK SMRs

(Guardian) China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is on government list of preferred bidders for development funding for next-generation small modular reactors.

CNNC is listed twice in a government list of 33 projects and companies awarded eligibility to compete for a share in up to £250m to develop small modular reactors (SMR). The funding level is seen as “starter funds” for the projects. A winning bidder would have to raise the rest of the money to complete the projects from investors as well as using its own resources.

CNNC was not involved in the original Hinkley deal, but the company has agreed in principle to buy half of China’s 33% stake in the £24bn project if it goes ahead.

The Guardian reported that the list of companies accepted for the competition was published briefly, apparently accidentally, on the website of the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy before being deleted.

CNNC is listed along with US companies such as NuScale; British ones including Rolls-Royce, Sheffield Forgemasters and Tokamak Energy; Japanese-owned Westinghouse; and the US-Japanese partnership GE-Hitachi, as participants the government considers eligible for phase one of its competition.

The 33 participants will be whittled down in several phases, with the announcement of the eventual winners scheduled for late 2017.

Exelon to buy FitzPatrick nuclear plant from Entergy for $110M

(Platts) Exelon and Entergy have reached a deal for Exelon to buy the 849 MW FitzPatrick nuclear plant from Entergy for $110 million. The purchase agreement will likely prevent the permanent shutdown of Fitzpatrick in January 2017.

The agreement contains provisions that could void the sale. A lot depends on the actions of the New York Public Service Commission to create what is called a “zero emissions credit” (ZEFC) for the plant. The ZEC is an agreement to buy power to ensure the continued operation of an electricity generator. The ZEC sets a price to buy power that may be above prevailing rates to provide financial support to a power generator and to give it credit for not emitting any CO2.

Platts described the check on the deal. It is that it “will automatically terminate on November 23, 2016, if certain conditions are not satisfied by November 17, 2016.” These include “the continued effectiveness of the order” the New York Public Service Commission issued August 1 creating a zero-emissions credit, according to Entergy’s 8-K filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

The FitzPatrick sales and license transfer also is contingent “upon regulatory review and approval by state and federal agencies,” including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the US Department of Justice, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the New York State Public Service Commission. The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2017. If nothing else the lawyers for all concerned will reap a windfall in fees.

Entergy earlier this year said it planned to permanently shut FitzPatrick in January, rather than refuel it, saying the unit could not be operated profitably in the upstate New York market.

In addition, Entergy’s SEC filing said that if prior to refueling of FitzPatrick any condition in the sale agreement “is overturned, reversed or enjoined, either buyer or [Entergy] can terminate the purchase.”

Glenrock Associates analyst Paul Patterson told Platts in an email that “the FitzPatrick sale announcement appears to provide tangible evidence that New York’s sizeable nuclear subsidy has substantially changed the economic prospects for some of the upstate nuclear plants.”

“It would also not surprise me, given the outcome in New York,” Patterson said, “if merchant nuclear operators in other states attempt to get similar treatment for their plants.”

CEO Of GEH Calls For Support For Advanced Reactor Designs

(NucNet): GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) CEO Jay Wileman has called for business leaders, elected officials and the federal government to work together to help support the commercialization of advanced nuclear reactor technology.

GEH is developing the PRISM advanced reactor which is based on the Integral Fast Reactor design developed at the Argonne National Laboratory site in Idaho. It has been proposed to be used by the UK nuclear cleanup program to dispose of surplus plutonium in that country.

Prism is a modular, sodium-cooled fast-reactor design with a maximum electrical output of 311 MW. It uses plutonium and uranium recycled from used nuclear fuel to generate electricity.

Wileman said, “We are seeing significant global opportunities for our Prism advanced reactor technology, but in order for us to move forward, we must gain the support of the federal government on specific developmental milestone projects.”

Mr Wileman’s comments reportedly came during an Aspen Institute panel on the future of nuclear energy. Their release by GEH is unusual since the proceedings of these think tank type sessions are not always published due to the sometimes frank nature of the discussions that take place there.

A draft report recently issued by the US Department of Energy said that by 2050 “advanced reactors will provide a significant and growing component of the nuclear energy mix both domestically and globally, due to their advantages in terms of improved safety, cost, performance, sustainability, and reduced proliferation risk”.

South Africa Wants 50% Local Content For New Nuclear Plants

(NucNet): The South African government is looking at securing a local content level of 50% in the country’s proposed new nuclear power plant program. South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) chairman Kelvin Kemm told a press briefing that for the existing Koeberg nuclear station there was no localization requirement, but 43% was achieved.

All of the firms planning to bid on the massive tender have developed ties with South African firms via agreements in principle in advance of the localization requirements expected to be in the procurement notice.

Regarding the cost of the new program, the utility still officially intends to construct 9.6 GW of new nuclear generating capacity. He said the most detailed analyses undertaken had indicated it would be around $47bn (€42bn), significantly lower than figures of around $80bn previously reported in local media.

This works out to just under $5K/MW which is a very competitive number given current global trends.

“We’re not going to buy these nuclear plants all at once,” said Necsa chief executive officer Phumzile Tshelane at the same briefing.

“By the end of the program you’ll find that the program is funding itself.”

The program should see the construction of three new plants with a total – depending on the design chosen – of six to nine reactors. By the time construction of the third plant began, the first would be operational and generating income. This income stream from the first NPP could be used as collateral to refinance the program reducing its costs, Mr Tshelane said.

Turkey’s Akkuyu NPP to be fast tracked

(Nuc Eng Intl) Turkey is ready to give a special status to the Akkuyu NPP construction project, said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan following his talks with President of Russia Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 9 August. The Intergovernmental agreement between Russia and Turkey on cooperation in the construction and operation the NPP was signed in 2010. The project is the first Turkish NPP and comprises four 1,200MWe VVER reactors. The cost of the project was reported to be approximately $20bn.

The project stalled after relations between Turkey and Russia soured due to Turkey shooting down a Russian jet fighter in actions over neighboring Syria. More recently Erdogan survived an aborted military coup attempt and has since then been working to mend diplomatic fences with his neighbors.

Companies move forward on nuclear waste storage in Carlsbad

(Santa Fe New Mexican) Efforts to build a temporary nuclear waste storage facility in New Mexico are moving forward after a Denver-based company relinquished its rights to the land. The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports that Holtec International and Eddy Lea Energy Alliance are partnering to create storage for spent nuclear fuel rods from power plants across the country.

Intrepid Potash gave up its mineral rights lease to land near Carlsbad, saying it likely won’t be in a position to mine for potassium-containing salts there for several years.

Program Director Ed Mayer says the HI-STORE Consolidated Interim Storage project is expected to cost more than $1 billion and provide about 200 construction and operations jobs.

Holtec will propose the project to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March. The approval process takes two to three years.

A competing proposal for interim storage of spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors is moving forward supported by Areva and Waste Control Specialists. The firms are looking at a site in Andrews, TX, which is already the site of disposal facility for low level radioactive waste.

Both the site in New Mexico and the one in Texas are geologically stable and bone dry in terms of groundwater.

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Utah Utility Selects Idaho Site for NuScale SMR

The first customer for a small modular reactor (SMR) in the U.S. has selected a site located about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID, for construction of a 50 MW unit.

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) announced this week that the firm had chosen a preferred site within the boundaries of the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Doug Hunter, CEO of UAMPS, made the announcement at the Intermountain Energy Summit being held in Idaho Falls.

The 35-acre site is located about six miles south of the Lost River Rest Stop west of the intersection of U.S. Highways 20 & 26 and due north of EBR-1 where atomic energy was first used to generate electricity in December 1951.

The site is geologically stable and far enough away from other facilities at the INL that it will not impact their operation.  The INL encompasses an area of 890 square miles.

The entire facility will eventually include up to 12 50 MW SMRs, turbines, storage for spent nuclear fuel, administrative offices, and transportation access. A rail line from Blackfoot, ID, to the INL may be developed further to support delivery of large reactor components. Officials in Idaho Falls said in a press statement the project could create over 1,000 jobs.

Earlier this year the U.S. Department of Energy issued a permit to UAMPS as part of the site selection process. The permit opened the door to the utility to evaluate the alternative locations and make a decision to eventually build on one of them.

At the same conference, Mike McGough, Chief Commercial Officer for NuScale, said that the firm is “nearly ready” to submit its SMR for design certification by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The company has said previously that it expects the application to be delivered to the agency by late 2016. That process will take three-to-four years after which, if successful, UAMPS will apply to the NRC for a COL to build and operate the reactors.

UAMPS sells electricity at the wholesale level to utilities in seven western states. It formed the partnership with NuScale in 2013.

Court Orders DOE to Provide Documents on Nuclear Waste Shipments

A federal judge has ordered the Department of Energy (DOE) to let the court examine documents sought by former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus that describe shipments of spent nuclear fuel to the INL.  U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Winmill said the court will review the documents to determine if they can be released for public review.

Andrus, a long time arch foe of nuclear spent fuel R&D at the INL, had sought the documents under a Freedom of Information Act request. However, DOE delivered papers with most of the information blacked out.

Andrus is seeking information on several proposed small shipments of spent nuclear fuel that DOE wants to send to the INL for R&D evaluation. The shipments would require a waiver of the 1995 Settlement Agreement which sets terms for progress on cleanup of nuclear waste at the INL.

Andrus has argued that no waiver can be granted until DOE can make progress with its Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTW) that is supposed to turn about 1 million gallons of liquid nuclear waste into dry powder which can then be shipped to a geologic repository in New Mexico.

Work began on the IWTU in 2005 at an estimated cost of about $160M. Since then costs have escalated to almost $600M and the technology is getting a review by a new site contractor, who took over this year, to find a way to make it work.

Andrus filed the lawsuit when he got a pile of paper from DOE with black magic marker streaks instead of the information he wanted from the agency. He claims that granting the waiver would allow DOE to use the INL as an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s commercial reactors which are storing 77,000 tons  of spent fuel.

In blunt language, Andrus told the Associated Press (AP) this past week that he is suspicious of the DOE’s intentions.

“We have to know what’s going on,” Andrus said. “Their stonewalling and reluctance lends credence to my suspicion. That’s all I have right now — a strong suspicion backed up by a history of an agency that has run roughshod over the public for way too many years.”

AP reported that the Energy Department argues that the information can’t be made public because it involves internal communications that fall under an exemption to the act. The agency also cited attorney work-product privilege, and attorney-client privilege.

Winmill in his 29-page ruling said the Energy Department’s explanation for blacking out pages of documents didn’t say whether the redactions “buried information relating to substantive policy about the transport and storage of large quantities of potentially dangerous nuclear waste, disclosure of which may very well be in the public’s interest.”

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has refused to sign a waiver for shipment of the spent fuel. Earlier this year DOE diverted the first shipment from INL to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and also sent the R&D money to evaluate it to that lab. A second shipment is pending. DOE says it wants an evaluation of “high-burnup” fuel by the INL which is why it scheduled the shipments.

INL GAIN Names Westinghouse Executive to Run the Program

The Department of Energy (DOE) announced this week that Rita Baranwal is the new director for the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) program (press release). Baranwal was Director of Technology Development at Westinghouse. Baranwal brings deep private sector experience to GAIN’s mission of driving advanced nuclear toward commercialization in domestic and global markets.Baranwal takes over a program that is a bright star in the government’s efforts to promote advanced nuclear technologies. Recent accomplishments include.

  • Granted funding for two reactor design teams, X-energy and Southern Company/TerraPower, with a multi-year cost share of up to $40 million for each company.
  • Awarded eight Small Business Voucher awards that provide national laboratory support to advanced reactor developers. Some of these vouchers went to small companies who are part of the growing advanced nuclear supply chain.
  • Funded eight advanced nuclear companies as part of the 54 grants it made for the $16 Million “Projects to Help Commercialize Promising Energy Technologies.” The eight nuclear projects will collaborate with important GAIN partners at Idaho National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The GAIN initiative, announced at a White House Summit in November 2015, was created to provide support for the nearly 50 advanced nuclear startups that have been established across the U.S.

Joshua Freed, a Vice President of the Third Way, a Washington, DC, think tank, wrote in a blog post that GAIN is also supporting the inaugural Nuclear Innovation Bootcamp at University of California, Berkeley. He wrote that the competitive educational program is aimed at helping young innovators develop nuclear-specific entrepreneurial skills.

Additionally, the bootcamp includes opportunities for nontechnical students with backgrounds in the arts, communications, policy, and international affairs to participate as well, opening the doors to groups who traditionally have not been a part of the workforce pipeline, but are now understood as having valuable expertise for the future of nuclear.

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